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Debate Role of Budget Advisory Committee

Posted on 26 September 2008

October is approaching and Sag Harbor School Board’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) has yet to meet this school year.

At Monday night’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting, the board discussed the problems with last year’s BAC, and tried to find solutions on how to help it run better this time around. 

President of the School Board, Walter Wilcoxen voiced some frustrations with the BAC and hopes the 18 reurning members of the committee will be more organized this year. “Be nice to each other and respectful,” Wilcoxen joked on Monday, “agree to disagree.” He also recommended that the group choose a chairperson and come to a consensus on issues before they approach the board with any frustrations or uncertainties.

“Historically it seemed to act as an important function – that has given excellent feedback for really excellent budgets,” trustee Daniel Hartnett said of the BAC on Monday, “last year there was a lack of focus and lack of agreement.”

“One of the things that gets to be a problem with the budget committee is that I’m not sure where the curriculum committee stands,” Janet Verneuille of the BAC said, “but perhaps they should meet before the BAC meets.”

 “The BAC should not be the ones in the 11th hour saying we should make a choice of whether or not we need a Spanish teacher,” she added.

On Monday it was announced that the superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, and the district’s business manager, Len Bernard, would attend the BAC meetings.

Wilcoxen said, “I think the superintendant will bring a lot of data to these meetings, so people will be able to ask questions and hopefully will be able to get something out of it.”

The board offered some advice on where the BAC should begin. Board member Susan Kinsella mentioned that benchmarking may be helpful for the BAC in finding a place to start.

BAC member Walter Tice asked the board to clarify what they were expecting; a comparison or a bench mark.

“It is more than a comparison,” he said of bench marking on Monday, “It is analyzing the numbers and going inside the numbers to see what is causing them. A district may have the same contract with their teachers, but there may be more or fewer special education students.” He then asked the board if bench marking was expected of the BAC. ”Do you mean that you want the BAC to do that? Then you have to provide the BAC with the tools to do it and what kind of data of what you want.”

Wilcoxen, said he believed this was a legitimate concern, and said he was not thinking of the resources that may be needed to bench mark, but was thinking more of a comparison. But added, “it doesn’t mean we won’t do some.”

Trustee Ed Haye asked that people not get too hung up on bench marking, “it can be used to develop a base,” he said.
The conversation became heated when Hayes and Elementary School Principal Joan Frisicano argued over issues the BAC might look at.

“We have worked very hard toward a small class size – that just doesn’t happen overnight” Frisicano said. 

“What we do in our district has to relate to our mission statement, our beliefs and our values,” she added, “and what we may want for our children may not necessarily be what another district wants for their children.”

Haye argued that a comparison is important, “What we haven’t done is compare our district to other districts and I think that’s valuable, but we have to compare apples to apples.”

Haye commented, “We haven’t done the analysis yet, and we don’t want anyone jumping to conclusions, we have a prior analysis from the past superintendent and it has things in it such as class size, students per teacher, course offerings and those are all valid things.”

“But that goes back to my question,” Frisicano responded, “Where does that fit into our beliefs our values and our philosophies?”

“It’s a Budget Advisory Committee – it fits into the cost of running the district,” Haye argued.

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