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Sag Harbor School Board Adds Wellness as a Goal

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By Claire Walla

When they gathered last Tuesday, July 12 to discuss goals for the coming school year, the Sag Harbor school district’s Board of Education and its top administrators revisited the three overarching goals they had set the previous year: to improve academic achievement, communicate effectively with the school community, continue to maintain fiscal responsibility.
And they added a fourth.
“We should be graduating children that are looking at the world in a healthy way; my generation seems to have gotten something wrong,” said school board member Walter Wilcoxen referring to society’s unsustainable, unhealthy, or wasteful habits.
He alluded to various topics the board discussed that evening — from banning Snapple in the cafeteria or removing costly and environmentally wasteful bottled water from vending machines, to emphasizing more health-conscious class lessons — when he said that wellness is a way to do that.
“That’s the big goal,” he continued. “If we do that, we will create better educated children.”
The group was unanimous in deciding to add the fourth goal for the upcoming school year: to develop a K-12 wellness curriculum.
Newly elected School Board President Mary Anne Miller said that, as the board’s liaison to the Wellness Committee this past year, she spent a lot of time discussing the topic and trying to impose gradual, incremental changes in the district — beginning with the cafeteria. While it has made improvements over the last year, there are still changes that need to be made, she said.
“I’m not comfortable with teaching kids that these things are bad for them and then [at the same time] selling them to them … that’s insane,” she said. Miller added that the district should eliminate unhealthy options, like Snapple, to make space for more health-conscious choices.
Board members agreed that the focus on wellness will see fundamental change in certain aspects of the district.
Board member Chris Tice spoke to the ills of using candy in the classroom as a reward for good work.
“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any sugar,” she explained. “But sometimes this happens on a weekly basis.”
And Miller also mentioned the overuse of paper at both campuses, a practice she said she’d like to see the school cut-back on.
In terms of communication, board member Ed Drohan emphasized the need for more outreach and communication with the community at large, a point board member Theresa Samot agreed with.
“I think that’s very important, and it’s something we’ve talked about for years,” she said. “There are wonderful things happening here and the community doesn’t know about it.”
The board discussed the notion of issuing press releases to the community at large and uniting the school community with a software program that would send out regular e-mail blasts and perhaps even text messages to parents and others in the district.
Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols explained plans to spearhead the International Baccalaureate (IB) program this year, applying for IB recognition at an accelerated rate in order to be ready to implement the program in the fall of 2012.
“It’s a pretty big goal,” he admitted. “My assessment of the school is that we’ve plateaued to some extent. But, the bigger picture is that we’ll be graduating students who think in a bigger way. If we want them to be broader thinkers, this is probably the easiest way to do it.”
Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone also said he would make it a point to explore the IB primary years program, but he doesn’t aim to take any significant actions this year.
District-wide, both campuses will also push an emphasis on math in the coming year (much like writing was emphasized this past year), and superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted that the district will work on establishing a grading policy to unify grading standards among all teachers, both academic and physical education.
Finally, to remain financially responsible, the board talked about improving outreach to other districts — primarily the Springs School, which no longer automatically filters into East Hampton — in order to profit from students paying out-of-district tuition. (Dr. Gratto mentioned he had already ordered promotional brochures for the school.)
And then came the topic of the two-percent tax cap.
Without getting into any specifics, all in attendance agreed that this legislation will need to be assessed in a timely, ongoing and very public manner. Those in the room concluded that the issue will be brought up at least once a month, at every other business meeting leading up to the budget season.
“As someone whose kids go to school in Southampton, I would want to know what two percent is going to mean in a concrete way for my kids,” Nichols said. “The more people know, the more likely they’ll be to support a budget that’s responsible, but above two percent.”

Gratto Gets a Raise

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After completing a board evaluation of school superintendent Dr. John Gratto’s performance over the past year, the Sag Harbor School board approved a $25,000 salary increase for Dr. Gratto at the last Board of Education meeting on Monday, June 22.
As of July 1, Dr. Gratto’s salary will be raised from $185,000 to $210,000, excluding expenses and benefits, accounting for a nearly 13.5 percent increase. The board argues the raise was well deserved as Dr. Gratto saved the district nearly $1 million through cost cutting measures during the last budget cycle and his salary is less than the East End average for superintendents, but some members of the community contend Dr. Gratto’s raise is significant given the current economic climate and say the board should have been more forthcoming in sharing these figures with the public.
During an interview, board of education president Walter Wilcoxen elucidated some of the main reasons why the board gave Dr. Gratto a raise, many of which stemmed from a June evaluation of Dr. Gratto’s execution of his superintendent duties. In the beginning of June, each board member was given a form to judge Dr. Gratto on his relationship with the board, educational direction and leadership, personnel, financial management, facilities management, community relations, personal qualities and growth, and management functions.
Although, Wilcoxen said he couldn’t release specific details on Dr. Gratto’s evaluation, he noted that Dr. Gratto did extremely well in each category in the eyes of the board members, and that was one of the reasons why they felt he was deserving of a raise. Board member Mary Anne Miller added that the board was in full consensus to give Dr. Gratto a raise.
“Everyone said he did a fantastic job,” reported Wilcoxen. “[In every category] he was above average.”
One of the other main impetuses for the salary increase, said Wilcoxen, was to bring Dr. Gratto up to parity with superintendents in Suffolk County and on the East End. According to Wilcoxen the average salary for the county is around $219,000, while the Eastern Suffolk average is around $206,000 excluding other benefits and expenses, separate from medical insurance or district paid cell phones. If these other expenses and benefits were added to the Eastern Suffolk figure, Wilcoxen said the average superintendent salary would be closer to $220,000.
“We, [the board], knew that we started [Dr. Gratto] at below market salary … if you look at what people get paid out here and we wanted to correct that,” said Wilcoxen.
Several neighboring districts like East Hampton and Southampton, however, have significantly larger student bodies, but Wilcoxen argues that the superintendents at these schools have the help of an assistant superintendent.
The board, said Wilcoxen, looked at Dr. Gratto’s qualifications and his level of education, when considering his raise. Wilcoxen said Dr. Gratto brought a “higher level of accountability and efficiency to all aspects of the districts,” which factored into the board’s decision. One major way Dr. Gratto increased efficiency in the district, added Wilcoxen, was through implementing several cost cutting measures.
“He saved us significant amounts of money in a difficult budget cycle … The savings have more than paid for his salary,” noted Wilcoxen.
Walter Tice, a former member and president of the Sag Harbor board of education, said he worried about linking the idea of saving money in the district with raising the superintendent’s salary. Tice added that this could possibly lead to budget cutting measures coming at the cost of program and educational quality.
“His salary ought not to be proportional to how much he cuts the budget,” lamented Tice.
Tice’s daughter and former Parent Teacher Association President Chris Tice, who spoke in her capacity as a Sag Harbor parent, echoed her father’s remarks.
“The motivation should be to help the school district continue to improve and spend the taxpayer’s money wisely,” she said.
However, Dr. Gratto believes he was able to strike that balance and said his proposed cost cutting measures haven’t undercut school programming.
Regardless of the savings Dr. Gratto created in the district, Chris Tice was also perplexed by the size of Dr. Gratto’s raise given the state of the economy.
“As a parent and taxpayer, overall I am happy with Dr. Gratto. I think he was a good addition to the school … but I do think his increase should reflect the economic times and an increase of over 13 percent doesn’t seem rational. I am confused by it because Dr. Gratto and the board have been asking district employees to be conservative with their increases,” remarked Tice.
According to Eileen Kochanasz, president of the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor, when the school board began negotiating teacher’s contracts last year, the board often claimed the economic pressures on the district and the national economic climate didn’t make it sustainable for them to give the full percentage of a raise that the teachers were asking for.
“I don’t begrudge Dr. Gratto his appropriate salary … but TASH is troubled. We are not so troubled about that being the going rate for his salary, but for the board to cry economy and then offer a 13.5 percent raise,” stated Kochanasz. “The teachers are asking for the average [salary].”
Wilcoxen said Dr. Gratto’s raise and the teachers’ contracts are two separate issues, as the board must negotiate with a union to agree on a raise for teachers. He added that whereas Dr. Gratto was judged on his specific performance, teacher raises are agreed upon with the union for all teachers and not based on specific teacher’s performance. Of the current economy climate, Wilcoxen also divided the issues.
“We live in a system were there are many different levels of socio-economic conditions … I have to think about his position and what other people get in that position,” said Wilcoxen, adding that offering a competitive salary will help retain Dr. Gratto within the school district. “We do have to think about what we have to pay to get someone of quality.”
Members of the public, however, not only felt that Dr. Gratto’s raise was high given the economy, but felt the board could have been more forthcoming in releasing his salary increase figures and facilitating a dialogue about it at the June 22 meeting.
At the meeting, the resolution to amend Dr. Gratto’s contract, and thus give him a raise, was passed, but the exact salary increase wasn’t printed on the agenda and at the close of the meeting Walter Tice inquired about the legality of this. Dr. Gratto said he spoke with the school district attorney Tom Volz the day after the meeting, who said that the school wasn’t required by law to put these numbers on the agenda.
“In my experience, amendments to contracts, [for salary and/or other contract changes], are typically not published. I thought that is pretty standard,” recalled Dr. Gratto.
Even though the board was complying with the law, some audience members wished the figures were printed on the agenda to help begin a dialogue.
“Even after I raised the question [about publishing the salary increase on the agenda]. The board didn’t issue a public announcement saying, ‘We have given a raise and here are the reasons why.’ It seems to go against their promises of openness,” said Walter Tice.
“I was baffled that they choose not to share and disclose [the information]. It seemed to fly in the face of the board’s ongoing mission of transparency,” added Chris Tice.
Wilcoxen, however, contends that both the amendment to Dr. Gratto’s contract and his original contract are available to the public at the school clerk’s office. He said that he believed the next board meeting, to be held on Monday, July 13, offered a better opportunity to speak with the public about the issue, as the full board will be in attendance whereas on June 22 one board member was absent and Wilcoxen had to leave the meeting early.
Wilcoxen added that the salary increase would be discussed at next Monday’s board of education meeting.

Teachers to Tell Their Side

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teachers outside the elementary school on Friday january 9, 2009

Temperatures barely went over freezing last Friday, but that did not stop teachers in the Sag Harbor School District from picketing outside the elementary and high schools before classes began that day.
The teachers, many of whom huddled closely together to keep warm, held onto signs that offered messages saying, “Both Sides of the Coin,” and “Get all the Facts,” as well as signs educating passers-by that there would be a public forum to take place tonight, Thursday, January 15 at Pierson/Middle High School. That meeting was rescheduled, due to snow, to Thursday, January 22, at 7:30 p.m.
In response to the board of education’s move to make all matters pertaining to teacher contracts public, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) has planned tonight’s presentation to offer an alternative view to the issues that have been said to be stalling the contract negotiations.
TASH has been in contract negotiations with the district since the end of the 2007-2008 school year and is currently working under the last contract agreements, which are from 2004.
For the past few months, TASH and their representatives, board of education members as well as the superintendent and the district’s lawyer have been meeting to try to come to an agreement on salaries, health insurance in retirement and course approval, among other issues.
At their last meeting, both sides agreed to go to fact finding, a stage that requires an outside representative to look at both sides, and make a non-binding decision. Directly after the decision to proceed to the fact finding stage was made, the district held a public meeting to present a variety of the outstanding issues pertaining to teacher contracts.
Tonight, however, at 7 p.m. the teachers will offer the public their side of the negotiation story.
“Our plan is to give a historical perspective on how some of the things in our contract have been developed over time in negotiations,” TASH president and high school guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz said on Tuesday.
She noted that her biggest problem with the presentation the district gave to the public is that they did not offer any background about what the teachers are asking for and only showed the views from one side.
“The board of education left out the history,” she said. “Without that, this would be difficult to understand.”
At tonight’s meeting, Kochanasz explained that the teachers will be providing information on salary history, academic support and duty assignments as well as history on health insurance. Although Kochanasz did not attend the meeting the district held, she said she has looked over the information they provided to the public that night and has prepared some counter arguments.
Kochanasz also said she has some comparative data from districts across Long Island, “and these were settled in October and November,” she added, when the economy began to turn.
She also said that during their presentation, the district talked about advanced vacation pay.
“I have a problem with it being referred to as that,” Kochanasz said. “Vacation pay doesn’t exist for starters.”
Another problem Kochanasz says she has with the district’s arguments is about course approval. The district is asking that all teachers get final approval from the superintendent for courses they take to further their knowledge. Kochanasz suggests that teachers will most likely not be approved for courses unrelated to their current field of study, and that, she said, can be problematic.
“If a social studies teacher wanted to take a class on W.W.I,” Kochanasz explains, “that would be allowed. But if that teacher had a student with Asperger’s syndrome, a course on that would be prohibited.”
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said in defense that the district decided to “inform, not influence.”
Further Gratto said, “I’m hopeful people treat issues as issues, and not malign the teachers or the board. They are all legitimate issues and I’m hopeful people will remain civil.”

Kids can Earn College Credits at Pierson

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A few weeks ago, Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson High School, gave a presentation at a board of education meeting about Advanced Placement (AP) courses that the school currently offers. The presentation outlined how the students in the district compare with others taking similar courses around the world.
At this week’s board of education meeting, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced that he and Nichols are looking to get district students college credit for enrolling and passing the AP courses.
“We have been talking about the ways we could offer these courses to have dual credit,” Gratto said referring not only to high school, but college credit as well. “Jeff [Nichols] has been working with the Suffolk County Community College.”
Currently, Suffolk County Community College offers courses similar to those offered at Pierson such as European History, Physics and US Government.
The students would still be required to take a mandated AP exam, but at the same time, the students would be able to earn three college credits per course.
With the number of AP classes currently in place, the students could take 10 additional courses at Pierson and conceivably earn 30 college credits even before graduating from Pierson, according to Nichols.
At present, Pierson students can earn college credits for AP Math and AP Spanish through Long Island University, which gives the students college credit for these courses which are similar to courses at a college level.
The administrators are now waiting to hear back from Suffolk County Community College to see how the AP courses can be modified to fit the requirements.

Also at Monday’s board of education meeting, the board unanimously adopted a new policy on extra-curricular trips, which had been the topic of much discussion in prior meetings. Some residents and board members have, in past weeks, expressed concern for the students left behind as well as the educational purpose of the trips.
On Monday, Tin Wilcoxen, school board president Walter Wilcoxen’s significant other, said that she is in favor of extra-circular trips and believes these trips are a great asset to the curriculum.
The new policy outlines that a single teacher may only be allowed to take part in one extra-curricular trip per school year and that each teacher attending a field trip must submit a lesson plan to the principal a week in advance.
Also, the new policy will now require teachers to give a follow-up report on the trip to the principal, superintendent or board of education.

Purchasing Consortium Dead

In other news, at Monday’s meeting, Gratto announced that his idea for a South Shore Purchasing Consortium (SSPC) was “defunct.” The SSPC was an attempt to combine the resources of schools on the East End and have local businesses bid for providing things like fuel oil and paper. After a meeting with BOCES’ (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) district superintendent, Gary Bixhorn, Gratto found that it would be better to let BOCES work on getting better pricing for items while keeping the focus on schools on the South Fork. Gratto said that BOCES is better equipped with staff and information to put out request for bids for lower pricing.
According to Gratto, BOCES will hold informational meetings for local businesses to learn how the bidding process works.
“Now we have the opportunity to get bids on more products,” Gratto announced.
Additional items BOCES will focus on will include paint and supplies, fine and recycled paper, stationery, custodial supplies, fence equipment and art and craft supplies.
Business Manager of the Sag Harbor School District, Len Bernard, said at the meeting that BOCES will not charge a separate fee for this opportunity.
“We will get products at a lower cost and educate local bidders,” he said.
Gratto said on Monday that the South Shore Purchasing Consortium idea could be resurrected in the spring, if need be.

Push for Tuition Students

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President of School Board Walter Wilcoxen and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto

At their last meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education was treated to a demonstration by Pierson High School Jeff Nichols, who showed the students’ achievement levels compared to others on a global scale. At this week’s board of education meeting, superintendent Dr. John Gratto talked about those achievements and proposed that the school look at ways to raise revenue, including a plan to invite more students to the district on a tuition-based status.

“There are good test scores and they are attractive to any parent that may want to send their kids to this school,” Gratto said on Monday. “Could we be a bit entrepreneurial? And are we willing to accept students on a tuition basis?”
Gratto explained that by looking at the master schedule, he predicted the school could accept more students at no additional cost.
“How many kids could we take, without negatively affecting class size?” asked school board member Ed Haye.
Gratto responded there could be up to 35 more students per grade level, on the current schedule. Haye suggested that the district should start off slow, and added that 35 seemed like a lot of additional students in one grade.
School board president, Walter Wilcoxen suggested that for some of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses, adding more students might make those classes more economical to run.
Gratto added that the school might have to make some major decisions next year as to whether the school will offer the AP courses with limited enrollment.
“If we decided as a district to keep the classes vibrant, keep a rich curriculum … it would be a good thing to look into as long as we are able to say when we have too many students,” board member Mary Ann Miller, said. “We have tuition paying students now and this is the school they chose; I think that speaks to the program.”
“I second the notion of exploring it gently,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think our school may be appealing because of our small class size.”
“We are talking about negatively increasing 25 to 35 percent and that it won’t have a negative impact on the kids,” Parent Teacher Association President Chris Tice said at the meeting. She said the idea of raising revenue was approached nonchalantly by the board and noted that even if the district added three, four or five students to the class it would have a negative impact on the students. She said she would be cautious about adding to class size.
Gratto said on Tuesday that he intended to bring in more tuition-based students, but still stick to the school’s goal of small class sizes. For example, he said that if 30 new students came in to the school on a tuition-paying basis, and that tuition was $20,000 for each child, that would be $600,000 revenue for the district. He added, if the district had to add a teacher to keep class sizes small – that may cost the district $50,000, but the district could still potentially make $550,000 in profit.

Teacher Contracts
President of the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor, Eileen Kochanasz, spoke at Monday’s meeting about the prolonged teacher contract negotiations, which are closing in on the one-year mark.
“We are asking the board for a change in the process,” Kochanasz said, “There is an inordinate amount of time that goes by to consider the proposals.” She explained that in between the contract negotiation meetings, too much time lapses before they are able to come to the table again. She asked on Monday that the board consider authorizing the superintendent and the school’s attorney to negotiate at the table – eliminating the study and review process after each session.
Kochanasz said that as TASH president she is able to actively negotiate on the teachers’ behalf.
Wilcoxen responded that the board hasn’t discussed that but said that he supposed board members and Gratto could do so after the meeting.
“Let John [Gratto] know prior to the 10th [of December], that would clearly move this process,” said Kochanasz to Wilcoxen, “rather than stopping and waiting, stopping and waiting.”
“I’m torn,” Wilcoxen said. “On one hand I want to be honest and open, but I’m limited to what I can say, I’m only one voice of our seven.”
“We always had the authority to negotiate within parameters,” Gratto said on Tuesday. He said along with the board and the school’s attorney, he will meet with TASH members to talk about teacher negotiations on December 10.

Extra-Curricular Trips
At the start of Monday’s school board meeting, high school art teacher, Peter Solow, asked the board if he could show them a short film about past school trips to Italy.
“We hope to show you the effects and lasting effects of this very meaningful experience,” said Solow who would like to plan a trip to Italy in 2010.
At last month’s board of education meeting, a change in policy for field trips was discussed. In the past, several trips have extended beyond scheduled school vacation time and the board had its first reading of a new policy at that meeting, which outlined parameters for class-based and extra-curricular trips.
Resident Elena Loreto expressed her concerns that students would be losing valuable instructional time and also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind. Loreto asked the board to reconsider the policy.
Wilcoxen said that he did not believe the policy was ready to go yet, and it was tabled, for now.

Sag Harbor School Kids – Three times better than Global Average

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Although teachers are still working without contracts, the Sag Harbor school district has managed to triple the worldwide average for certain college-based courses for its school students.
At the Sag Harbor school board meeting Monday night, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board, community members and faculty on how the students in the high school compare with those in surrounding districts and other high schools with similar curriculums worldwide.
Currently, Pierson offers a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students in subjects such as world history, English, chemistry, calculus, art and so on. Nichols compared recent test results to those collected from previous years. In 2005, according to the data, there were 48 students enrolled in at least one AP course at Pierson and in 2008 there were 79 students. Nichols said that there was a 16 percent achievement rate for AP courses in 2002, but that results from 2007-08 show that there was a 74 percent achievement rate, even though the amount of students enrolled in AP courses has increased dramatically.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison of the average exam results in AP classes in Sag Harbor and how they compared to other schools worldwide.
“We are doing very well against the global mean,” Nichols said on Monday.
The information presented was taken from the College Board and the results show that Sag Harbor doubles the physics and biology worldwide average and nearly triples the worldwide average for English literature and composition.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison to local districts such as Bridgehampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Greenport, Mattituck and Eastport among others. Pierson typically scored higher in most state regents mandated exams such as English and math for eighth graders. Sag Harbor Regents test results showed Sag Harbor leading in five out of seven courses.
“Regents are tests mandated by the state and AP is not mandated,” Nichols told the crowd on Monday. “But the AP courses are the courses that help prepare for higher education and I see it as a necessity.”

Extracurricular Trips
After Nichols’ presentation, superintendent Dr. John Gratto explained that he and Nichols have worked on a revision of a new policy which outlines restrictions and allowances for extracurricular trips.
The new policy requires an outline for trips, those that will be curriculum-based and those not particularly tied to a curriculum. The new policy indicates students would not be allowed to miss more than two school days.
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said there is great concern for the quality of the education for the children that are left behind. He said they are trying to do a better job of finding a substitute or design activities relative to the subject for the children that remain in school.
Board member Sue Kinsella said on Monday that she is not in favor of taking the teachers out of the classroom for more than two days at a time and said that extensive field trips should be taken during vacation time.
Resident Elena Loreto, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting, said that she believes the only real impact a teacher has on a student is during traditional classroom instructional time. Loreto also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind.
This was the first reading of the policy, there will be a second reading and a chance for more input at the next meeting.

More Cost-Saving Measures
On Monday night, Gratto talked about additional plans that the district is investigating to try to save more money. Gratto said that there could be a mid-year state aid reduction, and that he and business manager Len Bernard are working diligently to try to come up with creative ways to cut costs. At the moment, Gratto said there are 16 ideas in the works for ways to try to reduce costs, including the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, a reduction in special education contracts and a freeze in the budget on some supplies. The district is now adding to that list an analysis of a different dental insurance company and requesting that computers are turned off when not in use, which Gratto said has shown a tremendous reduction in energy use in other municipalities. The district is also looking at a Medicaid reimbursement for services.
“We are in for a difficult year this year and possibly next year,” Gratto said.
Wilcoxen said, according to a publicized report from New York Governor David Paterson, the state has a two billion dollar deficit in education.
“I believe there will be no state money coming our way in the foreseeable future,” he said.
In response to the possible aid reduction, the school is considering buying a school bus and shuttle for field trips and trips for daily sporting activities. Bernard explained that the current bus company charges $85 per hour for a minimum of three hours.
“We had a field trip to Shelter Island, it cost three hours to bring the kids to the ferry and three hours to pick the kids up,” Bernard said. If the school had its own bus, the district could easily save money on trips such as this, according to Bernard.
Bernard said that the school might be able to examine shared services with Southampton or East Hampton and ask if those districts could pick up additional students. At the moment, Bernard said the district pays $22,000 to pick up Stella Maris students.

Sag Harbor Teacher Contracts – Still Waiting to Hear

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President of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, Walter Wilcoxen has been on vacation and missed the last school board meeting where nearly 50 teachers showed up in black shirts and buttons asking for new teacher contracts. In his place sat Theresa Samot who faced the upset teachers with fellow board members and superintendent, Dr. John Gratto.
The teachers contracts expired in June, and Gratto said on Tuesday that school attorney Tom Volz has been collecting data on surrounding districts and is expected to make a presentation to the superintendent and the school board on October 23.
The teacher contracts developed in 2004 expired on June 30. The teachers and school board were not able to come to an agreement on certain issues pertaining to the contracts so the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared impasse in June, which required that a mediator come in to help negotiate.
TASH President Eileen Kochanasz, said that her group is not invited to the October 23 meeting and she believes it may be a while after that meeting before TASH can meet with the board and superintendent to go over the contracts.
“I don’t know what to anticipate,” said Kochanasz who explained that after the school board met with Gratto and Volz last time, she was left in the dark about the next meeting date.
“I hope we will hear something at the end of this October 23 meeting,” Kochanasz said, “but I can’t be sure.”
Kochanasz said the data being collected by Volz has to do with salaries in other nearby districts, but Wilcoxen said the district is also looking at other issues involved, like post retirement data, which is also a concern.
“Tom Volz is compiling a review of our bargaining position – but it’s more than that,” Wilcoxen said.
Business Manager Len Bernard explained that an actuarial study is being performed by Milliman Inc., a global consulting and actuarial firm, regarding post retirement issues including health benefits, which he expected to have received on Tuesday. This is a new requirement that will determine post retirement issues for the next 20 to 25 years.
“It would be irresponsible to go ahead now, for the community,” Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We are asking ourselves, are we going to have this great school 10 years from now? Well that all depends on what we do now.”
“We want to make a recommendation about everything that is known so we can do our due-diligence,” Wilcoxen said, “We would back ourselves into a corner if we didn’t.”
Wilcoxen also added that he believes the old contract is not a bad contract, and the board is trying to do the best thing for the district.
“Hopefully we will be signing in the next few weeks,” Wilcoxen said, “We’re moving forward not backward, so that is positive.”

Teachers Push for a Contract

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The  Teachers Association of Sag Harbor may have traded in black shirts for more subtle buttons,but the message is still the same: they want a new contract.  

Members of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) are in the middle of negotiating their contracts with the Sag Harbor school district’s board of education and superintendent. The negotiating began in February of this year and many of the district’s teachers are wearing buttons on their shirts to stress the fact that they have yet to come to an agreement on certain pieces of the contract. The bargaining began between TASH and the board of education along with the former superintendent, Kathryn Holden. When they could not come to agreements on certain issues, they declared impasse.

 “Since TASH declared impasse in June we had a mediator come in.” superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Monday. “She came in two days in August but we haven’t scheduled another session with her at this point.”

The mediator, Karen Kenney, was chosen by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to work with the board of education, the superintendent, the school’s attorney, Tom Volz, and the Labor Relations Specalist who works for New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Rich D’Esposito.

On June 30, the previous contract, which was developed in 2004, expired, although is in effect until a new contract is developed. The teacher’s contract covers sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, benefits and salary among other items.

“Negotiations will continue,” Gratto said, “The board is working hard to propose terms of the contract that are fair to employees and the taxpayers.”

The Teachers Association’s Team, which consists of Eileen Kochanasz, math teacher Jim Kinnier, home economics teacher Donna Mannino, and third grade teacher Maria Semkus, were hoping for a new contract before the previous one expired.

According to Kochanasz, TASH president, TASH is made up of 119 teachers, substitutes and support service teachers.

In a recent Newsday poll, Kochanasz points out that the English test scores for Sag Harbor’s eighth grade are second out of 137 schools on Long Island. She said what the teachers are asking for is not a lot for a school with such a high rating.

“Why are we arguing over this?” she said, “We have a great school, let it be — it’s beautiful.”

Kochanasz said she is unsure when the next meeting on contract negotiations will take place because nothing is scheduled right now.

“From what I understand from Dr. Gratto is that the district attorney has compared current salaries from surrounding districts and presented them last week at the executive session on September 23,” Kochanasz said on Wednesday. “But they [the board] decided that their attorney did not get enough data for the next four years.”

Teahcer contracts are for four years, and Kochanasz explained that the school board has asked their attorney, Tom Volz, to get more information but she believes he would not be able to present this information before the middle of October.

“I don’t understand why the board had four years to consider the issues for this new contract and they are just starting to collect the data now,” Kochanasz said.

Gratto said that the contract negotiations are not something that can be rushed.

“This is simply a process that takes time,” Gratto said, “There are terms of the contract that the board is trying to take a ballot on.”

But Kochanasz says that even after the contract is agreed upon, TASH members still have to pick a date for a ratification vote. She explained that even if TASH meets by October 31, the group might not be able enact the new contract until the middle of November.

“This is just showing the disregard,” Kochanasz said, “We are what makes this school.”

But Gratto says that progress is being mae and notes that he and the board are also currently working on the custodial and secretarial union contracts.

“We are looking at three negotiations simultaneously,” Gratto said. “Both sides look at the issues differently and it takes time to get to an agreement. It’s a meeting of the minds.”

Gratto also said on Monday that it is incumbent upon the teachers and the board of education to reach a fair agreement.

“Wearing buttons won’t hurt or injure that process,” he said.

Barbara Cohen, representative for the secretarial union, said on Monday that contracts are still being discussed.

“We are not even sharing this information with our secretaries at this point,” Cohen said, but added, “We are making slow steady progress.”

Representative for the custodial department, Matt McAree, said his group is moving ahead at a steady pace.

“We have made a lot of progress on our contracts and hopefully they will be finalized soon,” McAree said on Monday. “Two more weeks and we should know. But even after we negotiate and it goes to the board, it will take a few weeks to go into effect after that.”


Are There Too Many Committees?

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When new Sag Harbor school superintendent Dr. John Gratto was handed a list of board of education sponsored committees, 16 in total, he scratched his head. Never had he seen a list of so many committees in his career as a superintendent.
“I thought that it must have been a very involved board of education,” he said on Wednesday. “I think that if the board and the public believe they are getting thorough information about issues, then there may be less of a need to have all of those committees. I think it’s prudent of the board to take a look at those committees and decide which are essential and which are nonessential.”
The board began to do just that last Monday at a work session. The majority of the committees are mandated, such as shared-decision committees, a health and wellness committee and an audit committee. But there are also a number of non-mandated committees and on Monday the board voted unanimously to dissolve two and discussed narrowing the scope, or charge, of another. The district will no longer have an athletics advisory committee or a personnel committee. As for the other, the budget advisory committee (BAC), discussion ensued over whether to eliminate it.
“I think there’s a universal agreement that [last year the BAC] did not work very well],” said board president Walter Wilcoxen.
Board member Sue Kinsella disagreed, “Because you had more representatives of different segments of the school district it in the community, you didn’t have four people with like minds forming all the decisions.”
Until last year the BAC consisted of a small number of community members with different backgrounds. Their charge was to evaluate and analyze the budget as presented and make recommendations. At the last budget meeting of the year they advised the board on the budget based on their analysis of the numbers.
But last year the board made the decision to expand the BAC and include more members from different parts of the community. One of those members was newly elected board member Mary Anne Miller. The BAC was also given a new charge of gathering data and meeting with administrators.
“I made every meeting but one,” began Miller. “After we made our recommendations early on, we continued to talk about what the board could do with contract negations, which we had no say on. But that’s all we talked about.”
Miller said they didn’t receive the information the board had intended to provide them, such as benchmarking, until the budget process was nearly over, and that the administrators never attended the meetings because they were apprised of them.
“They were apprised of them, just couldn’t make them,” said Kinsella.
Board member Ed Haye pointed out the BAC had been successful in the past because their analysis included administrator’s input. Haye said the biggest accomplishment of the BAC over the past three years was getting the district to move to zero-based-budgeting and the question arose whether the BAC was even needed anymore.
Haye said the recommendations from last year’s BAC were helpful
“We made them early on and then after that all we did was argue,” said Miller
The idea arose that perhaps the BAC’s new charge should be simply to attend the budget workshops and ask questions and then report back to the community as liaisons. Gratto asked why that would be any different from a regular community member doing the same thing.
Wilcoxen suggested the BAC had perhaps outgrown its charge and Gratto brought up the idea of eliminating the committee all together.
Wilcoxen mentioned the difficulty in giving such a group a specifically defined charge.
“It’s very hard to define that group of people,” he said “Some people want to limit everything, others want to open everything up.”
Board members Dan Hartnett and Theresa Samot both agreed that the BAC should remain in some fashion. Hartnett suggested they should perhaps meet less frequently but focus on one issue such as benchmarking. Samot pointed out the successful passing of the last budget and attributed it to the BAC.
“I’m a little bit leery of taking that away,” said Samot. “It will end up being interpreted as we don’t need their input.”

Top Photo: Ed Haye, Theresa Samot and Wes Frye at Monday’s board of education meeting.

It’s Do or Die for Lunch at Pierson

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The upcoming school year could be make-or-break for Pierson’s cafeteria. Based on an audit completed earlier this month which showed a loss of $49,000 and only 11 percent of the students purchasing lunches, the Sag Harbor Board of Education chose to eliminate a position in hopes of breaking even next time around.
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said one of the positions “had to go” and the board did not think a school lunch coordinator was needed. The result was the termination of Paula Brannon who has been a part of the lunch program at the school since 2002 and whose salary with benefits for the 2007-2008 school year was close to the amount the program was in the red. This was the first year that a school lunch coordinator salary was included in the cafeteria budget.
Wilcoxen said the board did not necessarily believe the move would mean the program would make money this year, but that it hopefully would keep it out of the red.
“If we get to this time next year and we have the same problem, then people have to seriously question whether this is a viable option. This is an attempt at getting this thing to work,” said Wilcoxen. “Ultimately the system may fail. Ultimately we may not have a lunch program at the school [in the future].”
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Tuesday that both he and the board believed three, rather than four, people could do the job and said he had no intention to fill Brannon’s position.
“From the consumer standpoint,” said Gratto, “nothing will change. The students will still get good quality food at the same price.”
A full lunch costs $3.25 and last year the program averaged 110 lunches a day.
Prior to last year the district had contracted with a food service provider for the program but last summer the decision was made to attempt to provide the service in-house. In order to do that, two full time positions, a head cook and a prep cook, and one part-time position, a cashier, were added. All of the positions were hourly and did not include benefits. Brannon, who had been the lunchroom manager the previous year when the food service provider, Whitson’s, ran the program, and a cashier before that, took a civil service test in order to fill the school lunch coordinator position which included a salary plus benefits.
“[The position] entailed a lot of the paper work, record keeping, ordering of food and supervising,” said Brannon.
Gratto said the plan was to have the head cook trained in the paperwork aspect of Brannon’s position, as well as the ordering of the food.
“I think the head cook can do those things,” he said. “If a cook prepares the meals, they need to know the inventory.”
Last year, the head cook was Lisa Becker who was hired at $22 an hour. Currently the position is empty because it was only a one-year appointment. Gratto said Becker would be reappointed at the August 11 board meeting. On top of her cooking duties, Becker will now also be in charge of the paperwork relating to the state’s reimbursable lunch program. Brannon said she was a little confused by the board’s actions, particularly because she is the only person on staff who is cross trained in all areas including the paperwork as well as food preparation.
“I think it can be done with three people,” said Brannon. “But they will have to do some pedaling when it comes to learning to do the paperwork. They may be cutting their nose off to spite their face.”
Last summer, as the board was deciding whether or not to re-contract with Whitson’s or create an in-house program, the district missed the opportunity to take advantage of a regional cooperative bidding program for food purchasing. Gratto believes that by taking advantage of that opportunity this year, cost savings could be realized.
As for Brannon, she will continue to be employed by the district as the middle and high school play director. She is also the senior class advisor for next year. However she will not be in the lunchroom on a daily basis.
“I’ve been there for six years and I’ve put blood, sweat and tears into that district,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard to keep in close contact with the students.”

Photo: Sag Harbor Board of Education President Walter Wilcoxen