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Bridgehampton School District to Pierce Tax Cap

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Monasia Street shows off her robot's skills to her classmates during a robotics demonstration at the Bridgehampton School in February. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Bridgehampton Board of Education has decided to pierce the tax levy cap to save programs like robotics, which enables students like Monasia Street, above, to learn about technology. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a third and final presentation of the 2014-15 budget before it is adopted April 23, the Bridgehampton Board of Education unanimously decided to pierce the mandated state tax cap in order to salvage its programs, curriculum and staff.

After Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre presented several options to the school board on March 26, each with different spending increases and the corresponding cuts that would be required, the board decided to move forward with a 9.93 percent spending increase, which is 4.46 percent over the district’s allowable tax levy limit.

If Bridgehampton voters pass the budget, it would increase the tax bill on a $500,000 house by $56.64 for the year, an amount that costs “less than one latte a week,” Dr. Favre reminded those in the room.

The final budget removes the “wish list” items, mainly for technology advances, staff development and curriculum work, from the original budget draft, but allows for overtime. No staff positions or programs would be lost, but some programs will still have to be reduced, said Dr. Favre, such as the homework club, which will now run three days a week, rather than four.

The proposed spending for the 2014-15 school year is $12.33 million, an increase of $1.11 million over last year’s budget, largely due to contractual salary and benefit increases. The proposed tax levy increase of $909,781 would be $429,023 over the levy limit.

At a community forum on the budget March 5, those in attendance were unanimous in their opinion that the school district needed to pierce the cap if it were to continue providing Bridgehampton’s kids with a decent education.

The forum, Dr. Favre said, showed those residents’ “belief that actual dollar amounts are negligible compared to what could be lost if cuts are made too deeply.”

Dr. Favre also noted that the district is actually spending less than in previous years. The budget Bridgehampton originally proposed in 2010-2011 is higher than what is being proposed four years later.

“So, we’ve been doing what they asked, we’ve been making the necessary cuts,” Dr. Favre said last week.

“Each budget is only a cut for that school year,” she added. “The deeper the cuts, the harder it is to get the programs and people put back in.”

The school board agreed the 9.93 percent increase was the best option, providing a good balance between preserving programs without substantially increasing residents’ tax bills.

Douglas DeGroot, a member of the school board, said if the district could no longer support itself and had to close, the school taxes for Bridgehampton’s residents would go up, so piercing the tax cap now is the cheaper option in the long run.

“You can’t have a school district without a school,” said Mr. DeGroot. “So, we will become a part of somebody else’s and if we become a part of Sag Harbor—which is the closest and makes the most sense—the school portion of our tax bill, which is the majority of our tax bill, will treble here.”

A public budget hearing will be held May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School.

Looking to Spend $827,000 in Capital Reserve Funds, Bridgehampton School District Will Hold Special Vote January 14

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Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In need of new fire escapes and other major repairs, the Bridgehampton School District will host a special meeting January 14 for the community to vote on spending $827,000 in capital reserve funds.

Last March, Bridgehampton voters approved the establishment of a five-year capital plan to fund major improvements and repairs throughout the school. The board of education (BOE) funded the capital plan with $827,000 in June. Now district voters must voice their support of actually spending that reserve money.

At the school board meeting November 20, Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s school business administrator, said district architects have detailed about $790,000 in spending on items “they feel are a priority that need to be done.”

The largest priority items are replacing the gymnasium floor and skylights and installing new fire escapes; smaller capital projects would also be covered by the $827,000. If the spending is approved by majority vote, the district hopes to complete the projects over the summer so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Also at the November 20 meeting, Hauser updated the board on the progress of upgrading school security. New interior doors for the front entrance were installed Wednesday. When a visitor comes through the original exterior doors, they enter into a vestibule, where the new interior doors are now locked.

The school plans to install a camera and intercom system, so front desk personnel can buzz visitors into the building upon identification. Bridgehampton School staff members have been issued ID cards and students in grades six through 12 will receive cards in the next two weeks.

School districts nationwide are increasing security standards following the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last December. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January requiring schools to submit school safety plans.

“With all the new changes in the regulations,” said Dr. Lois Favre, Bridgehampton’s superintendent/principal, “everybody in the school needs to get certain kinds of training.”

Also at the meeting, Hauser cautioned the board about the tax cap for this year’s budget, which he estimates will be 1.54 percent. In June 2011, Governor Cuomo mandated school districts and local municipalities limit the annual increase in property taxes to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. With increasing security standards and decreasing funds, school districts like Bridgehampton are wary of drafting their budgets.

“We’re only allowed to collect 1.54 percent of the last year’s levy,” said Hauser. “So it’s not on what we’re going to spend, it’s what we actually collected — and that’s about $160,000. $160,000 is not a lot to work with.”

Employee benefits for district staff and retirees are projected to go up by about seven percent, Hauser said.

“We’ve come once again to the realization that some significant cuts will have to be made to be able to stay within the two percent tax cap levy limits,” said Dr. Favre. “Like everywhere else in New York State, we’ll be scrambling once again to try to come up with a budget that’s viable for the district and meets the taxpayers’ approval.”

Dr. Favre attended talks by educational experts Bill Mathis and Diane Ravitch on the prevalence of standardized testing and the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) in New York, which has sparked controversy across the state. Many educators are finding more issue with the implementation of CCLS in New York State and the “rush to test,” as Ravitch calls it, rather than the curriculum itself.

Dr. Favre said looking to increase technology and fostering pedagogy that is “not so much worried about the test scores as we’re worried about our kids,” aligned with the experts’ recommendations.

While addressing Long Island superintendents and board members in Hauppauge last week, Ravitch called for superintendents to boycott Common Core testing altogether.

“In my contract,” the superintendent said, “it says I need to follow the rules and regulations of the Commissioner of the State of New York.”

“We do advocate for our students,” she continued, adding that superintendents from Western Suffolk and Suffolk County have sent statements regarding CCLS to Commissioner John King.

“We here at Bridgehampton School are looking at Common Core very seriously,” said Dr. Favre. “We see some of the value in it. We know we need to move our kids, but you can’t just shove this down kids’ throat.”

Local School Board Challengers Emerge

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Sag Harbor
By Claire Walla

In the wake of possible tax cap legislation and a proposed $33 million school budget, giving Sag Harbor voters even more decisions to wrestle with this election season are four people who will be running for three open slots on the Sag Harbor Board of Education.

Current board member Mary Anne Miller and vice president Theresa Samot will run for reelection, joining former two-time school board member Sandi Kruel, as well as current Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Annette Bierfriend on the ballot.

All cited the current economic climate as a pressing issue for the board this upcoming year, though how the district should respond in tough economic times depends on the candidate.

Miller said, “We have to continue to look in our district to see what we’re doing well.” Though she added that “IB is another part of the discussion in terms of our curriculum.” In the ongoing process of continually revisiting the school’s curriculum, she said she appreciates IB for fostering project-based learning and collaboration among staff.

Additionally, as a member of the district’s Wellness Committee, Miller said ensuring the ecological and physiological aspects of wellness and sustainability are important issues she will continue to tackle, if reelected.

Though, she added, it all comes down to finances.

“Without financial health, we can’t make it happen,” she said.

In line with Miller’s push to revamp the district’s curriculum, Bierfriend said the IB program is the main platform of her campaign for school board.

“I’m a huge advocate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program,” said Bierfriend, who is running for the school board for the first time this year. (She said she would have run last year, although she had not yet met the official one-year residency requirement in Sag Harbor Village until this year.) “I think IB is a curriculum that creates more of an open-mindedness. It gives teachers a creative way of teaching.”

In addition to being a proponent of the high school-level diploma program, Bierfriend also supports bringing IB in at all grade levels. Plus—as part of the Pre-K committee this year—she said implementing a Pre-K program within in the district should be a high priority.

“I just think that right now it’s important to give every child every opportunity available,” Bierfriend continued. “As parents, community members and tax payers, we’re responsible for their education. Because no matter what you go on to do in life, you always have your education to fall back on.”

Though she is the only candidate without prior board experience, Bierfriend said her past experience as a senior mortgage underwriter in Manhattan helps.

“I knew tax returns like the back of my hand,” she explained. “I hated math in high school, but somehow I’m good with numbers.”

For Samot, who is running for her third term, the primary issue for the district is long-term planning.

“We’re not exactly sure what the tax cap might bring,” she said, adding that in order to adequately prepare for the future, wider involvement from the community at large is key.

“We need to focus on transparency and collaboration,” she noted. “What I would like to see is improved attendance at the board meetings. And if we can’t get people at the meetings, we need more forums.”

Samot said the board is headed in the right direction.

“Now that the appropriate administrators are in place and [the district has established] the audit committee, we will continue to work for transparency,” she added.

Sandi Kruel, who has served two terms on the board of education from 2000 to 2006, but wasn’t reelected for a third term, noted that it hasn’t deterred her from attending meetings and staying involved.

“I never believed that I needed to be on the board to fight for children,” she stated.

Especially important in this economic climate, Kruel continued, is not looking too far down the road in terms of implementing new programs and increasing district costs, but rather keeping the district’s current programs in place.

“People are hurting [in this economy] and we have got to take that into consideration,” she added. “I don’t want to hire someone for six months and then say, ‘Sorry, we’ve got to let you go.’”

Kruel emphasized that preserving the district’s existing programs is her ultimate goal.

“We need to make sure we can keep what we have here,” she explained. “It’s not easy, it’s not a fun job. But, I don’t think anybody’s on that board because they don’t like kids.”

“I go to the meetings of the board, anyway,” Kruel added. “I’m already there.”

Bridgehampton

By Kathryn G. Menu

The Bridgehampton Union Free School District has gone through a number of changes over the last five years, particularly on its school board, which has just one member — Elizabeth Kotz — who has been present on the board for more than half a decade.

However, it appears for this year at least, there will be no change to the school board as Kotz and Bridgehampton School Board President Nicki Hemby will seek re-election to the board unopposed this May.

On Tuesday morning, Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre confirmed that Hemby and Kotz alone submitted petitions to run for school board by the district’s deadline on Monday afternoon.

Hemby, a first year president of the school board, will seek her second three-year term.

The 39-year-old was elected alongside Kotz in 2008 while she was president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. Hemby, who is one of the founders of the online parent resource Macaroni Kid, has four children in the Bridgehampton School. She originally ran, in part, to oust former board member Joe Conti after he supported former board member Joe Berhalter’s initiative to put out a referendum to district voters to phase out the school’s small high school over four years. Had it succeeded, that initiative would have sent students to neighboring school districts after eighth grade.

Hemby was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.

Kotz, who has served as vice president and president of the school board, is seeking her third term on the board. A member and past co-president of the PTO, Kotz has also served on a number of the school’s committees including the audit committee, the district strategic planning/site based committee, the budget committee, the policy committee and the wellness committee.

Since 1999, she has also been a trustee of the Hampton Library.

Kotz has two children who currently attend Bridgehampton School and a daughter who graduated from the district in 2009.

“I decided to run for another term because I felt the district has undergone so many personnel changes this past year it would be good to have some consistency on the board,” said Kotz on Tuesday. “We are a good team and I think collectively we represent the interests of the entire community.”

Kotz said she is committed to seeing the school district through its Middle States Accreditation process, and is pleased to see that the district’s replacement of the windows at the historic school is moving forward.

The school has also expanded the breadth of its course offerings, including the introduction of new advanced placement and foreign language classes, as well as its experientially-based environmental design course, which has expanded through the creation of the Bridgehampton Foundation, a not-for-profit that successfully erected a greenhouse on school grounds last month.

However, the next few years at Bridgehampton will not likely be without challenges, said Kotz.

Budgeting, in particular, will be one of the biggest issues, she said, with the impending state-imposed two percent property tax cap school districts and municipalities will likely have to adhere to next year.

Kotz said to tackle that issue, she believes the board is already on the right course and will continue to work with Dr. Favre, business administrator Robert Hauser and the school’s budget advisory committee towards strengthening programming at the school, while also remaining fiscally responsible.

“Another challenge the school district will have to take on is dealing with much needed capital improvements,” said Kotz. “We need more space and we need to address this issue.”

In addressing the dialogue about capital improvements at the school, Kotz said she believes the board can reach out and educate the community on the importance of supporting its local school.

“Whether we have children in the school or not, we all benefit from improved property values,” she said.