In an attempt to combine ideas from community members and faculty, the Sag Harbor School District held a forum last Thursday to ask for input on what could be changed in the school to make it better and offer ideas to cut costs. In a letter Superintendent Dr. John Gratto sent to possible participants, he stated that the community is facing the most serious financial crisis since the great depression and asked if they would like to be a part of a focus group.
Two significant questions Gratto asked participants to consider while thinking about the 2009-2010 school budget included how might the community maintain or improve high-quality educational programs and services while maintaining efficient and cost-effective possibilities.
“We followed this idea and it really worked quite well,” Gratto said on Monday, “In my group we came up with 160 ideas in one hour.”
According to Gratto, the 50 or so participants came up with 400 ideas that night, on ways to improve the school district and reduce costs. Gratto, who organized the forum, asked that many different representatives from various groups participate. Those who joined in the brainstorming session included teachers, students, faculty, Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) members, members of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and members of the not-for-profit organization, Save Sag Harbor.
The attendees were split into five groups and were given a few questions to use as a guide for ideas. Some suggestions included how the school might reduce energy consumption and overtime costs. Other questions were asked about lowering transportation costs and ways the district might increase revenue to minimize taxes.
Some of the ideas generated from the forum included allowing teacher assistants to substitute and investigating pre-kindergarten programs. Other ideas included plans for increasing revenue by charging other schools to use the athletic fields and other facilities.
Another idea brought up during the forum was offering incentives for teachers to retire.
The plan was to have two forums, but the five groups covered everything at last Thursday’s meeting and Gratto announced at the Board of Education meeting on Monday that a second meeting was not needed.
“Now we are in the process of compiling the ideas into categories,” Gratto said and added that the all the ideas will be put on the school’s website.
Contract Negotiations Move Slowly
Another idea generated from the forum was to hold union negotiations in public.
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Walter Tice, a former Board of Education President, talked about the lack of urgency among the board with the current teacher’s contracts which have been expired since June of this year.
“The longer you go past the expiration date of the contract, the longer it takes to get to an agreement,” he said. “Now,” he continued, “the negotiations are going slower than they were when they [Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, TASH] first talked to you.”
President of the board of education, Walter Wilcoxen said that the board has a proposal, which they are hoping to present to TASH representatives at their next negotiation meeting, which would take place on Wednesday, yesterday, December 10.
“We hope to make a suggestion and we feel it is a good one,” Wilcoxen said at the meeting on Monday. Further he explained that he guarantees that the board and their representatives have paid full attention to all of issues involved and they are trying to do what is right for the citizens.
At the board of education meeting, Eileen Kochanasz, president of TASH, said that she was concerned that the board was coming to the negotiation meeting with only one proposal.
“The dragging out of this process is taking its toll, you said a proposal,” Kochanasz said to Wilcoxen, “I’m not sure you have authorized your representatives to negotiate…we have offered to spend the night to get to the bottom of this…we are hoping your representative has the ability to go back and forth with us.”
Walter countered Kochanasz and said, “I hope that TASH will agree with our proposal on Wednesday, I don’t know what more to say than that.”
When PTA president Chris Tice asked if that meant the board is not planning on negotiating any further than their one proposal on Wednesday, Wilcoxen abruptly responded, “we are not going to discuss the way we negotiate in public.”