By Claire Walla
This year’s Sag Harbor School District budget process represented a series of financial feats: The district is expected to save $1 million in the next 10 years by purchasing six new school buses next year. This year, the business office refinanced loans and streamlined procedures to generate a recorded savings of $267,013. Perhaps most importantly, the school district managed to create a budget that came in under the two-percent tax cap — without eliminating programs or personnel.
Much of this is thanks to the district’s Business Director, Janet Verneuille, to whom the district will bid a fond farewell at the end of this academic year.
The initial announcement of Verneuille’s departure was made public at the tail end of a Key Communicators meeting last Thursday, and a resolution was added to last Monday’s monthly business meeting, where the school board was poised to formally accept her resignation.
“I implore the board to entice Janet [Verneuille] however you can to make her stay,” said Noyac resident Elena Loreto, speaking during a public comment portion of the meeting. “Both [District Superintendent] Dr. Gratto and Janet happen to care about their jobs… because of their teamwork, no programs were cut this year.”
She continued, “Do not accept her resignation tonight.”
The board did, in fact, table the resolution to its next meeting, June 4; but only for formality’s sake. For legal reasons, Verneuille said she is barred from discussing the details of her next step.
Still, School Board President Mary Anne Miller expressed she was sad to see Verneuille go.
“I will be accepting that resignation with deep regret,” she said. “Thank you for coming and helping us through three years of a very big job. I really appreciate all your hard work and the improvements we’ve seen; all of us have reaped the rewards.”
Verneuille came to the Sag Harbor School District in February of 2010, after having served as comptroller for the town of East Hampton and in leadership roles in the banking sector.
She joined the district at a time when there was just $65,000 left in its undesignated fund balance. Because the fund balance cannot go into the negative, Verneuille said she knew she faced a tough road ahead.
“Arriving in February 2010, my greatest challenge was initiating the change to the way people thought and behaved concerning the spending and finances of their district,” Verneuille wrote in an email. “Integrity is important to me as a leader, and my nature is to take on challenging situations and tackle them.”
Over the years, under Verneuille’s leadership, the district went from adopting a 12 percent budget increase two years ago, to 5.48 percent the year after that, to this year’s total, which overall came down to a 2.88 percent increase.
In answering whether or not she felt she had accomplished everything she set out to when she joined the district, Verneuille was diplomatic.
“Does one ever accomplish everything [one] sets out to do?” she continued. “I know the business side of the district runs more smoothly than before my arrival.” And most importantly, she added, “The district is on solid financial footing.”
Dr. Gratto heard the news of Verneuille’s departure last Monday, May 14, and has already advertised for the position across the state of New York. Interviews will be held for the position on June 6, and Dr. Gratto expects to have a recommendation for the position for board approval at its meeting June 16.
Echoing many sentiments already expressed, Dr. Gratto said, “We are on much more solid financial footing because of Janet’s work.”
Verneuille said her new position outside the municipal sector “is exciting, and offers an enticing opportunity.”
“Yet it was a difficult decision to make,” she added. “Knowing that the district is sound financially and positioned well for the future financial challenges helps.”