Tag Archive | "David Diskin"

After More Than Six Months of Debate, Still No Decision on Taping Sag Harbor School Board Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

Each spring around the time of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) budget vote and elections, “transparency” becomes a buzzword for the district. Candidates and board members repeatedly stress the need for open communication with the public and express their commitment to ensuring the board is operating as openly as possible.

However, it appears a discussion on broadcasting school board meetings continues without gaining real traction—the concept was once again tabled after six months of debate.

BOE member David Diskin has repeatedly asked for the topic to be on the board’s agendas since he was sworn into office last July. It has been a topic of discussion at least seven times since August, but no concrete steps have been taken.

In January, a group formed to address the issue, which included BOE members Chris Tice, Mary Anne Miller and Mr. Diskin, as well as director of technology Scott Fisher, recommended the board have a “pilot program.” With no money allotted in the budget for the program this year, they recommended it be implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

During Monday’s board meeting, it appeared at least the financing for the project had been worked out.

Community member John Battle, who has had two children in the district, recalled the group’s recommendation to “implement a six-month trial period of broadcasting.”

“The only thing standing in the way, it seemed, was the lack of funds to purchase the equipment needed to videotape and record the proceedings,” Mr. Battle said.

“On behalf of The Sag Harbor Education Best Practice Group,” he continued, “I urge the board to accept the recommendations… and I am happy to announce here in public, as I have already done to the board by e-mail, that our group is willing to provide the equipment for this trial project if the board votes to proceed with it.”

“We have reached out to our attorney to get input from him,” responded school board president Theresa Samot.

Ms. Samot said a scheduled meeting with school attorney Thomas Volz specifically about recording meetings was postponed due to inclement weather, but the board will meet with him regarding the matter in the beginning of March.

“Certainly,” she said,” it’s not our intent to hold this up, and we’re not saying we’re against this. We just need to get some more input from our attorney at this point.”

Ms. Samot added that the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) has no best practice policy on recording school board meetings that the board could use as a guideline.

The board, said Ms. Tice, needs to look at whether there would be additional personnel costs and if the potential for members of the public to request information through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) has “an indication of the amount of hours our personnel has to spend on it.”

“I was naïve on the committee,” Ms. Tice said of her prior recommendation to start a trial period, “to think that I was ready to make a recommendation, because we really hadn’t asked all the questions. I still believe that there’s a lot of merit in this, but a lot more questions have come up that I don’t really know the answer to.”

“What we’re finding is that there are certainly elements to at least be considered, even elements beyond cost,” agreed interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.

“We have board policy that guides what you do. In terms of training, is there such a thing as training people to be able to hold a meeting that is taped?”

Dr. Bonuso said he felt questions such as where the camera would be placed, whether recording meetings would mean that everyone in the audience would also be taped, whether students in attendance would need to give permission to be on camera and whether or not tapes would be edited need to be addressed before the board can move forward.

“We want to know that when we do this we’re prepared,” he said, adding, “I know it can be frustrating waiting for this to unfold.”

“I just think more maximum transparency, more maximum access…it’s got to be a good thing,” Mr. Diskin said.

“I think the community wants it,” agreed Daniel Hartnett, a member of the board who has expressed his support of the project several times.

“The only responsible thing to do,” said Ms. Tice, “is to understand what the implications are before we vote on it.”

Unless there is a hot topic on the agenda, board meetings are typically attended by fewer than five people, aside from members of the press and the administrators and board members who are obligated to be there.

Recording meetings was discussed in-depth at the board’s October 15 session.

“We want to have a video where people can’t cut or paste,” Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said at that meeting. “We also have to be concerned about having students on video.”

Ms. Tice expressed her concern that recordings could be edited to quote people out of context and said some districts found that once meetings were available online, the public stopped showing up in person.

Scott Fisher, director of technology, told the board that once public meetings are recorded, “That’s a permanent record and can be searched through FOIL and requirements for retention of school district records.”

At the November 18 board meeting, Mr. Diskin again asked the board to discuss video recording its meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look into.

“Taping of board meeting” was on the agenda again at a December session, when Ms. Miller, Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin agreed to meet with Mr. Fisher to take concrete steps to set up at least an audio recording. It was discussed again in January, when Mr. Diskin told the board the group had looked at a variety of possibilities and researched the different technical aspects required, the expense, time and labor involved, as well as the different ways tapes meetings could be distributed to the public.

“We basically came to the conclusion,” reported Mr. Fisher at the time, “that it might be best—if we decided to go down this road—to do a pilot program for a short period of time.”

Mr. Fisher said the best means of doing so seems to be putting the video on one of the local public access channels, either LTV in East Hampton or SEA-TV in Southampton.

Ms. Tice noted that out of 17 East End school districts Mr. Fisher had contacted about the project, only two publicly broadcast their school board meetings, East Hampton and Southampton. LTV broadcasts the meetings for East Hampton and SEA-TV does the same for Southampton.

“We haven’t made a commitment to doing anything at this point,” said Mr. Fisher in January. “But, if we are to move forward, I think we would all agree that would be the direction in which we want to proceed.”

The total cost, Mr. Fisher said, would be somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000, which Mr. Battle agreed to fund Monday.

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

Sag Harbor School Board Hopes to Host Educational Summit on Administrative Sharing

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Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday.

Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Facing substantial losses in state aid and severe limitations on its ability to raise local revenue, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to host an educational summit this summer to discuss sharing administrative services with nearby districts.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said he had recently discussed possible cooperation with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, as well as leaders from other school districts.

Daniel Hartnett, a BOE member, first proposed examining the possibility of an administrative merger at the December 2 board meeting.

“We’re beyond — in terms of shared services — buying toilet paper as a collective,” Hartnett said Monday. “I think we’ve milked every penny we could out of that.”

Board member Mary Anne Miller said both East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming have approached her to express their interest in the consolidation of administrative functions.

The BOE hopes to accelerate the discussion before fiscal limitations mandate severe cuts to school programs, supplies and teaching positions as, like districts across the state, Sag Harbor is facing an uphill battle this budget season.

Under the “tax cap,” a regulation enacted by the New York State Legislature in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation (whichever is less) annually, limiting districts’ ability to raise local revenue.

A provision of the tax cap legislation permits a handful of school districts with enrollments of 1,000 students or less to share a superintendent. The Greenport and Southold school districts were the first in the state to announce plans to do so in November. Starting in July, current Southold Superintendent David Gamberg will work for both districts and report to both school boards, with the districts splitting the costs of his salary evenly.

Prior to the tax cap, in 2009 the state adopted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Legislators developing the state budget realized the state’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap.” The GEA was created to fill that gap, essentially passing the burden onto the state’s school districts.

The state now uses a calculation based “primarily on district wealth,” according to School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, to determine a district’s GEA, an amount that is then deducted from their state aid.

Sag Harbor had some $243,000 in state aid taken away last year due to the GEA, O’Keefe said Monday.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the start of the GEA four years ago.

Since state aid and local property taxes are the primary means for a district to raise revenue, the GEA and the tax cap have forced districts “to make difficult choices,” according to NYSSBA.

Such choices are prompting the school board to spearhead the conversation on superintendent sharing on the East End.

Dr. Bonuso said a steering committee would ideally be formed in the spring, consisting of several administrators, legislators and board members who would then organize an agenda or protocol for an educational summit or similar legislative meeting to take place over the summer.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said he believes the tax cap is a result of the poor economic climate and may be removed as the economy recovers.

BOE Vice President Chris Tice, who presided over Monday’s meeting in President Theresa Samot’s absence, replied that the cap is politically tied to rent control laws in New York City and will not sunset for another seven years.

Tice expressed her support of putting a group together in the spring and hosting a summit this summer.

“The sooner we can think of these things and do it the better we’ll be,” agreed David Diskin, a member of the school board.

“People who are more in touch with what’s actually going on in their communities understand how important and valuable education is,” he said, adding the higher up in government, “the more it becomes an abstract concept.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, the BOE honored Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant (TA) in the district, with tenure.

“Fausto,” said Nichols, “for me, in many ways represents that key piece, that key connection between the school and many students in the ESL [English as a Second Language] population. He has a passion for trying to make the transition for the students who come from other countries a smooth one.”

“The way you interact with staff and with every student is with such dignity and respect and joy,” added Tice. “And they have a visceral positive response to you.”

Joined by his wife Diana, also a Sag Harbor teacher’s assistant, Fausto received a standing ovation from the room of administrators and colleagues.

Holding back tears, he addressed the room.

“There’s one thing that none of you have said,” he said. “One of the most joyful things that I live with here at school is the people that I work with…this is our home and I’ve told Mr. Nichols this many times, we’re just thrilled to be here every morning.”

Anticipating Tight Finances, Sag Harbor School Board to Look at Superintendent Sharing

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By Tessa Raebeck

In efforts to reduce cuts to teacher positions, school programs and supplies brought on by tight budgets, the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) is considering hosting a forum for East End school districts to discuss the possibility of sharing a superintendent and other services in the future.

In 2011, the New York State Legislature established a two percent real property tax cap, limiting the annual increase of property taxes levied by school districts (as well as local municipalities) to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

A provision of the legislation permits a handful of school districts with enrollments of 1,000 students or less to share a superintendent.

In November, the Greenport and Southold School Districts were the first in the state to announce plans to do so. Effective July 2014, the districts will equally split the salary of current Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, who will work for both districts and report to both school boards.

At Monday’s meeting, school board member Daniel Hartnett proposed examining the possibility of a similar merger in Sag Harbor.

“The sentiment I sense in the community,” said Hartnett, “is a great desire to value what is really treasured and honored here, which is our educational program, our sports program.”

“Looking three to five years out,” he continued, “and looking at numbers crunching and seeing a lot of that is in peril if the tax cap remains — and I think we need to assume the tax cap is going to remain — I think it is incumbent on us to examine all possibilities.”

Hartnett suggested spearheading a summit of neighboring school boards and administrators, as well as local elected officials.

BOE Member Susan Kinsella said that offering a part-time job wouldn’t provide the same opportunity for the superintendent to be an integral part of the community, which is a priority of the board in its current search for a permanent superintendent.

Hartnett said it is far too late to impact the current search; he simply wants to start a dialogue.

“This is a long-term project,” he said, “but it comes from a place where we all value what happens in the classroom with our kids and the values we have of our curriculum, of our approach, of our style of teaching, of our class size — but all of that is in jeopardy in the fairly near future.”

“Three years down the road, I’d hate to see us under duress,” agreed BOE member David Diskin. “I’d much rather see that [conversation] now at a point where we can vet out these things.”

In other school news, school board members Diskin, Mary Anne Miller and BOE vice president Chris Tice agreed to meet with director of technology Scott Fisher to take concrete steps to set up a podcast (audio recording) of board meetings to be broadcasted on the district website.

Also at Monday’s meeting, district architect Larry Salvesen presented a projected schedule for the implementation of the capital projects approved by the bond vote November 13.

The timeline includes a startup phase, the preparation of construction documents to submit to state agencies, the subsequent review of those documents, the bidding and awarding of contracts and the actual construction.

The final closeout is projected for October 2016 according to the timeline, which Salvesen said represents a conservative estimate. Construction projects are scheduled so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Looking for feedback from the community, the district is hosting a public meeting to discuss the next steps for bond implementation and the reforming of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee Thursday, December 5 at 6 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School Library.

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.