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Raise for Bridgehampton Superintendent and Principal

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web Youngblood

By Marianna Levine

Last Wednesday night’s Bridgehampton Board of Education workshop started with a moment of silence for Bridgehampton English teacher Tom Kelly who had passed away the previous night (see story on page 3). And while the meeting was colored by the teacher’s passing, and discussion was kept quiet and respectful throughout the meeting, the board worked through a number of agenda items, including granting raises to the superintendent of schools, Dr. Dianne Youngblood, and the school’s principal, Jack Pryor.

The board had apparently discussed the increases during an executive session on July 14, according to board president Elizabeth Kotz. But the vote to approve the increases — four percent for each — occurred during the passing of a consent agenda during the July 22 work session. According to the resolution, Dr. Youngblood will see her salary increase from $178,637 to $185,782, and Pryor will see an increase from $134,998 to $140,398.

The rate of increase was determined by “whose opinion prevailed” during the executive session discussion, said Kotz this week.

The brunt of Wednesday’s meeting was about the replacement of the school’s windows. Architect Paul Rodgers and his partner Bill Chaleff presented an overview of the windows’ history and why they urgently needed to be replaced.

Rodger’s explained that the original windows were manufactured with a preservative that proved to be defective, and that at some point there was a lawsuit against the manufacturer. Apparently people were compensated for the defective windows but “Bridgehampton didn’t file a claim within the necessary time frame” according to Rodgers.

However Rodgers stated this isn’t the main problem the school is facing regarding window replacement. He related, “a complicating factor is that the windows have steel above them which made it possible and convenient to install the brick arches above the windows; but now the steel is rusting and causing both discoloration and disfigurement.”

This complication make the replacement much more expensive, Rodgers cautioned. In the end he thought the board needed to look at a budget of about $600,000 for the cost of materials and labor.

Interim business manager George Chesterton thought the board needed to have more specific information about actual costs in order to budget enough money to cover all unexpected expenses. 

Chesterton said, “You need to make sure you have authorization with enough funds to go forward with the project. You need to think of all the things in terms of the condition of the building that might stymie us.”

With Chesterton’s caution in mind the board did not resolve to do anything as yet with Rodger’s report and the windows.

As the board was about to adjourn into executive session, District Clerk Joyce Crews Manigo cautioned board president Kotz that the board needed to state their reasons more specifically before adjourning into an executive session.

“About executive session,” she said, “you need to be more specific about what goes on.”

Kotz’s response was “there will be no resolutions,” and the board adjourned.

Manigo explained she wanted the reasons to be included in the meeting’s minutes. She reminded board members that the external auditor would be looking over board meeting and workshop minutes as part of the external audit currently being conducted and that Manigo wanted to make sure everything was in good shape for that review. An external audit is part of every school district’s annual procedures as they close their accounting books at the end of every school year.

As a matter of fact Kotz had asked at the July 6 board meeting for further clarification on executive session procedures from Manigo and noted prior to the previous executive session that the board would be making resolutions during that executive session. At that meeting, the school appointed the firm Gurcio & Gurcio as school’s counsel at an annual retainer of $25,000, and $225/hr. for litigation, and $225/hr. for negotiations, with a $20,000 cap for negotiations. The board also approved 10 hours for teacher Helen Smith to develop a junior-senior writing course and character education program.

Several board members have mentioned off the record that since Bridgehampton is such a small school district they need to go into executive session because the public would know too readily whom the board is talking about, even if no names are mentioned specifically, and that privacy needs to be maintained for those individuals.

“We are totally in compliance with the Open Meeting Laws,” said Kotz in an interview Wednesday. “We always state that we are going into executive session for legal and personnel issues or contract negotiations. We state if we are coming out (of executive session) with resolutions.”

Pre-K May Bring Districts Closer

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Since 1998, elementary school principal Joan Frisicano has advocated opening a Sag Harbor pre-kindergarten program. Over the years, she saw neighboring school districts like Southampton, East Hampton and even Amagansett set up their own pre-k curriculums, but year after year the village functioned without a program. In Sag Harbor, it seems covering the initial costs for pre-k — priced roughly at $260,000 — was a hard sell to village taxpayers.

 In 2008, Frisicano believed some federal Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) funds would open up to the school district, but she faced another hurdle: finding room to accommodate the three and four-year-old students. With classroom space at a premium in the elementary school, Frisicano researched possible locations and seemed to find a perfect match at the Bridgehampton School.

 Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said in the past few months, the two school districts have been analyzing ways to share and economize services by working together. Running a joint pre-k program was one such idea Dr. Gratto discussed with Bridgehampton School’s superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and principal Jack Pryor in the beginning of April.

 “Bridgehampton has the space and they currently have a program with a small number of students … They can accommodate more children,” said Frisicano during a presentation to the Sag Harbor School Board on Wednesday, April 22. Based on current kindergarten enrollment, Frisicano added that she believes Sag Harbor has roughly 65 children who would be eligible for a pre-k program in the next couple of years.

 “We found that the foundation of our pre-k curriculum was very similar to the curriculum at Sag Harbor,” said Bridgehampton School Principal Jack Pryor in an interview on Monday. “Joan [Frisicano] and I have a similar education philosophy.”

 Bridgehampton runs a half-day pre-k program for three-year-olds and a full day program for four-year-olds. There are currently 13 children enrolled in the program and Pryor said the school has the capacity to absorb 20 additional students. Pryor and Frisicano have discussed the idea of scheduling two sessions for a joint pre-k course. One class with eight students would be held in the morning, and the other session with 12 students would be held in the afternoon.

 Currently, the Bridgehampton school funds the pre-k program through the budget, but would be willing to apply for UPK monies jointly with the Sag Harbor School District.

 “We are allowed to file a joint application … UPK was very excited,” reported Pryor. “That is the kind of program they hope to get started — a collaborative program where the money is crossing district lines.”

 But state UPK representatives recently relayed word to Frisicano that resources for start-up pre-k programs have already dried up and UPK can’t provide adequate funding for the 2009-2010 school year. In the past, UPK offered the school district $2,700 per child, but capped the number of eligible students at 20.

 “UPK has a lottery program [for the 20 children]. So you are pulling names out of a hat,” said Frisicano. “Other districts have told me it’s quite a scene when they do that.”

 “That seems counterproductive,” said school board president Walter Wilcoxen at the meeting.

 Although the school district has previously balked at funding the pre-k program, PTA president Chris Tice asked at the meeting if the creation of such a program would end up saving the district money in the long term.

 “Research shows that the earlier we can get kids into the system, it will save us dollars as they go through the system … The earlier you can catch a [learning] difficulty the earlier you can remediate it,” said Frisicano.

 She added that children who enter kindergarten with learning or language difficulties often need academic intervention, at the expense of the school district, further down the road.

 Considering annual increases in operating costs, curtailing the budget is a pressing issue for school officials on the East End. As many local schools cover a small geographic area and support a modest student body, Dr. Gratto noted that sharing services is a viable way to maintain program value while reducing spending.

 “By sharing services with Bridgehampton we can offer high quality service at a lesser cost to the district,” said Dr. Gratto.

 So far Dr. Gratto, Dr. Youngblood and Pryor have discussed eight separate ideas for consolidating services, including creating a joint pre-k program, employing a technology coordinator and director of special education for both districts, and sharing fields and academic programs. In addition, Bridgehampton was looking into hiring Sag Harbor to prepare its food, as the school now contracts with an outside company to do so. Gratto admitted, however, that the school doesn’t currently have the capacity to provide meals for both schools.

 “We have talked with Bridgehampton about sharing a number of services but we haven’t found a match yet,” reported Dr. Gratto. “None of the points we discussed will work out for various reasons — at least not in the near future.”

 In terms of forming a district partnership, Pryor seems to be on the same page as Dr. Gratto.

 “Districts on the East End need to work together,” said Pryor. “The economy is down … Taxes are up … We need to be more fiscally responsible. Rather than trying to be an all inclusive district [who offers everything], why don’t we share what we have?”