Tag Archive | "Dr. Carl Bonuso"

Pierson Parents and School at Odds Over Recognizing Sag Harbor’s Salutatorians

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The parents of a Pierson High School senior say their daughter was unjustly denied recognition for her academic performance and that the Sag Harbor School District is doing nothing about it.

Kristin and Paul Davey maintain their daughter deserves to be recognized as a co-salutatorian of the graduating class of 2014 because the district uses faulty guidelines and does not have a clear policy for how valedictorians and salutatorians are named.

Pierson administrators, however, say the district is using the same guidelines it has used for decades and, although they may enact a board-level policy in the future, that change will not happen in the days leading up to graduation.

After taking the complaints to Facebook, Kristin Davey said in a phone interview Wednesday, June 25, that her daughter was in third place by 7/100ths of a point when the grade point average rankings were calculated in January. When the grades were recalculated in April, Ms. Davey said, her daughter had pulled into second by a full point.

Dr. Paul Davey in a statement to the board on June 18 said their daughter was then “invited by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s office to a luncheon honoring Long Island’s valedictorians and salutatorians.”

Ms. Davey said on Wednesday, June 25, that several days after they received the invitation, Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols informed her that her daughter had been invited in error.

She was told, she said, that “they were not using those grades, they were using the grades in January, as has been their tradition, and that [my daughter] was not the salutatorian.”

“We asked several times for the school to recognize [our daughter] as co-salutatorian and not to take anything away from the other student, but to recognize them both,” she said.

“I feel that we were misled and it’s gotten kind of worse from there,” said Ms. Davey, adding that she has sent many letters and made many phone calls to administrators that have gone unanswered.

“We’ve had very, very clear guidelines with regard to that, my understanding is certainly for the 17 years I’ve been here and for decades preceding that,” Mr. Nichols said when the issue was brought up at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 24.

The guidelines are on page 17 of the student handbook, which is given to every student and available on the district website.

Mr. Nichols read from the policy Tuesday, which states: “To validate who has earned the highest (valedictorian) and the second highest (salutatorian) ranks in a graduating class, students’ grades are re-averaged at the end of the first semester of the year in which the class graduates. Such determination is final and no adjustment thereafter will take place.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, June 25, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said, “There was something where I believe some temporary word was passed along that [Ms. Davey’s] daughter was ranked second in the class, but when we checked it was an error.”

“While at the time of the ranking—that is at the end of the seventh semester in the middle of the year that they’re graduating, which is what Jeff read last night [at the school board meeting]—in fact, it was not her daughter,” he said.

“I’d rather not discuss a specific case or a specific child,” he added, “so I can only say that Mr. Nichols clarified it as much as possible additionally last night and no further comment.”

In his statement read on June 18, Dr. Davey questioned the lack of “a formal policy” and asked the board to vote that evening to recognize co-salutatorians for the class of 2014.

“The only thing they keep reciting in this refusal is traditionally they have never done that before and I don’t find that a good enough answer,” Ms. Davey said.

“Because they are lacking this formal policy,” she said, “I just don’t understand why they will not recognize both students…I just really hope that moving forward, the district writes a clear, comprehensive and specific policy so this does not happen in the future to any student graduating from Pierson. I will say that [my daughter] is beyond devastated that her school will not recognize her academic achievement.”

“There has been some discussion about having a more formal policy, there are districts that have board-level policies on it,” BOE Vice President Chris Tice said. “I would suggest at a future board meeting, we discuss whether we want to have that sort of policy on it.”

Later Start Times?

In other school board news, the board agreed to appoint a task force to examine the plausibility of starting school at later times, a move that is gaining traction across the country.

“There’s research that has come out that says if you could do one thing to help your kids do better in school—one thing—it would be to get our kids to school later,” said Ms. Tice.

Board member Susan Kinsella also brought up the idea of allowing varsity athletes to have study hall instead of gym class while in season.

“They certainly don’t need the gym class if they’re playing a varsity sport. Let them have that time to do homework,” she said.

“I think this makes a lot of sense,” agreed Ms. Tice, adding the district could see more athletes participating in International Baccalaureate (IB) and other challenging classes “if they knew they’d have more time to get the work done.”

The board will start its trial of videotaping meetings in July. The first meeting of the month will be taped but not broadcast to figure out some sound and technical kinks and the second meeting will be fully broadcast on LTV and SEA-TV.

Sag Harbor School District Says Goodbye to Three Chief Administrators

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School Business Administrator John O'Keefe, who will leave the district this summer, at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24. Photo by Tessa Raebeck

School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, who will leave the district this summer, at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24. Photo by Tessa Raebeck

By Tessa Raebeck

Although school’s out for summer, the Sag Harbor Board of Education will have its hands full with interviewing and hiring new personnel in time for students’ return in September.

In addition to the seven retiring members of the faculty, six of whom have positions that will be filled (one special education teaching position was abolished), interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, business administrator John O’Keefe, and Todd Gulluscio, director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness and Personnel, are leaving the district.

The board on Tuesday, June 24, accepted the resignations of Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Gulluscio and appointed Dr. Bonuso as temporary assistant to the district’s new superintendent Katy Graves.

Dr. Bonuso will help Ms. Graves settle into her new position for 14 days between July 1 and July 31. He is being paid at a daily rate of $950 for a total of $13,300.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, community member and frequent meeting attendee Elena Loreto questioned the appointment of Dr. Bonuso to the temporary position.

“When you hired Katy Graves, everyone was high on her,” Ms. Loreto told the board. “We were ecstatic we found someone who was so neat, she was even better than sliced bread or ballpoint pens—then why does she need a mentor?”

“Carl, I love you, but we gotta say goodbye,” she added. “Katy is fully capable. Don’t spend the money.”

“Katy requested that Carl remain for some transition planning with her,” replied Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “We did, through our attorney, do a review of best practices, and he reported to us that it’s not unusual when a superintendent is coming from out of the district or out of the immediate area to actually have a transition for them.”

The board pointed to the extent of issues the new superintendent will have to deal with immediately, including capital projects from the bond referendum, for which the bulk of construction will start this summer, and the hiring of new personnel in many important positions. Ms. Samot added that the district budgeted for the transition in the 2014-15 budget.

“The board really carefully considered this issue,” said member David Diskin. “The request is really coming from Ms. Graves. This is a need that she feels is critical to make a great transition.”

“There’s just a lot of stuff happening,” added board member Daniel Hartnett, “and it just kind of struck me as Katy spoke that the reason that she asked for some transition is because she’s experienced…that I think is a sign of professionalism and I think it’s money well spent on our part.”

The board also recognized the contributions of Dr. Bonuso, Mr. O’Keefe and Mr. Gulluscio during their time in the district, as well as Mary Anne Miller, a school board member of six years who chose not to pursue another term.

“Mary Anne leads with her heart,” said Mr. Hartnett. “Mary Anne leads with her heart, but thank goodness, she’s got a great brain to follow. She’s a passionate advocate for public education.”

“I don’t know of many people that spend as much time focused on education that actually aren’t being paid to do so,” added Chris Tice, vice president of the board.

“Her willingness to be unafraid to turn over rocks and to challenge things and ask questions is unique,” said Mr. Diskin.

Dr. Bonuso initially came on as an interim for a few months, but was quickly asked to stay for longer and ultimately served two full years as superintendent.

“He’s been an amazing force not only in the school, but in the community,” said Ms. Samot.

“I think that you brought a new level of heart to this school family,” added Ms. Tice. “That is going to be your legacy when you leave, so thank you for that.”

“I have to say,” added Sandi Kruel, a board member, “that the senior class, you know every one of them by name, how to pronounce their last name…and when you showed up at [the New York State baseball finals] the seniors were like, ‘He’s the man,” and that’s all I can say, you the man. So thank you for being a part of so many of our students’ lives.”

Acknowledging the “100 people to [my] left and right,” Dr. Bonuso spoke of his love for Sag Harbor.

“I’ve been in the business a long time—maybe close to 40 years—I thought I was going to come by for a few months, turns out a couple years because I fell in love with the place and the projects we were working with,” he said, adding that he came out of retirement because, “I think God whispered in my ear, ‘Before you go, you have to see this place.’ It’s just a remarkable experience.”

Mr. O’Keefe has been the business administrator since 2012. He will be leaving the district for a position as assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations in the West Hempstead School District. His resignation is effective July 16. Mr. O’Keefe was instrumental in passing the bond referendum last fall and in getting the district’s Moody’s bond rating upgraded this spring.

“You’ve put us in the best financial shape we’ve been in since I’ve been in the district,” Ms. Kruel said to Mr. O’Keefe.

Mr. Gulluscio’s term ends June 30. A native of Shelter Island, he will be returning home to serve as director of Physical Education and District Operations in that district, where his wife also works. During his time in Sag Harbor, he oversaw several trips to state championship for the Pierson Whalers.

“You would be hard-pressed to ever find anybody as good at what they do than the two gentlemen who are in the room right now,” said Dr. Bonuso, adding, “It’s been a privilege to have them at the left and right side these past couple years.”

“You both leave the district in much better shape than when you got here, so thank you,” added Ms. Tice.

Sag Harbor School District’s Athletic Director and School Business Administrator to Resign

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Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, School Board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O'Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013. Photo by Michael Heller.

Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, school board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O’Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013. Todd Gulluscio and John O’Keefe are resigning from the district Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

According to the agenda for the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Tuesday, June 24, the board will accept the resignations of School Business Administrator John O’Keefe and Todd Gulluscio, Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness, and Personnel.

Mr. Gulluscio’s resignation was confirmed several weeks ago, but Mr. O’Keefe’s came as a surprise when the agenda was posted on the district’s website. The business administrator has been in Sag Harbor since 2012. Prior to joining the district, he was the Chief Financial and Operations Officer for the Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset for three years.

Once accepted, Mr. O’Keefe’s resignation will be effective July 16. Mr. Gulluscio’s term ends June 30.

The resignations come at a time when the district is already doing a lot of interviewing and hiring, as seven longtime teachers and staff members are retiring. Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso is also leaving his position, although he is set to be appointed as temporary assistant to the new superintendent Katy Graves. Dr. Bonuso will help Ms. Graves settle into her new position for 14 days between July 1 and July 31. He is being paid at a daily rate of $950, pending board approval Tuesday.

Pierson Students Evacuated Monday Due to Strange Odor

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Just before the end of the school day Monday, the students and staff of Pierson High School were evacuated after administrators observed electrical problems and smelled a strange odor coming from the basement.

“We started to have some blinking lights and we smelled an odor by the motors in the basement,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said Tuesday morning. “So, as a precautionary measure in the interest, obviously, of safety, we did evacuate the building.”

Pierson students were dismissed on schedule to buses or for parent pick up. All after-school activities were cancelled. All belongings left behind were secured in the classrooms, the district said. The Sag Harbor Elementary School was not affected.

According to PSEG Long Island, roughly 337 customers in the area, including the school, were affected at 2:02 p.m. Monday afternoon due to a down wire. The problem was corrected and full service was restored by 2:43 p.m., PSEG representative Anthony S. said Tuesday.

The Sag Harbor Fire Department and electricians investigated the problem, addressing lighting and heating concerns, and cleared the building for “safety and proper operation” at around 3:30 p.m. the district said.

“This morning we’re pretty good,” Dr. Bonuso said early Tuesday morning.

In a letter sent out to parents, students and staff shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, the district wrote, “Rest assured that teachers will be forgiving of any homework or assignments that would have been otherwise due.”

“What we wanted to make sure was if someone didn’t have their book or notes to study, not only that they didn’t need to do the homework, but that they didn’t get penalized on an assessment,” Dr. Bonuso said.

On Tuesday morning, teachers supervised the retrieval of any belongings left behind by students the afternoon before.

“I commend the students and the staff,” said Dr. Bonuso, “they were all so cooperative and we handled that glitch very well.”

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.

Spring Break Threatened by Snow Days in Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton

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Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

As incredible as winter weekdays spent sledding, ice-skating and relaxing by the fire are, snow days tend to be bittersweet memories come springtime, when long past days off begin to cut into awaited vacation time.

Because they are required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts must make difficult decisions on how to compensate when inclement weather makes it impossible—or at least ill advised—for students to come to school.

The Sag Harbor School District planned for two snow days this year, but school has already been closed for three days and, according to the infamous groundhog, the winter weather is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

If the two snow days had not been used, the district would have been closed the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday afterward. Since those days have already been used up, the holiday weekend will only include the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, May 26.

“Now,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, “we have to go in with that third day and take what would have been a vacation day and make it a school day.”

The spring break this year was scheduled for Monday, April 14, through Friday, April 18, with students returning to school on Monday, April 21. As of press time, April 14 will now be a school day, but the rest of the vacation remains intact for now.

Dr. Bonuso said if the district has to be closed again, the next vacation day to be eliminated would likely be Tuesday, April 15.

“And if we needed another day, Wednesday and so forth,” he added.

Local school districts have had to make such adjustments the past two years. It’s been snow this year, but last year it was Hurricane Sandy that forced the closure of school more than two days.

Sag Harbor has already adopted its calendar for the 2014-15 school year and again has factored in just two snow days.

“But,” said Dr. Bonuso, “it’s something we need to keep in mind when we construct calendars, whether we build in more days up front or say what days we should use should we run into emergency days.”

“This winter was definitely a tough one,” he added. “So it’s something we have to think about.”

The Bridgehampton School District factors in three “inclement weather days” each year.  If there are no snow days during the year, those days become days off for staff and students, typically at the end of the school year. If there are snow days, the inclement weather days function as regular school days.

Bridgehampton’s inclement weather days for this year were set for March 14, May 2 and May 23, the Friday before Memorial Day. Because Bridgehampton has also used three snow days during the 2013-2014 school year thus far, each of those days will now be full days in class for students.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre, if another snow day has to be called, a staff development day (when the staff comes in for training but students get to stay home) scheduled for April 11 could instead be used as a full day for both staff and students, “rather than take away the April break, as many families have already made plans,” she explained.

“Moving forward,” she added, “I am looking at the 2014-2015 calendar to see where we might build in an extra day for an inclement weather day.”

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.”

$15,500 in “Public Information” Funding Projected for Sag Harbor School District’s 2014-2015 Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first budget workshop of the school year, the Sag Harbor School District outlined its projected 2014–2015 budget for support services.

Presenting prior to Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, school Business Administrator John O’Keefe showed the board tentative numbers on the BOE, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance components.

The BOE is attempting to keep the 2014-2015 budget below the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. Quite unpopular at BOE meetings, the tax cap is a legislative limit that prohibits districts from increasing the levy, or the amount of funding the district must raise through property taxes, by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The support services component of the budget is at present projected to increase by 1.55 percent. According to a budget worksheet prepared by O’Keefe and interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, a rollover budget for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

The tentative budget projects $15,500 in funding for “public information,” primarily referring to the district’s consultant agreement with Syntax Communication, a public relations firm in Bohemia.

The BOE adopted two contracts with Syntax this year, one valued at $6,500 for work on the bond proposition and another for $9,500 for PR work from January 1 to June 30.

The district also used Syntax as a vendor for printing services for bond related work, at a cost of $2,025 for the bond newsletter and $1,130 for the post card mailer. In 2012-13, the district expended $1,738 on public information. In 2011-12, the district spent $2,072.

The projected expense for “public information” for next year’s budget, which could include renewed contracts with Syntax, is $15,500.

At Monday’s meeting, Syntax President Kathy Beatty told the board what that money buys.

“We take the burden off you dealing with the media,” she said, adding the firm never speaks on the district’s behalf without approval from the BOE or superintendent.

Sag Harbor Residents Talk Parking, Turf at School District Bond Workshops

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By Tessa Raebeck

Residents joined Sag Harbor School District personnel January 8 for a series of workshops reviewing plans for the district’s capital improvement projects, which were approved at the polls by the community on November 13 as part of a nearly $9 million bond.

The day included seven workshops dedicated to specific areas of the bond and culminated with a meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee (EFPC).

At that meeting, Rob Calvert, a Sag Harbor resident with school site planning experience, questioned the validity of the parking lot plans for the Jermain Avenue lot at Pierson Middle/High School and the Hampton Street lot at the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES), asking whether the plans sufficiently accommodate large vehicles.

District architect Larry Salvesen said all parking lot plans are at this point still conceptual, as survey work has not yet been done. Surveying could not begin until the passing of the bond funded the work. At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, a bid for surveying services in the amount of $22,650 was awarded to L.K. McLean Associates in Brookhaven. Salvesen said the survey work will be completed in March.

“We used the best information we have to get to where we are,” said Salvesen. “But we need true accurate survey information to make the next steps.”

School personnel who use the respective spaces provided feedback during the workshops and will meet with administrators to give more input in the coming weeks.

“The key meetings at the school level will be with the school personnel who are affiliated with certain aspects of the bond,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said Monday.

The custodial staff at SHES suggested adding outdoor access to the storage room addition in the gymnasium and teachers at Pierson asked whether a projector screen could be installed behind the stage to ease set construction.

The renovations to the Pierson basement, which houses the shop/technology curriculum, will take into account the growing robotics program.

“We’re talking about improving the area so it fits into the curriculum now,” said Dr. Bonuso, who will host in-depth meetings with Salvesen and members of the staff who use each space on a daily basis in the coming weeks.

The district had originally planned to send different components of the bond, i.e. the field or the auditorium renovations, to the State Education Department for approval separately, with the intention of speeding the review process, which can last up to 26 weeks. Those plans have been revised and the district now plans to send all components as part of one package in September.

At Monday’s board meeting, Sag Harbor resident Diane Hewett asked whether the turf field “could be scaled back at this point.” The installation of a turf field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson was a separate proposition of the bond that narrowly earned voter approval this fall.

“We have already made the decision,” responded Dr. Bonuso, “to turf the field in the manner we’ve described. So it’s going from corner to corner, that’s a decision that has been made.”

Hewett asked why the parking plans could be revised, while the turf proposal was seemingly set in stone.

The administrators responded that the bond proposition specified the extent of the turf and the community voted on that plan, whereas the parking lot plans were presented as conceptual.

Board member and parent Sandi Kruel added the proposed revisions to the parking plans had been discussed prior to the vote.

“The notion that was presented to the voters,” said David Diskin, a member of the BOE, “was we were going to put a turf field from one part to the other and the voters agreed.”

BOE Member Mary Anne Miller told the administrators the public had voiced concerns that the type of turf material being used may be poisonous or dangerous for kids.

Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio assured, “there are multiple grades of turf” and the materials the district chooses to use will not be harmful.

The next EFPC meetings are scheduled for January 30 and February 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.