Tag Archive | "dr. john gratto"

School Superintendent Gratto Announces Retirement; Wilcoxen Resigns From School Board

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Dr. John Gratto, the Superintendent of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District since 2008, has announced his intention to retire at the end of the summer. His last day on the job will be August 17.

He described his retirement as a quality of life decision, since many members of his family have moved to the South recently.

Dr. Gratto will join the faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — known most commonly as Virginia Tech — and teach education and leadership there. His son is currently a student at that school.

“I really like it here and I leave with a heavy heart,” he said. “But it’s a quality of life move in that I can be closer to my family and I’ve been an adjunct professor at the University of Albany and Stony Brook University for many years and I enjoy teaching and feel like it’s significant work to help teachers become principals and principals become superintendents.

The announcement came hours after he had taken his oath of office for next year as a part of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s annual organizational meeting on Monday evening. The Board now has to appoint an interim superintendent who will serve until a permanent replacement can be found.

Sag Harbor Board of Education member Walter Wilcoxen also resigned on Monday, just months after he won reelection to his third term on the board.

Wilcoxen has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment on his resignation.

Wilcoxen’s resignation appeared to be sudden. At the end of the board’s private executive session Monday, Wilcoxen was seen standing and speaking to his fellow board members. He then walked out of the Pierson Middle/High School library — where meetings are held — and asked to speak with District Clerk Mary Adamczyk. He did not return to the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Adamczyk was asked to read a handwritten note from Wilcoxen. She removed a single sheet of paper from a folder on her desk that read, “As of the time you receive this memo, I hereby decline to take my seat on the Sag Harbor school board.”

It was signed: “With my regrets, Walter Wilcoxen.”


School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, second from right above, at Monday evening’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting.

Bus Ad Questioned

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by Claire Walla


Until last week, you might not have known there was any opposition to Proposition #2.

This bond measure, which will be on the Sag Harbor School District ballot this Tuesday, May 15, would allow the district to spend $575,000 to purchase six new buses, a move the district argues would save up to $1 million over the next 10 years.

“I have not heard one single iota of complaint about this,” said District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto. Members of the Sag Harbor School Board and the Parent Teacher Association echoed this sentiment.

But last week and again this week, an ad in The Sag Harbor Express urges voters to vote “no.”

The ad was initially reserved amid some secrecy, financed by a man named Arthur Pease from East Moriches who said he took the ad out on behalf of a group of parents whom he would not name.

Though Pease says he runs a small medical business (which he also would not name), the recording on Pease’s answering machine identifies him at Artie Pease of North Fork Express — a bus company owned by Montauk Bus Service, which currently has a contract with the school district. However, Pease insisted he worked for the company as a bus dispatcher “for a very short time,” and left a year ago.

“I probably forgot to change my answering machine,” he said.

An employee of North Fork Express later corroborated Pease’s employment history.

While Greg Mensch, manager of North Fork Express, did not respond to numerous requests for comment, his sister Linda Mensch, who manages Montauk Bus Service,  issued a statement Wednesday morning.

“Yes, Montauk Bus is very disappointed that the district is looking into their own buses,” she stated. “We wish the district would have come to us in an effort to work together on cost-saving measures in transportation and instead the district went out on their own and put this proposition on the ballot.”

Dr. Gratto confirmed the district did not make an attempt to renegotiate its contract with Montauk Bus Service.

Sag Harbor Passes Budget / Elects Miller, Samot and Kruel

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web_Sag Harbor School Board Elections '11_2521

The Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $33.2 million budget was passed by taxpayers Tuesday, May 17 with a final tally of 917 to 698.

“I’m pleased for the community,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said after the results were read to the crowd gathered within the Pierson gym. The budget—which represents a 5.48 percent increase over this year’s $31.5 million operating budget—includes $75,000 for a new playground at the elementary school, and $180,000 for a universal Pre-K program.

Incumbent school board members Mary Anne Miller and Theresa Samot secured their seats on the seven-member board with the highest number of votes at 1,065 and 1,053. While former two-time board member Sandi Kruel nabbed the last vacant spot with 886 votes, just 85 more than challenger Annette Bierfriend.

Though this year’s budget seemed to pass without much of a kerfuffle, Dr. Gratto did note that voting numbers were down this year.

According to District Secretary Mary Adamczyk, as of Tuesday night this year’s total is nearly 500 voters short of last year’s count of 2,097.

School Board Update: Budget Talks Begin

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By Claire Walla

Last week marked the beginning of budget season for the Sag Harbor School Board, and the start of budget workshop meetings led by the district’s director of business operations Janet Verneuille.

On Monday, January 10 Verneuille reviewed the district’s budget analysis for the current 2010-2011 school year in comparison to the last five years.

The current budget, which sits at $31,500,811, is an increase of about $4 million over the operating budget of 2006-2007.

Budget figures have not yet been release for the 2011-2012 school year, however, regardless of whether or not the school’s operating budget climbs, Verneuille said the school will need to raise taxes about seven percent in order to maintain operations at their current level.

Last year, Sag Harbor Village residents saw their largest tax levy increase in five years. The figure shot up from 2.07 percent in 06-07 to 12 percent last year.

As it stands, the district is working with an open fund balance of $308,015, a number that sits nearly $250,000 higher than the fund balance the district had to work with for the 2010-2011 school year.

Though the district’s fund balance saw a significant increase since the 09-10 school year, it represents a little less than one percent of the district’s total expenditures, which is two percentage points lower than the State Board of Education recommends.

The next budget workshop will take place at 6 p.m. on January 24 in the Pierson Middle/High School library, when the topics discussed will be buildings and grounds, and athletics.


In other news…


School superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced last Monday, January 11 a new policy that the Sag Harbor School District will adopt regarding teacher tenure.

“You have an excellent school system when you have excellent teachers,” he told the board adding the new policy outlines the district’s definition of “excellence” when deciding whether or not to grant teachers tenure.

“I put this to paper for two reasons,” Dr. Gratto continued.  “It is symbolic.  But, beyond symbolism, it makes it very clear what a teacher must do to be excellent,” which, he argued, makes it much easier for teachers to achieve that goal.

Both board members Dan Hartnett and Chris Tice applauded the new policy, calling it “very well written.”

Dr. Gratto also unveiled next year’s school calendar.  School board president Walter Wilcoxen wondered whether the school year could be extended past June 22 (the proposed end date) to accommodate two extra vacation days mid-year.  Wilcoxen noted that the board had to approve an additional extension this year for students who went on the annual trip to Hawaii.  Because it was an added extension, it had the negative effect of watering down classroom activity for those students not on the trip.

“It just seems the only way to teach more is to get a longer school year,” he said.

In the end, the board approved next year’s school calendar.


Grounds supervisor Montgomery Granger brought up a new Shared-Use Facilities Procedure, which will charge groups outside the Sag Harbor School District a fee for using school facilities.  Organizations with over 51 percent of participants in the Sag Harbor School District would not be charged.

“I would like to discuss the for-profit breakdown,” said Wilcoxen.  “My thought is that if it’s a for-profit group, it should be charged the same as an out-of-district group.”

Several board members agreed, though this issue will be further discussed at a later meeting.

Springs and Sagaponack Eye a Move to Pierson

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By Marissa Maier

A visitor to Sagaponack Village might believe the one-room schoolhouse on Main Street has remained untouched since it was built in 1885. Pint-sized students sit on old-fashioned wooden desks with inkwells and a cast-iron stove located at the front of the classroom keeps them warm. Though everything seems sleepy enough, changes are afoot in this small school district.

In January, Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson School Principal Jeff Nichols pitched the merits of a Pierson education to a group of almost a dozen Sagaponack parents. For the past year, said Sagaponack School Board President Charles Barbour, Sagaponack parents asked the board to explore the curriculum at neighboring school districts beginning with middle school. The village’s educational program runs from first through fourth grade only, at which point students have traditionally moved on to the East Hampton School District.

With the state poised to cut close to $200,000 in aid next school year, Pierson is looking for a much needed boost on the revenue side of their ledger and tuitioning-in Sagaponack students could help sustain programming, noted Dr. Gratto in a later interview.

“The fiscal condition of the state is restrictive and we are looking at ways to bring in revenue,” Dr. Gratto further explained.

When asked if the school would need to increase the academic staff, he remarked, “It depends on how many students there are in each subject. There is high enrollment in Spanish and science in some areas … [But] the cost of additional teachers would be offset by the revenue.”

For the 2010-2011 school year, Sag Harbor will charge out-of-district students $16,217 annually to attend grades kindergarten through sixth and $21,080 for grades seventh through twelfth. Full day tuition for special education students is $44,196 per year for the elementary school and $50,808 for middle and high school. The sending school district, however, must provide transportation for their students.

“We are also looking at the side of the cost to the taxpayer. Sag Harbor is definitely a little bit cheaper,” said Barbour, based on his preliminary research of the school’s contract with East Hampton. He noted though that East Hampton is in the midst of crafting next year’s school budget and their tuition rates are subject to change. East Hampton’s Business Administrator Isabel Madison couldn’t be reached for comment.

In exploring other districts, Barbour noted the board is seeking a well-rounded program with a host of extra-curricular activities and excellent test scores. At the presentation Dr. Gratto and Nichols highlighted the school’s class sizes, which boasts an average of 20 students per academic class, curricula focal points, including the Intel science projects, young playwrights program and the model United Nations, the selection of arts programs, athletics, the credentials of the faculty, and students’ regents and advanced placement test scores.

Sagaponack is currently in the midst of a five-year contract with the East Hampton School District. Dr. Gratto explained that school’s superintendent Lee Ellwood seems assured the school may end this agreement before the start of a new academic year. The Sagaponack school is presently comprised of 21 students. Four children are enrolled in the fourth grade. School clerk Jeannette Krempler confirmed one student plans to attend East Hampton in the fall of 2010. Barbour pointed out parents may decide where to send their children for middle and high school. Sagaponack, he noted, isn’t required to commit all of their funds to one school district.

“The kids who are in East Hampton, we want to keep them in East Hampton. We wouldn’t want them to have to change schools,” said Barbour. “We want to leave this as an option for parents and to make sure there is a choice for them.”

The Sagaponack school board is slated to discuss tuitioning-in their students to Sag Harbor at their next board of education meeting on March 4.

Springs School District

Last Thursday, on February 11, Dr. Gratto and Nichols made the same presentation to a group of around 15 parents at the Springs School in East Hampton. The Springs program spans from pre -kindergarten through eighth grade with a student population of around 550. After middle school, students have customarily passed on to East Hampton, but it appears many parents are rethinking this arrangement. Dr. Gratto reported that several parents appeared willing to sign their children up for Pierson that evening. He added that the Sag Harbor School will schedule a tour for prospective Springs students in the near future.

Following the presentation, the Springs School Board reportedly decided to put a referendum to a vote in May. The referendum, piggybacking on the budget vote, would give parents the choice of sending their children to Pierson or Bridgehampton, as well as East Hampton after the Springs program ends in eighth grade.

School’s Big Fix Fails: $6.7 Mil Would Have Made Major Repairs

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Sag Harbor residents voted down the $6.7 million school bond on Tuesday. Unlike the budget vote and school board elections this spring, the bond proposition failed to garner the same voter turn out. The bond was supported by 279 residents, though 358 voted against it, with a total of 637 residents voting. Only 28 residents submitted absentee ballots. In the spring, the 2009-2010 budget received 1,221 yes votes and 599 no votes.

“I’m very surprised by the turn out,” said school board member Theresa Samot. “It’s disappointing because a lot of long range planning went into this.” 

Pierson’s Long Range Planning Committee, made up of parents, board and community members, first analyzed the repairs needed at the Pierson campus to be included in the bond. The list of improvements mainly focused on bringing the school’s buildings into code and safety compliance. The bond included upgrades to the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems and other architectural projects.

“This was a nuts and bolts bond,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto after the bond votes were tallied.

At a board meeting on Monday, school board member Daniel Hartnett explained that the bond is a more cost effective way of paying for these repairs compared to folding them into the annual budget. He added that the school is retiring a bond from 1997 this year, which would have lowered the net tax impact of the new bond. In previous meetings, the board has also pointed out that interest rates for bonds are extremely low and favorable for the district and construction and labor costs will likely be lower as well due to the ailing economy.

“If you had to pay for these things on an annual basis taxes would be through the roof,” chimed in business manager Len Bernard, at the meeting.

Pierson parent Chris Tice said on Monday that several school parents were conflicted about their vote. Tice reported that many said they would prefer to continue to fund educational programming and staffing. Parents at the meeting had heard that middle school guidance counselor Carl Brandl’s position would be cut. Members of the board explained that Brandl’s job was safe for this year.

“If we have to use $500,000 in one year [for some items in the bond], we would have to look at cuts. This bond spreads the cost out very evenly [over the years]. People who move into the community are going to have an equal share,” noted Hartnett.

“This is the best way we have to fund these expenditures,” added board member Ed Haye.

During meetings on the bond, the board received public criticism over the project to repave and add additional parking spaces at Pierson and the elementary school, which cost close to $1 million.

“Maybe the voters felt the money spent on parking wasn’t justifiable,” theorized Dr. Gratto on why the bond failed to pass. “I thought the vote would be closer but the economy is bad.”

Dr. Gratto also pointed out that there wasn’t a project in the bond to capture the imaginations of the voters as the bond was aimed at fixing a wide variety of facility issues, from better temperature control to replacing a portion of the roof at Pierson.

“None of these projects will heal themselves,” noted Dr. Gratto. “[But] we will have to reassess the bond.”

Once the ballots were cast and the results announced, school board president Walter Wilcoxen said the board could put the bond up to a vote again in May.

The majority of the public who voted on Tuesday at the Pierson gym failed to support this plan, but board member Mary Anne Miller believed the voter turn out showed that several key constituents in the community didn’t cast their ballot. She pointed out that there are a little over 5,000 registered voters. Miller further noted that several residents spend the winter elsewhere and young college students are also away at school.

“Sag Harbor has an uncanny spring turnout,” said Miller on the elections and budget votes held in the Spring. “A larger voter turn out better represents the community.”

According to Dr. Gratto, the future of the myriad items in the bond will most likely be discussed at a budget workshop on the buildings and grounds to be held on January 11.

Among other items, the bond would have paid for repairing and enlarging the school district”s parking lots (above).

Sag Harbor Teachers and Administration Back to the Bargaining Table

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Sag Harbor teachers and the local school administration are expected to soon be heading back to the negotiating table following a fact finder’s report whose opinions side largely with the teachers’ union. At issue has been a host of topics ranging from salary increases to insurance coverage to stipends for coaches.

Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) president Eileen Kochanasz said the teachers expressed their “extreme satisfaction” at a report filed on August 12 by Elliott D. Shriftman, a fact finder assigned after negotiations broke down in June 2008 and a mediator from the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) failed to get the two parties together. PERB then appointed Shriftman to establish facts in the negotiations and offer recommendations.

While the teachers have announced they feel “vindicated” by the recommendations, the school administration has rejected Shriftman’s report, saying in a posting on the district’s website “it does not make recommendations on all issues separating the parties and/or makes recommendations that would impair the effective operations of the school district.”

“He left some pieces out,” said school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “It’s like not completing a jigsaw puzzle.”

The parties have tentatively set September 2 as the first day back to negotiations.

“The district so wanted this fact finding process,” said Kohanasz in an interview Wednesday. “Seeing how this man looked at us objectively, I hope it opens the administration’s eyes in terms of the world at large.”

Perhaps the most significant of the fact finder’s determinations was a recommended increase in both the term of the new contract, and also the amount. While the school administration had recommended a term of three years for the contract, and TASH had recommended a five year agreement, the fact finder recommended four years.

Noting that the current contract is already a year past its expiration and the parties “have not reached even a tentative understanding on major issues,” Shrifton writes that it makes no sense to recommend a contract for three years, and thus recommends a four year agreement.

He also recommended more than a 14 percent increase in salaries over the term of that contract.

And this is perhaps the greatest sticking point, and where the parties are the furthest apart. The administration proposed an annual increase of 2.5 percent over the term of the agreement, totaling 10 percent in four years. The teachers’ union proposed a 3.9 percent annual increase over the same period, totaling 15.4 percent. The fact finder, taking salaries of comparable teachers into consideration and “in the context of the current and projected economic conditions” recommended an increase of 3.0 percent for the first year, 3.4 percent for the second year, and 3.9 percent for the last two years of the agreement, for a total of 14.2 percent.

“It is less than what we asked for,” said Kochanasz, “but we knew we had room to move.”

TASH had also proposed increases in the various steps or increases in salaries teachers receive with advanced degrees, but Shrifton chose not to make any recommendations here.

Another major issue was how teachers paid for health benefits in retirement. Currently, teachers who were hired after 2000 will contribute 15 percent of their health care benefits when they retire. The administration proposed changing that to all teachers, regardless of their hire date, would pay the 15 percent. TASH had rejected the proposal, and Kochanasz said it was unfair for a teacher to have already anticipated post-retirement expense and suddenly found an additional cost.

“When you walk in the door and have it explained how life will be, and then have the rug pulled out from under you; it’s unfair to have the rules changed on them,” said Kochanasz.

Instead, the fact finder has recommended maintaining the current language of the contract, but adding a paragraph stipulating that teachers hired after fall 2009 will pay 25 percent of their insurance benefit in retirement.

Among the other recommendations by the fact finder were $100 in compensation for teachers chaperoning on overnight field trips (TASH had asked for $145; currently there is none); institute disability insurance for teachers, along with the already-established “sick bank,” providing the district establish reasonable criteria for using the sick bank; binding arbitration for future disputes and offering alternative health insurance plans.

Kochanasz said TASH looks forward to resuming negotiations, but argues representatives from the administration in previous sit-downs have failed to negotiate, and have simply delivered proposals. She also urges the administration come to the table “in a different position.”

Gratto said the report “causes us to re-examine what we think is fair and appropriate,” but disagrees with Kochanasz’s interpretation of the previous negotiations.

“We’ve been willing to negotiate all along,” said Gratto. “We’ve just had a difference of opinion on some issues.”

Noyac Takes Whack at School Spending

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Members of the Noyac Civic Council had home court advantage on Tuesday evening as they welcomed Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gratto to their monthly meting. For more than a year the council has been sending representatives to school board meetings at Pierson High School, to keep an eye on school spending and program development. In past council meetings, members have been critical of spending at the school, and that criticism has become sharper as the national economy sours.

On Tuesday, Gratto offered a brief overview of the district’s proposed $29.5 million budget, which he maintains strikes a balance between economy and providing excellent programs, without making staff cuts.

Still, he said, he sometimes feels “like an umpire.”

“Some people say, ‘you jerk,’ others say ‘good job,” the superintendent observed.

The spending plan will be about 3.3 percent higher than last year. Driving increases, Gratto said, were such things as improvements to the auditorium, including a $40,000 curtain, to and additional $800,000 in teachers salaries. Offsetting some of the expense will be savings the district has found, including buying a bus and van to reduce contract transportation costs, instituting a new dental insurance plan and not replacing staff vacancies.

Most in the audience were concerned about ways the district can conserve money. Nada Barry asked how far the district would go to consolidate or share services with other districts.

“As far as consolidation goes, not very far,” Gratto replied. “There doesn’t seem to be much interest in the communities.”

But, he said, he would be pursuing more shared services, especially with Bridgehampton.

One of the most heard criticisms has been a perceived low teacher-to-student ratio in the schools. Ralph DeSpigna commented he believed it to be about nine students to one teacher.

“If you just look at the numbers, they don’t tell the whole story,” said Gratto. He said there were some classes that may have as few as six students in a class; but, he said, the staff numbers also include personnel such as guidance counselors and therapists, which, if considered as classroom teachers, would skew the numbers.

Gratto added that special education classes also require a low student-to-teacher ratio, and noted that requirements for special ed are much different than they were years ago, with many more students being classified.

“I graduated high school in 1972 from a school that had 800 students, with only one class of eight special ed students,” said Gratto.

“We had special training too, when I was young,” said DeSpigna, “and we survived.”

“The question is, ‘are we overstaffed’,” Gratto asked rhetorically. “We need a balance. It is to everybody’s best interest that we maintain a high quality job of educating our students.”

John Anderson wondered why it appeared Sag Harbor had one of the highest costs  per student.

“There are two things that drive the cost per pupil,” answered Gratto. One, he said was the economies of scale.

“We could easily put another three or four students in each classroom and not increase the need for teachers,” he said, “which would reduce our cost per student.”

“Another reason is the richness of our programs,” Gratto added. “We offer what the community has historically said they wanted.”

Jim Moran touched on one other hot button issue: “What are teachers looking for in increases?”

“Teachers are proposing a 3.9 percent increase, plus step, which is about another 2.7 percent,” said Gratto. “The board has proposed 2.5 percent, plus step.”

Moran said his niece is a teacher in the New York City school system, and after 12 years makes $70,000. “That’s nowhere near what teachers here get,” he claimed.

“And your teachers are not working in the South Bronx,” DeSpigna said to Gratto. “Send their teachers here, and our teachers there and you’ll get the same results.”

One audience member observed: “You offer the teachers over 23.5% compounded over three years. They want over 27%. In this economy…”

Later in the meeting, Jim Kinnier, a teacher and negotiator for the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, stressed the importance of offering competitive salaries.

“We need to hire highly qualified teachers to the district,” Kinier said. “I’m fortunate to have bought a house here 14 years ago. It’s not possible for teachers to buy a house in this community.”

Kinnier also argued the request Sag Harbor teachers are making is not much different from other districts.

East Hampton, he said, will be paying 4 percent on top of step, and Southampton is paying 3.5 percent on top of step. Middle Island district, he said, also recently settled for a 3.5% increase.

“We need to have competitive salaries,” concluded Kinnier.

Genevieve Smith asked if the budget amount would increase if the teachers’ contract settlement was higher than anticipated in the current proposed spending plan.

“I would not recommend the board increase the spending,” said Gratto. “It would probably require a cut in staff or programs.” 

Objectives, Goals and Just Do Its

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There are goals, there are objectives and then there are “just do its.” The Sag Harbor School District adopted their goals for the upcoming school year on Monday night and contrary to years past, the list is relatively small. Superintendent Dr. John Gratto described them as “overarching,” designed “to improve academic achievement, to ensure sound fiscal and operational practices and to communicate effectively with the community. Under each goal is a list of “objectives” and some of those were eliminated and put into the category of “just do it” by the new superintendent.
“There were some responsibilities that previously had been characterized as goals,” said Gratto. “And I saw them as duties inherent in a position, as fundamental responsibilities.”
Examples of “just do its” include analyzing the sixth, seventh and eighth grade math curriculum in relation to New York State standards or analyzing the need for the use of consultants in the district. Gratto explained that a goal would be “running a marathon” or “kayaking around Block Island” while a “just do it” would be cross training district employees.
The goals and objectives came out of two work sessions at which board members and administrators discussed what should or should not be included. Some of the objectives are very specific and have numbers and percentages attached to them. Under the academic improvement goal, one objective is to “increase the percentage of students attaining mastery level on the Regents chemistry exam by five percent.
There was considerable discussion at a work session last Thursday about the percentage related objectives. Board president Walter Wilcoxen said attaching a percentage to the objectives made sense from the administrative point of view, but perhaps should not be included on a district wide goal list. He said he did not think such goals were “fair” and called them “subjective” and “arbitrary.”
Board member Ed Haye disagreed, pointing out that none of the objectives called for “huge increases” and said it was more about getting them to a “baseline” as opposed to attempting to turn every student into a “stellar performer.” Haye said in his opinion the district is doing a great job with the top performers, and a great job with the worst performers, but it was the “ones in the middle” he was concerned about and that were being addressed in the objectives. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said the specific objectives were valuable because they allowed him to know precisely where to direct his resources at the beginning of the year.”
At the school board meeting on Monday night, former school board president Walter Tice expressed his opinion about the specific objectives.
“My experience is these tend not to be productive,” said Tice. “My experience is every group of students is different from the group of students that preceded it or that will follow it.”
Tice said demanding such specific, percentage based increases on tests may lead to the teachers only teaching to the tests and neglecting other aspects of a student’s overall education. As a result, Tice feared the specific objectives could possibly “undercut the delivery of information in the district” and distort the educational process.
“I think that’s pretty widely recognized throughout the United States,” said Tice.
“I can’t discount his experience,” said Gratto of Tice’s remarks. “But my experience is sharp focus results in sharp results in skills improvement and the corollary is test improvement too.”
“The fundamental premise is that if sharp conscientious people focus their efforts around a clear goal, they are likely to achieve it,” said Gratto. “In contrast, if people have fuzzy goals like I want to lose some amount of weight in some amount of time, they are likely to achieve fuzzy results. Teaching the skills of a test doesn’t require dull, uncreative teaching. Teachers can still teach in a creative in an engaging way while teaching skills.”

Photo: Board members Mary Ann Miller, Walter Wilcoxen and superintendent Dr. John Gratto

District Is Targeting Special Education Spending

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Each year during budget season, special education at Sag Harbor is scrutinized by a faction of the community concerned over high classification rates and the associated costs of mandated services. But since Lisa Scheffer took the reins of the district’s pupil personnel office just over two years ago, the classification rates have continually dropped and this year the district will realize significant decreases in costs.
New Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. John Gratto noticed three contracts with special education service providers at the district’s annual re-organizational meeting last month. Together with Scheffer, the two came up with a way to save the district roughly $100,000 by renegotiating one contract, hiring one new employee and choosing a new service provider.
The district has historically contracted with Out East Occupational Therapy for occupational therapy services. An occupational therapist works with students to improve their fine motor skills, such as a student who has trouble holding a pencil or a student who simply can’t sit still. Last year’s contract with Out East cost the district $85,000.
This year the consultants agreed to renegotiate their contract.
“They’ve reduced their contract by $13,500,” said Gratto. “Now we could hire someone at $70,000 including benefits and in the short term that would save us $2,000. But in the long term, if we continue to contract, that $72,000 would be less than we would pay an employee, because salary and benefits go up.”
The district currently has 25 students who require occupational therapy services.
Another contract, with Long Island Developmental Consulting, has been eliminated in favor of creating an in-district position to provide Applied Behavioral Analysis services to roughly 20 students. That move will save the district over $66,000 if they manage to fill the position at a salary of $78,405 including benefits. The contract cost the district $144,900 per year.
The services are geared specifically to children, who are autistic, either severely or slightly, as the spectrum goes.
“You might have a child who acts out, bites or hits or throws tantrums,” said Scheffer. “The ABA person will try to get to the root of the behavior and create a plan to modify it.”
Lastly, the district has chosen to go with a new service provider for inclusion and differentiated instruction in-service training for teachers. The district previously used Lakretz Creative Supportive Services to the tune of $50,000 per year. Gratto said the district will either contract with BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) or with another consultant to provide the same service and save the district roughly $17,000. The training service is available to teachers to assist them in developing different teaching techniques for different students.
As far as classification goes, critics have charged the district with having too high a percentage of classified students. When Scheffer came aboard in 2006, the percentage of classified students in the district was around 20 percent. The next year that number dropped to roughly 18 and this year Scheffer expects only 15 percent of the district’s students to be classified as special needs students.
She attributes the decline in part to a classification policy manual she created, something that did not exist before she arrived. The policy manual clearly states a procedure by which every student is classified.
“There are many steps we take before going to evaluation for a child,” said Scheffer.
She said the district has implemented a number of different intervention strategies to reduce the classification rate. She said the absence of such a practice could have certainly contributed to the high number of classified students in the past.
One of the goals Gratto has identified for the upcoming year is to decrease the number of classified students by at least one percent.
“Currently our rate I believe is 17 percent, but the average in the state is 12 percent,” said the superintendent. “So we would like to continually scrutinize the classification [process] to make sure they are appropriately classified and not over classified.”

Top Photo: Superintendent Dr. John Gratto has made special education a priority.