Tag Archive | "Dr. Lois Favre"

Looking to Spend $827,000 in Capital Reserve Funds, Bridgehampton School District Will Hold Special Vote January 14

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Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In need of new fire escapes and other major repairs, the Bridgehampton School District will host a special meeting January 14 for the community to vote on spending $827,000 in capital reserve funds.

Last March, Bridgehampton voters approved the establishment of a five-year capital plan to fund major improvements and repairs throughout the school. The board of education (BOE) funded the capital plan with $827,000 in June. Now district voters must voice their support of actually spending that reserve money.

At the school board meeting November 20, Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s school business administrator, said district architects have detailed about $790,000 in spending on items “they feel are a priority that need to be done.”

The largest priority items are replacing the gymnasium floor and skylights and installing new fire escapes; smaller capital projects would also be covered by the $827,000. If the spending is approved by majority vote, the district hopes to complete the projects over the summer so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Also at the November 20 meeting, Hauser updated the board on the progress of upgrading school security. New interior doors for the front entrance were installed Wednesday. When a visitor comes through the original exterior doors, they enter into a vestibule, where the new interior doors are now locked.

The school plans to install a camera and intercom system, so front desk personnel can buzz visitors into the building upon identification. Bridgehampton School staff members have been issued ID cards and students in grades six through 12 will receive cards in the next two weeks.

School districts nationwide are increasing security standards following the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last December. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January requiring schools to submit school safety plans.

“With all the new changes in the regulations,” said Dr. Lois Favre, Bridgehampton’s superintendent/principal, “everybody in the school needs to get certain kinds of training.”

Also at the meeting, Hauser cautioned the board about the tax cap for this year’s budget, which he estimates will be 1.54 percent. In June 2011, Governor Cuomo mandated school districts and local municipalities limit the annual increase in property taxes to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. With increasing security standards and decreasing funds, school districts like Bridgehampton are wary of drafting their budgets.

“We’re only allowed to collect 1.54 percent of the last year’s levy,” said Hauser. “So it’s not on what we’re going to spend, it’s what we actually collected — and that’s about $160,000. $160,000 is not a lot to work with.”

Employee benefits for district staff and retirees are projected to go up by about seven percent, Hauser said.

“We’ve come once again to the realization that some significant cuts will have to be made to be able to stay within the two percent tax cap levy limits,” said Dr. Favre. “Like everywhere else in New York State, we’ll be scrambling once again to try to come up with a budget that’s viable for the district and meets the taxpayers’ approval.”

Dr. Favre attended talks by educational experts Bill Mathis and Diane Ravitch on the prevalence of standardized testing and the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) in New York, which has sparked controversy across the state. Many educators are finding more issue with the implementation of CCLS in New York State and the “rush to test,” as Ravitch calls it, rather than the curriculum itself.

Dr. Favre said looking to increase technology and fostering pedagogy that is “not so much worried about the test scores as we’re worried about our kids,” aligned with the experts’ recommendations.

While addressing Long Island superintendents and board members in Hauppauge last week, Ravitch called for superintendents to boycott Common Core testing altogether.

“In my contract,” the superintendent said, “it says I need to follow the rules and regulations of the Commissioner of the State of New York.”

“We do advocate for our students,” she continued, adding that superintendents from Western Suffolk and Suffolk County have sent statements regarding CCLS to Commissioner John King.

“We here at Bridgehampton School are looking at Common Core very seriously,” said Dr. Favre. “We see some of the value in it. We know we need to move our kids, but you can’t just shove this down kids’ throat.”

Bridgehampton School Board Adopts $10.69 Million Budget

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Last Wednesday, the Bridgehampton School Board of Education formally adopted a $10,696,364 budget for the 2012-2013 school year. The budget represents a 1.1-percent or $119,650 increase over last year’s budget and falls below the New York State imposed two-percent tax cap.

The tax levy, or the amount of money the school district will seek to raise through property taxes, is $9,734,246 — a $545,515 and 5.94-percent increase over last year.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre and business administrator Bob Hauser, because New York State allows the school to subtract monies for capital projects like the ongoing middle school renovations, the construction of a new café and a window replacement project when calculating how much a district can spend under the tax cap, the budget falls just below the cap despite the 5.94 percent increase in the tax levy. As such, the district needs just a simple majority of residents who turn out on May 15 to vote for or against the budget and elect three residents to the school board.

Incumbents Lillian Tyree-Johnson, Doug DeGroot and Ronald White are all seeking re-election to the board of education. Newcomer Gabriella Braia has also joined the race.

According to Dr. Favre, a majority of the increases in spending this year are attributed to a rise in health and dental insurance costs. Since the budget advisory and administrative staff at Bridgehampton began hacking away at the tentative budget over two months ago, Dr. Favre said the district was able to achieve a low tax increase thanks to faculty and staff voluntarily agreeing to freeze their salaries next year at a savings of $100,000. Also keeping the spending in check is a 15-percent reduction in spending across most budget lines, $113,000 in savings in reduced transportation costs after a new contract was negotiated and a $166,000 reduction in BOCES costs.

The Bridgehampton School Board of Education will hold a hearing on its proposed budget on Tuesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.

School Nixes Food Service

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By Kathryn G. Menu

The Bridgehampton School has abandoned its longtime food service provider in favor of developing its own, in-house food service program in tandem with the construction of a new cafeteria in a former kindergarten classroom.

On Wednesday, March 20 the Bridgehampton School Board voted not to renew a food service contract with Whitson’s Culinary Group. Instead the school is opting to develop its own food service program to provide students with breakfast and lunch. The move coincides with the board’s decision to fund the renovation of the former kindergarten classroom into a new cafeteria and multi-purpose room.

“I am so happy to see something happen that we have all been talking about for a couple of years now,” said school board member Doug DeGroot at Wednesday’s meeting. “That it has moved in this direction is a wonderful thing.”

The Bridgehampton School community has prided itself on the development of its edible schoolyard, complete with a greenhouse that has been used to grow some of the produce sold in the school cafeteria. However, this week Business Administrator Bob Hauser and Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said the decision to switch to an in-house food service program was not just to provide healthier meals at Bridgehampton School, but also to save taxpayers money.

While the district still needs to go out to bid to develop its new food service program, Hauser said based on an internal analysis of a self-operating cafeteria he estimates the district will save anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 annually over what it costs to have Whitson’s Culinary Group provide the same service. For 2012-2013, Hauser said he projected operating the cafeteria through Whitson’s would have cost $175,000 before revenues were taken into account. He estimates a self-operating cafeteria will cost between $125,000 and $150,000 before revenues.

The district’s main savings derived from having its own food service operation, said Hauser, is the elimination of a management fee the district is required to pay Whitson’s. For the 2011-2012 school year, the management fee was approximately $50,000 in addition to the employee salaries, food and material costs the district also had to pay.

According to Hauser, the renovation of the cafeteria will cost about $187,000, which will be included in the proposed 2012-2013 budget. The district does need approval from the New York State Education Department as well as the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before it can move forward with construction, said Hauser.

The district has been wrestling with a 2012-2013 spending plan for the better part of two months. The last draft of the budget discussed at a workshop came in around $10.8 million, following a decision by the Bridgehampton Teachers Association and members of the administration to forgo salary and step increases for the 2012-2013 school year. A $10.8 million budget puts the district just below a state-mandated two-percent tax cap, and was also achieved by cutting most departments by 15-percent. The district will also not replace a retired staff position.

That budget will be presented to the school board on Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. District residents will vote on the budget May 15.

Residents will also vote on three school board positions that evening. DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson and Ronnie White are up for re-election. Other community members interested in running for school board can pick up a nominating petition at the district clerk’s office. Those petitions are due on April 16.

Bridgehampton School Community Budget Meeting Slated for February 8

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What would you cut from a school that aims to increase its budget based only on non-discretionary spending like that tied to the cost of health care or retirement?

That is exactly what the Bridgehampton School hopes to learn on Wednesday, February 8 when it hosts a forum on its 2012-2013 budget.

The school board is hosting the meeting in an effort to understand what the community hopes for the district as its wrestles with a state imposed two percent tax cap. On top of that, rising healthcare costs, new unfunded state mandates for teacher training and non-discretionary expenses are all increasing just as the district is being told it must cut back.

During a Bridgehampton School Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, January 25, the district’s superintendent Dr. Lois Favre and its business administrator Bob Hauser presented the board with a financial forecast for 2012-2013.

“There is no denying we are over-dependent on property taxes,” acknowledged Dr. Favre, adding communities throughout New York are struggling to deal with the reality while still funding necessary services.

Dr. Favre noted that the two percent property tax levy cap is misleading in that many voters will assume the cap limits districts to a total two percent in spending increases. In fact it is a cap on the property tax levy, or the amount of money the district is allowed to raise through taxes.

Existing capital projects and retirement systems, both which raise the Bridgehampton School budget annually, do not count, noted Dr. Favre. She added that while the state is trying to get school districts to force concessions with their teacher unions, those negotiations will likely not be determined as the school district presents its 2012-2013 budget. While the state is also recommending districts cut their fund balances — the amount of money left in reserve after expenses are accounted for each budget year — she believes that having a fund balance is critical, especially during tight fiscal years.

“We have seen little from the state in the way of mandate relief,” said Dr. Favre, noting that required teacher training and assessment requirements have increased while the state is also asking school to keep budgets tight.

The state is requiring schools to expend administrative time in a range of areas, such as new teacher evaluation methods, new teacher training in core standards and lesson development, new training on student learning objectives and the development and refinement of data teams, meant to evaluate the whole of the school’s effectiveness.

“Staff development costs are not being considered,” said Dr. Favre of the tax cap.

For Bridgehampton School, a two percent property tax levy cap translates to a 2012-2013 budget that cannot exceed 4.12 percent in increases. Dr. Favre stressed she feels many residents do not understand a two percent tax levy cap does not mean a two percent cap on increased expenses. She added that it will be critical for the school board to educate the community explaining that if they do seek a 4.12 percent increase, they are still within the two-percent tax cap.

Retirement costs and capital projects are not included in the tax cap, said Dr. Favre, but many residents may not understand that fact.

“If we don’t get the word out to the public they will get very frustrated and come running here to vote us down when that is our two-percent tax cap,” she said.

“The district must be mindful,” said Dr. Favre, “that they no longer have the ability to revert to a contingency budget if their budget is voted down. Contingency budgets often gave school districts funding to cover its basic expenses without having to drastically cut down programming or staff.”

If the budget fails to gain the approval of voters twice, said Dr. Favre, the district must revert to a zero-percent increase, meaning the amount of programming lost would increase significantly.

Dr. Favre said she wants the school district community to engage in a discussion about different budget scenarios before a draft budget is formalized, hence next Wednesday night’s meeting.

The reality, said Dr. Favre, is with zero increases school districts on Long Island are looking at an increase in budget cuts from 4.9 percent to over 12 percent over the next five years. At the same time, health care costs are increasing at what Dr. Favre called an “alarming rate.”

“This is not something that is sustainable,” said Dr. Favre, who added that depleting the district’s fund balance to offset the budget or not adding to it will only increase the district’s financial woes over time.

If the district simply rolls over its budget from 2011-2012, with no increases outside of contractual expenses and state mandates, the Bridgehampton School budget for 2012-2013 would be $11,333,042, a $756,328 increase or 7.15 percent over last year, well beyond the tax cap.

The budget advisory committee has looked at $195,237 in savings found in staffing changes and contractual changes with staff that have yet to be realized. They have also explored changes in staff and transportation that could increase that savings, although no figures had yet to be tabulated, said Dr. Favre.

Required in the 2012-2013 budget  is a $135,000 debt payment on the 10-year voter approved window project, technology updates needed to keep the district within its five year plan with BOCES, expenses related to a five year safety and building plan at the school. Also in the budget is mandated staff development by the state, necessary upgrades to the music department and the tuition for up to three students to attend the Child Development Center of the Hamptons, which is required by law.

“I think for the past few years this board has done an excellent job of presenting a budget to the community they could support,” said Dr. Favre, adding the budget has been pared down each year.

Staying at the same level as last year, with the budget advisory committee’s suggestions, the district would need an increase of $561,000, but under the tax cap can only ask for $379,000 without any additions to the fund balance, said Dr. Favre, leaving the district in a worrisome position for next year and still facing a deficit.

The alternative is to ask voters for more, but the school must earn a 60 percent vote or more in favor of its budget if it hopes to pierce the tax cap.

“What are we willing to give up,” asked Dr. Favre, noting that the need to cut hundreds of thousands from a budget of Bridgehampton’s size does not amount to cutting down on supplies.

“There are not enough paper clips in the budget to reach these figures and trust me when I say we have already cut our supplies for this budget,” she said.

Instead, what is at risk, is programming like the summer school options at Bridgehampton, which have been very popular, as well as stipends to allow student clubs to run at the school. The pre-kindergarten program could also be at risk, as well as student leadership prizes, clerical support, teacher aides, custodial staff time, field trips, technology, staff and even teachers.

“We are in good company across the state,” said Dr. Favre. “This is not just a Bridgehampton problem, it is all over the state, and some are in a worse position than we are. This is a year we probably need to hear from our stakeholders.”

The community budget meeting will take place on Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School.

Bridgehampton School Eyes Shared Transportation Services

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School districts across New York State were sent reeling after the New York State Legislature adopted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s two percent cap on the property tax levy. The new law restricts school districts and municipalities alike in how much they can raise spending each year.

However, there were some concessions made within that bill to attempt to ease the burden, including one that allows school districts to share transportation services. This week, the Bridgehampton School began considering just that.

During a school board meeting last Wednesday, business administrator Robert Hauser informed the school board that they have the ability to go out to bid for the 2012-2013 school year for transportation services.

Hauser said BOCES has suggested the district hire a consultant to look at what kind of contract would best benefit the school district. He noted that the East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton school districts own their own buses and Bridgehampton is now allowed to contract directly with those schools for transportation.

“Nothing is preventing us from at least opening a dialogue with the Southampton School District,” said Hauser, noting Bridgehampton could contract with them to transport district children who attend The Ross School, for example, instead of paying the $50,000 the district does now to provide that bus route. The same could be done with East Hampton.

Bridgehampton School spends about $53,000 annually for a bus to take about nine students to Our Lady of the Hamptons, said Hauser, noting East Hampton and Southampton already provide buses to the Southampton-based, private Catholic school.

“When you think about it, for those school districts, they are already covering the fixed costs so anything we can offer them would be extra,” said Hauser.

Board president Nicki Hemby wondered if the district could assign a bus stop for those pickups.

Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre suggested the board consider hosting a workshop on transportation to strategize for the future.

Shakespeare at Bridgehampton

If Josh Perl gets his way, next summer East End residents will be treated to two weeks of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the expansive lawn behind the Bridgehampton School. In Perl’s vision, the lawn would be transformed into festival grounds in celebration of the pageantry that historically coincided with the mounting of the great poet and playwright’s productions.

Last Wednesday, Perl made his pitch to the Bridgehampton School Board.

The founder and director of the Hamptons Independent Theater Festival asked the board if his not-for-profit theatre company could set up shop on the school’s grounds for three weeks in August. During that time, the company would host a theatre camp for children and stage about a dozen performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said Perl.

The company would have a suggested donation of $20 for the performances, although Perl stressed it is his mission to make theatre accessible for all, and those who could not pay the donation would be welcomed with open arms.

The camp, however, would have to charge for students to attend.

In addition to using the rear of the school grounds, Perl also asked for the use of the school’s restrooms and two classrooms to be used as the actor’s dressing rooms.

Perl noted there could be an opportunity for Bridgehampton students to participate in the production, or at the very least in the festivities planned prior to the show.

Dr. Favre suggested Perl fill out a building use form, and that the board would then discuss the concept in earnest, including whether or not the district could waive grounds fees for the theatre company.

In other news, Dr. Favre reported that the district’s new ASPIRE (After School Program of Inquiry, Research and Enrichment) program is an enormous success in its first 10-week session.

The daily after-school program for elementary school students offers an interdisciplinary approach to one subject during each 10-week session.

While Dr. Favre originally expected between 15 to 20 students, it quickly grew to host 40 students, she said.

Teachers like David Elliot and Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz have actually donated their time to the program at no cost to the district, said Dr. Favre.

Elliot said the program was “evolving” and credited Bridgehampton principal Jack Pryor for administrating the program, and Dr. Favre for conceiving the idea of bringing ASPIRE to Bridgehampton.

After school, students are studying their subject – bugs in this first session – in the library and in the greenhouse, with physical activity mixed into the curriculum, said Elliot.

“We are feeding bodies and minds,” he said.

Dr. Dianne Youngblood

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web convo Youngblood1

The Bridgehampton School District Superintendent, set to retire in August after 39 years in education, talks about why she thinks the Bridgehampton School is special, how she has seen the district grow in recent years, and the importance of shared services as community school districts continue to thrive on the East End.

What first drew you to education?

It is really an easy question to answer. Ever since I was a little girl I loved playing with dolls and while all my friends were playing the mommy role, I was always the teacher. So it started early and my parents picked up on that. There is something to be said for parents believing in what your future holds, and my parents did. They said, ‘You are going to be a teacher,’ we just know it. So in a way it was programmed in me early on.

What brought you to Bridgehampton?

I was first introduced to the district in 1985 and was hired as the guidance counselor/director, so I was working those two hats. It was just such an amazing place. There is something different about Bridgehampton from all the other schools in the area. Being born and raised in New York City, my experience in school was they were overcrowded and lacked a lot of resources. Coming here, you saw how you could get to know the kids, and you had almost anything you needed to help them learn. It was just an incredible opportunity.

What was the transition from guidance director to superintendent like?

It was a transition, and a journey. After six years as guidance director, I realized there was a lot I needed to learn before getting into the seat of superintendent, which is what I wanted. I left here, and went to Riverhead School as guidance chair for the lower grades. Then I went to Comsewogue School District were I served as assistant principal. There was something about being a little fish in a big pond, but it was truly a wonderful learning experience. I started my doctoral studies at Comsewogue, trying to understand how systems work, how kids learn. I was curious how some students have such success and how others don’t.

I had always known I wanted to be at Bridgehampton. I just felt I should be here, so I periodically kept my eyes open and after seven years at Comsewogue I saw Bridgehampton was looking for a principal, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that is me.’ At least I hoped, anyway. I was one year away from earning my doctorate and I was fortunate enough to get the job. It really felt like returning home.

The size of the Bridgehampton School has been a source of criticism for some. Why do you think this is, and is it imperative for the school to grow in order to achieve the kinds of successes you believe are important?

I have struggled with that because I was here in the 1980s when that issue first came up for me personally, and I remember feeling so strongly this school needed to remain small. When the issue came up again a few years ago, I just had to step back and reflect again. That is who I am – always wondering to see things in a new light after I have been exposed to more experiences. I heard what some critics said – that we didn’t have as many electives as larger schools, or we didn’t have the same opportunity for social interactions and yet, even stepping back and hearing the critics, knowing what I had experienced in larger school districts, I believed then and I still believe now in the uniqueness of a small community school. I think it should be preserved as long as it is feasibly possible and there probably will come a day where it is not economically feasible; but there is a value to having children come to a community school, the same school their mother went to, their father went to, their uncles and aunts.

With that there is an enormous pressure and challenge for whoever works here as a teacher, administrator or on the board of education. They have to challenge themselves to continue to improve the school. I don’t think any organization has the luxury of remaining at status quo and certainly for us, I think there is an analogy in “The Little Engine That Could.” That is Bridgehampton. We are the little school district and I believe we can bring out the best in our kids and the best in the community … I have been so proud of the teachers I work with and the support staff, because there have been so many who have rallied around that mantra – ‘I think we can,’ ‘yes, we can.’

We are at a point where test scores are up, we have expanded course offerings and our English language learning programming is soaring … We have a Career Academy that has expanded from just one student – and this is the uniqueness of Bridgehampton – who said I want to be a landscape architect. So we said, what can we do and we searched and found out the Ross School had a landscape architectural program, and it worked out. When the Ross School said they didn’t have enrollment to continue the program we said, wait a minute and that is how [landscape design teacher] Judiann [Carmack-Fayyaz] came to us. We went from one student with a personal request to more than 25 students in a program. We have a greenhouse, a shed and community involvement, with community leaders donating time, labor and materials to the cause. To me those are the special factors of being in a small school.

Talk of closing the Bridgehampton School’s high school has been controversial the last few years. What was your stance on that issue, from a professional perspective?

I think it would be the same answer. I really stepped back for a bit to hear what was being said and to try and understand why people wanted it closed and all I had to go on was what was stated publicly, but I still came back to the point that this school works. I have tried to reach out to neighboring school districts so we can broaden what we offer here. Sag Harbor has been wonderful and this goes back to [former superintendent] Kathryn Holden allowing our students to take advanced placement courses at Sag Harbor. That has been magnificent and that relationship has continued under [Superintendent] Dr. John Gratto.

Are shared services the key to keeping community school districts viable?

I think it will be a very important piece. I am happy to tell you, and you are the first, that [incoming Superintendent] Dr. [Lois] Favre and I received an email this morning and it looking like something we have been trying to pull together with [former interim business administrator] Dr. [George] Chesterton has come to fruition. That is to share a senior account clerk typist with the Tuckahoe School District. In addition to the academic piece of shared services, those back office functions can also be shared and it will make a tremendous difference.

What are your plans once you leave this district this August?

I have to tell you, I can’t say I have any plans yet because for me that means something is in place, but I do have a vision and goals that I am hopeful I will be able to piece together. I consider myself a very spiritual person and when I get anxious about the plan, I think, be patient. God will reveal that to me … I am hoping to teach at the college level, and do consultant work particularly focused on education, but more on the policy end – looking at system changes, how systems work. I am also looking for a really good opportunity or venue to volunteer my time and talents. A few ideas have come forward, but again, I think it will all be revealed at the right time.