By Claire Walla
On Monday, July 11, the Sag Harbor School district welcomed two new administrative faces at its annual organizational meeting. Sandi Kruel was formally sworn into her new position as a school board member (replacing the outgoing Dan Hartnett), and Scott Fisher was welcomed to the meeting on his first day on the job as the district’s new technology coordinator.
Then, prompting a slight shift in the seating arrangement, board member Walter Wilcoxen was relieved of his duties as school board president, replaced by board member Mary Anne Miller who was voted in unanimously. She happily took center stage behind the wooden gavel, as a regular board meeting ensued.
Teachers’ Early Retirement Incentives
The Sag Harbor School Board faced the first major decision involving the impending state-imposed two-percent tax cap.
Director of Business Operations Janet Verneuille presented the board with two options the state offered for paying back the early retirement money the district owes based on the number of teachers who took early retirement incentive packages.
The board had the choice to pay five installments of $132,240 at eight percent interest over five years, or spend $572,022 in a one-time payment this year.
“[The latter] approach weakens cash flow going into a tax cap, but is saves costs in the long run,” Verneuille said.
Ultimately, after discussing the issue again Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to pay the Teachers Retirement System bill of $572,022 in its entirety by the end of this month.
“The board’s rationale was they thought it wise to avoid paying over $90,000 in interest over the next five years,” Dr. Gratto explained in an email.
“Last year at this time we were debating whether or not to keep the cafeteria open,” said Dr. John Gratto, school superintendent. “But I’m pleased to announce that this year we’re operating at a $1,000 deficit.”
The news comes in the wake of major changes that were made to the cafeteria last year when the program was overspent by about $25,000. The school added a point-of-sale system, which allows the district to keep better track of the food items that are actually selling, and allows parents to pay into their children’s accounts online.
Last year, the program owed the general fund $187,405, said Director of Business Operations Janet Verneuille. “This year, we were able to get that down to $144.037.”
Verneuille also added that the school was able to make about a $3,700 profit off its vending machines this yeah, which prompted a discussion as to the foods being offered.
“We have to recognize that, unfortunately, some of the best sellers are some of the things that people have problems with selling in a cafeteria,” Verneuille explained. “It’s what you’d expect: Snapple and Pop-Tarts.”
The board heard from Elementary School Principal Matt Malone who gave an update on the primary summer school program, which is in its second week. He noted that it currently has 63 students enrolled, all of whom are involved based on teachers recommendations or administrative review.
“Everyone’s really been collaborating well and it’s off to a great start,” he said. “The addition of the transportation this summer has really been a big help. [The district has funded a bus service to take kids to and from the program.] It’s helping students arrive on time, which leads to a much more efficient session.”
Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols explained that the upper school program is currently serving 49 students. This year, the summer school program is being hosted by Hampton Bays High School instead of Riverhead, where it was in previous years.
“It felt very structured,” said Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Bekermus who, along with High School Assistant Principal Gary Kalish, visited the program last week. She added that middle school enrollment this year is higher than it has been since Bekermus has been at the school.