Tag Archive | "education"

Joe Markowski Named Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor Schools

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Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Joseph Markowski, a longtime employee of Sag Harbor schools who has continued to serve the district on a volunteer basis since his retirement, was appointed buildings and grounds supervisor, a new position in the district, on Monday, March 23.

In the temporary role, he will take on the duties formerly held by Montgomery Granger, who was removed from his position as plant facilities administrator last month. Mr. Markowski came out of retirement in order to return to the district for the remainder of this school year, giving the board and administration time to find a permanent replacement for Mr. Granger.

After working in the district for five years, Mr. Granger was terminated on February 23. That termination was rescinded on Monday, and the board instead approved a resignation agreement with Mr. Granger.

A school custodial supervisor in the district from 1990 until his retirement in 2005, Mr. Markowski has spent the years since filling various roles in the district and community. He helps annually with the school budget vote and elections and has worked as a substitute school monitor.

At Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Katy Graves called Mr. Markowski, “a veteran of the district who will be helping us through the transition period.”

In addition to remaining involved in the schools, Mr. Markowski is active in the wider Sag Harbor community. He is an assistant captain and warden in the Sag Harbor Fire Department, involved in fundraising efforts for St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in the village, a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, a member of the Suffolk County Bicentennial committee, and is the co-chairman of Sag Harbor’s bicentennial commission.

Mr. Markowski also earned some fame last winter for the photo he snapped of snow melting in the shape of a whale on a Sag Harbor roof, which was first shown on the Sag Harbor Express’s Facebook page and later picked up by a Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman.

“He is a true historian and his interests really include anything related to Sag Harbor,” School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. “You can ask any question and he pretty much knows the answer.”

“Having someone on board who has the time and the experience and can give us that time to reflect and see how we’re going to reconfigure as a system I think is very important,” added Ms. Graves. “Because I think we often rush in and just fill a position to fill a position.”

The administration committed to using the interim period to finding “a more fiscal way to address our leadership needs—the smartest way to go.”

School board member Sandi Kruel told newer members of the board a story about Mr. Markowski, remembering a few evenings some years ago when he slept overnight at the school to monitor the boilers when they weren’t working properly.

Chuckling, Mr. Markowski thanked the board for his “nice vacation” of 10 years.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m., immediately following a budget workshop that starts at 6:45 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the library at Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

First Full Draft of Sag Harbor School District Proposed Budget Presented

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first review of the entire proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year, Sag Harbor School District officials unveiled over $37.4 million in spending, the bulk of which will go to employee benefits and salaries.

While some numbers have yet to be disclosed, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi made projections for several budget lines, including state aid and taxable assessed values for properties in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, based on last year’s figures.

Ms. Buscemi projected $1.7 million in state aid, although “this number is subject to change” as Governor Andrew Cuomo has still not released the final state aid numbers to districts, she said. That number represents an increase of 3.85 percent, or $63,027, from the 2014-15 budget.

The budget’s largest proposed increase is in instruction, in part due to a new in-house special education program “that’s going to allow a lot of our students coming in to stay in the district and receive services in the district,” Ms. Buscemi said. But those increases are expected to be offset savings in things like transportation and tuition fees. Total Instruction, which accounts for 57 percent of all expenses, is projected to increase by 3.14 percent, or $641,128 from this year’s budget, for a projected total of $21.06 million.

While instruction costs, which includes appropriations for all regular instruction at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School, as well as expenditures for special education programs, extracurricular activities and athletics, is increasing, employee benefits are expected to decrease.

“We did receive an increase to our health insurance lines,” Ms. Buscemi said, “but [with the] decrease in our pension costs, we were able to show a decline for next year…that’s probably the first time in many, many years where you see a decline in employee benefits.”

Employee benefits, which represent almost a quarter of the entire budget, are expected to decline by 1.56 percent.

Salaries and benefits, largely contractual costs, together make up nearly 80 percent of the total budget.

Tuition revenues are expected to decrease by $147,000, because children who have been coming to the district from the Springs School District will now be going to East Hampton after a new agreement was made between those districts. Sag Harbor collected $550,000 in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs in 2014-15, and expects that revenue to decrease to $430,000 next year.

Ms. Buscemi again proposed that the district purchase a new bus. It would ease transportation scheduling and ultimately show cost savings, she said. Contracting out one bus run costs about $50,000 for the year, Ms. Buscemi said, “So it makes sense for us to go out and purchase a new bus” because the cost of $102,000 could be made up in just two years.

“We’re just under the cap right now at 2.65” percent, Ms. Buscemi said of the state-mandated tax cap on how much the property tax levy can increase year to year, “but in order to close our budget gap, we did need to use some of our reserve funds.”

As projected, the tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is above $34.1 million, or 2.68 percent. The percentage is not the same as the increase to an individual property owner’s tax rate. The tax levy is determined by the budget minus revenues and other funding sources, such as state aid. The tax rate, on the other hand, “is based not only on the levy, but also on the assessed value of your home,” Ms. Buscemi explained.

For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, the taxable assessed values for both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton increased from the prior year. Although the school district’s voters approved a budget last year that allowed for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value actually decreased by 0.56 to 0.63 percent, depending on home value and town, because of the growth in taxable assessed value.

“Just because the tax levy is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your tax rate is going to increase,” added Ms. Buscemi. “If the current year’s assessed value goes up these increases are going to decline and vice versa.”

The 2015-16 projected tax levy is about $34.1 million, which represents a tax levy increase of 2.65 percent and a projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent.

That projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent would translate to an increase of $130.26 for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million and $130.40 for a home of the same value in East Hampton, based on the 2014-15 assessed values.

A second review of the entire budget will be held on Tuesday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. in the library of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 201 Jermain Street in Sag Harbor. The school board plans to adopt the 2015-16 budget on April 22 and hold a public hearing on May 5. The annual budget vote and school board elections are on May 19.

School District Administrators Propose Plan for In-House Special Education Program in Sag Harbor

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Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Hoping to develop a new in-house program for students with disabilities, Sag Harbor School District administrators proposed a special education budget to the Board of Education on Thursday, March 12, that would keep those students in the district while still reducing expenses by almost 5 percent from last year’s budget.

“For the first time in many years, we have a lot of preschool students with some very profound disabilities,” Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Bekermus told the board. “These are our kids and they should be in our schools is the bottom line…. I also think it’s a benefit, and it’s more effective to keep the students in our school financially, but most importantly, they belong in our community.”

Ms. Bekermus said the parents of special needs students that she has spoken with are “so excited” at the prospect of their children staying at Sag Harbor Elementary School, rather than traveling to programs as far away as Center Moriches and Cutchogue, and spending as much as three hours on a bus each day.

The in-house program would be a class with students in kindergarten, first and second grade, with up to eight students, a teacher and three teaching assistants. Ms. Bekermus said there are about 11 students entering those grades who would qualify for the special services and estimated that four or five of them would be assigned to the special class, while the rest would be based in inclusion classrooms. The elementary school already has a behavioral specialist, Elizabeth Rasor, on staff.

“When I observe other programs and I know what Sag Harbor Elementary School does, I know we can do it as well if not better…I have total confidence,” said Ms. Bekermus.

If the district does not start its own in-house program at the elementary school, it would be required to find alternative placement for those special educations students and would need to pay tuition to the school they attend, such as Childhood Development Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton. The district also pays busing costs for those students.

Even with adding the teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapist, and the respective salaries and benefits, Ms. Buscemi said, “you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.” If the district decides to pursue an in-house special education program, the new students coming in would add a projected cost of $614,000, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. She said those costs would be offset by lower expenses elsewhere, such as for busing and tuition rates.

Despite the projected increase for the proposed new program, the special education budget would still be decreasing by 4.9 percent overall. The proposed budget for next year, the 2015-16 school year, for special education is about $3.8 million, a decrease of nearly $200,000 from the current school year’s operating budget.

“It would still cost the district and taxpayers less if we bring it in-house than if we don’t. So, this is a benefit to the students and it’s a benefit to the taxpayers,” summed up Chris Tice, the board’s vice president.

Ms. Bekermus noted that if students choose to stay at CDCH despite Sag Harbor having its own program, the district would still have to pay for those students.

“This is heart-driven, this is really all about children,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, who was in support of the proposal, citing research that “tells us when students are around their peers they make much faster progress,” and that special education students often read at a faster rate and excel when “mainstreamed” into their local schools with students of all levels.

There is also the advantage of students being integrated into the community where they will likely be working and living as young adults and adults, Ms. Bekermus said.

Ms. Tice added that non-special education students would likewise benefit from developing relationships with their peers who have disabilities.

After hearing about the impact of tax rate projections at its upcoming budget workshop on Monday, March 23, the Board of Education plans to adopt the budget on April 22, with a hearing scheduled for May 5 and the annual budget vote and election on May 19.

Sag Harbor Board of Education Critical of Governor’s Proposed Reforms for Teachers

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By Tessa Raebeck

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education initiatives, one of which would require that half of the measurement of whether a teacher is good at his or her job be based on students’ test scores alone, the Sag Harbor Board of Education expressed its concerns over the state’s reliance on state tests.

In January, Governor Cuomo gave New York’s legislators an ultimatum: pass his package of education reforms and see the state’s schools receive an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding, or fail to pass his reforms, and see that increase drop to 1.7 percent.

At the center of his reforms is teacher evaluation.

“Everyone will tell you, nationwide, the key to education reform is a teacher evaluation system,” the governor said in his State of the State address in January.

As the school board’s legislative liaison, board member Tommy John Schiavoni visited Albany on March 15 and 16 for the New York State School Boards Association Capital Conference. The conference was organized to enable school board members to lobby state legislators and “effectively advocate for [their] school district and students in Albany and at home,” according to NYSSBA.

At the Thursday, March 12, board meeting Mr. Schiavoni said he would “of course focus on funding” at the conference, urging legislators to reduce mandates, especially those that are unfunded; fully fund public education; and repeal the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula criticized by legislators and schools boards alike that was created to close a state budget gap five years ago, yet continues to take state aid away from some school districts.

“And if they do make us use outside observers,” Mr. Schiavoni said, referring to the specialists who would be sent into “failing” schools, “please give us money to do that.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an Independent, and State Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican, introduced legislation to repeal the GEA in February.

School board member Diana Kolhoff, an education consultant and former math teacher, said she was particularly concerned with testing accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

“As an educator, I know evaluative testing has value,” she admitted, adding that she believes “50 percent is going to drive instruction toward test prep—and I think it’s a bad idea.”

Weighing a teacher’s merits as an educator “so heavily on one event” is unfair, Ms. Kolhoff added.

“It is ridiculous,” agreed Chris Tice, the board’s vice president. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…. It’s very unhealthy. This increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up—I don’t think it’s healthy for students.”

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State,” she continued, attributing that to a political climate in Albany that seems to be “hostile” towards both teachers and children.

Enrollment in teacher education courses has declined drastically over the last five years. In New York State, there were nearly 80,000 students registered for teaching programs during the 2009-10 school year, yet only about 62,000 in 2011-12, representing a 22 percent decline in two years. The drop has continued over the past years in New York and other large states like California and Texas, but is not uniform in all states across the country, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Monday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the library at Pierson Middle/High School.

New John Jermain Memorial Library Building Will Dedicate Spaces to Two of its First Advocates

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A rendering of the new front facade of the John Jermain Memorial Library, prepared in 2011 by ARB Review Neman Architecture.

A rendering of the new front facade of the John Jermain Memorial Library, prepared in 2011 by ARB Review Neman Architecture.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor community has come together to underwrite the dedication of two spaces at the renovated and expanded John Jermain Memorial Library for two women who were instrumental in the planning stages of the new facility, which is expected to be finished by October.

The memories of Gail Slevin and Christiane Neuville will be honored with two named spaces in the library, a plaza in the front of the building for Ms. Slevin and a media room for Ms. Neuville.

While the spaces are among many parts of the library that have been named in honor of people, the spaces Ms. Neuville and Ms. Slevin “are particularly lovely because they are spaces that have been underwritten by many, many people,” said Library Director Catherine Creedon.

When the library first embarked on the campaign to fundraise for its renovation and addition, a hired consultant made the point that a campaign must have a large lead gift or it will not be a success.

“We didn’t do that,” said Ms. Creedon, “our lead gift was a pebble, I guess, that was thrown in and we’ve been able to have a very successful capital campaign through word of mouth and community support and groups of people coming together, whether it’s for these named spaces or through our events like One for the Books.”

Both the women were pioneers in the push for a new space for the library, which they believed was at the cornerstone of a strong community.

Ms. Neuville, who died at age 85 on August 8, 2012, was one of the first elected members of the library’s board, where she served two terms and three years as president. A champion of libraries and education, Ms. Neuville grew up in France, was active in the French Resistance, and worked as a teacher until her retirement in 2000, which brought her to Sag Harbor.

“She was part of the board that hired me,” Ms. Creedon said, “and was a firm believer in the power of public libraries to build community.”

Ms. Neuville, she added, “was one of the early advocates for the expansion of the library and worked very hard to bring consensus to the community when there was still a lot of discussion about what the library of the future should look like, so she was an awesome person.”

The Christiane Neuville Biography and Memoir Collection will be a media room, fitting for a library of the future, where all members of the community can come to learn.

Ms. Slevin died on July 29, 2014, at age 70 and will be honored with the Gail Carpenter Slevin Plaza, outside of the library’s Main Street door.

Ms. Slevin “was actually never on the board,” Ms. Creedon said, “although she was such a wonderful supporter of the library that everybody thought she was on the board.”

When the One for the Books event began in 2006, Ms. Slevin was on its first committee, and she continued to run the highly successful fundraising event as chair of the committee from 2008 through 2013.

Before the spaces can be enjoyed and the women honored, however, the building must be completed. Ms. Creedon is hopeful as ever that that long-awaited day is finally approaching.

“The weather has certainly had an impact,” she said Tuesday of the winter storms stalling construction. “Although I was up there today and I just had that feeling that things have been happening.”

The ductwork in the new addition is in, the limestone is going up, pieces of glass should be going into the glass curtain wall next week, and the restoration of the original building is almost finished.

On Tuesday, Ms. Creedon was able to sit on the bench seat that will wrap around the window wall in the fiction wing, look over Ms. Slevin’s plaza and out onto Main Street.

“It was pretty exciting,” said the patient director.

A video walkthrough of the old building is available on the library’s Facebook page and website, and Ms. Creedon hopes to post a second video walking through the new addition once the weather gets “just a little bit warmer.”

Ms. Creedon said the major work of the building should be completed this summer, with an anticipated official move-in date of October 10, which fittingly falls on the library’s 105th birthday and Columbus Day Weekend, “a really fun time to have a grand community celebration.”

“Things are really moving along,” said the director. “We’ve been really lucky to have as much community support as we’ve had…the fundraising is continuing, people are continuing to look for ways to support the project, which is just wonderful.”

The library has raised $3.3 million since its first One for the Books event in 2006, and has an additional $750,000 to $800,000 in pledges and outstanding grants that will be coming in over the next couple of years.

There are two naming opportunities still available, for the elevator and new wing, and anyone interested in funding a commemorative space or book space in honor of someone can contact Ms. Creedon at the library, (631) 725-0049, ext. 223.

Stepping Around Snow, the Bridgehampton School Prepares its Gardens for Spring

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Justin LaPointe waters a seedbed during a spring cleaning of the Bridgehampton School's greenhouse on Saturday, March 7. Photo by Michael Heller.

Justin LaPointe waters a seedbed during a spring cleaning of the Bridgehampton School’s greenhouse on Saturday, March 7. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Despite the snow piles, the potholes, and the threat of more 30-degree weather on the horizon, spring is on its way—at least at the Bridgehampton School.

A group of parents, teachers, and students came to school on Saturday, March 7, to clean up the school’s greenhouse before spring and prepare for the coming season.

For the past five years, the Bridgehampton School has been planting a garden on its grounds, primarily tended by the students and led by teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who is also the chair of Slow Food East End, with help from a few other teachers. It evolved into a community garden about two years ago, and production is increasing this year, as a committed group of Bridgehampton parents has joined in, coming each Monday to work in the greenhouse.

Philippe Cheng, a parent at the school, redesigned the greenhouse layout this year to make more room—and grow more lettuce. The goal is to increase production and bring more fresh produce into the school’s cafeteria, while educating the students and community about the importance of slow food.

As part of its commitment to community-minded farming, healthy, mindful eating and sustainable, farm-to-table production practices, Slow Food East End funds master farmers for local school gardens. Zachary Johnson, a farmer at Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island, has been supervising and lending a hand in Bridgehampton.

Working together with Mr. Johnson and the school’s cafeteria staff, this season the gardeners will be producing different varieties of lettuce and snap peas, and in the long run onions, potatoes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and plenty of beets and carrots.

“We really hope to supply all of the lettuce that the cafeteria uses for the week, and to at least provide a vegetable throughout the year, that would be our goal,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz.

Coursework aligns with the garden’s mission. There is a botany and agricultural production elective for Bridgehampton students to learn about growing food and the nutrition and culinary arts elective teaches them how to prepare and eat it.

“It’s very much about those principles of eating good, clean and fair food,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches the nutrition and culinary arts elective. Using the garden, students can learn about the creativity behind cooking.

While the students have been involved since the beginning through in-school electives and after-school clubs, two years ago Bridgehampton started the community garden with the goal of involving more people outside the school. The greenhouse now has 13 raised beds, 8-by 4-feet each, that members of the community can take over and use to grow whatever they please in exchange for helping out in the garden.

“That brought more people in, but it’s really the fact that the parents have come in [this year] and so now we have parents, faculty, and students, so we have the whole package—and an extremely supportive administration,” said Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz. “Everything is in place and—it’s just very exciting.”

As the school community has become more involved, so has the greater Bridgehampton community surrounding it. Local farmer Jenn Halsey Dupree will be coming to the school to help the gardeners plant some apple trees. There is already a small strawberry patch and blueberry bushes, and new raspberry bushes will soon be planted.

“Children are all excited about the fruit, they just love it,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said.

On Saturday, the group made plans for future expansion and even greater involvement. Mr. Cheng came up with the concept of modeling the project off of a “field of dreams,” where you build it and they will come.

“I just loved that concept, because we’ve been working on that, but if we reach out and really get more and more people involved and have them have ownership in the garden, that could only make the project grow,” she said, adding the concept could potentially be brought to all the local school gardens.

The Bridgehampton garden team will be building two raised beds in the greenhouse using a grant received from Slow Food East End, and the ultimate goal is to raise enough funds for six more.

“Our idea is, well, let’s build them, we’ll build the two and people will see what it’s like and get excited and be part of the growth going forward, so that we can carry on building them and get community support for them,” she said.

Encouraging anyone who’s interested to stop by and become involved in any way they can, the gardeners at Bridgehampton School hope to continually raise community involvement not just to expand the raised beds in the greenhouse, but also the mission behind them; to raise awareness about what real food is, where it comes from, what to eat and how to eat it.

Sag Harbor School District Facilities Director Terminated

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By Tessa Raebeck

web-Monty-Granger-8-3-09_2380

After working in the Sag Harbor School District for five years, Plant Facilities Administrator Montgomery Granger was fired in February.

In a rare mid-school year firing, the Sag Harbor Board of Education terminated its director of facilities on February 23. Montgomery “Monty” Granger was let go after five years of working for the school district.

Mr. Granger started working in the district in a dual role as director of health, physical education and athletics and director of buildings and grounds in August 2009. Three years later, when Todd Gulluscio was hired as athletics director, Mr. Granger’s position changed to plant facilities administrator, where he focused primarily on buildings and grounds since August 2012. Donnelly McGovern is the district’s current athletic director.

Superintendent Katy Graves would not comment specifically on why Mr. Granger was let go. “We just continue to do what’s best for the district, so all of our decisions are what’s best for children, fair for adults, and what the community can sustain,” she said on Tuesday. “And that was absolutely a personnel matter.”

Mr. Granger presented his proposed buildings and grounds budget to the board on January 23, which included a suggested salary of $102,304 for himself. The board held a special meeting, closed to the public, to discuss the employment of  staff member without providing details on February 9, and Mr. Granger was escorted out of the Sag Harbor Elementary School that week.

Prior to working with the Sag Harbor School District, Mr. Granger was district administrator for operations for the Comsewogue School District from 2004 to 2009, and that district’s director of health, physical education and athletics from 2000 to 2004.

Mr. Granger was mobilized three times as a field medical assistant in the United States Army Reserves, a position he held from 1986 until he retired as a major in 2008. During his tours, Mr. Granger worked in such facilities as the Abu Ghraib Prison outside of Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was charged with making sure “medical, preventive medical, environmental and other aspects of detention operations were in compliance with U.S. Army, Department of Defense, and Geneva Convention regulations and laws,” he told the Sag Harbor Express in 2009.

Mr. Granger could not be reached for comment.

Thiele Proposes Legislation to Eliminate GEA, Give State Aid Back to Schools

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In order to fill a shortfall in its budget, five years ago New York State began deducting aid money from its school districts through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula loudly criticized by educators, school boards and districts across the state.

Now, state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor has introduced legislation to repeal the GEA. His bill is co-sponsored by State Senator Kenneth LaValle and supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Originally enacted to close a $10 billion state budget deficit in the worst years of the recession, the GEA has reduced education aid to New York’s schools by nearly $9 billion in the five school years since its inception in 2010. Schools in New York receive less state aid now than they did during the 2009-10 school year.

Although East End schools do not typically receive large amounts of state aid, the GEA has cost Sag Harbor more than $400,000 over the past two years.

The GEA was introduced by former Governor David Paterson when state legislators developing the budget realized New York’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap” between the money the state was taking in and the money it needed to operate. The GEA was created to fill that gap by essentially passing the financial burden onto the state’s school districts.

Assemblyman Thiele, who serves on the Assembly’s Education Committee and did not vote in favor of the reduced education aid when it was originally proposed five years ago, said on Tuesday that the financial issues used to promote the GEA are no longer facing the state, and thus its elimination this year is both incumbent and timely.

“I voted against it then because I didn’t think we should be taking money away from education, but now we’ve gone from a deficit to over a $5 billion surplus, so there really is no excuse for continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is a continuing cut in state aid for the local school districts,” he said.

“Continued state aid loss due to GEA reductions will continue to erode the quality of education school districts can provide. The state cannot continue to pass along its revenue shortfalls to local school districts,” the New York State School Boards Association said in a statement against the GEA, adding that the losses have resulted in “detrimental cuts to personnel, the educational program, services and extracurricular activities” as well as the depletion of reserve funding in districts across the state.

School district officials in both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor regularly lament that the reduction in state aid has come at the same time as rising costs and the tax levy cap, a law enacted under Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011 that limits school districts and other municipalities from raising property taxes by district-specific formulas that take into account variables like the Consumer Price Index.

“At a time when New York State has the dual goals of freezing property taxes and improving the quality of education, it is imperative that we provide a level of state funding that is equal to the task,” Assemblyman Thiele said in a press release on the bill.

In a statement taking a strong stance against the aid reduction, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services said, “Several years into the educational funding crisis, many school districts are finding that they have few options left to preserve programs and services that students and families count on.”

The amount taken from each school district is determined annually by a calculation that leans harder on wealthy districts, so suburban schools on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley are, in general, adversely affected by the reduction more than those in New York City.

Last year, Long Island enrolled 17 percent of New York’s students, but received only 12 percent of state aid for education.

“It’s more important to us than it is to the city school districts,” said Assemblyman Thiele. For suburban legislators from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, he said “the number-one priority for education for us is getting rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the Sag Harbor School District had some $241,000 in state aid taken away through the GEA, according School Business Administrator Jen Buscemi. This year, the district lost $171,395 in aid it otherwise would have received.

“The bottom line,” Assemblyman Thiele said, “is that this issue is going to get resolved one way or another as part of the school aid package that we do with the budget, that hopefully will be done  before April 1.”

In January, Governor Cuomo announced he would not release his school aid figures unless the legislature adopts his package of educational reforms. He agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms, but threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent if they are not met.

Bridgehampton School Teachers Update Board on Evolving Pedagogy

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By Tessa Raebeck 

Bridgehampton School teachers updated the Board of Education Wednesday, February 25, on their teaching methods and PBIS, the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention System.

Special education science and math teacher Jeff Neubauer showed videos and shared the science and thinking behind “these new ways of approaching education.” Bridgehampton teachers Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches environmental design and runs the up-and-coming robotics program, and Helen Wolfe, a math and science teacher, were also there in support of Mr. Neubauer.

In drafting this philosophy, the teachers took their academic experiences in a special education classroom and transferred those lessons to apply the methods to the larger student body.

The three core tenets of the philosophy, which was fostered by a handful of Bridgehampton teachers with help from Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, is a diversity of instruction methods and teaching styles, a focus on rewards rather than punishment in terms of student behavior, and a focus on transition, or accurately preparing students for work in a modern world through programs like robotics and coding, Mr. Neubauer said.

Special education teachers, Mr. Neubauer told the board, are able to work together in the classroom and thus, “we get to see a myriad of teaching styles.”

“The real thing we came to,” he said of he and his colleagues, “was that diversifying instruction and motivation really became the pillars of what we wanted [education at Bridgehampton] to be.”

The Positive Behavior Intervention System, or PBIS, focuses on rewarding good behavior in students, rather than punishing bad behavior. Originating in the district about five years ago, the system was designed to provide good behavior with rewards in a consistent fashion across grade levels and classrooms.

Good behavior in the classroom, Mr. Neubauer said, allows for a safer environment, where students can feel comfortable learning, asking questions, and expressing their creativity. With the slogan that ease of use equals implementation, the teachers created a Bridgehampton PBIS website. The platform, which uses technology to streamline the process, has earned recognition at the local, state and regional levels.

All behavioral actions are logged onto the PBIS website by teachers, producing a vast display of data on behavior trends in Bridgehampton.

Teachers can use the extensive data to make informed decisions on how best to deal with behavioral issues. They can track, for instance, that most of the negative write-ups for a student occurred during first period, then see that they were predominately for tardiness. The data allows teachers to “isolate the problem and try to solve it,” Mr. Neubauer said.

“We want to make school a place where you don’t have behavior issues, so every kid can learn and be able to be creative and have this freedom,” he added.

In other school board news, the board decided to pursue a budget that will not pierce the state-mandated property tax cap, which it expects to adopt at its meeting on April 22.

The annual community forum on the budget will be held Wednesday, March 11, at 7 p.m. in the school gymnasium. The next meeting of the school board is March 25 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria.

Sag Harbor School District Seeks Appraisal for Stella Maris Property

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The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Tessa Raebeck

Four months after it was disclosed that the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor was on the market, the Sag Harbor School District has announced that it is seeking an appraisal of the site.

The board of education and district administrators have discussed the property at a number of executive sessions that are closed to the public since the property’s availability was announced, and are now taking the first step toward a public discussion of a possible purchase.

“At this point, we aren’t making any decisions of how we would utilize the property,” said Superintendent Katy Graves. “This is just a first, very initial step to take a look at the property and gather information about the property.”

The .74-acre property is listed for $3.5 million. It is zoned for offices or classrooms and owned by St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The one-story building is 32,234 square feet. The site is less than a mile from both Pierson Middle/High School and the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

“The Board of Education is in the process of engaging the services of appraisal firms for the purpose of gathering data. Once the firms have been hired and all of the facts, figures and use viability of the building have been gathered, the board will share the information with the Sag Harbor community for their full participation. Any decision regarding the property will involve strategic engagement with all stakeholders in the community,” the district said in a press release Tuesday.

Ms. Graves said the ultimate decision of whether or not to purchase the property “would really have to go to a vote” for district residents.

Although the purchase is far from a sure thing, the superintendent floated some ideas of how the property could be used.

“We do send children out for services elsewhere—some of our student population goes elsewhere at a very high cost to be serviced in other areas, so we’re always interested in keeping our children as close as possible,” she said, adding, “Those are all things we want to kind of analyze and share, but we don’t want to get our hopes up—this would only be if it really worked best for the community and it worked best for the school district.”

Specifically, some of Sag Harbor’s special needs students must travel to schools up-island to get the services they need, and students enrolled in career and technical education courses must go to BOCES facilities up-island. Ms. Graves said that in addition to the financial burden of transporting students to other schools and enrolling them elsewhere, not having those services in the district comes with the added cost of not having all of Sag Harbor’s schoolchildren close to home.

While technical education would likely remain at BOCES, special needs services could potentially be provided in-house if the district acquires more land. Other schools in the area are also sending special education students to far away schools, and Ms. Graves suggested that the acquisition of the Stella Maris property could be a way to explore sharing services with other districts—and thus saving costs.

“This is the initial, initial stage, but New York State is demanding of us now that we secure every opportunity for sharing services, that we find every opportunity under the tax cap to explore sharing personnel, explore every opportunity for cost saving,” said Ms. Graves. “In our community, we’re going to garner the services of appraisal firms to look at that property and get feedback that we can share with our community.”

“We aren’t making any moves as far as education without—we’re doing it hand in hand with the community and our stakeholders,” she added.

With an influx of students who pay tuition to attend Sag Harbor schools and a student population that has grown steadily over the past six years, the school district now has over 1,000 students, as well as over half a million dollars in revenue from tuition paying students.

In operation as a school for 134 years, Stella Maris was Long Island’s oldest Catholic school when it closed its doors in 2011 due to a $480,000 deficit. Parents at the school tried to fundraise to keep the school open, but were unsuccessful. Since the school closed, its building has been used occasionally for fundraisers and village police training, and has seen two unsuccessful attempts to open preschools on the property.