Tag Archive | "education"

Pierson Vice Principal Headed to Greenport

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By Tessa RaebeckPierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish will leave the Sag Harbor School District in May for a position as secondary principal in Greenport.

Pierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish has accepted a position as secondary school principal in Greenport and will be leaving the Sag Harbor School District at the end of this month.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education accepted Mr. Kalish’s resignation with regret at its meeting on Tuesday, April 14. He is expected to start in Greenport on May 1.

A graduate of Pierson himself, Mr. Kalish has been Pierson’s vice principal for the past seven years. He was the driving force behind the implementation of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program in Sag Harbor.

Kyle Sturmann, who graduated from the program last spring, said Wednesday that Mr. Kalish “was very dedicated to the success of the IB program at Pierson. He always made himself available to the candidates, maintained regular communication with the teachers [and] made sure that the students understood the guidelines of the program and that they never felt too overwhelmed by its rigor.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the school board and administrators congratulated Mr. Kalish on his new position while expressing regret at seeing him leave Pierson.

“We’ve been lucky to have a homegrown Sag Harbor Pierson graduate to come back and make such a difference here for our students and our community,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “We’re sad to see you go, but we know it’s a promotion and it’s an opportunity to be captain of a ship and they’re lucky to have you.”

“We’re all happy for you but also, we will miss you,” agreed school board member David Diskin, who said his daughter Zoe, a Pierson student, shared his sentiments.

“I think you’re ready for the next step in your journey and I think you’re going to be fabulous, so good luck,” added board member Sandi Kruel.

“I was very proud to be able to come back,” Mr. Kalish said. “I was a student here and I loved being a student at Pierson and to be able to come back as an administrator—I was very honored and very proud. It was a great experience, I’ve learned so much. Pierson continued to teach me after I came back.”

“Mostly, I will miss the students—not just because I’m related to a few of them, but I really [will] miss all of them and I hope that they know that even if I’m not here, I’m still a whaler.”

Sag Harbor School District Proposes $37.5 Million Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

With many school districts scrambling for funding to maintain programs and staff, Sag Harbor School District administrators are striving to find ways to save money down the line in their proposed 2015-16 budget.

The second draft of the budget, which will not pierce Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2-percent tax cap, was presented at the final of many budget workshops on Tuesday, April 14. The total proposed 2015-16 budget is $37.5 million, an increase of 1.85 percent over the current school year’s budget.

The second draft of the budget is higher than the first by about $118,000. It includes newly received information on state aid figures and the cost of BOCES, which provides school districts with shared educational services such as test grading and vocational-technical programs.

Although it is widely known as the “2-percent tax cap,” the property tax levy limit is actually calculated individually for each of the state’s school districts based on a number of factors. This year’s tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is 2.5335 percent and the second budget draft’s projected tax levy increase is 2.4864 percent, or $826,082.

Sag Harbor will receive nearly $67,000 more in state aid than originally projected, representing an increase of 7.94 percent, or almost $130,000, over the current year. Due to this increase in state aid, other additional revenue, and the decision to postpone a project included in the first budget draft (the resurfacing of the tennis court and play area behind the Sag Harbor Elementary School), the tax levy will be $55,000 lower than the first draft, despite the budget itself being higher.

“We’re maintaining and growing our programs here and our opportunities for students while keeping under the tax cap—and there are almost no districts on Long Island that can claim that—so you’re doing a great job, thank you,” Chris Tice, vice president of the board of education, told the administrative team.

The projected tax levy is $34,050,000 for 2015-16, with the monthly impact on the local taxpayer being anywhere from $4.97 to $10.15, according to School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi. Those figures are based on the current assessed values for the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, which both send students to Sag Harbor schools.

“If assessed values go up in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, like they did this year, your tax rate is actually going to go down, it’s not going to go up,” Ms. Buscemi told the three people in the crowd Tuesday, adding she hopes no taxpayer will see a $10 monthly increase in the end.

Due to aging infrastructure and potential cost savings, Ms. Buscemi also hopes to include a proposition in the annual budget vote in May that would permit the district to establish a reserve fund for future repairs.

The proposition would allow the school district to take the surplus funds from the current year’s budget, 2014-15, and put the money in a repair reserve account to be used for future infrastructure needs. The fund would have no impact on tax rates. In order for the district to use money from the fund, it would have to hold a public hearing. If an emergency repair needed to be done before a hearing could be held, the district would have to replace the money used in the next year, with interest.

One project the repair reserve would potentially be used for is repairing the boilers at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, which posed several problems this winter. The cost of a full replacement of the boilers is estimated to be over $500,000, but a repair would cost about $100,000 and allow the boilers to hold out for another five years, Ms. Buscemi said.

“If we do decide to go the repair route, we would be able to use some of that repair reserve to make those repairs and that would have no impact on taxes,” she added.

Ms. Buscemi said the district has made over $1 million worth of “efficiency” actions since July 1, 2012, which can be included in an efficiency plan that may garner additional savings for taxpayers in the form of rebate checks. A more detailed plan will be presented before the board adopts the budget and property tax report card on Wednesday, April 22.

A budget hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 5, and the annual budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19. All budget presentations and drafts are available under “Budget Info” on the district’s website.

Test Refusal Movement Continues to Grow in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck

Spring break is traditionally used for some much needed relaxation and time in the sun before the final sprint to the end of the school year, but a group of East End parents, teachers, and community members had a loftier goal for last week’s vacation: Taking back public education.

About 50 people filled a meeting room in Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church on Thursday, April 9, for an informational dialogue on test refusal hosted by the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH). The “refuse the test” movement has gained steam across New York State in recent weeks, in reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to increase privatization of the state’s education system and put mounting emphasis on state tests by tying teachers’ jobs and basing schools’ effectiveness on students’ performances on standardized tests written by for-profit companies. The governor threatened to hold out on providing aid to schools if the State Legislature did not pass his reforms as part of the state budget earlier this month.

The picture painted at the forum is one that has been repeated across the country increasingly since the implementation of the past two major federal educational reforms, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top: public schools in which art and history classes and recess, gym and lunch periods have been eliminated and replaced with test prep.

The Sag Harbor School District has made many efforts to resist pulling the plug on the creativity administrators say is fundamental to a strong, engaging education, but the new state regulations will force school districts to fire teachers and administrators and relinquish local control of schools should students not perform up to par. Sag Harbor’s schools, which perform well on state tests, will be subject to the same guidelines as the state’s lowest performing schools.

As a means of resistance, unions and some administrators have urged parents to “refuse the test” by not having their child sit for them. From an academic standpoint, a test becomes invalid if 17 percent or more of the students across the state refuse to take it.

On Tuesday, April 14, the first day the state tests were administered, Superintendent Katy Graves said 25 percent of Sag Harbor students had not taken the ELA test that day. Many of the students who refused the tests are the same students who do the best on them, and Sag Harbor’s scores will likely suffer as a result.

Ms. Graves said Thursday that she does not support refusing the test because the district has invested so much in the scores and analyzing the data they provide, but that “watching this has been heartbreaking.”

“The majority of the districts in the state—especially upstate—are so aid dependent,” she said. Never before, she added, had a governor inserted language into the budget linking school aid to how schools operate.

She added that tenure, which the governor wants to make more difficult to obtain, had been brought in for a reason, so, for example, if a teacher decided to teach a topic like evolution, which was once highly controversial, he wouldn’t have to fear losing his job.

“There’s some reasons we deal with things very slowly in education, so we’ve never dealt with this embedding of this kind of language—I as governor am deciding how you locally evaluate your teachers…so you’re living in a new world,” she told the crowd of parents.

TASH President Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson, said he and Ms. Graves are on the same team, however, they “disagree upon what pitch to throw.”

The governor has issued a gag order on teachers forbidding them from encouraging their students and parents to refuse the test.

Mr. Kinnier, under that gag order, said he hosted Thursday’s forum to “bring forth some facts [and] allow folks to voice their opinions.”

“From my perspective, we’re out of strategies. There’s only one strategy left that I see,” he said. “In my view, to let your children take the test is to endorse the governor’s efforts to make public schools be like charter schools…I don’t want to have this opinion, but I only see two possibilities—either sit here and take it or do this.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is not opposed to tests, but said the current state tests are not age or ability appropriate and are far too long. Elementary school students take the tests over six days, for a total of anywhere from nine to 18 hours depending on whether they receive extra time. He said if the scores were a smaller part of teachers’ evaluations the teacher could reflect on the results, but it wouldn’t drive their instruction.

This is the third time in four years that the legislature has addressed the issue of teachers’ evaluations.

“This is called education reform—in my opinion, it’s anything but,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said when voting against the governor’s budget. “What we’re doing tonight is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; this isn’t reform at all. The fact of the matter is that the only solace I have tonight is that I know that we will be back here again at some point dealing with this issue.”

Administered by private for-profit companies and not written by educators, the tests are graded by hired temp workers who are paid per test. The only requirement to be hired as a grader, which includes critiquing a writing section, is a college degree.

In addition to lamenting the arbitrary nature of the tests, many teachers and parents in attendance expressed fear that the data-driven instruction will affect students’ ability to learn and be prepared for careers in a rapidly changing global marketplace.

Sag Harbor resident Laura Leever, who teaches on Shelter Island, said while she understands Ms. Graves’s concerns over faculty and students being affected by scores lowered from high test refusal, “We have to look at this in a bigger picture…this is about taking away public education, it’s about taking away local control.”

“I think we have a very punitive governor,” Ms. Graves replied. “I think he will punish every school that doesn’t comply and I think it’s going to make things worse.”

She said she fears that, rather than acknowledging how many families refused to take the test, the governor will instead say the scores mean “our schools are failing even more.”

“I’m an AP U.S. History teacher,” said Sean Brandt, president of the Southampton teachers union, “and America is founded by a bunch of rebels—and I think now is the time to stand up. My son’s in the third grade and he’s not taking the test. As far as what’s the outcome, we don’t know, but this is the loss of local control, this is the privatization of public education and this is as criminal as it gets—and this is our opportunity to take a stand.”

Chase Mallia, a Pierson math teacher, said teachers who have a lot of students refuse the test would likely have worse results, because those students are often the same ones who would perform the best.

“There’s a possibility for me that I’ll be rated ineffective,” he said. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take, because I see the direction the state’s going, because I’m in it for the kids.”

Refuse the Test Movement Growing on the East End

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Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

A grassroots movement of parents who say the government is taking the creativity out of learning—and doing so in impractical ways that help neither students nor schools—is growing statewide and across the East End, with many parents refusing to let their children sit for the tests the state uses to judge public education.

Advocates for local control of education were outraged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through sweeping education reforms as part of the New York State budget last week (see related story), which include further linking teacher and school performance with student performance on tests written by a private company, Pearson, rather than educators.

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) sent parents a letter last week clarifying its position on test refusal.

According to the letter, TASH “strongly supports a parent’s right to advocate for his/her child and refuse the New York State ELA and Mathematics assessments in grades 3-8. As a collective body, TASH believes that the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to live good and purpose-filled lives. We believe that the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice. TASH opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes testing that is currently being pushed by both the federal and New York State governments because this testing has not been used to further instruction, help children, or support their educational needs. These commercially prepared assessments are not transparent and teachers, parents, and students are not permitted to discuss the content or to know which questions students answered incorrectly.”

These tests are administered over the course of several weeks each spring in addition to other state-mandated tests throughout the year. Last year, the State Education Department administered the tests on the new federal Common Core curriculum before providing lesson plans or textbooks. This year, schools are more familiar with Common Core, but unions and school boards alike have expressed concern over the connection of a teacher’s or administrator’s employment with a test that doesn’t take into account outside factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students or parents, or what a teacher does in their classroom aside from drilling students for the test.

Parents can “refuse the test” by writing a letter to their child’s school requesting their child be excused from the tests. When other students are taking the test, those who have excused are provided with another space to be so as not to disturb the testing.

Shona Gawronski has had five children attend Sag Harbor’s schools, and this year she is  refusing the test for her youngest two, a son in fourth grade and a daughter in seventh grade, as a form of activism in support of strong public education.

“I’ve been a parent [in the Sag Harbor School District] for 18 years and I’ve seen such a…decline in not the quality of the teaching but the parameters in which the teachers can be creative in their teaching,” she said. “Everything is evolved around these state tests—math, science and reading—and not so much the arts and…the more creative aspects of education.”

Tim Frazier, principal at the Southampton Intermediate School, said that, as of the start of the April break last Friday, about 10 percent of his students had refused, and he expects that number to increase by test time next week.

Aside from the political message it sends Albany, the movement to refuse the tests could have big implications on the performance of teachers and schools. Often, the students refusing to take the test are those who will do the best.

“Those scores will be reflecting the performance of my school and the performance of my teachers, so it’s really not a good place to be as an administrator at a public school right now—especially if a high percentage of students refused to take the test,” he said.

“There are so many other factors that go into making a ‘highly effective’ or highly performing teacher than just how…students do on a test score,” he added. “The state minimizes it to look at just that number instead of looking at all the other factors.”

Many teachers don’t actually teach the subjects being tested and are evaluated based on students they have hardly any contact with. A special education, technology or health teacher will get a score linked to how their students do in English language arts and mathematics.

But with the bill already passed and the governor showing no signs of changing his mind, advocates for education say refusing the test as their best option.

“When Washington, D.C., linked 50 percent of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82 percent, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student outcomes, and the combined poverty gap for D.C. expanded by 44 scale-score points, causing poor students to fall even further behind their affluent peers,” said Anthony Chase Mallia, a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor. “It is time to begin to acknowledge that the accountability movement has failed.”

 

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor is inviting those seeking more information on test refusal to attend a forum on Thursday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information on test refusal and other commonly asked questions, visit the New York State Allies for Public Education website, nysape.org.

New York State Budget’s Education Reforms Draw Criticism

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Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

Just before graduation, Jessica Warne takes one last walk down the hallway at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York’s school districts have watched Albany intently since January, when Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a $1.1 billion increase in education aid on the condition that the Republican-controlled State Senate and Democratic-led State Assembly agree to his series of education reforms.

Those reforms, called a “disgrace” by the state’s teachers’ unions and denied by a growing movement of parents who are “opting out” of state tests, include linking teacher evaluations more closely with student test scores, making it harder for teachers to be hired and easier for them to be fired, and allowing state takeovers of schools whose students perform poorly on tests.

Democrats in the Assembly, members of the governor’s own party, voiced their strong opposition to the reforms as they voted on the budget on Tuesday, March 31, but conceded that passing the budget and avoiding a government shutdown was of greater priority than preventing the education overhaul. An aide  to Senator Kenneth P. LaValle confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the budget’s final language was still being worked on before the formal adoption. By Wednesday, some concessions had been made, but not enough to quiet the worries of educators across the state and the growing opposition of parents and their children.

Although legislators, educators and teachers unions opposed the bulk of the reforms, the primary standout is teachers’ evaluations, which will be taken further out of the hands of the schools themselves. The governor wanted half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student performance on state tests, which educators and parents alike have decried, saying the system would put even more emphasis on “teaching to the test” and less on creative, engaging learning.

Administrators and school board members in Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton and Bridgehampton have publicly spoken out against the governor’s reforms.

“It is ridiculous,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board, at a meeting last month. “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.”

The new budget removes teachers evaluation planning from the legislative process and places the power of determining the weight of the various components, primarily test scores and observations, into the hands of the State Education Department, which will have to come up with a plan by June. The department gained notoriety last year for its haphazard rollout of the Common Core standards  when it administered tests to students before providing teachers and parents with basic materials like lesson plans and textbooks.

Under the new evaluation system approved Tuesday, teachers will continue to be judged on the current scale as “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective,” or “highly effective.” Those who teach math and English to third through eighth graders will be judged on their students’ performance on state tests in those subjects and high school teachers will be judged on the Regents exams. Educators whose courses don’t end in state exams, such as art or kindergarten teachers, will be evaluated based on “student learning objectives” determined by the state.

Observations conducted by a principal or administrator within the school and an “independent” observer from a different school will also play a role in a teacher’s grade. Lesson plans, student portfolios, and student and parent feedback surveys may no longer be considered in determining whether or not a teacher is doing their job.

In addition to requiring that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on tests, the governor wanted 35 percent to come from an observer from outside the district, with the remaining 15 percent determined by the teacher’s school itself, numbers that education proponents are urging the state to abandon.

“The idea of a teacher evaluation system being related to 85 percent coming from outside local control is absolutely horrific,” said Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson Middle/High School and president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, who fears the Education Department is under the governor’s control and will end up implementing his desired weighting regardless of the input of legislators and educational experts.

“A lot of what this is, is the governor is unhappy with the teachers union on the state level because the teachers union didn’t endorse him…. a lot of this on his part is an eye for an eye kind of thing.”

Other components of the budget will make it harder to become a teacher in the state, which has been struggling to recruit new educators in recent years, and for teachers to keep their jobs. Every five years, teachers and administrators with lifetime certification will be required to register with the state again and complete 100 hours of continuing education or professional development under “rigorous standards” to be released by the Education Department. There is no funding mentioned to help school districts comply with the mandate. The state’s graduate schools of education will be required to “adopt rigorous selection criteria,” including a cumulative 3.0-grade-point average during an applicant’s undergraduate career. Teachers will not be able to qualify for tenure until they have taught for four years, as opposed to the current three.

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State because we have a governor that’s creating a platform that seems to be…hostile to teachers and children, both,” said Ms. Tice.

In addition to the teachers union and state legislators, a grassroots movement of opposition has formed in the state and is swiftly growing on the East End. New York State United Teachers Union President Karen Magee encouraged parents to “opt-out,” or remove their children from standardized testing, saying it is the only effective method of resisting the governor’s changes, and a group of local parents is taking up the charge, opting their children out of the state exams, which begin on April 14.

“The goal for us parents and teachers is to get as many families to refuse the test as possible, because that’s where it gets noticed,” said a Pierson Middle School parent who wished to remain anonymous until the group comes out publicly. “I don’t really have a political bone in my body, but at this point it’s really hard to ignore…. the testing is ineffective and it’s not pro-student, it’s not pro-teacher, it’s not pro-school.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is generally in support of standardized testing because it helps teachers to serve their students and “the school can look at their program and make adjustments based on results. It allows you to compare where our students are compared to other students across Long Island and across New York and I think those are good things.”

On the state exams for third through eighth graders, however, teachers do not receive students’ results. They are given a numerical grade of one through four for each student, but no additional information on what a student struggled with or what areas were challenging, so they cannot diagnostically look at the right and wrong answers and adjust their program accordingly.

“The state exams on the seventh and eighth grade level are more challenging than the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam,” said Mr. Kinnier. “And the reason why the state makes the Common Core Algebra Regents Exam so easy is because it’s one of the requirements to graduate from high school, so they have these other tests which their only purpose is to judge teachers.”

Teachers across the state write the Regents exams, which are included on students’ high school transcripts, but Pearson, a for-profit testing company with strong lobbies in Albany, writes, administers, and grades the exams for younger students.

“That’s another thing that virtually all teachers are opposed to—these state exams ought to be written by teachers and not a for-profit test writing company,” said Mr. Kinnier.

The teachers union is “taking a close look” at how the state is spending money for testing purposes and links between leaders in Albany and profiteers at Pearson, he added.

In Push Toward Inclusion, a Need for Teachers Certified in Special Education

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Bridgehampton School teacher Sarina Peddy, with students Avery McCleland and Neo Simmons, is pursuing a master's degree in special education to help the school meet the need for more inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms. Photo by Carolyn Dyer.

Bridgehampton School teacher Sarina Peddy, with students Avery McCleland and Neo Simmons, is pursuing a master’s degree in special education to help the school meet the need for more inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms. Photo by Carolyn Dyer.

By Tessa Raebeck 

With research and federal law both supporting increased inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms, American school districts are working on getting as many teachers certified in special education as possible, and developing sound systems for early intervention and response.

Research on inclusion has found that students with disabilities who spend more time in classrooms with their peers not only have higher tests scores and better job prospects, but are also less likely to miss school or act out in class. In response, many districts are trying to shift from general education classrooms to those with teachers who are also certified in special education. But, at a time when school districts are contending with less state aid and a cap on the taxes they can levy, many have found inclusion difficult to implement and struggle to find sufficient resources, funding and teachers who are dual certified in both general and special education.

Aleta Parker, director of Response to Intervention (RTI), the special education program in the Bridgehampton School District, said RTI and the push toward inclusion at Bridgehampton has been “very effective…we’re proud of it and it’s growing and so are we.”

At the Bridgehampton School, which, like many schools nationwide, still has separate special education classrooms, administrators are encouraging teachers to pursue master’s degrees in special education to help the school meet the demands of increased inclusion.

“With this change, students with disabilities now get the opportunity to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers with the full or part-time support of a special education teacher to assist in adapting and modifying instruction,” said Sarina Peddy, who started teaching at the school this year.

Since early intervention is a key component of successful inclusion, there is an ever-increasing need for childhood education teachers who are certified in special education. Ms. Peddy has a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and is in the process of applying to universities where she can earn her master’s degree in special education.

The degree takes two to three years to complete and includes 18 different courses and fieldwork. The district has funding to pay for a portion of its teachers’ tuition rates, but the budget is administered on a first-come, first-served basis. Ms. Peddy is on the waiting list.

Like many districts nationwide, Bridgehampton uses two models to address the special needs of students: Response to Intervention (RTI) and Instructional Support Teams (IST).

Beginning with the screening of all children in general education classrooms, RTI is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and continuing support of students that relies on high-quality, attentive instruction. IST involves collaboration between specialists, teachers and, ideally, parents and uses a team approach to screen students. The models aim to shift the question from, “What’s wrong with the student?” to “What resources can we use to increase the student’s chance for success?”

“That used to be the old model—if there was something wrong with a student, the immediate response was to throw them in special education,” said Ms. Parker.

Dr. Lois Favre, the district’s superintendent and principal, who has a background in special education, agreed, saying the approach used to be, “Get them out of my room, put them in special ed. What did you do to help them? Nothing, put them in special ed…RTI has really changed the look of how we talk about students and their progress in a really positive way.”

“It really is a teacher initiative,” said Ms. Parker, adding that parents are invited to meetings and encouraged to be involved. The team of teachers works hard to identify students early, address the whole issue, including what may be going on at home, and treat each student as an individual when figuring out how to best educate them.

In 1970, four out of five children with disabilities were denied a public education in America, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Many states had laws excluding students from attending public schools, including those who were deaf, blind or “emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded.” Students with disabilities were either excluded from public schools altogether or were kept out of sight of their peers.

Based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act changed the model in federal law, if not in practice. Enacted in 1975, it mandated that school districts provide a free education that was appropriate for the child’s need in a public school and that the “least restrictive” placement for that student was always sought, defining the ideal placement as in the child’s local school in a general education classroom.

As recently as 2011, however, students with disabilities in New York spent more time in school isolated from students without disabilities than their peers in any other state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the IDEA Data Center.

No Wrongdoing Found in Question of Sag Harbor School Board Member’s Residency

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By Tessa Raebeck

Longtime Sag Harbor School Board member Susan Kinsella’s decision to put her North Haven home on the market in October and move out of the district temporarily while her new home, also in Sag Harbor, is being renovated, has raised some eyebrows but is perfectly acceptable, according to district officials.

“When a member of the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education informed the board of an upcoming temporary housing displacement, the Board of Education consulted with the district’s legal counsel [School Attorney Thomas Volz], conducted an inquiry regarding the residency of a board member and completed the process of due diligence,” the district responded to a query from The Sag Harbor Express. “It was unanimously determined by the Board of Education that the board member in question meets the requirements of residency in the Sag Harbor School District.”

The Express looked into the matter after it was discussed on Facebook.

According to Linda Bakst, the deputy director of policy services for the New York State School Boards Association,  which oversees and guides all of New York’s school boards, because Ms. Kinsella has the intent to return to the district and remain a Sag Harbor resident, there is no misconduct.

“If the intent is to return and there’s no intent to leave, we don’t believe the person loses their claim of residency in the circumstances described,” Ms. Bakst said in a phone conversation on Wednesday, April 1.

Ms. Kinsella confirmed on Saturday, March 28, that she plans to move into her new home in Sag Harbor once renovations are completed. She declined to comment further.

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.