Tag Archive | "education"

Sag Harbor School District Offers Early Retirement Incentives

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By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, Sag Harbor School District Business Administrator John O’Keefe presented a review of the entire draft of the 2014-2015 budget to the board.

At its meeting March 10, the board approved an agreement made with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor to enact an undisclosed early retirement incentive for teachers who retire from the district and are also eligible to retire from the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System on June 30, 2014.

The New York State guidelines require teachers to have worked for at least 30 years and be 55 or older or to have worked for at least 20 years and be 62 or older in order to not have benefits reduced upon retirement.

Mr. O’Keefe said with the early retirement incentive, there are a few projected retirements that reduce the budget lines from drafts presented at earlier meetings.

“These are people that we’ve identified already that have suggested they’d be leaving at the end of the year,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Those projected retirements would provide for a reduction of $281,313 in teacher salaries and, when combined with others, an additional reduction of $60,708 paid to the state for employees and teacher retirement. Teachers receive retirement benefits from the state, not the district, and the district pays into that system based on its current salaries, not its retired teachers.

“So, if salaries go down, my retirement expenses go down because they’re a direct correlation to the total salaries,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Reduced by $523,496 from earlier drafts, the proposed budget calls for $36.79 million in spending, a 3.62-percent increase over the 2013-2014 school year, which had a budget of $35.51 million.

“Because of the work over the last four or five years that the district has done with planning, we’re in a very favorable position,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “We may be the only district on the island that hasn’t had to reduce staff specifically for the purpose of balancing a budget.”

The second review of the budget will take place before the next board meeting, on April 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library. The regular meeting will follow at 7:30 p.m. The final budget hearing is May 6 and the annual budget vote is May 20.

Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

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By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Pre-K

Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”

 

IB

In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.

 

 

Sag Harbor Board of Education to Vote on Taping Meetings, Explores Green Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

 Taping Board Meetings

Before the standard crowd of a few parents, one or two teachers and one community member, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education again discussed taping its meetings to expand access to the public.

Theresa Samot, BOE president, said since its last meeting, the BOE received input from school attorney Thomas Volz and Kathy Beatty, public relations consultant for the district, both of whom did not recommend moving forward.

Ms. Samot said the board would need to be “very conscious” of what’s said during public input because if someone references an individual by name or “says something horrendous about a staff member,” the district would be liable and subject to a libel suit.

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said in order not to avoid a libel suit, if something offensive were to be said about an individual, the district would likely have to edit that out. “That’s a conflict because as soon as you edit something people are going to wonder why it was edited,” she said.

“From your perspective,” she asked Mr. Fisher, “is that something you and your team could do? Because I’m hoping it doesn’t happen, but we don’t have control over something that happens at the podium or in the audience.”

Mr. Fisher said they could edit it or approve a policy that states, “in the event that something like that happens, that meeting doesn’t [go] for public viewing.”

LTV in East Hampton has been “extremely helpful,” Mr. Fisher said, and has offered to stream the meetings. If the district purchased its own equipment and captured the video itself, they could bring it to LTV, which would then stream the video. Or, for a base cost of $120 each meeting plus $60 per hour, LTV would film the meetings using its own personnel and equipment.

Community member John Battle told the board in February that the Sag Harbor Education Best Practice Group would provide the equipment for a six-month trial period, which he urged the board to implement.

Speaking of libel suit concerns, BOE member David Diskin, who has been a staunch supporter of the initiative, said, “there are risks to this and I would caution anyone who is a supporter of this endeavor not to minimize these risks because I think they’re considerable. That being said, life is replete with risks.”

“I no longer unequivocally endorse the idea, I endorse it with a reasonable measure of concern for the risks,” he said, adding, “I believe the board should proceed with this recording and broadcasting because the benefits outweigh the risks, but it’s cautionary.”

Without BOE members Sandi Kruel and Daniel Hartnett in attendance and no concrete resolution yet drafted, the board decided to craft a resolution in favor of broadcasting meeting with help from its attorney to be voted on at its next meeting, March 25.

 

Green Schools

Also at Monday’s meeting, parents Jocelyn Worrall and Alison Scanlon voiced their support for more green initiatives in the schools, an issue Mr. Diskin brought up at the last meeting.

“We all know that the world is neither sustainable nor harmonious and the only answer to that is to teach innovation,” Ms. Scanlon said, adding she would like to see the district adopt a green goal for next year and allow parents and community members to convene a green committee to present recommendations to the board.

Facilities director Montgomery Granger said since August 2009, the district has been performing 100 percent organic turf maintenance on school grounds and has eliminated all caustic chemicals from the schools. The facilities department is required to use a company that sells green sealed products that are independently confirmed, he said.

“I assure you that we’re as green as we possibly can be with regard to chemicals,” said Mr. Granger.

Ms. Worrall asked the board “if they would consider when our contract is up with our current carter, if they could either negotiate with a carter who does recycle or separate, or ask for a recycling separating to be included in the carter services.”

Recycling, Mr. Granger said, is included in the cost of garbage maintenance. The carter sorts through all trash at the transfer station, separating recyclables.

In terms of electricity, Mr. Granger said the district did a retrofit, adding light sensors and LED bulbs “which have at least a 50,000 hour lifespan.”

Mr. Granger said while he considers making sure the schools are safe and healthy his primary job, his second most important responsibility is saving money and being efficient.

“Maybe it’s not about the money, whether it costs more or costs less,” said BOE member Mary Anne Miller, saying its about educating students on green initiatives and implementing a culture of conservation.

Mr. Diskin suggested the board have administrators look to see if there are immediate steps to be taken, and make green policy a district goal for the 2014-2015 school year. Interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso said an example of what can be done almost immediately would be to deal only with publishers that use recyclable text paper.

Mr. Diskin said he had collected “really great” resources on such green initiatives he would share with administrators, adding that getting recommendations from them “that would fit for our school” should be the next step. Ms. Samot and Ms. Tice agreed.

 

Other School News

Dr. Bonuso said the district is “not happy” with the congestion at the southern entrance to Pierson and is “working in partnership with the village to see whether or not we can talk to such issues as traffic congestion.” He is hopeful some concrete actions will be made in the next few months.

SCOPE recognized Matt Malone, Sag Harbor Elementary School principal, and athletics secretary Jeanne DiSanti as “Shining Stars,” or as Dr. Bonuso put it, “select individuals that have distinguished themselves in the field of education.”

Employee Benefits Account for a Quarter of Expenses in Sag Harbor School District Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

On Monday, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented a draft of the last major component of the 2014-2015 budget to the Board of Education (BOE), which included projected expenses for the two school buildings, Pierson Middle/High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES), BOCES services and employee benefits.

Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said items that fall under the discretion of himself and SHES principal Matt Malone (those not related to contractual obligations like salary and healthcare) come to a 0.77-percent increase. He said the principals go “line by line” with teachers, and, after the budget is passed, each teacher has an individual meeting with their respective administrator “where they justify every single recommendation they’ve submitted to the district to purchase.”

“We’re pleased with the way that process has gone once again this year,” said Mr. Malone. “Everybody on staff is continuing to do an outstanding job on scrutinizing our discretionary spending and allowing us to maintain excellent programming.”

School salaries, equipment, contractual costs such as field trips or the rights to a play, and supplies are projected to increase by 5.5 percent next year, from $11,364,070 to $11,989,648.

Parent Alison Scanlon, who has voiced her disapproval of not having an in-house summer school program at previous board meetings, asked Mr. Nichols about that component of the budget.

“If we have the numbers sufficient to indicate that it would be in our benefit to run something in house here, we would do so,” Mr. Nichols replied, adding they are in the tentative planning stage of running a program for Common Core math, which a number of students have struggled with.

District wide benefits represent over 25 percent of the entire budget year-to-year, said school business administrator John O’Keefe. Thus, a significant portion “of our expenditures is going to expenses that we don’t really have any control over what the increase is going to be,” he said.

District wide employee benefits, including items like social security, retirement and health insurance, are proposed to increase by 7.41 percent, from $8,806,898 in 2013-2014 to $9,459,205 in 2014-2015.

Struggling to Stay Below Tax Cap, Bridgehampton School District Asks for Community Input on Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

The Bridgehampton School District held its third annual community conversation March 5, asking residents to voice their recommendations for savings and discuss the logistics of piercing the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

Superintendent/principal Dr. Lois Favre and school business administrator Robert Hauser have presented several variations of the proposed 2014-15 budget to the board of education. The tax cap limits the property taxes school districts can raise to 2-percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year is the rate of inflation is at 1.46-percent, according to Dr. Hauser. The district has the option of staying below the tax cap, or piercing it, however, in order to approve a budget above the tax cap it must secure a 60-percent vote in favor of the 2014-15 budget by district residents that cast ballots in the May 20 budget vote and trustee election. If the budget fails to earn that kind of support, the board can bring it back to residents for second budget vote. If it fails to earn approval then, the district must adopt a budget with a zero-percent increase.

“If voted down, we are in worse shape,” Dr. Favre said.

The district faces a catch 22; it needs to cut enough, but not too much, said Dr. Favre. If administrators go too low with cuts this year, they will struggle next year with a levy that can only go 2-percent above that.

The initial budget draft for 2014-2015 proposed $12,650,768 in spending, a 12.59-percent spending increase over 2013-2014 and well above the 2-percent tax levy increase. “We will continue to work to bring it closer into focus, as we do each year,” Dr. Favre said.

The administrators cut $316,100 from the initial draft by removing items like an updated outdoor sign, pre-K program for three-year-olds, a physical education teacher, and by reducing Common Core training (much of which is state-mandated). iPad acquisition and other items were also trimmed from the budget. After those cuts, the budget still has a 10-percent spending increase and is about $677,502 over the cap, with a 6.82-percent proposed tax levy increase.

Dr. Favre and Mr. Hauser outlined other ideas to consider, such as reducing stipends by half, cutting the remaining iPad acquisitions, removing the after school program, cutting a teaching assistant, reducing pay for substitute teachers, and cutting a day of the homework club, to name a few. Those additional cuts would save the district $277,500.

After substantial cuts to the initial budget, a “wish list” spending plan, the latest draft leaves the district at an 8-percent increase in spending, which is still about $400,000 over the cap at a 4.03-percent tax levy increase.

The district gave examples of the respective budgets and their annual cost to taxpayers. For a homeowner with an assessed value of $500,000, the 8-percent spending increase would cost $32.17 more than if the cap is not pierced. For the owner of a $1 million home, the difference between not piercing the cap and an 8-percent spending increase is $64.32.

“It’s a marginal cost to a family,” said Bonnie Gudelauski, a new parent in the district, “and families need to understand that we lose a lot more by not doing it.”

The next Bridgehampton Board of Education meeting will be held on March 26 at 7 p.m.

After Significant Cuts, Bridgehampton School District Budget Draft Still 4 Percent Over Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

In a second budget presentation to the Bridgehampton School Board of Education, Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre highlighted cuts she said would likely have to be made because of the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

In January, Dr. Favre presented a first draft of the budget with a “wish list” of items the district was hoping for, such as laminating machines and Common Core training for teachers. But with the initial budget projecting a spending increase of more than 12 percent, those additions were not included in the second draft presented at the February 26 meeting. The initial budget for 2014-2015 was $12.62 million, a $1.41 million increase over the current year.

“In the last few years we’ve made a lot of pretty significant cuts,” Dr. Favre told the board. Over the last two years, the district has realized savings by not replacing one administrator, a full-time secondary teacher, a full-time head custodian and a senior accounting clerk. It has also cut nearly 15 percent from materials and supplies budgets across the board ; and had a salary freeze covering all employees in 2012-13.

Dr. Favre walked the board through significant cuts in programming and staffing that would still result in an increase, but of 4.03 percent rather than 12.59 percent. “So all the things that we put into the budget hoping to have for next year we’ve now taken out,” said Dr. Favre. With those cuts, the budget was reduced by $316,100.

Additional cuts that could be made in order to get closer to the tax cap include cutting a teaching position, a teaching assistant position, and materials and supplies. “None of these are my recommendations,” she said. “These are just to give you a sense of what kind of digging we’re going to have to do to stay under the cap.”

“I love everyone who’s here, I love everything that we’ve built here. Every one we’re looking at right now is starting to dig into the things that make us special,” said Dr. Favre.

The Great Prom Debate Heats Up in Sag Harbor; School Board Considers Veterans Tax Exemptions

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Pierson Middle/High School

Pierson Middle/High School

By Tessa Raebeck

The Prom

The debate continues at Pierson High School, as students and administrators dispute the balance between autonomy and security at the prom.

At the Board of Education meeting February 10, Pierson Middle-High School Principal Jeff Nichols stood by a recommendation made by the school’s Shared Decision Making Committee to require students who want to attend the prom—predominantly 17 and 18-year-old seniors—to take school-sponsored coach buses to the event and be subjected to a search conducted by an outside security firm before being allowed on the bus, as a means of curbing drug and alcohol use at the event.

The details of the plan and the specific parameters of the search, which Mr. Nichols called “more thorough” than those conducted by himself and other school officials in the past, have not yet been determined.

Various groups from the school community form the shared decision committee: parents, staff members, administrators, community members and students. According to Mr. Nichols, the adult SDM members supported the recommendation, but the two student representatives “were not enamored with that process.”

Mr. Nichols said he discussed four options at an assembly with the entire senior class.

The first option is to leave everything it has been; students would be free to take limos, drive themselves or even get a ride from a parent and be subject to the administrators’ security protocol. The second is the proposed plan to put students on coaches after being searched by an outside firm. The third option would allow students to rent “party buses” (a chauffeured vehicle furnished like a limousine but larger in size, although not as large as a school bus) but require each of those party buses to have school-sponsored security on board.  Under the fourth and final option, students would be free to choose their own transportation to the prom, but prior to entering the actual dance (the school-sponsored portion of the event) they would be subjected to a search process administered by an outside firm.

A final decision has not been made, but Mr. Nichols, board vice president Chris Tice and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, expressed their agreement with the SDM recommendation.

“You can set a lot of trap doors, buses and that, but at the end of the day, my biggest concern is sometimes when you deny too much, the kids want to get over that fence even more,” David Diskin, a board member, said at the meeting.

The six members of the senior class in attendance asked whether they could get a party bus after the prom. Mr. Nichols replied, “Once you leave you can do anything you want.”

 

Veterans Tax Exemption

In December, Governor Cuomo signed a law authorizing school districts to provide veterans with as much as $40,000 in property tax exemptions.

The law leaves school boards with the decision of whether or not to offer the exemptions, which would increase the school taxes of non-veteran residents, who would need to absorb the loss in revenue.

For a house valued at $500,000 in Southampton the annual cost to non-veterans  would be $8.62; for a house valued at the same amount in East Hampton, the cost would be $10.84 annually, according to John O’Keefe, the school’s business administrator.

The exemptions include reductions in assessed value of 15 percent for veterans who served during wartime (an $8,000 cap), 10 percent for those who were in combat zones (a $12,000 cap) and an additional, variable reduction for those with disabilities connected to their service (a $40,000 cap).

School districts must decide whether to offer the exemptions by March 1. The district must first hold a public hearing on the base exemption, and then adopt the resolution by a simple majority vote. If the district wishes to change the caps, another public hearing and vote is required. If the district wishes to enact extensions, such as the “Gold Star Parents” provision to also include parents of a soldier who died in service, it must adopt a separate resolution, although a public hearing is not required.

At the February 10 meeting, the school board appeared unclear on the procedure, as it adopted a  resolution to approve the veterans tax exemption prior to holding a public hearing.

Four days later, the district announced it would hold the required public hearings on the base exemption and cap changes, as well as a hearing on the “Gold Star Parents” provision, on Thursday, February 27, starting at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library.

New York State Regents Delay Full Implementation of the Common Core Until 2022

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State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles at a forum on the Common Core in December.

State Education Commissioner Dr. John J. King, Jr., Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and Regent Roger Tilles at a forum on the Common Core in December. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Following criticism from Governor Andrew Cuomo, on Tuesday the New York Board of Regents delayed the requirement that schools fully implement Common Core learning standards until 2022.

The regents also reversed their stance on a measure that would have allowed teachers to defend themselves should they face termination due to students’ low test scores.

On Monday, the state regents proposed 19 measures to address issues with the Common Core, a set of educational learning standards mandated by the state. Governor Cuomo issued a statement on Tuesday saying the action was “yet another in a long series of roadblocks” in the implementation of new statewide educational standards. On Wednesday, the board tabled its recommendation to delay teacher evaluations until April, although the other 18 measures were passed.

As it stands, teachers who receive a rating (calculated by a formula largely dependent on students’ test scores) of “ineffective” or worse for two consecutive years can face termination, even if they have tenure. The measure would have allowed teachers to defend their jobs on the basis of the poor implementation of the Common Core.

Education Commissioner John J. King, Jr. and the regents have faced harsh criticism for the Common Core rollout, which opponents said was haphazardly implemented without proper training, instructional materials and correlations between what is tested and what students actually know.

“We have listened to the concerns of parents and teachers,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch in a statement released Monday. “We’ve heard the concerns expressed at the hearings and forums, and we regret that the urgency of our work, and the unevenness of implementation, have caused frustration and anxiety for some of our educators, students and their families.”

The board delayed the requirement for high school students to pass Common Core-aligned English and math exams at the “college and career-ready” level in order to graduate. The full implementation will now be effective for the class of 2022, rather than the class of 2017 as originally planned.

The measures will also reduce local testing in a few ways, the board said, including the elimination of  local standardized tests in kindergarten through second grade.

The board also delayed the launch of data collection by inBloom, a third party data warehousing company hired by the state to house students’ scores and private information—an especially criticized aspect of the implementation.

“The implementation of the higher standards has been uneven,” admitted Commissioner King, “and these changes will help strengthen the important work happening in schools throughout the state.”

The board also asked the legislature to fund a three-year, $545 million Core Instructional Development Fund aimed at “providing increased professional development for Common Core implementation, and to provide increased funding to reduce field testing, allow for the release of more test items, and support the development of native language arts assessments for English Language Learners.”

Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator John J. Flanagan, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony H. Palumbo at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast Saturday, February 8.

Congressman Tim Bishop, State Senator John J. Flanagan, State Senator Kenneth LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony H. Palumbo at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast Saturday, February 8. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

Prior to the regents’ announcement, local legislators and school officials gathered at the 10th annual Regional Legislative Breakfast to discuss the state of education. Hosted by the Longwood Central School District and Eastern Suffolk BOCES, the discussion largely centered around the detrimental effects of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) on schools and how to eliminate it.

The GEA was created in 2010 to partially reduce a $10 billion deficit in the state budget. Pushing the burden from the state to public schools, a formula was devised to calculate an amount to be taken away from each district’s state aid.

During the 2011-2012 school year, the GEA was used to allocate an unprecedented $2.56 billion statewide cut in aid. Under the GEA, New York public schools have lost a total of $7.7 billion, or about $2,895 per student.

Centereach High School student president Sim Singh asked the officials what the legislature’s plan is to abolish the GEA and “to meet the state’s financial commitment to fund public education.”

“The battle with this will be with the governor and it will be in the assembly,” replied Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.

Regardless of party, all legislators in attendance expressed their commitment to lobbying for the complete elimination of the GEA.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, watches a presentation at the Regional Legislative Breakfast February 8.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, watches a presentation at the Regional Legislative Breakfast February 8. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

According to the legislators, Long Island is disproportionately affected by the GEA. Long Island enrolls 17 percent of the state’s students, but receives 12 percent of aid.

“I think,” said Senator Kenneth LaValle, “we’ve got to not only protect what we have, but we’ve got to push back on other regions of the state who may want a disproportionate share.”

Since the start of the GEA, Suffolk County alone has lost $185 million in state aid, or $734 per pupil. Sag Harbor has lost $934,584 and Bridgehampton has lost $308,874.

On Long Island, a total of 3,908 school positions have been eliminated during the three years of the GEA. Long Island schools are receiving less state aid this school year than they received in 2008-2009 ($2.54 billion vs. $2.62 billion).

Spring Break Threatened by Snow Days in Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton

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Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

As incredible as winter weekdays spent sledding, ice-skating and relaxing by the fire are, snow days tend to be bittersweet memories come springtime, when long past days off begin to cut into awaited vacation time.

Because they are required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts must make difficult decisions on how to compensate when inclement weather makes it impossible—or at least ill advised—for students to come to school.

The Sag Harbor School District planned for two snow days this year, but school has already been closed for three days and, according to the infamous groundhog, the winter weather is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

If the two snow days had not been used, the district would have been closed the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday afterward. Since those days have already been used up, the holiday weekend will only include the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, May 26.

“Now,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, “we have to go in with that third day and take what would have been a vacation day and make it a school day.”

The spring break this year was scheduled for Monday, April 14, through Friday, April 18, with students returning to school on Monday, April 21. As of press time, April 14 will now be a school day, but the rest of the vacation remains intact for now.

Dr. Bonuso said if the district has to be closed again, the next vacation day to be eliminated would likely be Tuesday, April 15.

“And if we needed another day, Wednesday and so forth,” he added.

Local school districts have had to make such adjustments the past two years. It’s been snow this year, but last year it was Hurricane Sandy that forced the closure of school more than two days.

Sag Harbor has already adopted its calendar for the 2014-15 school year and again has factored in just two snow days.

“But,” said Dr. Bonuso, “it’s something we need to keep in mind when we construct calendars, whether we build in more days up front or say what days we should use should we run into emergency days.”

“This winter was definitely a tough one,” he added. “So it’s something we have to think about.”

The Bridgehampton School District factors in three “inclement weather days” each year.  If there are no snow days during the year, those days become days off for staff and students, typically at the end of the school year. If there are snow days, the inclement weather days function as regular school days.

Bridgehampton’s inclement weather days for this year were set for March 14, May 2 and May 23, the Friday before Memorial Day. Because Bridgehampton has also used three snow days during the 2013-2014 school year thus far, each of those days will now be full days in class for students.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre, if another snow day has to be called, a staff development day (when the staff comes in for training but students get to stay home) scheduled for April 11 could instead be used as a full day for both staff and students, “rather than take away the April break, as many families have already made plans,” she explained.

“Moving forward,” she added, “I am looking at the 2014-2015 calendar to see where we might build in an extra day for an inclement weather day.”

First Draft of Bridgehampton School Budget Asks for 12-percent Increase

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By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton School District officials were quick to stress last week that a newly unveiled budget calling for a 12.59-percent spending increase for the 2014-15  school year was only a first draft that would see significant cuts in the coming months.

“It always looks like we need to panic,” said Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre at the Bridgehampton Board of Education (BOE) meeting last Wednesday. “I have no doubt that we’ll get this where we need to be.”

The $12.62 million budget contains many “wish list” items and would carry a $1.4 million increase over last year’s budget.

Enrollment at Bridgehampton School is projected to increase by three students next year. The projected numbers for 2014-15 are 24 students in the pre-kindergarten program and 145 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Total enrollment is expected to reach 169 students, the largest enrollment at school in recent years, according to Dr. Favre.

“If everything remains the same,” Dr. Favre told the board, “and we add in what we believe we’d like to see happen here, it would be a [nearly] 12.6-percent increase, which we know is unreasonable. It’s not in the realm of things right now.”

“In this age of the tax cap, it’s a big number,” added Dr. Favre, referring to the 2-percent tax levy limit that prohibits school districts from raising the tax rate by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, unless the district can secure a 60-percent majority vote in favor of its budget. “So, I’m just saying that I know that that’s not where you want to stay, but you just need to see all the numbers and we’ll go together as a team to see where we can get.”

The large increase is attributed to several unavoidable costs, such as “ever increasing” employee/retiree benefits, as well as desired items like laminating machines and technology updates to keep in line with the district’s five-year plan, Dr. Favre said.

It also budgets for a new outdoor sign and opportunities for state-mandated staff development (staff must be trained for the state-imposed educational curriculums).

“I think this board,” said Dr. Favre, “has done an exceptional job every year of cutting back and giving a good budget to the community.”

What really stands out, Dr. Favre said, is the amount of money that has been asked for in preliminary budgets, but which has ultimately been cut over the last six years, which amounts to $4.5 million. Last year’s budget actually called for less spending than the budget that was requested in 2010. In 2012-2013, the final budget was $636,678 less than the administration’s original proposal. In 2013-2014, the district proposed a budget of $11.37 million and ended with an actual budget of $11.21 million, a difference of $158,064.

The budget does not consider the impact of raises beyond the step increase factored in each year. Dr. Favre noted contract negotiations are just beginning with the teachers’ union.

Dr. Favre told the board it would need to discuss whether or not it should pursue piercing the tax cap.