Tag Archive | "education"

State Aid for Sag Harbor Uncertain as Governor Cuomo Holds Education Budget Hostage

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By Tessa Raebeck

With Governor Andrew Cuomo holding school aid in limbo in hopes of forcing the New York State Legislature to adopt his educational reforms, next year’s school budgets—and educational mandates—remain a mystery to school boards and administrative teams trying to prepare for the 2015-16 school year.

“What the governor is doing is he wants to push his reform package,” Tommy John Schiavoni, legislative liaison to the Sag Harbor Board of Education, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

In January’s State of the State address, Governor Cuomo agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in state funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms. If the legislature—which, divided between a Democratic-controlled Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate, is often at a standstill—fails to do so, the governor threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent. In the meantime, those crafting school budgets must play a guessing game without direct information on how much state aid they’ll receive.

“He has publicly said that if he doesn’t get it, they’re going to hold back money from education,” Mr. Schiavoni said of the governor.

The reform package proposed by the governor includes teacher evaluations with 50 percent based on standardized tests, a proposal rebuked by the state’s teachers unions.

“I think that is certainly something that will affect us [and the annual Professional Performance Review] we’ve developed in Sag Harbor,” said Mr. Schiavoni.

Governor Cuomo is also requesting a five-year tenure plan to “make it easier to discipline teachers,” Mr. Schiavoni said. If enacted, the governor’s plan would make it easier for teachers to be fired and harder for them to be granted tenure.

Other reforms the governor is compelling the legislature to adopt include: raising the number of charter schools in the state by 100 and requiring those schools to accept less advantaged and lower-scoring students; starting a pilot pre-K program for 3-year-olds; sending specialists into schools that have been designated as “failing” for three years; and creating an education tax credit for private, public and charter school donations.

The governor’s office will not release the final financial numbers until the budget has passed, which could be as late as April 1. School districts, in turn, must tell the state comptroller’s office whether they plan to pierce the state tax cap, enacted in 2011, by March 1, at which point they could be missing information vital to understanding next year’s finances.

In other school board news, Superintendent Katy Graves said the district has accepted the i-Tri program, a self-empowerment group in which middle school girls focus on building confidence, mental health and physical stamina over six months, culminating with the girls racing in a triathlon in July.

The program was expected to be voted on by the board on Tuesday, but did not end up requiring a vote because there are no longer any transportation costs associated with it.

Theresa Roden, director and founder of i-tri, “has such a wealth of volunteers that are willing to come from the community into the school building that it’s become a facilities use agreement,” Ms. Graves said.

There are no costs for the district, but the program will use Pierson’s facilities and the administrative team, who will help i-tri with the selection process, which favors girls who are not involved in interscholastic sports.

Pierson Middle School Vice Principal Brittany Miaritis said the school is dispensing a survey for i-tri this week to “figure out girl selection for the program.”

The board’s next meeting is Monday, February 23, in the Pierson library. A budget workshop will be held at 6 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 7:30 p.m.

Sag Harbor School Board Taken Line by Line Through Proposed Athletics, Buildings and Grounds Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

With items as precise as $9 for red floor tape, on Tuesday, February 3, Sag Harbor School District Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi unveiled the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the first draft of the district’s budget for the 2015-16 school year.

“We’re just starting from zero and working our way up,” Ms. Buscemi told the board, adding, “this is still a first draft and these numbers are going to be refined going forward.”

Director of Facilities Montgomery Granger presented his proposed buildings and grounds budget, joking to the board, “This will be the most exciting budget presentation you’ve ever heard, it’s really scintillating.”

He asked the board to consider hiring another custodian for Pierson Middle/High School, at a starting salary of about $37,000. The “guidance” of how many custodians a school should have, he said, is one custodian per 20,000 square feet. At 140,000 square feet, Pierson has five janitors and a supervisor who also helps clean. Mr. Granger said the new hire could be a “floater” between schools, rather than hiring a substitute, which are often difficult to find.

“We have significant use of the building until late at night every single night plus the weekend use of the facility, so it is a huge challenge for the number of staff that we have,” Mr. Granger said of keeping Pierson clean.

The buildings and grounds budget includes a proposed $80,000 increase for “items that are much needed,” said Ms. Buscemi, including a Ventrac model tractor, a machine that can be used for both lawn mowing and snow plowing.

“These things tear through snow—it would have torn through that snow we recently had in an amazing fashion,” said Mr. Granger, who estimated it could last from three to 12 years depending on weather and use.

Mr. Granger also asked the board to purchase a new district vehicle, as its current vehicle, a 1995 Ford F250, is, understandably, on its last leg, despite valiant efforts by the schools’ mechanical team, he said, adding the proposed purchases will save money on repairs and labor costs moving forward.

The proposed total for the buildings and grounds 2015-16 budget is around $2.4 million, up by about $163,000, or 7.37 percent, from 2014-15.

With a projected total of about $781,000, the athletics budget, which covers Pierson Middle/High School’s 53 sports teams, is up by $6,465, or 0.83 percent. Seventy-eight percent of Pierson students participate in at least one sport, Athletic Director Donnelly McGovern said Tuesday.

“The athletic department has also inventoried everything we have…[Mr. McGovern] knows how many balls and how many basketballs,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, adding that the athletic director spoke with every coach individually to assess what each team has and needs.

The administration provided immense detail for a school district budget, including low-cost lines like $89 for yellow disc cones, $40 for a goalkeeping throat protector and $6 for a practice net setter.

Due to the salary differential between last year’s full-time athletic director Todd Gulluscio and Mr. McGovern, who serves part-time, instructional salaries in athletics have gone down by 6.59 percent.

The school board has often discussed hiring an athletic trainer over the past several years. Mr. McGovern said he has had trouble finding applicants for the position who are certified school athletic trainers, but that a local trainer has proposed acting as a consultant athletic trainer for the district at a cost of $10,800.

Should a player get hurt, Mr. McGovern said, their coach would call the consultant trainer, who would give an assessment of the injury, “work with the parents” and either advise the player on what steps to follow in order to heal or help set up an appointment with an orthopedist, removing the need for the family to see a general practitioner on their own.

“I think it’s a good model that really could give us that piece that we’re missing,” he said, “because I’d love to have an athletic trainer.”

As with any school budget, the athletics component has several federally and state-mandated requirements, the importance of which the board found difficult to grasp.

In a new rule proposed by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which in turn guides the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, field hockey uniforms can no longer have a side panel that is a different color than the jersey’s other panels. Pierson’s current jerseys are red with white panels, so the district must buy new uniforms in one solid color, at an estimated cost of $400.

The cost of athletic supplies is expected to increase by 24.26 percent, due to the need for additional uniforms and supplies, but the district expects to see some savings thanks to a recent decision to join a statewide purchasing cooperative.

Prior to revealing the complete first draft on March 23, the district will host budget workshops on technology, special education, debt service, employee benefits and transportation on February 23, and on the elementary, middle and high schools, and BOCES administration and services sections on March 9.

A second review of the entire budget will be held April 13, followed by the scheduled budget adoption April 22 and another review April 27. The budget hearing is May 5 and the district wide vote is May 19, as are school board elections.

Bridgehampton School District Unveils First Draft of Proposed $12.6 Million Budget

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Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Bridgehampton School District appears to be in “much better financial shape this year than last year, according to business administrator Robert Hauser, as the school board on Thursday, January 29, took its first look at a preliminary $12.6 million budget for the 2015-16 school year.

The first draft represents an increase of nearly $330,000, or 2.67 percent, over last year’s budget.

“Fortunately, this year, things look a lot better than they did last year,” Mr. Hauser told the board.

Last spring, the school board had difficulty getting the current year’s $12.3 million budget passed. That spending plan pierced the state-mandated tax cap with an 8.8-percent increase over the previous year. It failed to receive the required 60-percent supermajority in the first vote in May, then barely passed when 62 percent of voters supported it in a second and final ballot in June.

The state-mandated limit, which determines how much a district can increase its property tax levy from one year to the next, is known as the 2-percent tax cap, but the percentage actually varies based on the Consumer Price Index. This year, at 1.62 percent, the cap will again be lower than its name.

“So, we’re only allowed to collect, in a sense, 1.62 percent more from the residents here,” explained Mr. Hauser. “However, the spending is going up 2.67 percent. So…the spending’s going up more than the actual amount we’re allowed to collect.”

The first draft of Bridgehampton’s current budget, presented last winter, breached the cap by over $1 million; the 2014-15 draft is over the cap by about $106,000, Mr. Hauser said.

Many of the included expenses are mandated by the state, such as Common Core-related professional development for teachers, fingerprinting for all new staff, and nearly $7,000 for “records management,” as school district payroll reports must be maintained for 50 years.

New items in the 2015-16 budget include adding iPads, Google Chromebooks and other technology updates as part of the district’s 5-year plan, a base increase in social security tax for employees, which the school district must match, and increased building maintenance.

During last year’s cutting of the current budget, the school board chose to reduce the number of days the Homework Club was offered after school to cut costs. Mr. Hauser said the school intends to restore those hours for the next school year.

An increase of $24,734, slated for adding a high school girls volleyball team and purchasing new volleyball equipment, is included in the proposed athletics budget, which is about $150,000 in total.

Health benefits for retirees and full-time employees are expected to increase by almost $100,000 to over $1.5 million, Mr. Hauser said. Most of that expense is for vision, dental and health benefits for full-time employees, as Medicare primarily covers retirees. Under the new Affordable Care Act, the district must provide health benefits to any employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

Some components of the budget, such as salaries determined by unsettled teachers and administrative contracts, insurance costs, and revenue from state aid, are not yet finalized. In a move that is unprecedented in the last 40 years, Governor Andrew Cuomo will not be releasing the amount of aid he is proposing for New York’s schools to the school districts ahead of time.

On January 21, in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo said he would grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, to New York’s schools only if the Legislature passes several of his proposed educational reforms. If the Legislature, divided between a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate, does not comply, the governor threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent.

“In the meantime, we’re all in limbo here, because we don’t know how much aid he’s proposing to give us as a base,” Mr. Hauser said Thursday.

One of Governor Cuomo’s conditions is another overhaul of the recently revamped teacher evaluation systems, so that student test scores account for more of a teacher’s rating. Others include making it harder for teachers to get tenure and easier for them to be fired, establishing more charter schools, which would be required to take less advantaged students, and sending specialists in to transform failing schools.

The final numbers for the state’s $23.1 billion education budget will be revealed in the legislative budget on April 1. School districts, however, are required to tell the state comptroller’s office whether or not they will try to pierce the tax cap a month beforehand, by March 1.

Mr. Hauser said Bridgehampton, which generally gets about 5 percent of its revenue from state aid, relies less on the governor’s budget than other districts, and the budget wouldn’t be drastically affected should the legislature fail to comply with the governor’s demands.

Niche Ranking Names Pierson 49th Best Public High School in New York State

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

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

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor’s Pierson Middle/High School was ranked the 49th best public high school in New York State in the Niche list, a national rating determined not just by statistics, but also alumni, parent and student survey responses. Pierson’s grade, of which academics account for 50 percent, was an “A+” overall.

“A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students who rate their experience very highly,” Niche said of its annual list, which looked at statistics and survey results at 14,431 high schools nationwide. Magnet, charter and online schools are not eligible for ranking.

In 35th place in New York, Westhampton Beach Senior High School was the top high school on the East End, followed by Pierson at 49, East Hampton at 58, Southampton at 65, Shelter Island at 213 and Greenport at 236.

On Monday, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves attributed Pierson’s strong showing to its “strength of schedule,” strong course offerings like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school started offering IB in September 2012 and Pierson’s first diploma candidates in the program graduated last year.

“This reinforces again that our overall rankings keep coming out clearly—our students are doing such an outstanding job,” said Ms. Graves, comparing the Niche grade to Pierson’s strong test scores.

Government and other public data, Niche’s data and over 4 million surveys, which asked parents, alumni and students to rate their schools, determined the rankings.

“They feel like the academics, the administration, the policies and our educational outcomes are really outstanding,” Ms. Graves said of the survey respondents, adding that Pierson was given a top score of A+ for the quality of Sag Harbor teachers. “That resonates. I think that really sends a great message out to keep doing what we’re doing and to continue doing our personal best to give that Sag Harbor experience to all of our students,” she said.

Half of a school’s score is based on academics, 10 percent each on health and safety, student culture and diversity, survey responses and the teachers’ grades, 5 percent on resources and facilities, and 2.5 percent each for sports and extracurricular activities.

Pierson was given a top score of A+ for teachers and resources and facilities and A’s in academics and health and safety. Extracurriculars and activities received a B+, sports and fitness a B-.

Pierson’s lowest score was in student culture and diversity, which received a C+. Eighty-two percent of Pierson students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black, according to Niche.

Much of the data came from statistics reported by the schools to the U.S. Department of Education from 2011 to 2012. Some schools that scored well did not qualify for an official ranking due to insufficient data.

Many of the schools on the list are science and technical institutes. High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, came in first in the country, followed by Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and two New York schools, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Staten Island Technical High School.

Sag Harbor School Board Has No Plans to Revisit Videotaping Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor Board of Education’s narrow 4-3 decision last month to no longer include the public comment portions from the videos of its meetings broadcast on its website, LTV and SEA-TV, has raised criticism from a small but vocal segment of the school community.

The school board will continue to offer the two public input sessions at its meetings, and the rest of the public meetings will be recorded, with the tape starting after public input one, during which the public can address the board on issues related to the agenda, and stopping just prior to public input two, which is held at the end of the meeting and allows members of the public to bring up topics that are not on the agenda.

School board President Theresa Samot, who did not vote in support of the measure, said Wednesday, “The board has had no further discussion on the videotaping policy.  At this point, videotaping is not an agenda item on our upcoming agenda.”

During a six-month trial period from July to December 2014, and much discussion prior to that, board members cited the legal advice of school attorney Thomas Volz, who members of the board said, initially recommended against taping altogether due to liability issues that could arise.

When reached by phone on Tuesday, January 20, Mr. Volz said he is not authorized by the district to speak on the topic.

While discussing the policy in December, school board member Sandi Kruel cited instances that occurred during the trial period in which she felt libelous or slanderous statements were made.

“They were derogatory comments about employees of the district or disparaging comments about the work that they did,” Ms. Kruel said Tuesday, referring to six specific interactions that were also observed by The Sag Harbor Express over the course of the trial period.

Although one example given by Ms. Kruel was of a parent applauding a particular administrator’s work, the others referred to specific criticisms of various aspects of the district, such as a particular academic department or community outreach tool.

One instance occurred during public input two on September 29, 2014, when a community member referred to a particular administrative position and questioned a raise given to that administrator, who was in attendance, asking the board and Superintendent Katy Graves several questions, including, “Why is this person so valuable? That’s what I want to get at.”

When asked about the criteria used to determine why the raise was needed, as well as, “How many years’ experience does this person have?” Ms. Graves replied, “When we start talking about an exact person and their exact raises and why we did those, then we’re talking about personnel issues.”

Administrators’ salary increases are public information, and in this case, the raise was included in an agenda issued by the board. However, the discussion of the employment history of a particular person, as well as matters leading to their appointment, employment or promotion, are to be conducted during executive sessions, rather than public meetings, under the New York State Open Meetings Law.

According to the district, the recording of that September 29 meeting is not available online for viewing “due to a technical issue.”

If that interaction had been recorded and broadcast, Ms. Kruel said, the board “would have had to pay the attorney $3,000 to tell me that I can’t broadcast it and then I would have gotten slapped with a Freedom of Information or freedom of speech lawsuit.”

Ms. Kruel added she would be fine with having public input one recorded, as it addresses agenda items, but that public input two often becomes a “forum for someone’s opinion to slander either the board or an employee of the district.”

“I think we worry about all kinds of things for no particularly good reason,” Robert Freeman, the executive director at New York’s Department of State Committee on Open Government, said on Tuesday. While the board is not legally required to record or broadcast its meetings, he said, “I would question the wisdom of limiting what is broadcast for a simple reason—any member of the public under the open meeting law has the right to audio record, video record, or broadcast an open meeting so long as the use of the equipment is not disruptive or obtrusive.”

“So, even though the board of education might not broadcast or even record the public commentaries, anybody else can, and anybody else who does so can post it on his or her own website. [The Sag Harbor Board of Education] can do what they’re doing, but again, I question the wisdom of the limitation.”

As required by a 2011 amendment to the Open Meetings Law, the school board has on several occasions welcomed others to record and broadcast the public meetings on their own, with the expressed intention of absolving the district from its liability concerns.

Mr. Freeman said concerns of libel lawsuits if the board were to broadcast a slanderous statement made by a member of the public are “wrong, because it’s a public forum. There are cases out of Long Island which indicate that what is said and heard during open meetings is public. Why would they be concerned?”

“The reality, at least in my opinion, is that the board gives itself a degree of protection if it records and plays the whole thing,” Mr. Freeman continued. “If they don’t, somebody can record a portion that [the board does] not and say that this is completely accurate, even though that may not be so.”

The fears of libel lawsuits are largely unfounded according to Mr. Freeman, but a non-legal concern remains: if the board records all public comments, it will inevitably televise statements that are, more often than not, negative reactions to both the board itself and to its employees.

“We’re the only school district in all of Suffolk County who have come in under the tax cap every single year. We have never decreased program, we have never laid off employees, we’ve actually increased program—and [people are] sitting here worrying about if we’re going to let you rip apart a school employee or another board member on video camera,” said Ms. Kruel.

LTV Director Asks Sag Harbor School Board to Reconsider Broadcast Limitations

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A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education's December 9 meeting.

A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s December 9 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In the wake of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s decision last month to stop broadcasting the public comment portions of its meetings, LTV Executive Director Seth Redlus on Monday urged the board to reconsider its ruling, saying its liability concerns were unfounded.

“The action of editing out the public comment portion of your meeting clouds the very transparency this board sought to provide by offering the coverage,” Mr. Redlus told the board.

In light of several resignations in the spring of 2013, the school board faced criticism over a perceived lack of transparency and spent much of the last school year discussing a proposed policy to videotape and broadcast its public meetings. A six-month trial period was enacted over the summer and expired on December 31. During evaluation of that trial, board member David Diskin, who led the initial push for videotaping, suggested continuing to videotape the meetings, but omitting the two public input sessions from the tape, citing liability concerns voiced by the district’s attorney, Thomas Volz.

In December, Mr. Diskin and fellow board members Susan Kinsella, Sandi Kruel and Tommy John Schiavoni voted for a policy that does not broadcast public input, with Board President Theresa Samot, Vice President Chris Tice and Diana Kolhoff in the minority. That policy went into effect January 1 and was in use at the board’s meeting on Monday, January 12, during which Technology Director Scott Fisher stopped the recording prior to public comment.

The board members who voted not to broadcast public comments did so, they said because they were concerned about the district’s liability if it granted an unchecked public forum. Prior to that vote, Ms. Kruel said she counted six instances in which libelous statements were made by the public during the videotaping trial, and said it was too risky for the school district to broadcast an open forum. Mr. Schiavoni added it could affect programming because of the liability issues, should lawsuit costs mount. But Ms. Tice, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kolhoff said that was a risk they were willing to take.

The videos are taped by the school district and available on its website, but also distributed to the local government access stations LTV in East Hampton and SEA-TV in Southampton to be shown on television.

In reaction to the new policy, Mr. Redlus told the board Monday that LTV would still broadcast the meetings for the school board, but would inform its viewers at the beginning and end of the broadcasts that the meetings are independently produced and edited by the district rather than LTV. He believes the liability concerns expressed by some members of the board are misinformed, he said.

“LTV has videotaped government meetings for 30 years, and in that time, we have amassed a great deal of working knowledge about how best to capture these public events and present them to the community that we serve. One rule which has stood the test of time has become our prime directive: under no circumstances does LTV edit government meetings,” he said in a statement to the board made during public input.

“They are presented to the public in the very same way that they occurred in real life. That one simple rule has allowed the community to trust what they see when they tune in to our channel. While other media may be constrained by the time or space available to them, government access television shows every moment of what occurred—allowing viewers to make up their own minds with no editorial content,” he continued.

Editing meetings, Mr. Redlus added, is in the best interest of neither the board nor the public, as the board’s interpretation of issues raised in public comments is also not broadcast, comments made often reflect the opinion of a larger group, who may instead come to the board individually should they not see their questions answered en masse, and “there is no more liability to a board when public comment is broadcast than if that public comment is made only to an open meeting.”

Broadcasting the entire meeting, he concluded, may actually lower liability as there is a definitive recording of who said what.

Mr. Schiavoni asked Mr. Redlus whether LTV would consider taping the meetings itself, an option that had been floated by the board during earlier discussions.

“With the policy in place we won’t tape meetings,” Mr. Redlus replied, adding that when the board had originally considered documenting meetings, LTV had offered to cover a percentage of the cost based on how many East Hampton Cablevision subscribers live in the district (versus Southampton subscribers who are covered by SEA-TV), “but the school district never provided those numbers.”

In other school news, Theresa Roden and three girls from the i-tri program visited the board to ask it to consider Sag Harbor’s participation in the program, which is already active in the Springs, Montauk, and Southampton school districts. With the slogan, “transformation through triathlon,” the program aims to empower young girls through nutrition classes, self-esteem workshops, and physical and mental training to compete in a triathlon, held in July.

The program is free of charge for every participant, and asks the school district to provide a space to hold in-school sessions and possibly nighttime nutrition sessions, support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly transportation, if events cannot be housed in Sag Harbor.

Ms. Roden said in addition to anecdotal evidence that girls do better behaviorally and academically after the program, Jennifer Gatz, a local PhD candidate, conducted a thesis that found participants in the i-tri program, which combines fitness training, mentoring and self-esteem education, show an increased aptitude for science.

“There’s nothing I’ve experienced better than running through a finish line and having everyone you know and love cheer you on,” said Anna Rafferty, an eighth grade participant from Springs School.

The board appeared to be very supportive of bringing the program to Sag Harbor, and will vote on it at its next business meeting on January 26 when it meets at 6 p.m. for a budget workshop in the Pierson Library before convening a business meeting at 7:30.

Sag Harbor School District Presents First Draft of $1.5 Million Support Services Budget

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A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

To start the Sag Harbor School District’s five-month budget season, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi presented the first draft of a nearly $1.5 million support services budget, which covers the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services, and insurance components of the district’s overall budget.

This school year’s $36.8 million budget, which easily passed last May by a 72-percent margin, had an increase of $1.36 million, or 3.83 percent, in spending from the previous school year. The district’s tax levy increase of 1.48 percent came in below the state’s 1.51 percent property tax levy cap for the district, which was determined by calculations specific to last year.

“We are looking at every single line individually,” Ms. Buscemi told the board at the workshop on Monday, January 12. “We’re trying to stay very, very conservative,” she said, adding that once health insurance and pension increases are applied, diligence will be demanded in other areas. Those costs take up a significant portion of the budget each year; salaries and benefits generally account for more than 80 percent of the overall budget. The last 20 percent of the budget must account for programs, technology, facilities and maintenance.

The support services budget was not yet complete, with several lines requiring further edits or information. Much of the data needed to finalize this year’s budget, such as insurance rates, BOCES rates, and clerical salaries, is not yet available. Superintendent Katy Graves’s salary has also not yet been determined, and is listed at $215,000, her current salary.

Some potential savings also remain undetermined. Several of the capital projects afforded by the bond referendum voters passed in 2013, such as floor replacements, the new turf field, and other safety measures, could save the district money by lowering the cost of student accident insurance, which is budgeted for $50,000.

“In some instances,” added Ms. Graves, “you actually save because insurance companies feel [more secure].”

This year the district joined a new purchasing cooperative, Educational Data Basic and T&M Services, to issue bids for the district.

“This $5,000 will save us a lot of time and money with bidding,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that it will save the district money in advertising and time in manpower by doing bids through the cooperative, rather than through the business office.

“We’re going to get a better quality product at a lower cost,” Ms. Graves added.

Rather than putting out bids as a single entity, being part of the cooperative enables the district to go through an agency and have many units purchase at the same time, and save money by banding together with other districts on the East End.

The public information line, which has been up for much debate as the district grapples with how best to increase communications—particularly online—with parents and the wider public in a digital age, is projected to decrease by 4.64 percent, going from $75,500 budgeted for this year to $72,000 for 2014-15. While postage fees will remain steady, the district will be allocating $40,000 it had been paying a private firm to BOCES for public information services.

The district will host workshops on the remaining portions of the budget before the first draft is unveiled on March 23. Athletics, capital project work, and buildings and grounds will be covered at the January 26 workshop. Technology, special education, debt service, employee benefits and transportation will be on February 23, and on March 9 the elementary, middle and high schools, and BOCES administration and services sections will be presented. All workshops are at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.

A second review of the entire budget will be held April 13, and the budget adoption is scheduled for April 22, followed by another review on April 27. The budget hearing will be May 5 and the districtwide vote is on May 19, as are school board elections.

Pierson Senior Selected out of Thousands to Sing at All-State Festival

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By Tessa Raebeck

When Megan Beedenbender sings, everything in the room aside from her voice disappears. The listener becomes mesmerized, further enthralled with each captivating note.

“It’s my way of expressing myself,” Megan said on Wednesday, December 17, in between classes at Pierson High School. “Through music, I feel like I communicate my emotions well.”

Megan’s singing has become more than a form of self-expression for the high school senior, it is now an official point of pride for the Sag Harbor School District. As a result of a perfect score in last year’s auditions, Megan, an alto who can also sing soprano, was selected to perform in the Women’s Chorus at the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) All-State Festival, December 4 through 7.

The Sag Harbor student was chosen from among 6,000 students who auditioned across the state. Of those, nearly 900 students were chosen for eight different performing groups; she was one of about 120 in women’s chorus.

With a love for singing that began when she as a toddler singing along to Disney songs, Megan started honing her hobby in the third grade, as part of the small chorus at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Since sixth grade, she has been working with Suzanne Nicoletti in Pierson’s middle and high school choruses.

“Megan’s first year,” recalled Ms. Nicoletti of the then sixth grader, “I handed her a NYSSMA sheet and I said, ‘You’re doing this,’ because I saw potential and I knew she could greatly improve.”

Since that day, Megan has performed at festivals and solo competitions, “and has always been kind of like the rock of whatever section she’s in,” added Ms. Nicoletti. “I always could depend on Megan to know her part, to be there both with a positive attitude and with the right frame of mind to just do her best. And it’s been wonderful having her in chorus all these years.”

Ms. Nicoletti and Megan bonded over their shared love for what some may consider a broad musical taste: Classical greats like Bach and Mozart mixed with Def Leppard, Journey and other 1980s hair bands.

“If you don’t really care about singing, then it’s not going to be your thing,” said Ms. Nicoletti, adding that somewhere in between her sophomore and junior years, Megan seemed to decide, “Yes, I’m really moving forward with this and this is going to be my thing and my focus, and it was very inspiring. When she started taking private lessons, then things really got even better.”

Megan took her music a step further last year by adding private lessons with Amanda Jones in East Hampton in both voice and piano. She also performs with the Choral Society of the Hamptons, which recently awarded her with a scholarship for vocal training.

As a junior last spring, Megan earned a perfect score of 100 at the NYSSMA Solo Festival in Level VI, the highest class. The score enabled her to apply for the all-state festival, but her position was solidified by character recommendations from Pierson faculty and her participation in local music groups.

“NYSSMA requires a lot of outside time, it requires a lot of self-direction, self-motivation, private lessons, practicing at home—it’s really college-level,” Eric Reynolds, a music teacher at Pierson, said of his student’s accomplishments. Mr. Reynolds, who taught her as a junior in IB music last year, now teaches Megan in AP Music Theory.

“In theory we’re going to start composition, but I love being handed a piece and I love being able to interpret it in my way,” Megan said.

While singing in English is a feat in and of itself for many people, Megan can also sing in German, Italian, French and Chinese.

“I love singing in German, which is really weird. It’s really random, but I like taking those kinds of songs and just making it my own,” she said.

Known for its guttural, deep sounds, German is “just a powerful language,” she said, “and being an alto, when you have a powerful, deep voice and a powerful language—it’s just so good together….what I enjoy about singing in a different language is that when someone’s listening, they’re not focusing on the words, they’re focusing on what it sounds like.”

When she sings, be it the ‘sh’ syllables of Chinese or the flowery rhythms of Italian, Megan’s strong voice is showcased first and foremost.

Her teachers, who she said, “know my voice, which is really cool,” have helped her to focus her breath and tone quality, shape her mouth and sing from her diaphragm. “It’s almost singing from the heart,” she said of how her voice has matured.

Although she was just selected as one of the top singers in New York’s high schools, Megan is not dwelling on her accomplishments. Like most high school seniors, she is more concerned with getting into college than giving private concerts in German.

Through “discovering how much I really loved music,” she has figured out which path to pursue after Pierson, and is well on her way to becoming a music education teacher. She has already been accepted to one of the country’s top music programs and will audition for a different program at her dream school in February.

“I’ve been given so much love through music, so I just want to share my love with everyone else through music, that’s a big thing—and I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” she said.

“Music has been my therapy,” Megan continued, as she sat, surrounded by instruments in Mr. Reynolds’s office at Pierson, “like my guiding light, it’s gotten me through everything…basically, it’s like music speaks when I can’t.”

Bridgehampton School to Look Into Competitive Cheerleading

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By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton High School could become a local powerhouse in competitive cheerleading, if Athletic Director Eric Bramoff gets his wish. With its history of strong basketball and traditional cheerleading programs, the school may pursue hosting a competitive team on which girls would perform flips, mounts and other coordinated gymnastics-style moves on mats against other teams.

Contending in a division based on school size, the team would compete in four meets across Long Island throughout the school year. The current cheerleading team, which Mr. Bramoff said is in favor of switching from traditional to competitive cheer, would also continue to support the boys’ basketball program, cheering the Killer Bees on at home and away games, Mr. Bramoff told the Board of Education when pitching the idea at its meeting on December 17.

“I feel like if we really put our eggs into being the best cheerleading program out here, I think our girls—our high school and our modified-level girls—will have something they can hang their hats on,” said Mr. Bramoff. Modified-level refers to the middle school team of seventh and eighth grade athletes. Although it’s anticipated the team would primarily consist of girls, boys would be welcome to join as well.

The distinction between traditional and competitive cheerleading is measured by its intensity. In competitive cheerleading, the girls leave the mat, vaulting into the air with athletic flips and tricks, while in traditional cheering, other than the occasional lift, their feet remain on the ground. Competitive cheerleading is a modernized version of the sport in which girls’ athleticism and teamwork come first.

Bridgehampton, a prekindergarten through grade 12 school with an enrollment of less than 200, depends heavily on shared sports services with neighboring districts in Sag Harbor and East Hampton. A competitive cheerleading team, Mr. Bramoff said, would draw in girls from those schools, which do not have their own programs, and give Bridgehampton a new point of pride.

Sag Harbor has already expressed interest in a combined team, said Mr. Bramoff, who told the school board that although the girls from Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor would compete together at their cheerleading meets, they would still do traditional cheerleading on the sidelines at their respective schools separately.

Mr. Bramoff asked the board to support his idea by including “some resources for turning our cheerleading team into a competitive cheerleading team” in the budget for the next school year, 2015-16. The exact cost is yet to be determined.

Section XI, the governing body for school sports in Suffolk County, is looking into how to define a cheerleading team and make it a certified competitive sport on Eastern Long Island. Several questions asked by the board last week have yet to be answered by Section XI, such as the specific costs and whether the team’s season would extend through the whole school year or be separated by different seasons, like fall or winter cheer.

“There are a lot of questions out there and the reason that I want to do this…our girls need something,” said Mr. Bramoff, adding, “We’ve had great cheerleading teams here forever and we’ve put resources into it and I think, as everybody else adapts, I think it would be advantageous for us to say, you know what, we still have the best cheerleading team and we’re going to hang the banners on the wall.”

Mr. Bramoff does not think it’s possible to maintain both a competitive cheerleading program and a girls basketball program, but said, “obviously, if we have [girls] that would like to play basketball, we still have that relationship with Sag Harbor.”

The board gave Mr. Bramoff the go-ahead to further explore the creation of a team.

The next meeting of the school board will be on January 28, 2015, in the Bridgehampton School cafeteria.

With No Clear Option for Later Start Times, School District Asks Community for Help

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Sag Harbor Elementary School Student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor School District Tuesday.

“I need more sleep,” Sag Harbor Elementary School student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday, as School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and District Clerk Mary Adamczyk listened. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

After hosting seven workshops in less than two months, the Sag Harbor School District has made headway on researching ways to move school start times later, but remains far from ready to implement a change.

A later start to the school day, especially for high school students, has been advocated by health and education experts nationwide, after research has shown a later start time is better for students’ overall health and safety, behavior and academic performance. Despite the indisputable benefits to children, however, implementation faces practical challenges: established schedules for classes, bus routes and classes; faculty and staff contracts, parents’ work requirements, and cultural behaviors that are in many cases deeply ingrained.

Although Sag Harbor parents have individually advocated for later starts at various times—and to various superintendents—over the past decade, national momentum toward a change surged in August, when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report calling chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents a national health crisis and recommending no American high school start before 8:30 a.m.

Human sleep cycles change during adolescence; teenagers naturally feel alert later at night and have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. Teenagers also need more sleep, requiring at least 8.5 hours, a mere pipe dream for those who have to get on the bus at 6:45 a.m.

Mirroring the national conversation, the movement has gained significant traction in Sag Harbor, which, like many other schools on Long Island, has one of the earliest start times in the country. The Pierson Middle/High School schedule runs from 7:25 a.m. to 2:26 p.m., with many students waiting for the bus in the dark to make it to first period on time. Sag Harbor Elementary School starts the day with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and goes to 3:10 p.m.

Spectators are rare at school board meetings, perhaps not surprisingly, but on Tuesday some 30 parents, students and teachers filled the Pierson Library to hear the board discuss its options. The district’s administrative team compiled extensive data on various aspects and costs of a potential switch, including the effect on athletics schedules and bus routes, the two primary challenges of a change (data available at sagharborschools.org). The plans would range in cost and effectiveness, but none was selected by the board or highly favored by those in attendance. Some options come with significant price tags, while others do little to solve the problem.

Several options would continue operating separate bus runs for the elementary school and Pierson, which are “what saves us the most money,” Jennifer Buscemi, the school business administrator, said. Under other plans, however, the bus runs would have to be combined, which would require significant costs and the potentially problematic situation of 5-year-olds riding the bus alongside teenagers.

The probable annual costs for the first three options, which start both schools after 8 a.m., could range from $401,986 to $625,799, Ms. Buscemi projected. Options 4 and 5 have no additional costs, but Option 4 simply swaps the schools’ times, starting the elementary school early instead, and Option 5 starts Pierson at 7:35 a.m., a mere 10-minute improvement, but a possible starting point, Ms. Graves said.

The sixth option gives Pierson a 7:45 a.m. start time, with 9 a.m. at the elementary school, and would have a much lower cost of $75,000 for contracting out additional sports runs, which Ms. Buscemi said would “not be a very large impact on our tax cap,” whereas that of options 1, 2, and 3 is substantial.

“My general feeling,” said school board member David Diskin “on this is that to make a significant change, it’s obviously a huge amount of money.” Although Mr. Diskin said he saw the benefits of a change, he added he “would hate to see us reduce programs because we made the switch.”

But advocates of later times maintain its better to be roughing it in the beginning of a change than catching up at the tail end, and the momentum is definitely growing. Parents in Southampton, which starts its high school at 7:30, have also urged the board to adopt later times. While Sag Harbor was debating Tuesday, a school district in Dorchester, South Carolina, voted to move its start time later next year.

Switching times is difficult, but not impossible. Schools in Pierson’s athletic conference, the Ross School and Shelter Island High School, both start at 8 a.m.

“I don’t think we have found the right solution—the right option—yet,” said school board vice president Chris Tice. “I think we needed to go through this process to say what are the big rocks, what is the data—I’m not convinced that all the options that are potentially viable are on the table yet…the average district that has made a change takes six months to two years to explore this, we took a month.”

The board spoke in favor of putting the issue on the back burner for now, with hopes of reconvening with better preparation after the budget season. They urged community members to use the extensive data and information compiled by the administration to research more cost-effective, sustainable options.

The community appeared ready and willing to take the reins.

Jackson LaRose, a sixth grader at Pierson, asked the board to consider moving the elementary school schedule from 9 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. and Pierson from 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., “So the buses have enough time and I don’t think it would cost anymore money,” he said. His little brother, 8-year-old Beckham, agreed, saying, “I need more sleep.”

Laurie Marsden, a parent, said after transitioning to middle school this year, her daughter is “struggling still and it’s December. She’s never had a headache in her life and she had headaches the first two weeks of school straight.”

“I know that every single parent that I speak to says they wish the school was later and they talk about how they’re struggling. They talk about how difficult it is not just for their children, but for their whole family,” said Ms. Marsden.

Jean Cowen, the mother of a seventh grader and a former teacher, suggested moving the academic support to beginning of the day, rather than at the end as it stands now, and making it optional. The teachers’ school day—and contracts—would not be affected, nor would bus routes. School would start at 8:05 a.m. for students whose parents can drive them later, with students who need academic support or to be at school earlier so their parents can get to work riding the bus at the regular times.

“Asking kids to get up and perform at the 7 a.m. hour is equivalent to asking an adult to get up and perform at the 4 a.m. hour,” said Susan LaMontagne, adding there are ways to make the change with very little or no costs, and she and other parents are willing to find out how to make it work in Sag Harbor.