Tag Archive | "eileen kochansz"

School Seeks Help in Finding Economies

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In an attempt to combine ideas from community members and faculty, the Sag Harbor School District held a forum last Thursday to ask for input on what could be changed in the school to make it better and offer ideas to cut costs. In a letter Superintendent Dr. John Gratto sent to possible participants, he stated that the community is facing the most serious financial crisis since the great depression and asked if they would like to be a part of a focus group.
Two significant questions Gratto asked participants to consider while thinking about the 2009-2010 school budget included how might the community maintain or improve high-quality educational programs and services while maintaining efficient and cost-effective possibilities.
“We followed this idea and it really worked quite well,” Gratto said on Monday, “In my group we came up with 160 ideas in one hour.”
According to Gratto, the 50 or so participants came up with 400 ideas that night, on ways to improve the school district and reduce costs. Gratto, who organized the forum, asked that many different representatives from various groups participate. Those who joined in the brainstorming session included teachers, students, faculty, Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) members, members of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) and members of the not-for-profit organization, Save Sag Harbor.
The attendees were split into five groups and were given a few questions to use as a guide for ideas. Some suggestions included how the school might reduce energy consumption and overtime costs. Other questions were asked about lowering transportation costs and ways the district might increase revenue to minimize taxes.
Some of the ideas generated from the forum included allowing teacher assistants to substitute and investigating pre-kindergarten programs. Other ideas included plans for increasing revenue by charging other schools to use the athletic fields and other facilities.
Another idea brought up during the forum was offering incentives for teachers to retire.
The plan was to have two forums, but the five groups covered everything at last Thursday’s meeting and Gratto announced at the Board of Education meeting on Monday that a second meeting was not needed.
“Now we are in the process of compiling the ideas into categories,” Gratto said and added that the all the ideas will be put on the school’s website.

Contract Negotiations Move Slowly

Another idea generated from the forum was to hold union negotiations in public.
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Walter Tice, a former Board of Education President, talked about the lack of urgency among the board with the current teacher’s contracts which have been expired since June of this year.
“The longer you go past the expiration date of the contract, the longer it takes to get to an agreement,” he said. “Now,” he continued, “the negotiations are going slower than they were when they [Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, TASH] first talked to you.”
President of the board of education, Walter Wilcoxen said that the board has a proposal, which they are hoping to present to TASH representatives at their next negotiation meeting, which would take place on Wednesday, yesterday, December 10.
“We hope to make a suggestion and we feel it is a good one,” Wilcoxen said at the meeting on Monday. Further he explained that he guarantees that the board and their representatives have paid full attention to all of issues involved and they are trying to do what is right for the citizens.
At the board of education meeting, Eileen Kochanasz, president of TASH, said that she was concerned that the board was coming to the negotiation meeting with only one proposal.
“The dragging out of this process is taking its toll, you said a proposal,” Kochanasz said to Wilcoxen, “I’m not sure you have authorized your representatives to negotiate…we have offered to spend the night to get to the bottom of this…we are hoping your representative has the ability to go back and forth with us.”
Walter countered Kochanasz and said, “I hope that TASH will agree with our proposal on Wednesday, I don’t know what more to say than that.”
When PTA president Chris Tice asked if that meant the board is not planning on negotiating any further than their one proposal on Wednesday, Wilcoxen abruptly responded, “we are not going to discuss the way we negotiate in public.”

Sag Harbor School District Making Slow Steady Progress

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Although the Sag Harbor School Board and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto will meet with their attorney today, Thursday, October 23, regarding teacher contracts, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) is still pressing for an answer as to when they will be able to begin negotiating with the board again.
At the school district’s board meeting on Monday, TASH president Eileen Kochansz told the board that she and fellow TASH members want to settle on a timeframe for meeting so agreements can be worked out on contract issues such as salary.
The teachers’ contracts expired on June 30 and TASH also declared impasse that month, which required a mediator to come in to help the two sides agree on issues pertaining to the contracts. The mediator spoke with both sides in August, and the board asked for more time to review additional data. District attorney Tom Volz was asked to collect salary information from surrounding school districts and is expected to bring his findings to today’s meeting with Gratto and the board.
“I would like to direct this question directly to you Walter,” Kochansz said to school board president Walter Wilcoxen. “Will we be able to hear by Friday morning?”
“We could have an executive decision two weeks from today and we could set that as our wrap-up date,” Wilcoxen said, “I’d love to do it sooner and it is possible we could reach consensus on Thursday night. John [Gratto] and I will speak on Friday morning for some sense of plan.”
Kochansz said she was concerned that the school board is still reviewing data, which they said they were doing on September 23.
“And now it will be October 23, and the board is still going over data,” she said.
“My intent is to move forward as quickly as possible,” Gratto said, “and I’m happy to push for it. I will call you on Friday.”
“I will wait then,” replied Kochansz.
In addition to the teacher contract updates, Wilcoxen said the GASB report — which shows the district’s anticipated expense for health coverage for its current and retired employees — will be another topic the board will be discussing with attorney Volz at their meeting today.
School district business manager Len Bernard explained that GASB report shows tables that predict things like retirement age and life expectancy of district employees. From these tables the school district would be able to calculate each employee’s post-retirement benefits.
Bernard said that this is a new requirement for public entities’ yearly reports and all governmental units will be required to have this data for their 2009 audits.
“It shows for the next few years what the estimated cost will be for insurance issues and is more useful in the scheduling and how we will pay for the budget,” Bernard said. He explained that for 2009 there will be $370,000 for post retirement costs, but in 2017, it could quadruple to $1.3 million. Bernard said that the report adds a long-term liability to the balance sheet.
According to projections, the school district can expect to pay a total of $27 million in benefits over the life of its current employees and retirees. Lifetime benefits for employees and retirees in the year 2015, are expected to cost the district $50 million.
“That liability has to be included every year in our external audit report,” he said on Monday, noting that the report will be used to understand the commitment of the school district for over a 30-year period.
“It’s a way for the GAS board to have disclosure to the public,” said Bernard. “Every village municipality and every school district will be required to do it.”
Bernard added that the school district is ahead of schedule in having this information.
South Shore Purchasing Consortium
On Monday night, the school board also approved a resolution to join the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, an idea proposed by Gratto. By joining the consortium, the district will become part of a regional plan to combine resources in an effort to save money for districts on items like paper products, food, custodial supplies and fuel.
“We want to try to beat the state contracted and BOCES pricing,” said Gratto.
In early September, Gratto contacted the superintendents in nine surrounding districts to see if they would be interested in the idea.
“We will have the business officials in each district choose one high priority item and see if we can get a better price on things such as diesel fuel and paper,” Gratto said. “There is no downside to this opportunity.”
At Monday’s meeting, parent Kristyn Toole and her father, Paul Lankau, expressed concerns about Toole’s children’s bus stop. The children are being picked up at Hildreth Street at the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike but because it is dark in the morning when her two children leave for school, the family would like them to be picked up in front of their house. Toole asked Montauk Bus Service to consider driving down the street to pick the children up at their home but the Montauk Bus Service sent a letter to the board denying the request for the new bus stop.
“The school bus drives right past my house, but my kid still has to walk 500 feet to an intersection where the bus will pick him up,” said board member Daniel Hartnett.
Wilcoxen added that buses “shouldn’t stop for any particular kid ever.”
The board agreed to look at more information and will be addressing the issue at their next meeting.
Thank You
On Monday, Gratto applauded the school board and thanked them in honor of School Board Recognition Week. Gratto read a proclamation from Governor David Paterson and presented each member of the board with travel coffee mugs as a thank you for their time and hard work for the district. The board then enjoyed punch and apple cobbler after the meeting.

Teachers Push to Get Negotiations Moving

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More than two dozen teachers filled the Pierson High School library at Monday night’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting. They were there to prove to the board they are serious about getting new contracts.
The teachers, wearing black shirts and buttons reading, “Wanted Teacher Contracts,” sat through a presentation by state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and talks on service learning before voicing concerns about the way contract negotiations are going — or rather, not.
Earlier this year, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared an impasse in negotiations. They asked for a mediator to help the board, school superintendent and TASH come to agreement about specific pieces of the contract – including salaries.
“There is no sense of urgency on your part to settle a contract almost four months after the last contract expired,” said TASH president Eileen Kochanasz on Monday night. “For us that’s just not right.”
Kochanasz, a guidance counselor at the high school, explained that at the last board meeting on September 23, the school board asked its attorney, Tom Volz, to collect further data about salaries in other districts in the area. She questioned why no meeting date had since been set to further discussions. The board maintains that Volz has yet to submit the needed data.
Kochanasz added that this is the second consecutive time that contract negotiations have failed to be completed in a timely manner.
“Is this efficient bargaining of a school?” she asked. “Am I to infer that your staff is not important to you?”
“The representative for the teachers association as well as three of the other bargaining units were unavailable from February to April,” countered board member Ed Hayes. “So no negotiations took place during that period and that is not our fault.”
“I disagree,” Kochanasz said, “We had six meetings between February and May.” She maintained that there were extensive meetings before impasse was called and added that the board had four years to collect the necessary data.
“We have asked for more information and it’s an ongoing process,” said board member Theresa Samot, who was sitting in for board president Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent. “We do appreciate the work that you do.”
TASH member Jim Kinnier noted that though bargaining began in February, the team had been ready to sit down at the table since last October.
“We will be willing to meet once a week starting this week,” Kinnier added on Monday.
But the board was not yet ready to commit to a start date for further talks.
“I talked to Tom Volz today. I can’t give you a definite date,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I could have an answer tomorrow. I expect [the next meeting] will be late October or early November.”
As of yesterday morning, Wednesday, Gratto said that Volz had not yet been able to get back to him.
“Once he finishes the analysis, we should hear back from him,” said Gratto.
Price Freeze
Gratto also announced at the meeting that the district would put a freeze of $100,000 on some supplies, professional development and conferences for certain departments.
Gratto explained that with the economy struggling and the rising cost of oil that wasn’t budgeted for last year, the school needed to reduce costs in other areas.
“We need to cut back on these things rather than scramble for money mid-year,” said Gratto, who maintains that the cuts would not affect the students.
But Chris Tice, president of the PTA, did not agree.
“I would caution that everything you mentioned does impact the kids,” said Tice who noted that cuts in the realm of staff development ultimately do affect students.
Technology Grant
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. was at Monday night’s meeting to receive a formal thank you for a $5,000 grant he helped secure for new technology at the school.
Thiele also took the opportunity to talk to parents, teachers and administrators about proposed tax relief legislation that would offer a tax cap of four percent on property tax increase.