Tag Archive | "Elena Loreto"

Put Brakes on “Jake”

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By Amanda Wyatt

Elena Loreto, the president of the Noyac Civil Council, is enjoying a quiet moment gardening in her backyard. But in the middle of snipping some fresh flowers, her solace is interrupted by what sounds like a machine gun.

Of course, she knows it’s not a weapon. It’s merely another truck on nearby Noyac Road, using its “Jake brakes” to slow down around a curve. And for Loreto, this is an everyday occurrence.

“I am one block from Noyac Road, and I’m one block away from Trout Pond,” she explained. “I’m right at that curve. On an ordinary day, I hear the trucks using these brakes on Noyac Road. There’s no denying it. If they’re using them, I’ll hear them when I’m in my backyard. If I’m sitting on my deck, I’ll hear them. If my windows are open, I’ll hear them.”

With any luck, Loreto may find her street a bit quieter in the coming months, as the Southampton Town Highway Department takes new measures to prevent “Jake braking” and cope with other traffic concerns on Noyac Road.

For several weeks, a “no Jake braking” sign has been posted on Noyac Road, put in place by the town’s Superintendent of Highways, Alex Gregor.

“Little signs don’t work, so I got a big, in-your-face electronic billboard that I borrowed from the County Department of Public Works,” he said in an interview this week.

“What we’re asking is for the trucks to consider [on] the 9, 10 or 11 miles of Noyac Road that they don’t use their engine brake — that’s what a “Jake brake” is,” explained Gregor. “It’s an electric switch that makes the engine brake itself, rather than just depending on the brakes. But it does increase the noise level and it’s a residential area.”

Loreto recalled that this issue came up at a meeting in the spring, when Noyac residents met with local officials at a public forum to discuss problems on the road.

She also worried that using Jake brakes might mean that the truckers were speeding to begin with.

“If they’re doing the speed limit, which is 30 to 35, there’s probably no need for them to use these Jake brakes,” she claimed.

Gregor agreed that speeding was a major issue.

“Without a doubt, one of the biggest problems from noise, whether commercial or regular cars, is the excessive speeds,” he said.

There is currently no fine for “Jake braking” on Noyac Road, as there are in some parts of the country. However, Gregor hoped that local government officials would take his lead and ban the brakes as part of their town code.

At the same time, he also expressed his hope that truck drivers would stop “Jake braking” as a sign of courtesy to Noyac residents. Otherwise, he feared, there could be a larger effort to ban trucks from Noyac Road altogether. This would force trucks to travel on smaller back roads or already crowded main drags like Montauk Highway and Scuttlehole Road.

“No one [in Noyac] wants to stop their refrigerator from being delivered or a FedEx truck,” noted Loreto. “Our interest is getting a lot of the extra vehicles off Noyac Road that don’t belong here — the ones not making the local deliveries.”

In addition to “Jake braking,” Gregor is also planning to “upgrade the signage” on the road, warning drivers of upcoming bends and curves. He also hopes to put up additional signs showing how many accidents there have been on a particular stretch of the road within a given time.

For example, he noted, there have been a staggering 47 accidents near the Whalebone General Store and Cromer’s Country Market in the past three years alone. There has been an “extreme increase” in accidents in general, said Gregor, many caused by speeding.

Gregor said he has also been in talks with Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson, who said that they would ramp up radar enforcement on Noyac Road to the best of their ability.

“I’m hoping that they’ll saturate the area for two to three weeks,” he said. “I don’t really know any other way to slow people down.

Sag Business Director to Resign at End of the Year

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Janet Verneuille

By Claire Walla

This year’s Sag Harbor School District budget process represented a series of financial feats: The district is expected to save $1 million in the next 10 years by purchasing six new school buses next year. This year, the business office refinanced loans and streamlined procedures to generate a recorded savings of $267,013. Perhaps most importantly, the school district managed to create a budget that came in under the two-percent tax cap — without eliminating programs or personnel.

Much of this is thanks to the district’s Business Director, Janet Verneuille, to whom the district will bid a fond farewell at the end of this academic year.

The initial announcement of Verneuille’s departure was made public at the tail end of a Key Communicators meeting last Thursday, and a resolution was added to last Monday’s monthly business meeting, where the school board was poised to formally accept her resignation.

“I implore the board to entice Janet [Verneuille] however you can to make her stay,” said Noyac resident Elena Loreto, speaking during a public comment portion of the meeting. “Both [District Superintendent] Dr. Gratto and Janet happen to care about their jobs… because of their teamwork, no programs were cut this year.”

She continued, “Do not accept her resignation tonight.”

The board did, in fact, table the resolution to its next meeting, June 4; but only for formality’s sake. For legal reasons, Verneuille said she is barred from discussing the details of her next step.

Still, School Board President Mary Anne Miller expressed she was sad to see Verneuille go.

“I will be accepting that resignation with deep regret,” she said. “Thank you for coming and helping us through three years of a very big job. I really appreciate all your hard work and the improvements we’ve seen; all of us have reaped the rewards.”

Verneuille came to the Sag Harbor School District in February of 2010, after having served as comptroller for the town of East Hampton and in leadership roles in the banking sector.

She joined the district at a time when there was just $65,000 left in its undesignated fund balance. Because the fund balance cannot go into the negative, Verneuille said she knew she faced a tough road ahead.

“Arriving in February 2010, my greatest challenge was initiating the change to the way people thought and behaved concerning the spending and finances of their district,” Verneuille wrote in an email. “Integrity is important to me as a leader, and my nature is to take on challenging situations and tackle them.”

Over the years, under Verneuille’s leadership, the district went from adopting a 12 percent budget increase two years ago, to 5.48 percent the year after that, to this year’s total, which overall came down to a 2.88 percent increase.

In answering whether or not she felt she had accomplished everything she set out to when she joined the district, Verneuille was diplomatic.

“Does one ever accomplish everything [one] sets out to do?” she continued. “I know the business side of the district runs more smoothly than before my arrival.” And most importantly, she added, “The district is on solid financial footing.”

Dr. Gratto heard the news of Verneuille’s departure last Monday, May 14, and has already advertised for the position across the state of New York. Interviews will be held for the position on June 6, and Dr. Gratto expects to have a recommendation for the position for board approval at its meeting June 16.

Echoing many sentiments already expressed, Dr. Gratto said, “We are on much more solid financial footing because of Janet’s work.”

Verneuille said her new position outside the municipal sector “is exciting, and offers an enticing opportunity.”

“Yet it was a difficult decision to make,” she added. “Knowing that the district is sound financially and positioned well for the future financial challenges helps.”

Meeting to Discuss Traffic Calming By Cromer’s

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Noyac Road

By Claire Walla

Business owners have protested, residents have called for action and grass-roots organizations have entered the fray.

The small curve of Noyac Road that runs by Cromer’s Market has divided both the community and the Southampton Town board for more than six years, as plans to implement traffic-calming measures have continually been re-shaped and redefined in an attempt to satisfy all needs.

And while not all parties can seem to come up with a viable plan to suit everyone’s desires, those involved can at least agree on one thing: something needs to be done.

This overarching goal is the impetus behind a meeting next Wednesday, March 28, where all parties will get one last chance to come to the same table to be heard.

Hosted jointly by Southampton Town and the Noyac Civic Council, the meeting will bring together town personnel — like Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor — as well as residents and local groups with a vested interest in the reconstruction project.

To prepare for the discussion, Noyac Civic Council President Elena Loreto said she sent a survey to 359 Noyackers in an effort to solicit their thoughts on the matter. The survey included five questions related to the most recent construction plan, which was proposed by Gregor in 2011. In a nutshell, that plan includes installing two concrete medians in Noyac Road, as well as creating a concrete barrier between the road and the parking area in front of Cromer’s Market and the Whalebone gift shop.

The survey questions are as follows:

Do you feel the 2011 plan accomplishes its mission?

Do you feel this plan will change the rural character on Noyac?

Do you feel this plan will adversely affect the businesses in terms of traffic flow, accessibility for patrons and accessibility for delivery trucks?

Do you feel this plan will adversely affect home owners bordering the construction area [in Pine Neck]?

Are you in favor of this plan?

The questions are all yes/no, however Loreto said there is a section at the end of the survey where people were invited to offer any additional comments on the plan. As of last week, she said she had received 44 completed surveys back, though she expects to receive more before the meeting.

“It looks like everyone wants something done, but most people do not think this plan will succeed for various reasons,” Loreto said of the survey results thus far, which will be kept anonymous. “People seem to favor trying something in increments.”

Rather than constructing concrete medians, she said some residents are more in favor of using striping to calm traffic. And, she added, many residents are concerned with the proposed “loading zone” created in the 2011 plan. According to the design, the concrete barrier separating the commercial parking area from Noyac Road would essentially extend over Bay Avenue where it meets up with Elm Street, thereby cutting-off access to Bay Avenue from Noyac Road.

“People are fearful that that might funnel traffic into Pine Neck,” Loreto continued. “They don’t want anything that’s too severe.”

At a town board meeting last month, Alex Gregor pushed the need for more permanent traffic-calming measures, saying concrete barriers are necessary for safety. He noted how dangerous that stretch of Noyac Road is, particularly because cars back out of parking spaces into on-coming traffic, and the union of Bay and Elm streets at that Noyac curve essentially creates 20 potential “conflict points.”

Also voicing some concern with the construction project is the local organization SpokesPeople, which sees this as an opportunity to increase bike safety in the area.

According to group member Mike Bottini, SpokesPeople’s main concern is making sure the construction plan allows for bike lanes on either side of the highway. With the current plan only allowing for 11-foot-wide traffic lanes on either side of the road — in addition to a left-hand turn lane — Bottini said SpokesPeople will push to get at least eight more feet added to the road for bike safety, creating two four-foot bike lanes going in each direction.

Of course, he added, implementing bike lanes at this section of Noyac Road begs the question: What’s it going to connect to?

That’s yet to be determined.

“But, you’ve gotta start somewhere,” he said.

With the town recently having adopted a Complete Streets policy, Bottini said this will be the start of more comprehensive bike and pedestrian accessibility in Southampton Town.

“Hopefully, one day we can make the connection from Cromer’s to Long Beach.”

The Noyac Civic Council meeting about Noyac Road will take place Wednesday, March 28 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Nutrition Center on the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike.

Four Sag Harbor Contenders Share Views at Debate Night

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Groups of students, members of the Noyac Civic Council, scores of school parents and dozens other local constituents came to the Pierson Middle and High school library on Friday, May 8, to meet their school board candidates. Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, along with local parent Gregg Schiavoni and current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, sat in their seats facing the crowd, ready to share their viewpoints and visions for the district. From programming to their vote on the budget, the candidates weighed in on nearly every issue facing the school in the coming year.

Programming was a key concern for the candidates. They differ, however, on the future direction of Pierson’s curriculum. Schiavoni is a supporter of the Advanced Placement program and said more students should attend these classes. Drohan, however, believes the school must emphasize bilingual education and computer science by adding new courses. Loreto added that offering classes like computer repair, web design, artificial intelligence and renewable energy studies would better prepare Pierson graduates for future job markets. Wilcoxen focused on programming for the younger set and said “establishing a pre-kindergarten improves the quality of education.” He added that it was vital to operate an after-school service to correspond with the pre-k program.

The idea of starting a pre-kindergarten program is far from new and in light of this time line, the candidates were asked if it could become a reality by creating a combined pre-k program with the Bridgehampton school district. Although Drohan conceded the pre-k program was a good idea, he would like to see the issue studied to determine how many students would participate in the program and if Bridgehampton has the necessary space.

“Bridgehampton has the space,” reported Loreto, who added that around 65 Sag Harbor district children are currently eligible for pre-k. Loreto thinks the district should focus on using a SCOPE program. SCOPE is an educational not-for-profit agency that districts use to run pre-k classes. The district provides the space and certain materials but SCOPE supplies the personnel. Although the district could tap into federal Universal Pre-K funding, Loreto said using a lottery system — a requirement of the UPK program — wouldn’t be fair to students.

Wilcoxen added that the board discussed pre-k during their summer goals meeting. He said several options with Bridgehampton could be explored, but noted classroom space might also be freed up in the Sag Harbor schools.

“I think I heard that for every dollar spent on pre-k it will save $8 in the future. We need to look beyond the first year costs,” Schiavoni remarked. “We should look at housing the pre-k in the high school.”

The candidates were then asked if they believed the budget was sustainable or if modifications to programming and staffing were needed. Loreto came prepared for the question with a poster board displaying various graphs on the district’s finances. She reported to the audience that a majority of the district’s spending is reserved for salaries and benefits.

“We just don’t have the money to continue spending like this,” said Loreto, who noted that the budget could increase by over $1 million this year. Loreto added that the district’s spending might increase significantly in the future due to GASB 45, or the government accounting standards board which projects the district’s future annual spending for retiree benefits.

Wilcoxen took a different view and said he believed the budget was sustainable for this year, but conceded that the district might have to find ways to “economize beyond [their] ability in the future.” Wilcoxen underscored his comments by noting that nearly every public service is facing the same fiscal worries, especially the social security system.

Schiavoni worried the district might lose top teachers unless the board put something “on the table” to further contract negotiations.

Drohan, however, noted the average pay for teachers is $87,000 in addition to annual raises. He said spending on pensions and medical benefits was “getting out of control.”

“We need to arrive at a fair figure,” Wilcoxen said of the board’s future negotiations with teachers. He added that teachers who have made it to the highest step are no longer eligible for pay raises and as time progresses their salaries could become inconsistent with the cost of living.

“I don’t think fair is equal,” rebutted Drohan, who said that he believed teachers should be compensated based on performance. “I think there should be incentive compensation.”

Loreto asked why the district couldn’t stick with the current contract for the year, noting that neighboring school districts asked teachers to give back a portion of their salaries to avert staff reduction.

Wilcoxen said the district wasn’t contemplating cutting staff at this point. But Schiavoni reiterated his concerns over losing teachers if the district doesn’t offer competitive salaries.

In an effort to save costs and attract new revenue, the district has explored sharing services with Bridgehampton and tuitioning in out-of-district students. The candidates were asked if these were sound measures. Schiavoni said Sag Harbor school should look at what they and the neighboring school districts have to offer. He added that if the voters pass the proposition to purchase a bus and a van, the school could share transportation services with Bridgehampton.

Drohan said he was “leery” of shared services, believing it “diluted the efforts of the school district.” He added that out-of-district students should only be absorbed by the school so long as it doesn’t increase costs.

Wilcoxen noted that Sag Harbor had already looked into sharing business services and a technology coordinator with Bridgehampton and said that once both parties “got over the hump of sharing … there are really no limits to the possibilities.” He added that it will be easy to attract tuition based students because of the school’s excellent programming, saying the school is a model for districts on both the south and north forks.

Loreto, however, believed the districts could share administrative services, psychological services and pool custodial staff and said accepting out-of-district students is a “no-brainer.”

In one of the final questions broached, the candidates were asked to weigh in on the budget. Up first, Loreto said she would vote “no” on the budget, but supported propositions two and three. Likewise, Drohan said the budget wouldn’t get his vote, but that he agreed with the propositions.

“I have never seen a year where we so successfully culled out the budget,” said Wilcoxen, who favors this year’s budget. Schiavoni also threw his support to the budget.

The school elections and budget vote will be held on May 19 in the Pierson Gymnasium.

Separation of Art and State

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Many believe religion and politics shouldn’t mix, but in Sag Harbor some believe art and politics should also be separated. After last year’s school vote, a group of residents complained that housing the student art show and the voting area side by side in the gym influenced voters to approve the budget.

Sag Harbor citizen Robert Nicholson sent a letter to the New York State Commission of Investigation on November 11, 2008, detailing this concern.

“I had to make my way through the entire length of the gym, which was displaying student works of art and other displays which clearly intended to convince voters that the school budget is good,” wrote Nicholson of his voting experience. “Teachers … point out some of the works, some voters don’t agree and resent being subjected to this kind of subtle electioneering.”

Amongst the school board candidates, the issue of whether or not student art qualifies as electioneering is still up for debate. School board candidate Ed Drohan brought up the issue on behalf of angered voters at a recent school board meeting. Although Drohan declined to give his personal opinion, he said some voters felt the art “put the best foot forward for the school” and was “unfair.”

Rival candidate Gregg Schiavoni, however, believes the exhibit didn’t influence the budget vote.

“For as long as I can remember, [the art show] was there … I don’t think having it in with the voting polls favored voting for or against the budget as some would say,” said Schiavoni. “I personally have not heard anyone come up to me and complain.”

Current school board president Walter Wilcoxen said over the past year the board received less than 10 objections to hosting the voting area and art show side by side, but added that this year the school will separate the two using room dividers.

“We wanted to level the playing field … and avoid an argument … [Using room dividers] is a way to get away from the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue,” opined Wilcoxen. “Voting should take precedence.”

School board candidate Elena Loreto said separating the two areas was a “great idea,” and felt having the voting booths in the front of the gym provided easier access for handicapped voters — although the voting area was in the front of the gym last year. She said that the art show might have influenced votes in the past.

“Some allege that the art show is an attempt to influence votes [in an area] where there shouldn’t be any outside influences over the vote,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent John Gratto. “Everyone will still have the opportunity to see the artwork and those who don’t won’t have to see it.”

Gratto added that he felt most voters enter the voting area with an understanding of which way they will vote. In an effort to be more compliant with voter concerns, he noted that poll watchers will have designated tables to the side of the voting area. Previously, poll watchers from various school groups set-up camp in the hallway leading into the gym.

The school budget vote will be held at the Pierson gym on May 19.

Budget Big Issue for School Board Candidates

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In the months leading up to summer, the weather will get warmer, plants will bloom and potential candidates for the Sag Harbor School board will hit the streets seeking signatures for their petitions. It is only April and already current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, school Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, and local parent Greg Schiavoni announced their intention to run for the two seats, which will be open in June. Although they differ on several points, the budget and maintaining academic rigor is a chief concern for each candidate.

Wilcoxen, who has been on the board for three years, said the school has come a long way in increasing transparency and accountability. With an open system already in place, Wilcoxen said he would now focus on finding ways to expand upon existing school programming without incurring additional costs.

“We can constantly make the program better … perhaps we can start teaching about green technologies,” said Wilcoxen. “We are a small school so it is hard to have big programs because it is expensive … I want to be able to deliver the system in the most economical and efficient way.”

For Wilcoxen, education is always his top priority, but he conceded that funding the school will always be an issue. He said the board worked very hard this year to winnow down the budget, but making drastic percentage cuts simple isn’t possible for the school.

Paring down the budget is a top priority for Noyac resident Ed Drohan. Drohan is currently a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the school’s budget advisory committee. Although Drohan lauds the elementary school and the special education program, he feels the school’s budget could use some restructuring. Some of Drohan’s ideas for the school include the slow introduction of employee attrition, enlarging classes slightly and phasing back certain elective programs. Drohan admits, however, that many of his ideas are preliminary and would take thorough planning and research. He would also like to see the computer science department expanded because he believes the ability to manipulate technology is an invaluable skill in today’s job market.

Drohan said one of the reasons he is running is to give a voice to local taxpayers who either are retired or have a second home in the community.

“I wanted to run as a community and taxpayer candidate … I take a different position than many of my counterparts in the board of education activities,” said Drohan.

Prospective candidate Elena Loreto believes she will represent a broader base of constituents, including the local taxpayer.

“I am a parent. I am retired. I was a teacher. I have been a local taxpayer for 32 years. I represent many factions of the district,” said Loreto. Like Drohan, Loreto is a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the Budget Advisory Committee. For Loreto, creating a good school board and an efficient school district is all about balance.

“The main priority for the current board members is to find the right balance between improving educational programs for the students, providing a fair wage for the faculty and also being mindful of what the average taxpayer can afford,” said Loreto.

As a former school teacher for 33 years in New York City and its suburbs, and a part-time substitute teacher at Sag Harbor and the Ross School, Loreto believes she has a unique insight to the school and how it operates. Among her chief priorities, Loreto would like the school to update the curriculum and offer programs that will teach job skills. Loreto recommends the school develop a mechanical drawing and architectural design class.

“We have to look at the curriculum in a more innovative way, so that kids will get the best possible program and the taxpayer will get the best buy for their buck,” opined Loreto.

Candidate Greg Schiavoni, whose children currently attend the elementary school, hopes to encourage student involvement with the school board. He hopes through student involvement the board will be able to sound off on what is working within the school and what can be improved upon.

Schiavoni feels it is imperative to maintain the Advanced Placement courses, but agrees there are perhaps additional ways the school could save money.

“We don’t necessarily need to look at cutting programs or taking away from higher educational program offerings, but there are probably things we could do to save money, and I hope to be one of the ones to help figure it out,” said Schiavoni.

Although Schiavoni is an active parent in the school district, he feels an obligation to represent the village taxpayer as well.

“I compare it to my own house. I have two children to raise and I have to be financially responsible about what we can or can’t afford for them. When [the school board] makes decisions everybody should know where the money is going and what it should be spent on,” added Schiavoni.

Candidates have until April 20 to drop off their signed petitions.