Tag Archive | "gratto"

Local Health Officials Say Swine Flu Over-hyped

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On Friday, May 1, Marsha Kenny the director of marketing for Southampton Hospital said there were no confirmed cases of H1N1 Influenza A, commonly referred to as swine flu, in the county. By the time Monday rolled around, however, there were four confirmed cases, including three children from Deer Park.
News of the flu’s spread from Mexico to the U.S. has dominated the media in recent weeks and the outbreak has been likened to the 1918 pandemic of Spanish Influenza. Although the tally of confirmed national cases has climbed to 642, resulting in two deaths, local health officials say the deadliness of swine flu has been largely over-hyped.
“I think to some extent it is a media phenomenon — to another extent severe infectious diseases have cropped up periodically throughout history and have caused tremendous illness. I think we are all wondering when the next shoe will be dropped,” said Dr. Fred Weinbaum, chief medical officer at Southampton Hospital. “I think bio-terrorism created the mindfulness for catastrophe. That and the modern world is shrinking. We are linked by only a few days.”
Weinbaum added that the Spanish flu, which killed millions, was significantly more virulent than today’s swine flu. Most flu strains attack humans with a weak immune system, like children and the elderly. The Spanish flu, however, triggered a hyper-immune response and afflicted healthy individuals ranging in ages from 20 to 40 years old.
The swine flu, said Weinbaum, shares more similarities with the common seasonal flu. For instance, the symptoms for both strains are relatively the same and include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and vomiting. Like the seasonal flu, swine flu is a respiratory illness. But unlike the common flu, Southampton Hospital officials say “the swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs that has changed its genetic composition to become a respiratory virus transmitted from person to person.”
They added, however, that the virus couldn’t be spread through eating cooked pork products.
If the swine flu reaches pandemic proportions, Kenny says the hospital is prepared and has an established emergency protocol. Weinbaum added that the Center for Disease Control would most likely dip into its stockpile of Tamiflu, a treatment for the virus, which would be distributed through local health departments to hospitals.
In the meantime, Weinbaum said Southampton Hospital is focusing their efforts on disseminating accurate and up-to-date information to the local community.
“I think the only preparation we can do is working together with local and state health authorities,” Weinbaum reported. “It’s more about getting information rapidly distributed. We are trying to dispel rumors and a sense of panic. We are trying to keep everyone from reaching conclusions based on hearsay and rumor.”
On Friday, Weinbaum held a conference call with local superintendents concerned about what to do if a student contracts swine flu. Weinbaum encouraged parents to keep their children home if they are sick, and said the same goes for school staff. He added that closing a school should be a collaborative decision between the state department of health, the county department of health and the school board. The New York State Department of Health has set-up a 24-hour toll-free hotline, at (800) 808-1987, to handle public concerns. Locally, Sag Harbor School District has posted an alert about swine flu on its website and the elementary school has distributed a letter to parents asking them to keep sick children at home.
It would appear the swine flu outbreak has yet to touch Sag Harbor directly, aside from interfering with one resident’s travel plans. Cati Van Milders was planning to spend this week in Mexico for a retreat, but it was canceled at the last minute because of the flu.
Asked if she would travel to Mexico anyway, Van Milders said, “No I wouldn’t have gone. I was a little apprehensive about being stuck on the plane and picking up something.”

Gratto Talks Budget with CONPOSH

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“I have a terrific job … but sometimes I feel like an umpire,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, as he spoke to a mixed audience at a CONPOSH (Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor) meeting in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church last Sunday.

In addition to CONPOSH members, among the attendees were members from the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), Sag Harbor Village mayoral candidate Mike Bromberg and school board candidates Elena Loreto, Walter Wilcoxen, Gregg Schiavoni and Edward Drohan. The purpose of the meeting, however, was a specific one: to discuss the 2009-2010 school budget, which is up for a vote on May 19.

When crafting a budget, Gratto said it is all a balancing act. He noted that while some parents, for example, would like to see a completely new auditorium constructed at Pierson, other taxpayers wonder why more drastic cuts weren’t made to the budget this year.

“The question isn’t the cost per student. The question is: Is the school district providing the programs the community wants in the most cost effective manner,” said Gratto. “We need to realize one extreme or the other doesn’t serve the community well. We can’t have an abundance of programs … [nor] can we cut the tax rate down as much as [some] people want … I feel like the steward of taxpayer dollars and I take that responsibility seriously.”

Since taking office last year, Gratto said he has strived to maintain the school’s academic rigor while creating economic efficiencies. Last September, Gratto saved the school district around $310,000 by consolidating three business positions into two, combining the athletic director and head of buildings and grounds positions, eliminating and renegotiating special education contracts, reducing BOCES services and switching telephone providers. Gratto built-in almost $700,000 in cost saving measures for the 2009-2010 budget. These steps include cutting purchased BOCES services by $278,825, reducing discretionary spending by $151,111, purchasing a bus and van resulting in $126,549 of savings and decreasing dental insurance costs by $17,899.

The 2009-2010 school budget is around $29 million. The taxpayer’s portion of this sum, Gratto reported, will be slightly offset by additional federal monies. He said the school district will receive $141,594 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to help renovate the auditorium, though the total project is budgeted at $195,000.

This extra federal support, he explained, will help lower the tax rate increase from 4.35 percent to 3.79 percent for residents on the Southampton side of the school district and from 4.33 percent to 3.77 percent for those on the East Hampton side of the village.

Members of the audience questioned the budget increases incurred by teacher and teaching assistant salaries as well as monies set aside for teacher’s retirements. Sheila Goldberg, a retired educator and Sag Harbor resident, countered these concerns.

“A lot of people get angry about taxes before the budget,” she said and added that the school budget remains one of the only financial plans the public is allowed to vote on. Goldberg mentioned the state legislature is exploring enacting a tax cap on school district tax levies or creating a “circuit-breaker” on property taxes.

If the tax cap was enacted this year, the cap would be set at 4 percent said Gratto. The “circuit-breaker” would effectively cap an individual’s property taxes. The cap would be based on the taxpayer’s annual income. Although these ideas are being bounced around in the state legislature, Gratto said they are years away from implementation.

In the here and now, Gratto is looking for other ways to save costs for taxpayers and improve programs. He said the district is courting the idea of creating a joint pre-kindergarten program with the Bridgehampton School District, which already has an active pre-k course. Elementary school principal Joan Frisicano has already discussed the concept with Bridgehampton superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and delivered a cursory presentation on the idea at the Wednesday Board of Education meeting.

Gratto believes the school can absorb an additional 20 to 25 students without increasing staff or incurring additional costs. With some parents feeling the pinch of the Ross School’s $30,000 annual price tag for high school, Pierson could soon be opening its doors to more out-of-district students.


School Approves Laptops for All Students

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Next year, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to give all students in the fifth and sixth grades a laptop that would stay “in school” and the technology department has a long-term plan on how to get computers on the laps of all Sag Harbor students from fifth through twelfth grade by 2013.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Vincent Raicovi, technology coordinator for the Sag Harbor school district, explained how such a plan may be feasible through a lease program similar to one established in the Westhampton school district.

For the next four years, the plan would cost the district $894,000 which includes teacher laptops and smart boards for grades five to 12.

The lease program, which includes 160 laptops for students in fifth and sixth grades, will cost the district $87,000 in 2009-2010. The following year, 320 laptops will be leased at a cost of $174,000. In 2011-2012, there would be 480 laptops leased for $261,000, in 2012-2013 the cost would be $372,000 for a total of $894,000 for four years. This would give the district 720 laptops that would fulfill the need for the students in grades five to 12 in its final year.

Raicovi said he believes that leasing computers is a better idea than purchasing them for several reasons.

“If we implement this plan to lease things instead of buying, then we aren’t stuck with older equipment,” he said. He also added that warranty, breakage and theft could be covered with the leasing models.

“In Westhampton, the usage is through the roof,” he said, “and there were noticeable improvements with test scores.”

“When kids walk out of here they will be immersed with technology,” superintendent Dr. John Gratto said.

PTA president Chris Tice asked about the philosophy of starting with the fifth and sixth graders first rather than working from the twelfth grade down. Raicovi replied that there were a lot of questions about that and said that a main concern is that these laptops not be taken home.

Rick Kraebel, a technology specialist for the district, said the fifth and sixth graders are also centrally located which would be physically better for keeping track of the computers.

Budget advisory committee member Sandy Kruel asked what would happen to the current computer labs and if those classrooms could then be opened up. Raicovi said he didn’t see that happening immediately, but perhaps in the second year of the project some of the lab computers may be available for other uses. Raicovi also said those labs may be needed for computers with advanced software.

When asked if the board was in agreement with the proposal, after heads nodded in agreement, board of education president Walter Wilcoxen said, “Go for it.”

Raicovi said he is going to work on some more figures for leasing versus purchasing and will get back to the board with that information.

Technology Budget

On Monday night, prior to a board of education meeting, the technology department gave their budget presentation to discuss cost savings that have been put together by the personnel in that department.

During the budget presentation Raicovi, explained that there will only be a two percent increase in the technology budget over last year’s budget even including the proposed lap top initiative. Some of those savings have come from leasing additional technology equipment instead of purchasing.

Raicovi also informed the room that the new phone system, which will be supplied by Optimum Lighpath, has saved the district $40,000. The phone system change will improve the current system and improve the data connections for Internet use at both the elementary school and the middle/high school. Raicovi announced the switch over to the new company will take place on Monday, February 2.

The only concern of the presentation was that $16,800 was budgeted for 12 cell phones in that department. Kruel brought the issue to the attention of Raicovi who said he is going to do some investigating.

“That is the next thing to attack,” Raicovi said.

“You guys shouldn’t be texting,” Kruel replied.

Raicovi explained that the cell phones are budgeted with Nextel and he said he will look into the current plans.

On Wednesday, Gratto said it is likely that the amount will be amended before the final budget presentation.

“It was a good catch,” Gratto said, “I wondered the same thing, seems like an awful lot of money.”

Teachers Push for a Contract

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The  Teachers Association of Sag Harbor may have traded in black shirts for more subtle buttons,but the message is still the same: they want a new contract.  

Members of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) are in the middle of negotiating their contracts with the Sag Harbor school district’s board of education and superintendent. The negotiating began in February of this year and many of the district’s teachers are wearing buttons on their shirts to stress the fact that they have yet to come to an agreement on certain pieces of the contract. The bargaining began between TASH and the board of education along with the former superintendent, Kathryn Holden. When they could not come to agreements on certain issues, they declared impasse.

 “Since TASH declared impasse in June we had a mediator come in.” superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Monday. “She came in two days in August but we haven’t scheduled another session with her at this point.”

The mediator, Karen Kenney, was chosen by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to work with the board of education, the superintendent, the school’s attorney, Tom Volz, and the Labor Relations Specalist who works for New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Rich D’Esposito.

On June 30, the previous contract, which was developed in 2004, expired, although is in effect until a new contract is developed. The teacher’s contract covers sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, benefits and salary among other items.

“Negotiations will continue,” Gratto said, “The board is working hard to propose terms of the contract that are fair to employees and the taxpayers.”

The Teachers Association’s Team, which consists of Eileen Kochanasz, math teacher Jim Kinnier, home economics teacher Donna Mannino, and third grade teacher Maria Semkus, were hoping for a new contract before the previous one expired.

According to Kochanasz, TASH president, TASH is made up of 119 teachers, substitutes and support service teachers.

In a recent Newsday poll, Kochanasz points out that the English test scores for Sag Harbor’s eighth grade are second out of 137 schools on Long Island. She said what the teachers are asking for is not a lot for a school with such a high rating.

“Why are we arguing over this?” she said, “We have a great school, let it be — it’s beautiful.”

Kochanasz said she is unsure when the next meeting on contract negotiations will take place because nothing is scheduled right now.

“From what I understand from Dr. Gratto is that the district attorney has compared current salaries from surrounding districts and presented them last week at the executive session on September 23,” Kochanasz said on Wednesday. “But they [the board] decided that their attorney did not get enough data for the next four years.”

Teahcer contracts are for four years, and Kochanasz explained that the school board has asked their attorney, Tom Volz, to get more information but she believes he would not be able to present this information before the middle of October.

“I don’t understand why the board had four years to consider the issues for this new contract and they are just starting to collect the data now,” Kochanasz said.

Gratto said that the contract negotiations are not something that can be rushed.

“This is simply a process that takes time,” Gratto said, “There are terms of the contract that the board is trying to take a ballot on.”

But Kochanasz says that even after the contract is agreed upon, TASH members still have to pick a date for a ratification vote. She explained that even if TASH meets by October 31, the group might not be able enact the new contract until the middle of November.

“This is just showing the disregard,” Kochanasz said, “We are what makes this school.”

But Gratto says that progress is being mae and notes that he and the board are also currently working on the custodial and secretarial union contracts.

“We are looking at three negotiations simultaneously,” Gratto said. “Both sides look at the issues differently and it takes time to get to an agreement. It’s a meeting of the minds.”

Gratto also said on Monday that it is incumbent upon the teachers and the board of education to reach a fair agreement.

“Wearing buttons won’t hurt or injure that process,” he said.

Barbara Cohen, representative for the secretarial union, said on Monday that contracts are still being discussed.

“We are not even sharing this information with our secretaries at this point,” Cohen said, but added, “We are making slow steady progress.”

Representative for the custodial department, Matt McAree, said his group is moving ahead at a steady pace.

“We have made a lot of progress on our contracts and hopefully they will be finalized soon,” McAree said on Monday. “Two more weeks and we should know. But even after we negotiate and it goes to the board, it will take a few weeks to go into effect after that.”