By Claire Walla
What is the Reutershan Trust and how does it work? That was the discussion at Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting which focused on the nature of the trust and was initially spurred by questions stemming from board members. Specifically, board members wanted to know what role does the school plays in overseeing costs related to the trust.
In the end, however, the presentation — given by Reutershan trustees Bob Schneider and Peter Solow — had little to do with funding. Schneider and Solow instead spoke at length on the merits of the privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts.
But it was just as well, said school board member Walter Wilcoxen, who in a follow-up interview noted that, coincidentally, Betts passed away Monday, the same day the trust was being presented to the school board. Wilcoxen felt it important to point out the program’s merits.
“Our art program would be decimated without it,” Wilcoxen said. “It’s so important that Hobie stepped up [to create the trust].”
The Reutershan Trust — named for Betts’ close friend Donald Reutershan, who until his death had been actively involved in the Sag Harbor School District — was established in 2000 with an endowment of $1.8 million. Each year, the fund generates somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 in interest which is used for the sole purpose of fostering artistic programs within the Sag Harbor School District.
According to Solow, who administers the program for the district, “The thing that makes the program effective is that, from the very beginning, there was a vision provided by Hobie of what art education should be — and that vision was connected to the idea of bringing professional artists into the district. The program was really designed to create authentic artistic experiences for kids.”
Solow proceeded to run through 60 slides featuring images of Pierson students making, presenting, or discussing artwork — from photography projects like “Me By the Sea,” in which students documented their lives in Sag Harbor; to drafting projects, like the Bell Monument; discussions with professionals in the art world such as Vogue editor Andrew Leon Talley and workshops with world-renowned Spanish painter Perico Pastor and Condé Nast photographer Francine Fleischer.
Earlier this year, board members discussed the program’s financial structure, questioning whether or not the program met state regulations and how the trust should be classified under the purview of the school.
“In a sense, it’s a little similar to Y.A.R.D. [Youth Advocacy and Resource Development],” Wilcoxen explained. “If the money is run through our accounts at the school” — as had been the case with Reutershan until this year — “then the purchasing policies have to follow our purchasing guidelines, and they’re pretty strict.”
For example, Wilcoxen noted that the school requires administrators to go out to bid before purchasing any goods or services. But for a service like the Reutershan Trust, which uses money to bring artistic professionals to the school to work with students, Wilcoxen said it simply doesn’t make sense to bid-out services.
“How do you put out three bids for an artist,” he asked.
In the end, the board decided to keep all financial transactions with the trustees themselves, rather than with the school’s business office. Trustees Bob Schneider, Greg Ferraris and Marsha Heffner now have the authority to sign-off on all expenditures, with financial decisions guided largely by Ferraris who is a certified accountant.
“With regard to the trust, that’s not really our money, so we didn’t feel that we should have to oversee that money as closely as the money that the taxpayers give us,” Wilcoxen continued. “We suggested that the fund itself approve the money [it spends], and in that way they can act however they see best.”
As Schneider pointed out, the program functions according to the vision and the values initially set forth by Betts: “Pride of Place, Service, Commitment to Community, Citizenship, Good Works, and Engagement with the Greater World.” And in the wake of Betts’ death, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he didn’t see the trust functioning any differently in the future.
For Schneider, the value of the trust is clear. He noted the courtyard at the middle/high school — which took four years to construct and is still an ongoing project — and the fact that students can do photography, printmaking and drafting work as examples of opportunities the trust has provided.
“Students get to work with materials that would otherwise be too expensive for the school district to get,” explained Schneider, who was principal of Pierson Middle/High School when the Reutershan Trust was founded. He continued, “The art program without the benefit of the trust would not be the vibrant program that it is today. It really has distinguished the Pierson art program from any other art program that I know of.”