Tag Archive | "janet verneuille"

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.”

Jelly in a Jam at Pierson

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PB&JSandwich

By Claire Walla


Before showing a Power Point presentation on unhealthy eating habits and the rise of obesity in the United States last Wednesday, Sag Harbor Elementary School parent Susan Lamontagne dropped dozens of bite-sized chocolates onto the wooden table where board of education members sat facing an uncharacteristically large crowd. The candies fell to the table with loud thuds, causing board members to lean back in their chairs.

“This is just to show that I’m not totally against this stuff,” Lamontagne explained as a disclaimer before proceeding with the rest of her presentation, which outlined what she referred to as a health crisis in the United States.

Lamontagne attended the April 18 board meeting, along with a handful of other Sag Harbor mothers, including youth sports coordinator Allison Scanlon, Barbara Kinnier of the Wellness Foundation in East Hampton, and Barbara Clark, a member of the school district’s Wellness Committee. The mothers came en masse to speak out against a proposed revision to the school’s relatively new Wellness Policy, which was unanimously adopted by the board in November.

“If you reverse the current policy, you’d be moving backwards on an issue that every other school is moving forward on,” Clark said.

“I feel very strongly that we should keep [the Wellness Policy] as is, even strengthen it,” Scanlon added. “Any measures to allow food and beverages back into the cafeteria that contain high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners would be detrimental to students and staff.”

The board was set to discuss changes to two specific paragraphs of the newly adopted policy, which were proposed by board member Sandi Kruel.

Rather than strictly limit the presence of “non-nutritive” sweeteners like sucralose, saccharine and aspartame — which the current policy now does — the revision suggests those items be sold “at a minimum.” Similarly, it suggests foods containing hydrogenated or trans-fats or high-fructose corn syrup — also barred by the current policy — “only be sold at the school if another product cannot be substituted.”

More specifically, the discussion seemed to hinge on jelly and diet Lipton Green Tea.

Kruel said she was first made aware of issues with the current Wellness Policy when a parent complained that her daughter, who is diabetic, doesn’t have any drink options in the cafeteria now that the Wellness Policy is in place. The student used to drink Diet Lipton Green Tea, which contains artificial sweeteners and is therefore prohibited by the school’s Wellness Policy.

According to Kruel, failing to provide more sugar-free drink options — beyond water — for children with diabetes is essentially a form of discrimination.

“We have vegan options and gluten-free options,” she said, comparing diabetes to certain other dietary restrictions. “I’m not asking for Diet Pepsi,” she continued. “But to tell someone to just drink water is kind of pompous, if you ask me.”

Furthermore, Kruel said she pushed for more leniency regarding high-fructose corn syrup because the school’s chef recently expressed concern over the fact that he’s technically unable to serve the school’s “no-cost” lunch option — a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — now that high-fructose corn syrup has been prohibited. It was one of the main ingredients in the jelly he had been using.

[District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said in an interview this week that he spoke with the school’s chef and made sure that peanut butter sandwiches (without the jelly) and apples could be substituted for PB&J.]

“I don’t think we have the right to say absolutely no to everything,” she added. And for this reason, Kruel said the main issue is that students need to learn how to make educated choices. “I teach my children: everything in moderation, because you’re just not going to be able to walk into an IGA or King Kullen and not find high-fructose corn syrup.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller would agree on one point: that education is a key component to fostering the health and wellness of students within the Sag Harbor School District.

However, she and Kruel fall on two very different sides of the green-tea-and-jelly debate.

Miller, who was responsible in large part for crafting the new wellness policy, firmly believes that the strict elimination of ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners is non-negotiable.

“I am opposed to revising the policy because I don’t think we should lower the bar, I think those things can be dealt with,” she explained. “These are not challenges to me, and I think we can get around this without limiting choices.”

She said the problems posed by green tea and jelly can be mitigated with more creativity and careful planning when it comes to purchasing. Though it takes time to search for more healthy items, and they may not be as cheap as fructose-filled jam, she added that the school could certainly buy a jelly made without high-fructose corn syrup, as well sugar-free drinks that don’t contain artificial sweeteners.

According to the district’s Business Director Janet Verneuille, the school district is currently in the process of bidding out food items for next year.

“Our intent is to include a jelly product that meets the district’s required specifications as part of this bid for the 2012-13 school year,” Verneuille wrote in an email. “We are optimistic that a vendor will win the contract to provide the desired jelly product at the lowest price to the cafeteria.”

The shift in the school’s approach to health and nutrition would bring about a “culture change” that Miller said she always anticipated when she sat down to write the Wellness Policy — she never expected these changes to be easy.

However, she continued, the obesity epidemic in the United States is so pervasive that making these blanket changes, in her eyes, is non-negotiable.

“This is an issue all over the country, school districts are trying to raise the bar with regard to health and wellness,” she continued. “I don’t think we can not do it.”

As she stood before the members of the Sag Harbor School Board, Susan Lamontagne pointed to slides depicting information gathered by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Obesity in the United States has doubled in the last 20 years, she said, and the instance of diabetes has tripled.

She picked up handfuls of candies and dropped them back onto the table, causing more “thuds,” as well as growing alarm among board members, for whom the candy was getting too close for comfort.

That was her point.

“We’re surrounded by this stuff!” Lamontagne exclaimed. “It makes all of us parents who are trying to do the good thing look like the bad guys.”

“I commend you for the changes we’re already making,” she continued, voicing support for the district’s current Wellness Plan. “It’s so vitally important that we have healthier foods in school, without high-fructose corn syrup.”

School Board Says “Yea” To Student Accident Insurance, Mascot

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Whales

By Claire Walla

For the past year, Sag Harbor School District has not carried a supplemental form of insurance known as student accident insurance. For some members of the Sag Harbor School Board, the program was not worth its cost to the district — some parents didn’t see high returns on their claims.

“It was more of a cost benefit issue,” recalled District Business Manager Janet Verneuille.

However, after hearing complaints from parents and concerns voiced by members of the school board, this week the board voted 4-3 to reinstate a new student accident insurance plan. School Board President Mary Anne Miller and board members Walter Wilcoxen and Gregg Schiavoni voted against reinstating the insurance plan.

After previously considering a few different options, the board ultimately decided to go with a company called Chartis, which carries an annual fee of approximately $45,765—or, $45 per student. There is also vanishing deductible of $250 with a two-year limit of benefit payments. The plan will go into effect as of July 1, 2012.

District Business Director Janet Verneuille reached out to neighboring school districts on the East End at the request of the board to find out whether or not they had student accident insurance. Seven responding districts — from Hampton Bays to Montauk — carried the insurance, Verneuille reported back. However, she said the prices were significantly lower elsewhere.

“I found the cost difficult to swallow,” admitted board member Chris Tice. However, she added, “I still go back to the point that, when you have students on your premises… there’s a lot that our health insurance doesn’t cover. It is very normal and expected that the school would have this insurance.”

“You open the door and there can be an accident,” said board member Sandi Kruel, a staunch supporter of student accident insurance.

Unlike liability insurance, which the school is required by law to carry, student accident insurance would kick-in for student injuries not thought to be connected to negligence on the part of the district.

Board member Gregg Schiavoni expressed some concern about voting for student accident insurance after the board had already voted to approve the proposed 2012-13 budget, as it would drive the cost of the budget up by nearly $46,000, treading dangerously close to the two-percent tax cap limit. Schiavoni wondered if the board should also consider cutting roughly $46,000 worth of expenses from the proposed budget.

However, Superintendent Dr. John Gratto added, “I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to take out anything in the budget.”

He went on to say that the budget had been very tightly whittled down to its current state and student accident insurance didn’t take top priority.

Instead, he said, “I would wait until the school year is underway and find something that we haven’t spent money on.”

Dr. Gratto pointed out that the school had made very conservative estimates in the budget regarding the number of transfer students expected to enter the district next year. Though revenues from the transfer student population could top $700,000, the budget only anticipates $400,000 in revenues, making anything over that amount surplus.


In other news…


The district voted to approve its traditional mascot: the whale.

But not just any old whale.

During a school board presentation last Monday, March 26, Dr. Gratto showed a collage of images showcasing nine different whale designs found throughout the village. Many Sag Harbor institutions — from Bagel Buoy and the Wharf Shop to the United Methodist Church and the signpost for Sag Harbor Hills — feature their own versions of the world’s largest mammal.

One rather jovial whale is portrayed standing upright and sticking its tongue out, seemingly in the midst of dancing a jig — this is not the sea creature that will come to represent Pierson.

The board made very clear that the Pierson Whalers will be represented by some version of the whale currently gracing the wall of the Pierson Gym.

“It’s the spirit of this whale,” clarified board member Chris Tice.

She further noted that the final whale image — which will ultimately be used as the official emblem of the school for promotional materials, like t-shirts, letterhead and the school website — can be tweaked a bit so that its outline will be displayed to its full potential in all formats.

Board Divided Over Supplemental Accident Insurance

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By Claire Walla

Ever since the need for student accident insurance was brought into question last year, it has been a hotly debated item among Sag Harbor School Board members.

Last year, the board voted to eliminate the service (which is not required by law). However, at the urging of some Pierson parents, the school has been asked to reinstate it.

Student accident insurance is a policy that provides limited coverage if a child is injured while at school or during a school activity.  This is different from liability insurance — which the school is required to carry — which would cover the cost of a lawsuit if it was ruled there was negligence on the part of the district.

“We are the owners of the biggest house in the community,” said school board member Sandi Kruel. “We open up our door every single day and we have high-risk activities. For us not to protect ourselves and the children is totally appalling to me.”

At a school board meeting on Monday, January 6, the district’s director of business operations, Janet Verneuille, presented six student accident insurance plans for the board to consider, only two of which she said were viable. A company called Chartis offers one option at $46,453 per year, while Pupil Benefits — the company the school district used up until last year — is $39,521.

According to Verneuille, the problem with Pupil Benefits had to do with “reasonable and customary” costs, which are the costs the insurance company itself determines for a medical procedure. If a family doesn’t have medical insurance, student accident insurance will gauge the amount of money it pays for services based on these “reasonable and customary” estimates.

Because medical expenses are relatively high on the East End, Verneuille said the correlation between the two left many families without much of a financial return.

“The cost benefit wasn’t there,” she said.

Board member Walter Wilcoxen noted that issues surrounding Pupil Benefits arose when a parent in the school district complained of receiving only $300 back on a $3,000 medical bill.

However, board member Chris Tice said that discrepancy was not always true.

“I’ve heard from parents who said they benefited [from student accident insurance],” she said. “Not everyone who filed claims was dissatisfied.”

Plus, she added that student accident insurance could be helpful for those families that don’t currently have health insurance.

“How is that the responsibility of the district as a whole?” Wilcoxen countered. “The primary question is whether or not it’s our obligation to do this. I think it’s the parents’ obligation to provide health care for their children.

Plus, he continued, “For what you’re getting back, it’s not worth it.”

Board member Gregg Schiavoni agreed.

“I think it’s a perk if we carry it,” he stated. “But, for what it’s costing the district to carry this insurance, the payout isn’t worth it. We’re barely under the tax cap. If we want this policy, we’ll have to make cuts to stay under the cap.”

Kruel noted that student accident insurance would come out at about $45 per student, which she said was “miniscule” in the grand scheme of things, considering the school’s budget is currently proposed to come out to $35 million.

She added, “If the bus proposition passes, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars to play with.”

(Part of the 2012-2013 budget presentation included a proposal for the district to purchase six new buses, which Verneuille estimated would save the district up to $1 million over the next 10 years.)

By the end of the meeting, the board was not ready to make any decisions as to whether or not to adopt a new student accident insurance plan until finding out what the “reasonable and customary” rates would be for both Chartis and Pupil Benefits. Verneuille said she would reach out to the insurance companies and try to provide updates at the board’s next business meeting.

In other news…

The Sag Harbor School Board approved plans to tear out the existing maple-wood floor in the Sag Harbor Elementary School gymnasium and replace it with a rubber material called “pulastic.”

According to Principal Matt Malone, a thin layer of concrete beneath the current wood floor cracked because of a steam leak from a pipe beneath the gymnasium. This ultimately caused a portion of the wooden surface to “bubble up,” he said.

“Some of that same problem, though to a lesser scale, has been detected in other segments of the floor,” he explained.

Malone and the district’s buildings and grounds director, Montgomery Granger, said the pipes have been repaired. But the floor — which is relatively new, having been paid for by a bond resolution in 2008 — definitely needs replacing.

District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the floor will be replaced at no cost to tax payers because it is considered a defect and is covered by the school’s insurance.

While several board members lamented the loss of the gym’s relatively new maple flooring, Malone said the Pulastic surface is more durable and easier to maintain than the maple wood.

“Every day we have about 500 people coming into the gym for morning program,” Malone added. “That wear and tear is something that’s been problematic for a long time.”

As for the timeline of the project, Dr. Gratto said construction can begin as soon as next week and run through winter vacation. The goal, he added, is for the school ”to open up on the 27th with a new gym floor.”

Sag Schools’ Budget Projected Below Two-Percent Cap

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By Claire Walla


Instead of eyeing efforts to pierce the state’s new tax-cap policy, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to avoid it altogether.

At a budget hearing last Monday, February 6, the district’s superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, revealed a proposed budget for the 2012-2013 school year that came out at $34,182,256, an increase of just barely $1 million over this year’s operating budget.

While it represents a total spending increase of 2.88 percent, Janet Verneuille, the school district’s director of business operations, estimated that this budget figure only accounts for a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase. By comparison, this year’s operating budget represents a tax-levy increase of 5.48 percent.

“I can’t say for sure that we’re within the tax cap, but I’m about 90 percent sure,” Dr. Gratto told the board.

While Verneuille said she is still waiting for the final details on the tax levy legislation from Albany and cannot officially calculate what effect it will have on the district budget until then, her current estimates have the school’s proposed budget coming in under the cap by just about $30,000.

Should this scenario remain true after the school crunches its final budget numbers, the school district’s budget will only need to be approved by a majority of voters in order to be adopted.

(If the school should present a budget that surpasses the state’s tax-levy cap, the district would need a supermajority of all votes — at least 60 percent — to be able to pierce the cap.)

Dr. Gratto made sure to point out that the school’s efforts to keep the budget under the projected tax-levy cap do not involve any cuts to teaching staff, sports teams, elective classes or after-school clubs. They do, however, provide plans for taking $500,000 out of the school’s current fund balance to use for capital projects.

“Using your fund balance is like using your savings,” Dr. Gratto explained. “But we think that we can replicate this [revenue] next year.”

According to Verneuille, the district will end the current school year with a savings of roughly $800,000. About $60,000 is attributed to transportation savings, $467,000 comes from savings in the special education sector, and the business office secured another $267,000 in savings through several measures, including putting internal controls on staff overtime and refinancing the 2002 bond issue.

Verneuille said the school finally reached a fund balance at the end of last year that represented 3.96 percent of the school’s overall expenses (the state recommends 4 percent).

But, Verneuille added that the district could see more savings over the coming years if voters elect to purchase six more buses for the school district.

“I’m optimistic that, if the bus proposition passes, it will have to help us,” Verneuille stated.

By eliminating contractual expenses for transportation, she estimated the district could save $45,000 next year alone, and roughly $600,000 in the next seven years.

“This year is easy, in some ways, because we can look at every category and say where we can make changes,” Verneuille continued.

She added that every budget code, in her opinion, has been scrutinized by every administrator.

“But, at some point you’re going to be getting the best price for every purchase. At some point there’s going to be no more savings unless you move [to cut] different categories.”

At this point, Dr. Gratto said the school district is very lucky that it hasn’t had to make any cuts to personnel.

He referenced slides showing how the school’s expenditures balance out. According to the proposed budget outline, 78 percent of the school’s funds will go toward educational programs, versus 9 percent for administrative needs and 13 percent for capital projects. And of those program expenses, 63 percent of the budget is dedicated to regular K-12 instruction and special education.

“Direct instruction and support instruction are the two [line items] that matter most,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to leave those untouched.”

Pierson, Bay Street Plan Meeting for 31st (Plus Cafeteria Update)

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By Claire Walla


For some, the case is closed.

For others, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But for administrators in the Sag Harbor School District, the discussion surrounding the future of the Bay Street Theatre carries on.

Recently, the theater announced it will not stay at its current location on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor when its three year lease expires next year. Instead, Bay Street wants to find a more permanent home. Southampton Village has offered Bay Street the current Parrish Art Museum space  on Jobs Lane — which will be vacated later this year when the museum moves to a new home of its own. But theater board members have expressed a strong desire to stay in Sag Harbor and two weeks ago, hosted a public meeting to explore the possibility.

One option raised that night was the creation of a new theater at Pierson High School that could accommodate both Bay Street and school productions.

Addressing the Sag Harbor Board of Education at a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, district superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced the district would be meeting with Bay Street Theatre board members on Tuesday, January 31 at 6 p.m. Dr. Gratto said he had met with the theater’s executive director, Tracy Mitchell, and proposed next week’s meeting “for the purpose of discussing how we might collaborate with each other.”

School board member Chris Tice supported the idea, but urged Dr. Gratto to create an agenda that could be circulated to the public before discussions get underway.

“Let’s get it out there early,” she said.

School board’s president Mary Anne Miller agreed.

“This is the right thing to do,” she said, adding “It will probably be a lively discussion.”

The meeting will be open to the public and largely revolve around a plan already in place for the construction of a new Pierson Middle/High School auditorium. The blueprint for a 300-seat auditorium was created in 2009, but was never put to a community vote as part of a bond measure.

However, this fall the school’s Facilities Planning Committee recommended the school board continue to pursue the reconstruction project through private funds instead of taxpayer money. (The committee also recommended the district pursue the most expensive of three proposed reconstruction plans, at an estimated cost of $12 million.)

Dr. Gratto said rebuilding the school’s auditorium is a crucial aspect of any potential collaboration.

“There are hundreds of details that still need to be fleshed out,” Dr. Gratto added. “But my general rule is: if there’s a will, there’s a way.”


In other news…


School district business director Janet Verneuille reported that the Pierson cafeteria has improved its sales — and its menu — since its new manager Greg Pisciotta came on board at the beginning of last year.

“Last year at this time we had a loss of about $20,000,” Verneuille said.

Referring to a chart that showed cafeteria revenues and expenditures for the first half of both 2010 and 2011, she explained the cafeteria earned about $13,973 more this year than it had by this time last year.

“We think we’ll come in in the black this year,” Verneuille continued. “Break even, or maybe run a $5,000 to $6,000 profit.”

Verneuille added that Pierson had the exact same number of students in December 2011 as it did in December 2010, so “obviously, we’re selling more.”

According to Pisciotta, this was the goal when he came on board last year: to break-even and to make the program healthier.

He said he increased program participation by increasing the presence of popular menu items and adding items students specifically requested (like flavored tea). He also cut costs by getting rid of ingredients that weren’t frequently used — food items he referred to as “orphans” — and cracking down on portion control.

“Everyone knows and loves Sue Higgins,” Pisciotta said of the woman who considerately serves Pierson students each afternoon. “But, I always kid her that she feeds the kids like they’re her kids and they’re going off to war.”

He said he’s tried to regulate more portion control to ensure the cafeteria maintains healthy profit margins.

In the way of providing healthier options, Pisciotta said he’s made a number of changes based largely on the advice of the school board. For instance, he replaced “compressed” chicken patties and nuggets to the “full muscle” variety, which he said is not made with rib meat or rib juice.

He’s also been purchasing vegetables and fruits that are flash frozen, rather than canned in containers of fructose. And healthy snack options, like Greek yogurt, hummus and sunflower seeds are seeing some sales.

He added that salad bar sales have improved, thanks to one crucial readjustment:

“As soon as I changed over to iceberg lettuce [from mixed greens] the sales doubled,” he said. “For some reason, kids like it better.”

Heading into the second half of the year, Pisciotta said he plans to add new menu items like roasted chicken, beef stew and chicken pot pie.

Pisciotta did add, however, that sales of certain snack items — like Pop-Tarts and breakfast bars — have dropped since the school started carrying “healthier” options. (Pop-Tarts are now whole grain.)

“I would say if we put [breakfast bars] in tomorrow we’d see about a $250 increase for the week,” he speculated.

But, even so, Pisciotta said the cafeteria is in healthy financial standing.

“Even with the increase of the cost of food and supplying paper cups [instead of the less-expensive Styrofoam], I still think we’ll break even.”

Teaching Budgets Projected to Remain Relatively Flat

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By Claire Walla

According to both Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, the Sag Harbor School District’s anticipated instructional costs will remain relatively flat going into the 2012-2013 school year.

At a budget presentation on Monday, January 23, Nichols and Malone reported projected budgets that will see district totals increase roughly 6.99 percent over this year’s operating budget.

Overall, teaching costs — which include teachers’ salaries, equipment costs, contractual fees and textbook prices — are projected to increase $731,784 next year, bringing the 2012-2013 total to roughly $11,197,784 million, versus this year’s operating budget of $10,465,851.

The district’s business manager Janet Verneuille explained that the only changes in staffing will include the additions of a new sixth-grade teacher and a new English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching assistant, who actually began working in the district last year but wasn’t hired until after last year’s budget was adopted, and therefore hasn’t been factored into the budget.

Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto added that the district has seen a decrease of four special education teachers and one nurse, who had been at Stella Maris Regional School until the school closed last spring.

Principal Nichols asserted that there are “not that many significant changes to the budget.”

While equipment costs for all departments are looking at a 2-percent increase (or $4,757) for next year, a decrease in special education by $1,053 and a $12,531 drop in co-curricular activities more than make up for it.

Part of the high school’s extra costs for next year are expected to go to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which will add another $14,500 to the annual budget. The annual fees for the program are $11,000, the program’s software management program (ManageBac) is $1,000 and an additional $2,500 has been allotted for field trips. Nichols explained that part of the program requirements for foreign language classes include field trips to areas where those languages are spoken, so students will most likely attend trips to parts of New York City.

Nichols went onto explain that the school will also spend $30,000 on professional development to allow more teachers to attend IB training workshops. Although, he added that this expense is part the school’s budget each year regardless of whether or not it is used specifically for IB training.

Nichols noted the fact that Pierson High School has not yet garnered approval from the IB board and is not yet officially an IB school; however, he said he expects to know whether or not the IB diploma program will be offered next fall as soon as this spring.

“We have to submit some paperwork to IB this week, then we’ll have a site visit within the next two months,” he explained.

Following in the wake of Nichols’ presentation, Malone said IB is one of the focuses of next year’s elementary school budget as well. Though the school is not on-track to implement the IB Primary Years’ program, Malone said he plans for teachers to attend IB training to learn more about the program and bring that information back to the community. This way, if IB principles are instilled in the elementary school curriculum, he said students will be better prepared for the diploma program once they get to Pierson.

Malone is currently budgeting $44,292 for professional development (roughly a 17 percent increase over this year), of which he said about $10,000 will be dedicated to IB training.

Dr. Gratto confirmed that the district does not intend to implement the IB primary years’ program. Rather, IB training at the elementary school will help primary teachers better train students for the high school curriculum.

“We believe there’s a lot of benefit to attending these workshops,” Malone added.

He also explained that he’s exploring options for a new math series at the elementary school, which takes advantage of new technologies. And although Malone hasn’t settled on a program, he’s set aside roughly $30,000 in next year’s budget for this purpose.

Finally, Verneuille reported that employee benefits are expected to see an 8-percent increase next year, bringing this year’s total benefit costs from $6.8 million to $7.3 million next year.

While Verneuille said she’s still waiting to see the projected rates for teachers’ retirement costs, she said the rates for health and dental insurance are projected to jump by about 10 percent and the rates for employee retirement costs are expected to jump 12.5 percent—“we got whammed on that!” she exclaimed.

A comprehensive budget breakdown is scheduled to be presented before the Board of Education at its next meeting, February 6.

School Budget Up For Technology

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By Claire Walla


The Sag Harbor School District can potentially save over $1 million on transportation expenses over the next 10 years, according to District Treasurer Janet Verneuille.

All it will take is six new buses.

At a budget hearing held on Monday, Verneuille unveiled a new plan for the district’s transportation department that would effectively make the Sag Harbor School District independent from Montauk Bus Service. (For the most part. The district would still contract out services for some sports games and miscellaneous activities.)

While the school currently contracts out for three of its five current bus routes, purchasing its own buses would allow the district to put all local routes — including trips to Child Development Center of the Hamptons and Our Lady of the Hamptons — under the district’s purview.

To become self-sufficient, the district would need to purchase four 66-passenger buses and two 30-passenger busses at a cost of $541,502. Though Verneuille pointed out that that’s only an estimated cost, she emphasized that the savings after 10 years would amount to over $1 million.

“So, it’s well worth it,” she exclaimed.

However, at this point it’s not clear whether or not the board will ultimately decide to pursue this plan — it would have to pay for the buses with a bond, which would have to be approved by voters. Plus, board member Walter Wilcoxen brought up the inherent risk of setting up an independent program to be operated by one very capable person.

“The problem is when Maude [Stevens, the district’s transportation coordinator] is gone, then what kind of a position would we be in?” Wilcoxen asked, rhetorically. “Let’s not be so fooled about the money that we don’t’ see there’s risk involved.”

Verneuille went on to present the proposed transportation budget for 2012-2013, excluding the costs associated with this bus-buying measure. For next year, the district will see a budget totaling $1,085,160, a proposed decrease of $118,855, or 9.8 percent.

For the technology department, however, the financial picture is a little different. When all’s said and done, the proposed technology budget is 20 percent higher than it is in this year’s operating budget, coming in at $805,521. But, according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the jump is largely tied to the effort to improve the school’s computer equipment.

“What we want to do is get on a ladder for technology,” explained Verneuille. This means updating all computers and computer equipment according to a four-year cycle. “A lot of companies do three years, but you get a little more bang for your buck this way.”

According to the 2012-2013 proposed budget, this four-year plan would begin next academic year by replacing one-fourth of the computers used by both teachers and students within the district. It would also replace all of the student computers in one of the Pierson Middle/High School computer labs.

At the elementary school, $55,000 would be spent on new laptops, and $3,600 would go toward purchasing new iPads, which, overall, brings the elementary school equipment budget up 18.77 percent over this year’s budget.

At Pierson, that figure jumps to an increase in the equipment budget of 53.16 percent. This includes $13,200 for new laptops for teachers, $33,000 for a new set of laptops for the humanities department, and another $33,000 for new desktop computers for the Pierson computer lab.

While Fisher’s proposed technology budget represents an increase of about $134,693 and increases costs for an equipment overhaul next year, the Pupil Personnel Services department has a proposed budget that more than makes up for that added expense. Coming in at $4,328,364, the overall budget for this department represents a savings of $492,303.

“I really don’t have any significant changes in my budget,” said Dr. Lisa Scheffer, Director of Pupil Personnel Services. She projected that next year there will be fewer students in the district enrolled in the Child Development Center of the Hamptons, a charter school in Wainscott that caters to special needs students. This alone will generate a savings of $150,000. And, she continued, there are currently no students enrolled in any BOCES program, which is a savings of $182,252.

Even though there aren’t any students participating in these programs, Scheffer kept that line item at a comfortable $240,000.

“I still feel we have enough cushion in the BOCES line,” she said. When asked if she felt her department was in good shape despite the budget decrease, Dr. Scheffer replied: “Definitely.”

First Budget Meeting on the Business Office

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By Claire Walla


With the state’s two-percent tax levy cap looming over the upcoming budget season, the Sag Harbor School District has decided to get a head start on financial discussions, kicking off its budget discussions nearly eight weeks ahead of last year’s schedule.

On Monday, November 28, just before the district’s regularly scheduled business meeting, school board members were privy to the first of six budget workshops, this one focusing on the district’s business office.

According to District Business Manager Janet Verneuille, the department’s projected budget for the 2012-2013 school year will increase by 4.8 percent over this year’s operating budget, or about $59,000.

The majority of the overall budget increase for this department is tied to business administration salaries, a line item expected to see an increase of about $38,400 for next year. Verneuille noted that the increase largely accounts for two part-time employees—as well as contractual increases that include financial projections for some staff members potentially joining a collective bargaining unit, and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a senior account clerk—and a three-percent raise that Verneuille has factored in for every non-union employee.

“I think it’s fair,” Verneuille said. A three-percent raise, she explained, splits the difference between two extremes: adhering to the district’s financial strains and recognizing the fact that unionized secretarial support staff is set to see five- to seven-percent raises scheduled for next year.

This budget increase also accounts for the fact that the business department is moving more services in-house.

“For years [schools’] financial statements were done by auditors,” Verneuille explained, adding that this practice changed in 2004 when the Roslyn school district on Long Island was found to have misused about $11 million worth of taxpayer dollars. “After Roslyn, one of the things that changed is that outside auditors can’t do district financials.”

The business department has thus spent money on higher salaried staff members, and now employs two in-house CPAs (including Verneuille).

“There are some hefty increases in expenses for the business office,” Verneuille explained.

However, Verneuille stressed that this section of the budget — which also includes the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance — currently only accounts for about 3.5 percent of the district’s overall budget.

In addition to salary increases, the preliminary budget also accounts for increases to public information (up from $32,000 to $55,000) and increases to legal fees (up from $130,000 to $149,500). Verneuille said the budget is higher for these line items in anticipation of upcoming events, namely the school’s proposed bond measure and teachers’ contract negotiations with the teaching assistants, custodians and secretarial unions.

Reported Increase in School District Housing Investigations

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By Claire Walla


Sometimes, Janet Verneuille will get a lead.

“It could be from a parent, a landlord or a community member,” the Sag Harbor School District’s Financial Manager ambiguously explained.

And when she does, she’ll start to investigate.

Should Verneuille and her team of Pierson administrators actually find something solidly indicating that a student enrolled in the Sag Harbor School District is using an address that is not the same as his or her primary residence, she’ll hire a private investigator. Because before a school administrator can ask a child to leave the district, he or she needs proof.

In the past, private investigators have been hired by the district on a part-time basis to track students, often on their way home after school. These detectives will monitor whether or not students consistently leave and return to the address indicated on their enrollment forms.

“Legally, we have to do this,” Verneuille rationalized. “It’s legal, it’s ethical… it’s financially [prudent],” she added, elaborating that only those families who pay school taxes in the district should be able to take advantage of the school’s resources at no extra cost. “It’s the right thing to do, to hold people accountable.”

Most recently, her veritable part-time investigative work has focused on an alleged multi-family house somewhere in the Sag Harbor School District. According to her source — which she would only refer to as “a member of the community” — there is a house somewhere in Sag Harbor that is being rented by more than two families with children in the Sag Harbor School District.

What is being disputed is not necessarily the fact that this is a multi-family rental; the issue at hand — should this story hold its weight — is that, as Verneuille was told, the families renting the house each use a different house as their primary residence. In other words, they don’t live in Sag Harbor.

Verneuille said this particular investigation is still in the preliminary stages. With the help of the district’s Director of Technology Scott Fisher, Verneuille is pouring over data to help build a case. She would not comment on whether or not this specific incident is currently being pursued by a private investigator, but the case is still active.

But the most interesting aspect of this issue is not that there is an active investigation going on within the school district, Verneuille continued. This happens all the time; it even happens outside this school district. Without getting into specifics, she added, “I know at least three or four other districts [on the East End] that do it.”

According to Verneuille, what makes this issue interesting is the high volume of people pushing the limits of the law just to break into the Sag Harbor School District. There are currently eight active cases related to allegations of family’s using forged addresses to stay within the school district, and several others that have already been addressed this year. Though she didn’t have the exact figure, Verneuille estimated this is already about double the amount of investigations the district pursued last year.

“I definitely think it’s a compliment,” she said. “We have great programs, our test results are good and our class sizes are small. [This issue] is really a reflection on the quality of the school district.”

Verneuille said she regularly gets several calls a week from families wondering whether or not their houses resides within the school district.

“I had two just last week,” she noted.

While Verneuille would not disclose how many students have actually left the district in the wake of accusations that their families did not in fact live in the district, she did confirm that more than one family has already had to leave since the start of this school year.

Verneuille added that families are not necessarily automatically forced to leave the district. Although, should a family decide to stay in the district after having been found to be falsely enrolled as a district resident, the family would be required to pay tuition, which costs about $24,000 per child. Verneuille said at least two families so far this year have opted to start paying tuition when it was discovered their home address was not zoned for Sag Harbor.

“The good news is sometimes we get tuition that we would have missed otherwise,” she said with a smile.

While Verneuille reiterated that housing investigations are nothing new, she did admit: “I’ve never had this one before.”

Most often, these types of cases come in the way of families that have used false addresses, friends’ addresses and business addresses — she’s never had to deal with a multi-family rental.

As for the current allegations, she said “nothing has been substantiated” and “it could just be a rumor.”

However, Verneuille added that the school is still on the case.