Tag Archive | "John Gratto"

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 Reconsiders Liability Insurance

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By Claire Walla


If your child injures his elbow after school on one of the campuses of the Sag Harbor School District and has to be hospitalized, you will have to pay the hospital bills on your own. That’s what the situation is now, anyway.

But, the topic of liability insurance is being revisited by the Sag Harbor School Board after parent Evelynne Ramunno criticized the board for doing away with its liability insurance plan at the tail end of the last academic year. At a school board meeting on Monday, Ramunno said her son had been injured during the after-school SHAEP program so badly he needed to go to the hospital to get pins put in his elbow. Only when she contacted the school to get coverage for the incident did she find out that the plan had been cancelled.

“I’m a mother of two and I need the SHAEP program,” she said. “But, if I was aware the school did not have insurance, I might not have sent my son to the SHAEP program.”

The board of education voted last year to cancel its liability insurance plan with Pupil Benefits because, as School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted, “it was an expense the board deemed unwarranted.”

The reasoning behind the decision, according to School Board President Mary Anne Miller, is that the insurance plan was flawed.

“We had dissatisfaction from parents who used it because it wasn’t paying back what was hoped for,” she said. “Also, we felt that families who were not insured would be better served going through [state] programs like Child Health Plus.”

The program cost the district about $22,000, and as board members explained, it often did not cover much. District Treasurer Janet Verneuille said she priced out similar programs at other schools, and found they ranged from $6,700 (for the Tuckahoe School District) to $37,00 (for Hampton Bays).

Last year, board members agreed the school was spending money for a program that was hardly effective. However, the board has agreed to look at other options for taking on an entirely new liability insurance program. Verneuille said she would have some options by the end of the month.

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said board member Sandi Kruel. “To not have it is irresponsible.”


In other news…


After fighting to give the Sag Harbor School District the chance to look at alternatives to its costly insurance program with the New York State Health Insurance Program, Tom Morrissey of Morrissey Advisory Services was noticeably disheartened by the final results.

In order to explore alternative health options that would match the benefits offered through the Empire Plan, but at a lower cost to the school, Morrissey first needed teachers to answer “a simple form online” with basic questions about their health. In the end, he said only 37 of 209 eligible teachers completed the form.

“I don’t think we got the responsiveness we needed,” Morrissey told the school board. “I thought 17 percent was pretty pathetic.”

By switching to a new plan, Morrissey said the school could save at least $300,000. And while exploring alternative health insurance options is now a moot point, he said he would continue to work with the school to try to replace Empire entirely.

“Our efforts don’t stop here,” he said. “We volunteer to do this because we have students in the school and we want to help. You have skyrocketing health care costs,” he added. “We’ve been dealing with double digit rate increases for some time now. I know for certain that the 209 people eligible here could have significantly lower premium numbers [with another plan].”


On Monday, the Sag Harbor School Board also heard from members of the school’s new Booster Club, who detailed the list of events coming up for the not-for-profit fundraising organization.

According to the group’s president, Robert Evjen, the club will hold its Winter Spirit Night on January 27 during the boys’ basketball game in the Pierson Gym. The festivities would include performances by the Pierson choir and elementary school singers, a demonstration from the robotics team, a half-court shooting contest and banners made by Pierson art students.

Also, on February 11 (the night of HarborFrost), the Booster Club will hold a fundraising event at B. Smith’s. The $25 event ($30 at the door) will include a quiz bowl, dinner and raffle.

Pierson May Bring On the Dogs

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By Claire Walla


Before the end of this school year, it’s quite possible the Sag Harbor School District will bring drug-sniffing dogs onto the Pierson campus.

“For years I was hesitant to pursue this angle, but I’m more inclined to do this now,” said Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, who took a hard-lined stance against bringing drug-sniffing dogs onto the campus as recently as last fall. “I don’t want to say there are more incidents than in the past, though there have already been a few incidents this year,” he explained.

According to Sag Harbor Village Police Officer Paul Fabiano, there has only been one reported incident of marijuana possession on the Pierson campus since September 2011. The event involved a 14-year-old student. However, Fabiano said not all campus incidents get reported.

Nichols continued, “I know the harm [in bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus] is in saying to the students that we don’t trust them; but, making sure drugs are not on this campus outweighs the trust factor.”

All board members, including those who were previously on the fence on the issue, seemed to support the notion of bringing drug-sniffing dogs on campus. And school superintendent, Dr. John Gratto, introduced a school policy on the topic.

According to a draft of the policy read at a school board meeting on Monday, “The Superintendent of Schools is authorized by the Board of Education to utilize dogs, which are trained to detect illegal drugs. The superintendent and high school principal are designated as the contact persons and they will determine if, and when, and how often a police agency’s ‘drug dogs’ will be called to school property.”

What’s more, the presence of drug-sniffing dogs would not be announced prior to their arrival. And the policy goes on to say that the dogs would be active on the campus while students were in classrooms, and the dogs would not be permitted to “sniff search” the students themselves.

While board member Water Wilcoxen pointed out that it’s within both Nichols’ and Dr. Gratto’s power to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the campus without a formal vote from the board and without an official policy, Nichols indicated that he wanted to make certain he had the full backing from the board and the superintendent before proceeding with any plans.

“This is a big step,” said Nichols. “I would not want to move forward with this unless I knew that the superintendent and the board were ok with it.”

Part of the supporting materials behind the motivation to crack down on substance abuse in the district includes results from the Sag Harbor School District Survey which was administered earlier this school year to students, parents and teachers.

According to those results, 71 percent of Pierson students agreed with the statement: “Students in my school use drugs and alcohol.” And 39 percent of those who responded said they had witnessed students consuming alcohol and/or using drugs on school grounds.

Overall, 57 percent of Pierson students either agreed or strongly agreed that drug and alcohol abuse is a problem for students in the Sag Harbor School District. But, that figure rose to 69 percent when it came to the teachers’ responses to that same question.

Dr. Gratto and various board members referred to the survey to further illustrate the problems with substance abuse that have found their way to Pierson, but Dr. Gratto was careful to note that the survey results are not perfect and do not necessarily reflect the community as a whole. (To their credit, he said, 87 percent of all students actually took the poll, but only 23 percent of teachers and TAs responded.)

Teacher Peter Solow cautioned the school against following through with actions based on results culled from these surveys, which he called “imperfect instruments.”

“I’m not denying there’s an issue here,” he declared. “But I don’t think any policy should be based on inaccurate or anecdotal information. I don’t know the extent of the problem, but I know it’s relatively serious. And I don’t know about the drug-sniffing dog thing, but that’s got to be a little piece of a bigger comprehensive plan.”

School Board President Mary Anne Miller told Solow that the school district already has a comprehensive plan to address issues of alcohol abuse and prevention.

“It’s working, but it’s not working to the degree any of us are comfortable with,” she explained. “There’s still a problem. How many more times do we have to catch kids before we solve it?

“We need to look into bringing in a parent seminar immediately,” Miller continued. “That has to be done almost twice a year. I know these things cost money, but we should try to come back with a game plan.”

According to Nichols, the school needs a multi-pronged approach that is not limited to drug-sniffing dogs. In addition to taking a serious approach to eliminating substance abuse on campus, Nichols echoed Miller’s sentiments and mentioned that preventative measures must move beyond the classroom, even beyond the walls of the school.

“We have kids for seven hours out of a 24-hour day,” he began, alluding to the fact that students often develop habits and behaviors at home, or else off school grounds. “There are instances that are indigenous to our community.”

“We’re a resort community and we have some specific challenges,” he added.

Namely, Nichols said, the presence and availability of both alcohol and drugs are prevalent.

Wilcoxen agreed, and added that education needs to involve parents, as well as students. “You tell your child not to drink alcohol and drive, but how many parents get in the car after drinking, and their kids see them? It’s the same thing with dope. How are we going to reach out and help this? All I know is we haven’t done a very good job.”

Board member Sandi Kruel said she was in favor of utilizing drug-sniffing dogs when she previously served on the board five years ago. But now, especially with backing from Nichols who had previously been a staunch opponent, she said it’s imperative.

With a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old son, Kruel went on to say that she’s often privy to information about parties where there is underage drinking.

“I myself have gone to the police station to get the cops to help close down parties,” she said. “We have a problem. And if it takes this to help stop it, I say get the dog treats ready.”

Fuel Costs Increase Budget for Buildings and Grounds

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By Claire Walla

Sag Harbor School District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Montgomery “Monty” Granger didn’t just talk numbers when he presented his budget last Monday, December 12. He showed pictures.

As part of his slideshow presentation, Granger took Sag Harbor School Board members inside the Wyandanch School District where, through the school’s virtual building management system, he was able to display a map of the school grounds, which showed various temperatures corresponding to each room within the school building — in real time.

Granger said he hopes to bring a similar system to the Sag Harbor School District.

This was the focal point of his presentation on the 2012-2013 budget for buildings and maintenance, which as of now is predicted to see a $99,586 jump over this year’s budget. While buildings and grounds only accounts for about six percent of the school’s overall operating budget, Granger said often times the cost of energy is the most expensive part of this portion of the budget.

To further illustrate his point, Granger told the board that the district’s total energy costs for the 2010-2011 school year totaled $370,467. And based on estimates put out by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), Granger said this is bound to go up by 2012-2013.

Fuel oil alone is projected to see a 28-percent jump, while natural gas costs are estimated to rise 13 percent and electricity costs are expected to be up by five percent.

According to Granger, the cost of implementing a building management system with Direct Digital Controls (DDC) would be about $500,000; however, he said the new virtual system could bring savings on energy costs anywhere from 25 to 50 percent.

This figure is imprecise, Granger admitted, because he’s unsure of how much energy the school is currently wasting.

“We currently have limited or no control over the heating of the buildings, and we have no benchmark for expenditures,” Granger wrote in one of his slides.

The program, Granger argued, would make regulating temperatures much easier and more efficient because he or one of the schools’ head custodians could monitor temperatures for the entire building remotely. Plus, Granger added, the program makes it possible to pre-plan heat regulation, essentially scheduling low temperatures during holidays when no one is using the building, even making temperatures low in certain segments of the building that may not be used as frequently as others.

Other cost increases for next year are tied to several expenditures Granger has built into the next school year: purchasing a lift, equipment replacement, new high school lockers, new boiler burners, purchasing a sod cutter, replacing doors and installing new wall padding in the Sag Harbor Elementary School gym.

“I have a significant increase in next year’s budget,” Granger explained. “But, I have some significant needs.”

As far as athletics are concerned, Granger — who also acts as the school district’s Athletic Director — said next year’s proposed budget will be kept relatively flat, only going up by about $22,000.

“We are proposing the same number of teams as we currently have,” explained school superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

According to Granger’s presentation, the school district currently fields 50 teams, with most student athletes participating in fall sports — 245 students, versus 170 in the winter and 146 in the spring. And Granger noted that the number of female athletes is greater than the number of males in both the fall (by 25) and the winter (by 30), while the boys outnumber the girls 86 to 60 in the spring.

Though nothing is set to change for next year, Dr. Gratto added that it’s still early and the impending threat of the two-percent tax cap could rock the boat.

“This is certainly going to be a tight budget year,” he added.

Sag Harbor Schools Bring The Holiday Spirit Up North

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Xmas Donations

By Claire Walla

Above: (left to right) Veronica Baum, Lucy Beeton, Charlie Browning, Ryan Brown (all third graders); Hayley Schimmer, Sam Miller, Adrian Pickering, Emily Verneuille, Siena Remkus-Fabiano (members of Pierson High School’s National Honors Society).

When your hometown has been devastated by rising floodwaters — homes washed away, jobs dissolved — the holidays are not the easiest time of year. But for the Windham School District in upstate New York, which was seriously damaged by Tropical Storm Irene back in August, the holiday season has already arrived.

Last Friday, December 8 Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, decked out in matching Santa hats, showed up at Windham with a van full of toys. In total, they presented 12 large cartons of gifts, as well as a shoebox full of gift certificates, to the school’s guidance counselor and representatives from the school’s student council.

“The school could not have been more appreciative,” Malone told members of the Sag Harbor School Board at a meeting last Monday, December 12. “Sag Harbor deserves a nice congratulations.”

The Sag Harbor School District has a special relationship with the Windham School District: it’s where Dr. Gratto had been superintendent before coming to the East End.

After reaching out to the school’s guidance counselor, the Sag Harbor School District received a list of holiday items specifically requested by students at the Windham school. (The list represented items listed by students from 44 families that the Windham guidance counselor identified as being most in need.) Those items were then written on pieces of paper made to look like light bulbs. Members of the Sag Harbor School District were asked to pick a bulb and bring back the corresponding present.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel commented on the enthusiasm Pierson High School students demonstrated during this collection process.

“The student council was basically forcing people to take bulbs off the tree,” she said with a laugh after describing having been relatively accosted by student council members demanding she take a bulb as well. The students did a good job, she concluded.

“Our [high school] students worked very hard to package these gifts,” Dr. Gratto said. And just before their departure up north, he added that students from both Pierson and the elementary school worked together to pile the toys into the administrators’ metaphorical sleigh. (Actually Mr. Malone’s mini van.)

“The Windham community was very appreciative,” he reiterated.


In other news…


Creative Writing Flourishes

“I used to think of writing as a chore, rather than an interactive medium,” Pierson High School senior Drew Devito told members of the Sag Harbor School Board on Monday, December 12. But, he said, that was before he attended the intensive, five-day writing workshop put on by the Young American Writers Project (YAWP) through Stony Brook Southampton.

“My experience there was amazing,” Devito explained. “I learned to appreciate writing a little more than I had before.”

He attended this workshop with four other Pierson students as well as students from around Long Island and one from the Bronx. The students stayed in dorms on the Southampton campus and spent at least eight hours each day participating in free-form writing exercises and a final project.

“Each one of us wrote a finished one-act play,” Devito continued. “Just to say that, in my opinion, it’s an amazing feat.”

The plays ranged from Devito’s humorous, semi-autobiographical account of a lactose-intolerant student who consumes pizza and ice cream with whipped cream on top; to Amanda Gleeson’s play, which she described as a little more abstract.

“It’s a commentary on how society teaches us to alienate touch, and our innate human need for it,” she said.

Sophomore Matthew Frazier’s play — an end-of-the-world thriller about the love between a flame of fire and an ice cube — was chosen from among the bunch to be performed at the Avram Theatre on the Stony Brook Southampton campus this past weekend.


Elementary School Awarded

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone announced that Sag Harbor Elementary School has been recognized by the Character Education Partnership (CEP) for its “Blue Slip” Awards and its “Soup-er Bowl” Celebration.

Each year, students are awarded “blue slips” by parents or administrators for actions that adhere to the school’s Standards of Behavior. And to celebrate the Super Bowl — instead of veg-ing out on chips and dip — elementary school students gather in the auditorium with a can of soup and predict the winner of the big match by placing their can in a pile for the team of their choice. (All cans are later donated to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry.)

“The joke is that I show up as Howard Cosell,” Malone joked. “And the kids are like, Who’s Howard Cosell?”

CEP, a nonprofit organization that promotes character education programs in schools across the country, honors many schools for programs that demonstrate “promising practices.” This year, Sag Harbor Elementary is one of 260 award winners chosen from an applicant pool of 500.

BOE Discusses Stadium Lighting

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Light 4

By Claire Walla


The ongoing discussion revolving around proposed plans to implement a turf field and overhead lights on the Pierson Middle/High School campus — which now has a field composed of natural grass and no lights — was met with some concern at a regularly scheduled school board meeting last Monday, November 28. But not because board members voiced any dissent.

“I’m in favor of the turf field 100 percent,” said board member Sandi Kruel. “But we need to go and find out how our neighbors feel.”

By revisiting the issue with school board members, she continued, “It seems to me you’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Kruel indicated that the major issue at this point preventing the board from making any decisions about whether or not to go to bond for these maintenance projects concerns the school’s neighbors.

“I thought this [issue] was done until you had the discussion with the neighbors,” Kruel said, addressing Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

Dr. Gratto explained that he would be meeting with Sag Harbor resident Steven Reiner — who essentially represents a handful of the district’s neighbors — on December 13 to discuss various issues of concern to those living in close proximity to the school district.

According to Reiner, the biggest issue is not the turf field — which is estimated to cost $1.6 million — but the installation of stadium-style lighting, at a cost of $675,000. He said that while neighbors worry about the disruption to the flow of traffic in the neighborhood during what is estimated to be a 10-week construction process, in the long-term they worry about the potential for light pollution.

Dr. Gratto, however, insisted that the lights would have a minimal effect on the district’s neighbors.

“The lighting that we’ve researched is pretty contained,” he said. “It doesn’t have a lot of spillage outside the field.”

He went on to explain additional benefits to having a field with stadium lighting. For one, he said, more parents and family members who work during the day would be able to attend student games if they were held later in the day. The school would also be able to extend practice hours and increase the number of sports teams that currently use on-campus facilities. Furthermore, he added, the school would be able to generate added income from non-curricular and extra-curricular use.

Parent Laura Matthers told the board that she has first-hand experience with lights, as she lives across the street from Mashashimuet Park, which often uses lights at night.

“I can tell you anything you want to know about lights,” she said, and suggested school board members and interested parties go down to the park at night to see first-hand what affect the lights actually have on the outlying areas.

Similarly, Sag Harbor resident Marian Cassata recommended the school utilize its buses to organize a field trip to a neighboring school district “to see how much spillage there is onto the side streets,” she explained. “Seeing is believing.”

Board member Christ Tice wondered if it would be possible to bring portable lights in for a varsity game so that parents, administrators and neighbors could all experience the impact of stadium-style lighting first-hand.

Dr. Gratto seemed to think that was a good idea and suggested potentially bringing lights in for a girls’ softball game in the spring.

School Approves Plans For $4.9 Million Bond Measure

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By Claire Walla


The Sag Harbor School Board is moving forward with plans to bring a $4.9 million bond measure to the public. The four base components of the seven-part capital project were unanimously approved by school board members — with the exception of Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent — at a regular school board meeting held Monday, November 14. They include: 122 health and safety provisions (many of them mandated by the state), expanding the Pierson kitchen, restructuring two parking lots and constructing a storage room in the elementary school gym.

In total, these measures represent nearly a $1.8 million cost reduction from an almost identical bond measure that was put up for public vote in 2009. That bond was defeated.

In an attempt to keep the cost of the project as low as possible, the district’s Long Range Planning Committee decided to take plans to restore the Pierson auditorium completely off the table. It is now recommended that the project, at an estimated cost of $12 million, be funded privately.

However, plans to replace the Pierson field with a synthetic turf ($1.6 million) and install stadium-style lighting ($675,000) are still on the table, though they would most likely be brought to the public in an additional bond referendum, separate from the $4.9 million bond outlined above. Board members are still discussing the plans for the field and lighting installation as they are currently laid out.

Board members have also floated the idea of putting the turf field and the stadium lighting up to a community vote as separate projects because the lighting issue seems to be more controversial.

“For me and for some of the neighbors, the lights represent a game-changer,” said community member Steven Reiner who lives directly adjacent to the Pierson field.

He said he had relatively no problem with the synthetic turf, but the lights he said would create increased usage of the field, bringing more people to the area; potentially cause light pollution; and might even lower real estate values for homes in the immediate area.

“What I’m struck by is the specificity and the detail that accompanied the cafeteria and other issues,” Reiner said of the elements entailed in the base bond measure. “When you vote for large-scale change, that’s going to affect traffic and egress and lights [among other issues]. But we don’t have any proposal of what this [change] is going to look like.”

Slide11 adjusted

While the district does have a graphic of the turf field, the projected impact of the proposed stadium lighting still needs to be determined.

On another note, parent Laura Matthers commented that the turf field, which includes a two-lane track around its circumference, “might actually be a draw for people in the community,” which would be a good thing.

As proposed, Athletic Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger added that the field could be used by the school’s middle school baseball team (the size is not within regulation for varsity or JV baseball), by varsity soccer teams and all field hockey teams. All other outdoor sports would continue to use the fields at Mashashimuet Park. This would not only allow teams to have practice later at night, but it would allow games to be scheduled later in the day.

According to Dr. Gratto, this would be a great advantage “because parents [who work during the day would finally get to see their kids play.”

The projects already recommended for the $4.9 million bond proposal were very quickly approved by the board. As for the health and safety improvements—including architectural, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and site-plan upgrades — it took board members mere seconds to determine there was no penny-pinching possible in this realm. The $3.85 million plan marks a $1 million reduction from the bond proposed back in 2009, $500,000 of which was already built into this year’s 2012-13 budget.

“If it’s really about health and safety, there’s got to be a point when it’s got to be done,” Board Member Gregg Schiavoni said. “I think not doing it is going to cost us more down the line.”

Similarly, plans to extend storage space in the elementary school ($210,319) and re-do the parking lots on Jermain Avenue at the high school and on Hampton Street at the elementary school were very quickly approved. Though the parking lot project generated some dissent back in 2009, board members recommended the improvements with emphatic support. While the lots would increase in size — jumping from 26 to 51 spaces at the elementary school, and 38 to 46 at the high school — Dr. Gratto said the main impetus for the remodeling has to do with health and safety.

The parking lot at the entrance to the elementary school would push forward, further toward Hampton Street, which would add parking spaces and widen driving lanes for emergency vehicles. The parking lot on Jermain Avenue, next to the high school gym, would extend north into Pierson hill and would include a curb along Jermain to prevent cars from backing up into the street.

“The Jermain Avenue parking lot is a disaster waiting to happen,” said board member Chris Tice. “It’s not safe at all.”

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While the kitchen had previously been an issue of contention, as board members debated whether or not expanding the room would actually improve the quality of the food, it was generally decided last Monday that room for more storage space would indeed improve food options.

Though there wouldn’t be a difference in the type of cooking equipment used, School Board President Mary Anne Miller stressed that additional storage space would allow the school to add more refrigeration, which would “definitely improve purchasing and food selection.”

While the board has decided to go forward with the $4.9 million dollar bond measure, it is yet to be determined when the vote will take place.

IB Program Approved for 2012-2013 School Year

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IB-hexagon

By Claire Walla


In a unanimous vote held on Wednesday, November 2, the Sag Harbor Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution that would allow the school district to implement the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for the 2012-2013 school year. Board member Theresa Samot was absent.

Though Pierson High School is still waiting to hear from the IB board as to whether or not it will officially be accepted by the IB board — Pierson only recently submitted the final segment of its IB application — for many, the board’s decision is a significant one.

“This has been five years in the making,” said board member Chris Tice, who pointed to the fact that Pierson administrators, led by Principal Jeff Nichols, have spent years learning about the program.

“There has been extensive research done on it,” she continued, and for those still unsure about what IB is or how it will affect their child, she added, “I urge you to ask questions and to learn about it.”

Before submitting her “yes” vote, board member Sandi Kruel made sure to address the issue of this year’s tenth grade students, which she said has been a source of contention among those for and against the program. She asked one more time for Nichols to clarify what options would be available for those tenth grade students who qualify for honors classes but are not yet ready to delve into IB.

“I just need to go on record as saying that this is a big concern for those parents,” she said.

Nichols reiterated that Advanced Placement (AP) classes would be eliminated to three offerings by 2015, but emphasized that they would be phased out gradually, meaning next year’s tenth graders would still be able to take a course load with up to seven AP classes by the time they graduate.

School Superintendent John Gratto said, in reference to Kruel’s comments, that he felt “a lot of apprehension in the air” at a recent parent meeting about IB.

“I do commend Jeff [Nichols] for the work that he’s done [in researching IB], and I would say that indeed the students will be prepared [for IB],” Gratto said. “But, I do agree with Sandi [Kruel]’s comments, too. We need to make sure we educate people well enough to take away that apprehension.”

Parent Tom Gleeson, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the IB program, said in an interview that he is still worried the school is investing in a program that is costly, but doesn’t necessarily improve the schools’ curriculums district-wide. (The program would cost about $10,200 annually — the cost of an IB coordinator, which could be up to $60,000, will be absorbed by Principal Nichols and Assistant Principal Gary Kalish for the first few years while the IB program is still relatively small.)

“I’m of the mindset that when you have something that’s going well,” he said in reference to the school’s current AP program, “then you should try to make it better, rather than bring in another program and derail it. We’re just not philosophically on the same page.”

In the midst of last Wednesday’s meetings, Tice said she knew there were still parents who were skeptical of the program.

In an effort to reach out to them, she said, “I would ask you to keep an open mind. This is a program that can only succeed if the participants are willing participants. The intent is good, and I ask that you evaluate it for what it is, not for what you might have heard.”

In other news…

Board members revisited a proposed bond measure that would cost a grand total of $7,220,345 for repairs to both buildings, an updated kitchen, a storage closet in the elementary school gym, updates to two school parking lots, as well as two separate propositions that would give Pierson a synthetic athletic field and provide stadium lighting. The turf is expected to cost up to $1.6 million, while the lighting will total about $675,000.

While the bond will be put to the community for a vote, the board has still to decide what elements of the proposed bond measure to include. School board members will revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting.

Principal Presses for OK on IB Plan

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By Claire Walla

It’s been nearly five years since the Sag Harbor School District began exploring the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and about a year since the district started pursuing the program in earnest. But the board of education has yet to formally take a stance on IB — a detail Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols hopes will be remedied sooner rather than later.

“I would like the board to formally take a position on IB in the next month,” Nichols declared at a school board meeting last Monday, October 17. More specifically, he continued, “I’d like the board to say that, if this school receives the OK from the IB administration, we will offer IB diploma program courses next fall.”

To date, the district has spent about $23,000 to participate in the IB application process. This money has covered the base application fee and paid for an IB consultant to visit the school — a mandatory part of the application process. The next and final deadline for Pierson High School’s IB application is Tuesday, November 1, when those teachers tentatively slated to teach IB programs next fall will submit sample course outlines to the IB board.

Nichols explained that Pierson administrators plan to meet with the handful of those teachers crafting IB course outlines this week so that the district will be able to submit the final step of its application well before the November 1 deadline.

At this point, support from the board is imperative, Nichols explained, because should the school follow through with plans to introduce IB in the fall of 2012, Pierson administrators will need to reach out to the students who would potentially participate in the IB diploma program next year.

“If we’re successful in bringing the program here, we’ll meet with students in the coming months and start to map out their junior and senior year schedules,” Nichols clarified.

The IB program has been contentious for some in the community who have criticized its cost (roughly $10,200 annual base fee), perceived exclusivity and questionable reputation within the college admissions process as compared to the more standard Advanced Placement (AP) program.

Nichols disputed this claim. While IB credits are not accepted for credit at every university — though he said they are recognized by many schools — he explained that many institutions of higher learning are beginning to discount AP credits, as well.

But Nichols insisted this is beside he point. He has maintained from the get-go that the IB program is, in fact, more rigorous and rewarding than the AP program because it emphasizes critical thinking skills, and it’s more versatile than AP because it encourages a range of learning styles that push students to absorb and communicate information without relying on rote memorization (which is sometimes associated with AP). Furthermore, he looks forward to implementing new learning styles within the classroom that will challenge all teachers to think outside-of-the-box when administering lessons.

Parent Tom Gleason said at the meeting that he worries about introducing a new curriculum while the district currently lacks a K through 12 curriculum coordinator.

“We haven’t had any of that curriculum going on [prior to IB],” argued Gleason argued who wondered whether students in the lower grades will be adequately prepared for IB coursework.

Pierson High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish countered that the IB curriculum — which focuses on more broad-based and internationally focused learning — is a step-up from what the district currently teaches. Furthermore, he said teachers have reported that IB “has more flexibility” when it comes to designing lesson plans than courses purely designed according to state requirements.

Parent Laura Matthers expressed her concern for this year’s tenth grade class, which she referred to as the veritable “guinea pig” class: the first Pierson class with the opportunity to graduate students with IB diplomas.

“I want to make sure you’re going to be leaving a lot of options available for these kids coming up the pike,” she said.

Nichols estimated that in its first year, the IB program would probably only have 10 to 15 diploma candidates, a figure based on the current number of students who take five to seven AP classes before graduation. But this leaves several dozen other students who currently take advanced coursework to a lesser degree.

While Nichols mapped out a three-year plan that would reduce the school’s AP offerings to three courses by 2015, he assured Matthers that students in next year’s eleventh grade class would have the opportunity to take up to seven AP courses by the time they graduate. And gradually, as AP courses are pared down, Nichols said he’s confident that the school will be able to grow its number of IB diploma candidates, the same way it grew the number of students taking AP courses.

As for the cost of the program, Nichols said he hoped to put some rumors to rest Monday night.

“A lot of people have concerns about the tax cap, and justifiably,” he began. “But the primary cost [of the IB program] would be an IB coordinator. But we’re of the opinion here that we don’t need to assign a teacher to do that. Mr. Kalish and I can just fold [those duties] into what we do, which would [garner] a savings of $60,000.”

With that cost out of the picture, the school would have to pay $10,200 annually, plus a one-time cost of $135 per diploma student and the $92 test fee, which Nichols said is comparable to the fees associated with individual AP exams.

“Certainly, every dollar counts,” Nichols continued, but with an overall budget set at roughly $33 million, he added, “that’s a very small number.”



“It is my opinion, and the opinion of others who have looked at both programs, that IB allows us the opportunity to raise our standards even higher,” Nichols said. “The skills emphasized in IB will allow us to serve our students better.”


With the exception of one to two teachers, Nichols said the Pierson faculty largely supports IB. Teacher Peter Solow, who attended last Monday’s meeting and is slated to go to IB training this year, told the board he has a positive outlook on the program. “Without having gone to training, [Art Teacher Elizabeth Marchisella] had a very positive reaction to the training that she got,” he relayed. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of what it’s about.”

School District Proposes Capital Projects

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By Claire Walla

On December 8, 2009, when the Sag Harbor School District put nearly $7 million worth of building improvements up for bond, the community voted it down.

Now, after two years of discussions, the Long Range Planning Committee has worked to trim the cost of the project by almost $1.8 million, which — coupled with $500,000 worth of energy cost savings built into this year’s operating budget — brings the total down to roughly $4.9 million.

Committee member John Russo and the district’s architect Larry Salvesen presented the updated list of improvement projects at a regularly scheduled school board meeting last Monday, September 26.

“We looked at what failed in 2009 and pared it back by looking at what we could move and what wasn’t essential,” Russo explained.

Most significantly, the committee minimized the Pierson kitchen upgrade, at a savings of $372,360; and removed two parking lots from the list of items needing repair, saving $341,000. About $350,000 was also taken out of the proposal for projects that can either be accomplished in-house, or are not deemed necessary.

What’s more, a $12 million plan to rebuild the Pierson Auditorium has been taken off the docket altogether. Instead of paying for the project with taxpayers’ dollars, the committee recommends securing funding through private donations.

Salvesen explained that many of these improvements are expected to save the district money over time.

With reference to the parking lots in particular, board members emphasized the importance of communicating with the public, largely blaming miscommunication for the bond measure failing in 2009.

“This is entirely for health and safety,” Russo told the board. “The Jermain lot [at Pierson High School], while improved with the striping, is still inadequate for bus traffic and emergency vehicles.”

Though he said the elementary school parking lot next to the Eco-Walk is sufficient, as is the high school parking lot at the front of the school, the lot on Hampton Street at the front of the elementary school is also unsafe in its current state.

School Board President Mary Anne Miller emphasized that adding parking spaces is not the only end-goal.

“It’s not that we’re trying to make them bigger, they really have deteriorated,” she said. “Their structure has diminished.”

As for Pierson’s outdoor facilities, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto spoke to the importance of refurbishing Pierson High School’s field with synthetic turf and lights. Both measures, he said, would give Pierson athletes more ability to use the facilities for a longer period of time.

According to District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Montgomery “Monty” Granger, the creation of a turf field would bring his department a significant savings. He currently budgets about $60,000 for field maintenance, he explained; but with a turf field the department would only have to spend about $5,000 a year to keep it intact.

Echoing some of the dissent heard back in 2009, community member Steven Reiner expressed some concerns. As far as the new field proposals go, Reiner said installing turf could be a far more complicated process than expected. However, he continued, “The light option is a far more problematic, and more vigorously opposed by the neighborhood.”

“I would think that a very full environmental report would have to be conducted,” he said, before the school district can bring this to the public for a vote He further explained that there are issues of traffic, access and public safety that need to be addressed.

“Once this becomes a decision that leaves the confines of the school and affects the community, police officers, garbage collectors [etc.] I don’t think it’s a choice one can offer the public lightly, without due diligence.”

“An awful lot of work needs to be done before lights can be considered for this area,” he concluded.

Pierson teacher and girls’ soccer coach Peter Solow suggested that perhaps the committee should consider separating the turf and the lights into two separate bonds, as the lights seem to be more controversial.

“If there was a field [and] a track, I guarantee you it will probably get more use than anything else in this community,” he said. “This is not simply an issue of interscholastic sports. The field can be used by the community on a year-long basis.”

While the school board has yet to tease out the finer details of the committee’s proposal, school board member Sandi Kruel did address concerns she had with the current plans for the Pierson cafeteria expansion.

The new plan, at $166,920, is a fraction of the cost presented two years ago, which topped $500,000. However, though the plan will add 16 seats, expand the kitchen area to include prep space and double storage capabilities, Pierson will still not have a functioning commercial kitchen, meaning cafeteria staff will not be able to cook using a stovetop.

“Unfortunately, to build a code-compliant commercial kitchen, it was an additional $350,000 for all the changes that need to be put in place,” Russo explained.

Kruel continued, “For $166,000, to do this and then not give the chef a fire to cook on… it makes me a little crazy.”

Broadening the scope of the discussion, Dr. Gratto explained that in tough economic times capital projects are often taken off the table when it comes time for school districts to tighten their belts. But, in light of the two-percent tax cap — which will affect all school districts in the state of New York next budget season — Dr. Gratto was sure to inform the crowd that funding for serial bonds would not be factored into such a cap.

The school board will continue to review the committee’s plans and is expected to discuss the project at the next bus