Tag Archive | "lisa scheffer"

Sag School Board Approves $34 Million Budget

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By Claire Walla

Pulling no surprises, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted on Monday, March 26 to approve the district’s proposed $34 million budget for the 2012-2013 school year.

“I want to thank the district for all its hard work,” said board member Chris Tice. Because this is the first year the district has had to make allowances for the state-imposed two-percent tax-levy cap, Tice said the budget process “was particularly rigorous this year.”

Passed by Congress last spring, tax cap legislation has caused most school districts across the state to search for ways of trimming expenditures—Sag Harbor not excluded.

With the rising cost of health insurance and increases for teachers’ retirement plans to contend with, the Sag Harbor School District ended up with a proposed budget up 2.88 percent from this year’s operating budget, which represents only a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase.

According to the district’s budget presentations, Sag Harbor has managed to maintain a budget that keeps all programs in place thanks to significant savings in several key areas.

According to numbers compiled by Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, the special education department has shed nearly $500,000 in expenses, which is reflected in next year’s budget. The decrease is due to program changes, including the elimination this year of three staff members.

The school has also seen nearly $400,000 in savings from the district business office, as well as $60,000 in savings in transportation. While the budget calls for $500,000 of the district’s fund balance to be put toward energy conservation measures, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that there will be a bond measure tied to the budget vote in May that—if passed—is estimated to generate significant savings for the district.

Proposition #2 would allow the school to purchase six busses at a cost of $575,000. The district estimates that by bringing transportation costs in-house, it will be able to save roughly $170,000 over the next seven years.

However, while the district was able to squeeze the budget beneath the tax cap this year, school board member Walter Wilcoxen expressed some trepidation about the future.

“You’ve taken so much slack out of the budget it’s laudable,” he began. “But, down the road, how are we going to get the big nut? The problem is, I don’t’ see any major change coming. And that creates some discomfort.”

What Wilcoxen was referring to, specifically, were labor negotiations.

According to Verneuille, teachers’ retirement benefits have not yet been quantified for the coming school year, but last year health expenses went up 13.5 percent. And with a two-percent tax levy cap in the mix, expenditures will inevitably outpace revenues. In other words, the school will eventually be forced to look at ways of cutting costs more dramatically.

“You’re absolutely right, the driver of our budget is labor costs,” Dr. Gratto responded. But, he said the situation might not be so grim. Later that evening, the school board voted to approve bus-driver salaries, which had been negotiated down from its 3.5-percent raise this year to a two-percent raise for next year, with no step increases.

“I think what you’re seeing is a trend,” Gratto added.

Though good news, board members seemed to sympathize with Wilcoxen’s less-than-enthusiastic response.

“This is sort of like the fly on the tail of an elephant,” he joked. “But, at least it’s a start.”

The budget vote will be Tuesday, May 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Pierson High School Gym. Should the budget not pass by simple majority, the district would go to its contingency budget, which would strip $551,510 from the proposed budget, which—according to the district—would eliminate the $500,000 set aside for building improvement projects off-the-bat.

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.”

District Is Targeting Special Education Spending

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Each year during budget season, special education at Sag Harbor is scrutinized by a faction of the community concerned over high classification rates and the associated costs of mandated services. But since Lisa Scheffer took the reins of the district’s pupil personnel office just over two years ago, the classification rates have continually dropped and this year the district will realize significant decreases in costs.
New Sag Harbor Superintendent Dr. John Gratto noticed three contracts with special education service providers at the district’s annual re-organizational meeting last month. Together with Scheffer, the two came up with a way to save the district roughly $100,000 by renegotiating one contract, hiring one new employee and choosing a new service provider.
The district has historically contracted with Out East Occupational Therapy for occupational therapy services. An occupational therapist works with students to improve their fine motor skills, such as a student who has trouble holding a pencil or a student who simply can’t sit still. Last year’s contract with Out East cost the district $85,000.
This year the consultants agreed to renegotiate their contract.
“They’ve reduced their contract by $13,500,” said Gratto. “Now we could hire someone at $70,000 including benefits and in the short term that would save us $2,000. But in the long term, if we continue to contract, that $72,000 would be less than we would pay an employee, because salary and benefits go up.”
The district currently has 25 students who require occupational therapy services.
Another contract, with Long Island Developmental Consulting, has been eliminated in favor of creating an in-district position to provide Applied Behavioral Analysis services to roughly 20 students. That move will save the district over $66,000 if they manage to fill the position at a salary of $78,405 including benefits. The contract cost the district $144,900 per year.
The services are geared specifically to children, who are autistic, either severely or slightly, as the spectrum goes.
“You might have a child who acts out, bites or hits or throws tantrums,” said Scheffer. “The ABA person will try to get to the root of the behavior and create a plan to modify it.”
Lastly, the district has chosen to go with a new service provider for inclusion and differentiated instruction in-service training for teachers. The district previously used Lakretz Creative Supportive Services to the tune of $50,000 per year. Gratto said the district will either contract with BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) or with another consultant to provide the same service and save the district roughly $17,000. The training service is available to teachers to assist them in developing different teaching techniques for different students.
As far as classification goes, critics have charged the district with having too high a percentage of classified students. When Scheffer came aboard in 2006, the percentage of classified students in the district was around 20 percent. The next year that number dropped to roughly 18 and this year Scheffer expects only 15 percent of the district’s students to be classified as special needs students.
She attributes the decline in part to a classification policy manual she created, something that did not exist before she arrived. The policy manual clearly states a procedure by which every student is classified.
“There are many steps we take before going to evaluation for a child,” said Scheffer.
She said the district has implemented a number of different intervention strategies to reduce the classification rate. She said the absence of such a practice could have certainly contributed to the high number of classified students in the past.
One of the goals Gratto has identified for the upcoming year is to decrease the number of classified students by at least one percent.
“Currently our rate I believe is 17 percent, but the average in the state is 12 percent,” said the superintendent. “So we would like to continually scrutinize the classification [process] to make sure they are appropriately classified and not over classified.”

Top Photo: Superintendent Dr. John Gratto has made special education a priority.