Tag Archive | "Montgomery Granger"

Sag Harbor School District Announces Preliminary Budget for Buildings and Grounds, Athletics

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By Tessa Raebeck

With no audience members but a captive board of education, on Monday Sag Harbor School District administrators presented an update on the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the district budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

John O’Keefe, school business administrator, outlined Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-2015 executive budget, which was publically released January 21.

The executive budget is $21.88 billion for 2014-2015, up from $21.07 billion this year. It represents a 3.83 percent, or $806.98 million, total increase statewide.

There is a 2.6 percent, or $58 million, increase in aid for Long Island school districts overall. The average change on the East End is 3.54 percent, but for Sag Harbor the increase in aid is 1.16 percent, which amounts to an increase of less than $18,000.

“So obviously, not even close to the percentage statewide,” O’Keefe said Monday.

O’Keefe estimates the district will receive $1,563,504 in state aid for the 2014-2015 budget, compared to $1,545,583 last year.

Another factor in state aid is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was adopted by the state in 2009. The GEA calculates an amount that is deducted from a district’s state aid in order to fill a “gap” in the state budget.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the GEA was started four years ago.

In 2013-2014, the GEA removed $241,395 in state aid from Sag Harbor. For 2014-2015, it is estimated to eliminate $235,361, or $6,034 less.

O’Keefe reminded the board that this is an original draft of the executive budget and that local legislators are “going to go to bat for Long Island and see what else they can get.”

“Last year,” he added, “we did end up in a slightly better position. But even if they do good by us, it doesn’t amount to a lot because we don’t get that much of our budget from state aid.”

The district budget is primarily funded by property taxes, yet under the tax cap legislation enacted by the state in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes on a year-to-year basis by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The consumer price index for 2013 — and thus the allowable growth factor — is 1.4648 percent, not two percent.

According to O’Keefe, a rollover budget for the school district for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

O’Keefe and other district administrators are going through the budget line by line in an effort to reduce expenses.

Todd Gulluscio, director of athletics, presented to the board on the athletics budget. Approximately 350 Sag Harbor students participate in 60 teams, 34 of which are hosted at Pierson.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the entire girls tennis program will merge with East Hampton. Currently, the middle school girls play at Bridgehampton, the JV program is at Pierson and the varsity girls go to East Hampton. According to Gulluscio, about five Sag Harbor players are on the varsity team and some 13 are on JV. The East Hampton teams would include players from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton.

Sending all programs to East Hampton will be “certainly less expensive,” Gulluscio said.

“You also,” said BOE vice president Chris Tice, “have a start to finish program that can be led and grow all together.”

“It’s a good example of short term reasonable consolidation,” she added.

Gulluscio also said the athletic program would be eliminating the “goalie” coach positions for the soccer and field hockey teams next year, amounting to a cost savings of roughly $12,000.

Gulluscio recommended the potential addition of a Fitness Room Monitor position for after school to allow all middle and high school students to use the facilities to work out. The cost of such a position is yet undetermined.

The 2014-2015 proposed budget for athletics is $772,417, a $15,088 or 1.99 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget. Most of those increases come from contractual salaries; there is no projected change in expenses for equipment or supplies.

O’Keefe also presented the facilities budget prepared by plant facilities administrator Montgomery Granger, who was not at Monday’s meeting.

The buildings and grounds proposed budget for 2014-2015 is $2,210,901, a $19,703 or 0.88 percent decrease from 2013-2014.

“Monty’s been on a pretty good campaign to replace equipment as it’s needed,” O’Keefe said Monday of the factors that helped Granger arrive at a lower number.

“There’s a reason,” added Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, “why all these budgets look so consistent — and I do want to congratulate John O’Keefe.”

Board Accepts Second Reading of New Wellness Policy

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By Claire Walla

School Board Member Mary Anne Miller has made it a mission to restore health and wellness to the Sag Harbor School District. And on Monday, November 28, school board members approved a second draft of the school’s updated Wellness Policy, over which Miller, a member of the school district’s Wellness Committee, had great influence.

The issue of health and wellness has been a growing one across the nation, as the rate of childhood obesity in America continues to climb, and it’s been a focus for this school district of late. Just this summer, the administrators made Health and Wellness one of its four over-arching goals for the school year, emphasizing, as Miller put it, that “We need to live and breathe wellness.”

The Wellness Policy thus extends the goal of promoting healthy habits outside the cafeteria and standard physical fitness classes.

“It’s not just about isolating nutrition education to health classes [which students are only required to take in seventh and tenth grades], but to bring nutrition education to the whole education program,” Miller explained.

It promotes the use of physical activity in the classroom, and clearly states that recess and physical activity are not to be used to discipline students. According to the policy, “Students may not sit out of physical education class as a response to inappropriate behavior, unless that behavior affects safety,” and “recess shall not be used for punishment or reward.”

The program also promotes physical education programs that students “can pursue throughout their lives,” like yoga, fitness walking and step aerobics.

The new Wellness Policy not only targets students, it lays the groundwork for healthy habits district-wide. As the policy explains, one of its purposes is, “To incorporate into the curriculum, whenever possible, nutrition education and physical education to instill in our students lifelong habits of healthy eating and daily physical activity.”

The impetus to change the district’s policy came just over two years ago when the school board began to take a good hard look at the floundering Pierson cafeteria.

“At the beginning of my term [on the school board], the cafeteria was struggling so much and was going to be shut down,” Miller began. At first, she continued, “I looked at it from a business stand point. But then I became keenly interested in school service programs.”

Miller said she noticed that the Sag Harbor School District was in “a unique position” because it doesn’t contract out food services with a larger corporation. “We have the freedom to be a really good program and to provide higher quality food.”

“There’s much more to wellness than the cafeteria,” Miller said. “We’re trying to broaden the horizons of the policy to make it more meaningful to everyone.”

Miller worked closely with other members of the Wellness Committee — including fellow board member Teresa Samot and Athletic Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger — to craft a clearer document that, as Miller put it, “is easier to digest.” (According to Miller, the former policy was vague and included 19 recommendations toward the end that she said should have been incorporated into the policy itself.) She also worked to make sure the Wellness Policy was updated to conform to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, as well as the school’s own values regarding health and wellness.

For example, she explained, the wellness policy is now stricter when it comes to ingredients. At least half of the cafeteria’s starches must be “whole grain rich,” and the school will be required to provide vegetarian and gluten-free options on a daily menu or as a la carte options. Both two-percent and whole milk will not be provided by the school, and nor will foods or beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners, hydrogenated or trans-fats, and high-fructose corn syrup.

“It was, I have to say, a ton of work,” said Miller, who added she took part in numerous webinars about health and wellness in the process of crafting this policy. “But I put a ton of time into it because I feel so strongly about it.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to healthy eating habits, Miller said it often feels as though administrators are swimming against the tide.

“We have laws that make it more difficult to buy lettuce from farmers in Bridgehampton than from farmers in Ohio,” she vented.

She went on to explain that public schools often cave in to less nutritious menu items because they are typically more cost-effective. This is especially the case with schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunches. Schools are required to offer “complete” meals at a low cost to qualifying students, for which schools receive government reimbursements.

Miller pointed out that the cost of public school food has been a national issue recently. Congress was faced with a bill in November that would have prevented tomato paste from being classified as a vegetable (thus preventing pizza from also meeting the school-lunch vegetable quota — as it does now). But, a noticeably steamed Miller continued, the bill was rejected.

In Sag Harbor, however, only about seven percent of students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. This ends up being to the advantage of the district, she continued, because it means the majority of students can afford to buy higher-quality food items. So, even though the district might not be making a profit from the full meals it provides, the cafeteria can bring in other food items and sell them individually at a higher price.

“It’s a slightly different business model, and no one’s held that entrepreneurial hat before,” she explained. In this way, the cafeteria can hope to make money, while at the same time providing full meal options and nutritious food.

“We cannot teach our kids that it’s lethal to eat high-fructose corn syrup and then serve it in our cafeteria,” she went on. “What we’re saying is, the cafeteria is part of their education.”

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

The Greening of Pierson

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By Marissa Maier

When thinking of ambassadors of the green movement, athletic directors and buildings and grounds managers often aren’t the first people to come to mind. But Pierson’s Montgomery Granger is turning this notion on its head.

 At a budget workshop held in early January, in which Granger laid out a preliminary budget for the athletics department and facilities upkeep for the 2010-2011 school year, he noted that since he took over operations last year the elementary school now uses only green cleaning products. He added that he employs organic turf maintenance at the Pierson playing fields.

 For the past 15 years, Granger has maintained a compost pile at his home but it wasn’t until 2006 that he jumped on the organic turf bandwagon. That was when he attended a seminar on using organic methods for turf management. 

 ”What you had over the years were fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and with those you poison the soil,” said Granger, who added that in killing the pesky grubs one would also remove the worms and ants that keep the soil healthy. High quality compost is expensive and Granger predicts it will cost the school $9,000 next year. For next year, Granger also plans to put aside $3,000 for organic fertilizer.

 ”People wonder why there is so much breast cancer here. It might have something to do with us being ground zero for the perfect lawn,” theorized Granger of the use of traditional chemicals.

Granger explained the products used at the elementary school are made from natural ingredients and are biodegradable. He said many of them are citrus based. Granger added that green products are often less expensive and estimated the school district would save $7,500 in cleaning supply costs this year.

He noted that at Pierson the custodial crews have already stopped using products with a “danger” label affixed to them and are phasing out the use of ones with “warning” and “caution” signs. He expects the middle and high school will use 100 percent environmentally friendly cleaning materials by the next school year.

As part of his presentation to the board, Granger showed three separate budgets for operation of the facilities, maintenance of the facilities and spending for the athletics department. The operation budget, which includes items such as snow removal, cartage and waste, and gas and electricity, showed a $54,733 decrease with an overall spending of $1,070,493. The maintenance lines totaled around $1.14 million but included in this figure was $215,185 for maintenance and energy saving projects, which were a part of the December facilities bond that failed. In selecting priority projects, Granger said he analyzed which ones had the quickest cost savings for the district. The top, and most expensive projects in this list, are replacing 80 windows at the elementary school at a cost of $1,000 each and retrofitting the lighting at the elementary school and all three gyms for $65,000 with a proposed 18-month payback period.

“We had $6.7 million worth of projects that were defeated. This is the size of our bag to put all of that in. I targeted some of the things we could get the most bang for our buck,” reported Granger to the board. The maintenance budget was around $236,901 higher than the 2009-2010 adopted budget.

Granger’s fiscal plan for athletics department cost around $754,000 with an increase of about $83,000 over last year’s adopted spending.