Once again, parents with children in the Sag Harbor School District came out in droves to support middle school guidance counselor Carl Brandl at a board of education meeting on Monday evening, December 7. In recent weeks, rumors have circulated in the community that Brandl’s position could be potentially cut and that a guidance counselor position had opened up on Shelter Island. At the meeting, the board reassured the public that Brandl’s position was safe for this school year. During a meeting in the days after the board meeting, Dr. Gratto said he was “95 percent” certain the job would also be kept for the 2010-2011 school year as well. When asked if the district would replace Brandl if he decided to step down this year, Dr. Gratto answered, “I expect so.”
“Part of my job and the board’s job is to help understand the concerns of the community,” school board president Walter Wilcoxen told the audience gathered at the school board meeting.
In early November, the district anticipated a revenue shortfall of around $148,000 in the coming new year due to decreases in state aid and cutting Brandl’s position was one idea vetted amongst administrators to handle the loss. Dozens of parents attended a board meeting in November to express their support of Brandl and told the board his position was invaluable for young teenagers who are facing the challenges of early adolescence. At this previous board meeting, the board maintained Brandl’s position was secure and Dr. Gratto outlined a four-part plan to maintain staff for the 2009-2010 school year. On Monday, board member Ed Haye reiterated that every position is safe for 2009 through June of 2010.
“I think we need to let Carl know that we want him to stay. We might not be able to find someone who is good at this position again,” noted parent Vanessa Leggard.
In the coming budget process, noted board members at Monday’s meeting, the district faces increased costs for 2010-2011. Wilcoxen later stated the district’s contribution into the teacher and employee retirement system is expected to increase, along with health insurance increases of between four to five percent and flat lining of state aid revenues. Dr. Gratto, however, believed these increases might be slightly offset due to transportation savings, mainly from the purchase of a bus and van. He anticipates the district will save in the ballpark of $300,000 to $400,000 from reduced transportation costs for this fiscal year alone.
Starting in January, the school board will host a series of workshops on the 2010-2011 budget, where the board says they hope to craft the budget with public input.
“There are probably going to be some tough decisions, but if we do this together we can achieve our goal,” said Wilcoxen of maintaining educational programming and staff into the new fiscal year. “If people come to the budget meetings … they will see the whole package of what our expenses are and we will be able to have a conversation about what the tax rate might be. Are we going to support a higher tax rate? Are we going to have to cut back? That will be the discussion that we will have in public.”
Dr. Gratto added that contract negotiations between the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) and the district resumed on Tuesday and Thursday of last week. Last Tuesday morning, on December 1, several board members met with members of TASH for an informational session on the negotiations. The meeting was followed by a formal bargaining session in the afternoon, which continued again on Thursday.
Wilcoxen said one suggestion to come out of the information session was to meet periodically with TASH for a formal dialogue on the negotiations. TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said she respected the decision to set-up these meetings. However, Dr. Gratto stated that although “much progress was made in understanding each other’s position, less progress was made in agreeing to contractual provisions.”