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Area Students May Get to Choose Pierson

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The Sag Harbor School district is “moving slowly,” but moving none the less on trying to get more students to come to the district on a tuition basis, with Superintendent Dr. John Gratto leading the initiative.

Right now, students in schools in Amagansett, Springs, Wainscot and Sagaponack are sent to East Hampton High School, for the remainder of their middle and high school careers because those schools do not reach grade 12. Gratto said he would like to see if it is feasible that school boards of those smaller schools agree to give kids a choice of whether or not they want to attend East Hampton or Sag Harbor schools.

According to Business Manager in the Sag Harbor School District, Len Bernard, this is not uncommon. Currently, Tuckahoe school in Southampton gives students an alternative; they can either attend Southampton High School or West Hampton Beach High School — because classes at Tuckahoe only go to eighth grade.

Gratto said for example Sag Harbor could easily absorb the four or five students expected to graduate from Sagaponack, which only goes to fourth grade, for next year. And this, he said, could be done without the need for increased staffing or other expenditures. “It would just be revenue,” he said.

“If 20 students came here at $20,000 a piece, then is $400,000 of revenue a taxpayer wouldn’t have to come up with,” the superintendent said.

Two weeks ago, the Sag Harbor district gave a tour of their schools to the Spring’s school principal, Eric Casale and Gratto reported Casale “liked what he saw.” According to Gratto, there is a possibility that 10 students could come over from the Springs School next year.

Gratto noted the board of education in Springs, has not yet made a decision on the matter, but they are “open to the idea.”

He added the larger perspective is striking a balance between expenses and revenue — the two sides to every budget.

“If you want to keep the same level of program and your expenses are relatively constant, although we did cut out a lot of expenses this year, then that means our taxes are likely to go up. If you bring in more revenue, then you mitigate the cost of taxes.”

And according to Gratto, by adding tuition based students to the school’s roster would help that cause.

Dana Wexler a Pierson High School junior, who lives in Sagaponack, was a tuition-based student who came to the district last year.

At Monday’s Sag Harbor board of education’s meeting, the eleventh grader asked the board if it was possible the school taxes her parent’s pay be used toward her tuition.

Currently her parent’s must pay tuition because there is an agreement between the Sagaponack school district and the East Hampton district.

Currently, a school district that does not have the full 12 grades, must pay for a student to attend the district agreed upon by the school board. If the agreement suggested by Gratto is approved, then students in Sagaponack could have a choice of either East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Then, the tuition would be paid for by the Sagaponack school district for a student such as Wexler to attend Pierson, rather than the parent.

The intent of Gratto’s initiative, explained school board president Walter Wilcoxen, is to get schools like Sagaponack to agree to allow the students to have a choice of either district.

According to Bernard, a student such as Wexler would pay around $18,622 per year for her to attend Pierson.

“It is not unprecedented for a district to sign agreements to send their students to other districts,” Bernard said.

According to Bernard, there are nine kids currently paying tuition at the school’s in the Sag Harbor district, but in the past three years, since Bernard joined the institution, there have been as many as 12 at one time.

Although Bernard could not confirm a number of new tuition paying students for next year, he did say the school received “calls of interest.”

Wexler’s father, Peter, said his daughter chose Pierson over other schools in the area because “she liked the people and she liked the school.” He also said she spent an entire day at the school and seemed to really enjoy all the aspects, including the small class size.

“It seemed like a really good public school,” said Peter, although he also looked at sending her to private schools in the area close to the same price.

Gratto said he expects to hear back from neighboring school districts by April 2009, in hopes of gaining new students for the 2009-2010 school year.