Tag Archive | "New York State"

New York Legislators Call For Two-Year Delay on DEC Plan to Eradicate State’s Mute Swan Population

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Mute swans at the East Hampton Nature Trail on February 17. Michael Heller photo.

Mute swans at the East Hampton Nature Trail on February 17. Michael Heller photo.

By Tessa Raebeck

New York officials have introduced legislation that would impose a two-year delay on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to eradicate the state’s mute swan population by 2025.

Co-sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor, the bill would halt the DEC plan, which was introduced in December, and require the DEC to illustrate the “actual damage” the mute swan population causes to the environment or other species before exterminating the birds altogether.

“Wildlife experts, rehabilitators and environmentalists do not unanimously agree that exterminating the mute swan population is justified,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement. “In addition, there is debate amongst such experts about whether the planned eradication of the mute swan population is even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or to our environment. Therefore, it is incumbent on the [DEC] to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans.”

Mute swans are a species of swan named “mute” because they are less vocal than other swans. Native to Europe and Asia, they were brought to North America in the late 1870s due largely to their aesthetic appeal. Initially introduced in New York as ornaments on the estates of the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, mute swans were present in the wild by the turn of the 20th century.

According to the DEC, the mute swan population had increased to about 2,000 statewide by 1993, peaked around 2,800 in 2002 and is now estimated at about 2,200, most heavily concentrated on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley.

A mute swan in East Hampton. Zachary Persico photo.

A mute swan in East Hampton. Zachary Persico photo.

“On the East End of Long Island, the mute swan is often visible in local ponds and waterways,” stated Mr. Thiele. “My office has not received one report in all my years in office that the mute swan is a nuisance or an environmental problem.”

The DEC says the non-native species causes a variety of environmental problems, “including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality and potential hazards to aviation.”

Although opposed to the DEC plan, local ecologist Tyler Armstrong said there are ecological benefits to reducing the population. “It would help rare native waterfowl, as mute swans defend large nesting territories and exclude other birds from nesting, as well as competing with native birds for aquatic vegetation, like eelgrass,” he said.

The DEC has conducted “mute swan control activities” since 1993, but not to the extent permitted by the new management plan, which will include shooting free-ranging swans on public lands and private lands (with owner consent) and live capture and euthanasia.

North Haven resident Richard Gambino, professor emeritus at Queens College, said the DEC’s reasons for exterminating the swans are scientifically flawed.

“Everything affects the environment. The question is, do we have a sufficient reason, a necessary reason to kill them off, to exterminate them—and I don’t think we have one here,” he said, calling the plan “extreme.” The aggression shown by swans is evident in all mammals when they feel threatened and it’s arbitrary to call a species “alien” when it has been present for over 130 years, he added.

“If you’ve got a system such as nature—which is the most extreme system, with countless variables changing just about every second—we’re very limited in our ability to predict it,” he said, referring to the chaos theory.

Comments can be sent to the DEC by email to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us with “Swan Plan” in the subject line by February 21.

The Great Prom Debate Heats Up in Sag Harbor; School Board Considers Veterans Tax Exemptions

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Pierson Middle/High School

Pierson Middle/High School

By Tessa Raebeck

The Prom

The debate continues at Pierson High School, as students and administrators dispute the balance between autonomy and security at the prom.

At the Board of Education meeting February 10, Pierson Middle-High School Principal Jeff Nichols stood by a recommendation made by the school’s Shared Decision Making Committee to require students who want to attend the prom—predominantly 17 and 18-year-old seniors—to take school-sponsored coach buses to the event and be subjected to a search conducted by an outside security firm before being allowed on the bus, as a means of curbing drug and alcohol use at the event.

The details of the plan and the specific parameters of the search, which Mr. Nichols called “more thorough” than those conducted by himself and other school officials in the past, have not yet been determined.

Various groups from the school community form the shared decision committee: parents, staff members, administrators, community members and students. According to Mr. Nichols, the adult SDM members supported the recommendation, but the two student representatives “were not enamored with that process.”

Mr. Nichols said he discussed four options at an assembly with the entire senior class.

The first option is to leave everything it has been; students would be free to take limos, drive themselves or even get a ride from a parent and be subject to the administrators’ security protocol. The second is the proposed plan to put students on coaches after being searched by an outside firm. The third option would allow students to rent “party buses” (a chauffeured vehicle furnished like a limousine but larger in size, although not as large as a school bus) but require each of those party buses to have school-sponsored security on board.  Under the fourth and final option, students would be free to choose their own transportation to the prom, but prior to entering the actual dance (the school-sponsored portion of the event) they would be subjected to a search process administered by an outside firm.

A final decision has not been made, but Mr. Nichols, board vice president Chris Tice and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, expressed their agreement with the SDM recommendation.

“You can set a lot of trap doors, buses and that, but at the end of the day, my biggest concern is sometimes when you deny too much, the kids want to get over that fence even more,” David Diskin, a board member, said at the meeting.

The six members of the senior class in attendance asked whether they could get a party bus after the prom. Mr. Nichols replied, “Once you leave you can do anything you want.”

 

Veterans Tax Exemption

In December, Governor Cuomo signed a law authorizing school districts to provide veterans with as much as $40,000 in property tax exemptions.

The law leaves school boards with the decision of whether or not to offer the exemptions, which would increase the school taxes of non-veteran residents, who would need to absorb the loss in revenue.

For a house valued at $500,000 in Southampton the annual cost to non-veterans  would be $8.62; for a house valued at the same amount in East Hampton, the cost would be $10.84 annually, according to John O’Keefe, the school’s business administrator.

The exemptions include reductions in assessed value of 15 percent for veterans who served during wartime (an $8,000 cap), 10 percent for those who were in combat zones (a $12,000 cap) and an additional, variable reduction for those with disabilities connected to their service (a $40,000 cap).

School districts must decide whether to offer the exemptions by March 1. The district must first hold a public hearing on the base exemption, and then adopt the resolution by a simple majority vote. If the district wishes to change the caps, another public hearing and vote is required. If the district wishes to enact extensions, such as the “Gold Star Parents” provision to also include parents of a soldier who died in service, it must adopt a separate resolution, although a public hearing is not required.

At the February 10 meeting, the school board appeared unclear on the procedure, as it adopted a  resolution to approve the veterans tax exemption prior to holding a public hearing.

Four days later, the district announced it would hold the required public hearings on the base exemption and cap changes, as well as a hearing on the “Gold Star Parents” provision, on Thursday, February 27, starting at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library.

Southampton Rally Remembers Sandy Hook Victims, Protests Lack of Federal Legislation a Year After Tragedy

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Gun control advocates in front of Congressman Tim Bishop's Southampton office at Sandy Hook Remembrance Rally Saturday.

Gun control advocates in front of Congressman Tim Bishop’s Southampton office at Sandy Hook Remembrance Rally Saturday. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

A year after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 20 first graders and six school employees, New York State has some of the toughest laws on gun control in the country.

But with no legislative action yet taken on the federal level, groups advocating for gun control are continuing their fight for safety laws.

Chanting “We will not forget!” members of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, States United Against Gun Violence and Organizing for Action, an advocacy group supporting President Obama’s legislative agenda, held a Sandy Hook Remembrance Rally outside Congressman Tim Bishop’s Southampton office Saturday afternoon.

Decked in hats, gloves and posters, a group of 17 advocates for gun control braved the snow to honor the victims, survivors and families of the Sandy Hook tragedy, commemorate the actions of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Congressman Bishop in the past year and call on legislators — particularly at the federal level — to do more.

Sue Hornik from States United Against Gun Violence and Sag Harbor’s Jackie Hilly, of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, spoke at the rally. They called for closing background check “loopholes,” banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, making schools safer and increasing access to mental health services.

“While sadness can be unbearable,” Hilly told the crowd, “it should also serve to embolden us to speak out against gun violence.”

The event marked the one-year anniversary of the school shooting at Sandy Hook. After Hilly and Hornik spoke, those in attendance read the names of the 26 victims, along with personal anecdotes, and rang a bell after each reading.

Ann Howard from Cutchogue read the name of Dylan Hockley, a six-year-old killed in his classroom who had “beautiful eyes and a mischievous grin” and “a love of bouncing on trampolines.”

Hilly thanked Governor Cuomo for making New York the first state to take decisive action after Newtown. The AR-15, the assault weapon used at Sandy Hook, can no longer legally be purchased in New York. Banning such weapons was one of the provisions of the New York SAFE Act, which was proposed by Governor Cuomo and adopted by the state legislature in January, less than a month after the tragedy.

“Now with the new regulations that were adopted in New York State,” explained Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., “if we don’t have the most stringent gun control measures, we’re in the top two.”

State Senator Kenneth LaValle agreed New York has some of the strongest gun control laws in the nation.

“Right after Sandy Hook I think there was a sense of purpose, because young people were killed — senseless murder — in an elementary school by an individual who had mental health issues,” said LaValle, “ and indeed in every one of these mass shootings, the shooter has a mental health issue.”RaebeckSandyHookRally2

The SAFE Act established provisions to help identify individuals with mental illnesses and correlate reporting of such illnesses with reporting of firearm ownership. Under the new law, a gun owner living with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness has a responsibility to make sure his or her guns are not available to that person.

“That’s kind of a good balancing, we believe, between rights and responsibilities,” said Hilly, “because you know, the other side is always talking about rights and rarely are they mentioning responsibilities.”

Additionally, mental health professionals are now required by law to alert police if they believe one of their patients is likely to hurt themselves or others — and that patient has a gun permit.

The SAFE Act also standardized the time period for renewal of permits across the state. Previously, Long Island and Westchester required gun owners to renew their permits every five years and New York City had a three-year requirement. Now, all of New York — including areas upstate that required renewal less frequently — has a maximum five-year permit renewal requirement (New York City can keep their three-year restriction). This sanction requires permit holders to reaffirm the facts of their permit, for example that they have not been convicted of a felony or diagnosed with a mental illness.

The SAFE Act enhanced the breadth and prevalence of background checks, limited the capacity of magazines from 10 rounds to seven and expanded the definition of assault weapons, such as the AR-15.

The law also aims to end the anonymous purchasing of large stocks of ammunition on the Internet. Rather than going online and having weapons delivered to your home with no regulation, ammunition must now be delivered to a gun dealer, who will then ask for identification (a permit is not required for ammunition).

Although the SAFE Act is a huge victory for gun control advocates, proponents say the state measures are limited by the lack of similar federal legislation. Although criminals are faced with these restrictions in New York, they can easily travel across state lines to purchase weapons and ammunition.

Since Sandy Hook, according to Congressman Bishop, on the federal level, “the short answer is nothing has happened.”

Of a number of bills introduced in the House of Representatives to help provide for gun safety, “none of them have moved at all,” said Bishop, who sponsored most of them.

In the Senate, an effort to bring up a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for people who wish to purchase firearms failed to garner the 60 votes necessary for it to be considered.

“You can still go on the Internet and buy firearms,” Bishop said Monday, “you can still go on the Internet and buy mass quantities of ammunition, you can still purchase a gun at a gun show without undergoing a background check, so basic things that ought to be put in place are not being put in place.”

“It pretty much breaks down on party lines,” added the Democratic congressman, “Democrats want to pass gun safety legislation, Republicans refuse to.”

Bishop said much of the proposed legislation has bipartisan support, “but the leadership of the House of Representatives refuses to move any of them.”

“I don’t want to say that there’s no hope,” he said, “but I do think that the track record of the house thus far does not give cause for optimism.”

John Jermain Memorial Library Accepts Vast Collection of Native American Research Books

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Mac Griswold, Richard Buckley and Catherine Creedon pose with books from Buckley's collection at the library's storage unit.

Sag Harbor Historian Mac Griswold, Collector Richard Buckley and JJML Director Catherine Creedon pose with books from Buckley’s collection at the library’s storage unit November 12.

By Tessa Raebeck

As a child growing up in Little Falls, New York, Richard Buckley was eager to learn about the Native American tribes that lived nearby, but the materials he could find were minimal, ill advised and uninformed.

“It didn’t seem right to me the way they were describing it,” explained Buckley, who, rather than settling for subpar information, spent the next 40 years compiling an extensive collection of books, journals and other research on — and by — Native Americans.

On November 13, Buckley and his wife, former United States Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, packed his entire collection of 23 boxes into the back of their pick-up truck and drove from their home in Northern Virginia to Despatch Self Storage in Bridgehampton, where Catherine Creedon excitedly awaited their arrival.Richard Buckley

After a deliberate screening process of potential libraries in New York State, Buckley decided to donate his collection to the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) in Sag Harbor, where Creedon is director, because he knew they would be appreciated, complemented and, most importantly, used.

Buckley, who worked as a lawyer before concentrating primarily on his research and academic lecturing, estimates his collection includes some 350 materials. The most historically significant part of the collection is the inclusion of four journals on Native American history, to which Buckley has subscribed since their respective inceptions.

He began subscribing to the American Indian Culture and Research Journal when it was first published in 1979, and the journals now fill four boxes.

The journals “give an incredible amount of new history,” said Buckley. “History that had never been written from the viewpoint of American Indians.”

“These journals,” he continued, “have covered everything from the history to the current preservation of Native American tribes throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s. If someone were to read those journals, they could write a thesis.”

The collection also includes 15 boxes of books on Native Americans, separated by topics such as women, Iroquois and “Excellent/General Overviews.”

In compiling his collection, Buckley first tackled the Native American history of New York State, moving on to the entire continental United States and eventually to Alaska and Latin America. The collection also includes extensive documentation of the present condition of Native Americans.

“That is probably the underlying value of the collection,” explained Buckley, “to have that approach of — both historically and currently — the ongoing evolution of American Indian history…. The collection’s value is to show that American Indians are not only here, but they’re living out their history, they’re living out their story.”

Once his collection was complete with an extensive variety of viewpoints from both men and women across different regions, tribes and cultures, Buckley faced the daunting task of deciding where his work belonged.

“What I did was,” he explained, “because I didn’t want these to go anywhere, I wanted them to be in a certain library — when I contacted [the libraries], I’d then know whether it was the right fit.”

Former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, JJML Director Catherine Creedon and Richard Buckley in the midst of delivering the collection November 12.

Former Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, JJML Director Catherine Creedon and Richard Buckley in the midst of delivering the collection November 12.

At first, Buckley put a notice in the regional library system of central New York, where he grew up. Without any quick responses, he sent the notice to the statewide system.

Within a few days, he was on the phone with Cathy Creedon.

“By the initial interest,” he said, “I could see that she was really interested and they were looking for something to complement the new renovation and the newly restored old beautiful building.”

Since JJML opened in 1910, the History Room has been an integral part of the library. It started with rare materials from the personal library of William Wallace Tooker, a Sag Harbor pharmacist who was also an ethnographer with an interest in Algonquin history. Tooker’s collection in JJML includes the Eliot Indian Bible, a bible in the Algonquin language that was the first bible printed in the colonies.

After unloading the 23 boxes into a storage unit, Creedon gave Buckley a tour of the new building, including the history room, which once completed will be climate-controlled, humidity-controlled and temperature-controlled.

“The tour of the library was the final proof that my donation will ‘fit’ with the future use of the library — particularly the special research room,” said Buckley. “The primary reason for donating the collection to [JJML] is Cathy. She will ensure that the collection is used in the most effective manner.”

In a message to Creedon, Buckley envisioned his collection in Sag Harbor.

“I imagined,” he wrote, “that you would have at the opening of your beautiful library — a researcher would be reserving the special room and using the American Indian collection. She will complete a new powerful book about the contributions of Indian women.”

“I thought that was a real tribute to the role of a public library,” said Creedon.

Investing in Public and Private Education — One Charitable Contribution at a Time

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By Annette Hinkle

In recent years, the recession has taken a heavy toll on many businesses, individuals and institutions throughout the state — both public and private. Along the way, New York’s schools have not been immune to the effects of the struggling economy.

In order to keep property tax increases in check, the state has instituted the two percent tax cap levy, which limits the dollar amount public schools may raise their budgets in any given year. But it’s not just the recession — educational institutions are also being effected by changing demographics as well as cost of living increases, and private schools have taken a hit too, with a number of parochial schools on Long Island closing, including Stella Maris in Sag Harbor which shut its doors at the end of the school year in 2011 after 134 years.

But a new bill introduced by the state assembly could change the way many aspects of educational programming is financed in the future — both for public and private schools.

Bill A.1826, known as the Education Investment Incentives Act, seeks to reduce the tax burden for state residents by allowing a tax credit for individual and corporate charitable giving to non-profit organizations that support educational programs and initiatives.

This could be anything from after school arts programming for public schools to scholarships for students attending private or parochial schools. As drafted, the bill would be capped at $300 million in tax credits per calendar year. It also provides the state’s teachers with an annual $75 tax credit for out-of-pocket expenses related to supplies and materials they purchase for use in their classrooms.

New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), a co-sponsor of the bill, feels at a time when both public and private schools on Long Island are feeling the pinch of the tax cap and declining enrollment, this bill goes a long way toward supplementing the ability of schools to serve their students.

“On the public school side, with the tax cap in place while we’ve been increasing funding for education for the last couple years, it’s been tough with the recession,” said Thiele. “Though a lot of the focus with this bill has been on the private schools, this can be used to augment public education.”

“The whole idea is to encourage charitable giving to education in general,” he adds.

Though the bill is expected to give a huge boost to private and Catholic schools, Thiele notes because public schools also benefit, it does not violate issues of constitutionality like school vouchers, which have come under fire parts of the country where they are used.

“People who don’t like the bill like to say it’s vouchers or supportive of parochial or private education,” says Thiele. “But this is very carefully drafted in that what it does is provide a tax credit to those making a contribution to education.”

“It’s broadly drafted, so it’s not focused on Catholic or private schools — its focused on education,” he adds. “That’s why it passes constitutional muster. It clearly supports education across the board. Why wouldn’t we want to support charitable giving to supplement whatever support we get from local tax dollars?”

Thiele explains the range of educational initiatives the Education Investment Incentives Act could support include everything from local educational foundations, like the Reutershan Trust in Sag Harbor which supports art programs at Pierson Middle/High School, to scholarship programs for students attending private schools.

“During these times every bit helps. It’s getting the private sector involved and replacing money lost through the tax cap,” said Thiele who notes that 103 of the state’s 150 assembly members have already signed onto the bill.

“Judging from the number of sponsors, it demonstrates a great deal of interest. There are few bills that have had this kind of support,” said Thiele who adds, “No money goes directly to a public or private school, it goes to not-for-profit entities that support education.”

On Long Island, one organization that would likely benefit should this bill become law is Tomorrow’s Hope Foundation, which provides scholarships for Catholic school students. Sag Harbor’s Michael Taglich is on the board of Tomorrow’s Hope, and he sees this bill — and the resulting choices in educational options it might bring — as a way of raising the bar for all students and schools in the state.

“There are 11 states that already offer educational tax credits, and they are seen as effective and popular,” notes Taglich. “This bill is critical for Catholic schools.”

For Taglich, this is an issue that hits close to home. A strong supporter of Catholic education, all four of his daughters attended Stella Maris Regional School in Sag Harbor until it closed in the face of financial and enrollment pressures. At that point, he moved his children to Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton, the next closest K-8 Catholic School.

“Stella Maris didn’t close for lack of demand, but because lower and middle income people couldn’t afford the $4,000 Stella Maris was charging,” says Taglich. “That decline coincided with the recession, which hit hard out here among the working folks.”

“My frustration as a Sag Harbor resident is that we had a wonderfully effective school system that was shut down,” he explains. “We’ve had to close schools that are very efficient for lack of an extremely small amount of money and it’s hurting our society.”

Taglich explains that at Our Lady of the Hamptons, close to 20 percent of the students currently receive scholarships from Tomorrow’s Hope. But he feels should the Education Investment Incentives Act become law, it has the potential to do far more for East End students.

“Generally these are kids from lower income, or middle income families whose parents think it’s in their kids best interest to go to OLH,” says Taglich. “If approved, this bill will greatly expand the amount of help we give these people.”

“That is very good for these children and for the taxpayers.”

While there are those who worry that programs which help private schools have the potential to siphon resources away from public education, Taglich feels the focus should really be on ensuring New York State has a range of high quality schools — whether they be private or public.

“Our state and our community are attractive to the extent we have good schools that are easily accessible to our community’s children,” says Taglich. “It’s important to make these kinds of schools available to all.”

“Good, private school alternatives raise the bar for all schools,” he says. “Left wing bill, right wing bill — it’s a center bill. It already enjoys broad sponsorship by legislators who put the education of children first.”

“This bill will have a positive effect on the state and help public schools too.” He adds. “It’s not designed to be bureaucratic, it’s designed to be democratic — and help local people fund public schools.”

“This is a well designed bill because there’s something in it for everybody and in the end, society really wins by helping schools,” adds Taglich, “especially private schools.”

Thiele says the Education Investment Incentives Act will likely be included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget when he puts it together next January, and he expects the legislation to be in place for 2015.

Thiele: Montauk Highway Rehab Clears Major Huddle

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New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. announced on Monday that the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) has granted his request and that of 10 other elected officials representing areas traversed by Montauk Highway, the key South Fork arterial. The agency has agreed to amend the State Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) to include reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch of Montauk Highway from CR 39 to Stephen Hands Path. The proposed construction would cost approximately $12.53 million. State DOT already had scheduled the reconstruction of a 2.3 mile stretch of the highway from SR 114 to Stephen Hands Path for the spring of this year.

“Congressman Bishop, State Senator Ken LaValle, County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, and every South Fork supervisor and mayor joined with me to request the reconstruction of Montauk Highway,” said Thiele, referencing a February letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state DOT. “Not only did the Governor and Commissioner Joan McDonald respond favorably, they were quick in responding so that this project can get underway in 2013. I thank them for their fast action.”

The project would be funded by federal and state funds. The comment period on the proposed amendment to the TIP will end on March 22. After that, the project will be included in the TIP and detailed design work will begin. The construction of the segment between SR 114 and Stephen Hands Path will begin this spring and the remaining work from Stephen Hands Path to CR 39 will commence after Labor Day this year.

“I urge all local elected officials and the public to weigh in with the State DOT before the Friday deadline,” said Thiele.

Comments should be submitted to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, Attn: David Drits 199 Water Street, 22nd Floor New York, New York 10038 or email davis.drits@dot.ny.gov

“The importance of this highway cannot be underestimated. It is the only major road bringing people to and from the South Fork of Long Island,” said Thiele. “There is no alternative route. It is the most highly trafficked road on eastern Long Island. It is essential for both local residents and the substantial second home industry. It is important for business and commerce in that the delivery of goods and services as well as the transportation of workers and tradesmen depend on this road.”

“Most important, local fire, ambulance, and emergency service workers depend on this road to do their jobs, particularly to transport patients to Southampton Hospital,” added Thiele. “Finally, in the case of an emergency or disaster, this road is the only evacuation route for the region. At a time when the economy has suffered from a deep recession, this project will mean not only construction jobs but will also foster the tourism/second home based economy of the region. Now, the entire stretch from Southampton to East Hampton will be repaved.”

Bridgehampton Community Conversation Focuses on Budget Cuts

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Residents gathered at the Bridgehampton School last Wednesday, March 13, to discuss the proposed 2013-2014 budget and where cuts can be made. Photo by Amanda Wyatt

By Amanda Wyatt

With less than two months until its spring budget and board of education vote, the Bridgehampton School held its second annual “community conversation” last Wednesday for the public to help the district explore ways of trimming the proposed 2013-2014 budget.

“Tonight we’re looking for input, ideas and suggestions on how we might strategize as a board and as an administrative team if we have to make some difficult cuts,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent.

During the opening presentation, Dr. Favre revealed that next year’s draft budget is $11,456,039, which is$759,675 or about seven percent higher than last year’s budget. Much of this increase can be attributed to rising costs in health care and retirement, step increases, increased technology needs and out-of-district tuitions.

The proposed tax levy for next year is $10,181,467, which is $747,221 or 8.13 percent greater than in 2012-2013.

Still, budgeting remains a tricky task, given that Bridgehampton and other school districts are once again facing a state-mandated two percent tax levy cap, which limits the amount of money they can raise through taxes.

But as Dr. Favre noted, it does not mean that taxes can only go up by two percent. For Bridgehampton specifically, the overall tax levy cannot exceed 4.48 percent. Exempt from the cap are the capital projects and increases in the teachers’ retirement system.

To stay within the cap, the school can only raise the budget by $423,036. This means that as it stands now, the school must trim $324,185 from its proposed budget or ask voters to support the district in piercing the tax cap, which would require at least 60 percent of all votes cast for the budget to be in favor of the spending plan.

And while the school has not ruled out the possibility of piercing the cap, administrators and board of education members have expressed a desire to “whittle down” the budget as much as possible.

“If we have to make cuts to make our tax levy limit, what are we willing to give up?” asked Dr. Favre.

“We built a wonderful program here for our kids. I’m the first one to tell you, I don’t want to live without any of it,” she added.

After the presentation, the audience split into six groups to discuss what they felt were priorities in the budget, and what cuts they would and would not make. Responses were, indeed, varied, but there were some items that several groups agreed were “non-negotiable.”

For example, several groups believed that keeping the cafeteria stocked with healthy, organic food was a priority and did not want to make any cuts in that category. Some groups emphasized the school needed to update its technology, and others said sports programs needed to be kept intact. For others, not cutting any programs or teachers was important.

When it came to making cuts, many of the groups agreed the number of school administrators could be reduced. According to literature given out at the meeting, Bridgehampton has four administrative positions, and cutting one administrator could save the district $150,000.

As one parent said, “In comparison to other districts, we are totally top-heavy…We have a district this size; do we really need a superintendent and a principal, both full-time positions?”

Making cuts in the areas of transportation, homework club, summer programs and summer curriculum work were all brought up in several other groups.

But as some participants pointed out, making stringent budget cuts would not be necessary if the school were to ask taxpayers to pierce the cap during the spring budget vote. Piercing the cap would mean not having to cut faculty/staff or programs, and not jeopardizing the quality of education at Bridgehampton, they said.

On the flip side, other groups pointed out the school could receive backlash from the community if they asked voters to pierce the cap. Furthermore, it would need 60 percent of voters to approve the budget and if the school’s request was rejected by voters, the consequences would be dire: Bridgehampton would not be allowed to raise the tax levy at all, and even more severe budget cuts would have to be made.

In related news, Bridgehampton School held a public vote on March 20 in order to establish a five year capital reserve fund. The fund — which comes from unanticipated savings and revenues received by the school — is intended to provide the district with monies for repairs outlined in its Five Year Plan.

Sag Harbor to Join South Fork School Districts in Grant to Explore Shared Services, Consolidation

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South Fork school districts are banding together for a second time in the hopes of earning a state grant to explore the possibility of school district consolidation and ways in which districts can work together to share services (and save some money).

After a consortium of East End schools failed to obtain a Local Government Efficiency Grant last fall, a number of districts — including Sag Harbor — are joining forces again to reapply for the same grant this year.

Last March, school districts and Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) applied for the grant, which could have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for a study on how they might consolidate or share services.

Despite strong support from New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, the districts learned in October that they had not been selected for the grant.

At Monday evening’s board of education meeting, it was announced that Sag Harbor School District was looking once again to partner with BOCES and other districts on the grant application.

“We would like to join with our neighbors and resubmit that application for funding for this grant,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent. “We want to do research regarding how we could save money by working together with our neighboring districts.”

“We’re going to take some suggestions given us in terms of the last application and see if we can tweak it and be successful this year,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller, who had been BOE president during the first application process, pointed out that the grant was not “specifically [for] consolidation. It’s just one of multiple options. That was actually not the focus of the grant; shared services was the primary focus.”

The board noted that the school district was not interested in forming one large school district on the South Fork.

As Theresa Samot, school board president, said in a separate interview, the board simply hoped to find ways of “saving taxpayers money,” and that merging schools was not on the table at this time.

According to Samot, Dr. Bonuso will be meeting with several other school district administrations for the first time later this week, after which time she and other members of the board would know more about the grant. She added that the board would update the community on the process at future board of education meetings.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board of education gave an update on the Dignity for All Students Act, anti-bullying and discrimination legislation that went into effect in July 2012.

Called “the Dignity Act,” the law prohibits discrimination based on a wide variety of factors —including race, sexual orientation, sex, gender, weight, disability and religion — in schools or at school-sponsored events. For the first time, faculty and staff in New York schools are required to undergo training on how to deal with bullying and discrimination, and they must also report incidents in a timely manner.

Board members noted that the district planned to hold additional workshops on cyber-bullying and other related topics in the coming months.

Gary Kalish, assistant principal of Pierson High School, serves as Pierson Middle/High School’s coordinator for the Dignity Act. He said it was important to let students “know that all of these different kinds of harassment and discrimination is unacceptable.”

“And it’s my job to take care of it, not yours,” he added.

According to Matthew Malone, principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School, one of the important parts about the legislation was identifying the need for ongoing education about what bullying is.

The Internet, added board vice president Chris Tice, has changed the face of bullying. For example, she said, students will use social media websites or seemingly harmless cell phone applications like Instagram – a photo sharing service tied to Facebook – to bully or harass classmates.

Tice added that education about technology and bullying needs to take place for elementary school children.

“That wasn’t around two years ago. Instagram is another form of communication and kids are doing it in school in most grades,” she said.

Parents, said Tice, also need to be educated about the kinds of technology out there being harnessed as a tool for bullying.

“Their parents have a responsibility there, but I bet most parents don’t even understand Instagram,” she said. “I think the technology is really what’s ramped up a lot of the bullying, even at young ages, and I don’t think we’re doing as much as we could be in that area.”

State Denies Grant for Local Schools Looking into School District Consolidation

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Several East End schools suffered a blow last week when they learned they had not been awarded a competitive Local Government Efficiency Grant, which would have examined the possibility of consolidating and reorganizing local school districts.

Despite this setback, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle — who had written letters of support for the grant — are determined to move forward.

“Senator LaValle and I will find another way to fund this consolidation study,” said Thiele in an interview on Monday.

In a separate interview, LaValle echoed Thiele’s comments.

“I will keep at it,” he said. “I will pursue it. I will pursue some money, as I did, outside of the competitive grant process, to get the districts to talk about how they can share services or where there is interest in an out and out consolidation.”

Thiele said that he and LaValle would probably look into a legislative grant or “other forms of funding where the legislature has direct control over the funding, not funding that the Governor controls.”

The Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Tuckahoe, Springs, Montauk and Hampton Bays school districts, as well Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), had originally filed for the grant back in March.

The grant is part of the New York Department of State’s (DOS) Local Government Efficiency Program, which seeks to help municipalities save money and operate more efficiently through consolidations, mergers, the sharing of services and other tactics.

According to a press release from the DOS, $4 million dollars had been allocated for grant monies, and municipalities could apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

The grants, said LaValle, were “competitively scored by the Department of State, based upon the quality of the applicants’ data and endeavor.”

“From what I was told, the [local schools’] grant did not score high,” said Thiele, noting that of the 21 groups that were awarded the grant, only three were school districts.

“Assemblyman Thiele and I cannot go beyond what we did, in terms of local officials supporting their grants, because it would be unethical to use — as people would say, ‘political muscle’ — to try and affect political grants,” LaValle added.

LaValle has been a strong proponent of consolidation of South Fork school districts throughout his tenure. He said in the past, local school districts had received millions of dollars in state aid, some of which they could have used to conduct things like efficiency grant studies.

“In the past, I had secured money and they never really went forward with any consolidation — or even any efficiencies — that they could bring about by sharing services,” he said.

However, LaValle noted the decision for school consolidation is entirely up to the community.

For example, if two school districts wanted to consolidate, both school boards would have to approve of it. Then, referendums would have to be passed in both communities.

By Amanda Wyatt

Currently, the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have recently begun discussing the possibility of consolidating their school districts.

“It’s a local decision,” the senator said. “I try to take leadership in pushing people to either do consolidation, or at the very minimum, to share services.”

The Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) also remains interested in looking into consolidation and reorganization. President Theresa Samot said the BOE would probably discuss the grant at its next meeting, which was scheduled for Monday night, but was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That meeting has yet to be rescheduled, said Samot.

“We thought [the grant] would certainly be a good first step to see what the opportunities were,” said President Theresa Samot. “The board is certainly in favor of exploring any opportunity that might be valuable to the taxpayers, as well as the students. It’s something that we’ve certainly looked into, wherever we could collaborate to save money.”

Feds Issue Disaster Declaration for New York Fishermen

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Photography by Michael Heller

On Thursday, the United States Department of Commerce declared a federal groundfish fishery disaster for New York’s fishing community after lawmakers called for action in the wake of a preliminary report that projects up to 70-percent cuts in catch limits for New England in 2013.

The cuts, to multispecies fishery such as cod and yellowtail flounder, will hard both Long Island businesses and fishermen, said lawmakers, the latter being an industry already squeezed by the catch limits and tighter regulations. Declaring a disaster allows Congress the right to appropriate funding to ease the hardships faced by New York fishermen.

The action comes after an August letter by New York Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Tim Bishop urging Department of Commerce Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank to take action.

“It is vitally important that New York is included in any disaster declaration and that our fishing communities are provided with sufficient disaster assistance to stem the adverse economic effects of potentially devastating cuts to already reduced catch limits and years of restrictive management measures,” the lawmakers wrote. “While recent reports have focused on New England states, we must emphasize the harmful impact these potential reductions will have on New York.”

“Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop have fought to keep New York’s groundfishermen viable in this disaster declaration process, and have not allowed our lack of fishery council representation to silence the needs of our fishing communities,” said Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association. “We are grateful for their voices as the bridge to disaster relief for all ground fishermen.”

The lawmakers pushed to include New York in a federal fishery disaster declaration, noting that New York’s fishing interests in New England stocks are often ignored due to its underrepresentation on the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). Many of New York’s fish stocks are regulated by this council, which will weigh in later this year on catch limits for 2013.