Tag Archive | "our lady of the hamptons"

Bridgehampton Parents Continue Fight for Transportation to McGann-Mercy High School

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By Amanda Wyatt

A campaign led by three mothers to obtain transportation for their children to Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead from the Bridgehampton School District appears to be gaining momentum.

For the past nine months, Bridgehampton residents Rachel Kelly, Tara Hagerman and Mary Ellen Gazda have sought to persuade the board of education to provide busing to McGann-Mercy High School, the closest Catholic high school to the South Fork.

Currently, the district is bound by law to bus students to private schools anywhere within a 15-mile radius of the Bridgehampton school district. But since McGann-Mercy is located six miles beyond that radius, the district cannot transport students there — unless the voting public chooses to extend the limit.

At last Wednesday’s board meeting, the three mothers delivered a petition — signed by over 106 district residents — requesting the board to initiate a proposition on the May ballot to extend the limit from 15 to 25 miles.

“Please help our children get the Catholic education they deserve and have worked so hard for,” Kelly said at the meeting.

While the board did not make an official decision, some members seemed inclined to move quickly on the matter and asked board attorney Tom Volz what their next step would be.

“If the board is inclined to put a proposition before the voters, it would act to do so and it would go on the [legal] notice that calls your May election to order,” said Volz, noting the advertisement would have to go out 45 days prior to the vote.

He recommended the board put together the legal notice for the election, including any proposition it may make on busing, for approval at its February 27 meeting.

For Kelly, obtaining transportation to McGann-Mercy is a particularly pressing concern; her daughter, Rose, is about to graduate from Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton, which provides education from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Hagerman — who attended McGann-Mercy herself — has a daughter, Laura, who is in sixth grade at OLH.

“I love Our Lady of the Hamptons and I love Mercy. I just feel like [Laura] gets a great education for her mind and soul,” she said in an interview.

Gazda’s two children — Margaret, age 12, and Jimmy, age nine — attend OLH, as well. Growing up in North Haven, Gazda and her siblings attended Catholic schools. She remembered her older brother, who just turned 60, would have to hitch a ride with a friend to Hampton Bays every day just to catch the bus to McGann-Mercy.

“I think my mom had such an ordeal with trying to get him to the Catholic high school that the rest of us just went to Pierson,” she said.

All three mothers noted that they had received overwhelming support from their relatives, friends, fellow churchgoers and acquaintances, some of whom had encountered similar problems when trying to attend McGann-Mercy.

“They all knew where we were coming from,” said Hagerman. “They were sympathetic and were very happy to sign the petition.”

“It is something that we’re hoping the taxpayers understand and vote for, because this area needs this transportation,” said Kelly.

She pointed out that the issue at hand was not necessarily a religious one.

“We live in such a unique area…This is about living in a community that has one road going in and one road going out, and not many choices out here. It’s about choice. It has nothing to do [with] religion…It’s about the children in the district,” she said.

Kelly added, “We pay our taxes to this school and we don’t ask anything from it.”

At the same time, the request for busing comes just as Bridgehampton School is looking into ways of “whittling down” the budget.

When asked in an interview how a bus to McGann-Mercy would affect the budget, Nicki Hemby, board of education president, said: “Budget time is never an easy one for anyone, and with our tax cap of two percent and our recent reduction of state aid of $50,000, our administration is constantly looking at ways to be creative with funds. Every expense at this point is a strain on the budget.”

Still, “it is taxpayers’ money, so the taxpayers will decide if they would like to take this cost on. Then it is our job as a board [to] figure out how to make it work,” she said.

But as Hagerman noted, even if they are unsuccessful this time around, “we are not going to give up.”

Gazda agreed: “For us, another school just isn’t an option, so that’s why we’re working together to try to figure this out. No matter what, our kids are going to Mercy for high school.”

Saint Andrews Hopes for a Preschool at Former Stella Maris Regional School

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Educator Toni Rozzi at the Stella Maris Regional School where the St. Andrews R.C. Church hopes to start a nursery and pre-school next year.

By Amy Patton

Just over a year after Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School — the oldest Roman-Catholic school on Long Island — closed, this week came news that many in the area may consider a bright new light for the nearly 150-year-old institution.

On Monday, an announcement from St. Andrews R.C. Church, which owns the school building on Division Street, revealed plans for both a nursery and preschool in the former nursery through eighth grade school building this coming fall season.

In June of 2011, Stella Maris Regional School was shuttered amid reports of financial mismanagement, lowered enrollment and a debt burden estimated to hover near $480,000. The situation, which unfolded in May of last year, was further compounded by a chasm which developed between parents and the local diocese as information about the school’s finances unraveled.

But now, if all goes as planned for the board of St. Andrews, students could once again be making their way through the school’s hallways as early as September. Before that can happen, however, Toni Rozzi, a former Stella Maris teacher and director of the new school, explained the educational program for three and four-year-olds would need approval and licensing from the State of New York’s Department of Children and Family Services.

“Everything looks promising for the fall,” said Rozzi on Monday. “However, we’re not positive yet, so we’re kind of waiting to see what happens so that we don’t give [parents] false hope for those who are looking for a full-day program.”

If current plans are approved for the 2012-2013 school year, Rozzi explained the nursery and Pre-K program would operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“You will be able to sign your child up for either a morning session, an afternoon session or a full day, which would be from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.,” said Rozzi.

According to Rozzi, a unique option of the program is that it will offer early drop –off starting at 8 a.m. to accommodate parents needing to get to work. While the educational component of the nursery and pre-school program would run from 8:30 to 2:30 p.m., Rozzi said that a full day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. will be an option for working parents. The formal schooling will conclude at 2:30 p.m., but structured activities like arts and crafts and sports will continue until 5 p.m.

Much of the formal schedule, added Rozzi, is still being ironed out.

Rozzi said staff hiring for the proposed school is also on hold pending the state’s nod of approval.

“We don’t want to promise teachers jobs if we don’t have a license yet,” she said.

Previously, Stella Maris’ curriculum, direction, and finances were under the control of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center.

No more, said Rozzi.

St. Andrews Parish, of which she is a member, will be in direct supervision of the Pre-K and nursery school program, said Rozzi and will also oversee its finances and administration. Religious education, which will be delivered in a modified form due to the ages of the children, will be incorporated into the learning environment.

The size of classes and the number of children included for the upcoming fall school season will depend on interest, demand and enrollment signups, said Rozzi.

The closing of Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School last year not only shocked many families because of the swiftness with which it occurred, but also because nearly 35 teachers and administrative staff lost their jobs. The school’s students were also displaced.

Sag Harbor parent Michael Taglich, who along with his wife Claudia is an advocate of Catholic education, moved his four daughters into Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton last fall after learning his family’s school was closing. His children all started out in nursery and Pre-K at Stella Maris. Taglich is a member of St. Andrew’s RC Church Finance Board.

“Historically the educational programs at Stella Maris have been very successful,” he said. “There have always been waiting lists for admissions. There was plenty of demand for the Pre-K and nursery spots. It was not just about babysitting for these children. We had teachers there who have master’s degrees teaching three and four-year-olds.”

Sister Kathryn Schlueter, the principal of OLH, said her school absorbed 59 students from Stella Maris.

“We were able to work it out,” she said. “The class sizes here are large but we do something called ‘split instruction’ where half of the kids in the class are off to music or language instruction at any given time so there’s plenty of supervision and a reasonable teacher-student ratio during the day.”

Although OLH also offers a nursery and Pre-K program, Sr. Kathryn hailed the plans for an early childhood educational program at the former Stella Maris site as a “beautiful thing for the parents, children and community of Sag Harbor.”

Michael Heller photography. 

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.”