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Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

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By Claire Walla


Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

Starting a process board members hope to continue through the next budget season, the district heard a presentation from District Business Manager Janet Verneuille on the two-percent tax levy cap.

Verneuille noted three crucial exemptions to the cap. First: pension cost increases above a certain threshold, which in this case is two percent. In other words, Verneuille explained that this year the district’s increase in pension contribution costs is 2.49 percent, so .49 percent will be exempted from the cap.

Secondly, the tax cap will exempt the local share of capital expenditures. “That’s good news,” Verveuille exclaimed, “that’s huge.” Without this exemption, she continued, the district would have less incentive to pass capital improvement projects.

The third exemption refers to certain legal expenses. However, Verneuille explained, “this does not apply” to this district.

The board briefly discussed the notion of looking at its current budget with a little more scrutiny to get a better sense of where some cost-saving measures might lie. Referencing the school’s clubs and sports programs, board member Walter Wilcoxen wondered how much the district could save if certain programs were cut.

“What about trying to pare-down now” to avoid making more drastic cut-backs going into next year, he wondered.

Board Member Chris Tice said she agreed, in theory, with being proactive in taking steps to cut costs, but she cautioned the board against looking at certain aspects of the budget with a narrow lens.

“The beauty of the budget process is that we get to see what our program looks like, A through Z,” she said. “We’re looking at it from an informed, balanced perspective.”

With both perspectives, the board had little argument, and yet drew no conclusions. The discussion will be ongoing.


Summer School a Success

Before giving his “back to school” report at last Monday’s board of education meeting, August 14, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone spoke for a few minutes about the success of this year’s summer school program.

“We invited the same number of students as last year,” he said. “But our participation rate was higher than in years past. Bussing [which was provided for all students] made it more possible for parents to get their kids to and from school.” Most importantly, he added, it made it so that students were in their classrooms on-time, which had been a problem in years past.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel complimented Malone on a job well done, explaining that field trips — like those to the South Fork Natural History Museum, Morton Wildlife Center and even a math-related journey to Conca D’Oro, measuring ingredients for pizza dough — reportedly made the experience worthwhile for one family she spoke with.

“However you did it this year, it was the first time I heard of a student actually enjoying summer school,” she noted.


Enrollment Increases

Though enrollment is slightly up at the elementary school with the closing of Stella Maris last year, Malone said, as of now, enrollment “is still fairly steady” in comparison to last year. In fact, the slight increase is even less than administrators had initially imagined because much of the Catholic school’s student population was from out of district.

“Many of those families that live in Sag Harbor and chose Stella Maris for the Catholic education chose to go to Our Lady of the Hamptons [in Southampton],” he explained.

However, while the main student body will remain steady, the district’s Pre-K program — which was offered last year for a fee, but is free for all families in the district this year — has an expected enrollment of 42. “It’s a big up-tic from last year,” Malone continued, when the program had 12 students. The Pre-K program is scheduled to have two morning sessions and one in the afternoon.


Playground to be Ready for Start of School

Though it may look like a giant sandbox now, Principal Matt Malone confirmed Monday night that the district just signed a contract with Lobo Construction Company to begin work on the school’s new playground. The work actually began last Tuesday, August 15 and is scheduled to be completed next Thursday, August 25.

“We’re right on track,” he continued, noting that the work will all be complete before the start of the school year.


New Courses for the New Year

At the upper school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols announced four new classes that will be offered this year. In addition to a 3D sculpture course and advanced marine biology (which will be taught by Dr. Robert Shoemacher, himself a former marine bio major), the school will add a year-long personal finance class. This is a subject several board members and participants at last year’s educational forums highlighted for its importance. Lastly, the school will offer a course in social studies called Philosophy of Understanding. Nichols said it is partially modeled after courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which emphasize critical thinking and a depth of knowledge over wide-ranging survey courses.

Nichols also pointed out that the school will see a savings of about $75,000 this year. Instead of hiring a new faculty member in the wake of art teacher Tim Kraszewski’s retirement, “his classes have been farmed out to other departments,” as Nichols put it.

“The big challenge this year will be to finish portions two and three of the IB application,” Nichols continued. Should all go according to the current timeline, Nichols expects the school to be approved in the spring, which would allow Pierson to begin offering its first IB Diploma courses in the fall of 2012.