By Claire Walla
The future of the Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD) summer beach program is in flux. Again. And the Sag Harbor Board of Education remains at a standstill.
Last year around this time, school board members discussed the feasibility of continuing to run the summer beach program at Long Beach in Sag Harbor. The question was not the viability of the program — board members agreed it served an important function for the community, catering to 60 to 80 kids a night — but rather the manner in which it operated.
Issues first arose a few years ago when auditors discovered that while YARD had long operated autonomously from the district — running programs without formal approval from the school board — its finances had in fact been funneled through the district.
This was mitigated last year when the YARD board formed a non-profit entity, “Friends of YARD,” to collect all funds solicited for the program.
However, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. Gratto pointed out that last year the school board decided not to be involved in the summer beach program after summer 2011, leaving the organization to find another entity to oversee its operations going forward.
YARD has been in discussions with Southampton Town, which is a big proponent of the summer beach program. However, according to Russel Kratoville, Southampton Town Management Services Administrator, while the town will continue to fund the program with its annual contribution of $15,000, it does not have the means run the program. (This would require hiring additional staff.)
Now, as discussed at a school board meeting last Monday, June 4, the board faces many of the same problems it faced last year.
The nut of the issue comes down to a simple philosophical question, Dr. Gratto said: should the district be responsible for administering a summer program?
If the district decided to formally take on the program, one necessary course of action would be to assign district supervision, which Mary Anne Miller, school board president, said is necessary for any district program. Not only might this involve extra costs, she went on, but it would add more to administrators’ summer schedules.
“I don’t think our administrators are looking for more work,” board member Walter Wilcoxen added. If the district was responsible for the program, he continued, “There are many costs in the YARD function we may end up paying for.”
Currently, the school contributes $10,000 annually to YARD.
The total cost of YARD services, including both the summer beach program and the afterschool program during the school year, is about $80,000, according to school board member and YARD Board of Directors member Sandi Kruel. And $23,000 of that goes to the summer beach program.
Kruel went on to explain that the vast majority of funding for the program comes not from the school district, but from different municipalities: New York State, Suffolk County, Southampton Town, Sag Harbor and even North Haven Village.
She said cost isn’t an issue.
“We haven’t been short on money in 13 years [since YARD was founded],” a noticeably frustrated Kruel stated. “I don’t foresee us coming up short this year.”
For the school to run a program that incorporates donations from several different municipalities, however, Dr. Gratto explained the district would need each entity to sign what’s called a Municipal Cooperative Agreement. He is currently figuring out how long that agreement — requiring signatures from the village, town, county and state — would take to get finalized.
Board members Miller and Wilcoxen additionally expressed concern that they still had not seen contracts from any entity other than Southampton Town, and would not be confident with YARD’s funding going forward until they could be certain these funding streams were officially designated for the year.
Kruel said she would like for the summer program to begin the week after graduation.
But whether it will have untangled all these details before then remains to be seen.