Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor"

Sag Harbor School Board Approves Field Trip to Cuba

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Map of Cuba courtesy of Google Maps.

By Tessa Raebeck

Following rave reviews from a group of students who recently returned from a field trip to Spain, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday, April 27, approved a Pierson High School extracurricular field trip to Cuba.

Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson who was one of the chaperones in Spain during the spring break trip, told the board the same British company that had run the trip to Spain has been offering trips to Cuba for the past 15 years. The company, WorldStrides, specializes in educational student travel and experiential learning across the globe.

The trip would certainly be the first of its kind in Pierson’s history.

Due to mounting tensions between the two neighboring nations, in January 1961, the United States closed its embassy in Havana and withdrew all diplomatic recognition of Cuba. By 1963, President John F. Kennedy had prohibited Americans from trading with or traveling to Cuba.

In the decades since, some Americans have managed to travel to the Caribbean island by way of Canada or other countries and with special State Department permission, but most travel from the United States to Cuba was forbidden until December 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced they would work to normalize relations between the neighboring countries.

As long as enough students are interested, the field trip will take place during the school vacation in February 2016.

“We thought this was an extraordinary opportunity… to visit a place that has just opened up to the U.S. that people around the world have been traveling to,” said Mr. Solow.

When the board asked whether there are heightened concerns about security due to the diplomatic history, Mr. Solow replied, “Sure—and there are concerns about security whenever we travel to any of the places we go.”

Acknowledging that the situation makes the circumstances somewhat different, Mr. Solow said both the federal State Department and the Cuban Government have sanctioned the trip, “so to a certain extent the itinerary is an itinerary that’s shaped by both entities.”

Citizens of South American, European and other countries around the world have been continuously traveling to Cuba on a regular basis—without the heightened fear Americans have due to the strained relationship of the two countries for the past 50 years.

“It’s only because of the circumstances between our countries that this is something that has been off limits or not available to us,” said Mr. Solow.

Since the teachers know nothing firsthand about Cuba, as they do when taking students to Spain or Italy, they had some initial concerns about the quality of the country’s accommodations. WorldStride provided information on various hotels, however, and it turns out one is a sister hotel of where the students and teachers stayed while in Barcelona earlier this month—and appears to be the better of the pair.

“I think it’s a great thing…being able to go to a country like Cuba [at this time],” said David Diskin, a member of the school board. “Just when I graduated high school, I did a trip to China when China was [first] opened up [to Americans]. It’s like when you see a work of art in person,” he said, referring to what one student said was special about the Spain trip.

“When you see political persecution and the limitations a society like that has—you can’t believe it ’til you see it.”

“We’re hoping this is going to be both an extraordinary and unique experience because of what you’re talking about,” replied Mr. Solow. “I’m probably one of the only people in the room that’s old enough to remember vividly the Cuban Missile Crisis, so for me, this history of the two countries has some personal note, having lived through it when I was a kid—but yes, I think it would be interesting to get the different take on that event and also the Cuban revolution.”

The board agreed, and the field trip was approved.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the school board accepted a donation of $1,000 from the Sag Harbor American Music Festival. The money will go to the music department at Pierson Middle/High School.

“Not only do they put on wonderful events that are free for the community to attend and inspire our students, but they’ve also donated the money to go back to our music department,” Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said of the festival, adding she knows the funds will be of good use with all the talented musicians at Pierson.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education will hold a budget hearing and educational meeting on Tuesday, May 5, in the library at Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. Also in the library, the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and the Pierson Middle and High School PTSA will host a Meet the Candidates Night to better introduce the community to the 2015 candidates for school board, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 7.

Test Refusal Rates Soar Across the East End

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By Tessa Raebeck

For the first time, the New York State Education Department has asked the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to compile data from school districts to learn what percentage of students in the state refused to take its tests in grades three through eight. Parents who opposed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to linked overarching and controversial educational reforms to the state’s budget and the amount set aside for school aid, have voiced their dissent by having their children “refuse the tests,” or not sit for the exams, which cover English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics.

Nearly 40 percent of Sag Harbor students in grades three through eight did not sit for New York State’s standardized tests on Common Core mathematics last week, according to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves. The numbers represented a 9- percent increase in test refusal from the English Language Arts (ELA) in the same grades earlier this month. The decrease in participation is likely attributed to the increased publicity of the refuse the test movement statewide.

Although much higher than in previous years, test refusal rates on the East End were not as high as those in western Long Island, where refusal rates reached nearly 80 percent in some districts.

Some administrators fear the substantial non-participation rates seen across the state this month—the largest in recent memory, if not ever—will affect not only teachers’ jobs, who could be rated as ineffective and fired if enough students opt out, but also the data some schools use to drive curriculum.

But teachers’ unions, involved parents and education experts from around the country say the reforms are threatening the human, interactive aspects of education so many students need. By raising the high stakes on standardized tests even higher, they say the governor is encouraging “teaching to the test,” which they fear replaces creative projects and interactive lessons with redundant workbooks and monotonous drills, substituting “tricks” for ideas.

Both the overhaul and the reaction could leave many teachers and administrators out of jobs should their students not perform up to par—regardless of the socioeconomic environment they teach in. Many of the students refusing the tests are the same students who perform best on them, and schools like Sag Harbor, where students traditionally excel, could see their scores plummet as refusal rates rise.

Yet, since the governor’s budget passed at the end of March, advocates for public education—including many teachers who could lose their jobs as a result—have declared refusing the test as the only means of resistance left.

Academically but not legally, test data is considered invalid if participation is limited. The federal government calls for 95 percent participation on a state’s standardized tests, but it is unclear whether any action will be taken. New York State has made no announcement as to what will happen to districts that have high refusal rates—now nearly every district in New York—and some fear school districts that did not play ball with the governor will see their state aid slashed.

“I hear that there will be no action taken,” Ms. Graves told the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday, April 27. “We have not gotten any guidance documents from New York State yet, I will just keep everybody posted.”

“So at this point we don’t know if we lost the school aid or not,” explained Chris Tice, vice president of the school board.

In the Bridgehampton School District, 37 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 refused to take their respective mathematics exams and 34 percent refused to take the ELA tests, Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre reported.

“Parents are genuinely concerned about the tests,” she told the board of education at its April 22 meeting.

Southampton Middle School Principal Tim Frazier said 54 percent of his students had not sat for their mathematics exam and estimated the district wide refusal rate was 55 percent.

East Hampton had far lower refusal rates, with 9 percent of student opting out of ELA and 15 percent not taking the math exams. Last year, all but 2 percent participated.

“As a building principal, the testing gives us good data to support and help children, and to improve the teaching and learning in the building,” East Hampton Middle School Principal Charles Soriano said Wednesday, adding, “The Common Core linked testing provides another opportunity for our students to develop comfort and familiarity with the genre of times, standardized testing.”

At the Montauk School, 46 out of 208 students, or 22 percent, refused to take the mathematics exam, versus about five refusals last year. Principal Jack Perna said on Tuesday, April 28, that he has “no idea” how the test refusals will affect teacher evaluations and state aid for next year and that “the state seems to be ‘confused’ as well.”

“While the Common Core standards are good, the assessments are not,” he said, “and using them so strongly for teacher evaluation is wrong.”

The governor had voiced his desire for half of a teacher’s evaluation to rely on students’ scores—even if they do not teach the subjects that are tested—but the final percentages will be determined by the State Education Department.

Residents Will Get Chance to Comment on Noyac Road Redesign Next Month

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Heller_Cromers Controversial Traffic Pattern 4-28-15_1500_LR

By Mara Certic

Residents who are unhappy with changes to the traffic pattern in front of Cromer’s Market on Noyac Road in Noyac will have the opportunity to air their grievances to the Southampton Town Board and Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor next month, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming announced on Tuesday.

Discussions leading up to public hearings on a few minor traffic measures installed last year as part of the road project led Southampton Town officials to agree to hold a meeting for residents to provide input on the project as a whole, now that they have lived with it all winter.

When Southampton’s director of transportation and public safety, Tom Neeley, attended a meeting of the Noyac Civic Council last month, most of the comments were not about the specific traffic measures the town was retroactively codifying, but had to do with broader aspects of the redesign.

“I know that what we’re probably going to adopt today is just sort of memorializing what’s already in place,” Councilwoman Fleming said on Tuesday, of the resolutions to approving new stop signs and no-left turn signs as well as prohibiting parking along certain stretches of the road.

“But because of some of the feedback that we got in the community,” the town has decided to organize a meeting between representatives of the Noyac Civic Council, the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee and the highway department, she said.

Chuck Neuman, former president of the Noyac Civic Council, was the only person to speak about the traffic measures on Tuesday evening. He said that overall, he would give the redesign somewhere between a seven and an eight out of 10. “One of the goals was specifically to stop the cars from backing into Noyac Road and the traffic,” he said, “and that was achieved.”

The second overriding goal, he said, which was to slow the traffic that has been speeding up as more and more cars use the road as an alternative to Montauk Highway, has not been achieved.

Mr. Neuman recommended the board hold quarterly meetings with residents and business owners in the area in order to monitor the viability and the success of the redesign.

He also asked the board to look at the viability of installing speed cameras along Noyac Road to keep speeds down. The road currently has speed reminder signs, and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told Mr. Neuman the town still does not have the legal authority to install speed cameras, but that those discussions could continue at next month’s meeting.

 

 

Former Owner of Sag Harbor 7-Eleven Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison

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Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Sag Harbor’s 7-Eleven in June 2013. Photo by Kathryn G. Menu.

By Mara Certic

The former owner of Sag Harbor’s 7-Eleven who pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud as well as concealing and harboring illegal aliens while stealing their wages, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday morning.

Farrukh Baig, 58, of Head of Harbor, committed the crimes at 7-Eleven franchises on Long Island and in Virginia, according to the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Mr. Baig and his wife, Bushra Baig, 50, controlled 14 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and in Virginia and allegedly hired dozens of illegal aliens, provided them with housing, supplied them with stolen identities and stole their wages.

“Today’s sentencing holds Farrukh Baig accountable for knowingly stealing identities to hire and employ an illegal workforce. He also stole more than $2.6 million from his overworked and underpaid employees,” Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge Homeland Security Investigations New York, said in a release.

Mr. Baig generated over $182 million from his scheme, and in addition to the seven years’ imprisonment, Mr. Baig has had to forfeit franchise rights to 10 7-Eleven stores in New York, four in Virginia and five houses in New York, worth over $1.3 million. The court also ordered him to pay $2.5 million in restitution for the wages he stole from the employees he harbored.

Mr. Baig’s two brothers, Zahid, 53, and Shannawaz, 63, of Virginia, and Malik Yousaf, 52, of Setauket, also pleaded guilty to charges in September, but have not yet been sentenced. According to Nellin McIntosh from the U.S. Attorney’s press office, Shannawaz Baig and Malik Yousaf will be sentenced on Thursday, June 25. Ms. McIntosh could not find a record of when the youngest Baig brother is due to be sentenced.  Mrs. Baig was sentenced to three months, which she had already served from June to September 2013.

According to a release issued in September, Mr. Baig and his wife were facing up to 20 years in prison, while the other men were facing up to 10 years.

This prosecution was a result of President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was created in November 2009 in order to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

The indictment was one of more than 10,000 financial fraud cases the Justice Department has filed in the past three fiscal years; and the defendants are just five out of 15,000 who have been indicted since the creation of the task force.

 

 

 

 

The Addams Family Comes to Sag Harbor Tonight

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Colleen Samot and Denis Hartnett as Morticia and Gomez Addams lead the cast in a rehearsal of the Pierson High School musical production of The Addams Family in the school auditorium on Tuesday, April 21. Photo by Michael Heller.

Colleen Samot and Denis Hartnett as Morticia and Gomez Addams lead the cast in a rehearsal of the Pierson High School musical production of The Addams Family in the school auditorium on Tuesday, April 21. Photo by Michael Heller. 

By Tessa Raebeck

A man wearing a white fur toga and an Einstein-esque wig is stroking something. Earlier, he was a tree, dancing around with branches alongside a flapper, a Native-American woman, a woman resembling Marie Antoinette, and others, all dressed eerily in white. The man is neither Socrates nor Einstein, but is in fact a “Cave Man Ancestor”—or, in reality, Pierson High School student Nick Knab. He is one of the many unnerving, yet strangely comedic, “ancestors” in “The Addams Family,” the latest theatrical production at Pierson High School.

Pierson’s take on the musical comedy will come alive this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, under the leadership of musical director Paula Brannon and producer Melissa Luppi, who also teaches sixth grade English at Pierson Middle School.

Based on the characters in the classic comic strip by Charles Addams, the show was first staged in 2009. Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, it opened on Broadway in 2010 starring Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia.

The talented cast of Sag Harbor actors, musicians and stagehands was at school late in the evening on Tuesday, April 21, to work out the final kinks, which always seem to magically disappear come opening night. During the cast’s last run-through before Wednesday’s dress rehearsal—the culmination of near-daily rehearsals since February—students appeared from all sides in between scenes, expertly weaving among one another to pull props and erect elaborate sets.

Ms. Brannon designed the set and the costume concepts, with Ms. Luppi—“seamstress extraordinaire,” according to Ms. Brannon—in charge of costume construction. In addition to the creative duo, many hands are on deck to ensure the music, set and performances run smoothly. Pierson student Jennifer Hall is the assistant director, and her classmate Christen Heine is stage manager. Former Sag Harbor students have returned to their alma mater, helping as make-up artists and teaching workshops on props construction and various elements of entertainment.

Pierson chorus director Suzanne Nicoletti is the vocal coach for the production. Oscar Gonzalez, called the “Zumba king” by Ms. Brannon, is the choreographer. The tech director is Doug Alnwick, a shop teacher at Pierson. Some of the student actors also act in roles behind scenes: Shane Hennessy is the lighting designer, Paul Hartman is student choreographer and Zoe Vatash designed the playbill.

The play has the classic characters of “The Addams Family,” but with modern jokes about pat-downs by the TSA (Transportation Security Administration), thyroids and healthcare, and even Jews living in Florida. The comic relief is not reserved to a few staple characters; the whole cast, from leads to extras, adds to the show’s humor and entertainment.

As in most tales, the plot revolves around love. Wednesday, the morbid daughter of the morbid family, has fallen in love with Lucas, the cheery son of a nice, “normal” family from Ohio.

When Wednesday, played by Rebecca Dwoskin, is pleading with her father, Gomez, begging him to act more like a Fred or a Joe in order to impress her new fiancé and his family, she tells him, “We’re who we are and they’re from Ohio.”

“Ohio—a swing state! Monsters!” replies Gomez, with an eerily on-point vampire accent portrayed by actor Denis Hartnett.

Morticia, played by Colleen Samot, swishes around the stage in an elaborate gown of black and crimson. Even with the knowledge that Ms. Samot is a high school student without an extensive rap sheet or a gang of ghosts, the audience will undoubtedly be intimidated by her portrayal of Morticia.

All the classic characters are easy to recognize as their singing selves in the play. There’s gargling, mumbling Lurch, played by Oree Livni, and creepily hilarious Fester and Grandma Addams, played by Matt Shiavoni and Shannon Keane, respectively.

In one scene, a giant set of wood and chains suddenly appears from behind the curtain. Gomez and Morticia’s son, Pugsly, portrayed by Emma McMahon in the classic black and white t-shirt, is on a contraption, holding chains that his sister Wednesday is using to playfully torture him.

Later, the curtains open to reveal the Addams house, complete with the white-clad ancestors—Yani Bitis, Hope Brindle, Alexandra Dudley, Natalie Federico, Jennifer Hall, Charlotte Johnson, Sofia Karamolegou, Zeb Kinney, Courtney Kinsella, Nick Knab, Phoebe Madison Miller, Rachael Miller and Zoe Vatash—crawling in and out of picture frames and acting as picturesque statues on podiums. In the corner, Kerrie Vila acts as a somehow charming “Thing,” sitting in a box as her hands dance on top of it.

After asking the audience for directions, the “normal” family of Wednesday’s love-interest, Lucas, portrayed by Paul Hartman, makes it to the Addams house. Lucas’s parents, Alice and Mal, or Audrey Owen and Shane Hennessy, are apprehensively in tow, dressed in beiges and yellows and slightly skeptical of Wednesday’s accessory choice: a crossbow.

“This is how they live in New York,” remarks Alice, decked from head to toe in yellow, when she enters the Addams house. “They spend all their money on rent and have nothing left for furniture.”

Show dates for “The Addams Family” are at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, Friday, April 24, and Saturday, April 25, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, in the auditorium of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. Tickets are available through the main office or by emailing agalanty@sagharborschools.org.

Two Trustees Announce They’ll Run for Sag Harbor Mayor

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Sag Harbor Village Trustees Sandra Schroeder and Robby Stein will run for Sag Harbor mayor. 

By Stephen J. Kotz

Sag Harbor Village voters will elect both a new mayor and a new village justice when they go to the polls on June 16.

Although there have been whisperings that Mayor Brian Gilbride would seek a fourth two-year term, he has long said he did not plan on running again and confirmed that in a brief conversation on Wednesday.

The village will also be saying good-bye to Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni, who set up the village justice court in 2010, and said she would not seek a second four-year term.

With the deadline for filing petitions on May 12, two incumbent village trustees, Sandra Schroeder and Robby Stein, say they will run for mayor. Both candidates are in the middle of two-year terms, so they are not in danger of losing their village board seats if they lose the mayoral race.

Incumbent Trustees Ed Deyermond and Ken O’Donnell have also said they plan to run again.

East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana, who serves as Sag Harbor’s acting justice when Justice Schiavoni is unavailable, said on Wednesday she would run for the village justice position, as have Michael Bromberg, a village resident and retired attorney and paramedic, and defense attorney Stephen Grossman, who lives in East Hampton but has based his practice in Sag Harbor for more than 30 years.

“I feel good,” Mayor Gilbride said on Wednesday. At the end of June I will have 21 years of service to the village. I’ve been a trustee, deputy mayor and mayor for six years.”

The mayor said during his tenure the village had completed several public works projects and purchased new equipment without incurring additional debt. “I treat other people’s money with the same respect I treat mine,” he said.

Mr. Gilbride said he looked forward to being “a full-time grandfather” and “having more fun with kids my own age.”

“This is a watershed moment for the village,” said Mr. Stein, who has served as a trustee for seven years. His goals, he said, included creating comprehensive plans to improve village infrastructure and address the many water issues, from drainage to runoff, facing the village.

He said the mayor’s pay-as-you-go approach was laudable, but shortsighted. “If you are ever going to float a bond, this is the time to do it,” he said, pointing out that interest rates are at historic lows and the village has a mounting list of projects to tackle.

Ms. Schroeder, a former village clerk, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Gilbride two years ago, when he won a close election against three other candidates, said she was concerned the mayor’s sometimes brusque manner had frayed the relationship between village officials and employees.

Like Mr. Stein, she said she would focus on improving waterfront infrastructure, tackling needed renovations to the Municipal Building and tackling negotiations with the village’s police and employee unions.

Justice Schiavoni said commitments to the law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, which she recently joined, made it too difficult for her to continue to juggle the responsibilities of village justice along with her other position as a Southampton Town justice.

The village board appointed Justice Schiavoni to set up the justice court in October 2010, and she ran for justice the following June. She said it was honor to have a set up what she described “as a good, fair court,” and said she would like to stay on but simply lacked the time since she joined the Ronkonkoma law firm, which recently opened an office in Bridgehampton.

Candidates Come Forward for School Board Races in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton

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By Tessa Raebeck

Voters in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton  will return to the polls next month to cast their ballots for school board candidates and approve or deny districts’ proposed budgets.

SAG HARBOR

With three seats up for grabs in Sag Harbor, five candidates have come forward. Incumbents Thomas Schiavoni and Chris Tice are running to keep their seats and have been  joined in the race by challengers Stephanie Bitis, James Ding and James Sanford.

The top two vote getters from among the three candidates will serve three-year terms starting on July 1, and ending on June 30, 2018. Ms. Tice and board member David Diskin, who is not running again, currently hold those positions. Both Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin were elected to two-year terms in light of resignations in the spring of 2013.

The candidate who receives the third highest number of votes will serve the balance of an unexpired term, starting on May 19, the day of the school board elections, and ending on June 30, 2016. The third, shorter term is a result of the board’s appointment of Mr. Schiavoni last August to temporarily fill the position vacated when Daniel Hartnett resigned after moving out of the school district. Mr. Schiavoni’s appointment expires on election day, May 19.

A lifetime resident of the Sag Harbor area who is known as “Tommy John,” Mr. Schiavoni now lives in North Haven with his family. A Sag Harbor parent, Mr. Schiavoni is also a teacher of middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District. He is an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and a North Haven Village trustee, as well as a former member of the North Haven Village Zoning Board of Appeals and past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association.

Since he was selected out of a handful of candidates vying for Mr. Hartnett’s position last summer, Mr. Schiavoni has acted as legislative liaison to the school board. Last month, he traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators in support of public schools.

The parent of two Sag Harbor students and a Pierson graduate, Ms. Tice is the school board’s vice president and has been on the board since 2010. She is a real estate agent with Corcoran’s Sag Harbor office and a past president of Sag Harbor’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a past board member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Prior to relocating to Sag Harbor full time in 2004, Ms. Tice worked in various marketing and management positions for companies such as American Express, Cablevision and SONY.

Newcomer Stephanie Bitis is also a real estate agent, having worked at Sotheby’s in Sag Harbor since March. She has a master’s degree in business administration from St. John’s University and was previously the general sales manager of WFAN Radio, an affiliate of the CBS Corporation, in New York City from 2006 to August 2014. Before that, Ms. Bitis was the vice president/general manager of Univision.

Challenger James Ding, of Noyac, is an active member of the Noyac Civic Council and has been vocal in the opposition to helicopter noise from the East Hampton Airport. He was a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee of the Town of Southampton in 2013.

The third challenger, James Sanford, is the founder and portfolio manager of Sag Harbor Advisors, which he launched in New York City and Sag Harbor in 2012. A CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Mr. Sanford has worked on Wall Street since the early 1990s with companies including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan. He is also chief financial officer for fragrance company Lurk.

A “Meet the Candidates Night” for the Sag Harbor Board of Education, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and Pierson Middle and High School PTSA, will be held on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson Library, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor School District budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19.

 

BRIDGEHAMPTON

The Bridgehampton race is thus far uncontested, with three incumbents, Douglas DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Ronald White, all seeking reelection. If no other candidates come forward, they will each serve three-year terms starting July 1, and ending June 30, 2018.

First elected to the Bridgehampton School Board in 2009, Mr. DeGroot is president of Hamptons Tennis Company, Inc. and has facilitated many tennis clinics and athletics-oriented field trips for Bridgehampton students. His four children are all students or alumni of the Bridgehampton School.

Mr. White is a lifetime Bridgehampton resident, and both a past graduate and current school parent. He has been president of the school board since 2013, and was vice president beforehand. Mr. White is a real estate agent at Prudential Douglas-Elliman.

Also elected in 2009, Ms. Tyree-Johnson became vice president of the school board when Mr. White became president in 2013. A bookkeeper, she is also an avid Killer Bees fan—her husband, Coach Carl Johnson, led the Bees to the New York State Class D Championship this winter.

Because the race is uncontested, the district will not host a “Meet the Candidates” night this year, but will hold a budget hearing and school board meeting on May 6, at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Bridgehampton School, located at 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. The Bridgehampton School District budget vote and school board elections will be held Tuesday, May 19.

 

Pierson Vice Principal Headed to Greenport

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By Tessa RaebeckPierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish will leave the Sag Harbor School District in May for a position as secondary principal in Greenport.

Pierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish has accepted a position as secondary school principal in Greenport and will be leaving the Sag Harbor School District at the end of this month.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education accepted Mr. Kalish’s resignation with regret at its meeting on Tuesday, April 14. He is expected to start in Greenport on May 1.

A graduate of Pierson himself, Mr. Kalish has been Pierson’s vice principal for the past seven years. He was the driving force behind the implementation of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program in Sag Harbor.

Kyle Sturmann, who graduated from the program last spring, said Wednesday that Mr. Kalish “was very dedicated to the success of the IB program at Pierson. He always made himself available to the candidates, maintained regular communication with the teachers [and] made sure that the students understood the guidelines of the program and that they never felt too overwhelmed by its rigor.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the school board and administrators congratulated Mr. Kalish on his new position while expressing regret at seeing him leave Pierson.

“We’ve been lucky to have a homegrown Sag Harbor Pierson graduate to come back and make such a difference here for our students and our community,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “We’re sad to see you go, but we know it’s a promotion and it’s an opportunity to be captain of a ship and they’re lucky to have you.”

“We’re all happy for you but also, we will miss you,” agreed school board member David Diskin, who said his daughter Zoe, a Pierson student, shared his sentiments.

“I think you’re ready for the next step in your journey and I think you’re going to be fabulous, so good luck,” added board member Sandi Kruel.

“I was very proud to be able to come back,” Mr. Kalish said. “I was a student here and I loved being a student at Pierson and to be able to come back as an administrator—I was very honored and very proud. It was a great experience, I’ve learned so much. Pierson continued to teach me after I came back.”

“Mostly, I will miss the students—not just because I’m related to a few of them, but I really [will] miss all of them and I hope that they know that even if I’m not here, I’m still a whaler.”

Sag Harbor School District Proposes $37.5 Million Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

With many school districts scrambling for funding to maintain programs and staff, Sag Harbor School District administrators are striving to find ways to save money down the line in their proposed 2015-16 budget.

The second draft of the budget, which will not pierce Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2-percent tax cap, was presented at the final of many budget workshops on Tuesday, April 14. The total proposed 2015-16 budget is $37.5 million, an increase of 1.85 percent over the current school year’s budget.

The second draft of the budget is higher than the first by about $118,000. It includes newly received information on state aid figures and the cost of BOCES, which provides school districts with shared educational services such as test grading and vocational-technical programs.

Although it is widely known as the “2-percent tax cap,” the property tax levy limit is actually calculated individually for each of the state’s school districts based on a number of factors. This year’s tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is 2.5335 percent and the second budget draft’s projected tax levy increase is 2.4864 percent, or $826,082.

Sag Harbor will receive nearly $67,000 more in state aid than originally projected, representing an increase of 7.94 percent, or almost $130,000, over the current year. Due to this increase in state aid, other additional revenue, and the decision to postpone a project included in the first budget draft (the resurfacing of the tennis court and play area behind the Sag Harbor Elementary School), the tax levy will be $55,000 lower than the first draft, despite the budget itself being higher.

“We’re maintaining and growing our programs here and our opportunities for students while keeping under the tax cap—and there are almost no districts on Long Island that can claim that—so you’re doing a great job, thank you,” Chris Tice, vice president of the board of education, told the administrative team.

The projected tax levy is $34,050,000 for 2015-16, with the monthly impact on the local taxpayer being anywhere from $4.97 to $10.15, according to School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi. Those figures are based on the current assessed values for the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, which both send students to Sag Harbor schools.

“If assessed values go up in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, like they did this year, your tax rate is actually going to go down, it’s not going to go up,” Ms. Buscemi told the three people in the crowd Tuesday, adding she hopes no taxpayer will see a $10 monthly increase in the end.

Due to aging infrastructure and potential cost savings, Ms. Buscemi also hopes to include a proposition in the annual budget vote in May that would permit the district to establish a reserve fund for future repairs.

The proposition would allow the school district to take the surplus funds from the current year’s budget, 2014-15, and put the money in a repair reserve account to be used for future infrastructure needs. The fund would have no impact on tax rates. In order for the district to use money from the fund, it would have to hold a public hearing. If an emergency repair needed to be done before a hearing could be held, the district would have to replace the money used in the next year, with interest.

One project the repair reserve would potentially be used for is repairing the boilers at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, which posed several problems this winter. The cost of a full replacement of the boilers is estimated to be over $500,000, but a repair would cost about $100,000 and allow the boilers to hold out for another five years, Ms. Buscemi said.

“If we do decide to go the repair route, we would be able to use some of that repair reserve to make those repairs and that would have no impact on taxes,” she added.

Ms. Buscemi said the district has made over $1 million worth of “efficiency” actions since July 1, 2012, which can be included in an efficiency plan that may garner additional savings for taxpayers in the form of rebate checks. A more detailed plan will be presented before the board adopts the budget and property tax report card on Wednesday, April 22.

A budget hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 5, and the annual budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19. All budget presentations and drafts are available under “Budget Info” on the district’s website.

Test Refusal Movement Continues to Grow in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck

Spring break is traditionally used for some much needed relaxation and time in the sun before the final sprint to the end of the school year, but a group of East End parents, teachers, and community members had a loftier goal for last week’s vacation: Taking back public education.

About 50 people filled a meeting room in Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church on Thursday, April 9, for an informational dialogue on test refusal hosted by the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH). The “refuse the test” movement has gained steam across New York State in recent weeks, in reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to increase privatization of the state’s education system and put mounting emphasis on state tests by tying teachers’ jobs and basing schools’ effectiveness on students’ performances on standardized tests written by for-profit companies. The governor threatened to hold out on providing aid to schools if the State Legislature did not pass his reforms as part of the state budget earlier this month.

The picture painted at the forum is one that has been repeated across the country increasingly since the implementation of the past two major federal educational reforms, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top: public schools in which art and history classes and recess, gym and lunch periods have been eliminated and replaced with test prep.

The Sag Harbor School District has made many efforts to resist pulling the plug on the creativity administrators say is fundamental to a strong, engaging education, but the new state regulations will force school districts to fire teachers and administrators and relinquish local control of schools should students not perform up to par. Sag Harbor’s schools, which perform well on state tests, will be subject to the same guidelines as the state’s lowest performing schools.

As a means of resistance, unions and some administrators have urged parents to “refuse the test” by not having their child sit for them. From an academic standpoint, a test becomes invalid if 17 percent or more of the students across the state refuse to take it.

On Tuesday, April 14, the first day the state tests were administered, Superintendent Katy Graves said 25 percent of Sag Harbor students had not taken the ELA test that day. Many of the students who refused the tests are the same students who do the best on them, and Sag Harbor’s scores will likely suffer as a result.

Ms. Graves said Thursday that she does not support refusing the test because the district has invested so much in the scores and analyzing the data they provide, but that “watching this has been heartbreaking.”

“The majority of the districts in the state—especially upstate—are so aid dependent,” she said. Never before, she added, had a governor inserted language into the budget linking school aid to how schools operate.

She added that tenure, which the governor wants to make more difficult to obtain, had been brought in for a reason, so, for example, if a teacher decided to teach a topic like evolution, which was once highly controversial, he wouldn’t have to fear losing his job.

“There’s some reasons we deal with things very slowly in education, so we’ve never dealt with this embedding of this kind of language—I as governor am deciding how you locally evaluate your teachers…so you’re living in a new world,” she told the crowd of parents.

TASH President Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson, said he and Ms. Graves are on the same team, however, they “disagree upon what pitch to throw.”

The governor has issued a gag order on teachers forbidding them from encouraging their students and parents to refuse the test.

Mr. Kinnier, under that gag order, said he hosted Thursday’s forum to “bring forth some facts [and] allow folks to voice their opinions.”

“From my perspective, we’re out of strategies. There’s only one strategy left that I see,” he said. “In my view, to let your children take the test is to endorse the governor’s efforts to make public schools be like charter schools…I don’t want to have this opinion, but I only see two possibilities—either sit here and take it or do this.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is not opposed to tests, but said the current state tests are not age or ability appropriate and are far too long. Elementary school students take the tests over six days, for a total of anywhere from nine to 18 hours depending on whether they receive extra time. He said if the scores were a smaller part of teachers’ evaluations the teacher could reflect on the results, but it wouldn’t drive their instruction.

This is the third time in four years that the legislature has addressed the issue of teachers’ evaluations.

“This is called education reform—in my opinion, it’s anything but,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said when voting against the governor’s budget. “What we’re doing tonight is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; this isn’t reform at all. The fact of the matter is that the only solace I have tonight is that I know that we will be back here again at some point dealing with this issue.”

Administered by private for-profit companies and not written by educators, the tests are graded by hired temp workers who are paid per test. The only requirement to be hired as a grader, which includes critiquing a writing section, is a college degree.

In addition to lamenting the arbitrary nature of the tests, many teachers and parents in attendance expressed fear that the data-driven instruction will affect students’ ability to learn and be prepared for careers in a rapidly changing global marketplace.

Sag Harbor resident Laura Leever, who teaches on Shelter Island, said while she understands Ms. Graves’s concerns over faculty and students being affected by scores lowered from high test refusal, “We have to look at this in a bigger picture…this is about taking away public education, it’s about taking away local control.”

“I think we have a very punitive governor,” Ms. Graves replied. “I think he will punish every school that doesn’t comply and I think it’s going to make things worse.”

She said she fears that, rather than acknowledging how many families refused to take the test, the governor will instead say the scores mean “our schools are failing even more.”

“I’m an AP U.S. History teacher,” said Sean Brandt, president of the Southampton teachers union, “and America is founded by a bunch of rebels—and I think now is the time to stand up. My son’s in the third grade and he’s not taking the test. As far as what’s the outcome, we don’t know, but this is the loss of local control, this is the privatization of public education and this is as criminal as it gets—and this is our opportunity to take a stand.”

Chase Mallia, a Pierson math teacher, said teachers who have a lot of students refuse the test would likely have worse results, because those students are often the same ones who would perform the best.

“There’s a possibility for me that I’ll be rated ineffective,” he said. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take, because I see the direction the state’s going, because I’m in it for the kids.”