Tag Archive | "sag harbor school board"

Sag Harbor School Board to Videotape its Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

After months of debate, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Tuesday approved the first reading of a policy to implement a six-month trial of videotaping its board meetings.

The policy, which requires a second reading before it is officially adopted, calls for the trial period to run from July 1 through December 31.

After forming a subcommittee to explore the matter that recommended the trial, the board met with Thomas Volz, the school attorney, and Kathy Beatty, the school’s public relations representative, in order to examine the options—and possible liabilities—of adopting the new procedure.

Mr. Volz wrote the policy, which could be amended when it is put before the board for a second reading on April 7.

Citing the lengthy process, BOE President Theresa Samot stressed the importance of making a “data-driven decision.”

Sandi Kruel, a longtime member of the school board, said the issue has “really grown to something that really made me sad,” due to her perception that there had been a public backlash directed at the board for not reaching a decision sooner. Ms. Kruel noted both Ms. Beatty and Mr. Volz had recommended against the district taping its meeting as of the more than 70 school districts each represents, only two tape their meetings.

“As a board member,” Ms. Kruel said, “as someone who was elected to this position, for me to be able to vote with 100-percent conviction tonight, I needed to do my due diligence and through that, I was very saddened by the way it transpired in our community. Moving forward, I will always do our due diligence.”

Board vice president Chris Tice, who was on the committee that recommended the trial, said although she does still support the measure, she was glad the board had thoroughly weighed the issue.

“Some districts actually saw reduction in attendance at meetings” after implementing such policy, she said. “The last thing we would want to do is reduce the number of people here.”

“I respect your desire to get information,” David Diskin, the BOE member who first called for videotaping, said to Ms. Kruel, adding he was “still okay with it.”

Board member Susan Kinsella said while she was hesitant about taping meetings, she would stand with the board in supporting the measure. “I just hope we’re all still willing to speak our minds,” she said.

Calling himself a “fairly aggressive proponent for it,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think we’ve thoroughly vetted it.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, assured those in attendance Tuesday that community members who address the board from the podium during public input will not be on camera, nor will students who attend meetings. The camera will only be focused on the board and perhaps also the projector, which often displays presentations.

John Battle, a member of the community who has called on the district to increase transparency by taping its meetings at nearly every board meeting, thanked the board for passing the first reading, as well as for taking the time to examine the undertaking in-depth.

“It’s a lot easier to be an advocate than a responsible board member,” he said.

Sag Harbor Board of Education to Vote on Taping Meetings, Explores Green Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

 Taping Board Meetings

Before the standard crowd of a few parents, one or two teachers and one community member, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education again discussed taping its meetings to expand access to the public.

Theresa Samot, BOE president, said since its last meeting, the BOE received input from school attorney Thomas Volz and Kathy Beatty, public relations consultant for the district, both of whom did not recommend moving forward.

Ms. Samot said the board would need to be “very conscious” of what’s said during public input because if someone references an individual by name or “says something horrendous about a staff member,” the district would be liable and subject to a libel suit.

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said in order not to avoid a libel suit, if something offensive were to be said about an individual, the district would likely have to edit that out. “That’s a conflict because as soon as you edit something people are going to wonder why it was edited,” she said.

“From your perspective,” she asked Mr. Fisher, “is that something you and your team could do? Because I’m hoping it doesn’t happen, but we don’t have control over something that happens at the podium or in the audience.”

Mr. Fisher said they could edit it or approve a policy that states, “in the event that something like that happens, that meeting doesn’t [go] for public viewing.”

LTV in East Hampton has been “extremely helpful,” Mr. Fisher said, and has offered to stream the meetings. If the district purchased its own equipment and captured the video itself, they could bring it to LTV, which would then stream the video. Or, for a base cost of $120 each meeting plus $60 per hour, LTV would film the meetings using its own personnel and equipment.

Community member John Battle told the board in February that the Sag Harbor Education Best Practice Group would provide the equipment for a six-month trial period, which he urged the board to implement.

Speaking of libel suit concerns, BOE member David Diskin, who has been a staunch supporter of the initiative, said, “there are risks to this and I would caution anyone who is a supporter of this endeavor not to minimize these risks because I think they’re considerable. That being said, life is replete with risks.”

“I no longer unequivocally endorse the idea, I endorse it with a reasonable measure of concern for the risks,” he said, adding, “I believe the board should proceed with this recording and broadcasting because the benefits outweigh the risks, but it’s cautionary.”

Without BOE members Sandi Kruel and Daniel Hartnett in attendance and no concrete resolution yet drafted, the board decided to craft a resolution in favor of broadcasting meeting with help from its attorney to be voted on at its next meeting, March 25.

 

Green Schools

Also at Monday’s meeting, parents Jocelyn Worrall and Alison Scanlon voiced their support for more green initiatives in the schools, an issue Mr. Diskin brought up at the last meeting.

“We all know that the world is neither sustainable nor harmonious and the only answer to that is to teach innovation,” Ms. Scanlon said, adding she would like to see the district adopt a green goal for next year and allow parents and community members to convene a green committee to present recommendations to the board.

Facilities director Montgomery Granger said since August 2009, the district has been performing 100 percent organic turf maintenance on school grounds and has eliminated all caustic chemicals from the schools. The facilities department is required to use a company that sells green sealed products that are independently confirmed, he said.

“I assure you that we’re as green as we possibly can be with regard to chemicals,” said Mr. Granger.

Ms. Worrall asked the board “if they would consider when our contract is up with our current carter, if they could either negotiate with a carter who does recycle or separate, or ask for a recycling separating to be included in the carter services.”

Recycling, Mr. Granger said, is included in the cost of garbage maintenance. The carter sorts through all trash at the transfer station, separating recyclables.

In terms of electricity, Mr. Granger said the district did a retrofit, adding light sensors and LED bulbs “which have at least a 50,000 hour lifespan.”

Mr. Granger said while he considers making sure the schools are safe and healthy his primary job, his second most important responsibility is saving money and being efficient.

“Maybe it’s not about the money, whether it costs more or costs less,” said BOE member Mary Anne Miller, saying its about educating students on green initiatives and implementing a culture of conservation.

Mr. Diskin suggested the board have administrators look to see if there are immediate steps to be taken, and make green policy a district goal for the 2014-2015 school year. Interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso said an example of what can be done almost immediately would be to deal only with publishers that use recyclable text paper.

Mr. Diskin said he had collected “really great” resources on such green initiatives he would share with administrators, adding that getting recommendations from them “that would fit for our school” should be the next step. Ms. Samot and Ms. Tice agreed.

 

Other School News

Dr. Bonuso said the district is “not happy” with the congestion at the southern entrance to Pierson and is “working in partnership with the village to see whether or not we can talk to such issues as traffic congestion.” He is hopeful some concrete actions will be made in the next few months.

SCOPE recognized Matt Malone, Sag Harbor Elementary School principal, and athletics secretary Jeanne DiSanti as “Shining Stars,” or as Dr. Bonuso put it, “select individuals that have distinguished themselves in the field of education.”

Employee Benefits Account for a Quarter of Expenses in Sag Harbor School District Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

On Monday, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented a draft of the last major component of the 2014-2015 budget to the Board of Education (BOE), which included projected expenses for the two school buildings, Pierson Middle/High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES), BOCES services and employee benefits.

Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said items that fall under the discretion of himself and SHES principal Matt Malone (those not related to contractual obligations like salary and healthcare) come to a 0.77-percent increase. He said the principals go “line by line” with teachers, and, after the budget is passed, each teacher has an individual meeting with their respective administrator “where they justify every single recommendation they’ve submitted to the district to purchase.”

“We’re pleased with the way that process has gone once again this year,” said Mr. Malone. “Everybody on staff is continuing to do an outstanding job on scrutinizing our discretionary spending and allowing us to maintain excellent programming.”

School salaries, equipment, contractual costs such as field trips or the rights to a play, and supplies are projected to increase by 5.5 percent next year, from $11,364,070 to $11,989,648.

Parent Alison Scanlon, who has voiced her disapproval of not having an in-house summer school program at previous board meetings, asked Mr. Nichols about that component of the budget.

“If we have the numbers sufficient to indicate that it would be in our benefit to run something in house here, we would do so,” Mr. Nichols replied, adding they are in the tentative planning stage of running a program for Common Core math, which a number of students have struggled with.

District wide benefits represent over 25 percent of the entire budget year-to-year, said school business administrator John O’Keefe. Thus, a significant portion “of our expenditures is going to expenses that we don’t really have any control over what the increase is going to be,” he said.

District wide employee benefits, including items like social security, retirement and health insurance, are proposed to increase by 7.41 percent, from $8,806,898 in 2013-2014 to $9,459,205 in 2014-2015.

Sag Harbor Students Plea to Save Their Prom

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Image: School bus

By Tessa Raebeck

Speakers at the podium at Sag Harbor school board meetings are generally thrifty community members or concerned parents; rarely do students appear to express their views — except, of course, when the prom is threatened.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, members of the student council came to address the board as representatives of the Pierson High School senior class.

The students expressed their concerns over an administrative notion to ban limousines from the prom and instead make students take the school’s yellow buses to the event. The discussion came following incidents at last year’s prom where students consumed alcohol in the limousines before arriving at the school-sponsored event.

At the January 13 school board meeting, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee had “sort of endorsed” a tentative plan to have students who are attending prom meet at the school beforehand and be transported to the prom via school-sponsored buses, thus “eliminating the limousines that currently transport students to the prom.”

A significant part of the prom tradition is a group of friends renting a limo or party bus, essentially a larger limo, together to take them to and from the event. Students and their parents decide who rides in their limo and where those in the limo will meet for pre-prom photos. The limo, they argue, is as much a part of the prom as the dance itself.

The move, Nichols said, “Could be seen as an invasion of students’ rights [but] would help us to more closely monitor students on that evening.”

Speaking on behalf of her class, student council and prom committee member Olivia Bono made it clear that the students do, in fact, see the idea as an invasion of their rights.

“We just wanted to voice to you the opinions of the seniors,” Bono told the board from the podium, “because limos and party buses are part of the experience of the prom, even though we understand why you would be taking them away and we do appreciate your concern, it’s not really fair because what happened last year wasn’t necessarily our fault.”

“We just feel,” she continued, “that we would like the right to make our own impact, we would like the chance as our grade to not be punished for someone else’s choices.”

Carly Fisher, also a student council member, reminded the board that students and parents have to sign a waiver prior to the prom saying they will not partake in illegal activity, “which I assume is similar to what would be done if we were to take school buses — it’s the same idea,” she said.

“We feel it’s a rite of passage to have the limos,” said Fisher. “It also makes it easier for us after prom.”

Fisher said without designated limousines, students would have no ride home and many (who could be consuming alcohol regardless of whether the school bus rule is enacted) would have to drive later on.

After the young women left the meeting, Nichols said he had advised Bono to address the board after she came into his office with the assumption that a decision had already been made.

“That’s what we encourage in our students,” he said, “participation in government. I think it’s great that she came out tonight and expressed her views.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, BOE member Sandi Kruel was honored by the New York State School Board Association for putting in extra time and effort as a board member.

A meeting of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee to discuss the bond capital projects will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

Sag Harbor Pre-K’s Success Leads to Program Growth

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By Tessa Raebeck

Now in its third year, the Sag Harbor School District Pre-K program has seen tremendous growth — and hopes to expand further.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) principal Matt Malone and assistant principal Donna Denon hosted an educational workshop on the pre-K program, updating the board on how far it’s come and where it hopes to go, as well as the continued benefits of having an in-house program.

“As a community,” said Malone, “We’ve had a long commitment to the idea of pre-K. We all have a deep understanding of the importance and value of the pre-K experience for boys and girls. We’ve really looked at it as an investment, a sound investment.”

When looking to start a program for the 2010-2011 school year, the district decided its best option was to partner with SCOPE Education Services, a not-for-profit private organization permanently chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide such services to school districts.

The district signed a contract with SCOPE to provide pre-K for every eligible four year old in Sag Harbor. The program follows a 180-day school year with New York State certified teachers and teaching assistants.

In its inaugural year, the pre-K had 10 students in one class, a morning session housed at SHES. The state previously provided funding for districts that wanted to start a new pre-K program, however, that funding was cut off the year Sag Harbor started its pre-K. The first year, the program was funded by tuition paid by parents and “generous support from members of the community who actually helped with scholarships,” Malone said.

“We all knew that really one of the inherent goals of a pre-K run by a public system is that we make sure all kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, would have this opportunity,” he added.

In 2011-2012, the district began to fund the program — which had grown to 41 students — through its annual budget at a cost of $112,750. The program currently has 32 students and a budget of $88,000 for 2013-2014. It is projected to have 20 to 35 students next year.

Housed at Pierson Middle School, the program currently has both a morning session and an afternoon session. The pre-K is increasingly connected to the district as a whole, the administrators said.

“Partnership grows every year because our school embraces the kids and what’s happening more and more,” said Denon.

Malone said an added benefit of having an in-house program is that it provides the opportunity for the school to identify students who need some form of intervention early on. If a child has a speech impediment, for example, the school has an early opportunity to bring in speech pathologists, start conversations with parents and begin helping the child.

“We’ve been able to help a lot of students who possibly might not have gotten that early intervention,” Malone said.

Board member Daniel Hartnett added that children from non-English speaking homes also benefit greatly from a public pre-K program.

He said in addition to the children benefiting from coming into an environment where English is spoken at a young age, the program is also the first point of contact for many parents who come from other countries and educational systems.

“It goes a long way to breaking down those barriers,” replied Malone. “When we look at the numbers since the inception of our program, the one group that we have seen the biggest jump in is the students that come from non-English speaking homes.”

“It’s paying off tremendously for them educationally, but also socially,” said Malone, adding, “We’re always very proud of seeing our pre-K kids and the successes that they have.”

Malone said although his evidence is anecdotal, he has observed that students who attend the district’s pre-K as opposed to outside programs are less likely to need special attention down the line, since they are identified early in-house.

The Sag Harbor pre-K program now represents roughly 40 percent of the next year’s incoming Kindergarten class, Malone said.

Denon said the next steps are increasing enrollment in the program, improving programming and exploring extending session times, perhaps to 1:30 or 2 p.m.

Sag Harbor Residents Call on School District to Reexamine Bond Parking Lot Projects

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Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group's suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

Projected view of the asphalt impact on Pierson Middle/High School in 2014, if the group’s suggestions to scale back the size are not made. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to the November 13 vote when the community passed two bond propositions set forth by the Sag Harbor School District, school officials promised voters all capital project plans were “conceptual schematics” and the community would have ample opportunities for input concerning the final design plans before construction started.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, made good on that promise, inviting members of the community to attend a bond implementation project designs group meeting on January 8, 2014.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters, the first proposition includes renovations and enhancements to the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, reconfiguration of the Pierson shop and kitchen areas, construction of additional gymnasium storage at Sag Harbor Elementary School and the reconstruction of the Hampton Street parking lot at the elementary school and the Jermain Avenue and bus parking lots at Pierson. It also covers repairs and improvements to the air conditioning, heating, ventilation and plumbing and drainage systems.

The second proposition includes the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field and two-lane walking track behind Pierson, as well as a new scoreboard and concrete seating pavilion.

Interested parties can attend any or all of seven scheduled 45 minute workshops during the course of the school day, from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Residents will have an opportunity to review the plans, provide input and ask questions. Larry Salvesen, the district architect, and other representatives from the construction projects will be on hand, as will Dr. Bonuso and school administrators.

Each session will take place on site in the area it is covering, i.e. the auditorium conversation will take place in the auditorium.  The complete schedule is available on the district website, sagharborschools.org.

“Whether we agree or disagree,” Dr. Bonuso said Monday, “people who love their community inevitably come up with what is right for everybody because they’re so driven to do the right thing.”

Mary Anne Miller, a member of the BOE, expressed the need for school administrators to be involved in the final design conversations.

“We’ve been communicating constantly back and forth,” Dr. Bonuso replied. “None of this would be headlines or new to our administration…literally [the bond projects are] a product of touching base with the administration and staff. All we’re saying is our effort is going to be in having an inclusive conversation — and that includes the staff without a doubt and our administration very pointedly.”

A group of village residents concerned about preserving green space and encouraging alternative modes of transportation aside from cars came forward prior to the bond vote with concerns regarding the proposed parking lot reconfigurations.

Parent Ken Dorph said the group was unhappy with the 2009 bond proposal, which did not pass — in large part, Dorph thinks, because of the parking plans.

The original parking plans included in the 2013 propositions were exactly the same as those proposed in 2009. Upon realizing this similarity, Dorph and others raised their concerns at a bond presentation October 21. Following that meeting, Dr. Bonuso — who was “amazing,” according to Dorph — reached out to the group and promised they would work together in finalizing the parking plans. Dr. Bonuso repeatedly said the parking lot reconfigurations were about improving health and safety, not creating more parking spaces.

At Monday’s meeting, Carol Williams presented photos to the board outlining, “what the hill looked like in 2001, what it looks like now and what it would look like unless we’re careful.”

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

An aerial view of Pierson Hill in 2001. (Image provided by Ken Dorph).

In the aerial view of Pierson Hill from 2001, the parking lot along Division Street is significantly smaller. In the proposed plans from 2009 and 2013, originally, the Jermain Street parking lot is also expanded, which if enacted would result in significant loss of green space from 2001 to 2014.

“In Sag Harbor,” Dorph said, “we have fallen behind Riverhead, East Hampton and Tuckahoe in getting people out of their cars. We have fewer kids walking, biking than when I started [as a district parent] — which is so depressing to me.”

“There’s lots of fine-tuning things we can do,” said community member John Shaka. “I look forward to doing them with you.”

 

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.

Anticipating Tight Finances, Sag Harbor School Board to Look at Superintendent Sharing

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By Tessa Raebeck

In efforts to reduce cuts to teacher positions, school programs and supplies brought on by tight budgets, the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) is considering hosting a forum for East End school districts to discuss the possibility of sharing a superintendent and other services in the future.

In 2011, the New York State Legislature established a two percent real property tax cap, limiting the annual increase of property taxes levied by school districts (as well as local municipalities) to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

A provision of the legislation permits a handful of school districts with enrollments of 1,000 students or less to share a superintendent.

In November, the Greenport and Southold School Districts were the first in the state to announce plans to do so. Effective July 2014, the districts will equally split the salary of current Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, who will work for both districts and report to both school boards.

At Monday’s meeting, school board member Daniel Hartnett proposed examining the possibility of a similar merger in Sag Harbor.

“The sentiment I sense in the community,” said Hartnett, “is a great desire to value what is really treasured and honored here, which is our educational program, our sports program.”

“Looking three to five years out,” he continued, “and looking at numbers crunching and seeing a lot of that is in peril if the tax cap remains — and I think we need to assume the tax cap is going to remain — I think it is incumbent on us to examine all possibilities.”

Hartnett suggested spearheading a summit of neighboring school boards and administrators, as well as local elected officials.

BOE Member Susan Kinsella said that offering a part-time job wouldn’t provide the same opportunity for the superintendent to be an integral part of the community, which is a priority of the board in its current search for a permanent superintendent.

Hartnett said it is far too late to impact the current search; he simply wants to start a dialogue.

“This is a long-term project,” he said, “but it comes from a place where we all value what happens in the classroom with our kids and the values we have of our curriculum, of our approach, of our style of teaching, of our class size — but all of that is in jeopardy in the fairly near future.”

“Three years down the road, I’d hate to see us under duress,” agreed BOE member David Diskin. “I’d much rather see that [conversation] now at a point where we can vet out these things.”

In other school news, school board members Diskin, Mary Anne Miller and BOE vice president Chris Tice agreed to meet with director of technology Scott Fisher to take concrete steps to set up a podcast (audio recording) of board meetings to be broadcasted on the district website.

Also at Monday’s meeting, district architect Larry Salvesen presented a projected schedule for the implementation of the capital projects approved by the bond vote November 13.

The timeline includes a startup phase, the preparation of construction documents to submit to state agencies, the subsequent review of those documents, the bidding and awarding of contracts and the actual construction.

The final closeout is projected for October 2016 according to the timeline, which Salvesen said represents a conservative estimate. Construction projects are scheduled so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Looking for feedback from the community, the district is hosting a public meeting to discuss the next steps for bond implementation and the reforming of the Educational Facilities Planning Committee Thursday, December 5 at 6 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School Library.

Sag School Board Talks Parking, Process for Bond Proposals

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By Tessa Raebeck

“We’re just trying to get facilities that are as good as the children we serve,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, said of the district’s proposed capital improvements bond at Monday’s board of education meeting.

In anticipation of the November 13 vote on the bond, district representatives addressed concerns and opinions voiced by community members in recent weeks — particularly in regards to the proposed parking lot renovations — and clarified the design process that would take place should the bond pass, as well as details of the current diagrams. With the help of district architect Larry Salvesen, Dr. Bonuso emphasized all plans are conceptual schematics that could undergo continual revisions that would not change the face of the projects, but could alter their scope.

The bond is separated into two distinct propositions. Proposition 1, with a projected cost of $7,357,132, covers the majority of the proposed capital work. Through five categories (architectural, HVAC, plumbing, electrical and site), it addresses facilities preservation and renovations, building code compliance and ADA compliance, health and safety issues, energy conservation improvements and efficiencies and supports the district’s curriculum.

In addition to capital improvement work like installing CO2 sensors and re-piping the domestic hot water heater, Proposition 1 includes: the renovation of the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium, as well as construction of support facilities; renovations to the Pierson shop/technology classroom space; expansion of the Pierson kitchen; the addition of a storage room in the Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES) gymnasium; and the restoration and reconfiguration of the Jermain Avenue parking lot at Pierson and the Hampton Street lot at SHES.

At the estimated cost of $1,620,000, Proposition 2 will be voted on separately and provides for the installation of a synthetic turf athletic field, a two-lane walking track and other site improvements, such as a scoreboard.

At Monday’s meeting, Dr. Bonuso and other administrators emphasized the timing is as good as any to execute the bond, as bond rates have lowered and the district will receive approximately 10 percent in state aid.

“Most of these things we would go ahead and we’d do it anyway [through annual budgets], the problem is we would pay more money and we would have to wait a whole lot longer to reap the benefits,” explained Dr. Bonuso.

Due to the state-imposed property tax cap, completing such projects through the annual budget would negatively impact the funds allotted for school programs, the district said in a newsletter on the bond.

“We know what the worst choice is,” said Dr. Bonuso. “The worst choice — forget all the options, everyone has their opinion on what to do — but I think everyone pretty much agreed on what is the worst thing to do — the worst thing to do is to do nothing.”

In addition to failing pavement and crumbling curbs, the district said the parking lots’ designs are unsafe for both children and the community at large and maintained that the parking lots absolutely need to be reconfigured and restored, but the district remains open to suggestions as to the best ways to do that for Pierson’s neighbors, passing pedestrians, school children, cars and emergency vehicles.

“We look at it in a schematic fashion,” explained Salvesen. “We get a general understanding of the approach to the project and create a diagram that represents what is proposed and then we use that to create a cost estimate.”

That process was completed before the bond was presented to the community. If the bond is passed, the next step toward enacting the proposed projects is the design/development stage, during which the scope is reviewed and the design is refined. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

If the bond is passed, the Educational Planning Facilities Committee, a group of 21 teachers, parents, administrators, board members and members of the community who met at least six times over the past year in preparation of the bond, would be reformed to invite continued conversation and review possible changes. After additional community input, the final recommendations are brought to the board before the plans are sent to the State Education Department for approval.

Following the recent dialogue between members of the EPFC and the community, Salvesen has drawn in several amendments to the parking lot plans. The original diagram for the lot at Jermain Avenue, for example, did not have an explicit sidewalk drawn in until this week.

“That’s something that would come with the evolution of the design,” Salvesen explained. “There is money to put a sidewalk along there; it is a desired element.”

According to the district, some residents were concerned the Jermain Avenue lot changes would infringe on Pierson Hill or the property’s trees.

“We are not going to negatively impact Pierson Hill,” clarified Dr. Bonuso. “We love Pierson Hill, we love the tradition. We’re going to be very respectful of it.”

“We’re going to be very respectful of the trees,” he continued. “In one or two instances, we’ve already picked out which trees we will purposely transplant just to make sure that we save them.”

Salvesen said after reviewing the plans with the district’s traffic engineer consultant, they found moving the parking lot’s entry point further away from the bend at the northwest side of Jermain Avenue would also increase safety. The district also chose not to pursue the expansion of the elementary school’s secondary Atlantic Avenue lot that was part of a proposed bond that failed to garner community support in 2009.

“That has been completely removed from the project in an attempt to address overall cost concerns,” said the architect.

Since its construction in 1946, the Hampton Street parking lot at SHES has stayed in the same configuration, according to Salvesen. After reviewing the plans for that lot with the traffic engineer, the district is considering altering the project to include one entry point, rather than two. Instead of the 25 additional parking spots in the original diagram, the revised plan would add 17 stalls.

“It’s not about the numbers here, safety is the point,” said Salvesen.

Members of the board were grateful community members had come forward with their concerns and hopeful the bond would ultimately pass.

“These are schematics,” reiterated Daniel Hartnett, a school board member. “We had to put something up to present to be able to move this forward…There is the opportunity — should the bond pass — as we move forward for people to come in and express their views and for us to tweak what we end up doing.”

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said such collaboration is “great because they’re voicing a variety of different perspectives and the more perspectives the committee and the board and the administration hear, the better solution we’ll have.”

If Sag Harbor voters pass the propositions, the estimated costs are the cap. Salvesen has built in contingencies so that the projected costs represent a high estimate, he said. By law, the district cannot spend more than is approved by voters. If the projects cost less than estimated, the district will return the money to the taxpayers.

Salvesen held that his firm, BSS Architecture in Patchogue, has a proven record in bonds staying well within their budget.

“Since the early 90’s,” he said, “we’ve done $1.7 billion in school improvement bonds and we have not gone over.”

“Well,” said Mary Anne Miller, a member of the board, “That’s why we hired you.”

Sag Harbor School Board Clarifies Public Input Policy

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By Tessa Raebeck

In honor of School Board Recognition Week, Monday’s meeting of the Sag Harbor board of education commenced with a short commemorative concert by members of the Pierson Middle/High School orchestra.

“We talk about music to the ears, that was music to the heart,” commented Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district.

Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone presented the board with letters of thanks from the younger students.

“My teacher says that you work long hours, exactly how many hours do you work?” a fourth grader asked in one letter.

Another read, “Thank you for volunteering the time but please don’t work too hard.”

Following the moment of praise, the board returned to work, approving a first reading of board operating procedures. The packet includes a handout prepared by Mary Adamczyk, district clerk, outlining Policy 3320, which addresses public participation at board meetings.

The handout is supplementary to existing policy; it does not change it. Rather, it explains the policy which was revised last spring. The revisions allow community members to sign up for Public Input I, a period of public comment that happens at the start of board meetings, on a sign-up sheet outside the library up until the time of the meeting, rather than through the district clerk’s office the Friday prior as was previously required.

“This just clarifies that a little more,” explained Theresa Samot, president of the school board.

Chris Tice, school board vice president, suggested printing Adamczyk’s handout on the back of every meeting agenda, so the community is clear on how they can participate. Tice said the idea was a suggestion of John Battle, a member of the community who regularly attends school board meetings.

The board will review the wording of the handout and the operating procedures, implement revisions and discuss them further at a second reading during their next meeting.

In other school news, the board accepted a donation from the Reutershan Educational Trust, which has the sole purpose of fostering art programs within the school district, for $30,700 in supplies, materials and equipment to support the programs and $5,863.67 in salaries and benefits for district personnel to supervise. Following comments by board member Daniel Hartnett, the board agreed to look into establishing a board liaison to the trust.

The next school board meeting will be held November 18 in the Pierson library.