Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor School District"

Thiele Proposes Legislation to Eliminate GEA, Give State Aid Back to Schools

Tags: , , , , , , ,


 

By Tessa Raebeck 

In order to fill a shortfall in its budget, five years ago New York State began deducting aid money from its school districts through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula loudly criticized by educators, school boards and districts across the state.

Now, state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor has introduced legislation to repeal the GEA. His bill is co-sponsored by State Senator Kenneth LaValle and supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Originally enacted to close a $10 billion state budget deficit in the worst years of the recession, the GEA has reduced education aid to New York’s schools by nearly $9 billion in the five school years since its inception in 2010. Schools in New York receive less state aid now than they did during the 2009-10 school year.

Although East End schools do not typically receive large amounts of state aid, the GEA has cost Sag Harbor more than $400,000 over the past two years.

The GEA was introduced by former Governor David Paterson when state legislators developing the budget realized New York’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap” between the money the state was taking in and the money it needed to operate. The GEA was created to fill that gap by essentially passing the financial burden onto the state’s school districts.

Assemblyman Thiele, who serves on the Assembly’s Education Committee and did not vote in favor of the reduced education aid when it was originally proposed five years ago, said on Tuesday that the financial issues used to promote the GEA are no longer facing the state, and thus its elimination this year is both incumbent and timely.

“I voted against it then because I didn’t think we should be taking money away from education, but now we’ve gone from a deficit to over a $5 billion surplus, so there really is no excuse for continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is a continuing cut in state aid for the local school districts,” he said.

“Continued state aid loss due to GEA reductions will continue to erode the quality of education school districts can provide. The state cannot continue to pass along its revenue shortfalls to local school districts,” the New York State School Boards Association said in a statement against the GEA, adding that the losses have resulted in “detrimental cuts to personnel, the educational program, services and extracurricular activities” as well as the depletion of reserve funding in districts across the state.

School district officials in both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor regularly lament that the reduction in state aid has come at the same time as rising costs and the tax levy cap, a law enacted under Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011 that limits school districts and other municipalities from raising property taxes by district-specific formulas that take into account variables like the Consumer Price Index.

“At a time when New York State has the dual goals of freezing property taxes and improving the quality of education, it is imperative that we provide a level of state funding that is equal to the task,” Assemblyman Thiele said in a press release on the bill.

In a statement taking a strong stance against the aid reduction, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services said, “Several years into the educational funding crisis, many school districts are finding that they have few options left to preserve programs and services that students and families count on.”

The amount taken from each school district is determined annually by a calculation that leans harder on wealthy districts, so suburban schools on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley are, in general, adversely affected by the reduction more than those in New York City.

Last year, Long Island enrolled 17 percent of New York’s students, but received only 12 percent of state aid for education.

“It’s more important to us than it is to the city school districts,” said Assemblyman Thiele. For suburban legislators from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, he said “the number-one priority for education for us is getting rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the Sag Harbor School District had some $241,000 in state aid taken away through the GEA, according School Business Administrator Jen Buscemi. This year, the district lost $171,395 in aid it otherwise would have received.

“The bottom line,” Assemblyman Thiele said, “is that this issue is going to get resolved one way or another as part of the school aid package that we do with the budget, that hopefully will be done  before April 1.”

In January, Governor Cuomo announced he would not release his school aid figures unless the legislature adopts his package of educational reforms. He agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms, but threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent if they are not met.

Sag Harbor School District Seeks Appraisal for Stella Maris Property

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Tessa Raebeck

Four months after it was disclosed that the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor was on the market, the Sag Harbor School District has announced that it is seeking an appraisal of the site.

The board of education and district administrators have discussed the property at a number of executive sessions that are closed to the public since the property’s availability was announced, and are now taking the first step toward a public discussion of a possible purchase.

“At this point, we aren’t making any decisions of how we would utilize the property,” said Superintendent Katy Graves. “This is just a first, very initial step to take a look at the property and gather information about the property.”

The .74-acre property is listed for $3.5 million. It is zoned for offices or classrooms and owned by St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The one-story building is 32,234 square feet. The site is less than a mile from both Pierson Middle/High School and the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

“The Board of Education is in the process of engaging the services of appraisal firms for the purpose of gathering data. Once the firms have been hired and all of the facts, figures and use viability of the building have been gathered, the board will share the information with the Sag Harbor community for their full participation. Any decision regarding the property will involve strategic engagement with all stakeholders in the community,” the district said in a press release Tuesday.

Ms. Graves said the ultimate decision of whether or not to purchase the property “would really have to go to a vote” for district residents.

Although the purchase is far from a sure thing, the superintendent floated some ideas of how the property could be used.

“We do send children out for services elsewhere—some of our student population goes elsewhere at a very high cost to be serviced in other areas, so we’re always interested in keeping our children as close as possible,” she said, adding, “Those are all things we want to kind of analyze and share, but we don’t want to get our hopes up—this would only be if it really worked best for the community and it worked best for the school district.”

Specifically, some of Sag Harbor’s special needs students must travel to schools up-island to get the services they need, and students enrolled in career and technical education courses must go to BOCES facilities up-island. Ms. Graves said that in addition to the financial burden of transporting students to other schools and enrolling them elsewhere, not having those services in the district comes with the added cost of not having all of Sag Harbor’s schoolchildren close to home.

While technical education would likely remain at BOCES, special needs services could potentially be provided in-house if the district acquires more land. Other schools in the area are also sending special education students to far away schools, and Ms. Graves suggested that the acquisition of the Stella Maris property could be a way to explore sharing services with other districts—and thus saving costs.

“This is the initial, initial stage, but New York State is demanding of us now that we secure every opportunity for sharing services, that we find every opportunity under the tax cap to explore sharing personnel, explore every opportunity for cost saving,” said Ms. Graves. “In our community, we’re going to garner the services of appraisal firms to look at that property and get feedback that we can share with our community.”

“We aren’t making any moves as far as education without—we’re doing it hand in hand with the community and our stakeholders,” she added.

With an influx of students who pay tuition to attend Sag Harbor schools and a student population that has grown steadily over the past six years, the school district now has over 1,000 students, as well as over half a million dollars in revenue from tuition paying students.

In operation as a school for 134 years, Stella Maris was Long Island’s oldest Catholic school when it closed its doors in 2011 due to a $480,000 deficit. Parents at the school tried to fundraise to keep the school open, but were unsuccessful. Since the school closed, its building has been used occasionally for fundraisers and village police training, and has seen two unsuccessful attempts to open preschools on the property.

Sag Harbor School District Proposes Technology, Transportation, Benefits Budget

Tags: , , , , , , ,


By Tessa Raebeck

A month before the entire 2015-16 budget is to be reviewed, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented technology, debt service, employee benefits and transportation components to the board of education on Monday.

With “no additional items that we haven’t had in previous budgets,” according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the technology budget is proposed at slightly over $1 million, up by nearly 12 percent from the 2014-15 budget, which was just above $932,000.

“As you all know,” Mr. Fisher told the board, “the role of technology has expanded here exponentially in the past years…essentially everybody in the district is somehow impacted by the technology support.”

The technology department is looking to bring in additional support staff and to continue its upgrading, replenishment and purchasing of computer and wireless systems and supplies. Proposed increases of $18,650 at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and $15,200 at Pierson Middle/High School will account for the purchase of additional laptops and Chromebooks, low-cost computers that are popular in classrooms.

The transportation budget, computed by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Head Bus Driver Maude Stephens, who was not at Monday’s meeting, would increase by just about $51,000, or 6.83 percent, to about $802,000, due in large part to a proposed bus purchase.

“Right now, all of our buses are being utilized and we don’t even have a spare bus,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that the state Education Department recommends school districts have at least one spare.

Buying a new large bus would cost the district $102,000 up front. Another option, Ms. Buscemi said, would be to finance the bus over a 10-year period, a decision that would require the district to budget $13,000 a year for the next decade. School buses have an expected life of about 15 years, she added.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said it would be practical to finance the bus purchase due to low interest rates and because “we have such a phenomenal bond rating,” as Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the district’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3 last May.

The employee benefits component of the budget, an area that usually shows large, unavoidable increases, is actually expected to decrease for the 2015-16 school year, due to a reduction in the percentage school districts must contribute to retirement costs.

The Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) is recommending an employer contribution rate of about 13 percent for the 2015-16 school year, while that rate was much higher, at over 17 percent, for this school year, 2014-15. The employees are not receiving less in benefits, due to the change, rather, school districts are being required to contribute a smaller amount needed for the system to be able to pay out the required amount in benefits.

“That reduction of $518,000 is going to eat up a lot of the increases in the other areas,” Ms. Buscemi said, adding, “This is probably the first time in a long time that you’re going to see a decrease in that employee benefit and I’m hoping that that continues.”

The total projected employee benefits budget for next year is around $9.3 million, a decrease of $128,125, or 1.35 percent, from this year’s budget.

The debt services budget is also proposed to decrease, going down by about $29,000, or 2.48 percent, to a projected total of over $1.5 million. That projection is in part based on historically low interest rates.

With many of the rates needed to compute the budget not yet available, Ms. Buscemi had to estimate on some of the budget items, usually anticipating an increase of 3 percent.

“There are definitely areas here—that I’ve gone through in the past budget workshops and today—that we could cut if we had to,” Ms. Buscemi said, using the proposed school bus purchase as an example.

The preliminary numbers, Ms. Buscemi told the board, suggest the school district is in a very good position for the budget season and will “be able to maintain everything this year.”

The state aid numbers, which show New York’s school districts how much money they can expect from the state, have still not been released by Governor Andrew Cuomo and are expected to remain in political limbo for some time. The governor has said he will not release his education budget until the divided State Legislature approves all of his proposed educational reforms, many of which are controversial.

Sag Harbor School District Is Prime for Real Estate

Tags: , , ,


Linda Adlah rented a home in Sag Harbor so her children, Anabella and Gabrielle, could attend the Sag Harbor Elementary School. Michael Heller photo.

Linda Adlah rented a home in Sag Harbor so her children, Anabella and Gabrielle, could attend the Sag Harbor Elementary School. Michael Heller photo.

By Tessa Raebeck

First known for whale oil, then watches, Sag Harbor is again being recognized, this time for its schools. The East End real estate market has seen an influx of buyers and renters with one primary request: living in the Sag Harbor School District.

“In real estate sales, there are always the five top questions potential buyers will ask and always in the top five is: ‘How is the school district?’” said Robert Evjen, a broker at Douglas Elliman in Sag Harbor. “It is always on the buyer’s mind.”

“For those buyers with families or starting to have families,” he continued, “this is critical to the future of that family and critical about where to buy. For families who already have children, a location with a ‘neighborhood feel’ and a place ‘where the kids can play safely’ is very, very important. Moms and dads are willing to pay more to ensure a quality education.”

Sag Harbor, currently viewed as a smart investment by financiers and young families alike, is drawing buyers and renters who want to send their kids to school in the village—and the resurgence of popularity is in turn driving market prices up.

“We have seen an uptick of families moving here ‘year round’ and we are blessed that the Sag Harbor School District has always been popular with these new families. As these families move here and learn about the East End and what choices or schools to send their children, we always seem to be the choice,” Mr. Evjen said.

With a current total enrollment of 1,011 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Sag Harbor is smaller than nearby East Hampton, but not as small as Bridgehampton, with just 159 students in the district, or Shelter Island, which has 242 students. The student-faculty ratio at Pierson Middle/High School is nine to one, better than Westhampton Beach’s 14 to one and comparable to East Hampton and Southampton, which have 10 students per teacher, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Liam Rothwell-Pessino, lives in Springs, but decided to attend high school in Sag Harbor because of Pierson’s smaller size.

“The school being smaller means I get to know more people better, teachers included,” he said of his experience at Pierson, where he is currently a senior.

Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves said the school district projects its enrollment to increase until 2018, when there will be an estimated 1,080 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Mr. Evjen said there has been a “tremendous” increase of families wanting to live in the school district, indicated by the growth of the pre-kindergarten program and the increase in non-resident students, which he called “a great testament to the curriculum the school has set up.”

The school district currently receives tuition for 29 nonresident students; the Sagaponack School District pays for nine, the Springs School District pays for three, and 17 pay privately. The tuition rate for nonresident students for the current school year is $17,038 for students to attend the elementary school and $22,148 to attend Pierson. Special education students are charged $46,464 and $53,380, respectively.

A school district must pay tuition for its residents to attend school elsewhere if that student has a special need the district cannot meet, such as observational therapy or speech therapy. Sag Harbor’s comprehensive approach to students with disabilities adds to the draw for many families.

Having moved from Hampton Bays to Sag Harbor when her two daughters were babies, Linda Torres Adlah has been renting in the district ever since; her girls are now in third and fourth grade at the elementary school.

“Both of my daughters had to go through the evaluation process when they were younger, one needed speech therapy and one needed some physical therapy and observational therapy, and it was a very easy environment. They were very forthcoming with giving the kids what they needed to have when they were little,” she said of the elementary school faculty. “I never had to worry that they wouldn’t get the services they needed, there was always lots of support. I’ve heard such good things about the school that I knew that’s where I wanted them to be.”

Niche Ranking Names Pierson 49th Best Public High School in New York State

Tags: , , , , , ,


Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor’s Pierson Middle/High School was ranked the 49th best public high school in New York State in the Niche list, a national rating determined not just by statistics, but also alumni, parent and student survey responses. Pierson’s grade, of which academics account for 50 percent, was an “A+” overall.

“A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students who rate their experience very highly,” Niche said of its annual list, which looked at statistics and survey results at 14,431 high schools nationwide. Magnet, charter and online schools are not eligible for ranking.

In 35th place in New York, Westhampton Beach Senior High School was the top high school on the East End, followed by Pierson at 49, East Hampton at 58, Southampton at 65, Shelter Island at 213 and Greenport at 236.

On Monday, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves attributed Pierson’s strong showing to its “strength of schedule,” strong course offerings like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school started offering IB in September 2012 and Pierson’s first diploma candidates in the program graduated last year.

“This reinforces again that our overall rankings keep coming out clearly—our students are doing such an outstanding job,” said Ms. Graves, comparing the Niche grade to Pierson’s strong test scores.

Government and other public data, Niche’s data and over 4 million surveys, which asked parents, alumni and students to rate their schools, determined the rankings.

“They feel like the academics, the administration, the policies and our educational outcomes are really outstanding,” Ms. Graves said of the survey respondents, adding that Pierson was given a top score of A+ for the quality of Sag Harbor teachers. “That resonates. I think that really sends a great message out to keep doing what we’re doing and to continue doing our personal best to give that Sag Harbor experience to all of our students,” she said.

Half of a school’s score is based on academics, 10 percent each on health and safety, student culture and diversity, survey responses and the teachers’ grades, 5 percent on resources and facilities, and 2.5 percent each for sports and extracurricular activities.

Pierson was given a top score of A+ for teachers and resources and facilities and A’s in academics and health and safety. Extracurriculars and activities received a B+, sports and fitness a B-.

Pierson’s lowest score was in student culture and diversity, which received a C+. Eighty-two percent of Pierson students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black, according to Niche.

Much of the data came from statistics reported by the schools to the U.S. Department of Education from 2011 to 2012. Some schools that scored well did not qualify for an official ranking due to insufficient data.

Many of the schools on the list are science and technical institutes. High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, came in first in the country, followed by Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and two New York schools, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Staten Island Technical High School.

STORM UPDATE: Sag Harbor & Bridgehampton Schools Closed Wednesday

Tags: , , , ,


Snowdrifts piled up near the Suffolk County National Bank on Main Street following the Blizzard of 2015 on Tuesday. Heller photo.

Snowdrifts piled up near the Suffolk County National Bank on Main Street following the Blizzard of 2015 on Tuesday. Heller photo.

Both the Bridgehampton School District and Sag Harbor School District announced Tuesday afternoon that school will be closed on Wednesday, January 28.

“Due the continuing snow storm and the safety concerns of transporting our students, all Sag Harbor Schools will be closed and all school activities and sports are cancelled fortomorrow, Wednesday, January 28, 2015,” said the Sag Harbor School District in an email sent to parents, faculty and staff Tuesday afternoon.

The Bridgehampton School also announced Tuesday afternoon it would remain closed Wednesday with the district noting it will reschedule Regents exams for Thursday, January 29. Tuesday’s Bridgehampton Killer Bees basketball game has also been rescheduled for Thursday, January 29 at 6 p.m.

 

LTV Director Asks Sag Harbor School Board to Reconsider Broadcast Limitations

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education's December 9 meeting.

A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s December 9 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In the wake of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s decision last month to stop broadcasting the public comment portions of its meetings, LTV Executive Director Seth Redlus on Monday urged the board to reconsider its ruling, saying its liability concerns were unfounded.

“The action of editing out the public comment portion of your meeting clouds the very transparency this board sought to provide by offering the coverage,” Mr. Redlus told the board.

In light of several resignations in the spring of 2013, the school board faced criticism over a perceived lack of transparency and spent much of the last school year discussing a proposed policy to videotape and broadcast its public meetings. A six-month trial period was enacted over the summer and expired on December 31. During evaluation of that trial, board member David Diskin, who led the initial push for videotaping, suggested continuing to videotape the meetings, but omitting the two public input sessions from the tape, citing liability concerns voiced by the district’s attorney, Thomas Volz.

In December, Mr. Diskin and fellow board members Susan Kinsella, Sandi Kruel and Tommy John Schiavoni voted for a policy that does not broadcast public input, with Board President Theresa Samot, Vice President Chris Tice and Diana Kolhoff in the minority. That policy went into effect January 1 and was in use at the board’s meeting on Monday, January 12, during which Technology Director Scott Fisher stopped the recording prior to public comment.

The board members who voted not to broadcast public comments did so, they said because they were concerned about the district’s liability if it granted an unchecked public forum. Prior to that vote, Ms. Kruel said she counted six instances in which libelous statements were made by the public during the videotaping trial, and said it was too risky for the school district to broadcast an open forum. Mr. Schiavoni added it could affect programming because of the liability issues, should lawsuit costs mount. But Ms. Tice, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kolhoff said that was a risk they were willing to take.

The videos are taped by the school district and available on its website, but also distributed to the local government access stations LTV in East Hampton and SEA-TV in Southampton to be shown on television.

In reaction to the new policy, Mr. Redlus told the board Monday that LTV would still broadcast the meetings for the school board, but would inform its viewers at the beginning and end of the broadcasts that the meetings are independently produced and edited by the district rather than LTV. He believes the liability concerns expressed by some members of the board are misinformed, he said.

“LTV has videotaped government meetings for 30 years, and in that time, we have amassed a great deal of working knowledge about how best to capture these public events and present them to the community that we serve. One rule which has stood the test of time has become our prime directive: under no circumstances does LTV edit government meetings,” he said in a statement to the board made during public input.

“They are presented to the public in the very same way that they occurred in real life. That one simple rule has allowed the community to trust what they see when they tune in to our channel. While other media may be constrained by the time or space available to them, government access television shows every moment of what occurred—allowing viewers to make up their own minds with no editorial content,” he continued.

Editing meetings, Mr. Redlus added, is in the best interest of neither the board nor the public, as the board’s interpretation of issues raised in public comments is also not broadcast, comments made often reflect the opinion of a larger group, who may instead come to the board individually should they not see their questions answered en masse, and “there is no more liability to a board when public comment is broadcast than if that public comment is made only to an open meeting.”

Broadcasting the entire meeting, he concluded, may actually lower liability as there is a definitive recording of who said what.

Mr. Schiavoni asked Mr. Redlus whether LTV would consider taping the meetings itself, an option that had been floated by the board during earlier discussions.

“With the policy in place we won’t tape meetings,” Mr. Redlus replied, adding that when the board had originally considered documenting meetings, LTV had offered to cover a percentage of the cost based on how many East Hampton Cablevision subscribers live in the district (versus Southampton subscribers who are covered by SEA-TV), “but the school district never provided those numbers.”

In other school news, Theresa Roden and three girls from the i-tri program visited the board to ask it to consider Sag Harbor’s participation in the program, which is already active in the Springs, Montauk, and Southampton school districts. With the slogan, “transformation through triathlon,” the program aims to empower young girls through nutrition classes, self-esteem workshops, and physical and mental training to compete in a triathlon, held in July.

The program is free of charge for every participant, and asks the school district to provide a space to hold in-school sessions and possibly nighttime nutrition sessions, support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly transportation, if events cannot be housed in Sag Harbor.

Ms. Roden said in addition to anecdotal evidence that girls do better behaviorally and academically after the program, Jennifer Gatz, a local PhD candidate, conducted a thesis that found participants in the i-tri program, which combines fitness training, mentoring and self-esteem education, show an increased aptitude for science.

“There’s nothing I’ve experienced better than running through a finish line and having everyone you know and love cheer you on,” said Anna Rafferty, an eighth grade participant from Springs School.

The board appeared to be very supportive of bringing the program to Sag Harbor, and will vote on it at its next business meeting on January 26 when it meets at 6 p.m. for a budget workshop in the Pierson Library before convening a business meeting at 7:30.

Sag Harbor School District Presents First Draft of $1.5 Million Support Services Budget

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

A student navigates the halls of Pierson High School. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

To start the Sag Harbor School District’s five-month budget season, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi presented the first draft of a nearly $1.5 million support services budget, which covers the board of education, central administration, legal services, public information services, and insurance components of the district’s overall budget.

This school year’s $36.8 million budget, which easily passed last May by a 72-percent margin, had an increase of $1.36 million, or 3.83 percent, in spending from the previous school year. The district’s tax levy increase of 1.48 percent came in below the state’s 1.51 percent property tax levy cap for the district, which was determined by calculations specific to last year.

“We are looking at every single line individually,” Ms. Buscemi told the board at the workshop on Monday, January 12. “We’re trying to stay very, very conservative,” she said, adding that once health insurance and pension increases are applied, diligence will be demanded in other areas. Those costs take up a significant portion of the budget each year; salaries and benefits generally account for more than 80 percent of the overall budget. The last 20 percent of the budget must account for programs, technology, facilities and maintenance.

The support services budget was not yet complete, with several lines requiring further edits or information. Much of the data needed to finalize this year’s budget, such as insurance rates, BOCES rates, and clerical salaries, is not yet available. Superintendent Katy Graves’s salary has also not yet been determined, and is listed at $215,000, her current salary.

Some potential savings also remain undetermined. Several of the capital projects afforded by the bond referendum voters passed in 2013, such as floor replacements, the new turf field, and other safety measures, could save the district money by lowering the cost of student accident insurance, which is budgeted for $50,000.

“In some instances,” added Ms. Graves, “you actually save because insurance companies feel [more secure].”

This year the district joined a new purchasing cooperative, Educational Data Basic and T&M Services, to issue bids for the district.

“This $5,000 will save us a lot of time and money with bidding,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that it will save the district money in advertising and time in manpower by doing bids through the cooperative, rather than through the business office.

“We’re going to get a better quality product at a lower cost,” Ms. Graves added.

Rather than putting out bids as a single entity, being part of the cooperative enables the district to go through an agency and have many units purchase at the same time, and save money by banding together with other districts on the East End.

The public information line, which has been up for much debate as the district grapples with how best to increase communications—particularly online—with parents and the wider public in a digital age, is projected to decrease by 4.64 percent, going from $75,500 budgeted for this year to $72,000 for 2014-15. While postage fees will remain steady, the district will be allocating $40,000 it had been paying a private firm to BOCES for public information services.

The district will host workshops on the remaining portions of the budget before the first draft is unveiled on March 23. Athletics, capital project work, and buildings and grounds will be covered at the January 26 workshop. Technology, special education, debt service, employee benefits and transportation will be on February 23, and on March 9 the elementary, middle and high schools, and BOCES administration and services sections will be presented. All workshops are at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.

A second review of the entire budget will be held April 13, and the budget adoption is scheduled for April 22, followed by another review on April 27. The budget hearing will be May 5 and the districtwide vote is on May 19, as are school board elections.

Sag Harbor School Board Votes to Stop Broadcasting Public Input

Tags: , , , , ,


On Monday, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted not to film and air the public input portions of its meetings, which were included in the December 9 video broadcast, still shot shown above.

On Monday, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted against airing the public input portions of its meetings, which were included in the December 9 video broadcast, above.

By Tessa Raebeck

In an effort to avoid rebroadcasting public statements that could lead to liability issues for the school district down the road, the Sag Harbor Board of Education in a 4-3 vote on Monday agreed to continue videotaping its meetings, but to omit the public input sessions from the broadcast.

The board last spring implemented a six-six-month trial period during which it taped its meetings from start to finish, then broadcast them on the LTV and SEA-TV channels in East Hampton and Southampton, respectively, as well as online on the television stations’ websites and the district website.

The board adopted the pilot program to make its meetings more accessible following a call from some members of the public for increased transparency.

The trial period expires on December 31. When it was first enacted in April, the board agreed to review the policy at or before its December 15 meeting. To enact a policy, the board must hold a first reading, at which suggestions for amending the policy may be made. It then holds a second reading with those changes at a separate meeting. Following the second reading, the board votes on whether to approve the policy as is or continue revising it.

The videotaping policy was reviewed in a meeting on December 9, during which several changes were made, including altering the language to say the board would videotape and broadcast all “regularly scheduled” meetings and workshops on the board’s calendar, rather than all its “public meetings.”

This change was intended to avoid having Technology Director Scott Fisher, who spends over two hours setting up and distributing each broadcast in addition to the time spent attending the meetings, come in for a special meeting, which are generally brief and called for urgent matters, such as approving the hiring of a substitute teacher. Special meetings, often tucked in the middle of executive sessions that are not open to the public, are not scheduled ahead of time.

The other suggestion made last week—and approved on Monday—drew criticism from several parents in attendance and on social media. Board member David Diskin, citing liability concerns of rebroadcasting public statements over which the board has no control, proposed starting recording after the first public input session at the start of the meeting and ending taping after the second public input period at the end of the meeting.

To speak during the first public input period, speakers  must sign up ahead of time to address a specific issue on the agenda. Speakers are allowed to address any issue during the second public input session at the end of the meeting.

By not broadcasting public input, critics say the board is censoring the right of the public to bring up issues that are important to the school community, but may not be included by the board on an agenda. Proponents on the board said school attorney Thomas Volz had advised them against taping meetings altogether due to liability issues that could easily arise, and that while they would continue to televise the board meeting itself, broadcasting an open forum accessible to anyone in the public is too risky for the school district.

On Monday, those who voted to not include public input were David Diskin, Susan Kinsella, Sandi Kruel and Tommy John Schiavoni. Board President Theresa Samot, Vice President Chris Tice and Diana Kolhoff voted to continue taping the public.

“In the end, it may affect programming because of the liability issues,” said Mr. Schiavoni of his reasoning, adding that if the board were to continue broadcasting public input, it should consider having an attorney present during it. He echoed others’ sentiment that the board is too at-risk if statements made at the podium are rebroadcast, but welcomed any other party to tape the public portions of the meetings.

“I feel like the risk that we take by broadcasting statements that are made by the public is small with regard to the reward of having the public hear what is being brought to us,” countered Ms. Kolhoff. “I feel like people that can’t be here are just as interested in what we discuss as what people bring to the table in public input one and two.”

“I feel like we have to start with a bit of trust and if that trust is violated, maybe we revisit it. I just feel like the public input piece is important enough that I’m willing to risk the small chance that we open ourselves to liability,” she added.

“That is a risk,” Ms. Tice said, “but I do feel like we have had very productive public inputs. Public input two [is] where questions are asked that don’t show up on a formal agenda, but are questions that a lot of people in the community have.”

Ms. Kinsella, who has never been a fan of videotaping, reminded the board that having public input sessions at all is not mandatory, but an option chosen by the board.

“We have done this trial basis, we have had the policy violated, so how many times are we going to put ourselves at risk?” asked Ms. Kruel, who added that since the trial period started in July, she has counted six instances in which libelous statements were made during public input.

The public input sessions from Monday’s meetings were taped and broadcasted, as the terms of the six-month trial period are still in effect through the end of this month.

The next school board meeting will be a budget workshop and educational meeting starting at 6 p.m. on Monday, January 12, in the Pierson library.

With No Clear Option for Later Start Times, School District Asks Community for Help

Tags: , , , , , ,


Sag Harbor Elementary School Student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor School District Tuesday.

“I need more sleep,” Sag Harbor Elementary School student Beckham LaRose told the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday, as School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and District Clerk Mary Adamczyk listened. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

After hosting seven workshops in less than two months, the Sag Harbor School District has made headway on researching ways to move school start times later, but remains far from ready to implement a change.

A later start to the school day, especially for high school students, has been advocated by health and education experts nationwide, after research has shown a later start time is better for students’ overall health and safety, behavior and academic performance. Despite the indisputable benefits to children, however, implementation faces practical challenges: established schedules for classes, bus routes and classes; faculty and staff contracts, parents’ work requirements, and cultural behaviors that are in many cases deeply ingrained.

Although Sag Harbor parents have individually advocated for later starts at various times—and to various superintendents—over the past decade, national momentum toward a change surged in August, when the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report calling chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents a national health crisis and recommending no American high school start before 8:30 a.m.

Human sleep cycles change during adolescence; teenagers naturally feel alert later at night and have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. Teenagers also need more sleep, requiring at least 8.5 hours, a mere pipe dream for those who have to get on the bus at 6:45 a.m.

Mirroring the national conversation, the movement has gained significant traction in Sag Harbor, which, like many other schools on Long Island, has one of the earliest start times in the country. The Pierson Middle/High School schedule runs from 7:25 a.m. to 2:26 p.m., with many students waiting for the bus in the dark to make it to first period on time. Sag Harbor Elementary School starts the day with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and goes to 3:10 p.m.

Spectators are rare at school board meetings, perhaps not surprisingly, but on Tuesday some 30 parents, students and teachers filled the Pierson Library to hear the board discuss its options. The district’s administrative team compiled extensive data on various aspects and costs of a potential switch, including the effect on athletics schedules and bus routes, the two primary challenges of a change (data available at sagharborschools.org). The plans would range in cost and effectiveness, but none was selected by the board or highly favored by those in attendance. Some options come with significant price tags, while others do little to solve the problem.

Several options would continue operating separate bus runs for the elementary school and Pierson, which are “what saves us the most money,” Jennifer Buscemi, the school business administrator, said. Under other plans, however, the bus runs would have to be combined, which would require significant costs and the potentially problematic situation of 5-year-olds riding the bus alongside teenagers.

The probable annual costs for the first three options, which start both schools after 8 a.m., could range from $401,986 to $625,799, Ms. Buscemi projected. Options 4 and 5 have no additional costs, but Option 4 simply swaps the schools’ times, starting the elementary school early instead, and Option 5 starts Pierson at 7:35 a.m., a mere 10-minute improvement, but a possible starting point, Ms. Graves said.

The sixth option gives Pierson a 7:45 a.m. start time, with 9 a.m. at the elementary school, and would have a much lower cost of $75,000 for contracting out additional sports runs, which Ms. Buscemi said would “not be a very large impact on our tax cap,” whereas that of options 1, 2, and 3 is substantial.

“My general feeling,” said school board member David Diskin “on this is that to make a significant change, it’s obviously a huge amount of money.” Although Mr. Diskin said he saw the benefits of a change, he added he “would hate to see us reduce programs because we made the switch.”

But advocates of later times maintain its better to be roughing it in the beginning of a change than catching up at the tail end, and the momentum is definitely growing. Parents in Southampton, which starts its high school at 7:30, have also urged the board to adopt later times. While Sag Harbor was debating Tuesday, a school district in Dorchester, South Carolina, voted to move its start time later next year.

Switching times is difficult, but not impossible. Schools in Pierson’s athletic conference, the Ross School and Shelter Island High School, both start at 8 a.m.

“I don’t think we have found the right solution—the right option—yet,” said school board vice president Chris Tice. “I think we needed to go through this process to say what are the big rocks, what is the data—I’m not convinced that all the options that are potentially viable are on the table yet…the average district that has made a change takes six months to two years to explore this, we took a month.”

The board spoke in favor of putting the issue on the back burner for now, with hopes of reconvening with better preparation after the budget season. They urged community members to use the extensive data and information compiled by the administration to research more cost-effective, sustainable options.

The community appeared ready and willing to take the reins.

Jackson LaRose, a sixth grader at Pierson, asked the board to consider moving the elementary school schedule from 9 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. and Pierson from 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., “So the buses have enough time and I don’t think it would cost anymore money,” he said. His little brother, 8-year-old Beckham, agreed, saying, “I need more sleep.”

Laurie Marsden, a parent, said after transitioning to middle school this year, her daughter is “struggling still and it’s December. She’s never had a headache in her life and she had headaches the first two weeks of school straight.”

“I know that every single parent that I speak to says they wish the school was later and they talk about how they’re struggling. They talk about how difficult it is not just for their children, but for their whole family,” said Ms. Marsden.

Jean Cowen, the mother of a seventh grader and a former teacher, suggested moving the academic support to beginning of the day, rather than at the end as it stands now, and making it optional. The teachers’ school day—and contracts—would not be affected, nor would bus routes. School would start at 8:05 a.m. for students whose parents can drive them later, with students who need academic support or to be at school earlier so their parents can get to work riding the bus at the regular times.

“Asking kids to get up and perform at the 7 a.m. hour is equivalent to asking an adult to get up and perform at the 4 a.m. hour,” said Susan LaMontagne, adding there are ways to make the change with very little or no costs, and she and other parents are willing to find out how to make it work in Sag Harbor.