Tag Archive | "Sandi Kruel"

BOE Discusses Stadium Lighting

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Light 4

By Claire Walla


The ongoing discussion revolving around proposed plans to implement a turf field and overhead lights on the Pierson Middle/High School campus — which now has a field composed of natural grass and no lights — was met with some concern at a regularly scheduled school board meeting last Monday, November 28. But not because board members voiced any dissent.

“I’m in favor of the turf field 100 percent,” said board member Sandi Kruel. “But we need to go and find out how our neighbors feel.”

By revisiting the issue with school board members, she continued, “It seems to me you’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Kruel indicated that the major issue at this point preventing the board from making any decisions about whether or not to go to bond for these maintenance projects concerns the school’s neighbors.

“I thought this [issue] was done until you had the discussion with the neighbors,” Kruel said, addressing Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

Dr. Gratto explained that he would be meeting with Sag Harbor resident Steven Reiner — who essentially represents a handful of the district’s neighbors — on December 13 to discuss various issues of concern to those living in close proximity to the school district.

According to Reiner, the biggest issue is not the turf field — which is estimated to cost $1.6 million — but the installation of stadium-style lighting, at a cost of $675,000. He said that while neighbors worry about the disruption to the flow of traffic in the neighborhood during what is estimated to be a 10-week construction process, in the long-term they worry about the potential for light pollution.

Dr. Gratto, however, insisted that the lights would have a minimal effect on the district’s neighbors.

“The lighting that we’ve researched is pretty contained,” he said. “It doesn’t have a lot of spillage outside the field.”

He went on to explain additional benefits to having a field with stadium lighting. For one, he said, more parents and family members who work during the day would be able to attend student games if they were held later in the day. The school would also be able to extend practice hours and increase the number of sports teams that currently use on-campus facilities. Furthermore, he added, the school would be able to generate added income from non-curricular and extra-curricular use.

Parent Laura Matthers told the board that she has first-hand experience with lights, as she lives across the street from Mashashimuet Park, which often uses lights at night.

“I can tell you anything you want to know about lights,” she said, and suggested school board members and interested parties go down to the park at night to see first-hand what affect the lights actually have on the outlying areas.

Similarly, Sag Harbor resident Marian Cassata recommended the school utilize its buses to organize a field trip to a neighboring school district “to see how much spillage there is onto the side streets,” she explained. “Seeing is believing.”

Board member Christ Tice wondered if it would be possible to bring portable lights in for a varsity game so that parents, administrators and neighbors could all experience the impact of stadium-style lighting first-hand.

Dr. Gratto seemed to think that was a good idea and suggested potentially bringing lights in for a girls’ softball game in the spring.

School Approves Plans For $4.9 Million Bond Measure

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By Claire Walla


The Sag Harbor School Board is moving forward with plans to bring a $4.9 million bond measure to the public. The four base components of the seven-part capital project were unanimously approved by school board members — with the exception of Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent — at a regular school board meeting held Monday, November 14. They include: 122 health and safety provisions (many of them mandated by the state), expanding the Pierson kitchen, restructuring two parking lots and constructing a storage room in the elementary school gym.

In total, these measures represent nearly a $1.8 million cost reduction from an almost identical bond measure that was put up for public vote in 2009. That bond was defeated.

In an attempt to keep the cost of the project as low as possible, the district’s Long Range Planning Committee decided to take plans to restore the Pierson auditorium completely off the table. It is now recommended that the project, at an estimated cost of $12 million, be funded privately.

However, plans to replace the Pierson field with a synthetic turf ($1.6 million) and install stadium-style lighting ($675,000) are still on the table, though they would most likely be brought to the public in an additional bond referendum, separate from the $4.9 million bond outlined above. Board members are still discussing the plans for the field and lighting installation as they are currently laid out.

Board members have also floated the idea of putting the turf field and the stadium lighting up to a community vote as separate projects because the lighting issue seems to be more controversial.

“For me and for some of the neighbors, the lights represent a game-changer,” said community member Steven Reiner who lives directly adjacent to the Pierson field.

He said he had relatively no problem with the synthetic turf, but the lights he said would create increased usage of the field, bringing more people to the area; potentially cause light pollution; and might even lower real estate values for homes in the immediate area.

“What I’m struck by is the specificity and the detail that accompanied the cafeteria and other issues,” Reiner said of the elements entailed in the base bond measure. “When you vote for large-scale change, that’s going to affect traffic and egress and lights [among other issues]. But we don’t have any proposal of what this [change] is going to look like.”

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While the district does have a graphic of the turf field, the projected impact of the proposed stadium lighting still needs to be determined.

On another note, parent Laura Matthers commented that the turf field, which includes a two-lane track around its circumference, “might actually be a draw for people in the community,” which would be a good thing.

As proposed, Athletic Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger added that the field could be used by the school’s middle school baseball team (the size is not within regulation for varsity or JV baseball), by varsity soccer teams and all field hockey teams. All other outdoor sports would continue to use the fields at Mashashimuet Park. This would not only allow teams to have practice later at night, but it would allow games to be scheduled later in the day.

According to Dr. Gratto, this would be a great advantage “because parents [who work during the day would finally get to see their kids play.”

The projects already recommended for the $4.9 million bond proposal were very quickly approved by the board. As for the health and safety improvements—including architectural, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and site-plan upgrades — it took board members mere seconds to determine there was no penny-pinching possible in this realm. The $3.85 million plan marks a $1 million reduction from the bond proposed back in 2009, $500,000 of which was already built into this year’s 2012-13 budget.

“If it’s really about health and safety, there’s got to be a point when it’s got to be done,” Board Member Gregg Schiavoni said. “I think not doing it is going to cost us more down the line.”

Similarly, plans to extend storage space in the elementary school ($210,319) and re-do the parking lots on Jermain Avenue at the high school and on Hampton Street at the elementary school were very quickly approved. Though the parking lot project generated some dissent back in 2009, board members recommended the improvements with emphatic support. While the lots would increase in size — jumping from 26 to 51 spaces at the elementary school, and 38 to 46 at the high school — Dr. Gratto said the main impetus for the remodeling has to do with health and safety.

The parking lot at the entrance to the elementary school would push forward, further toward Hampton Street, which would add parking spaces and widen driving lanes for emergency vehicles. The parking lot on Jermain Avenue, next to the high school gym, would extend north into Pierson hill and would include a curb along Jermain to prevent cars from backing up into the street.

“The Jermain Avenue parking lot is a disaster waiting to happen,” said board member Chris Tice. “It’s not safe at all.”

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While the kitchen had previously been an issue of contention, as board members debated whether or not expanding the room would actually improve the quality of the food, it was generally decided last Monday that room for more storage space would indeed improve food options.

Though there wouldn’t be a difference in the type of cooking equipment used, School Board President Mary Anne Miller stressed that additional storage space would allow the school to add more refrigeration, which would “definitely improve purchasing and food selection.”

While the board has decided to go forward with the $4.9 million dollar bond measure, it is yet to be determined when the vote will take place.

School District Proposes Capital Projects

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By Claire Walla

On December 8, 2009, when the Sag Harbor School District put nearly $7 million worth of building improvements up for bond, the community voted it down.

Now, after two years of discussions, the Long Range Planning Committee has worked to trim the cost of the project by almost $1.8 million, which — coupled with $500,000 worth of energy cost savings built into this year’s operating budget — brings the total down to roughly $4.9 million.

Committee member John Russo and the district’s architect Larry Salvesen presented the updated list of improvement projects at a regularly scheduled school board meeting last Monday, September 26.

“We looked at what failed in 2009 and pared it back by looking at what we could move and what wasn’t essential,” Russo explained.

Most significantly, the committee minimized the Pierson kitchen upgrade, at a savings of $372,360; and removed two parking lots from the list of items needing repair, saving $341,000. About $350,000 was also taken out of the proposal for projects that can either be accomplished in-house, or are not deemed necessary.

What’s more, a $12 million plan to rebuild the Pierson Auditorium has been taken off the docket altogether. Instead of paying for the project with taxpayers’ dollars, the committee recommends securing funding through private donations.

Salvesen explained that many of these improvements are expected to save the district money over time.

With reference to the parking lots in particular, board members emphasized the importance of communicating with the public, largely blaming miscommunication for the bond measure failing in 2009.

“This is entirely for health and safety,” Russo told the board. “The Jermain lot [at Pierson High School], while improved with the striping, is still inadequate for bus traffic and emergency vehicles.”

Though he said the elementary school parking lot next to the Eco-Walk is sufficient, as is the high school parking lot at the front of the school, the lot on Hampton Street at the front of the elementary school is also unsafe in its current state.

School Board President Mary Anne Miller emphasized that adding parking spaces is not the only end-goal.

“It’s not that we’re trying to make them bigger, they really have deteriorated,” she said. “Their structure has diminished.”

As for Pierson’s outdoor facilities, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto spoke to the importance of refurbishing Pierson High School’s field with synthetic turf and lights. Both measures, he said, would give Pierson athletes more ability to use the facilities for a longer period of time.

According to District Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Montgomery “Monty” Granger, the creation of a turf field would bring his department a significant savings. He currently budgets about $60,000 for field maintenance, he explained; but with a turf field the department would only have to spend about $5,000 a year to keep it intact.

Echoing some of the dissent heard back in 2009, community member Steven Reiner expressed some concerns. As far as the new field proposals go, Reiner said installing turf could be a far more complicated process than expected. However, he continued, “The light option is a far more problematic, and more vigorously opposed by the neighborhood.”

“I would think that a very full environmental report would have to be conducted,” he said, before the school district can bring this to the public for a vote He further explained that there are issues of traffic, access and public safety that need to be addressed.

“Once this becomes a decision that leaves the confines of the school and affects the community, police officers, garbage collectors [etc.] I don’t think it’s a choice one can offer the public lightly, without due diligence.”

“An awful lot of work needs to be done before lights can be considered for this area,” he concluded.

Pierson teacher and girls’ soccer coach Peter Solow suggested that perhaps the committee should consider separating the turf and the lights into two separate bonds, as the lights seem to be more controversial.

“If there was a field [and] a track, I guarantee you it will probably get more use than anything else in this community,” he said. “This is not simply an issue of interscholastic sports. The field can be used by the community on a year-long basis.”

While the school board has yet to tease out the finer details of the committee’s proposal, school board member Sandi Kruel did address concerns she had with the current plans for the Pierson cafeteria expansion.

The new plan, at $166,920, is a fraction of the cost presented two years ago, which topped $500,000. However, though the plan will add 16 seats, expand the kitchen area to include prep space and double storage capabilities, Pierson will still not have a functioning commercial kitchen, meaning cafeteria staff will not be able to cook using a stovetop.

“Unfortunately, to build a code-compliant commercial kitchen, it was an additional $350,000 for all the changes that need to be put in place,” Russo explained.

Kruel continued, “For $166,000, to do this and then not give the chef a fire to cook on… it makes me a little crazy.”

Broadening the scope of the discussion, Dr. Gratto explained that in tough economic times capital projects are often taken off the table when it comes time for school districts to tighten their belts. But, in light of the two-percent tax cap — which will affect all school districts in the state of New York next budget season — Dr. Gratto was sure to inform the crowd that funding for serial bonds would not be factored into such a cap.

The school board will continue to review the committee’s plans and is expected to discuss the project at the next bus

BOE Swears In Kruel, Elects Miller President

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By Claire Walla

On Monday, July 11, the Sag Harbor School district welcomed two new administrative faces at its annual organizational meeting. Sandi Kruel was formally sworn into her new position as a school board member (replacing the outgoing Dan Hartnett), and Scott Fisher was welcomed to the meeting on his first day on the job as the district’s new technology coordinator.
Then, prompting a slight shift in the seating arrangement, board member Walter Wilcoxen was relieved of his duties as school board president, replaced by board member Mary Anne Miller who was voted in unanimously. She happily took center stage behind the wooden gavel, as a regular board meeting ensued.
Teachers’ Early Retirement Incentives
The Sag Harbor School Board faced the first major decision involving the impending state-imposed two-percent tax cap.
Director of Business Operations Janet Verneuille presented the board with two options the state offered for paying back the early retirement money the district owes based on the number of teachers who took early retirement incentive packages.
The board had the choice to pay five installments of $132,240 at eight percent interest over five years, or spend $572,022 in a one-time payment this year.
“[The latter] approach weakens cash flow going into a tax cap, but is saves costs in the long run,” Verneuille said.
Ultimately, after discussing the issue again Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to pay the Teachers Retirement System bill of $572,022 in its entirety by the end of this month.
“The board’s rationale was they thought it wise to avoid paying over $90,000 in interest over the next five years,” Dr. Gratto explained in an email.

Cafeteria
“Last year at this time we were debating whether or not to keep the cafeteria open,” said Dr. John Gratto, school superintendent. “But I’m pleased to announce that this year we’re operating at a $1,000 deficit.”
The news comes in the wake of major changes that were made to the cafeteria last year when the program was overspent by about $25,000. The school added a point-of-sale system, which allows the district to keep better track of the food items that are actually selling, and allows parents to pay into their children’s accounts online.
Last year, the program owed the general fund $187,405, said Director of Business Operations Janet Verneuille. “This year, we were able to get that down to $144.037.”
Verneuille also added that the school was able to make about a $3,700 profit off its vending machines this yeah, which prompted a discussion as to the foods being offered.
“We have to recognize that, unfortunately, some of the best sellers are some of the things that people have problems with selling in a cafeteria,” Verneuille explained. “It’s what you’d expect: Snapple and Pop-Tarts.”

Summer School
The board heard from Elementary School Principal Matt Malone who gave an update on the primary summer school program, which is in its second week. He noted that it currently has 63 students enrolled, all of whom are involved based on teachers recommendations or administrative review.
“Everyone’s really been collaborating well and it’s off to a great start,” he said. “The addition of the transportation this summer has really been a big help. [The district has funded a bus service to take kids to and from the program.] It’s helping students arrive on time, which leads to a much more efficient session.”
Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols explained that the upper school program is currently serving 49 students. This year, the summer school program is being hosted by Hampton Bays High School instead of Riverhead, where it was in previous years.
“It felt very structured,” said Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Bekermus who, along with High School Assistant Principal Gary Kalish, visited the program last week. She added that middle school enrollment this year is higher than it has been since Bekermus has been at the school.

Sag Harbor Passes Budget / Elects Miller, Samot and Kruel

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The Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $33.2 million budget was passed by taxpayers Tuesday, May 17 with a final tally of 917 to 698.

“I’m pleased for the community,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said after the results were read to the crowd gathered within the Pierson gym. The budget—which represents a 5.48 percent increase over this year’s $31.5 million operating budget—includes $75,000 for a new playground at the elementary school, and $180,000 for a universal Pre-K program.

Incumbent school board members Mary Anne Miller and Theresa Samot secured their seats on the seven-member board with the highest number of votes at 1,065 and 1,053. While former two-time board member Sandi Kruel nabbed the last vacant spot with 886 votes, just 85 more than challenger Annette Bierfriend.

Though this year’s budget seemed to pass without much of a kerfuffle, Dr. Gratto did note that voting numbers were down this year.

According to District Secretary Mary Adamczyk, as of Tuesday night this year’s total is nearly 500 voters short of last year’s count of 2,097.