Tag Archive | "school"

Citing Exhausted High Schoolers, Sag Harbor Parents Ask for Later Start Times at Pierson

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Susan LaMontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

Susan Lamontagne addresses the Board of Education Monday, February 10.

By Tessa Raebeck

By 7:25 a.m. when many adults are either still asleep or just getting up, Sag Harbor teenagers are in class, solving math problems, writing chemistry equations, and, some say, struggling to stay awake.

Since the mid-1990s, school districts across the country have taken measures to push back morning start times for high school students, citing research that says early times interfere with the natural circadian rhythms of growing adolescents, who require more sleep than adults and naturally have more energy at night and less in the early morning.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced his support for later start times, posting on his Twitter account in August, “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.”

Despite the research and growing public support, however, many school administrators are wary about changing start times due to potentially detrimental effects on student athletes, who practice and play games after school. Administrators also cite the logistical concerns of having enough sunlight for outdoor games and the inherent difficulties of competing against schools with different hourly schedules. Later times would also require transportation schedules to change, an obstacle with undetermined costs.

At the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday night, several parents showed up to advocate for later start times, present the board with supporting research and offer their help in determining how such a change could be implemented in Sag Harbor.

As it stands, the bell rings for first period at Pierson Middle/High School at 7:25 a.m. The sixth grade eats lunch at 10:17 a.m., seventh and eighth grade students eat at 11 a.m. and high school students eat at 11:43 a.m. The last class ends at 1:49 p.m. and students have academic support, an optional period they can use as a study hall or to get extra help from teachers, until 2:26 p.m., when the academic day ends.

The Sag Harbor Elementary School starts at 8:35 a.m. and gets out at 3:10 p.m.

A parent of two children in the district, Susan Lamontagne founded the Long Island Chapter of Start School Later, a nonprofit coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and others “working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.”

Addressing the board Monday, Ms. Lamontagne cited sleep research that has found teenagers’ changing hormones make it difficult for them to go to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. and wake up before 8 a.m. Some Pierson students wake as early as 6 a.m. to get ready, catch their bus and get to class in time.

Ms. Lamontagne referenced schools across the country that saw increases in attendance and test scores and decreases in failing grades, depression, sports-related injuries and teen-driving related accidents once later start times were implemented.

At Nauset High School in Massachusetts, after the start time was moved more than an hour later, to 8:35 a.m., the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons decreased from 166 days in the first two months of the 2010-2011 school year to 19 days in the first two months of the 2011-2012 school year.

In 2011, the Glen Falls City School District BOE voted to change the high school start time from 7:45 to 8:26 a.m. effective September 2012. In an interview with PostStar, Principal Mark Stratton stood by the board’s decision, although he admitted some students, particularly those who play sports, were unhappy about getting home from school later.

According to Mr. Stratton, after a year of the later start time, by September 2013 the percentage of students who were late to school dropped by almost 30 percent. The number of students failing courses also decreased, from 13.6 percent to 8.6 percent.

Glens Falls City School District does not provide transportation for its students, removing one obstacle cited by administrators considering earlier school start times.

“We want to offer our help,” Ms. Lamontagne told the board Monday, adding that she and others are willing to walk the administration through the experiences at other districts, the logistics of changing times and “the full body of research.”

“All of the research that I’ve read indicates that there’s only benefit to the students’ health and performance,” replied Chris Tice, the board’s vice president, saying she would like to “at least put it on the table and hear back from the administrators on their thinking that—if that was going to be the will of the board—what would it take to make that happen.”

BOE member Susan Kinsella said, while other districts have lights on their athletic fields, Sag Harbor has no such means of finishing games in the dark.

“We have problems as it is finishing games in the fall,” agreed Todd Gulluscio, the district’s athletic director, adding that Sag Harbor students have longer travel times to and from games than other districts that have implemented later start times.

“For me,” added Mr. Gulluscio, “from an academic standpoint, if the kid’s going to miss something, I’d rather it be academic support than a class.”

Ms. Tice asked Mr. Gulluscio whether the district would be able to play schools that are closer.

He said no, “we can’t control where small schools are in Suffolk County.”

BOE member Sandi Kruel said that with the overwhelming amount of research in support of later start times, “the pendulum’s swinging backwards for us instead of forward.”

“I too have read and understand the research and it makes a lot of sense,” said elementary principal Matt Malone. “But there’s many, many factors that go into it.” He pointed to families who have structured their work schedules around the schools’ current times.

“We have to think about what’s doable,” agreed Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols. He said the issue has been “brought up for years here” and it may be realistic to move the start time by 10 minutes or so, but in terms of athletics, the school cannot simply choose to only play schools with the same schedule.

Mr. Nichols said such a change might work with a larger school district, but not one as small as Sag Harbor.

“It would be a challenge,” agreed vice principal Gary Kalish.

Parent Diana Kolhoff said if she had to choose between having bus service and school starting later, she would choose the later time, but Ms. Tice informed her cancelling transportation is not a legal option for the district.

BOE member David Diskin said later start times “obviously” make sense in terms of the benefits.

“My personal transition—having my kids go from elementary school to [high school] time—it’s torture. I mean it’s so early, it’s crazy,” he added.

Board member Mary Anne Miller asked Ms. Lamontagne, “if there’s a roadmap or some sort of a guideline that you could provide the board and the district with so we could keep talking about it, rather than closing the door and saying it’s too difficult, because most things in municipalities have many hurdles and obstacles.”

Ms. Lamontagne proposed the board put together a small group to go through the barriers and provide the board with recommendations.

“I’m comfortable with that,” said Mr. Nichols.

No decision was made and a group was not officially formed, but Ms. Lamontagne committed to continually updating the board.

Contract for Teaching Assistants

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Teaching Assistants Association of Sag Harbor, which has been without a contract for three years.

The contract is from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2016. It provides for 0-percent salary increases in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, a .5-percent increase in 2012-2013 and again in 2013-2014, and 1-percent increases in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, thanked the negotiating team, calling them “respectful, caring, very clear with their perspective [and] willing to listen to all perspectives.”

The board also granted the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) the right to include the title “Occupational Therapist” within their bargaining unit.

Audit Critical About How School Collects Non-Resident Fees

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By Kathryn G. Menu

On Friday, the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report critical of the Bridgehampton School’s efforts to collect tuition from non-resident students attending the school. The report finds that for two fiscal years the district charged some students less than the board of education’s approved tuition rates.

The audit, which looked specifically at non-resident students and the tuition they pay to attend the Bridgehampton Union Free School District, looked at the period from July 2009 through the end of October in 2010.

According to the report, 21 non-resident students attended the Bridgehampton School in 2009-10, while 19 attended the district in 2010-2011. That number represents 13 percent of the school’s 150-student population.

While the district could have charged $256,225 over the course of those two school years based on the Bridgehampton Union Free School District Board of Education’s tuition rates for non-resident students, according to the comptroller’s office it only charged $144,575 in tuition for those students. The report further states the district has collected $100,525 of the tuition charged by the school with a remaining $42,800 expected to be collected for the 2010-2011 school year.

A remaining $1,250 is “lost revenue,” according to the report, for one student because the district failed to collect an outstanding balance for the 2009-2019 school year.

According to the comptroller’s office report, one of the reasons for the shortfall in non-resident tuition rates came as a result of the school not properly billing the parents of a non-resident student in need of special education services.

In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, the school board adopted tuition rates for non-resident students needing special education services at $34,343 and $104,157, respectively. However, according to the report, in 2008 a student who was classified as needing special education was given a tuition contract by then superintendent, Dr. Dianne Youngblood, and the school board that charged the regular non-student tuition rate of $15,000, which the district collected for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 fiscal years.

In a letter of response to the comptroller’s office, dated May 4, Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, who took over the position last summer, notes that interviews with school staff indicated the student required less support than the special education tuition warranted.

Dr. Favre said the student in question received “minimal services in terms of special education support — including a special location for testing and some resource room (extra-help) support — which in our small school is available to all students.”

“Since there was no extra special education support needed for the student, it seemed that the general education rate (rather than the egregious special education cost) was more appropriate for this particular student,” stated Dr. Favre in the letter.

Dr. Favre added that the “lost revenue” reported in the comptroller’s report appears to be inaccurate, noting the district did continue to bill that student’s parents in the 2009-2010 school year and unlike the $1,250 reported, the district is now owed just $206.25.

The comptroller’s report also cited the board of education’s decided to waive a pro-rated non-resident tuition charge for a middle school student who completed three-quarters of the 2009-2010 school year before moving out of district. The report was critical, in this instance, of the fact that the district policy only allows tuition to be waived for students who move out of Bridgehampton while in their junior and senior years at the school.

In her response, Dr. Favre noted that the tuition contract signed with that student’s parents allowed for the tuition to be pro-rated for the time the student attended school at Bridgehampton.

“The statement in the policy regarding juniors and seniors refers to incidences when families of students who are juniors and seniors and have to move from Bridgehampton during their junior or senior year have the opportunity to permit their students to complete these two important years without the cost of tuition (in the best interest of the child),” she said.

“We will review our policies to be sure that they say what is meant, and we will assure that we continue to charge and bill for the appropriate rates moving forward,” added Dr. Favre.

On Monday, Dr. Favre said the audit was “conducted professionally and did what it was designed to do — assist us in continuing to assure efficiencies in all of our work in the district.”

TASH to March on Main Street

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Next Monday, the Teacher Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) will march together with members of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union from neighboring districts on the streets of Main Street in protest of the recent teacher contract negotiations in Sag Harbor. The village board of trustees approved the permit for the TASH rally on Tuesday evening, October 13, but had a few requests for TASH President Eileen Kochanasz.

Above: Teachers picketing in front of the Sag Harbor Elementary School in January of 2009.

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Tiffany Scarlato brought up concerns, saying she felt Main Street business owners would likely be upset with the demonstration and complain to the trustees. Kochanasz assured Scarlato that teachers would personally visit the store owners ahead of time to talk with them about the rally.

“Hopefully, that takes some of the heat off of you,” said Kochanasz to the board.

Kochanasz explained the event would entail people parking in available spaces in the village. The group will then meet at the Long Wharf, walk up one side of Main Street with signs of protest in hand, march back down the other side of the street and then make their way to Pierson High School via Madison Street. Once at the high school, noted Kochanasz, participants would disperse from the area on their own and not as a group.

“If there is enough people we might walk in two groups down [Main] street simultaneously,” reported Kochanasz during a later interview.

On the permit application, Kochanasz informed the village that the rally could attract up to 300 people. TASH has invited fellow NYSUT members from all the Suffolk County schools to join in the rally. Although Kochanasz doesn’t have final tallies of how many people will show up on Monday, representatives from Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Tuckahoe, Westhampton, Riverhead, Eastport, Springs, Shelter Island and Montauk plan to attend the event. Jim Kinnier, a prominent member of TASH, also reached out to educators at schools located on the North Fork.

The group will walk on the sidewalk and not the roadway, but Kochanasz and Kinnier plan to meet with Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano to discuss the logistics of the march. A few teachers have volunteered to stand at crosswalks and help organize vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

At the trustees meeting, the board members only briefly discussed the negotiations between the teachers and school board, which have been under way for more than 20 months. Mayor Brian Gilbride noted he has already offered school superintendent Dr. John Gratto the use of the Municipal Building for any further negotiations with TASH, with Scarlato offering herself up as a mediator.

“We actually have tried that with two outside mediators,” noted Kochanasz, referencing the mediator and fact finder the district has already employed.

The board unanimously approved the permit, although Scarlato said she hopes it does not become a monthly request.

The TASH rally will begin at the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor on Monday, October 19, at 5 p.m.

BOE Debates Turf

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The Sag Harbor School Board remains on the fence about fixing the playing fields at the middle and high school. The fields no doubt are in need of repair, as they are covered with weeds and the grounds are uneven. However, the board is reluctant to sink millions of dollars into installing turf without significant input from the public. A special meeting to discuss the fields, among other capital projects, was held on Tuesday evening, but sparsely attended. The board decided to come to a final decision at the next board of education meeting on October 5, hoping more community members will be present.

Robert Wilkinson with Landtek, an athletic field construction company, was on hand Tuesday extolling the benefits of a turf playing field over a natural and organically maintained one. The problem with an organic field, noted Wilkinson, is that over time the soil compacts, making it dangerous for children to play on. He estimated the annual maintenance to maintain grass organically is around $52,500.

According to Wilkinson, turf has come a long way since astro-turf. As he presented it, synthetic turf is impressive but comes with a hefty price tag.

Landtek’s product has the “biomechanical properties of a natural grass,” said their website. It is infilled with rubber and sand, and acts as a natural filtration system. At minimum, the life expectancy of the synthetic grass is 15 years. Annual maintenance costs around $5,000.

However, the installation of the turf, including all construction costs, is estimated at around $950,000. With all the bells and whistles, like outdoor lights and a running track, the field project could cost the district around $2.3 million. And this is a price the board isn’t willing to sink their teeth into just yet.

“I think we need much more input from the community … We really haven’t spoken about this in the district,” noted school board president Walter Wilcoxen. “It is really about money.”

Benito Vila, a local sports coach and parent, however, spoke of his support for the turf.

“Playing on that field is dangerous. The ball doesn’t play true. You are running on one type of grass and then mid-stride you are running on a completely different kind,” chimed in Vila. “I think the idea of having the turf is remarkable and it makes so much sense.”

The board was also divided on whether to bundle the turf project into the capital project bond or set it apart as a separate ballot proposition for the December 1 referendum vote. There is a time crunch for the board to make a decision on the fields as the project requires a SEQRA review which must be completed 45 days before a vote.

Storage Facility

“Everywhere you go there are things that require more work from our custodial staff. They are constantly moving things and putting them back. It is out of sight out of our minds, but it is pretty bad,” reported school board member Maryanne Miller of the lack of storage at the schools.

The board is debating whether to build a two-story storage building on the middle and high school property. A preliminary price for the facility is estimated at $1,027,200.

“One of the most memorable comments [I heard] is that the district has been talking about this for 14 years. All projects come with a cost and all of them need to be done,” added school superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “If we don’t put them in front of the voters, they will be here 14 years from now.”

The capital bond project is priced at around $6,051,114 accounting for an additional $50 per taxpayer. The addition of the turf field, storage building, and energy performance contract items would bring the bond up to $9,663,143, meaning around $100 would be additionally tacked on to resident’s tax bills.

Schools to Cut Trees and Shrubs for Safety

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When Montgomery Granger took over the position of Pierson athletics director and facilities supervisor in August, one of his first orders of business was to assess the landscaping on campus. From mint green holly bushes at the front entrance of the high school to a privet hedge in the back of the elementary school, the district boasts an impressive array of foliage. After surveying the grounds last week with tree expert Bill Miller, Granger learned that several of these trees and shrubs don’t meet state regulations. These plants, said Granger, must be cut down or removed to comply with the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act. This state legislation was passed in 2000 in the wake of the Columbine school shootings and outlines safety protocol at public schools.

According to the SAVE guidelines, shrubs must be pruned down to three feet and the height of trees is capped at eight feet.

“The idea is to have a clear view across campus,” explained Granger. “If we had a criminal on campus we want to make sure there is no place for them to hide.”

However, this also means that the privet hedge will be trimmed down and the holly bushes will be removed. On the Division Street entrance to the middle school, the weeping cedars will be pruned to provide better visibility. Granger plans to clip or relocate several flowering bushes along a wall of the elementary school.

A few of Granger’s suggestions are purely aesthetic. He hopes to extract the Norway maple in front of the elementary school entrance on Route 114 to create symmetry. The maple’s partner tree died and in the summer months the maple’s leaves cover over the name of the school etched onto the building.

Granger presented his recommendations at a Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting on Monday. The board and public appeared receptive to his ideas, although Granger later noted that school plants are often a sensitive subject.

“I am coming from a situation were it took several years to get a school into [SAVE] compliance,” noted Granger. “I want to be cautious to the feelings of the community. We have tremendously beautiful grounds, but we have to maintain them.”

Granger plans to formulate a priority list for these landscaping projects.

Bridgehampton: Three in to Keep High School

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Supporters of keeping the Bridgehampton School exactly as it is won a resounding victory tonight with Lillian Tyree-Johnson, Doug DeGroot, and Ron White taking the three available seats. Incumbent board president Jim Walker lost by a mere 13 votes to White.

Joe Conti, Laurie Gordon, and Nathan Ludlow who ran on the premise that the school would be better served if the high school closed, all lost.

The budget, otherwise known as proposition 1 was passed easily with 325 yes votes to only 150 no.  Proposition 2, which asked voters for $125,000 to be given to the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center also passed with 338 votes yes and 125  voting no.

The school board results were Lillian Tyree-Johnson 300, Doug DeGroot 258, Ron White 240, Jim Walker 227, Joe Conti 176, Nathan Ludlow 170, and Laurie Gordon 169.

The election was largely seen as a referendum for either closing the upper grades and tuitioning the students to other neighboring high schools, or keeping the school open.

 

Above: Supporters celebrate the election of three school board candidates Tuesday night whose agenda includes keeping the Bridgehampton School upper grades open.

 

School Debate Plays Out at Bridgehampton CAC

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By Marianna Levine

Bridgehampton’s May Citizens Advisory Committee meeting was packed with candidates for and members of the Bridgehampton School Board. Over the weekend there had been a flurry of emails among CAC members debating the merits of having school board candidates discuss their positions on the eve of the election.

It had been decided by CAC Chair Fred Cammann via email to cancel the candidates’ presentation. However, as people continued to arrive on Monday night, including Southampton Town Councilwoman, Anna Thorne-Holst, it became clear that Bridgehampton School families were expecting something to happen.

And it did, but only after an hour long official CAC meeting during which CAC member Ian MacPherson reported on transportation concerns, and Cammann listed off the pending application status of a number of CAC concerns such as the Ocean Road solar farm, the Bull’s Head Project, and the Gunite plant.

The only agenda items that fostered conversation were the request from the Bridgehampton National Bank for a pedestrian walkway between the bank and the new Citarella on Montauk Highway, and a continuation of the discussion the CAC had last month with Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, about the operating rules for Southampton’s appointed boards and how the local CACs can be more efficiently involved in the process.

Thorne-Holst mentioned, “I have asked Land Management to make developers’ plans available to the CACs as soon as the applications come through. The town is having a meeting on this subject tomorrow. In the past we’ve had a problem with months going by before the community and neighbors hear about a plan, and its actually not that the developers don’t want to hear from the public, its just that they don’t want to change things later when it’s too late and too expensive to do so. It’s better to get the community input early on.”

Thorne-Holst also commended the CAC for taking on the revisioning of the hamlet study themselves.

“In the past we have paid consultants to come to these meetings and listen to what people want, but this is a way to save yourselves a lot of tax dollars, and do it yourselves.”

In terms of the walkway, opinions were mixed but tended to favor not having one put near Citarella’s. In the end, discussion was tabled for further study and consideration.

 

At about 8 p.m., Cammann adjourned the official CAC meeting and stated, “In past years the CAC has discussed wonderfully controversial issues here and we’ve done it this way: I will call a motion to adjourn and whoever wants to stay can and we’ll have an open school board discussion.”

After a few people, including Councilwoman Throne-Holst, left, Ron White, a school board candidate and current applicant for the CAC, started the discussion by introducing himself and talking about the misconceptions many people have about the Bridgehampton School.

He sat in the front of the room along side fellow candidates Laurie Gordon, Doug DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Joe Conti. (White, DeGroot and Tyree-Johnson were elected to the board on Tuesday night. See related story on page 1.) The conversation quickly became a debate on whether the high school should close. There were several emotional pleas from school families to stop debating this issue because it was unnecessarily pressuring and hurting the children.

School board member Nicky Hemby, who has four children at Bridgehampton, was close to tears when she said; “this gets emotional because you are striking at our children. You are negating what my children have achieved.”

Joe Conti insisted, “We want to put more resources into the lower grades. We can argue back and forth about what the numbers say all day.”

CAC member Jenice Delano, who has an MBA in finance, replied, “You say we could argue numbers, but I believe there is actually nothing to argue about.”

Towards the end of the discussion school parent Katherine DeGroot asked Gordon and Conti, “If elected to the school board would you work on some sort of compromise; for example we could have some sort of exchange program with kids in Sag Harbor who might want to come here and vice versa.”

Conti suggested Bridgehampton’s school building just didn’t have the space, but Gordon said, “I would actually consider that because once you’re on the board you need to consider all options. But I do think spending $75,000 per student is still a lot of money to spend. No other district spends that much.”

To which Nicky Hemby replied, “You don’t have the right numbers!”

At approximately 9 p.m. Cammann said it was time to end the discussion and go home, and although some left swiftly, others lingered to continue the contentious conversation.

 

In photo above, school board candidate Joe Conti (right) makes a point while fellow candidates Laurie Gordon, Lillian Tyree-Johnson and Ron White look on.

 

Bridgehampton Candidates Face Off in Forum

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By Marianna Levine

Once again, the question of closing Bridgehampton’s High School was at the heart of a lively “Meet the Candidates” night last Monday, just as it has been in recent weeks. Sag Harbor Express publisher and editor Bryan Boyhan moderated the panel of seven candidates, who answered several prepared questions in front of a large audience.

Joe Conti, a former school board member, Laurie Gordon, and Nathan Ludlow, were up-front about their desire to close the school’s upper-classes which would, in their opinion, reduce taxes while improving the lower school. The candidates in favor of keeping the school intact as a K-12 institution include Doug DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, current board President Jim Walker, and Ron White.

After brief introductions, the candidates were asked what opportunities they saw for Bridgehampton to share services with other districts. 

Walker related that the board had been in talks with Sag Harbor’s school board and its superintendent concerning shared services, and that there had been discussion with the Hayground School about sharing food services.

DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, and White noted the school already shared athletic and academic services with Sag Harbor and East Hampton. DeGroot added he thought Bridgehampton could have a tennis program to share with Sag Harbor by next year.

Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow said that Bridgehampton’s high school students should be tuitioned out of the district to other local schools. Conti thought what shared services there were are just small steps and something bold needs to be done — such as tuitioning out the high school students.

In rebuttal, Walker added that Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton have also discussed the possibility of sharing business office personnel.

Gordon answered him by saying that sharing activities “is not the same as having your own team or AP classes.” 

To which Tyree-Johnson replied, “For your information Pierson shares with East Hampton as well, so students would still be sharing teams.”

Although Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow had already brought up the discussion on closing the high school, the candidates were asked whether they supported the idea of closing the upper grades and tuitioning out students, and thereafter how taxpayers would benefit.

“It’s a terrible idea, and it will actually raise taxes in a very large way,” said DeGroot.

“A town without a school is a town without a heart,” added White who suspected that closing the high school was just the beginning of a campaign to close the whole school. “The more we take away from the kids living here the more we get away from all of us being able to live here.”

Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow believed that tuitioning out students would improve their test scores, the curriculum, and students’ sports opportunities as well as lower taxes. “Seventy-five percent of your budget is teachers and salaries,” noted Gordon.

“Only 30 percent of students who go here graduate from a four year college,” added Conti. “It’s not true that it will cost more. It will cost less in the long run.”

Walker countered their argument by saying, “When you tuition out students you no longer have any say over their education because you’re not a voter in the district. Look what’s happened to Springs — East Hampton keeps raising the tuition they charge.”

“There’s never been a study done by an impartial group about whether it will raise or lower taxes to tuition out students,” said Conti.

Walker ended the rebuttals with the comment, “Many of the kids who didn’t finish a four year college program probably didn’t finish for socio-economic reasons, because they couldn’t afford tuition, not because the school didn’t properly prepare them for college.”

While Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow talked about lessening the per student cost to $20,000 by tuitioning students out of district, DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, and Walker had their own numbers which pointed to the high cost of tuitioning out special education students who make up almost 20 percent of the school’s student body.

They were asked how each candidate would strengthen the academic and extra-curricular activities at the school in order to keep the small school dynamic and viable.

Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow once again said closing the high school would improve the school by focusing only on the lower grades. Ludlow thought the children currently attending private schools might be attracted to a stronger Bridgehampton elementary school.

DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, Walker, and White all thought the school was already pretty dynamic. All noted the abundance of opportunities students have to be involved in activities. Because it is a small school, they said, the children have an opportunity to get pulled into a wide variety of activities.

The panel then took questions from the audience. The first asked each candidate, since they are so concerned about children’s education and social well-being, how many school events had they attended in the last six months.

Ludlow couldn’t answer, while Conti and Gordon noted they had attended a lot of board meetings. Tyree-Johnson said it was easier for her to state what she hadn’t attended than what she had. DeGroot, Walker, and White had all attended numerous basketball games.

They were asked what improvements candidates would like to see for the high school, as it exists today.

Tyree- Johnson and DeGroot wanted facility improvements such as a larger gym and an outdoor track, while Walker wanted to see more summer programs at the school. White wanted to metaphorically break down the school’s walls and let everyone feel a part of the school and the community.

Conti said he didn’t want any improvements since he was in favor of tuitioning out students. Gordon and Ludlow both wanted better academic offering such as college prep courses and an SAT prep course, which Tyree-Johnson said the school already had.

Ludlow elicited a strong reaction from the audience when he said, “a ‘C’ shouldn’t be good enough for everybody.”

Walker responded by saying, “Nathan, a ‘C’ is not good enough here either. There have been changes since you’ve been here. Our students work hard, score well, and they do succeed.”

“The new state test results are just in and the winner for the English test score is Bridgehampton for 4, 5, 6, and 7 grades among all the local schools,” DeGroot added.

Gordon responded, “ I don’t know about current test scores, and I think congratulations are in order, but let me read out the past scores.” Although Gordon’s reading of the scores was drowned out by the audience, she implied they were not as good.

“Those scores are great,” said Conti of the lower grades, “But we’re talking about the high school.”

The final question from the audience asked each candidate if their dream of either closing the high school or keeping the school pre-K through 12 didn’t come true, what would they do on the school board.

Both DeGroot and White said they would have to rebel against any school closing. The other of the candidates said they would try to make sure students still got the best education. 

However Tyree-Johnson pointed out, “I would make board members realize it is not their decision. The community would have to vote on a school closing.”

In their closing remarks, all candidates restated their position on whether the school should house the high school or not. 

DeGroot asked people “to remember what’s at stake here.” While Conti ended with “change is painful but we need to change for the future.”

Walker reflected, “I’ve seen so much change and progress over the last four years. We have a great school. Let’s continue what we’re doing. It turns out wonderfully well rounded kids.”

Following the forum, several Bridgehampton High School students surrounded Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow engaging the candidates in further discussion about their school.  Many people lingered in the gym, and chatted one on one with the candidates.

 

 

Bridgehampton Considers Impacts of $10 Million School Budget

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By Marianna Levine

The Bridgehampton School Board’s April workshop meeting turned out to be much longer than the actual school board meeting a week earlier, due in part to the teachers’ ratification of their contract and interim business administrator George Chesterton’s presentation of the school’s 2009-2010 budget. School board candidates Joe Conti, Nathan Ludlow, and Lillian Tyree-Johnson were in the audience.

In a letter read by school board vice president Elizabeth Kotz (filling in for president Jim Walker who was absent), teachers association representative Ken Giosi formally announced the teachers’ ratification of their contract. The deal gives the teachers a five-year contract with an annual three-percent salary increase. Two years of the contract will be retroactive, as the teachers have been working without a contract for that amount of time.

“The level of civility both sides maintained during negotiations ultimately benefits our students,” wrote Giosi in his letter. He also extended his appreciation and gratitude on behalf of all the teachers to the board for closing the contract negotiations.

Later in the meeting, Chesterton, handed out documentation detailing information about next year’s school budget. Bridgehampton’s School Projected Budget for 2009-2010 will be $10,012,857, an increase of 1.41 percent from this year’s $9,873,698 budget — or $139,159 more. State aid has decreased by 1.06 percent as has revenue from admissions, interest, and services to other districts in the end decreasing overall non-tax levy revenues by 33.11 percent.

Chesterton also included a detailed documentation of projected school tax levies over a range of assessed property values. For example, in Bridgehampton, in the coming year owners of property valued at $750,000 will pay $1,135 in school taxes as opposed to the current 1,044. Owners of property valued at $3 million will pay $4,540 rather than $4,177. There is an across the board 8.68 percent increase in the tax levy with owners of properties under $1 million dollars paying between $24 and $91 more a year in school taxes. Properties valued between $1 million and $5 million dollars will see an increase of between $121 and $605 a year.

Chesterton handed out a document from the NYS Office of Real Property Services showing there will also be a significant enhanced Star Exemption, for those who are retired and whose income does not exceed the statewide standard. The Town of Southampton, which includes the hamlet of Bridgehampton, was shown to have the second highest enhanced exemption (after Shelter Island) in Suffolk County. The Enhanced Star Exemption allows a certain amount of one’s property assessment to be reduced prior to it being levied for school taxes.

“This shows that the board and administration has taken into account the current economic situation while still providing a good education for the children of this community,” said Chesterton.

School board candidate Conti complimented Chesterton from the audience saying, “Very nicely done!” after his presentation.

 

In other school board news, principal Jack Pryor reported that a tree would be planted in honor of deceased student Pablo Saldivar on May 1, which is Arbor Day. He also noted that the eighth grade will be making their class trip to Washington D.C. from May 26 to 28.

School superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood updated the board on the Middle States accreditation progress. She hoped the application would be completed soon, and mentioned the stated policy of the board of education was key in gaining accreditation, and that it might need updating.

“I would like us to look at the policy because we might find places to revise it,” noted Kotz. “Some of the language needs to be updated.”

Board members agreed they would try to have the policy ready for the following week, in time for the application deadline.

There was also some debate about the use of the school’s parking area in the summer season after Planned Parenthood asked to use the school’s parking for a gala they are holding at a venue nearby this summer. According to school board member Joe Berhalter, the request had been turned down as the result of an executive session the prior week in which the school’s lawyers determined the lot could only be used for educational programs.

This week, East End Hospice’s Camp Goodgrief, a summer camp for children who have lost loved ones, had made a similar request. Board members were inclined to allow the campers to be picked up and dropped off at the school’s parking lot.

 However, Berhalter reminded them that “I don’t think Camp Goodgrief fits into educational use and I think it’s important we stay consistent with this usage policy.”

The board also denied two other groups use of the property over the summer. One request came from a tennis pro who wanted to use the courts for summer lessons, and the other was from an organization called Health Barn that wanted to run a health focused summer camp at the school.

Letters March 19, 2009

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Looking Out for Taxpayers

 

Dear Editor,

We are fortunate to have elected officials like Linda Kabot and Greg Ferraris setting the appropriate tone for reining in spending. Linda Kabot cut her salary by $5,000 when she took office as town supervisor of Southampton as well as freezing the salaries of administrators. As the town supervisor, she oversees a population of nearly 60,000 residents. In promoting more transparency, Supervisor Kabot posted the budget and salaries for the Town of Southampton on the town’s website.

Greg Ferraris, the mayor of the Village of Sag Harbor, and the village trustees likewise took a 10 percent pay cut.

Fred Thiele, our state assemblyman who represents 130,000 constituents, has not gotten a pay raise since 1999. He still earns only $79,500 a year as a member of the legislature. Assemblyman Thiele is always looking out for the taxpayers first.

These are just three public servants who attempt to set an example of running a leaner government. Supervisor Kabot and Mayor Ferraris chose to cut their salaries, not only discretionary spending in these difficult times. Their modest gestures communicate immeasurable good will to the public. It would be nice if the Sag Harbor Board of Education set the same tone for the 2009-2010 budget. Maybe the board should look into staffing ratios to offset any pay raises they contemplate.

Thomas Loreto

Noyac

 

Good News in the Snow

 

Dear Editor,

These days when all the news seems bad and I woke up to a snowfall that I knew would take me a week to dig out. I couldn’t help but feel a bit discouraged and somewhat gloomy.

Well, it didn’t turn out to be such a bad day, A gentleman passing by in his grey combination station wagon/panel truck/SUV (I’m not good at identifying cars these days) with Emerson written in chrome on the side, stopped and, taking a shovel out of the back of his vehicle, lent a hand. Cheerfully saying “community service,” he dug right in and quickly shoveled all the heavy buildup from the snowplows making the street accessible and then, just as quickly before we could exchange names, he went on his way.

How could anyone be discouraged after such an act of kindness? I thanked him then and if you know him, give him a pat on the back for a job well done.

Sincerely,

L. Freethy

Sag Harbor

 

Finding Educational Cost Balance

 

Dear Editor,

In last week’s editorial you refer to a per pupil cost of “upwards of $25,000 per year to teach a kid.” You then reflect on this statement and assert “the truth of the matter is it really doesn’t cost that much — not to teach them — since there are non-educational expenses such as transportation mixed in with the budget.”

Your entire premise needs further clarification.

This important statistic, data gathered by the New York State Education Department, and presented in “Vital Signs,” reports that the per pupil cost is calculated by taking the total budget minus transportation divided by school enrollment. It makes no assertion that this is a teaching expense only. It is a total per pupil expense in a school district without considering transportation, and a valuable starting point when analyzing or benchmarking a school district’s cost and efficiencies.

You join the ranks of many well-meaning people and groups that just don’t accept this and other valuable statistics available to them in analyzing and comparing district costs.

These valuable statistics include, but are not limited to the following: teacher to pupil ratio, teaching assistant to pupil ratio, total staff enrollment ratios, percent of Regents diplomas, and percent of graduates enrolling in four year college programs. These statistics must be incorporated with other statistics in guiding school districts to determine future strategic approaches to evolving needs. The teaching experience and higher education accomplishment of faculties should be compared when making any analysis, along with percentages of students in different programs, as well as many other considerations.

Finally, and importantly, the demographic make up of a school district should be analyzed and considered, and in addition, the economy of the district and beyond should play into the strategic planning of the future structure and cost of a school district. Currently, my understanding is, the Sag Harbor property taxpayers are composed of about 55% second homeowner taxpayers who do not vote here and their children are not enrolled in the school district, 20% senior citizens and around 10% of taxpayers who send their children to parochial and private schools at a minimal cost to the district.

As we move forward, we should make every effort to protect our community, consider all of our taxpayers and this difficult economy in our district’s educational planning. We should challenge and validate statistics as we analyze and benchmark comparable data.

I am sure that working together all responsible parties that influence strategic decisions for our school district can achieve results that reflect both a high quality education for our students, as well as a responsibility to the property taxpayer, many of whom are without a voice or a family participation in the educational process.

Respectfully,

Ed Drohan

Noyac

 

Pay Attention

 

Dear Editor,

They mean what they say. George W. Bush came into office trumpeting his “compassionate conservative” credentials. He meant just that: he gave tax breaks to the corporations and wealthy individuals towards whom alone his compassion was directed.

He told investors his name was Madoff, but they paid no attention until he mad(e)-off with their money.

The Republican Party wants Sarah Palin to be their next Commander-in-Chief. They just might mean it until they find out who she is paling with across the Bering Strait. Watch out! However, that could mean good relations with Russia.

It is time we started paying very close attention to what people say — especially prominent business and public figures. Failure to do so could be costly. People don’t always mean what they say or say what they mean. But they sometimes do.

Yours sincerely,

David Carney

Sag Harbor