Tag Archive | "school board"

Four Candidates Announced in Race for Sag Harbor School Board

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By Tessa Raebeck

With three incumbents’ terms ending this summer, four candidates—two of them newcomers—have come forward to enter the race for the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education (BOE).

The three-year terms of BOE President Theresa Samot and longtime members Sandi Kruel and Mary Anne Miller are ending June 30. While Ms. Miller will not be seeking reelection, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel have again entered the contest.

Thomas Ré, who had an unsuccessful bid for the school board last year, and newcomer Diana Kolhoff are also in the running.

The three open spots are for three-year terms beginning July 1 and expiring June 30, 2017.

Diana Kolhoff.

Diana Kolhoff

Ms. Kolhoff, who moved to the district from Southampton about five years ago, has two daughters at Sag Harbor Elementary School, in the first and second grades. She has a background in education, having worked as a high school math teacher for 12 years and currently as a Mathematics Education Consultant, training grade school teachers in best instructional practices.

“Although I serve districts throughout Suffolk County, I am most rewarded when I serve my local school district,” Ms. Kolhoff said in an email Wednesday. “I am running for school board so that I can make a positive impact on the school charged with educating the children of this community I have grown to love.”

Ms. Kolhoff has coached the Pierson Girls Volleyball middle and high school teams and is on the district’s Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee.

Seeking her fourth term on the board, Ms. Kruel has had three children in the district. The second will graduate Pierson High School this year and her youngest is in the sixth grade.

Sag Sandi Kruel

Sandi Kruel

“I definitely have thought about possibly not running, but I feel that we’ve made such amazing strides in the last couple years that it was really important to keep consistency,” Ms. Kruel said Wednsday. “Our tax increase has been under the [state-mandated 2-percent] cap, we’ve passed bonds, we’re the only district not to lay off employees, we’ve actually been able to increase programs—which is unheard of.”

“So at this point for me, it was like, we’ve got a superintendent to put in place and you know what, let’s finish what we started,” she said, adding if elected, she would “keep it going and going in the right direction.”

Thomas Ré, an attorney with a daughter in the 10th grade at Pierson, is seeking a school board position for the second spring in a row.

“I have a general sense of service for the community and with the school…and I want to help,” Mr. Ré said Wednesday.

Thomas Re

Thomas Re

Mr. Ré said there are three main categories of issues for the board: people, plant and program.

“We have to always remember that the whole purpose of everything is to give to the children the best possibilities and to create the best possible educational situation for them, so that they can grow and can have productive lives and can be important members of their community wherever they are,” he said.

Current BOE President Theresa Samot is seeking her fourth term on the board. She has served as president for three of her nine years on the board, and also as vice president. Ms. Samot has had two daughters graduate Pierson and her youngest is currently in eleventh grade at the school.

Theresa Samot

Theresa Samot

“I think it’s important that I continue to collaborate with the district and community on the goals that we’re currently working on,” Ms. Samot said Wednesday.

Ms. Samot pointed to the recent implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the high school and the passage of the bond as recent achievements of the board.

The three key components, she said, are continuing to work on student achievement in a cost-effective manner, develop budgets that are under the tax cap but maintain programs and staff, and focus on building and improving our facilities.

“And certainly the umbrella that comes over all that is sound fiscal cooperation,” she said, adding that community involvement “in everything that we do” is another key element.

The budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

Sag Harbor School District’s Proposed Budget Won’t Pierce Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

Unlike budgets proposed in East Hampton and Bridgehampton, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed 2014-15 budget does not pierce the state-mandated tax cap.

In a second presentation of the full budget on Monday, administrators proposed spending of $36.87 million, an increase of $1.36 million or 3.83 percent over the 2013-14 budget.

The tax cap, established by the state in 2011, prohibits school districts from raising property taxes by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, that cap has been set at the rate of inflation, 1.51 percent. The district budget calls for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, which is just below the cap.

The budget nearly doubles, to $75,500, the amount set aside for “public information” and postage. Only $38,505 was set aside for that purpose in the current fiscal year.

That increase is in part due to $30,000 being earmarked for improving online communications, whether by expanding the role of the public relations firm Syntax Communications or hiring an in-house webmaster responsible for managing the website, social media and other online tools.

A survey of over 600 students, parents and staff conducted by the district’s Communications Committee found that all parties preferred getting communications online, but the website and other portals were lacking information, disorganized and not regularly updated.

Technology spending increases by 20 percent under the proposed budget. The $95,009 would fund an ongoing initiative to replace computers and Smart Boards, upgrading the wireless network and for the purchase of iPads, Google Chromebooks and MacBooks for classroom use.

An increase of $4,000 is budgeted for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentoring program, recently reinstated by the national organization.

Addressing the need for increased math instruction required under the state’s Common Core Learning Standards—as well as the difficulty many students and parents have had with the new math standards—the district is considering adding a math lab. The budget draft includes $40,000 to hire a teacher who would work 60 percent of full time, to supplement a full-time staff member in the lab. “So that way the lab has a teacher all the time,” School Business Administrator John O’Keefe said Tuesday.

The board will vote on the budget at its April 23 meeting. The community budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. Applications to run for school board can be found in the district clerk’s office and must be submitted by Monday, April 21, at 5 p.m.

The Great Prom Debate Heats Up in Sag Harbor; School Board Considers Veterans Tax Exemptions

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Pierson Middle/High School

Pierson Middle/High School

By Tessa Raebeck

The Prom

The debate continues at Pierson High School, as students and administrators dispute the balance between autonomy and security at the prom.

At the Board of Education meeting February 10, Pierson Middle-High School Principal Jeff Nichols stood by a recommendation made by the school’s Shared Decision Making Committee to require students who want to attend the prom—predominantly 17 and 18-year-old seniors—to take school-sponsored coach buses to the event and be subjected to a search conducted by an outside security firm before being allowed on the bus, as a means of curbing drug and alcohol use at the event.

The details of the plan and the specific parameters of the search, which Mr. Nichols called “more thorough” than those conducted by himself and other school officials in the past, have not yet been determined.

Various groups from the school community form the shared decision committee: parents, staff members, administrators, community members and students. According to Mr. Nichols, the adult SDM members supported the recommendation, but the two student representatives “were not enamored with that process.”

Mr. Nichols said he discussed four options at an assembly with the entire senior class.

The first option is to leave everything it has been; students would be free to take limos, drive themselves or even get a ride from a parent and be subject to the administrators’ security protocol. The second is the proposed plan to put students on coaches after being searched by an outside firm. The third option would allow students to rent “party buses” (a chauffeured vehicle furnished like a limousine but larger in size, although not as large as a school bus) but require each of those party buses to have school-sponsored security on board.  Under the fourth and final option, students would be free to choose their own transportation to the prom, but prior to entering the actual dance (the school-sponsored portion of the event) they would be subjected to a search process administered by an outside firm.

A final decision has not been made, but Mr. Nichols, board vice president Chris Tice and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, expressed their agreement with the SDM recommendation.

“You can set a lot of trap doors, buses and that, but at the end of the day, my biggest concern is sometimes when you deny too much, the kids want to get over that fence even more,” David Diskin, a board member, said at the meeting.

The six members of the senior class in attendance asked whether they could get a party bus after the prom. Mr. Nichols replied, “Once you leave you can do anything you want.”

 

Veterans Tax Exemption

In December, Governor Cuomo signed a law authorizing school districts to provide veterans with as much as $40,000 in property tax exemptions.

The law leaves school boards with the decision of whether or not to offer the exemptions, which would increase the school taxes of non-veteran residents, who would need to absorb the loss in revenue.

For a house valued at $500,000 in Southampton the annual cost to non-veterans  would be $8.62; for a house valued at the same amount in East Hampton, the cost would be $10.84 annually, according to John O’Keefe, the school’s business administrator.

The exemptions include reductions in assessed value of 15 percent for veterans who served during wartime (an $8,000 cap), 10 percent for those who were in combat zones (a $12,000 cap) and an additional, variable reduction for those with disabilities connected to their service (a $40,000 cap).

School districts must decide whether to offer the exemptions by March 1. The district must first hold a public hearing on the base exemption, and then adopt the resolution by a simple majority vote. If the district wishes to change the caps, another public hearing and vote is required. If the district wishes to enact extensions, such as the “Gold Star Parents” provision to also include parents of a soldier who died in service, it must adopt a separate resolution, although a public hearing is not required.

At the February 10 meeting, the school board appeared unclear on the procedure, as it adopted a  resolution to approve the veterans tax exemption prior to holding a public hearing.

Four days later, the district announced it would hold the required public hearings on the base exemption and cap changes, as well as a hearing on the “Gold Star Parents” provision, on Thursday, February 27, starting at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library.

School Board Says “Yea” To Student Accident Insurance, Mascot

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Whales

By Claire Walla

For the past year, Sag Harbor School District has not carried a supplemental form of insurance known as student accident insurance. For some members of the Sag Harbor School Board, the program was not worth its cost to the district — some parents didn’t see high returns on their claims.

“It was more of a cost benefit issue,” recalled District Business Manager Janet Verneuille.

However, after hearing complaints from parents and concerns voiced by members of the school board, this week the board voted 4-3 to reinstate a new student accident insurance plan. School Board President Mary Anne Miller and board members Walter Wilcoxen and Gregg Schiavoni voted against reinstating the insurance plan.

After previously considering a few different options, the board ultimately decided to go with a company called Chartis, which carries an annual fee of approximately $45,765—or, $45 per student. There is also vanishing deductible of $250 with a two-year limit of benefit payments. The plan will go into effect as of July 1, 2012.

District Business Director Janet Verneuille reached out to neighboring school districts on the East End at the request of the board to find out whether or not they had student accident insurance. Seven responding districts — from Hampton Bays to Montauk — carried the insurance, Verneuille reported back. However, she said the prices were significantly lower elsewhere.

“I found the cost difficult to swallow,” admitted board member Chris Tice. However, she added, “I still go back to the point that, when you have students on your premises… there’s a lot that our health insurance doesn’t cover. It is very normal and expected that the school would have this insurance.”

“You open the door and there can be an accident,” said board member Sandi Kruel, a staunch supporter of student accident insurance.

Unlike liability insurance, which the school is required by law to carry, student accident insurance would kick-in for student injuries not thought to be connected to negligence on the part of the district.

Board member Gregg Schiavoni expressed some concern about voting for student accident insurance after the board had already voted to approve the proposed 2012-13 budget, as it would drive the cost of the budget up by nearly $46,000, treading dangerously close to the two-percent tax cap limit. Schiavoni wondered if the board should also consider cutting roughly $46,000 worth of expenses from the proposed budget.

However, Superintendent Dr. John Gratto added, “I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to take out anything in the budget.”

He went on to say that the budget had been very tightly whittled down to its current state and student accident insurance didn’t take top priority.

Instead, he said, “I would wait until the school year is underway and find something that we haven’t spent money on.”

Dr. Gratto pointed out that the school had made very conservative estimates in the budget regarding the number of transfer students expected to enter the district next year. Though revenues from the transfer student population could top $700,000, the budget only anticipates $400,000 in revenues, making anything over that amount surplus.


In other news…


The district voted to approve its traditional mascot: the whale.

But not just any old whale.

During a school board presentation last Monday, March 26, Dr. Gratto showed a collage of images showcasing nine different whale designs found throughout the village. Many Sag Harbor institutions — from Bagel Buoy and the Wharf Shop to the United Methodist Church and the signpost for Sag Harbor Hills — feature their own versions of the world’s largest mammal.

One rather jovial whale is portrayed standing upright and sticking its tongue out, seemingly in the midst of dancing a jig — this is not the sea creature that will come to represent Pierson.

The board made very clear that the Pierson Whalers will be represented by some version of the whale currently gracing the wall of the Pierson Gym.

“It’s the spirit of this whale,” clarified board member Chris Tice.

She further noted that the final whale image — which will ultimately be used as the official emblem of the school for promotional materials, like t-shirts, letterhead and the school website — can be tweaked a bit so that its outline will be displayed to its full potential in all formats.

Board Looks at Logistics of Bringing in Drug-Sniffing

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Heller_SCPD at Sag School Board Mtg 1-23-12_0241

By Claire Walla


Inspector Stuart Cameron held all the attention in the room. Standing straight and tall in a navy blue uniform adorned with a bright badge, which stood out against the rows of young adult novels that are usually the focal point in the Pierson Middle/High School library, Cameron faced the Sag Harbor Board of Education and proceeded to talk about drug-sniffing dogs.

As commander of the Suffolk County Police Department’s special control bureau, Cameron said he recently initiated the effort to bring drug-sniffing dogs into schools across Suffolk County. The Suffolk County K-9 unit has to date visited seven different school districts, two of them this year, he said, although “neither resulted in an arrest.”

Cameron was asked to give a presentation on the Suffolk County K-9 unit at Monday’s school board meeting, January 23, in anticipation of the Sag Harbor School District taking proactive measures to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the middle/high school campus sometime this year.

Cameron explained that the police dogs are trained to detect several illegal substances, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and crack.

“Because of the insurgence of heroin [in Suffolk County], we thought it would be appropriate to use them in schools,” he said of the dogs.

School board members note that heroine is not part of the problem they’ve noticed at Pierson, but marijuana is.

Cameron continued by explaining how the drug-sniffing procedure would work.

“We came up with a program that’s very conservative,” he began.

Working in conjunction with Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, who will be the local law enforcement liaison, Suffolk County police would conduct a “non-targeted sniff,” as opposed to a full-blown search. In the instance of such a “sniff,” Cameron said, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols would be asked to identify a general area where there are student lockers, which the K-9 unit would explore.

Cameron asked that the administrators also identify the beginning of a class period when the dogs could be brought on campus. In this way, all students would be asked to remain in their classrooms during the course of the “sniff.” The procedure, as it’s currently laid out, would prevent dogs from actively sniffing-out any drugs potentially located in classrooms — either in students’ backpacks or carried on their person.

“At this time, [the program] is solely geared toward lockers and school facilities,” Cameron said. “Our goal is to provide a service, not to interfere with school operations.”

Also, before Suffolk County Police would bring dogs onto the Pierson campus, Cameron said he would require the district to send a letter to all parents that explains the drug-sniffing procedure, as well as the district’s policy on the matter. Included in this letter would be legal explanations of what a “sniff” fully entails, as well as a clear explanation of the district’s regulation over student lockers.

According to Cameron, “the scope of the letter [sent to parents] should include the fact that the school owns all locks and lockers, and that lockers can be subject to search without advanced knowledge.”

It should also be made clear, he said, that students are not permitted to share their lockers with other students, because ultimately “they are solely responsible for whatever’s inside.”

When asked whether he felt teachers would have enough knowledge of police procedures before a potential “sniff” were to take place, Nichols explained that all teachers have already been trained in how to conduct their classrooms during lock-down — and this scenario would not be much different.

According to Dr. Gratto, at the start of the class period during which the dogs will be brought on campus, Nichols would get on the P.A. system and require that everyone stay in classrooms until further notice.

“The announcement that would be made is that we’re going into lock-down,” Nichols added.

In the end, Dr. Gratto noted, this would be a precautionary measure meant to deter students from bringing illegal substances on campus. But, should any student be found to be in possession of any drugs, he said the school would first report the incident to police. (Chief Fabiano would be on-hand to make any potential arrests.)

“But, our interest is in having a save environment,” Dr. Gratto continued. “That student would be strongly encouraged to attend counseling. That would be a major component of what we do.”

Sag Harbor School Board members unanimously approved the first reading of the school’s new policy on drug-sniffing dogs. The second and final reading will be on February 9.

Teacher Negotiation Update

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By Marissa Maier
 
 According to Sag Harbor School superintendent Dr. John Gratto, the school board attempted to set-up a negotiation session on Sunday, February 7 with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH). School board president Walter Wilcoxen and Dr. Gratto met with TASH leaders Jim Kinnier and Eileen Kochanasz, last Wednesday to propose a day of negotiations this weekend, said Dr. Gratto. He added that the full school board planned to attend the bargaining session. In the past only Dr. Gratto and the school’s attorney Tom Volz have been present during these meetings to negotiate a new contract for the teachers, though the board has been present at informational sessions with TASH.
Kochanasz confirmed on Wednesday that TASH declined the offer to meet on February 7, but has offered 16 alternative dates between February 23 and March 24.
“We weren’t able to match everybody’s calendar and we were given short notice on this,” explained Kochanasz. Of the full board attending a negotiation session, Kochanasz added, “That is a different approach then we have experienced in the past two years.”
Wilcoxen noted that NYSUT, TASH’s union representation, has asked in the past for the full board to be present at negotiation sessions.
“TASH has often mentioned that they think the whole board should be involved. The board wanted to commit a lot of hours on a Sunday so there would be no time constraints. They have a sense of urgency about finalizing this contract,” remarked Dr.Gratto in an interview on Tuesday.
Although Dr. Gratto declined to discuss the details of the board’s current offer, he explained the board has “flexibility within parameters.” To use an analogy, the board’s offer is like a puzzle, and though their end goal is to complete this puzzle, they are able to adjust how the pieces of their offer fit together. For example, Dr.Gratto explained that if TASH made cost-saving concessions in one area the board would have the ability to beef up their offer in another area.  
“The major issues are salaries and health insurance. We have options that we think could satisfy the needs of both parties. There has to be a reason for both parties to say yes,” said Dr. Gratto. Kochanasz later said that since the board proposed meeting on February 7 neither party has discussed any contract ideas.

Janet Verneuille Named New Pierson Business Manager

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web-verneuille

It’s official; the Sag Harbor School District has a new business manager to replace Len Bernard and the board’s pick is anything but expected. On Thursday, January 14, the Sag Harbor School Board appointed JanetVerneuille , a well known parent in the district and member of the school’s budget advisory committee, as the Director of Business Operations. For the past year Verneuille worked as the comptroller of the East Hampton Town. During the town’s organizational meeting on January 4, ushering in Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s administration, Bernard was named the town’s budget officer. During a work session on the following day, the town board voted to reduce Verneuille’s annual salary from $130,000 to $90,000. As the business manager for Pierson, Verneuille will earn $120,000 and will begin working on February 1. She will serve a three-year probationary term in the district. Verneuille handed in her resignation papers to East Hampton Town on Friday, January 15.

Above: A Photo of Verneuille earlier in the year.

Changing of the Garb

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web Teachers Shirts

“This is no longer about gray shirts … wearing them or not wearing them,” pronounced Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) President Eileen Kochanasz at the Sag Harbor School District’s board of education meeting on Monday, January 11. As her words reverberated throughout the Pierson High School library, the district’s teachers uniformly stood up and pulled off their gray shirts imprinted with the words “Year Two, No Contract” to reveal black ones with a new slogan, “Sag Harbor, District in Crisis.”

During a later interview, Kochanasz said the protest garb is meant to call attention to statements and actions allegedly made by the board, in regards to the tumultuous teacher contract negotiations, and to respond to public displeasure with the visibility of the gray shirts. The new black apparel will be worn by the teachers only on Monday and the educators will dress in regular attire for the rest of the school week. Kochanasz added that TASH members will continue to picket in front of school grounds on Fridays.

“[We were told by the public] if the shirts were not there, there would be more support. If we removed the shirts completely people would forget … The sole purpose [of the black shirts] is to keep the community aware that this issue is seriously unsettled for us,” said Kochanasz later in the week.

The new TASH garments are being met with disapproval by some parents in the community. Since TASH members arrived in the gray shirts on the first day of school in September, parent Laura Avedon said many parents repeatedly requested TASH wear regular clothes inside the classroom. She believes the new message might also be frightening for students especially those in the elementary school.

“The t-shirts are a menacing artifact of a dispute that belongs in the realm of adults only,” noted Avedon in an email. “When I got home from the Board of Education meeting . . . I had to explain to my elementary school daughter that tomorrow she was going to see new t-shirts on all her teachers, saying that the school district was in crisis. She was very concerned, since she knows the word crisis means a dire or life-threatening emergency. I explained to her that the district was not in crisis, and that no harm would come to her by going to school.”

Of the plan to only wear the shirts on Monday, Avedon said, “It should be no days a week. The children shouldn’t be involved … I think it harms them emotionally.”

A fellow parent, Glenn Lawton, added, “These semantics further fuel the polarity and only help to erode our collective ‘spirit.’”

Parent Bill Collage remarked, “I am very pro teacher. I think the gray t-shirts were very effective messaging and the penetration of the message is roughly 100 percent among the parents. The black t-shirts will be met with less regard, I’m willing to bet. I think the next great message in this process will be when they take the t-shirts off.”

Chris Tice added “I am supportive of a process where teachers have the right to publicly voice their position. I would prefer it not be done on shirts worn in front of our young children.”

Kochanasz said TASH members haven’t noticed the shirts negatively impacting the students adding that they are very sensitive and tuned into the children.

School superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted the teachers are allowed to dress in any manner they see fit as the teachers’ contract and the district policy doesn’t speak to attire.

For TASH, said Kochanasz, the black shirts merely hint at larger issues that have arisen since their contract expired in June 2008. Though the teachers’ contract expired, the provisions of the former contract will continue until a new one is settled. In a speech delivered at the board meeting on Monday, Kochanasz asserted the board discredited a Fact Finder’s report and his qualifications, saying he wasn’t given enough time to complete his work and his professional background focused on national sports leagues instead of school districts. In an interview, school board president Walter Wilcoxen noted the board felt the report was incomplete because the Fact Finder didn’t address all of the major issues and he was given just three days to submit his recommendations.

After learning that four teachers have submitted their resumes to neighboring school districts, Dr. Gratto said if he was in their position he would also apply elsewhere to make more money, claimed Kochanasz. In an interview, Dr. Gratto said he didn’t make that statement. Kochanasz noted, in her speech, that Dr. Gratto was awarded a 13.5 percent raise last June which she said is a “greater percentage raise in one year than the combined percentages of [the board's] offer to teachers over five years.”

But Kochanasz’s statement, contended Wilcoxen, doesn’t include a 2.7 percentage step increase, or additional money given for each year a teacher is employed in the district.

“In my opinion you have deliberately misled this community with your repeated assurances that your negotiators are prepared to stay all night to reach an agreement,’” added Kochanasz of negotiations so far. “Yet during our most recent sessions, we weren’t given one counter-proposal to any comprehensive proposal we made at the same session. It was always, ‘we have to adjourn to assess … or cost out.’”

“We have to cost out but they don’t,” argued Wilcoxen. “We came up with our best offer. We would love to come up with a contract that is good for them and an efficiency, i.e. cost savings to us.”

“This is not about people disagreeing. It’s about what happens when they do. They are marginalized, trivialized, dismissed in public, in the press and at cocktail parties,” continued Kochanasz, interjecting a claim that a school board member was heard referring to a parent who spoke at a previous board meeting as a “buffoon” at The American Hotel.

Of this incident, Wilcoxen said he didn’t know about the comment made but said, “We are a small community and haven’t board members been called worse in public?”

Dr. Gratto and school board member Mary Ann Miller believed the new shirts would have little effect on the progression of the negotiations.

“Picketing or attacking people or wearing t-shirts isn’t going to change the fact that both parties will have to reach an agreement they think is fair,” noted Dr. Gratto. He said the board made the last proposal at the last negotiation session on December 3.

Miller added, “I don’t think the protesting methods are doing a lot to sell their positions. I think the financial state of the economy in this country is what people are focusing on.”

At Monday’s meeting, community member and parent Brigid Collins said she believed as a superintendent of the district Dr. Gratto should represent the board and the teachers, and try to mediate a compromise. She said, “The board brought this person in to bring us to a place I am not sure we want to be. I am really hopeful this can stop.”

On another note, TASH’s charge with the Public Employee Relations Board accusing the board of pre-conditioned bargaining is still under review. However, another TASH charge asserting the board is bargaining in bad faith was found to be lacking evidence, noted PERB representative Monty Klein in a letter from December 30. TASH has the opportunity to file an amendment of the charges by January 15.

Negotiations Resume, But Slowly

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This week the Sag Harbor School District and the teacher’s association returned to contract negotiations after several months of deadlock. The parties met at the bargaining table on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and didn’t leave the building until around 5 p.m. School superintendent Dr. John Gratto and Teacher Association of Sag Harbor President Eileen Kochanasz sadly reported the two parties still haven’t reached a final agreement regarding teachers’ raises, health insurance contributions and supervisory duties, among several other key issues.
When the school board announced they would sit down with TASH once again, it appeared that progress and a resolution was on the horizon. Teacher Nancy Remkus was hopeful. At a board of education meeting on Monday, Remkus said she wished to come to a place where she could shed the grey shirt. Educator Cathy Meyerhoff remained cautious and asked the board to use the negotiations as a “turning point.” But it seems the event on Tuesday left both the board and TASH a bit disappointed.
At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dr. Gratto and school attorney Tom Volz presented TASH with a packaged proposal of the board’s position. Dr. Gratto reported that the board adjusted their bargaining position in several areas, including salaries, health insurance and duty periods. Although Dr. Gratto didn’t elaborate on the specifics of the proposal, he added that the board offered a five-year contract.
“We thought [the proposal] would reasonably satisfy our mutual interests,” noted Dr. Gratto in an interview on Wednesday.
After presenting the new proposal, Dr. Gratto said negotiators with TASH took close to three hours reviewing the offer and returned with a counter proposal. Dr. Gratto claimed TASH’s proposal mirrored the fact finder’s report. He maintained the board still needs to conduct cost estimates on TASH’s recommendations. Although Dr. Gratto wasn’t sure when the board would meet to vet this package, he said the parties are expected back at the bargaining table on December 1.
Kochanasz agreed that there was some movement on part of the board, but felt the style of negotiations had remained the same.
“I wish they had the power to negotiate within the session, instead of having to leave to evaluate proposals. It isn’t give and take negotiations and that troubles me,” stated Kochanasz. “We gave them a counter proposal and they stopped right there.”
In a press statement released on Wednesday, TASH said the picketing will continue and the teachers will still wear their grey shirts. Kochanasz also expressed “disappointment that the district also included some new and ‘onerous’ proposals in their package.”
In the past few weeks, the negotiations have been the topic of conversation in several public forums. Members of the community from all walks of life seem to be weighing in on the previous proposals.
“I think the teachers are living in a bubble. There are people in the community who have lost their jobs or their benefits … I fought for every budget and I’m for this school. [But] you can only go to the taxpayer and ask so much. You need a budget that can get approved by the taxpayer,” noted parent Steve Clarke at the board of education meeting on Monday evening.
Teacher Joann Kelly argued that the negotiations weren’t stuck at a particular amount of money. She added that her own husband faces losing his job.
Of the negotiations, teacher Cathy Meyerhoff asked the board, “Where do you want to be tomorrow, the holiday season or in January?”
“Cathy, that was well said,” noted Dr. Gratto. “And I believe it is equally pertinent to TASH.”

Meet Your Candidates

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There are two very important school elections coming up this month. Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton residents both go to the polls on May 19 to cast their votes for school board candidates and the 2009-10 budget.

For both communities, when it comes to the school board, there is a great deal at stake this year.

Here in Sag Harbor, four candidates are vying for two seats on the board. These candidates no doubt have very distinct opinions on how the school district should be run. On one side, there are two candidates who are also members of the Noyac Civic Council, a group that has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the school district — especially when it comes to how taxpayers’ money is spent. On the other side, we have an incumbent school board member (and a parent of Pierson graduates) running as well as a newcomer to school board politics – a father of two young children just starting their education in Sag Harbor.

In Bridgehampton, there are seven candidates squaring off for three available seats and lines have been drawn in the sand with three of those candidates coming out in favor of closing the high school and tuitioning those students out to other districts. The four other candidates strongly support maintaining Bridgehampton as a K-12 facility and want to see the school build on its growing reputation and success as more out of district parents opt to pay tuition to send their children there.

Regardless of which candidates you may be favoring, the facts remain — there are two clearly defined sides emerging in both of these school board races. It will take a mandate from the people to determine which way the districts will go. This is why we strongly advocate that residents of both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor make a concerted effort to get to their respective “Meet The Candidates” nights that will be offered this week in advance of the elections.

Sag Harbor’s “Meet the Candidates” forum will be this Friday at 7 p.m. in the Pierson High School Library. Bridgehampton’s will be offered on Monday night at 6 p.m. in the Bridgehampton School gymnasium.

Remember, the biggest job that any voter has is to make an informed decision when pulling the lever in the voting booth. In Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, the single best opportunity to see all the school board candidates in action comes this week at the “Meet the Candidates” nights. This is your chance to ask questions, consider the issues and evaluate the responses of those who may or may not represent you when the votes are tallied at the end of the day on May 19.

It’s your school district — your fixed income — your hard earned tax money — your children we’re talking about here. You owe it to yourself and the rest of us to take it seriously and make an informed decision at the polls.

And while you’re there, check out the great art on the walls.