Tag Archive | "school board"

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.

Budget Big Issue for School Board Candidates

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In the months leading up to summer, the weather will get warmer, plants will bloom and potential candidates for the Sag Harbor School board will hit the streets seeking signatures for their petitions. It is only April and already current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, school Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, and local parent Greg Schiavoni announced their intention to run for the two seats, which will be open in June. Although they differ on several points, the budget and maintaining academic rigor is a chief concern for each candidate.

Wilcoxen, who has been on the board for three years, said the school has come a long way in increasing transparency and accountability. With an open system already in place, Wilcoxen said he would now focus on finding ways to expand upon existing school programming without incurring additional costs.

“We can constantly make the program better … perhaps we can start teaching about green technologies,” said Wilcoxen. “We are a small school so it is hard to have big programs because it is expensive … I want to be able to deliver the system in the most economical and efficient way.”

For Wilcoxen, education is always his top priority, but he conceded that funding the school will always be an issue. He said the board worked very hard this year to winnow down the budget, but making drastic percentage cuts simple isn’t possible for the school.

Paring down the budget is a top priority for Noyac resident Ed Drohan. Drohan is currently a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the school’s budget advisory committee. Although Drohan lauds the elementary school and the special education program, he feels the school’s budget could use some restructuring. Some of Drohan’s ideas for the school include the slow introduction of employee attrition, enlarging classes slightly and phasing back certain elective programs. Drohan admits, however, that many of his ideas are preliminary and would take thorough planning and research. He would also like to see the computer science department expanded because he believes the ability to manipulate technology is an invaluable skill in today’s job market.

Drohan said one of the reasons he is running is to give a voice to local taxpayers who either are retired or have a second home in the community.

“I wanted to run as a community and taxpayer candidate … I take a different position than many of my counterparts in the board of education activities,” said Drohan.

Prospective candidate Elena Loreto believes she will represent a broader base of constituents, including the local taxpayer.

“I am a parent. I am retired. I was a teacher. I have been a local taxpayer for 32 years. I represent many factions of the district,” said Loreto. Like Drohan, Loreto is a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the Budget Advisory Committee. For Loreto, creating a good school board and an efficient school district is all about balance.

“The main priority for the current board members is to find the right balance between improving educational programs for the students, providing a fair wage for the faculty and also being mindful of what the average taxpayer can afford,” said Loreto.

As a former school teacher for 33 years in New York City and its suburbs, and a part-time substitute teacher at Sag Harbor and the Ross School, Loreto believes she has a unique insight to the school and how it operates. Among her chief priorities, Loreto would like the school to update the curriculum and offer programs that will teach job skills. Loreto recommends the school develop a mechanical drawing and architectural design class.

“We have to look at the curriculum in a more innovative way, so that kids will get the best possible program and the taxpayer will get the best buy for their buck,” opined Loreto.

Candidate Greg Schiavoni, whose children currently attend the elementary school, hopes to encourage student involvement with the school board. He hopes through student involvement the board will be able to sound off on what is working within the school and what can be improved upon.

Schiavoni feels it is imperative to maintain the Advanced Placement courses, but agrees there are perhaps additional ways the school could save money.

“We don’t necessarily need to look at cutting programs or taking away from higher educational program offerings, but there are probably things we could do to save money, and I hope to be one of the ones to help figure it out,” said Schiavoni.

Although Schiavoni is an active parent in the school district, he feels an obligation to represent the village taxpayer as well.

“I compare it to my own house. I have two children to raise and I have to be financially responsible about what we can or can’t afford for them. When [the school board] makes decisions everybody should know where the money is going and what it should be spent on,” added Schiavoni.

Candidates have until April 20 to drop off their signed petitions.

Sag Harbor School District Making Slow Steady Progress

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Although the Sag Harbor School Board and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto will meet with their attorney today, Thursday, October 23, regarding teacher contracts, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) is still pressing for an answer as to when they will be able to begin negotiating with the board again.
At the school district’s board meeting on Monday, TASH president Eileen Kochansz told the board that she and fellow TASH members want to settle on a timeframe for meeting so agreements can be worked out on contract issues such as salary.
The teachers’ contracts expired on June 30 and TASH also declared impasse that month, which required a mediator to come in to help the two sides agree on issues pertaining to the contracts. The mediator spoke with both sides in August, and the board asked for more time to review additional data. District attorney Tom Volz was asked to collect salary information from surrounding school districts and is expected to bring his findings to today’s meeting with Gratto and the board.
“I would like to direct this question directly to you Walter,” Kochansz said to school board president Walter Wilcoxen. “Will we be able to hear by Friday morning?”
“We could have an executive decision two weeks from today and we could set that as our wrap-up date,” Wilcoxen said, “I’d love to do it sooner and it is possible we could reach consensus on Thursday night. John [Gratto] and I will speak on Friday morning for some sense of plan.”
Kochansz said she was concerned that the school board is still reviewing data, which they said they were doing on September 23.
“And now it will be October 23, and the board is still going over data,” she said.
“My intent is to move forward as quickly as possible,” Gratto said, “and I’m happy to push for it. I will call you on Friday.”
“I will wait then,” replied Kochansz.
GASB
In addition to the teacher contract updates, Wilcoxen said the GASB report — which shows the district’s anticipated expense for health coverage for its current and retired employees — will be another topic the board will be discussing with attorney Volz at their meeting today.
School district business manager Len Bernard explained that GASB report shows tables that predict things like retirement age and life expectancy of district employees. From these tables the school district would be able to calculate each employee’s post-retirement benefits.
Bernard said that this is a new requirement for public entities’ yearly reports and all governmental units will be required to have this data for their 2009 audits.
“It shows for the next few years what the estimated cost will be for insurance issues and is more useful in the scheduling and how we will pay for the budget,” Bernard said. He explained that for 2009 there will be $370,000 for post retirement costs, but in 2017, it could quadruple to $1.3 million. Bernard said that the report adds a long-term liability to the balance sheet.
According to projections, the school district can expect to pay a total of $27 million in benefits over the life of its current employees and retirees. Lifetime benefits for employees and retirees in the year 2015, are expected to cost the district $50 million.
“That liability has to be included every year in our external audit report,” he said on Monday, noting that the report will be used to understand the commitment of the school district for over a 30-year period.
“It’s a way for the GAS board to have disclosure to the public,” said Bernard. “Every village municipality and every school district will be required to do it.”
Bernard added that the school district is ahead of schedule in having this information.
South Shore Purchasing Consortium
On Monday night, the school board also approved a resolution to join the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, an idea proposed by Gratto. By joining the consortium, the district will become part of a regional plan to combine resources in an effort to save money for districts on items like paper products, food, custodial supplies and fuel.
“We want to try to beat the state contracted and BOCES pricing,” said Gratto.
In early September, Gratto contacted the superintendents in nine surrounding districts to see if they would be interested in the idea.
“We will have the business officials in each district choose one high priority item and see if we can get a better price on things such as diesel fuel and paper,” Gratto said. “There is no downside to this opportunity.”
Buses
At Monday’s meeting, parent Kristyn Toole and her father, Paul Lankau, expressed concerns about Toole’s children’s bus stop. The children are being picked up at Hildreth Street at the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike but because it is dark in the morning when her two children leave for school, the family would like them to be picked up in front of their house. Toole asked Montauk Bus Service to consider driving down the street to pick the children up at their home but the Montauk Bus Service sent a letter to the board denying the request for the new bus stop.
“The school bus drives right past my house, but my kid still has to walk 500 feet to an intersection where the bus will pick him up,” said board member Daniel Hartnett.
Wilcoxen added that buses “shouldn’t stop for any particular kid ever.”
The board agreed to look at more information and will be addressing the issue at their next meeting.
Thank You
On Monday, Gratto applauded the school board and thanked them in honor of School Board Recognition Week. Gratto read a proclamation from Governor David Paterson and presented each member of the board with travel coffee mugs as a thank you for their time and hard work for the district. The board then enjoyed punch and apple cobbler after the meeting.

Teachers Push to Get Negotiations Moving

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More than two dozen teachers filled the Pierson High School library at Monday night’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting. They were there to prove to the board they are serious about getting new contracts.
The teachers, wearing black shirts and buttons reading, “Wanted Teacher Contracts,” sat through a presentation by state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and talks on service learning before voicing concerns about the way contract negotiations are going — or rather, not.
Earlier this year, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared an impasse in negotiations. They asked for a mediator to help the board, school superintendent and TASH come to agreement about specific pieces of the contract – including salaries.
“There is no sense of urgency on your part to settle a contract almost four months after the last contract expired,” said TASH president Eileen Kochanasz on Monday night. “For us that’s just not right.”
Kochanasz, a guidance counselor at the high school, explained that at the last board meeting on September 23, the school board asked its attorney, Tom Volz, to collect further data about salaries in other districts in the area. She questioned why no meeting date had since been set to further discussions. The board maintains that Volz has yet to submit the needed data.
Kochanasz added that this is the second consecutive time that contract negotiations have failed to be completed in a timely manner.
“Is this efficient bargaining of a school?” she asked. “Am I to infer that your staff is not important to you?”
“The representative for the teachers association as well as three of the other bargaining units were unavailable from February to April,” countered board member Ed Hayes. “So no negotiations took place during that period and that is not our fault.”
“I disagree,” Kochanasz said, “We had six meetings between February and May.” She maintained that there were extensive meetings before impasse was called and added that the board had four years to collect the necessary data.
“We have asked for more information and it’s an ongoing process,” said board member Theresa Samot, who was sitting in for board president Walter Wilcoxen, who was absent. “We do appreciate the work that you do.”
TASH member Jim Kinnier noted that though bargaining began in February, the team had been ready to sit down at the table since last October.
“We will be willing to meet once a week starting this week,” Kinnier added on Monday.
But the board was not yet ready to commit to a start date for further talks.
“I talked to Tom Volz today. I can’t give you a definite date,” said superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “I could have an answer tomorrow. I expect [the next meeting] will be late October or early November.”
As of yesterday morning, Wednesday, Gratto said that Volz had not yet been able to get back to him.
“Once he finishes the analysis, we should hear back from him,” said Gratto.
Price Freeze
Gratto also announced at the meeting that the district would put a freeze of $100,000 on some supplies, professional development and conferences for certain departments.
Gratto explained that with the economy struggling and the rising cost of oil that wasn’t budgeted for last year, the school needed to reduce costs in other areas.
“We need to cut back on these things rather than scramble for money mid-year,” said Gratto, who maintains that the cuts would not affect the students.
But Chris Tice, president of the PTA, did not agree.
“I would caution that everything you mentioned does impact the kids,” said Tice who noted that cuts in the realm of staff development ultimately do affect students.
Technology Grant
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. was at Monday night’s meeting to receive a formal thank you for a $5,000 grant he helped secure for new technology at the school.
Thiele also took the opportunity to talk to parents, teachers and administrators about proposed tax relief legislation that would offer a tax cap of four percent on property tax increase.

Whittling Down District Goals

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The annual summer retreat is an opportunity for the Sag Harbor School Board and the school administrators to sit down and discuss goals for the upcoming year. This year two meetings were slated for Tuesday and Wednesday night.
“I can’t believe we will get all of this done in one meeting,” said board president Walter Wilcoxen on Tuesday night.
“I can’t believe we would need more than one,” responded new superintendent Dr. John Gratto.
What followed was a discussion of everything from how the district can better communicate with the public to the need to identify which after school clubs are viable to ways the district might cut down on transportation costs. When all was said and done the group had identified roughly 10 goals.
“And that’s on top of the 16 goals from last night,” said Gratto.
At Monday’s board meeting, the new boss laid out a list of academic goals based on recent test  scores in the district. The goals were very specific and focus on certain grades improving their test scores by a particular percentage, such as increasing the number of students attaining mastery level on the math exam in eighth grade by five percent. He also mentioned two communications goals including the establishment of a “key communicator organization” and a “profile of a Pierson graduate.”
On Monday Bob Schneider pointed out that the goals seemed to put too much weight on the tests and that it appeared as if not enough attention was being paid to the character of the children.
“Acknowledging those exams are a fact of life, they are not necessarily a great fact of life. Those goals need a counter balance,” said Schneider. “It seems to me that they overemphasize achievement and success on state examinations to the exclusion of many other important things like character and service.”
Gratto said that was where the profile of the Pierson graduate would come in.
The new superintendent wants to reach out to the community for input on what attributes, intellectual knowledge and knowledge of the arts a Pierson graduate should be expected to have. He then wants to look at the programs currently being offered in the district to see if that profile can be met.
“The administration and I talked about that very issue, about educating the whole child and certainly character education is not going to go by the wayside,” he said.
Recent graduate Drhuva Corrigan brought up the need to analyze the success of the other programs like music and art and not only try to improve on science and math scores. Speaking specifically to the music program he said, “we have the information now. We can ask the students ‘What were you playing four years ago, what are you playing right now?’”
At the retreat on Tuesday the board and the administration continued the discussion.
“I think adding a performing arts goal is a very good idea,” said board member Theresa Samot.
They briefly talked about how one measures success in the arts and Wilcoxen pointed to the annual art show that is exhibited in the gym on election night. Elementary principal Joan Frisicano said she thought it was already being done with portfolios. She said she felt everyone agreed that there was more to a student than just test scores.
“Look at the goals now and they are all academic and data driven,” said Frisicano. “Do you want arts data driven too?”
“What they saw last night was we were raising the bar, in a tangible way, with the test scores,” said board member Mary Ann Miller. “They were thinking we might be leaving that out with the arts. I think they are concerned that’s not part of the vision.”
On Tuesday the group also discussed Gratto’s “key communicator organization” in terms of better ways to get the good word out about what goes on in the school district. Gratto wants to create an organization with one representative from community groups such as the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Lions Club, the Noyac Civic Council, as well as members of school groups like the PTA, which would meet with him on a monthly basis. The representatives could then carry the information back to their respective groups. Gratto said he established such an organization when he was the superintendent of the Brittonkill School District in upstate New York.
At the end of the meeting Tuesday, Wilcoxen said the board planned on whittling down the list of roughly 26 goals next month and present the final list at an August board meeting.
Above: Members of the school board and the administration discuss district goals last Tuesday night. Bayles photo.

Mixing Two School Jobs Troubles Some

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To the dismay of many in attendance at Monday’s meeting, the Sag Harbor school board agreed to combine two vacant positions in an effort to possibly save the district money and make it more efficient. In his first big decision as superintendent, Dr. John Gratto recommended the district advertise for a single candidate to serve as both the athletic director as well as the director of buildings and grounds.
Gratto said he understood that in the past the district employed a part-time athletic director who was in the office roughly three days a week. He said the new position would be full-time, with the emphasis being on the athletic director responsibilities. He said he saw a lot of interrelation between the two positions, particularly with the athletic director often working with the custodial and grounds staff to make sure the gym is ready and the fields are in proper shape.
“If they were combined, then you’d have greater responsiveness to immediate [athletic] issues,” said Gratto.
He said the new position would increase the effectiveness of the athletic director and that “athletic issues happen five days a week, not just three.”
“And likewise, I don’t think, since the [buildings and grounds] position has been open since February, that it’s a fulltime job.”
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said after former buildings and grounds director Jim Beauman left early this year, the custodial staff has done a great job. He sees the new position, in terms of buildings and grounds, as more of a supervisory one.
“[Dr. Gratto] reviewed it with custodians and they seem to agree,” said Wilcoxen. “They need part time oversight.”
He also mentioned the current construction projects at the elementary school and Pierson and said by hiring a clerk of the works, he has realized the director of buildings and grounds doesn’t necessarily have to perform that duty.
“[Clerk of the works] Mike Nicholetti has done a wonderful job. Why? Because it’s his business,” said Wilcoxen. “With Jim [Beauman] it wasn’t his business. I think it was unreasonable to ask Jim to do that. Seeing how well Mike has done, if we take that responsibility away from the director of facilities, then it reduces the workload.”
“And there’s no doubt about it,” continued Wilcoxen, “we’re trying to economize any way we can.”
District business manager Len Bernard said salaries for the two positions combined amounted to roughly $145,000. He said the savings in benefits could be $20,000 and in terms of salary, it depends on what is offered for the new position. On Monday Dr. Gratto said the salary would be negotiable to a point.
The new position was widely accepted by both the board and the administration. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said he thought it was a good idea and board member Dan Hartnett said he considered it “creative and courageous.” The audience however disagreed. Dr. Gratto said it would take a very special candidate to fill it, but Marian Cassata thought it might take even more than that.
“I think it will take an act of God,” said Cassata, “to bring someone to this district [to fill both positions].”
She said she could not see any candidate being able to fulfill the responsibilities of both positions.
“Having been a physical education teacher at the kindergarten level through the high school level, as well as a college coach, I’ve always considered the AD a 24/7 position if you’re going to do a good job overseeing your coaches,” said Tom Gleason. “For me this seems like a very difficult combination.”
Chris Tice asked Dr. Gratto if in his travels through other school districts he had encountered the combination before. He said no, but that based on conversations with Nichols and the head custodians, he felt like it was doable in Sag Harbor.
Gratto and Wilcoxen both said they had entertained another, more common, combination. With current Pierson assistant principal Donnelly McGovern stepping down in the fall to return to teaching, there is now another administrative vacancy.
“The most common [combination] is athletic director and assistant principal,” said Gratto. “We considered that, but didn’t want to go that route.”
Wilcoxen said they liked the current model of having two assistant principals at Pierson.
“It’s a responsibility issue,” he said. “They do such a good job of getting back to the parents and dealing with the students.”
Cassata also pointed out that the athletic director is expected to do much more than just coordinate with coaches.
“Historically and traditionally the AD is also responsible for implementing the health curriculum in schools and direct and shape programs like wellness in the district,” said Cassata.
She also mentioned that in the past, pertaining to buildings and grounds, the district had struggled with “thorough long range planning” and with “assigning capital money to deal with buildings.”
“It’s a very difficult skill set,” said Cassata. “When you advertise, I think you might want to advertise as either [one position] or [two]. That way, you won’t waste time looking for this perfect person.”

Top Photo: Superintendent Dr. Gratto and board president Walter Wilcoxen at Monday’s meeting. John Bayles photo.