Tag Archive | "school budget"

Sag Harbor School Board to Videotape its Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

After months of debate, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Tuesday approved the first reading of a policy to implement a six-month trial of videotaping its board meetings.

The policy, which requires a second reading before it is officially adopted, calls for the trial period to run from July 1 through December 31.

After forming a subcommittee to explore the matter that recommended the trial, the board met with Thomas Volz, the school attorney, and Kathy Beatty, the school’s public relations representative, in order to examine the options—and possible liabilities—of adopting the new procedure.

Mr. Volz wrote the policy, which could be amended when it is put before the board for a second reading on April 7.

Citing the lengthy process, BOE President Theresa Samot stressed the importance of making a “data-driven decision.”

Sandi Kruel, a longtime member of the school board, said the issue has “really grown to something that really made me sad,” due to her perception that there had been a public backlash directed at the board for not reaching a decision sooner. Ms. Kruel noted both Ms. Beatty and Mr. Volz had recommended against the district taping its meeting as of the more than 70 school districts each represents, only two tape their meetings.

“As a board member,” Ms. Kruel said, “as someone who was elected to this position, for me to be able to vote with 100-percent conviction tonight, I needed to do my due diligence and through that, I was very saddened by the way it transpired in our community. Moving forward, I will always do our due diligence.”

Board vice president Chris Tice, who was on the committee that recommended the trial, said although she does still support the measure, she was glad the board had thoroughly weighed the issue.

“Some districts actually saw reduction in attendance at meetings” after implementing such policy, she said. “The last thing we would want to do is reduce the number of people here.”

“I respect your desire to get information,” David Diskin, the BOE member who first called for videotaping, said to Ms. Kruel, adding he was “still okay with it.”

Board member Susan Kinsella said while she was hesitant about taping meetings, she would stand with the board in supporting the measure. “I just hope we’re all still willing to speak our minds,” she said.

Calling himself a “fairly aggressive proponent for it,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think we’ve thoroughly vetted it.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, assured those in attendance Tuesday that community members who address the board from the podium during public input will not be on camera, nor will students who attend meetings. The camera will only be focused on the board and perhaps also the projector, which often displays presentations.

John Battle, a member of the community who has called on the district to increase transparency by taping its meetings at nearly every board meeting, thanked the board for passing the first reading, as well as for taking the time to examine the undertaking in-depth.

“It’s a lot easier to be an advocate than a responsible board member,” he said.

After Significant Cuts, Bridgehampton School District Budget Draft Still 4 Percent Over Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

In a second budget presentation to the Bridgehampton School Board of Education, Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre highlighted cuts she said would likely have to be made because of the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

In January, Dr. Favre presented a first draft of the budget with a “wish list” of items the district was hoping for, such as laminating machines and Common Core training for teachers. But with the initial budget projecting a spending increase of more than 12 percent, those additions were not included in the second draft presented at the February 26 meeting. The initial budget for 2014-2015 was $12.62 million, a $1.41 million increase over the current year.

“In the last few years we’ve made a lot of pretty significant cuts,” Dr. Favre told the board. Over the last two years, the district has realized savings by not replacing one administrator, a full-time secondary teacher, a full-time head custodian and a senior accounting clerk. It has also cut nearly 15 percent from materials and supplies budgets across the board ; and had a salary freeze covering all employees in 2012-13.

Dr. Favre walked the board through significant cuts in programming and staffing that would still result in an increase, but of 4.03 percent rather than 12.59 percent. “So all the things that we put into the budget hoping to have for next year we’ve now taken out,” said Dr. Favre. With those cuts, the budget was reduced by $316,100.

Additional cuts that could be made in order to get closer to the tax cap include cutting a teaching position, a teaching assistant position, and materials and supplies. “None of these are my recommendations,” she said. “These are just to give you a sense of what kind of digging we’re going to have to do to stay under the cap.”

“I love everyone who’s here, I love everything that we’ve built here. Every one we’re looking at right now is starting to dig into the things that make us special,” said Dr. Favre.

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

School Board Update: Budget Talks Begin

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By Claire Walla

Last week marked the beginning of budget season for the Sag Harbor School Board, and the start of budget workshop meetings led by the district’s director of business operations Janet Verneuille.

On Monday, January 10 Verneuille reviewed the district’s budget analysis for the current 2010-2011 school year in comparison to the last five years.

The current budget, which sits at $31,500,811, is an increase of about $4 million over the operating budget of 2006-2007.

Budget figures have not yet been release for the 2011-2012 school year, however, regardless of whether or not the school’s operating budget climbs, Verneuille said the school will need to raise taxes about seven percent in order to maintain operations at their current level.

Last year, Sag Harbor Village residents saw their largest tax levy increase in five years. The figure shot up from 2.07 percent in 06-07 to 12 percent last year.

As it stands, the district is working with an open fund balance of $308,015, a number that sits nearly $250,000 higher than the fund balance the district had to work with for the 2010-2011 school year.

Though the district’s fund balance saw a significant increase since the 09-10 school year, it represents a little less than one percent of the district’s total expenditures, which is two percentage points lower than the State Board of Education recommends.

The next budget workshop will take place at 6 p.m. on January 24 in the Pierson Middle/High School library, when the topics discussed will be buildings and grounds, and athletics.


In other news…


School superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced last Monday, January 11 a new policy that the Sag Harbor School District will adopt regarding teacher tenure.

“You have an excellent school system when you have excellent teachers,” he told the board adding the new policy outlines the district’s definition of “excellence” when deciding whether or not to grant teachers tenure.

“I put this to paper for two reasons,” Dr. Gratto continued.  “It is symbolic.  But, beyond symbolism, it makes it very clear what a teacher must do to be excellent,” which, he argued, makes it much easier for teachers to achieve that goal.

Both board members Dan Hartnett and Chris Tice applauded the new policy, calling it “very well written.”

Dr. Gratto also unveiled next year’s school calendar.  School board president Walter Wilcoxen wondered whether the school year could be extended past June 22 (the proposed end date) to accommodate two extra vacation days mid-year.  Wilcoxen noted that the board had to approve an additional extension this year for students who went on the annual trip to Hawaii.  Because it was an added extension, it had the negative effect of watering down classroom activity for those students not on the trip.

“It just seems the only way to teach more is to get a longer school year,” he said.

In the end, the board approved next year’s school calendar.


Grounds supervisor Montgomery Granger brought up a new Shared-Use Facilities Procedure, which will charge groups outside the Sag Harbor School District a fee for using school facilities.  Organizations with over 51 percent of participants in the Sag Harbor School District would not be charged.

“I would like to discuss the for-profit breakdown,” said Wilcoxen.  “My thought is that if it’s a for-profit group, it should be charged the same as an out-of-district group.”

Several board members agreed, though this issue will be further discussed at a later meeting.

Difference of Opinion in Noyac

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By Bryan Boyhan

Following an informative, but uneventful presentation on the benefits of becoming more environmentally sensitive, things erupted at the monthly meeting of the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday night when a sharply divided room of Noyacans argued over whether or not there was to be a discussion about the proposed Sag Harbor school budget.

Chuck Schwartz, and environmental engineer and executive director of LI Green was the guest speaker at Tuesday’s meeting and offered a slide presentation that focused on how individuals can be more responsible in conservation and protecting the environment. It was a healthy choice, Schwartz told the audience of about 40, for both the individual and the planet.

Among his suggestions was getting a free energy audit from his organization, which is funded by Stony Brook University, consider alternative ways of heating and powering residences with geothermal or solar energy, and being careful not to use toxic materials when landscaping, instead using organic fertilizers or pesticides — or even learning to be tolerant about pests.

“I believe there is a great opportunity for growth opportunities in green businesses,” said an optimistic Schwartz.

But it wasn’t the environment that many in the audience had come to talk about.

As civic council president Chuck Neuman was about to call for a motion to close the meeting following Schwartz’s presentation, Peter Solow, a teacher at Pierson High School and Noyac resident, stood and wanted to know what had happened to a discussion about the school budget.

The council had intended to have the discussion and take a straw poll at their last meeting, in April, but Neuman demurred at the time, saying instead he would try to reach out to the membership through email to take a survey.

And here’s where things got confusing.

“I’m concerned,” said Solow to Neuman. “I received an email from you saying that there would be a discussion of school matters tonight.”

Neuman then apparently glanced at a copy of the email that had been sent to civic council members and asked Solow: “Tell me where it says we’re going to talk about school?”

What followed was a heated debate about whether Neuman had intended to have a discussion about the school’s budget, or if Solow and others — many of them part of a growing membership of parents with children in the district — had simply misunderstood. At the April meeting there were several dozen parents and others in the school community who had attended, clearly expecting a discussion about the budget.

They were attracted, said Solow, by an email sent to council membership by Neuman urging their attendance that read, in part:

“But, please, one more time, your presence is needed at our upcoming meeting on the 14th, so that we may discuss our stand on this school budget. Do we either accept it as an exercise in futility, or openly voice our opposition with the intention to vote against it?”

That discussion never happened, and instead Neuman said he would take a poll using his email list, but conceded this week, it was not particularly successful, receiving only slightly more than 20 responses, only 16 from dues-paying council members.

“If you care to participate in this poll – unscientific and not confidential – please, do so,” he wrote in the email that accompanied the survey and meeting announcement. Neither indicated there would actually be a discussion of the results or a straw poll.

 “I think it would be beneficial to have a public and open discussion to share our thoughts,” urged Solow. “We came to the last meeting thinking there would be some discussion of the school and budget. And we came to this meeting thinking there would be a discussion.”

Neuman indicated the results of the poll were not significant and added, “I was asked to take a poll, but those who asked did not understand the ramifications, that it would not be private.” He said later the civic council was taking steps to find a more private way of conducting an electronic survey.

Gary Goldstein asked the council to refrain from announcing or declaring a position until there can be an open discussion about the budget.

“Does the Noyac Civic Council have an official position about voting for the school budget,”saked Tice.

“No,” declared Neuman.

Following the meeting Neuman revealed that the votes he had received from his email survey resulted in eight in favor of the budget and eight opposed. 

Gratto Talks Budget with CONPOSH

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“I have a terrific job … but sometimes I feel like an umpire,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, as he spoke to a mixed audience at a CONPOSH (Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor) meeting in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church last Sunday.

In addition to CONPOSH members, among the attendees were members from the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), Sag Harbor Village mayoral candidate Mike Bromberg and school board candidates Elena Loreto, Walter Wilcoxen, Gregg Schiavoni and Edward Drohan. The purpose of the meeting, however, was a specific one: to discuss the 2009-2010 school budget, which is up for a vote on May 19.

When crafting a budget, Gratto said it is all a balancing act. He noted that while some parents, for example, would like to see a completely new auditorium constructed at Pierson, other taxpayers wonder why more drastic cuts weren’t made to the budget this year.

“The question isn’t the cost per student. The question is: Is the school district providing the programs the community wants in the most cost effective manner,” said Gratto. “We need to realize one extreme or the other doesn’t serve the community well. We can’t have an abundance of programs … [nor] can we cut the tax rate down as much as [some] people want … I feel like the steward of taxpayer dollars and I take that responsibility seriously.”

Since taking office last year, Gratto said he has strived to maintain the school’s academic rigor while creating economic efficiencies. Last September, Gratto saved the school district around $310,000 by consolidating three business positions into two, combining the athletic director and head of buildings and grounds positions, eliminating and renegotiating special education contracts, reducing BOCES services and switching telephone providers. Gratto built-in almost $700,000 in cost saving measures for the 2009-2010 budget. These steps include cutting purchased BOCES services by $278,825, reducing discretionary spending by $151,111, purchasing a bus and van resulting in $126,549 of savings and decreasing dental insurance costs by $17,899.

The 2009-2010 school budget is around $29 million. The taxpayer’s portion of this sum, Gratto reported, will be slightly offset by additional federal monies. He said the school district will receive $141,594 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to help renovate the auditorium, though the total project is budgeted at $195,000.

This extra federal support, he explained, will help lower the tax rate increase from 4.35 percent to 3.79 percent for residents on the Southampton side of the school district and from 4.33 percent to 3.77 percent for those on the East Hampton side of the village.

Members of the audience questioned the budget increases incurred by teacher and teaching assistant salaries as well as monies set aside for teacher’s retirements. Sheila Goldberg, a retired educator and Sag Harbor resident, countered these concerns.

“A lot of people get angry about taxes before the budget,” she said and added that the school budget remains one of the only financial plans the public is allowed to vote on. Goldberg mentioned the state legislature is exploring enacting a tax cap on school district tax levies or creating a “circuit-breaker” on property taxes.

If the tax cap was enacted this year, the cap would be set at 4 percent said Gratto. The “circuit-breaker” would effectively cap an individual’s property taxes. The cap would be based on the taxpayer’s annual income. Although these ideas are being bounced around in the state legislature, Gratto said they are years away from implementation.

In the here and now, Gratto is looking for other ways to save costs for taxpayers and improve programs. He said the district is courting the idea of creating a joint pre-kindergarten program with the Bridgehampton School District, which already has an active pre-k course. Elementary school principal Joan Frisicano has already discussed the concept with Bridgehampton superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and delivered a cursory presentation on the idea at the Wednesday Board of Education meeting.

Gratto believes the school can absorb an additional 20 to 25 students without increasing staff or incurring additional costs. With some parents feeling the pinch of the Ross School’s $30,000 annual price tag for high school, Pierson could soon be opening its doors to more out-of-district students.

 

School Faces Loss of Revenue While Costs Rise

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Len Bernard, business manager of Sag Harbor School District gives presentation on 2009-2010 budget

In light of the current economic climate, the Sag Harbor school district has decided to begin delivering the expected budget for 2009-2010 to the community in chunks, prior to board of education meetings over the next few months.
There will be five or six budget meetings in total. The first of these meetings was on Monday when the school’s business manager, Len Bernard, presented a proposed budget for certain departments of $9.7 million — up from $9.4 million for the 2008-2009 school year.
Departments included under this portion of the budget are the board of education, district clerk, district meetings, chief school administrators, auditing, treasurer, purchasing, legal, personnel, public information, transportation, recreation, employee benefits, and insurance and debt service.
According to Bernard, the district is expected to lose 11.6 percent in state aid next year, the highest amount among East End schools. In response, the district has been looking at ways to reduce costs.
One cost saving plan the district is considering is the purchase of a school bus and a van for the transportation department, which would lower the total of this portion of the budget from $9.7 million to $9.6 million.
Currently, the school district contracts for bus service and in his report, Bernard outlined the benefits of purchasing the two vehicles, indicating that a savings of $684,133 could be realized over the next six years.
“You are talking about quite a bit of savings,” Bernard said on Monday, “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Bernard presented two different analyses, one for the bus and one for the van. The bus, he said, can be used for school trips, while the van could be used for sports activities and transportation of BOCES students, which Bernard said is expensive through contracted bus service, even for one-way trips. The van could also be used for district students who travel to the Ross School or Stella Maris. Bernard explained the district is expecting teaching assistants and custodians to become the drivers.
“We could pay them to do the extra work,” Bernard said.
In his analysis, Bernard included $10,000 for the cost of the drivers, which he added could increase if the district has to find outside drivers.
School board member Ed Haye asked if those numbers reflected vehicle insurance and maintenance that the school would have to pay on both the van and the bus. Bernard said that he talked to the district’s current bus company and found that it would fall under the umbrella of insurance they already have.
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the useful life of a bus is 10 years, “But in all likelihood, it would last longer.”
Bernard also said that he talked to the bus vendor and said the company was willing to give the school a bus for lease for a trial run.
The van could transport up to 30 kids and would be wheelchair accessible, according to Gratto.
“We have a lot of flexibility here,” said Gratto.
A few weeks ago, the school district held focus groups for different community groups, parents, students and faculty asking for suggestions on how to cut costs in light of the reduction in state aid. Some of the ideas generated from the forum were also mentioned in Monday’s presentation. Of those suggestions, the bus and van were the most frequently mentioned idea, according to Bernard.
In the chief administrator’s office both the superintendent and the superintendent’s secretary and the administrators in the business department will all receive five percent raises in next year’s budget. Bernard also said that there was a reduction of one full time staff member in the business department that will not be filled for next year. The two departments combined are projected to cost just over $530,000 for 2009-2010.
Another idea that came from the focus groups was to explore health insurance and dental coverage options, which Bernard said is being considered; but some of that depends on the on-going contract negotiations with teachers, custodians and secretarial unions. Bernard said during his presentation that the school does have another health insurance provider that could give better rates.
Of the departments that were presented on Monday, health and dental insurance had the biggest portion of the proposed budget. It is projected to cost the district $2.7 million for 2009-2010, up from $2.6 million for 2008-2009. Bernard said that this number was determined from an estimate of a five percent raise for the teachers, custodians and secretarial contracts that are still being negotiated.
Of the departments talked about on Monday, debt service represented the second highest dollar amount for next year’s budget.
“We sold a note the first week of September,” Bernard said and then talked about the economic climate crisis that hit the following month. “Then everything hit the fan, now rates are down again.”
He said the interest rates keep coming down and “it will change on a day to day basis.” Next year, Bernard said, will be the last payment of the 1997 bond — which was used to make improvements to the high school.
When asked if there is any consideration for changes to the other existing bonds for new interest rates, Bernard responded, “No, but we are always looking for windows of

Taking a Scalpel to Proposed Budget in Sag Harbor School District

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Although the phone lines in the Sag Harbor School District have been working lately, the district has experienced major problems with them resulting in an irritating busy signal greeting callers over the past few weeks.
Callers trying to reach administrators at the school would hear busy signals, but school employees were able to call out. To rectify the situation, the district has announced it will be changing phone companies — from Metel to Optimum Lightpath — which will save the district approximately $30,000. Some administrators are suggesting some other creative ways to tighten the school’s spending belt, in an effort to save money in the district and decrease the chances of the current economic struggle hitting and impacting the education of the students. Total cost savings in the district so far this year are just over $300,000.
At a board of education meeting last month, superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced that there would be a spending freeze in office supplies, professional development and conferences for some departments, not to exceed $100,000. The purpose of the freeze, Gratto said, is to protect educational programs in the event of a mid-year state aid reduction and to possibly minimize a tax increase in next year’s budget. Gratto also said that programs and services directly impacting students would remain fully funded.
The district’s business manager, Len Bernard, also said on Monday that the district was able to cut costs on certain supplies that he, Gratto and some administrators felt were unnecessary, saving $100,000 out of the 2008-2009 school’s budget. He said the district would not have to delete any item in its entirety, but instead can reduce the amount of certain supplies and shave $1,000 to $3,000 off particular items.
Gratto also said that the district was able to reduce a data analyst position from two days a week to one day per week. Bernard said that the analyst was needed two days a week last year, but this year it would only be data entry and not require as much time as it had in the past.
“We went through the budget, not with a sledge hammer, but with a scalpel; we went through all the items with the administrators to make sure they felt comfortable,” Bernard said on Monday.
But there have been additional efforts to cut costs and save money for the district.
Gratto said in his message last month to parents, teachers, administrators and community members that the district has saved money by choosing not to re-hire an accounts payable/accounts receivable position that was left open at the beginning of the summer. By doing this, Gratto said they have saved $40,000. Also in his letter, which is posted on the school’s website, Gratto said that a position has been eliminated from the school’s lunch program, which also saved the district $49,000 and the building and grounds position that was given to the new athletic director was also a cost savings of $40,000 for the district.
Additionally, after a review in September, Gratto said the district was able to cut $51,000 by reducing services offered by BOCES, which was included in the 2008-2009 budget.
Bernard said that he went through the BOCES budget line by line to see in what areas the district could cut services offered through the program — and where instead of hiring costly consultants the district could choose to use in-house staff.
The school district is also working on the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, which was an idea pushed by the Sag Harbor District and Gratto, to combine the purchasing of nine area schools to attempt to get better pricing for things like paper and heating oil.