Tag Archive | "school district"

First Draft of Bridgehampton School Budget Asks for 12-percent Increase

Tags: , , , , , , ,


By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton School District officials were quick to stress last week that a newly unveiled budget calling for a 12.59-percent spending increase for the 2014-15  school year was only a first draft that would see significant cuts in the coming months.

“It always looks like we need to panic,” said Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre at the Bridgehampton Board of Education (BOE) meeting last Wednesday. “I have no doubt that we’ll get this where we need to be.”

The $12.62 million budget contains many “wish list” items and would carry a $1.4 million increase over last year’s budget.

Enrollment at Bridgehampton School is projected to increase by three students next year. The projected numbers for 2014-15 are 24 students in the pre-kindergarten program and 145 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Total enrollment is expected to reach 169 students, the largest enrollment at school in recent years, according to Dr. Favre.

“If everything remains the same,” Dr. Favre told the board, “and we add in what we believe we’d like to see happen here, it would be a [nearly] 12.6-percent increase, which we know is unreasonable. It’s not in the realm of things right now.”

“In this age of the tax cap, it’s a big number,” added Dr. Favre, referring to the 2-percent tax levy limit that prohibits school districts from raising the tax rate by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, unless the district can secure a 60-percent majority vote in favor of its budget. “So, I’m just saying that I know that that’s not where you want to stay, but you just need to see all the numbers and we’ll go together as a team to see where we can get.”

The large increase is attributed to several unavoidable costs, such as “ever increasing” employee/retiree benefits, as well as desired items like laminating machines and technology updates to keep in line with the district’s five-year plan, Dr. Favre said.

It also budgets for a new outdoor sign and opportunities for state-mandated staff development (staff must be trained for the state-imposed educational curriculums).

“I think this board,” said Dr. Favre, “has done an exceptional job every year of cutting back and giving a good budget to the community.”

What really stands out, Dr. Favre said, is the amount of money that has been asked for in preliminary budgets, but which has ultimately been cut over the last six years, which amounts to $4.5 million. Last year’s budget actually called for less spending than the budget that was requested in 2010. In 2012-2013, the final budget was $636,678 less than the administration’s original proposal. In 2013-2014, the district proposed a budget of $11.37 million and ended with an actual budget of $11.21 million, a difference of $158,064.

The budget does not consider the impact of raises beyond the step increase factored in each year. Dr. Favre noted contract negotiations are just beginning with the teachers’ union.

Dr. Favre told the board it would need to discuss whether or not it should pursue piercing the tax cap.

Concerned Sag Harbor Parents Crowd Pierson Library for Math Curriculum Workshop

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of concerned parents at Monday evening.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols presents a workshop on the Math Curriculum in front of district administrators, the Board of Education and concerned parents Monday evening.

By Tessa Raebeck

Parents told stories of children bursting into tears, berating themselves for being “idiots” and spending hours agonizing over homework at the Sag Harbor School District’s math curriculum workshop Monday night, voicing concern over the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS).

“The first thing we say to her is get out your math homework,” said Christa Schleicher of her daughter, who is in seventh grade at Pierson Middle/High School.

Concerned parents, mostly of seventh graders, filled the Pierson Library to hear a presentation led by Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, with assistance from their math teachers.

Developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core is a set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade that states voluntarily adopt. CCLS has been adopted by 45 states. New York State (NYS) adopted CCLS in July 2010, but it is being phased in over several years.

Every seat in the library was filled as parents showed up to express their discontent with the Common Core program, which many believe was rolled out haphazardly without clear direction from the state and to the detriment of students.

“It’s not specific or indigenous to Sag Harbor,” said Nichols, who has three children in the Southampton Intermediate School. “Everybody is struggling with these same issues.”

“We really want to commend the effort of all the instructors in our district who are working through this new initiative,” said Malone. “There’s a lot of challenges and in a way we’ve all kind of been thrown into it.”

At the end of the 2012/2013 school year, NYS math assessments for students in third through eighth grade measured CCLS. Nichols said state assessments assume kids going into the seventh grade curriculum had Common Core instruction since kindergarten, when in reality, mathematics instruction was not fully aligned with CCLS until the 2012/2013 school year for students in grades three through eight and the 2013/2014 school year for high school students.

“That assumption is a big assumption to me,” Nichols said Monday evening, adding that the pacing of the modules is also inaccurate. “They say a lesson will take 40 minutes…reality is it’s not 40 minutes, it’s 60 or 70 minutes.”

“As a school,” he continued, “what we struggle with and what I’m struggling with is to what extent do we let mathematics dominate the landscape?”

Nichols said about an hour and a half of math homework each night is on pace with the modules, a time requirement many parents said is overwhelming for their kids.

“It’s a lot more rigorous,” said Diana Kolhoff, a Sag Harbor resident and math consultant. “So some of the historical traditions that these schools have had are running into trouble with the Common Core. Things that had worked in the past are no longer working.”

“This is probably the most exciting part but also the most challenging part,” said Malone. “This is the part where you wrestle with, ‘are we presenting things in the best way to kids?’ Because it’s really challenging and it’s causing kids to have to work a lot harder than they had to before.”

“I get it all and I get that they’re reprogramming,” said Schleicher. “My struggle and our struggle at home is the amount of it. My daughter, she’s beginning to despise math because it’s so much…she’s getting it, she’s getting better at it, but it’s just taking too long.”

“I’m dealing with the same thing with my children,” Nichols said, calling it a “juggling act” because by diminishing homework, the students fall behind the state’s expected pace in the classroom. He said they are trying to gauge how fast teachers can go without turning kids off math.

“If we have to tweak our workload and at the end of the day where our students are at, we’ll do so,” said Nichols, who has already implemented a few modifications.

To increase instructional time and hopefully minimize time spent on math at home, Pierson added a lab period designed to reinforce the CCLS lesson for students in seventh grade and algebra classes.

Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis said lab time provides the students with far more one-on-one learning instruction than available in the classroom setting. Teacher Richard Terry said it has been “very helpful” for his seventh grade students. Additionally, several senior math teachers were moved from the high school to the middle school two years ago, due to their comprehension of what would be required of those students later on.

Although they recognized its challenges, the teachers in attendance appeared to be proponents of the CCLS methodology. Fifth grade teachers George Kneeland and JoAnn Kelly shared a CCLS fluency activity, a fast-paced drill that is supposed to be a fun way to measure a student’s personal best. Kelly said her students love sprints, asking for them almost every day.

Kneeland then introduced an application problem, or “problem of the day,” which is designed to be strategically linked to previous lessons and concepts.

“We were just taught a methodology for doing it and we did it,” he said of his grade school experience. “The Common Core philosophy is taking a step deeper and looking at things so we get a pictorial understanding and more concrete understanding and then transition to what’s called the standard algorithm.”

Janice Arbia, who has four children in the school district, asked, “When they’re actually grading these tests, does it matter how they do it?”

The intent, Malone said, is for students to grasp what they were asked to do, so they can choose the way of solving the problem that works best for them. Energy is devoted to the concepts instead of the calculations.

“One of the big shifts now,” added Terry, “is rather than have a teacher standing in front of the students doing all of this work, the students are becoming an active participant in the lesson.”

“My students coming up this year in geometry are significantly stronger than they’ve been in the past and I expect that trend to continue,” said high school teacher Chase Malia. “I really think my students are much better prepared than they’ve been in the past.”

The administrators said their model of approach relies on feedback from teachers, parents and students. Nichols said that while some parents say their children are overwhelmed, others say they like the rigor and their kids are thriving. He plans to administer a survey to hear students’ opinions on how much they can handle.

“We do have an obligation to make sure that we safeguard kids’ emotional well being,” said Nichols. “And if in fact we’re asking too much of them in terms of the amount of homework, this survey will be able to generate some data related to that.”

Negotiations Over Teachers Gets Tough

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Last week the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) members and their lawyer met with the Sag Harbor UFSD Board of Education and superintendent Dr. John Gratto at what was meant to be a negotiation session, but instead, became yet another failure in the attempt to come to agreement about teacher contracts.
After Wednesday’s talks, TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said that the meeting “went nowhere” and the district’s salary proposal “still lags behind the rate of inflation, even as the rate has slowed during the economic crisis.”
She announced that both parties agreed to go to the next step, which is hiring a fact finder.
“This is the process after mediating,” Kochanasz explained, “their [the district’s] representative will contact the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] to notify them that we can’t go forward. Their rep and ours will consider jointly requesting a fact finder.”
A fact finder is someone who looks at both sides of the issue and makes non-binding suggestions to further the talks between the two sides.
“We are not surprised,” board of education president Walter Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We believe the real sticking points are the salary increase.”
In response to a press release sent out by TASH last week, Gratto called for a press conference in his office on Monday. At that gathering, Gratto and Wilcoxen jointly explained that salary has been the main issue stalling the new agreement and said the board has called for a special meeting on Thursday to present the district’s information to members of the public.
“I have to tell you I find it curious,” Kochanasz said on Tuesday in response to Thursday’s meeting, “why am I learning this in an email? I’m not sure what our strategy will be, but this time of year people have plans. This quick and sudden meeting leaves people with their heads spinning, it’s a sudden calling of a significant meeting… It’s not a tactic that is used and it’s not popular. I’m stunned,” she said.
At the press conference, Gratto outlined five major areas where the two sides are disagreeing — terms of contract, salary increase, workday issues, health insurance and retirement and coursework approval.
At present, teachers are on a three-year contract term, which the board and superintendent outlined during Monday’s press conference. But according to Kochanasz, the board asked first for a five-year term, then the two sides agreed on a four-year term and now the board is asking for a three-year term — again.
“That is curious,” Kochanasz said.
As for the salary disagreements, Gratto explained that the board and their representatives see the numbers differently than do TASH members. Gratto explained that the 2.5 percent increase in salaries proposed for the agreement excludes the cost of moving on salary step (the level at which a teacher’s pay is determined), which would cost the district an additional 2.77 percent in 2008-2009 school year, 2.57 percent for 2009-2010 and 2.31 percent in 2010-2011. For example, for 2008-2009 Gratto said the increase, when the two figures are added, would be 5.27 percent for the 2008-2009 school year.
“We see it as total new money [coming from] the taxpayers,” Wilcoxen said of the total increase, “TASH generally doesn’t see it that way.”
“There is an automatic increase every year, after that it is a raise – that’s what you are negotiating,” Kochanasz said. “They are counting that increase as part of the raise, and they are spinning it that way.”
Gratto explained that the board would like to keep the salary step increase “as is” as was worked out in the previous contract.
Concerning retirement and Social Security, Gratto explained that in Sag Harbor, teachers hired prior to July 1, 2000 do not contribute toward their health insurance in retirement but those hired after that date contribute 15 percent. The board is now asking for all teachers to contribute 15 percent.
Kochanasz said that the teachers in Sag Harbor were the first in Suffolk and Nassau counties to agree to contribute 10 percent to their health insurance in 1996, then in 2000 the teachers signed a new contract agreeing to the tiered system for anyone hired after 2000.
“This way the new teachers would know that when they took the job so we weren’t pulling the rug out from underneath them,” Kochanasz said and added that as of now, more than half of the teachers are paying 15 percent towards their health insurance in retirement indicating half the teachers were hired after July 1, 2000.
Gratto said that teachers in the surrounding districts, like East Hampton and Southampton, contribute upwards of 35 percent to their health insurance in retirement for family coverage. Gratto said in order to phase in this change, teachers hired before 2000 would have until July 1, 2010 to retire and still get 100 percent of their health insurance in retirement paid for.
During the press conference, Gratto explained that teachers can move ahead in their “salary steps” by taking additional courses, advancing them to higher salaries. Gratto said that the board is suggesting that teachers take courses related to their teaching field.
“The concept is you are getting a better teacher,” Gratto said and added those courses should be closely related to the teacher’s field of study.
Kochanasz said it is “changing times in education,” and that the school may be adding a new program or other offering that a teacher may not be qualified in, but may be able to implement into their curriculum.
“Dr. Gratto wants complete control to say whether or not you take a course,” Kochanasz said and added, “This has never been an issue in prior negotiations.”
When asked what would be the earliest date of the next meeting between TASH the board and their fact finder, Gratto said most likely February.
The Special Board Meeting will be held in the Pierson High School Library Thursday, December 18, at 6 p.m.