Tag Archive | "school"

Letters January 22, 2009

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Remembering Ned

 

Dear Bryan

A friend called to say that Ned Parkhouse had died – news that caused both eyes and heart to fill up: the former with tears, the latter with wonderful fond thoughts and recollections.

When I came to live in Sag Harbor in 1993, I had known Ned for perhaps five years, probably longer. Our paths crossed because of a mutual interest in recorded classical music, and we soon found we had so much to talk about. My first Sag Harbor home was the small apartment on the second floor of Ned’s house. My office was literally catty-corner from his shop and we were in constant communication. When I moved back to New York in 2000, we stayed in touch, and each summer we would dine together at the American Hotel. It was like accompanying royalty. Only this last summer – and I kick myself for this – did it prove impossible to work out a date.

What a remarkable fellow Ned was; what a wonderful friend; what an ornament of the village. Gentle, funny, talented, cultivated, mannerly, elegant, brave: a perfect gentleman of the old Southern school. As I write, his CD of pianistic reminiscences of his native New Orleans is playing. It is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful, emotionally transcendent and moving recitals ever committed to disc by anyone – music that digs to the heart of the listener, to the heart of things. Memories flood back of fifteen years ago, of being upstairs alone at night, and hearing Ned at his piano through the floorboards. To hear this and to reflect that he will no longer be making his gingerly way down Main Street in the morning to get his coffee and open his shop is unendurable.

All we can wish for him is a happy landing on the far shore. Like Bunyan’s Mr.Valiant-for-Truth, he has crossed over, although in Ned’s case I rather doubt it will be trumpets that sound, but rather a welcoming dulcet Steinway. As for us, well, as was said of Ty Cobb when he left baseball, we shall not see his like again, for the game has changed – and not for the better. Godspeed to an absolutely delicious and delightful human being.

Very truly yours,

Michael Thomas

New York

 

Support the Process

 

Dear Bryan,

As I sit down to write this letter I must start by saying that having three children, one with a learning disability, and one in each of the buildings, and being an extremely active parent, I think our school is one of the finest in the state. I was on the board for six years and went through two contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, so I think I speak from some experience on this subject. I want to ask our public to understand both sides of this.

I would not want to be a union representative fighting for raises or anything else in these difficult economic times, nor would I want to be a board member having to look at our teachers and say ‘no’ when they know how valuable they are to us. I do have some thoughts for both sides. The Sag Harbor School District is fortunate to have many talented, dedicated employees. Whether the economy is flourishing or not, our teachers still have the same job to do — and that is to educate our students better than ever and to help prepare our students to succeed in the world.

We all read the headlines in the local papers like “There are no government bailouts for our schools.” Our children are not cars that you can stop producing. They are our future. I have read letters over the years that we have teachers who are not very good, and my question to all of you is this, “What profession has 100% perfect employees?” The answer is none. The majority of our teachers are excellent. The Board of Education has a difficult job that consumes hours upon hours of their time and for which they don’t get paid. They have to deliver a better education to our students and figure out a way to do that and not drain our community’s resources. They are given the challenge of needing to educate our children and yet receive little help from the state or federal government. They are in charge of over 900 students’ lives. They listen to people talk about how we spend too much money over and over. They listened for years that our kids get a mediocre education, but that has been proven false now by our test scores, and Intel science winners, and our college bound students. My hope is that we, the community, allow the process to move ahead, refrain from being divisive, support the difficult challenges that both sides face, and remain hopeful that this contract is settled quickly. As community members, we should support the process and continue to support our dedicated administrators, teachers, staff, and the board. I personally thank all of you and will support each of you in the days ahead. I know that my children are very fortunate that they are being educated in this wonderful school and community

Thank you

Sandi Kruel

Sag Harbor

 

Congress Should Give Back

 

To the Editor

If members of Long Island’s Congressional delegation want to preach about how they disagree with a pay increase for themselves, then they should lead by example and donate the increase to charity. If members of Long Island’s Congressional delegation believe in the redistribution of wealth then they should lead by example and redistribute their own wealth to those less fortunate. 

These are tough economic times and while Congress passes bail out package after bail out package, our nation’s debt and overall financial stability get weaker by the day.  While members of Long Island’s Congressional delegation state that they oppose salary increases, they accept the pay, support bail out packages adding up to the trillions, all while the rest of us on Main Street continue to suffer. Enough is enough.

As a new Congress is sworn in this week, I pray that these members don’t provide just more of the same. It is time for more fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill. Step #1 is for members to either rescind their pay increase or donate it to charities. Step #2 is for Congress to put the blank checks away and stop wasting taxpayer dollars. The September bailout package was a disaster from the start and for the members that argued otherwise they should not be receiving a pay check at all.

Lee M. Zeldin,

Shirley

The author was a candidate for Congress. – ed.

Money Talk Makes for Tense Bridgehampton School Board Meeting

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By Marianna Levine

 

School finances were at the forefront of often tense discussions during Monday night’s Bridgehampton School Board meeting. Concerns over closing the school’s 2008 books, especially considering the lack of a business manager, carried over from a January 5 school board meeting with the school’s auditing committee. Phyllis Davis, of the auditing committee, worried about two management letters from the external auditor in September that suggested there needed to be some sort of corrective action taken in order to insure there is enough separation of duties in the business office so that the books may be closed properly for 2008. However she stated “there was no corrective action plan for that and it was supposed to go back to the superintendent for that” in this past week.

Superintendent Dianne Youngblood answered, “We’ve been trying to be very responsive to the audit committee’s concerns. I met with our accountant this week and I feel we’ll be able to successfully close our books.” The superintendent said she would also add a two-page letter specifically addressing the external auditor’s concerns about the school’s internal controls within the business office in the morning. Superintendent Youngblood added that the auditing committee had requested this two-page letter. Previously the committee felt the need for corrective action had been hidden within the extension request. The superintendent reassured, “we want to be entirely transparent.” The board was satisfied with this correction.

Shortly thereafter there was yet another report by Katherine Degroot and Jenice Delano concerning the district’s cost per student for out of district students. They had a slight modification from the last report since they realized they had neglected to add an approximately $800 cost per student for school lunches throughout the academic year. With this addition, out of district students cost the school about $2000 per pupil to educate. Board member Joe Berhalter took exception to this stating, “If the point of this report is that additional students cost only $2,000 per student then I don’t think the report’s assumption is correct. The assumption being that we’re expecting the taxpayers to cover the base cost of any additional students who are not contributing to the community. Saying it costs only $2000 to bring in extra students is not fair and not correct.”

Board member Elizabeth Kotz pointed out, “We have an out of district tuition policy in place now. It’s $11,500 for K-8, and $15,000 for the high school. You’re referring to an old tradition that had been in place for many, many years of keeping kids in district after their families had moved.” Kotz pointed out this wasn’t about any new students being brought in but rather a discussion of the cost of a few out of district students who had been admitted and then allowed to remain at the school prior to the creation of a tuition policy.

Berhalter caused a bit of an uproar when he added, “at the meeting this afternoon we were discussing doing additional studies.” All the board members wanted to know what meeting he was talking about and who the “we” was in his statement. Jenice Delano explained that the newly named, financial analysis committee had been talking about the cost of closing the high school. The subcommittee thought looking at the incremental cost per student in the high school was perhaps the next step in this process, and that by including 7th and 8th grade students the board may finally have a complete picture of all their per-student costs. Rick Delano re-phrased it, saying it was perhaps about the re-structuring of the high school. Ms. Kotz added, “I think we do have to put this on the table.”

However, the tensions didn’t end with this discussion. Superintendent Youngblood requested the transfer of about $30,000 from an account that was meant for wages into one for material supplies in order to buy new computers for the school. The school’s computers are currently about four or five years old and their technology plan is due to expire in 2011. Although the money had been budgeted for new computers at the end of next year, Dr. Youngblood wanted to purchase them now while there are was money available in the current budget. After the board voted this request down, Ms. Kotz said, “I’m a little upset about this because I don’t feel clear about the transfer. I’m saying ‘nay’ because I want to know why it’s going into material supplies and not into equipment.” Berhalter pointed out there wasn’t any money in the equipment fund, but others noted it could have been transferred into that fund now. Board President James Walker said the board needed at least a day or two to look the request over prior to approving it. The only board members to approve the transfer were Carol Kalish and Sue Hiscock.

They were also they only two board members who didn’t approve of a motion to rescind the resolution that authorized the approval of budget transfers of up to $10,000 by the superintendent. Dr Youngblood wanted to know why the board wanted to do this, because she told them it was customary for superintendents to have this authorization. Walker said there was some concern about the actual amount authorized.

Towards the end of the meeting there was confusion about the wording of a resolution concerning the application of a grant enabling the 12 Suffolk county school districts to buy supplies together. The resolution was to give Hampton Bays Superintendent Joanne Lowenthal authority to take the lead on this initiative, but the wording of the statement made it seem as if the Bridgehampton School district would have to pay to get some sort of grant. The district’s lawyer said he would work on the re-wording of the resolution that night.

In other news, school principal Jack Pryor invited the community to come watch the Inauguration with Bridgehampton students on Tuesday morning.

 

Letters January 8, 2009

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The Chosen

 

Dear Editor:

In a country that has come to be defined by greed — it is in the nature of all republican political systems — public school teachers are, apparently, the chosen of the earth. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the public school enterprise of the Sag Harbor School District. The teachers receive a remuneration that is a combination of salary and wage payment. Where else, in the world, are civil servants (which public school teachers are) paid extra for overtime or for non-teaching activity incidental to the execution of their teaching duties and the mental and physical well-being of their wards, e.g. Café/lunch period supervision? (Do they also get extra pay for walking children to the park?)

Add to this free post-retirement health care for themselves and family members. Wow! Who would not want to be a public school teacher? Plus, no one inspects their classroom performance for quality of service. (Why have a state commissioner and a state department of education?) So, no one to tell whether or when their work is “garbage in, garbage out.” And, given that U.S.A. students generally rank lower than those in other industrialized countries in regard to performance, it is little comfort claiming that Sag Harbor (Pierson High) students go to the best colleges after graduation.

In the prevailing circumstances — a tanking economy, housing foreclosures, factory closures and rising unemployment — it is hardly surprising that Sag Harbor public school teachers stand pat for contract raises in addition to annual salary increments: completely oblivious to what is going on around them and in the rest of the country. With the New York State in deficit and cutting down on “school aid” they expect school district taxpayers — some with mortgage problems, loss of 401(k) retirement funds and jobs — to support their lifestyle without any sacrifice on their part: no suspension or deferment of annual increments or renegotiation of existing contracts.

Property taxpayers have themselves to blame for this absurd situation: dumbly (or willfully) bearing a responsibility (public school financing) that, under New York State Constitution, belongs to the legislature. The state legislators condone the violation of state law in return for election and re-election campaign funds from the public school teachers’ unions. Corruption and the rule of men, not of laws — even while hell freezes over.

It is pertinent to note that Albany will investigate the use of Community Preservation Funds, but not how school taxes are spent. My school taxes rose by $42 or 1 percent from 2006/07 to 2007/08, but by $472, or 20 percent, from 2007/08 to 2008/09. Thus the increase in 2008/09 is over 1100 percent of the increase in 2007/08. Good take by the public education enterprise while the economy is collapsing. Apotheosis of greed by teachers and legislators.

Yours sincerely,

David Carney

Sag Harbor

 

How Much Can Taxpayers Afford?

 

Dear Editor,

The co-presidents of the Sag Harbor Elementary  School PTA, Kim Marcelle and Christ Tice, emotionally responded in their letter to the editor entitled, “Responsible to Support School” (Sag Harbor Express November 27, 2008) to my letter to the editor entitled, “Cut School Spending Now.” With good intentions, they attempt to defend a school district that does not need protecting. They misconstrue my objective eye and they attempt to read my mind with a crystal ball. I am not “offended” as they say by an elementary librarian with superior qualifications earning $122,000 plus an additional $36,000 for benefits. However, I am “shocked” by the $158,600 total for this one employee. I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Marcelle and Ms. Tice when they “feel a fiduciary responsibility to support a public educational system that provides the absolute best education “we can afford to offer.” The key here is what “we can afford to offer.” By equating spending with achievement, they miss my point.

I speak from experience, a nurse who’s done doctoral work in Nursing Education and Administration at Columbia University. When a hospital trims its budget, patients must be given the same care. Somehow hospitals achieve this difficult and sometimes life-threatening goal. So why can’t schools do the same? Ms. Marcelle and Ms. Tice misconstrue and distort my suggestion to cut the budget by 10 percent. Who said anything about cutting programs? Gov. Patterson and Sheldon Silver both predict the $15 billion deficit “will not be closed with only a five percent cut in health and education.” Somehow the district’s administration will attempt to meet the challenge of maintaining programs while cutting spending by evaluating the worth of the programs they offer. As governor Patterson said, “Nothing is sacred,” including education and health care.

The generous post-retirement package was given to public school teachers to compensate for salaries not commensurate with the private sector thirty or forty years ago. Likewise, tenure was instituted to protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious boards of education. Unless a teacher does something egregious, he has a job for life. Now that the public school teachers’ salaries are comparable to those in the private sector, can we still afford the unfair, unreasonable and unaffordable post-retirement benefits? No matter what happens to a district’s revenues, the teachers’ retirement system sends each district a bill to compensate for their decrease in revenue from the retirement system’s investments. The taxpayers have to make up the difference. How much can we afford? Can taxpayers still afford to pay automatic increases of 2.6% every year? This also has to be evaluated. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. schools, advocates an increased salary for teachers who voluntarily give up their tenure. In time, maybe this innovative idea may take hold in New York State. The teachers’ union, like the United Auto Workers, has to compromise and deal with the economic situation. There are no more entitlements. The key question is how much can taxpayers afford to offer?

Who is comparing the academic achievement of Manorville and Sag Harbor? Again, only the PTA co-presidents do that. In my letter I cite how different districts are handling the decrease in state aid. All districts have the same mandates and deal with mid-year cuts in state aid differently while still meeting New York State requirements.

Since 2004, our school population has steadily decreased and has leveled off. So where is the rise in enrollment that the co-presidents claim?

There is no enmity in my statements, only the cold, hard facts. This pain avoidance must end. The board promised academic and fiscal responsibility. The current economic situation will test their sincerity. Superintendent Gratto is moving the board in the right direction by cutting $300,000 in spending. Thank goodness he is at the helm of the Sag Harbor School District.

Jo Rizzo

Noyac

 

Safer and More Efficient

 

Dear Bryan,

An article in the  December 25th Express (Making Safer Routes) discusses initial plans for Jermain Avenue to the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike. One of the three main components being studied by Dunn Engineering, the firm selected for the planning, is the intersection of Jermain Avenue and Suffolk Street. One idea Dunn has suggested is to prohibit right turns for eastbound and westbound traffic at this intersection. That must be a mistake!!!  Going westward from Madison on Jermain and turning right on Suffolk presently presents no traffic problem, there is an exit lane. Prohibiting right turns when going eastward however would make it impossible for residents of Suffolk Street to get to their homes; it would be necessary to add mileage, (to an important Village official and at least fifty other residents) forced to go around Madison across Middle Line Road and then down Suffolk. The existing STOP sign at the corner is sufficient.

LEFT turns ,on the other hand, ARE a big problem. Sight lines for drivers coming out of Suffolk onto Jermain are terrible, creating a definite potential for accidents. Creative thinking will be necessary there; perhaps a traffic calming device in the center (not a roundabout); a high bump or a flag pole so the cars can move out and be seen by oncoming traffic from both directions.

There has been a lot of thought put into the revamping of that crossing for at least a decade, and at the time of the state’s upgrade of 114. There are residents who feel they do have answers to this dangerous traffic situation. Certainly Dunn Engineering should seek the opinions of informed villagers now.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Valerie Justin

Sag Harbor

Christmas Feast at Bridgehampton School

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On Tuesday the entire Bridgehampton School District met in the gymnasium to share a Christmas Feast together. As the younger children continued to learn in their classrooms, some of the older students were in the gym setting up tables with place settings, balloons and hot food.

Three years ago, the student council of the Bridgehampton School District came up with the idea of hosting an annual feast as a way to give something back to the community during the holiday season. The feast has become a tradition at the school and in the past students raised the money to finance the feast themselves.

“It started as a way for the school to celebrate each other and to give back to the community,” said principal Jack Pryor.

But this year, because of shortfalls everywhere from the current economic climate, it almost didn’t happen.

“We used to have different fundraisers for student council,” Pryor added. “But this year, we didn’t have the money.”

Mary Johnsen, a teacher at the school, said that thankfully, parents and community members began to step forward to offer their help in donating plates, cups and other items to provide the students with all the materials they needed to assemble a complete Christmas dinner — during lunch time.

Ava Mack, community liaison, was in charge of organizing the serving of the food, while some school staff members and ladies in the community helped out. Mack was able to get a break in food costs from Cromer’s Country Market in Noyac.

Once the feast began, seniors in the school dished out the food to the younger students in pre-k and kindergarten before getting their own meals.

Although there seemed to be a lot more families in desperate need this holiday season due to the struggling economy, there have always been people in the community who need help, and those willing to give it. The feast isn’t the only way students at Bridgehampton School give back during the holidays. This was also the third year that the school has organized a “giving tree” with the Bridgehampton National Bank so that members of the community could purchase Christmas gifts for community children in need. Donors who took part dropped presents off at the school and the older students helped to organize and wrap all the gifts, which were distributed to the families.

“We began to raise money and through the giving tree were able to get gifts. The people in the community were so supportive,” said John Riley, a feast organizer and Bridgehampton teacher. “We were able to raise $700 for needy families and we were able to give to the needy children.”

Even the feathered residents of Bridgehampton are not forgotten at this time of year. After their holiday feast, the students went outside where the younger kids hung their edible ornaments — made out of birdseed — on a tree.

Schools React to the Consolidation Pitch

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A new proposal coming from New York State has a number of school districts and administrators on the East End wondering what the future might hold for them.
While students and programs would be largely unaffected, administrations in school districts in the state with less than 1,000 students could face mandatory consolidation, according to a statement fram Governor David Paterson last week. Between Southampton and East Hampton Towns, plus Shelter Island, there are currently 12 school districts with fewer than 1,000 students.
The recommendation came in the final report by the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, which was presented to the governor’s office and suggests that schools with under 1,000 students — which would include local districts like Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton — should combine their resources to allow for greater tax relief for property owners.
In order for the state to be able to mandate the consolidation of schools, new legislation would have to be proposed. As of now, it is up to the local school boards and community members to vote on changes to any particular district. The report suggests a change to the current system, but does not say how it will be implemented, according to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
“It’s very general,” Thiele said on Friday of the report.
Currently, Sag Harbor School district has just under 1,000 students — if Sag Harbor students attending Stella Maris, Ross School and other private schools are included in the total, however, those numbers would likely exceed 1,000.
Thiele noted that the minimum number of students is not firmly set at 1,000 when talking consolidation, and he believes that number may be fluid and up for discussion, possibly with a minimum threshold that could be higher.
Thiele said on Friday he believes, however, consolidation will not cause any schools to close down, but rather combine their resources and administration to cut costs to property owners.
“I don’t think they are talking about consolidation in the classroom,” Thiele said and added, “but there are a lot of administrators in these school districts.”
Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said that consolidation could be very feasible.
“That is not unheard of upstate,” Gratto said on Friday of the area where he once lived and worked. Gratto explained that in that part of the state, there are schools that are 15 miles apart that may be under the same superintendent.
“I am surprised about the small schools here,” Gratto, who came to the Sag Harbor district last June. By upstate standards, for example, Gratto noted that a single superintendent would likely oversee schools located within a range similar to that of Bridgehampton, Springs and Sag Harbor.
But he explained that there are social reasons this change might not work here.
“Some people like their neighborhood schools, they may like the fact that their kid can play on the soccer team,” said Gratto. He added that political reasons could trump the social. “By consolidating schools the districts could see savings in administration, teachers, supplies and other costs.”
“My position is if the state can play a greater role, I think we should provide incentives,” Thiele said.
But Gratto said there are already state incentives for consolidation in place that neighboring districts have not explored.
“Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor have been next to each other for years,” Gratto said “and have not taken advantage of the incentives so far.”
Gratto noted that the state would provide greater aid if the schools combined their resources. Thiele believes greater incentives could be given while still including the local community in the decision making process.
Dianne B. Youngblood, superintendent of the Bridgehampton School District said on Tuesday that there are currently 150 students in her district.
“We are certainly a small school and that’s what we pride ourselves on,” she said, “that is my immediate reaction.” She added that she can understand the interest in consolidation from a taxpayer’s standpoint; but added “Working from a school administration position, I can see the benefits of a small school.”
“I think it’s a decision that needs to be discussed in detail and weigh all sides very carefully,” she said.
Further, Youngblood added that it is a misnomer that by combining schools it will lower the tax rate.
“That doesn’t always happen,” she said. “I know in Bridgehampton they did a study a year-and-a-half ago and found that we have the lowest taxes in the entire metropolitan region.”
“It is a discussion worthy to be had but people have to come to the table with all of the facts,” she said.
As far as sharing administrators, Youngblood said that currently her district has similar practices such as sharing a treasurer and other administrators with the Sag Harbor School District.
When asked about having one superintendent for more than one current school district on the East End, Youngblood said that it would be a matter of looking at the entire structure of the school and require more than just looking at the position itself.
“We don’t have a lot of details,” Thiele said on Friday. “Perhaps when Governor Paterson issues his budget on the 16th [of December] it will have more specifics about school consolidation.”
The New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief was formed in January of 2008 and has held 14 public meetings to discuss alternative options for tax relief for members. Some of the other 30-plus recommendations in their final report included an implementation of a property tax cap, mandated relief and School Tax Relief (STAR) “circuit breakers”– a relief program offered to individuals based on income and ability to pay.
On Monday, Thiele released a statement saying that he was working on this issue independently. Thiele suggests that the State Department of Education would be directed to review every school district with 1,000 students or less as a potential candidate for consolidation. Thiele’s proposal suggests that a draft report of potential consolidators would be made public by the state and public hearings in the local communities would be heard on the matter, allowing for more public input. Then, Thiele suggests a public referendum to approve or disapprove.
“I don’t have a problem if it is initiated by the state, as long as the local community and voters in the local school district are involved,” Thiele said on Friday. “I don’t have a problem with the state being involved but ultimately I think it has to be made by the people in the district.”
Thiele said his plan is “direct, simple and better serves the public interest.”

Former Board Member Challenges Bridgehampton’s Out-of-District Students

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By Marianna Levine

Students’ privacy and academic achievement were at the heart of an intimate and often passionate Bridgehampton Board of Education workshop on Monday night.

While all board members attended the session, there were only four community members present. One from the audience, former board member Joe Conti, kicked off a vibrant discussion on new and out-of-district students.

“With the economy facing a significant downturn … this is not the time to raise tax rates or taxes in the Bridgehampton school district,” read Conti from a prepared statement. He expressed concern that in-coming students were not properly vetted for residency or had been allowed to attend tuition free. Conti was especially worried that out-of-district special needs students cost Bridgehampton taxpayers too much.

Board member Elizabeth Kotz was quick to point out that in the past two years the district has followed a formal process that insures students are indeed within district, and that there is an out-of-district tuition policy in place.

With the exception of students grandfathered into the school district as they were attending the school prior to the board adopting an out-of-district tuition rate, those students who do not live in Bridgehampton are charged $11,500 a year for kindergarten through eighth grade and $15,000 for high school. The cost for an out-of-district special education student far exceeds those rates.

On Monday, Conti reminded the board that “counsel recommended to do a study to see what it cost the district on a per student basis for non-resident students (approximately 15) who are presently attending our school.” Berhalter answered that it had been a slow process to start the study but told Conti there would be a meeting about this study in December.

Shortly after Conti’s statement, the board held a tense discussion regarding Berhalter’s request for new students’ addresses. Berhalter said that his request created a firestorm he never intended and he was merely curious why there was a sudden increase in students after years of static or declining growth in the district. Kotz pointed out that nice things are being said about the school and therefore more people are considering it as an option for their children. Board president James Walker wanted to know specifically why Berhalter needed these addresses, and Kotz added that the board had been advised by legal counsel that it was illegal to give out personal information without a specific school directory policy in place.

Berhalter, as well as Conti, stated that this information would be helpful for marketing reasons. Conti said, “it may be a way to figure out how to reach out to people who are in the community to take a look at the school and perhaps join the school.” Ms Kotz insisted the board could not give out personal information, and that the school is already working on attracting people to the school including hosting a community wide open house.

The board ultimately decided to give Berhalter information on whether the students were coming in from other public or other private schools, but no further defining information as to protect the privacy of the students.

Parent Teacher Organization president Karen Hochstedler finished the discussion by asking Berhalter to come and visit the school and meet the new students himself. She also reminded him that both economic factors and the school’s positive reputation in recent years has created the current influx of students.

Concurring with Hochstedler’s statement was Principal Jack Pryor’s report announcing that 67 percent of students between grades seven and 10 were either honor students or received an honorable mention. He added that 82 percent of 11th graders were on the honor roll or received an honorable mention. Berhalter asked if so many students are indeed on the honor roll why were more of them not taking a Princeton Review class for the SAT exams. Board member Nicki Hemby noted a scheduling conflict exists for some students already engaged in extracurricular activities. Pryor and Kotz added Berhalter should look at the results of Regents exams, as opposed to SAT scores, as a measure of student achievement, especially in light of the fact that Bridgehampton boasts a number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students and those with special needs who may not perform as well on the SATs as others. 

Sag Harbor School Kids – Three times better than Global Average

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Although teachers are still working without contracts, the Sag Harbor school district has managed to triple the worldwide average for certain college-based courses for its school students.
At the Sag Harbor school board meeting Monday night, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board, community members and faculty on how the students in the high school compare with those in surrounding districts and other high schools with similar curriculums worldwide.
Currently, Pierson offers a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students in subjects such as world history, English, chemistry, calculus, art and so on. Nichols compared recent test results to those collected from previous years. In 2005, according to the data, there were 48 students enrolled in at least one AP course at Pierson and in 2008 there were 79 students. Nichols said that there was a 16 percent achievement rate for AP courses in 2002, but that results from 2007-08 show that there was a 74 percent achievement rate, even though the amount of students enrolled in AP courses has increased dramatically.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison of the average exam results in AP classes in Sag Harbor and how they compared to other schools worldwide.
“We are doing very well against the global mean,” Nichols said on Monday.
The information presented was taken from the College Board and the results show that Sag Harbor doubles the physics and biology worldwide average and nearly triples the worldwide average for English literature and composition.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison to local districts such as Bridgehampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Greenport, Mattituck and Eastport among others. Pierson typically scored higher in most state regents mandated exams such as English and math for eighth graders. Sag Harbor Regents test results showed Sag Harbor leading in five out of seven courses.
“Regents are tests mandated by the state and AP is not mandated,” Nichols told the crowd on Monday. “But the AP courses are the courses that help prepare for higher education and I see it as a necessity.”

Extracurricular Trips
After Nichols’ presentation, superintendent Dr. John Gratto explained that he and Nichols have worked on a revision of a new policy which outlines restrictions and allowances for extracurricular trips.
The new policy requires an outline for trips, those that will be curriculum-based and those not particularly tied to a curriculum. The new policy indicates students would not be allowed to miss more than two school days.
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said there is great concern for the quality of the education for the children that are left behind. He said they are trying to do a better job of finding a substitute or design activities relative to the subject for the children that remain in school.
Board member Sue Kinsella said on Monday that she is not in favor of taking the teachers out of the classroom for more than two days at a time and said that extensive field trips should be taken during vacation time.
Resident Elena Loreto, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting, said that she believes the only real impact a teacher has on a student is during traditional classroom instructional time. Loreto also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind.
This was the first reading of the policy, there will be a second reading and a chance for more input at the next meeting.

More Cost-Saving Measures
On Monday night, Gratto talked about additional plans that the district is investigating to try to save more money. Gratto said that there could be a mid-year state aid reduction, and that he and business manager Len Bernard are working diligently to try to come up with creative ways to cut costs. At the moment, Gratto said there are 16 ideas in the works for ways to try to reduce costs, including the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, a reduction in special education contracts and a freeze in the budget on some supplies. The district is now adding to that list an analysis of a different dental insurance company and requesting that computers are turned off when not in use, which Gratto said has shown a tremendous reduction in energy use in other municipalities. The district is also looking at a Medicaid reimbursement for services.
“We are in for a difficult year this year and possibly next year,” Gratto said.
Wilcoxen said, according to a publicized report from New York Governor David Paterson, the state has a two billion dollar deficit in education.
“I believe there will be no state money coming our way in the foreseeable future,” he said.
In response to the possible aid reduction, the school is considering buying a school bus and shuttle for field trips and trips for daily sporting activities. Bernard explained that the current bus company charges $85 per hour for a minimum of three hours.
“We had a field trip to Shelter Island, it cost three hours to bring the kids to the ferry and three hours to pick the kids up,” Bernard said. If the school had its own bus, the district could easily save money on trips such as this, according to Bernard.
Bernard said that the school might be able to examine shared services with Southampton or East Hampton and ask if those districts could pick up additional students. At the moment, Bernard said the district pays $22,000 to pick up Stella Maris students.

A Celebration Overshadowed

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At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting the excellence of the Sag Harbor School District was on full display. A number of teachers received tenure, a professional milestone that should not go unnoticed. Teacher after teacher addressed the audience and spoke eloquently about why they love teaching in this district, why they feel privileged to be able to do so and how, when their friends ask them if they like their job, they say no. Instead they say they love it.

It made us feel privileged to be afforded the opportunity to witness such a celebration.

And then there was the fact that it was Anne Mackesey and Kathryn Holden’s last board meeting. This too made us feel honored to be there and to witness the outpouring of support toward two professional, dedicated and special individuals. We wish them both well.

But then there was the elephant in the room. An elephant so large it might have overshadowed the celebration. One board member even attested to the fact when he asked that audience members refrain from speaking what was on their minds.

Which brings us to last Thursday, a travesty unlike anything we have ever been a party to. When asked about the method by which the new school superintendent was hired and the individual himself, the board showed blatant disregard for the parents, teachers and taxpayers they were elected to represent. By saying that no public input was allowed when it was clearly obvious the public wanted — and needed — to voice their concern, the board only made things worse. They missed a golden opportunity to have truly open discourse. They took the participation out of participatory democratic government and left it, as they did our new superintendent, in the library while they retreated to a district conference room like it was a bomb shelter, never to come out and face the wreckage they created. It was only when a reporter walked down to the conference room some two hours later to check on them, that the public discovered the meeting had, in fact, ended in private. A lone board member then strolled back into the library and declared the meeting adjourned. We ran to the parking lot, hoping to catch at least one board member, to ask why they chose to retreat from the public. The lot was empty, spare a few cars, which belonged to the members of the public who waited in anticipation of a full board’s return to the library, and the decision to come back and face them. Except for one member, the rest of the board had snuck out of the building, under the cloak of darkness.

Thank you board of education for scheduling a special meeting this Tuesday to explain your actions. On Monday there was debate over whether or not it was legal to make public the new superintendent’s resume. He had no problem emailing it to us this week. Indeed he was rather up front about the whole situation and about his past and we hope on Tuesday you, too, will be up front about why you chose to act the way you did 

Squandering Faith

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An Open Letter to the Sag Harbor Board of Education:

 

Tonight the residents of Sag Harbor will get their first glimpse of their new school superintendent. He will be introduced to the community at a meeting of the board of education. A reception will follow.

By the time the parents, teachers and taxpayers meet John Gratto, it is expected to be a done deal.

Let us say here that we have spoken with Mr. Gratto and came away from our conversation feeling optimistic about him. He told us he enjoyed getting to know the students and teachers in his district, and that he loved attending art events and musicals. He also mentioned that he would strive to provide the children every opportunity possible to excel in life, whatever they chose to do. All good things.

But what’s not good is the manner in which the school board arrived at their decision. That is, with virtually no public input into the process.

Mere weeks ago the community stood behind you and went to the polls at your behest, passed your budget, elected your board members. That same week on these pages we cautioned you that, as a board, it was vital that open lines of communication be maintained with this community.

So here we are. Waiting to meet the man who will lead the school in coming years. And no one, except for the Sag Harbor School board members, have any idea who he is or the philosophy he espouses. Not the teachers, not the students, not the parents. Nor does this community have any idea of the many (were there many?) candidates who didn’t make the cut. What qualifications were used to accept or reject them in the process of narrowing the field? We don’t know because we weren’t informed of the process. All we know is that the man we will be meeting tonight is John Gratto and John Gratto will be our new superintendent.

Since furtive word of the appointment made its way through our tiny little village, we have been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls from parents who fear the worst. Teachers too, many of whom we spoke with, were nervous. They are about to meet their new boss with absolutely no idea what he stands for.

Before we go any further, let us just say we have confidence in you, the board’s ability, to choose a competent man for the job. We trust that you have chosen wisely and that Mr. Gratto will serve our children well and grow to love this community, this school district and most importantly the students. The superintendent he will be replacing certainly did.

Which reminds us. When Kathryn Holden was hired by this school district it was done in a much different manner. In that case, there was a well attended public forum to meet the leading candidates. The board traveled to Holden’s home district. Holden traveled here to spend a day in her prospective new district. Everyone agreed she was the candidate of choice. Everyone — not just the board.

While we understand that in the 10 point plan posted on your website and written about in this paper you did not promise to paraded the final candidates in front of the community for our input. However, we firmly believe that when something is done right, it is an action worth repeating. With the hiring of Kathryn Holden, the board did it right. With the hiring of John Gratto, the board did not.

Which is really a shame. Here we have a man coming into this community who has no idea of the rancor into which he is walking. A good candidate — according to the board, the ideal candidate. Yet he will enter the community tomorrow for the first time under a cloud of suspicion and tension. Not on the part of any of his own doing, but on the part of yours.

What baffles us the most however, is the lack of transparency during this entire hiring process. Granted, there were focus groups at the school during work hours, which we would like to point out, were poorly attended, except by the students. Even the big community forum only drew some 30 people to the school auditorium on a Wednesday night. Might that not have been a sign that much of the community expected something more, perhaps another opportunity to be included in the process? Perhaps an opportunity to actually meet and talk to the real candidates rather than debate the theoretical.

There is not one person who has attended a school board meeting in the past year and half not heard the words “transparency” or “open lines of communication with the community” at least once. So we say to you board, what happened here? Could you not hear us? Or were you just unwilling to practice what your preach.

Board of Education, please heed our words and listen closely to the community you are elected to represent. Listen to their rantings and their blessings and take both to heart. That is the only way you can overcome the squandering of faith that has resulted from you actions. 

What’s Next? Communication.

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Well, the Sag Harbor school budget has passed, the board candidates have been elected — with one new member taking a seat — and the search is on for a new superintendent to take over the helm of the district.

We are happy the budget was supported but feel one of the things that factored into the reasoning of those who voted “no” is misunderstanding. With the board in place, it’s a good time to talk about what’s next. For us, it has to start with communication.

In the course of covering not only the school board, but pretty much every board in Sag Harbor, it has come to our attention that this is a village that thrives on miscommunication. That’s the way it often is in small towns. A provocative statement is bandied about, and repeated ad nauseam — at the post office, on the street, in a restaurant. Pretty soon, it becomes part of the local vernacular, and even if it has no basis in actual fact, the piece of information takes on a mythic quality which people won’t drop even in the face of solid empirical evidence to the contrary.

They make decisions at the polls based upon this bit of information in their head — largely because no one has managed to put any other relevant information in their head.

Which is why communication is so vital. In order for a community to get behind its school, the school needs to be behind the community. So to the school board: we charge you to be as open and forthright as possible with your information so misstatements don’t become assumed fact as they pass from one uninformed mouth to another.

We also charge you to make sure that the school staff and administrators are communicating with the public — and that includes the local paper. Impress upon them the importance of sharing information about what the students are doing — be it on sports teams, field trips, science prizes or performances. Let the school shine beyond its brick and mortar confines and show the taxpayers — all taxpayers — what their money is getting them. Let them know about the good things that are going on at the school, so when it comes time to pull that lever next year, they’ll have more to consider than one select tidbit of prime misinformation.