Tag Archive | "Schools"

Candidates Come Forward for School Board Races in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton

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By Tessa Raebeck

Voters in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton  will return to the polls next month to cast their ballots for school board candidates and approve or deny districts’ proposed budgets.

SAG HARBOR

With three seats up for grabs in Sag Harbor, five candidates have come forward. Incumbents Thomas Schiavoni and Chris Tice are running to keep their seats and have been  joined in the race by challengers Stephanie Bitis, James Ding and James Sanford.

The top two vote getters from among the three candidates will serve three-year terms starting on July 1, and ending on June 30, 2018. Ms. Tice and board member David Diskin, who is not running again, currently hold those positions. Both Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin were elected to two-year terms in light of resignations in the spring of 2013.

The candidate who receives the third highest number of votes will serve the balance of an unexpired term, starting on May 19, the day of the school board elections, and ending on June 30, 2016. The third, shorter term is a result of the board’s appointment of Mr. Schiavoni last August to temporarily fill the position vacated when Daniel Hartnett resigned after moving out of the school district. Mr. Schiavoni’s appointment expires on election day, May 19.

A lifetime resident of the Sag Harbor area who is known as “Tommy John,” Mr. Schiavoni now lives in North Haven with his family. A Sag Harbor parent, Mr. Schiavoni is also a teacher of middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District. He is an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and a North Haven Village trustee, as well as a former member of the North Haven Village Zoning Board of Appeals and past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association.

Since he was selected out of a handful of candidates vying for Mr. Hartnett’s position last summer, Mr. Schiavoni has acted as legislative liaison to the school board. Last month, he traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators in support of public schools.

The parent of two Sag Harbor students and a Pierson graduate, Ms. Tice is the school board’s vice president and has been on the board since 2010. She is a real estate agent with Corcoran’s Sag Harbor office and a past president of Sag Harbor’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a past board member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Prior to relocating to Sag Harbor full time in 2004, Ms. Tice worked in various marketing and management positions for companies such as American Express, Cablevision and SONY.

Newcomer Stephanie Bitis is also a real estate agent, having worked at Sotheby’s in Sag Harbor since March. She has a master’s degree in business administration from St. John’s University and was previously the general sales manager of WFAN Radio, an affiliate of the CBS Corporation, in New York City from 2006 to August 2014. Before that, Ms. Bitis was the vice president/general manager of Univision.

Challenger James Ding, of Noyac, is an active member of the Noyac Civic Council and has been vocal in the opposition to helicopter noise from the East Hampton Airport. He was a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee of the Town of Southampton in 2013.

The third challenger, James Sanford, is the founder and portfolio manager of Sag Harbor Advisors, which he launched in New York City and Sag Harbor in 2012. A CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Mr. Sanford has worked on Wall Street since the early 1990s with companies including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan. He is also chief financial officer for fragrance company Lurk.

A “Meet the Candidates Night” for the Sag Harbor Board of Education, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and Pierson Middle and High School PTSA, will be held on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson Library, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor School District budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19.

 

BRIDGEHAMPTON

The Bridgehampton race is thus far uncontested, with three incumbents, Douglas DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Ronald White, all seeking reelection. If no other candidates come forward, they will each serve three-year terms starting July 1, and ending June 30, 2018.

First elected to the Bridgehampton School Board in 2009, Mr. DeGroot is president of Hamptons Tennis Company, Inc. and has facilitated many tennis clinics and athletics-oriented field trips for Bridgehampton students. His four children are all students or alumni of the Bridgehampton School.

Mr. White is a lifetime Bridgehampton resident, and both a past graduate and current school parent. He has been president of the school board since 2013, and was vice president beforehand. Mr. White is a real estate agent at Prudential Douglas-Elliman.

Also elected in 2009, Ms. Tyree-Johnson became vice president of the school board when Mr. White became president in 2013. A bookkeeper, she is also an avid Killer Bees fan—her husband, Coach Carl Johnson, led the Bees to the New York State Class D Championship this winter.

Because the race is uncontested, the district will not host a “Meet the Candidates” night this year, but will hold a budget hearing and school board meeting on May 6, at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Bridgehampton School, located at 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. The Bridgehampton School District budget vote and school board elections will be held Tuesday, May 19.

 

Pierson Vice Principal Headed to Greenport

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By Tessa RaebeckPierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish will leave the Sag Harbor School District in May for a position as secondary principal in Greenport.

Pierson Middle/High School vice principal Gary Kalish has accepted a position as secondary school principal in Greenport and will be leaving the Sag Harbor School District at the end of this month.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education accepted Mr. Kalish’s resignation with regret at its meeting on Tuesday, April 14. He is expected to start in Greenport on May 1.

A graduate of Pierson himself, Mr. Kalish has been Pierson’s vice principal for the past seven years. He was the driving force behind the implementation of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program in Sag Harbor.

Kyle Sturmann, who graduated from the program last spring, said Wednesday that Mr. Kalish “was very dedicated to the success of the IB program at Pierson. He always made himself available to the candidates, maintained regular communication with the teachers [and] made sure that the students understood the guidelines of the program and that they never felt too overwhelmed by its rigor.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the school board and administrators congratulated Mr. Kalish on his new position while expressing regret at seeing him leave Pierson.

“We’ve been lucky to have a homegrown Sag Harbor Pierson graduate to come back and make such a difference here for our students and our community,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “We’re sad to see you go, but we know it’s a promotion and it’s an opportunity to be captain of a ship and they’re lucky to have you.”

“We’re all happy for you but also, we will miss you,” agreed school board member David Diskin, who said his daughter Zoe, a Pierson student, shared his sentiments.

“I think you’re ready for the next step in your journey and I think you’re going to be fabulous, so good luck,” added board member Sandi Kruel.

“I was very proud to be able to come back,” Mr. Kalish said. “I was a student here and I loved being a student at Pierson and to be able to come back as an administrator—I was very honored and very proud. It was a great experience, I’ve learned so much. Pierson continued to teach me after I came back.”

“Mostly, I will miss the students—not just because I’m related to a few of them, but I really [will] miss all of them and I hope that they know that even if I’m not here, I’m still a whaler.”

Sag Harbor School District Proposes $37.5 Million Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

With many school districts scrambling for funding to maintain programs and staff, Sag Harbor School District administrators are striving to find ways to save money down the line in their proposed 2015-16 budget.

The second draft of the budget, which will not pierce Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2-percent tax cap, was presented at the final of many budget workshops on Tuesday, April 14. The total proposed 2015-16 budget is $37.5 million, an increase of 1.85 percent over the current school year’s budget.

The second draft of the budget is higher than the first by about $118,000. It includes newly received information on state aid figures and the cost of BOCES, which provides school districts with shared educational services such as test grading and vocational-technical programs.

Although it is widely known as the “2-percent tax cap,” the property tax levy limit is actually calculated individually for each of the state’s school districts based on a number of factors. This year’s tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is 2.5335 percent and the second budget draft’s projected tax levy increase is 2.4864 percent, or $826,082.

Sag Harbor will receive nearly $67,000 more in state aid than originally projected, representing an increase of 7.94 percent, or almost $130,000, over the current year. Due to this increase in state aid, other additional revenue, and the decision to postpone a project included in the first budget draft (the resurfacing of the tennis court and play area behind the Sag Harbor Elementary School), the tax levy will be $55,000 lower than the first draft, despite the budget itself being higher.

“We’re maintaining and growing our programs here and our opportunities for students while keeping under the tax cap—and there are almost no districts on Long Island that can claim that—so you’re doing a great job, thank you,” Chris Tice, vice president of the board of education, told the administrative team.

The projected tax levy is $34,050,000 for 2015-16, with the monthly impact on the local taxpayer being anywhere from $4.97 to $10.15, according to School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi. Those figures are based on the current assessed values for the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, which both send students to Sag Harbor schools.

“If assessed values go up in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, like they did this year, your tax rate is actually going to go down, it’s not going to go up,” Ms. Buscemi told the three people in the crowd Tuesday, adding she hopes no taxpayer will see a $10 monthly increase in the end.

Due to aging infrastructure and potential cost savings, Ms. Buscemi also hopes to include a proposition in the annual budget vote in May that would permit the district to establish a reserve fund for future repairs.

The proposition would allow the school district to take the surplus funds from the current year’s budget, 2014-15, and put the money in a repair reserve account to be used for future infrastructure needs. The fund would have no impact on tax rates. In order for the district to use money from the fund, it would have to hold a public hearing. If an emergency repair needed to be done before a hearing could be held, the district would have to replace the money used in the next year, with interest.

One project the repair reserve would potentially be used for is repairing the boilers at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, which posed several problems this winter. The cost of a full replacement of the boilers is estimated to be over $500,000, but a repair would cost about $100,000 and allow the boilers to hold out for another five years, Ms. Buscemi said.

“If we do decide to go the repair route, we would be able to use some of that repair reserve to make those repairs and that would have no impact on taxes,” she added.

Ms. Buscemi said the district has made over $1 million worth of “efficiency” actions since July 1, 2012, which can be included in an efficiency plan that may garner additional savings for taxpayers in the form of rebate checks. A more detailed plan will be presented before the board adopts the budget and property tax report card on Wednesday, April 22.

A budget hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 5, and the annual budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19. All budget presentations and drafts are available under “Budget Info” on the district’s website.

Test Refusal Movement Continues to Grow in Sag Harbor

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By Tessa Raebeck

Spring break is traditionally used for some much needed relaxation and time in the sun before the final sprint to the end of the school year, but a group of East End parents, teachers, and community members had a loftier goal for last week’s vacation: Taking back public education.

About 50 people filled a meeting room in Sag Harbor’s Old Whalers’ Church on Thursday, April 9, for an informational dialogue on test refusal hosted by the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH). The “refuse the test” movement has gained steam across New York State in recent weeks, in reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to increase privatization of the state’s education system and put mounting emphasis on state tests by tying teachers’ jobs and basing schools’ effectiveness on students’ performances on standardized tests written by for-profit companies. The governor threatened to hold out on providing aid to schools if the State Legislature did not pass his reforms as part of the state budget earlier this month.

The picture painted at the forum is one that has been repeated across the country increasingly since the implementation of the past two major federal educational reforms, President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top: public schools in which art and history classes and recess, gym and lunch periods have been eliminated and replaced with test prep.

The Sag Harbor School District has made many efforts to resist pulling the plug on the creativity administrators say is fundamental to a strong, engaging education, but the new state regulations will force school districts to fire teachers and administrators and relinquish local control of schools should students not perform up to par. Sag Harbor’s schools, which perform well on state tests, will be subject to the same guidelines as the state’s lowest performing schools.

As a means of resistance, unions and some administrators have urged parents to “refuse the test” by not having their child sit for them. From an academic standpoint, a test becomes invalid if 17 percent or more of the students across the state refuse to take it.

On Tuesday, April 14, the first day the state tests were administered, Superintendent Katy Graves said 25 percent of Sag Harbor students had not taken the ELA test that day. Many of the students who refused the tests are the same students who do the best on them, and Sag Harbor’s scores will likely suffer as a result.

Ms. Graves said Thursday that she does not support refusing the test because the district has invested so much in the scores and analyzing the data they provide, but that “watching this has been heartbreaking.”

“The majority of the districts in the state—especially upstate—are so aid dependent,” she said. Never before, she added, had a governor inserted language into the budget linking school aid to how schools operate.

She added that tenure, which the governor wants to make more difficult to obtain, had been brought in for a reason, so, for example, if a teacher decided to teach a topic like evolution, which was once highly controversial, he wouldn’t have to fear losing his job.

“There’s some reasons we deal with things very slowly in education, so we’ve never dealt with this embedding of this kind of language—I as governor am deciding how you locally evaluate your teachers…so you’re living in a new world,” she told the crowd of parents.

TASH President Jim Kinnier, a math teacher at Pierson, said he and Ms. Graves are on the same team, however, they “disagree upon what pitch to throw.”

The governor has issued a gag order on teachers forbidding them from encouraging their students and parents to refuse the test.

Mr. Kinnier, under that gag order, said he hosted Thursday’s forum to “bring forth some facts [and] allow folks to voice their opinions.”

“From my perspective, we’re out of strategies. There’s only one strategy left that I see,” he said. “In my view, to let your children take the test is to endorse the governor’s efforts to make public schools be like charter schools…I don’t want to have this opinion, but I only see two possibilities—either sit here and take it or do this.”

Mr. Kinnier said he is not opposed to tests, but said the current state tests are not age or ability appropriate and are far too long. Elementary school students take the tests over six days, for a total of anywhere from nine to 18 hours depending on whether they receive extra time. He said if the scores were a smaller part of teachers’ evaluations the teacher could reflect on the results, but it wouldn’t drive their instruction.

This is the third time in four years that the legislature has addressed the issue of teachers’ evaluations.

“This is called education reform—in my opinion, it’s anything but,” Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said when voting against the governor’s budget. “What we’re doing tonight is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; this isn’t reform at all. The fact of the matter is that the only solace I have tonight is that I know that we will be back here again at some point dealing with this issue.”

Administered by private for-profit companies and not written by educators, the tests are graded by hired temp workers who are paid per test. The only requirement to be hired as a grader, which includes critiquing a writing section, is a college degree.

In addition to lamenting the arbitrary nature of the tests, many teachers and parents in attendance expressed fear that the data-driven instruction will affect students’ ability to learn and be prepared for careers in a rapidly changing global marketplace.

Sag Harbor resident Laura Leever, who teaches on Shelter Island, said while she understands Ms. Graves’s concerns over faculty and students being affected by scores lowered from high test refusal, “We have to look at this in a bigger picture…this is about taking away public education, it’s about taking away local control.”

“I think we have a very punitive governor,” Ms. Graves replied. “I think he will punish every school that doesn’t comply and I think it’s going to make things worse.”

She said she fears that, rather than acknowledging how many families refused to take the test, the governor will instead say the scores mean “our schools are failing even more.”

“I’m an AP U.S. History teacher,” said Sean Brandt, president of the Southampton teachers union, “and America is founded by a bunch of rebels—and I think now is the time to stand up. My son’s in the third grade and he’s not taking the test. As far as what’s the outcome, we don’t know, but this is the loss of local control, this is the privatization of public education and this is as criminal as it gets—and this is our opportunity to take a stand.”

Chase Mallia, a Pierson math teacher, said teachers who have a lot of students refuse the test would likely have worse results, because those students are often the same ones who would perform the best.

“There’s a possibility for me that I’ll be rated ineffective,” he said. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take, because I see the direction the state’s going, because I’m in it for the kids.”

Joe Markowski Named Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor Schools

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Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Joseph Markowski, a longtime employee of Sag Harbor schools who has continued to serve the district on a volunteer basis since his retirement, was appointed buildings and grounds supervisor, a new position in the district, on Monday, March 23.

In the temporary role, he will take on the duties formerly held by Montgomery Granger, who was removed from his position as plant facilities administrator last month. Mr. Markowski came out of retirement in order to return to the district for the remainder of this school year, giving the board and administration time to find a permanent replacement for Mr. Granger.

After working in the district for five years, Mr. Granger was terminated on February 23. That termination was rescinded on Monday, and the board instead approved a resignation agreement with Mr. Granger.

A school custodial supervisor in the district from 1990 until his retirement in 2005, Mr. Markowski has spent the years since filling various roles in the district and community. He helps annually with the school budget vote and elections and has worked as a substitute school monitor.

At Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Katy Graves called Mr. Markowski, “a veteran of the district who will be helping us through the transition period.”

In addition to remaining involved in the schools, Mr. Markowski is active in the wider Sag Harbor community. He is an assistant captain and warden in the Sag Harbor Fire Department, involved in fundraising efforts for St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in the village, a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, a member of the Suffolk County Bicentennial committee, and is the co-chairman of Sag Harbor’s bicentennial commission.

Mr. Markowski also earned some fame last winter for the photo he snapped of snow melting in the shape of a whale on a Sag Harbor roof, which was first shown on the Sag Harbor Express’s Facebook page and later picked up by a Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman.

“He is a true historian and his interests really include anything related to Sag Harbor,” School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. “You can ask any question and he pretty much knows the answer.”

“Having someone on board who has the time and the experience and can give us that time to reflect and see how we’re going to reconfigure as a system I think is very important,” added Ms. Graves. “Because I think we often rush in and just fill a position to fill a position.”

The administration committed to using the interim period to finding “a more fiscal way to address our leadership needs—the smartest way to go.”

School board member Sandi Kruel told newer members of the board a story about Mr. Markowski, remembering a few evenings some years ago when he slept overnight at the school to monitor the boilers when they weren’t working properly.

Chuckling, Mr. Markowski thanked the board for his “nice vacation” of 10 years.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m., immediately following a budget workshop that starts at 6:45 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the library at Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

First Full Draft of Sag Harbor School District Proposed Budget Presented

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first review of the entire proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year, Sag Harbor School District officials unveiled over $37.4 million in spending, the bulk of which will go to employee benefits and salaries.

While some numbers have yet to be disclosed, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi made projections for several budget lines, including state aid and taxable assessed values for properties in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, based on last year’s figures.

Ms. Buscemi projected $1.7 million in state aid, although “this number is subject to change” as Governor Andrew Cuomo has still not released the final state aid numbers to districts, she said. That number represents an increase of 3.85 percent, or $63,027, from the 2014-15 budget.

The budget’s largest proposed increase is in instruction, in part due to a new in-house special education program “that’s going to allow a lot of our students coming in to stay in the district and receive services in the district,” Ms. Buscemi said. But those increases are expected to be offset savings in things like transportation and tuition fees. Total Instruction, which accounts for 57 percent of all expenses, is projected to increase by 3.14 percent, or $641,128 from this year’s budget, for a projected total of $21.06 million.

While instruction costs, which includes appropriations for all regular instruction at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School, as well as expenditures for special education programs, extracurricular activities and athletics, is increasing, employee benefits are expected to decrease.

“We did receive an increase to our health insurance lines,” Ms. Buscemi said, “but [with the] decrease in our pension costs, we were able to show a decline for next year…that’s probably the first time in many, many years where you see a decline in employee benefits.”

Employee benefits, which represent almost a quarter of the entire budget, are expected to decline by 1.56 percent.

Salaries and benefits, largely contractual costs, together make up nearly 80 percent of the total budget.

Tuition revenues are expected to decrease by $147,000, because children who have been coming to the district from the Springs School District will now be going to East Hampton after a new agreement was made between those districts. Sag Harbor collected $550,000 in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs in 2014-15, and expects that revenue to decrease to $430,000 next year.

Ms. Buscemi again proposed that the district purchase a new bus. It would ease transportation scheduling and ultimately show cost savings, she said. Contracting out one bus run costs about $50,000 for the year, Ms. Buscemi said, “So it makes sense for us to go out and purchase a new bus” because the cost of $102,000 could be made up in just two years.

“We’re just under the cap right now at 2.65” percent, Ms. Buscemi said of the state-mandated tax cap on how much the property tax levy can increase year to year, “but in order to close our budget gap, we did need to use some of our reserve funds.”

As projected, the tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is above $34.1 million, or 2.68 percent. The percentage is not the same as the increase to an individual property owner’s tax rate. The tax levy is determined by the budget minus revenues and other funding sources, such as state aid. The tax rate, on the other hand, “is based not only on the levy, but also on the assessed value of your home,” Ms. Buscemi explained.

For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, the taxable assessed values for both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton increased from the prior year. Although the school district’s voters approved a budget last year that allowed for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value actually decreased by 0.56 to 0.63 percent, depending on home value and town, because of the growth in taxable assessed value.

“Just because the tax levy is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your tax rate is going to increase,” added Ms. Buscemi. “If the current year’s assessed value goes up these increases are going to decline and vice versa.”

The 2015-16 projected tax levy is about $34.1 million, which represents a tax levy increase of 2.65 percent and a projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent.

That projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent would translate to an increase of $130.26 for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million and $130.40 for a home of the same value in East Hampton, based on the 2014-15 assessed values.

A second review of the entire budget will be held on Tuesday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. in the library of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 201 Jermain Street in Sag Harbor. The school board plans to adopt the 2015-16 budget on April 22 and hold a public hearing on May 5. The annual budget vote and school board elections are on May 19.

Sorry Kids, Sag Harbor Spring Break Affected by Snow Days Again this Year

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As his friends look on, Philip Miller catches air on Pierson Hill following the Blizzard of 2015 on Tuesday, 1/27/15

Making the best of the biggest blizzard in years, Philip Miller shreds a buried bench on Pierson Hill as his friends look on on Tuesday, January 27. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After Sag Harbor students enjoyed their fourth snow day off this school year on Thursday, March 5, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves announced they would have to make up for the loss of one day of instructional time. As a result, students will lose the last week day of their scheduled spring break and will be required to attend school on Friday, April 10.

“We encourage you to have your children come to school on April 10, but we are understanding if your family has made other plans. Our parents are our children’s finest teachers; time spent with your children is never wasted,” Ms. Graves said in an email to the school community.

Required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts are faced with the tricky task of balancing breaks with preparation for inclement weather, which has become a more pressing concern with the extreme storms and conditions in recent years. Extra snow days cut into the scheduled spring break last year, as did Hurricane Sandy the year before.

“I am hopeful that the adage is true that when March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb,” Ms. Graves said in her email. “We certainly have seen March’s winter claws, but we have also enjoyed the beauty of Pierson Hill deep in snow.”

Dr. Lois Favre, the superintendent of the Bridgehampton School District, said it had 180 school days scheduled and would not have to make up any lost days unless school is canceled again.

Ms. Graves said on Tuesday that if the district were to need another snow day, which could occur along with the forecasts of inclement weather for this coming weekend, “we’ll continue to carve away at that vacation time, but we’re really hoping that that’s not going to be the case.”

The next vacation day to be turned into a school day would be Thursday, April 9, also during the spring recess.

In its contract with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH), the district pledged to never start school before Labor Day, “which is good for our families and our district and it works also for our teachers… we have to respect that,” Ms. Graves said.

The provision is intended to protect members of the community and staff who work second jobs during the summer months and rent their homes out during Sag Harbor’s busy resort season.

Planning for the upcoming 2015-16 school year poses extra challenges because Labor Day is late this year, falling on Monday, September 7. That means the window for the school year is narrower than it normal is. Because Labor Day is always celebrated on the first Monday in September, the district faces such a situation once every seven years.

“We’re adopting a calendar that right now only has two snow days built in, so we’re probably going to have to continue to be thoughtful about this,” said Ms. Graves. “We’re going to have to continue sitting down with our teachers association, PTA [Parent Teachers Association] and the Board of Education and probably coming up with a contingency plan.”

One option she mentioned is adding flex dates during the summer, when children have a day off but faculty and staff come in for training.

“I don’t know what those other options look like right now, but the New York State Department of Education gives us just a tiny little bit of latitude and that’s what we might need to bring to the table—is just a little bit of latitude and to see what we can do for next year,” Ms. Graves said.

Sag Harbor School District Proposes Technology, Transportation, Benefits Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

A month before the entire 2015-16 budget is to be reviewed, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented technology, debt service, employee benefits and transportation components to the board of education on Monday.

With “no additional items that we haven’t had in previous budgets,” according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the technology budget is proposed at slightly over $1 million, up by nearly 12 percent from the 2014-15 budget, which was just above $932,000.

“As you all know,” Mr. Fisher told the board, “the role of technology has expanded here exponentially in the past years…essentially everybody in the district is somehow impacted by the technology support.”

The technology department is looking to bring in additional support staff and to continue its upgrading, replenishment and purchasing of computer and wireless systems and supplies. Proposed increases of $18,650 at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and $15,200 at Pierson Middle/High School will account for the purchase of additional laptops and Chromebooks, low-cost computers that are popular in classrooms.

The transportation budget, computed by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Head Bus Driver Maude Stephens, who was not at Monday’s meeting, would increase by just about $51,000, or 6.83 percent, to about $802,000, due in large part to a proposed bus purchase.

“Right now, all of our buses are being utilized and we don’t even have a spare bus,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that the state Education Department recommends school districts have at least one spare.

Buying a new large bus would cost the district $102,000 up front. Another option, Ms. Buscemi said, would be to finance the bus over a 10-year period, a decision that would require the district to budget $13,000 a year for the next decade. School buses have an expected life of about 15 years, she added.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said it would be practical to finance the bus purchase due to low interest rates and because “we have such a phenomenal bond rating,” as Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the district’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3 last May.

The employee benefits component of the budget, an area that usually shows large, unavoidable increases, is actually expected to decrease for the 2015-16 school year, due to a reduction in the percentage school districts must contribute to retirement costs.

The Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) is recommending an employer contribution rate of about 13 percent for the 2015-16 school year, while that rate was much higher, at over 17 percent, for this school year, 2014-15. The employees are not receiving less in benefits, due to the change, rather, school districts are being required to contribute a smaller amount needed for the system to be able to pay out the required amount in benefits.

“That reduction of $518,000 is going to eat up a lot of the increases in the other areas,” Ms. Buscemi said, adding, “This is probably the first time in a long time that you’re going to see a decrease in that employee benefit and I’m hoping that that continues.”

The total projected employee benefits budget for next year is around $9.3 million, a decrease of $128,125, or 1.35 percent, from this year’s budget.

The debt services budget is also proposed to decrease, going down by about $29,000, or 2.48 percent, to a projected total of over $1.5 million. That projection is in part based on historically low interest rates.

With many of the rates needed to compute the budget not yet available, Ms. Buscemi had to estimate on some of the budget items, usually anticipating an increase of 3 percent.

“There are definitely areas here—that I’ve gone through in the past budget workshops and today—that we could cut if we had to,” Ms. Buscemi said, using the proposed school bus purchase as an example.

The preliminary numbers, Ms. Buscemi told the board, suggest the school district is in a very good position for the budget season and will “be able to maintain everything this year.”

The state aid numbers, which show New York’s school districts how much money they can expect from the state, have still not been released by Governor Andrew Cuomo and are expected to remain in political limbo for some time. The governor has said he will not release his education budget until the divided State Legislature approves all of his proposed educational reforms, many of which are controversial.

Bridgehampton School District Unveils First Draft of Proposed $12.6 Million Budget

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Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Bridgehampton School District appears to be in “much better financial shape this year than last year, according to business administrator Robert Hauser, as the school board on Thursday, January 29, took its first look at a preliminary $12.6 million budget for the 2015-16 school year.

The first draft represents an increase of nearly $330,000, or 2.67 percent, over last year’s budget.

“Fortunately, this year, things look a lot better than they did last year,” Mr. Hauser told the board.

Last spring, the school board had difficulty getting the current year’s $12.3 million budget passed. That spending plan pierced the state-mandated tax cap with an 8.8-percent increase over the previous year. It failed to receive the required 60-percent supermajority in the first vote in May, then barely passed when 62 percent of voters supported it in a second and final ballot in June.

The state-mandated limit, which determines how much a district can increase its property tax levy from one year to the next, is known as the 2-percent tax cap, but the percentage actually varies based on the Consumer Price Index. This year, at 1.62 percent, the cap will again be lower than its name.

“So, we’re only allowed to collect, in a sense, 1.62 percent more from the residents here,” explained Mr. Hauser. “However, the spending is going up 2.67 percent. So…the spending’s going up more than the actual amount we’re allowed to collect.”

The first draft of Bridgehampton’s current budget, presented last winter, breached the cap by over $1 million; the 2014-15 draft is over the cap by about $106,000, Mr. Hauser said.

Many of the included expenses are mandated by the state, such as Common Core-related professional development for teachers, fingerprinting for all new staff, and nearly $7,000 for “records management,” as school district payroll reports must be maintained for 50 years.

New items in the 2015-16 budget include adding iPads, Google Chromebooks and other technology updates as part of the district’s 5-year plan, a base increase in social security tax for employees, which the school district must match, and increased building maintenance.

During last year’s cutting of the current budget, the school board chose to reduce the number of days the Homework Club was offered after school to cut costs. Mr. Hauser said the school intends to restore those hours for the next school year.

An increase of $24,734, slated for adding a high school girls volleyball team and purchasing new volleyball equipment, is included in the proposed athletics budget, which is about $150,000 in total.

Health benefits for retirees and full-time employees are expected to increase by almost $100,000 to over $1.5 million, Mr. Hauser said. Most of that expense is for vision, dental and health benefits for full-time employees, as Medicare primarily covers retirees. Under the new Affordable Care Act, the district must provide health benefits to any employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

Some components of the budget, such as salaries determined by unsettled teachers and administrative contracts, insurance costs, and revenue from state aid, are not yet finalized. In a move that is unprecedented in the last 40 years, Governor Andrew Cuomo will not be releasing the amount of aid he is proposing for New York’s schools to the school districts ahead of time.

On January 21, in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo said he would grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, to New York’s schools only if the Legislature passes several of his proposed educational reforms. If the Legislature, divided between a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate, does not comply, the governor threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent.

“In the meantime, we’re all in limbo here, because we don’t know how much aid he’s proposing to give us as a base,” Mr. Hauser said Thursday.

One of Governor Cuomo’s conditions is another overhaul of the recently revamped teacher evaluation systems, so that student test scores account for more of a teacher’s rating. Others include making it harder for teachers to get tenure and easier for them to be fired, establishing more charter schools, which would be required to take less advantaged students, and sending specialists in to transform failing schools.

The final numbers for the state’s $23.1 billion education budget will be revealed in the legislative budget on April 1. School districts, however, are required to tell the state comptroller’s office whether or not they will try to pierce the tax cap a month beforehand, by March 1.

Mr. Hauser said Bridgehampton, which generally gets about 5 percent of its revenue from state aid, relies less on the governor’s budget than other districts, and the budget wouldn’t be drastically affected should the legislature fail to comply with the governor’s demands.

LTV Director Asks Sag Harbor School Board to Reconsider Broadcast Limitations

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A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education's December 9 meeting.

A still shot of the video broadcast of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s December 9 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In the wake of the Sag Harbor Board of Education’s decision last month to stop broadcasting the public comment portions of its meetings, LTV Executive Director Seth Redlus on Monday urged the board to reconsider its ruling, saying its liability concerns were unfounded.

“The action of editing out the public comment portion of your meeting clouds the very transparency this board sought to provide by offering the coverage,” Mr. Redlus told the board.

In light of several resignations in the spring of 2013, the school board faced criticism over a perceived lack of transparency and spent much of the last school year discussing a proposed policy to videotape and broadcast its public meetings. A six-month trial period was enacted over the summer and expired on December 31. During evaluation of that trial, board member David Diskin, who led the initial push for videotaping, suggested continuing to videotape the meetings, but omitting the two public input sessions from the tape, citing liability concerns voiced by the district’s attorney, Thomas Volz.

In December, Mr. Diskin and fellow board members Susan Kinsella, Sandi Kruel and Tommy John Schiavoni voted for a policy that does not broadcast public input, with Board President Theresa Samot, Vice President Chris Tice and Diana Kolhoff in the minority. That policy went into effect January 1 and was in use at the board’s meeting on Monday, January 12, during which Technology Director Scott Fisher stopped the recording prior to public comment.

The board members who voted not to broadcast public comments did so, they said because they were concerned about the district’s liability if it granted an unchecked public forum. Prior to that vote, Ms. Kruel said she counted six instances in which libelous statements were made by the public during the videotaping trial, and said it was too risky for the school district to broadcast an open forum. Mr. Schiavoni added it could affect programming because of the liability issues, should lawsuit costs mount. But Ms. Tice, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kolhoff said that was a risk they were willing to take.

The videos are taped by the school district and available on its website, but also distributed to the local government access stations LTV in East Hampton and SEA-TV in Southampton to be shown on television.

In reaction to the new policy, Mr. Redlus told the board Monday that LTV would still broadcast the meetings for the school board, but would inform its viewers at the beginning and end of the broadcasts that the meetings are independently produced and edited by the district rather than LTV. He believes the liability concerns expressed by some members of the board are misinformed, he said.

“LTV has videotaped government meetings for 30 years, and in that time, we have amassed a great deal of working knowledge about how best to capture these public events and present them to the community that we serve. One rule which has stood the test of time has become our prime directive: under no circumstances does LTV edit government meetings,” he said in a statement to the board made during public input.

“They are presented to the public in the very same way that they occurred in real life. That one simple rule has allowed the community to trust what they see when they tune in to our channel. While other media may be constrained by the time or space available to them, government access television shows every moment of what occurred—allowing viewers to make up their own minds with no editorial content,” he continued.

Editing meetings, Mr. Redlus added, is in the best interest of neither the board nor the public, as the board’s interpretation of issues raised in public comments is also not broadcast, comments made often reflect the opinion of a larger group, who may instead come to the board individually should they not see their questions answered en masse, and “there is no more liability to a board when public comment is broadcast than if that public comment is made only to an open meeting.”

Broadcasting the entire meeting, he concluded, may actually lower liability as there is a definitive recording of who said what.

Mr. Schiavoni asked Mr. Redlus whether LTV would consider taping the meetings itself, an option that had been floated by the board during earlier discussions.

“With the policy in place we won’t tape meetings,” Mr. Redlus replied, adding that when the board had originally considered documenting meetings, LTV had offered to cover a percentage of the cost based on how many East Hampton Cablevision subscribers live in the district (versus Southampton subscribers who are covered by SEA-TV), “but the school district never provided those numbers.”

In other school news, Theresa Roden and three girls from the i-tri program visited the board to ask it to consider Sag Harbor’s participation in the program, which is already active in the Springs, Montauk, and Southampton school districts. With the slogan, “transformation through triathlon,” the program aims to empower young girls through nutrition classes, self-esteem workshops, and physical and mental training to compete in a triathlon, held in July.

The program is free of charge for every participant, and asks the school district to provide a space to hold in-school sessions and possibly nighttime nutrition sessions, support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly transportation, if events cannot be housed in Sag Harbor.

Ms. Roden said in addition to anecdotal evidence that girls do better behaviorally and academically after the program, Jennifer Gatz, a local PhD candidate, conducted a thesis that found participants in the i-tri program, which combines fitness training, mentoring and self-esteem education, show an increased aptitude for science.

“There’s nothing I’ve experienced better than running through a finish line and having everyone you know and love cheer you on,” said Anna Rafferty, an eighth grade participant from Springs School.

The board appeared to be very supportive of bringing the program to Sag Harbor, and will vote on it at its next business meeting on January 26 when it meets at 6 p.m. for a budget workshop in the Pierson Library before convening a business meeting at 7:30.