Tag Archive | "Schools"

Sag Harbor School District Says it Will Save Taxpayers Thousands with Unprecedented Bond Rating Upgrade

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Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, School Board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O'Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013, which will see significant savings to taxpayers as a result of the district's bond rating upgrade in May. Photo by Michael Heller.

Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio, School Board member Sandi Kruel, Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and School Business Administrator John O’Keefe celebrate the approval of the capital projects bond in November 2013, which will see significant savings to taxpayers as a result of the district’s bond rating upgrade in May. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a move that will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for taxpayers, the Sag Harbor School District has been upgraded by Moody’s Investors Services from a single-A credit rating to double-A status.

“This significant upgrade is based upon the district’s strong, successful financial management practices over the past several years, which have resulted in both improved and satisfactory reserve levels,” the district said in a press release.

Each year, Moody’s checks in on the district as it enters budget season. The district borrows money annually for its cash flow purposes called TANs (tax anticipation notes) and has historically held a single A1 rating for borrowing, with the potential to advance to a double Aa3 rating.

School Business Administrator John O’Keefe decided to spearhead the effort to advance the district’s rating.

“I moved forward with the process because I felt over the last few years, the district has made some great strides,” Mr. O’Keefe said at a school board meeting May 27.

“We were successful,” he added. “We moved out of a single rating—which is the rating the district has always held since its graded history—we moved to a double rating, effective immediately.”

As a result of this upgrade, the district anticipates saving approximately $330,000 in interest for the work proposed in the $9 million capital projects bond voters approved last fall, as well as approximately $15,000 in bond insurance premiums. Additional money is expected to be saved during the annual TAN borrowing.

“It’s not very common,” Mr. O’Keefe said of the upgrade. “Especially to move in this fiscal climate where districts are getting tighter and tighter with the tax cap, it’s more common to move the other way.”

“Really, that’s work for children, because that kind of money can be freed up for programs and for important things,” added school board member David Diskin.

Sag Harbor Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio Resigns

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Sag Harbor Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio will leave the district next year. Photo by Amanda Wyatt.

Sag Harbor Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio will leave the district next year. Photo by Amanda Wyatt.

By Tessa Raebeck

An unnamed source high up in the Sag Harbor School District confirmed Tuesday, June 3, that Todd Gulluscio has resigned from his position as athletic director for the district.

Mr. Gulluscio, a native of Shelter Island, began in the district in January 2013. He took the position previously held by Montgomery Granger, who served in a joint position as director of athletics, health and physical education, as well as supervisor of facilities and grounds, since 2009.

Mr. Granger stayed on as director of buildings and grounds after Mr. Gulluscio’s appointment to a new position, director of athletics, physical education, health, wellness and personnel.

Before Mr. Granger, Mike Burns and Dan Nolan acted as interim athletic directors as the district struggled to fill the void left by Nick DeCillis, who was athletic director from 1995 to 2006.

Prior to coming to Sag Harbor, Mr. Gulluscio worked in the Greenport School District for over seven years, the last two and a half years as its athletic director.

When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Gulluscio declined to comment.

Bridgehampton School Board Will Bring Same Budget Back for Second Vote

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Monasia Street shows off her robot's skills to her classmates during a robotics demonstration at the Bridgehampton School in February. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Bridgehampton School District hopes voters will allow it to pierce the state-mandated tax cap levy so programs like robotics, pictured above, will be saved. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After the budget fell short of approval by just 36 votes last week, the Bridgehampton Board of Education on Wednesday, May 28,  agreed to present the same $12.3 million budget to voters for a  second vote, on June 17.

“Certainly, while the support of the budget was positive, it wasn’t quite positive enough to get us to be able to pierce the levy limits,” Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said Wednesday. “In planning the budget, the board considered all possible scenarios. With community support, it decided the only way to move forward successfully was to pierce the cap.”

The 2014-15 budget, a 9.93-percent or $1.1 million increase over last year’s due largely to contractual obligations, required a supermajority of 60 percent because it pierced the state-mandated tax levy cap. With just 247 residents casting ballots, it came in short at just above 54 percent with 134 yes votes and 113 no votes.

Members of the school board were optimistic Wednesday that they could get more parents and other supportive community members out to vote June 17.

“I think it’s a learning experience,” said Ronnie White, president of the school board. “Maybe we should go back to the drawing board and try to get some of the folks, the naysayers, and really educate them on the actual numbers.”

For a homeowner of a $500,000 house, the annual tax bill would be increased by approximately $56 a year if the budget is passed on the second go around.

“We probably need to work harder to get our word out to the public,” Dr. Favre said.

Sag Harbor’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program Will Extend to Include Elementary Schoolers

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Consultant Marian Cassata Updates the Board of Education last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

Consultant Marian Cassata updates the Sag Harbor Board of Education on the district’s substance abuse prevention program last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

By Tessa Raebeck

Initiatives to combat substance abuse among Sag Harbor teenagers will reach all the way down to kindergarteners next year, district officials confirmed Tuesday.

The evening’s board of education meeting included an update on the district’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program by Marian Cassata, a prevention consultant and the former director of Pupil Personnel Services at Pierson Middle-High School.

Ms. Cassata, along with her husband Bob Schneider, the former principal of Pierson, is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition, a group of community members dedicated to reducing the use of alcohol and other drugs among local kids. She and Katherine Mitchell of East End Counseling LLC were hired as consultants to address drug and alcohol prevention in the district last spring.

The increased attention to drug and alcohol abuse prevention comes following data from several surveys of local youth that found the rates of alcohol and drug use among Sag Harbor students are higher than average rates in Suffolk County.

Sag Harbor’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program has traditionally started in middle school, when children are believed to be at the beginning stages of coming into contact with substances. The focus on younger grades has been on other relevant health topics, such as eating well and resisting peer pressure. But an effort to address what some say is an alarming number of Pierson High School students abusing alcohol and other drugs have caused the district to change its program.

Next year, the drug prevention program in the district will involve children as young as 5.

“Next year is the full implementation of that bottom strand of the pyramid,” Ms. Cassata said Tuesday.

Following recommendations made by the consultant to the board in August, the district decided to switch from its existing drug and alcohol program to HealthSmart, “a comprehensive K-12 health education program,” according to the company website.

For students in kindergarten through the fourth grade, the HealthSmart program includes four units: Personal and Family Health, Safety and Injury Prevention, Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Tobacco and Alcohol Prevention, introducing substance abuse prevention to Sag Harbor kids at a much younger age than the current program.

A source familiar with the current program who wished to remain anonymous expressed concern that students will be introduced to adult topics like drugs at an earlier age and said the district needs to educate parents prior to its implementation on what their children will be exposed to under the new program.

Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as members of the Sag Harbor Coalition, believe an all-inclusive program is the most effective means of delivering a consistent and effective health curriculum that will prevent kids from abusing substances.

Ms. Casata said Tuesday staff development for the HealthSmart curriculum at the elementary school level will begin in June and the program will be “up and ready to launch fully in September.”

Ms. Casata told the board in August that the materials are estimated to cost in excess of $13,000 at $400 a kit and that she had already worked to secure grant money to fund the program.

According to Business Administrator John O’Keefe, drug and alcohol prevention services for the current school year, 2013-14, were budgeted at $25,000. The district has budgeted $20,000 for next year, 2014-15, slightly less because more funds were required to get the program up and running this year, Mr. O’Keefe said. Those funds cover payments to Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as payment for guest speakers and “things like that,” he said.

Bond Upgrade

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, Mr. O’Keefe announced Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded the Sag Harbor School District from a credit rating of A1 to Aa3, the first upgrade in the district’s history.

“This significant upgrade is based upon the district’s strong, successful financial management practices over the past several years, which have resulted in both improved and satisfactory reserve levels,” the district said in a press release.

As a result of this upgrade, the district anticipates saving approximately $330,000 in interest for the work proposed in the recently approved $9 million capital projects bond, as well as approximately $15,000 in bond insurance premiums. The district also plans to save additional money during the annual tax anticipation note borrowing.

“Really, that’s work for children, because that kind of money can be freed up for programs and for important things,” school board member David Diskin said Tuesday.

Meet the Candidates: Four Hopefuls for the Sag Harbor School Board

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Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas R, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas Ré, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Two incumbents and two challengers vying for three spots on the Sag Harbor School Board debated last Wednesday, May 7, at the annual Meet the Candidates forum at the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

The candidates, Diana Kolhoff, Sandi Kruel, Thomas Ré and Theresa Samot, were allowed one-minute answers and optional 30-second responses during the forum, which was moderated by Sag Harbor Express consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan and hosted by the PTA and PTSA.

Newcomer Diana Kolhoff, 41, was a high school math teacher for 12 years. She now owns Black Swan Antiques and works as an educational consultant, providing professional development for math teachers, especially in the Common Core standards.

“I’ve served districts all over Suffolk County, but I’m most rewarded when I serve the district that’s educating my children,” Ms. Kolhoff said.

Incumbent Sandi Kruel, 51, graduated from Pierson High School and will see her second of three sons do the same this spring. She served on the board from 1999 to 2005, then took six years off but “still maintained probably 80-percent attendance at board meetings,” she said, until her return in 2011.

Another challenger, Thomas Ré, 62, an attorney, has a daughter at Pierson. He has served on several school committees, including the long-range financial planning committee, and is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition.

“I bring new ideas and perhaps new ways that could be very useful to the school,” he said, adding he has commitment to the school and its children “before all else.”

Current school board President Theresa Samot is completing her ninth year on the board. A graduate of Pierson, Ms. Samot has had three daughters go through the district, with her youngest currently in 11th grade. She works in healthcare administration as a nurse.

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates for their thoughts about how Common Core was implemented in New York and whether they believe the new curriculum should be changed in any way.

“The Common Core has, initially, not been orchestrated nor implemented very well,” Mr. Ré replied. “The thought was there, the protocol was there, but the preparation and the training—both of the teachers and also the materials that were necessary—I think had not been done well.”

“I actually have a bit of expertise on this,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “There’s a lot of issues that surround Common Core that get mixed in with Common Core that actually have nothing to do with Common Core. The standards themselves are excellent, the way the modules were introduced definitely has some hiccups.”

“The idea and the concepts behind the Common Core were certainly good ones in the goal of advancing and standardizing education across the state,” Ms. Samot agreed, although she said there were many unfunded mandates that proved challenging. “I am very confident in the way our administrative staff and teaching staff were able to pull together.”

“It’s not the first time that the state has mandated us and said, ‘Here’s this, do this and by the way, you have no money to do this,’” said Ms. Kruel, adding the district has been “very proactive” in meeting the challenges of implementation. “I feel like a rigorous program is great and I want our children to be challenged, but if they’re going to challenge our children, they have to help us with budgeting for it and smoothing out a textbook.”

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates whether they believe the state should continue with the mandated cap on property taxes once it expires in 2016.

“It would be nice to have a little more flexibility, but we have to see where the economy goes. I can understand where the spirit of the tax cap came in,” Ms. Kolhoff replied. “Ultimately, funding of the schools is up to the community, what burden they’re willing to bear, so that issue needs to go out to the voters.”

“I do not think the state should continue with the tax cap in 2016,” Ms. Samot said. With many unfunded mandates, Ms. Samot said it will be “more and more difficult” for Sag Harbor to stay under the cap while maintaining its programs and staff. She stressed the need for continued long range planning with community input.

“The tax cap takes away the local control,” she added. “The local community should be in control of their school district and that includes the spending and the programs that they want in place.”

The tax cap “was quite frightening for all of us and we have managed to stay under it,” said Ms. Kruel. “It is going to start to decimate programs and the teachers, that’s not what the Sag Harbor community is about. I do think that it’s going to be problematic for us.”

“We’ve actually gained a lot of trust throughout the community that we’ve been able to do this, but I think it has not been easy,” she said, adding later, “With or without a tax cap, it’s important to me to be respectful for all of our taxpayers.”

“The concept of a tax cap or limitation on financial matters is a good idea,” said Mr. Ré. “It should be examined in terms of the percentage, I understand how it was originally derived, but I think that that can be refined.”

Mr. Ré added he would like to see “a much longer range plan” of three to five years and the district should look into other options, such as grants and new programs, to secure funding.

Referencing the budget tightening under the tax cap, Mr. Boyhan said many districts are looking toward shared services as a way of saving money and asked the candidates for new ideas of how Sag Harbor could share services.

Ms. Samot said the board is planning on hosting a program with its administrators and neighboring districts to look at ways they could share services. She said some of those savings could come from personnel areas, sharing sports or sharing “some of our more advanced programs.”

“There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to sit down with the smaller districts and consolidation is going to be inevitable,” Ms. Kruel said.

Rather than viewing consolidation as failure, she said, other districts need to be on board and “understand that uniting with us makes the district stronger and better.”

Mr. Ré agreed consolidation is going to have to happen at some point. Excellence, he said, would draw the parents and encourage them to rationally pressure their district “to find a way to work together in a consolidation.”

“If we’re going to look at consolidation,” Ms. Kolhoff said, “we really need to explore what our options are, how much money it would save us, what are the benefits, what are the detriments.”

“Consolidation needs to be on the table, but I’m not willing to commit one way or another without more information,” she added, adding it is “absolutely worth exploring.”

All four candidates agreed the research supports later school start times and such a change would be beneficial to Sag Harbor’s children, although they also recognized with sports schedules and other logistical constraints, the district would need to be creative if it were to change its times.

The candidates also unanimously favored pursuing more green initiatives within the schools.

The Sag Harbor school board budget vote and elections will be held Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium.

Bridgehampton School Board Candidates Debate District Issues

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Bridgehampton Board of Education candidates Michael Gomberg, Kathleen McCleland and Jeffrey Mansfield at the Meet the Candidates night Wednesday, May 7.

Bridgehampton Board of Education candidates Michael Gomberg, Kathleen McCleland and Jeffrey Mansfield at the Meet the Candidates night Wednesday, May 7. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

With three candidates vying for two seats on the Bridgehampton School Board, the district PTO hosted a Meet the Candidates forum on May 7 to give those running a chance to share their ideas on the future of the district.

During the debate, which was moderated by Michael Mackey of WPPB 88.3 FM. Candidates Michael Gomberg, Jeffrey Mansfield and Kathleen McCleland, all three of whom have young children in the district school, are running for three-year terms, which start July 1 and end June 30, 2017. None of the candidates are incumbents.

With a degree in finance and accounting, Mr. Gomberg, 41, lives two blocks from the school and works in Southampton.

Mr. Mansfield, 49, worked on Wall Street for 17 years and is now a stay-at-home dad, active in many groups in the Bridgehampton community and Southampton Town. Last year he ran an unsuccessful bid for Southampton Town Board. His mother was a teacher for over 30 years and Mr. Mansfield said he considers himself “a champion of education.”

A Bridgehampton native, Ms. McCleland, 43, has previously worked as a personal chef and as vice president of corporate event planning at Goldman Sachs. She now works as the pastry chef at the Beacon and the Bell and Anchor, of which her husband Sam is chef and co-owner.

The school board is presenting voters with a $12.3 million budget for 2014-15 that would pierce the state-mandated cap on property tax increases, making it one of four districts on Long Island to do so. Mr. Mackey opened the forum by asking the candidates whether they supported piercing the cap.

Mr. Gomberg said he is “all for it,” adding that not doing so would “send the school spiraling.”

“The sacrifices that we would have to make as a school and school district if we were to not pierce the cap would be too great,” Ms. McCleland agreed.

“I am in favor of piercing the cap, but I would also like to say I will work like heck over the next two years to come in under the cap,” said Mr. Mansfield, adding he is conservative fiscally but “education is one area that we cannot afford to skimp on.”

When asked how they would get members of the community who are not involved in the school to be involved, Mr. Gomberg said, “call them up, go door to door.”

“It’s a small enough community and we have fabulous resources and it’s a shame that they’re not being utilized,” he said, adding he would like to see opportunities for internships and mentoring set up with local businesses.

Ms. McCleland said, “The more we can publicize to the community through social media, the local newspapers, all the wonderful things we have … we can capitalize on those types of events to invite the community in.”

“The school unfairly suffers from a perception that it’s lackluster,” said Mr. Mansfield. “We need to get out and be an advocate for the school and it’s a two-way thing.”

Mr. Mackey asked the candidates how they would increase the population in the district, which is by far the smallest on the East End, and whether they believe getting more students is important.

Ms. McCleland said growing the school is important and pointed to the success of the pre-kindergarten programs and the larger sized classes in the lower grades.

“The more we get out there and can show the community all of the great things we have to offer, that in and of itself will allow them to consider us an option when they are deciding where their children should go to school,” she said.

“I definitely think we have to do something about getting the class sizes bigger. We have to get out there and we have to sell ourselves,” Mr. Gomberg agreed, saying offering more foreign languages and other programs would entice “outsourced kids back to our school.”

Although he was in favor of increasing size, Mr. Gomberg said the expansion should be to a limit because “part of what’s great about the school is the small, nurturing environment that these kids are able to excel in.”

“You have to be careful what you wish for,” agreed Mr. Mansfield, adding that many private schools are desirous because of their small class sizes and Bridgehampton is able to avoid many of the problems of larger districts. “I think it would be nice to increase the class size, but I don’t think it’s of the utmost importance.”

Citing studies that have indicated consolidating school districts “would be economically beneficial,” Mr. Mackey asked the candidates whether they feel Bridgehampton should continue as an independent school district or merge with another local district.

“I would be open to seeing a study certainly, because I want to make sure that we’re providing the best education we can in the biggest sense of the word,” replied Ms. McCleland. “I can’t say yes or no without having all the facts.”

“I’m definitely against consolidating at this point,” Mr. Gomberg said. “Right now, what’s great about the Bridgehampton community is that it’s small and nurturing.”

“Consolidation is tricky,” said Mr. Mansfield, citing a referendum in 2009 that would have given parents a choice on whether to send their children to Bridgehampton School’s high school or send them to another public school. Critics said the referendum, which was rejected by voters, was a move aimed at eventually shutting down the school.

“The people have spoken as far as I’m concerned and instead of trying to continually tear this school down, it’s time for the people in this community to build this school up,” Mr. Mansfield.”

The school board elections and budget vote are Tuesday, May 20, from 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gymnasium.

New Superintendent Katy Graves Discusses Her Vision for Sag Harbor

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The Sag Harbor School Board welcomed the district's new superintendent at its meeting April 23. From left: Board members Daniel Hartnett and David Diskin, Superintendent Katy Graves, board member Susan Kinsella, President Theresa Samot, board member Sandi Kruel, Vice President Chris Tice and board member Mary Anne Miller. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

The Sag Harbor School Board welcomed the district’s new superintendent at its meeting April 23. From left: Board members Daniel Hartnett and David Diskin, Superintendent Katy Graves, board member Susan Kinsella, President Theresa Samot, board member Sandi Kruel, Vice President Chris Tice and board member Mary Anne Miller. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

When searching for a new job last year, Katy Graves saw more than 70 superintendent positions available, but she only applied to one: Sag Harbor.

“Absolutely what piqued my interest was the size of the community and the size of the school,” Ms. Graves said Monday.

Sag Harbor’s new superintendent of schools, who will begin a three-year contract on July 1 at an initial annual salary of $215,000, said she applied to Sag Harbor “because it’s what I know. I know small towns.”

Ms. Graves’s current district, the Stamford Central School District in the Catskill Mountains, is a small rural school district with one school building housing about 370 students in pre-k through 12th grade.

Sag Harbor is larger than Stamford, with a proposed enrollment of 1,030 for the 2014-15 school year, but offers the tight-knit community she was searching for.

“I really wanted small, because in a small district, you still have the connection with children,” she said. “And I think for real school improvement and to get every student to their personal best, you need that connection with children. You really need to have that real interaction between mom and dad and the family and be at concerts and be at ball games.”

Ms. Graves, a mother of four with one child with special needs, has served in public schools as a teacher, administrator and board member during her career in education.

Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the past two school years, will pass the reins to Ms. Graves and provide guidance during the transition.

“Sag Harbor obviously has been a very strong school district that has great ties to the community and what my number-one goal is is to listen and learn initially,” said Ms. Graves. “I’m going to work on getting to know the administrative team, getting to know the community, getting to know the teachers and the staff and especially getting to know the students, because you don’t ever want to go in and fix something that’s not broken. And sometimes the things that work the best in the school district aren’t seen to a new leader.”

Prior to joining the Stamford district in 2012, for four years Ms. Graves served as assistant superintendent for the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District in Windham, a rural resort community upstate with a population of less than 2,000.

She was also principal of the Otego Elementary School, assistant principal and placement coordinator for ONC (Otsego Northern Catskills) BOCES and a home economics teacher for 12 years.

One school, which Ms. Graves chose not to name, had just been placed on the state education department’s Schools in Need of Improvement list and was ranked as the county’s lowest performing school when she entered the district.

“You don’t want to make radical changes,” she said, “but I worked with the staff to say, ‘Hey, we have [two years to get off the list], let’s work as a team, let’s work together—what is working and where do we see parts that are fragile?’”

By looking at where the district was doing well and building on those successes, Ms. Graves said she and her team had the school not only off of the list, but also ranked as the highest performing school in the county’s 19 districts.

Ms. Graves uses an asset-based approach, where, rather than focusing solely on the problem areas, administrators look for a school’s strengths and build upon them.

The new superintendent has a certificate of advanced graduate study in educational leadership, a master’s degree in health science education and a bachelor of science degree in home economics and clinical dietetics.

“My first week in the classroom, I just knew I loved it. It didn’t mean I was great at it right away, but I just loved it, I loved working with the kids, I loved the atmosphere,” she said.

The international baccalaureate , currently being expanded in Sag Harbor, is not offered at Stamford, but Ms. Graves said she is familiar with it.

“It’s great because it gives students a global perspective and it gives them an opportunity to think about their thinking and, of course, it also builds in the community service piece, which I really love,” she said.

“I found that students really thrived doing volunteer work and really got to ‘Velcro’ to community members and that community members got to see students in a different light,” she said of her early work as a Key Club advisor, adding that as an administrator, she always tries to ensure kids are doing volunteer work.

Of the Common Core curriculum, an issue of much debate across the state, Ms. Graves said, “It has excellent pieces, but how it was introduced was just a huge burden for our teachers and for our school districts… and it made it hard to defend… and then it was being evaluated at the same time it was being introduced, so I think that made it very, very sad.”

Under Ms. Graves’s direction, Stamford has not had to pierce the state tax cap on the property taxes a school district can levy, in part because it worked with the neighboring Jefferson Central School District.

“We’re sharing managements between the two school districts, we’re sharing teachers, we’re sharing bus runs, we’re doing a lot of sharing so that we have been able to step back from piercing the tax cap,” she said.

In addition to hosting office hours for community members to come meet her when she comes to Sag Harbor, Ms. Graves intends to go out to specific stakeholders in the community and meet with them.

“You go to the parades, you go to the events in town and you just make yourself available to talk to folks so they know who you are,” she said.

One way she makes herself visible to students is by going around to all the classrooms and introducing herself as the person who decides snow days.

“Once the kids know that you have a job, that you decide snow days, they will introduce you to their grandparents and their parents in the community,” said Ms. Graves, adding she wants everyone to feel comfortable “approaching you and talking to you and getting to know you.”

 

Sag Harbor School Board Budget Finalized, Parking Still Under Discussion

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Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson students recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board's meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and who performed in last week's production of "Fantasticks," which everyone agreed was "fantastic." Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Members and mentors of the Pierson Robotics team were among the range of Pierson people recognized at the Sag Harbor School Board’s meeting May 6. In addition to the robotics team, recently returned from a national championship, the board congratulated and recognized students who participated in the NYSSMA musical competition, were inducted or are members in the National Honor Society and those who performed in last week’s production of “Fantasticks,” which everyone agreed was “fantastic.” Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

In an effort to address questions and inform the public about a $36.8 million proposed budget, the Sag Harbor School Board of Education will bring its 2014-15 budget plan to community forums this month.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso and John O’Keefe, the district’s business administrator, will visit the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. The duo will also make a presentation at the Sag Harbor Elementary School following morning program on Wednesday at 9 a.m., again that day at 2:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle-High School library and at 3:30 p.m. in the elementary school library. While the latter two sessions have been scheduled for staff, school board vice president Chris Tice said Tuesday that members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend any of the presentations.

This year, the average proposed school tax increases in New York are dropping below 2 percent for the first time in over 40 years, with an average of 1.83 percent on Long Island and 2.01 percent statewide, according to Newsday, due to the pressures of a state-mandated cap on the property taxes a school district can levy.

Some expenses, such as employee pension costs, are exempt from the calculations, so each district’s individual cap limit varies, based on those exemptions and other factors like voter-approved construction costs.

For Sag Harbor, the tax levy cap is lower than average at 1.51 percent.

The proposed 2014-15 budget has a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, with an increase of $1,360,881 or 3.83 percent in spending from last year. The monthly impact on a house valued at $1 million is projected to be an increase of $5.83 in Southampton and $5.80 in East Hampton.

“This budget is the result of some key strategic planning that has gone on over the years,” said BOE member Daniel Hartnett at a budget hearing Tuesday night. “You can’t get to this point—with, frankly, low budget numbers, preservation of staff, preservation of program, in fact, some incremental building—without strategic planning.”

The budget and school board vote, for which all registered voters in the school district can cast ballots, is Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. On Thursday, May 8, at 7 p.m. the district will also host a candidates forum in the elementary school gym. There are three school board seats up for election. Incumbents Theresa Samot and Sandi Kruel are seeking re-election with Diana Kolhoff and Thomas Re also vying for seats.

In other school news, several board members who served on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee again brought up the issue of parking. At its last meeting, the board voted to move forward with a parking plan that would add minimal spaces, compromising with a group of residents and Pierson neighbors who were worried the original plans would encroach on Pierson Hill, discourage alternative modes of transportation and ruin their view.

Board member Susan Kinsella asked the board to consider going with a larger option, but having half asphalt parking and half “grass parking,” referencing a presentation on Eco-Raster, a permeable paver that is a green alternative to asphalt, that Gordon Herr made to the board in March.

“I just think it’s a wiser plan, I think it’s more responsible,” said Ms. Kinsella, adding the plan would increase parking while sustaining the green vista.

“I think when the community truly realizes that you’re spending $220,000 to lose 10 parking spots to make it pretty, it’s not what they voted for. Sorry,” added Trustee Sandi Kruel.

Under the current plan, seven spaces would be lost in the Jermain Avenue parking lot, with the potential of adding three, pending the relocation of a tree. Ten spaces would be added at the Division Street lot by filling in the tree wells there, so the net gain of the entire project is three to six spots.

“At the end of the day, those members [of the community] should have been there for the last three years, not the last three minutes,” Ms. Kruel said.

Ms. Kinsella and Ms. Kruel, adamant that the committee they served on had intended to increase parking, asked the board to consider the half grass, half asphalt plan.

Mr. O’Keefe said in addition to bidding the smaller lot as the primary, they could “bid the green as an alternative” and “see how that would work out.”

“I think that would do wonders on building a bridge back to the center on this very difficult discussion for many, many years,” said Mary Anne Miller, a longtime board member.

Sag Harbor School Board Will Move Forward With Smallest Parking Lot Option for Pierson

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At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

At its April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to pursue option 3, the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration choices, and to fill in the tree wells on the Division Street lot with 10 parking spaces. Plan courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After a contentious April 23 meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted to move forward with the smallest of the parking lot reconfiguration options for Pierson Middle-High School. Their choice, option 3, will add 11 spaces, one in the Jermain Avenue lot and 10 by filling in the Division Street lot tree wells.

Since a bond proposition for capital projects that enabled the district to redesign the lots was passed in November, the board has spent several months listening to concerns and demands of Sag Harbor residents, district architects and even the village police department.

Many residents who voiced concern, predominantly members of the group Save Sag Harbor and neighbors of Pierson Middle-High School, worried the parking plans would discourage walking and alternative modes of transportation, encroach on the green space of Pierson Hill and fail to meet the primary goal of ensuring students’ safety.

The original parking lot proposal approved in November called for an increase of seven parking spaces at the Jermain Avenue lot, which would have resulted in 46 spaces total.

When residents came forward to protest the parking plans just prior to the vote, the district assured them the plans were “conceptual schematics” that could be altered after the bond was passed.

Larry Salvesen, the district architect in charge of crafting the capital project plans, devised three alternative options and presented them to the board and public March 25.

Option 1, closest to the original plan, proposed a total of 44 lined parking spaces at the Jermain lot, an increase of five spaces. Option 2 was slightly smaller with 38 total spaces.

At an April meeting, the Educational Facilities Planning Committee voted to recommend option 3, the smallest option, to the board.

Eight of the 11 committee members in attendance were in favor of option 3, which provides the district with a net gain of just one parking spot.

The plan has 30 total spaces in the Jermain lot, three spaces that could be constructed in the future and five spaces for on-street parking if permitted by the village. Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano made it clear at last week’s meeting that he would not support using the five on-street spaces, which are on village property.

“I’m totally against that,” Chief Fabiano told the board. “If you’re looking for additional parking on the street, that will not happen.”

Mr. Salvesen said the asphalt presence would increase by about 5 to 8-percent under option 3 and that two trees would need to be relocated. The plan addresses safety concerns by eliminating the backup of cars onto Jermain Avenue and providing safer access for emergency vehicles. Like the other options, it would add a sidewalk on Jermain Avenue along the length of the hill with crosswalks at the entry points.

Community members Carol Williams, Rob Calvert, Gigi Morris and Caroline Fell, all vocal throughout the parking lot process, voiced their support of option 3 at the board meeting.

“It’s safe and it preserves the hill and the history and the ecology,” Ms. Morris said.

“I’m not going to argue about the parking lot ’cause everybody wants number three,” Chief Fabiano said. “I’m just kind of disappointed in the whole process.”

“It was my impression when I voted on this that we would get some increase in parking spaces,” he added, saying the community is “spending a lot of money” for a parking lot redesign that won’t actually solve the need for more spaces.

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said there is a need for more staff parking, but the district needs to be “very, very sensitive…to the front hill.” Option 3, he said, appears to be the best choice in finding that balance.

For the vote, the board divided option 3 into two choices: one that would gain an additional 10 spots by filling in the tree wells at the Division Street lot and one that wouldn’t.

“My concern,” Ms. Morris said, “is, assuming you go with lot 3, there’s been talk of kind of in exchange, we’ll take out all the tree wells. I would just urge you to be cautious about that, I think it will be dramatic.”

The tree wells have no living trees; the ones that were originally planted there died after their roots hit the nearby asphalt.

“I am strongly for option 1 and strongly against option 3,” said board member Susan Kinsella. “I was on the board in 2006 when Chief Fabiano told us we needed to address the parking in the district.”

“I think there’s a small segment of the community that doesn’t want it, but I think there’s a large segment of the community that does. I would never have voted on spending money on parking to not get more parking,” she added.

Longtime board member Sandi Kruel agreed with Ms. Kinsella and both voted for option 1.

“I’m not in favor of making the smaller lot and then just paving over somewhere else,” said board member Mary Anne Miller, voting to pursue option 3 without filling in the tree wells.

Board members Theresa Samot, Chris Tice, David Diskin and Daniel Hartnett voted to go with option 3 and fill in the tree wells to add a total of 11 spots.

In other school news, the board approved a new policy to videotape its meetings and will implement a six-month trial run July 1 through December 31.

Katy Graves Named Sag Harbor School District Superintendent

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The new Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves will begin her term July 1.

By Tessa Raebeck & Kathryn G. Menu

Katy Graves was named the new superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District by a unanimous vote of the school board Wednesday night.

Ms. Graves, who will begin work on July 1, received a three-year contract and will be paid an annual salary of $215,000.  Ms. Graves is currently the superintendent of the Stamford Central School District near Albany.

“We were able to come up with an overwhelming decision that the candidate we’re presenting tonight is the perfect superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District,” said board president Theresa Samot while introducing Ms. Graves at Wednesday night’s meeting.

According to Ms. Samot, School Leadership—the firm hired to conduct the search for the new superintendent—brought together 150 people in focus groups, and collected 50 completed online surveys to help it define criteria in its nationwide search.

A total of 55 applications from across the country were filed with School Leadership during the search. Those candidates were screened and the field was narrowed to six finalists. Following interviews with all six candidates, Ms. Samot said the selection of Ms. Graves was unanimous by the board.

“Selecting a superintendent is one of the most important responsibilities of any board of education,” said Ms. Samot in a press release issued after Ms. Graves’s appointment. “After an extensive and thorough search, Ms. Graves was selected from among a pool of more than 55 highly competent candidates. We are extremely confident that she possesses the professional vision, administrative experience, character and interpersonal communication skills to successfully lead our school district to the next level of success.”

“During our interview process, it quickly became apparent that Katy was the clear choice as our next superintendent,” continued Ms. Samot. “Her professionalism, experience, engaging personality and enthusiasm to work with our administrators, staff, parents and community residents to ensure that all of our students reach their highest potential were important qualifications identified by our stakeholders.”

“I would like to thank the board of education for their vote of confidence,” said Ms. Graves. “I look forward to working with the administrators, staff, students and their families and community residents. Together, I am confident we can achieve an even greater level of excellence for all students. I’m also anxious to meet with students and hear about their goals for the future.”

“Thank you to Dr. [Carl] Bonuso for creating a learning environment where everyone works together for the common good of all students,” she added.

Prior to serving in her current position in Stamford, Ms. Graves was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at the Windham-Ashland-Jewett Central School District. She possesses a certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in school leadership from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, a master of science degree in health education from Sage Graduate School, and a bachelor of science in home economics/clinical dietetics from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Ms. Graves will replace interim superintendent Dr. Bonuso, who has served the district for the past two years, beginning in the summer of 2012. Dr. Bonuso replaced Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, who resigned in July 2012.

According to Ms. Samot, Ms. Graves has already rented a home in Sag Harbor to become better acquainted with the community.