Tag Archive | "superintendent"

Teachers Protest in Sag Harbor

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Sag Harbor School District attorney Tom Volz speaks at a special BOE meeting on Dec. 19


Last week, teachers in the Sag Harbor UFSD met outside both the elementary and high schools before school brandishing signs to protest the school board’s move to make public information pertaining to teacher contracts.
“Don’t Dismantle a Decade’s Progress in One Year,” “Keep the Excellence Going” and “Invest in Your Child’s Future,” read some of the signs held by teachers as they greeted parents and honking horns before school Friday morning.
The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) and the board of education have been negotiating teachers’ contracts for nearly 10 months. At the end of June, the two sides went to impasse — a stage that requires a mediator. After one meeting, it was decided by both sides that the mediator was not going to help them reach an agreement. The teachers and the district met again in hopes of bargaining at the table earlier this month, but the two sides could not agree.
They did, however, jointly decide to go to fact-finding, a stage of negotiation that involves bringing in an individual from the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to look at both sides and make a non-binding decision. By January, a fact-finder should be in place and school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said that this is not the first time he has been involved in the process.
“I’ve been through fact finding before and it is a fair process,” he said on Monday, “The fact-finder renders his answer to questions on both sides then both parties need to re-assess based on the recommendations.”
But last Thursday, the teachers were noticeably absent from a special board meeting called by the school board to share with members of the community negotiation information on teachers’ contracts. At that meeting, the district’s attorney, Tom Volz, gave a presentation outlining what the district is asking for and what the teachers want and where the relative discrepancies lay.
TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said sharing information about negotiations with members of the public is “unfavorable.” In recent months, Kochanasz, a Pierson High School guidance counselor, had criticized the board for stating at board meetings that they would not negotiate with the teachers in public, yet, she added, by calling the special meeting “You [the board] just did.”
On Thursday, Volz outlined for the public the salaries of teachers within the district, and how much of an increase they would get this year if given the raises the teachers are requesting.
According to Volz, TASH is proposing a 3.9 percent increase for teachers. That means a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in their second year of teaching would earn $50,115 for the 2008-2009 school year, an increase of $4,178 over last year. For teachers with a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus 45 credits, the salary would be $54,575 with the raise as proposed by TASH, giving these teachers a $4,551 or 9.1 percent raise (which includes a built in step increase) over last year.
According to Volz, at the highest step level, a teacher with 27 years in the school district, a master’s degree and an additional 30 credits, earns $113,579 (without the raise proposed by TASH) — the second highest salary for teachers at that level in the area.
Kochanasz said that not long ago, however, the teachers in Sag Harbor received salaries noticeably lower than those of teachers in nearby districts.
“In 2004, we were finally able to reduce the gap for teachers,” Kochanasz said, “Now we could lose what we gained.”
Kochanasz expressed her frustrations with the district, and said superintendent Dr. John Gratto and school board members have been unable to negotiate in a “give and take” fashion. She added that the district has been meeting TASH with proposals already prepared and have not been willing to budge beyond what was on the table.
Some of the other major sticking points in the teachers’ contracts include health insurance in retirement, academic support responsibilities, and coursework approval for teachers looking to enhance their teaching skills. Teachers are also asking to keep advanced payment for vacations, something the district wants to change. The district also would like to change the requirements for personal leave, so that teachers are not permitted to take off a day prior to or directly following a school holiday.
Volz also outlined in his presentation that the district would like teachers to electronically post their homework assignments, grading policies, field trips and major test dates on the school’s website.
The 30 or so attendees of Thursday’s meeting also learned that, according to Volz, teachers are asking to receive 50 percent of their unused sick leave and personal leave in cash upon retirement.
“We have a fabulous school and fabulous test scores to prove it. I don’t know why they [the district] want to create this atmosphere,” said Kochanasz who felt that Thursday’s presentation by the board was in “blatant disregard” and “disrespect” to those who work within the school. She also said the custodians and secretarial contracts have yet to be agreed upon.
Walter Tice has sat on both sides of this argument, first as a teacher in Yonkers for more than 30 years and then as member of Sag Harbor’s school board for seven years. For four of those years, Tice served as school board president and he was involved in the last contract negotiation with TASH.
“It’s unfortunate that they chose to negotiate in public,” said Tice. “The general wisdom is that once you start to bargain in public, your ability is restricted.”
Tice also said that the information presented on Thursday was a “PR story from the board.”
He added that there are some very complicated issues that would be difficult for the community to grasp from just one presentation.
“It simplifies issues from both sides,” he said. “They both have long contract issues and this tends to politicize these issues.”
“And it’s not good for the morale,” Tice added. “These people are actually teaching in your classroom, you don’t want them mad at you. You can solve your differences rationally, not by hanging them out to the public.”
“I think we accurately portrayed the issues of all sides,” said Gratto of last Thursday’s meeting, “I think all that [meeting] has done is informed people.”
“Reasonable people can reach reasonable results,” he added.

Teachers Push for a Contract

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The  Teachers Association of Sag Harbor may have traded in black shirts for more subtle buttons,but the message is still the same: they want a new contract.  

Members of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) are in the middle of negotiating their contracts with the Sag Harbor school district’s board of education and superintendent. The negotiating began in February of this year and many of the district’s teachers are wearing buttons on their shirts to stress the fact that they have yet to come to an agreement on certain pieces of the contract. The bargaining began between TASH and the board of education along with the former superintendent, Kathryn Holden. When they could not come to agreements on certain issues, they declared impasse.

 “Since TASH declared impasse in June we had a mediator come in.” superintendent Dr. John Gratto said on Monday. “She came in two days in August but we haven’t scheduled another session with her at this point.”

The mediator, Karen Kenney, was chosen by the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to work with the board of education, the superintendent, the school’s attorney, Tom Volz, and the Labor Relations Specalist who works for New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Rich D’Esposito.

On June 30, the previous contract, which was developed in 2004, expired, although is in effect until a new contract is developed. The teacher’s contract covers sick leave, vacation time, health insurance, benefits and salary among other items.

“Negotiations will continue,” Gratto said, “The board is working hard to propose terms of the contract that are fair to employees and the taxpayers.”

The Teachers Association’s Team, which consists of Eileen Kochanasz, math teacher Jim Kinnier, home economics teacher Donna Mannino, and third grade teacher Maria Semkus, were hoping for a new contract before the previous one expired.

According to Kochanasz, TASH president, TASH is made up of 119 teachers, substitutes and support service teachers.

In a recent Newsday poll, Kochanasz points out that the English test scores for Sag Harbor’s eighth grade are second out of 137 schools on Long Island. She said what the teachers are asking for is not a lot for a school with such a high rating.

“Why are we arguing over this?” she said, “We have a great school, let it be — it’s beautiful.”

Kochanasz said she is unsure when the next meeting on contract negotiations will take place because nothing is scheduled right now.

“From what I understand from Dr. Gratto is that the district attorney has compared current salaries from surrounding districts and presented them last week at the executive session on September 23,” Kochanasz said on Wednesday. “But they [the board] decided that their attorney did not get enough data for the next four years.”

Teahcer contracts are for four years, and Kochanasz explained that the school board has asked their attorney, Tom Volz, to get more information but she believes he would not be able to present this information before the middle of October.

“I don’t understand why the board had four years to consider the issues for this new contract and they are just starting to collect the data now,” Kochanasz said.

Gratto said that the contract negotiations are not something that can be rushed.

“This is simply a process that takes time,” Gratto said, “There are terms of the contract that the board is trying to take a ballot on.”

But Kochanasz says that even after the contract is agreed upon, TASH members still have to pick a date for a ratification vote. She explained that even if TASH meets by October 31, the group might not be able enact the new contract until the middle of November.

“This is just showing the disregard,” Kochanasz said, “We are what makes this school.”

But Gratto says that progress is being mae and notes that he and the board are also currently working on the custodial and secretarial union contracts.

“We are looking at three negotiations simultaneously,” Gratto said. “Both sides look at the issues differently and it takes time to get to an agreement. It’s a meeting of the minds.”

Gratto also said on Monday that it is incumbent upon the teachers and the board of education to reach a fair agreement.

“Wearing buttons won’t hurt or injure that process,” he said.

Barbara Cohen, representative for the secretarial union, said on Monday that contracts are still being discussed.

“We are not even sharing this information with our secretaries at this point,” Cohen said, but added, “We are making slow steady progress.”

Representative for the custodial department, Matt McAree, said his group is moving ahead at a steady pace.

“We have made a lot of progress on our contracts and hopefully they will be finalized soon,” McAree said on Monday. “Two more weeks and we should know. But even after we negotiate and it goes to the board, it will take a few weeks to go into effect after that.”


Seek Ways to Track Student’s Progress

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By Melissa Lynch


As the Sag Harbor School District settles into a new school year, superintendent Dr. John Gratto and members of the board of education are looking forward to a new year of their own as well — one in which they will seek to refine the way student progress is tracked and analyzed.

At the school board meeting on Monday night, Gratto presented new plans for tracking students’ improvements in English and mathematics for grades three through eight.

Students in those grades are required to take state-mandated tests in English and math and Gratto said the tracking plan will provide teachers with individualized test results in order to help them understand the needs of each student.

“It helps the teachers to focus in on rectifying the specific skills that each kid may have,” he explained.

At the beginning of each year, said Gratto, a student’s new teacher will be given an in-depth report for the child with performance indicators showing how the student is progressing in English and math. The indicators will point out how many questions relating to a particular skill the student answered correctly or incorrectly on the last state mandated test. Gratto explained that this will help teachers understand the areas in which students may require more help.

Audience member Chris Tice expressed concerns over how a teacher who is responsible for covering a new year’s curriculum will be able to review the previous grade’s material as well and further, make plans to also cover that material with students.

Tice asked, “If there are certain areas where that specific student clearly has not attained a satisfactory level of understanding is it the teacher that goes back the next year and teaches them those skills that they didn’t get?”

Gratto responded by explaining that teachers will receive a list of the top 10 performance indicators by grade level. That, he added, will enable the teachers to have an understanding of what English and math skills the class needs to work on as a whole.

Ultimately, it was decided that additional help, if needed, would be given to students after school. Gratto also believes the individualized analysis will provide academic intervention services, teachers and special education teachers with additional knowledge to help their students as well.

“Teachers can hone in on the area that a particular student may need to learn,” Gratto commented.

Also on Monday, the board announced the formation of a long-range planning committee that will address infrastructure needs in the district. The district’s architect will share information at committee meetings and describe projects that are currently in the design stage. According to Gratto, new buildings and grounds/athletic director, Bill Madsen, is also expected to attend these meetings. Topics might include things such as installation of security cameras, parking issues, storage concerns, building systems, sidewalks or landscaping. Items of discussion will be presented to the board of education for consideration before any decisions are made on costs and scope of the projects.

The planning committee’s first meeting will be September 18 in the Pierson School library. The district asks that anyone interested in attending future committee meetings check the website for dates.

Also at Monday’s meeting, board president Walter Wilcoxen announced that he is expecting to report on the Pierson lunch program sometime around Christmas.

The report will be in response to an audit completed in July, which showed that the Pierson lunch program was operating in the red. In an effort to fix the problem, the board opted to terminate the school lunch coordinator, Paula Brannon, who was making $49,000 in the position. Because just 11 percent of the children were purchasing lunches, Brannon’s salary was not being covered by the money coming in and the program operated at a loss. This year, in an effort to cut costs, Brannon’s duties have been assumed by head cook Lisa Becker.

“The only complaints of the lunch system are that there is not enough room in the cafeteria,” joked Len Bernard, business administrator for the district.

Wilcoxen asked whether the board might consider adding boxed lunches for the elementary school, which may help increase profits.

“We’re doing well if the program just breaks even,” replied Bernard.

Mixing Two School Jobs Troubles Some

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To the dismay of many in attendance at Monday’s meeting, the Sag Harbor school board agreed to combine two vacant positions in an effort to possibly save the district money and make it more efficient. In his first big decision as superintendent, Dr. John Gratto recommended the district advertise for a single candidate to serve as both the athletic director as well as the director of buildings and grounds.
Gratto said he understood that in the past the district employed a part-time athletic director who was in the office roughly three days a week. He said the new position would be full-time, with the emphasis being on the athletic director responsibilities. He said he saw a lot of interrelation between the two positions, particularly with the athletic director often working with the custodial and grounds staff to make sure the gym is ready and the fields are in proper shape.
“If they were combined, then you’d have greater responsiveness to immediate [athletic] issues,” said Gratto.
He said the new position would increase the effectiveness of the athletic director and that “athletic issues happen five days a week, not just three.”
“And likewise, I don’t think, since the [buildings and grounds] position has been open since February, that it’s a fulltime job.”
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said after former buildings and grounds director Jim Beauman left early this year, the custodial staff has done a great job. He sees the new position, in terms of buildings and grounds, as more of a supervisory one.
“[Dr. Gratto] reviewed it with custodians and they seem to agree,” said Wilcoxen. “They need part time oversight.”
He also mentioned the current construction projects at the elementary school and Pierson and said by hiring a clerk of the works, he has realized the director of buildings and grounds doesn’t necessarily have to perform that duty.
“[Clerk of the works] Mike Nicholetti has done a wonderful job. Why? Because it’s his business,” said Wilcoxen. “With Jim [Beauman] it wasn’t his business. I think it was unreasonable to ask Jim to do that. Seeing how well Mike has done, if we take that responsibility away from the director of facilities, then it reduces the workload.”
“And there’s no doubt about it,” continued Wilcoxen, “we’re trying to economize any way we can.”
District business manager Len Bernard said salaries for the two positions combined amounted to roughly $145,000. He said the savings in benefits could be $20,000 and in terms of salary, it depends on what is offered for the new position. On Monday Dr. Gratto said the salary would be negotiable to a point.
The new position was widely accepted by both the board and the administration. Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said he thought it was a good idea and board member Dan Hartnett said he considered it “creative and courageous.” The audience however disagreed. Dr. Gratto said it would take a very special candidate to fill it, but Marian Cassata thought it might take even more than that.
“I think it will take an act of God,” said Cassata, “to bring someone to this district [to fill both positions].”
She said she could not see any candidate being able to fulfill the responsibilities of both positions.
“Having been a physical education teacher at the kindergarten level through the high school level, as well as a college coach, I’ve always considered the AD a 24/7 position if you’re going to do a good job overseeing your coaches,” said Tom Gleason. “For me this seems like a very difficult combination.”
Chris Tice asked Dr. Gratto if in his travels through other school districts he had encountered the combination before. He said no, but that based on conversations with Nichols and the head custodians, he felt like it was doable in Sag Harbor.
Gratto and Wilcoxen both said they had entertained another, more common, combination. With current Pierson assistant principal Donnelly McGovern stepping down in the fall to return to teaching, there is now another administrative vacancy.
“The most common [combination] is athletic director and assistant principal,” said Gratto. “We considered that, but didn’t want to go that route.”
Wilcoxen said they liked the current model of having two assistant principals at Pierson.
“It’s a responsibility issue,” he said. “They do such a good job of getting back to the parents and dealing with the students.”
Cassata also pointed out that the athletic director is expected to do much more than just coordinate with coaches.
“Historically and traditionally the AD is also responsible for implementing the health curriculum in schools and direct and shape programs like wellness in the district,” said Cassata.
She also mentioned that in the past, pertaining to buildings and grounds, the district had struggled with “thorough long range planning” and with “assigning capital money to deal with buildings.”
“It’s a very difficult skill set,” said Cassata. “When you advertise, I think you might want to advertise as either [one position] or [two]. That way, you won’t waste time looking for this perfect person.”

Top Photo: Superintendent Dr. Gratto and board president Walter Wilcoxen at Monday’s meeting. John Bayles photo.