Tag Archive | "Syntax Communication"

Updated Communications Plan for Sag Harbor School District

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By Tessa Raebeck

Seven months after the Sag Harbor School District Communications Committee presented its recommendations to the school board for better communications, Superintendent Katy Graves on Monday, November 17, offered her view of how to best move forward.

In early April, the committee presented a report to the board, in response to feedback from a survey of various stakeholders that found the district needed to improve its communication with all parties, which is now a board goal for the 2014-15 school year. The district had worked with Syntax Communications, a Long Island marketing firm that specializes in public relations for public school districts, in the past, but has not had a contract with any communications company since July 1.

The main recommendations made by the committee were: to improve and expand the district website; to develop a communication manual for employees and establish expectations for constituents; and to hire a communications specialist to “facilitate better communication to all district stakeholders;” as well as to continually assess the success of those recommendations and adjust for ongoing improvements. The committee included five options for hiring a communications specialist, which range in projected costs from $23,690 for a part-time assistant to $74,688 for a full-time communications specialist.

Since July 1, the administration has been gathering information and deciding whether to hire a staff member, as recommended by the committee, contract out services with an outside company, or use a company through BOCES, Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said on Wednesday.

At Monday’s board meeting, Ms. Graves said the district would use Syntax through BOCES for the rest of the school year, which she and Ms. Buscemi agreed is the most cost-effective option.

“I’m doing it as fiscally and in as sustainable a model as possible, so my recommendation is to go with the BOCES service, which is service through Syntax,” said the superintendent.

The BOCES contract with Syntax Communications, would, at a prorated amount, cost $26,085 for the rest of the school year, which ends on June 30, 2015.

Ms. Graves said if the district continues with that model in the future, Syntax would hire a specialist locally who would work more directly with several East End school districts, but “this late in the year, that isn’t something we’re going to get.” For this year, Syntax will aid the district on putting out a board of education newsletter, the annual budget newsletter and improving the website.

“Syntax was really gracious enough to give us a prorated rate when they will be providing almost the same exact services they were going to provide” had the contract started in July, said Ms. Buscemi.

The agreement, Ms. Graves said, would also “free up [Director of Technology Scott Fisher] to be doing more with and for students when it comes to technology.”

While the district will work with BOCES for the rest of this school year, the board plans to evaluate communications again during budget deliberations in the spring, and implement a long-range plan. In the meantime, administrators remain cognizant of the ongoing need to improve outreach to school stakeholders.

“We’ve been getting better and better about email blasts, about what goes on the website and, even at board meetings, I think we’ve done a much better job at not only getting information out to parents, but also letting them know the positive things that are happening with their children and for their children in the district,” said Ms. Graves.

Those “positive things” were on full display at Monday’s meeting.

Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, an audit partner at R.S. Abrams & Co., shared the results of the district’s annual audit.

“We issued an unmodified opinion, which is the best opinion you can have; that means it’s a clean opinion, we call it in the audit world. We did note that the reserves did increase this year. We’re very happy to see that the district has come a long way in building that fund balance,” Ms. Battaglia said.

“This is my fifth year on the board and this was by far the strongest, most positive results of the audit, so I just want to thank all the employees,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board. “That doesn’t happen overnight—it’s happened, I’d say, five, six, seven years—there’s been an enormous amount of effort and energy…. We’re in the strongest financial position we’ve been in in a long time.”

More good news came from Pierson Middle School Vice Principal Brittany Miaritis, who said the eighth grade’s book drive to help students at the Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Louisiana has inspired other local schools to join the cause. The middle school was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and, 10 years later, has a brand new building but hardly any books, materials or supplies to fill it. Since hearing about Sag Harbor’s initiative, students in Hampton Bays have donated some 100 books to the southern school.

“Just from one little implementation here, now it’s all over the East End,” said Ms. Miaritis. “It’s pretty rad and cool that our students are involved in it.”

In other school board news, the board decided to explore the notions of allowing in-season varsity athletes to opt out of gym class to allow for more time for academics, and of eliminating class rank and instead marking students by 25-point percentiles, which many Long Island schools have opted to do in order to encourage colleges to look at students in more depth.

$15,500 in “Public Information” Funding Projected for Sag Harbor School District’s 2014-2015 Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first budget workshop of the school year, the Sag Harbor School District outlined its projected 2014–2015 budget for support services.

Presenting prior to Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, school Business Administrator John O’Keefe showed the board tentative numbers on the BOE, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance components.

The BOE is attempting to keep the 2014-2015 budget below the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. Quite unpopular at BOE meetings, the tax cap is a legislative limit that prohibits districts from increasing the levy, or the amount of funding the district must raise through property taxes, by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The support services component of the budget is at present projected to increase by 1.55 percent. According to a budget worksheet prepared by O’Keefe and interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, a rollover budget for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

The tentative budget projects $15,500 in funding for “public information,” primarily referring to the district’s consultant agreement with Syntax Communication, a public relations firm in Bohemia.

The BOE adopted two contracts with Syntax this year, one valued at $6,500 for work on the bond proposition and another for $9,500 for PR work from January 1 to June 30.

The district also used Syntax as a vendor for printing services for bond related work, at a cost of $2,025 for the bond newsletter and $1,130 for the post card mailer. In 2012-13, the district expended $1,738 on public information. In 2011-12, the district spent $2,072.

The projected expense for “public information” for next year’s budget, which could include renewed contracts with Syntax, is $15,500.

At Monday’s meeting, Syntax President Kathy Beatty told the board what that money buys.

“We take the burden off you dealing with the media,” she said, adding the firm never speaks on the district’s behalf without approval from the BOE or superintendent.

At Sag Harbor School Board Meeting, Questions Arise Regarding Lack of Newspaper at Pierson High School

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Sag Harbor Board of Education Vice President Chris Tice, President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district's interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Vice President Chris Tice, BOE President Theresa Samot and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, at the Board of Education meeting December 16.

By Tessa Raebeck

Although less than 10 community members stayed for the full duration of Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) meeting, those in attendance – most of them regulars – were passionate about the needs of village schools.

One need, according to parents in attendance and many who are active on the Facebook group “Sag Harbor School District Parents Connect,” is for an active student newspaper at Pierson High School.

A newspaper for the Pierson Middle School was officially created on Monday with the board’s appointment of Jason LaBatti, a math teacher, as advisor to the new club.

According to Gary Kalish, vice principal for Pierson High School, the middle school newspaper club has been dormant for “a few years.” A literary magazine, “sort of a compilation of students’ artwork and stories,” ran in the meantime, said Barbara Bekermus, director of pupil personnel services for the district.

“It’s a position that’s been available to middle school students but [there] hasn’t been a lot of interest,” Kalish said Monday. “So, recently, I guess a group of students got together and approached [Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson Middle/High School] and asked if they could have a middle school program.”

Kalish said the high school newspaper is no longer running because “there wasn’t a significant interest this year.”

The high school newspaper, The Leviathan, ran from October 2011 to May 2013. The May 2013 issue had seven contributors, at least three of which are still attending Pierson High School.

Each edition of The Leviathan was both published in hard copy and posted to the district website, which describes the paper as “a club designed to provide students with an authentic experience in journalism and publishing. Members of the Newspaper Club are editors, photographers, reporters and graphic designers for the school newspaper.”

The paper’s contents included reviews of movies, books and school plays, a sports page, a photo spread, interviews with teachers and department representatives, a “whale quote,” and such thorough political examinations as a May 2013 piece by Mari Chavez titled “The Dreamers: The Complex Issue of Immigration and Pierson Students.”

Prior to The Leviathan was Folio, a student-run publication that was printed for free in The Sag Harbor Express. Led by advisor Peter Solow, an art teacher at Pierson, the full-page spread included editorials, articles, photos and information concerning the district, all written and designed by students. The last printed issue, from early May 2010, outlined possible contingency budget cuts and news on the school board elections and budget votes, as well as district announcements and upcoming events.

At Monday’s board meeting, BOE member Daniel Hartnett recalled Folio, mentioned a neighboring district similarly utilizes its local paper and wondered whether such collaboration might be available for the middle school.

“Instead of something going home in kids’ backpacks or lost on the bus or whatever, it actually gets printed in the paper,” Hartnett said.

“Yeah,” replied Kalish, “I remember the high school would partner up and it was really kind of amazing, so I’ll talk to the advisor about that.”

In other school board news, the board defended their decision to hire the public relations firm Syntax Communication Group for “communication services.” Syntax, which worked for the board in communications regarding the capital bond project propositions passed in November, is a Bohemia-based firm that provides marketing communication consulting services and specializes in working with school districts.

At the December 2 BOE meeting, the board approved an agreement between the district and Syntax, effective January 1, 2014 through June 30, 2014 for $9,500. At Monday’s meeting, community member John Battle asked the board to explain its intent in hiring the PR firm.

“They will do everything from press releases to touching base with the media representatives to crisis management,” Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent of schools, responded, adding the firm will work on the school calendar, write articles, cover various events, write budget newsletters and press releases and communicate with “various constituents.”

“We’re going to take a look at how it works out for the rest of the year,” said Dr. Bonuso, “and see whether or not – you know, we’re always evaluating the bang for the buck – we’re going to see…whether it’s cost effective and whether we have the dollars to do so.”

Hartnett said “most districts” use PR firms and Sag Harbor has employed a similar firm in the past.

“It’s an issue that the Communications Committee has been talking about,” added Theresa Samot, president of the school board. “There’s a lot of great things happening at the school and the community doesn’t always know about them.”

Chris Tice, BOE vice president, said with changes in technology, the type of communication has changed and many schools have hired “in house communication managers.”

The BOE will hold a budget workshop and educational meeting on January 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School library.