Tag Archive | "teachers"

“Grading” Sag Harbor Teachers: Administrators Discuss Goals Updates at Board of Education Meeting

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External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

External Auditor Alexandria Battaglia, CPA, addresses the Sag Harbor Board of Education Monday night.

By Tessa Raebeck

“This has been a week of very special teams,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent for the Sag Harbor School District, congratulating the champion Lady Whalers field hockey team and the community team that helped pass the district’s two bond propositions.

Passing the bond was a key component of the district goals for the 2013/2014 school year, which Dr. Bonuso presented to a small group of people gathered Monday for the Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

Dr. Bonuso discussed the headway made on the first three of the district’s nine goals. He said progress was made on the first goal, improving academic achievement, through the resubmission and implementation of Annual Professional Performance Reviews (APPR), an evaluation system required by the state since 2012. It rates teachers as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on a 100-point scale. Half of the review relies on administrative observations, 10 percent on an “evidence binder” of components like electronic posting and 40 percent on test scores. For teachers whose students are not yet being tested regularly, that portion is determined by a project the district assigns in order to produce a score. Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the majority of Sag Harbor teachers were graded “effective.”

“We need to take a second look at this emphasis on testing, the over testing,” said Dr. Bonuso. “We need to take a second look at whether or not we have the materials and modules – let alone the mindset – to approach this in a manner where people are feeling good about what’s happening instead of anxious and discouraged.”

Susan Hewett, a parent, asked the board how teachers are rewarded or reprimanded based on their APPR performance. Dr. Bonuso replied teachers are not rewarded, but if they are determined to be “developing” or worse for two years, “we can literally remove them…even if they are tenured.”

If a teacher is rated “ineffective,” the superintendent said, “We don’t have to go through all the gyrations and all the bureaucracy that in the past we had to in order to remove you.”

The administrators reported on the progress of the newly formed shared decision-making teams, a component of the second goal: to build partnerships with the community. Two teams have met, one for the elementary school and one for Pierson. The district-wide team is looking for two replacements for members who left the committee prior to the first meeting.

Board member Mary Anne Miller questioned the inclusion of the middle and high schools in the same team, which BOE Vice President Chris Tice agreed should be revisited.

The third goal is to ensure sound fiscal operation and facilities management. The district added experienced security personnel and hours at both school, enhanced systems at school entryways and held its first lockdown drill of the year last week. External auditor Alexandria Battaglia said Monday the district is in good financial health, with an unassigned fund balance of about $1.4 million.

In other school news, BOE member David Diskin again asked the board to discuss starting to video record their meetings. Board President Theresa Samot said it was a good idea to look at further.

The next BOE meeting will be held December 2, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library.

After Heated Two Years, Teacher’s Contracts At Last

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By Claire Walla

“All in favor?”

This question, a common formality at all school board meetings, rarely carries as much weight as it did this past Monday when Sag Harbor School Board members met inside the Pierson High School library to vote on teachers’ contracts.

Making no attempt to mask their relief, all six board members present uttered a resounding “aye”—and the room filled with applause. Board member Ed Drohan was absent from the meeting, and when asked later how he would have voted declined to say.

The decision marks the end of more than two years of heated negotiations, during which the Sag Harbor School District and the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) fought over the financial details of teachers’ contracts, which expired in August 2008.

The primary issues in the negotiations concerned salary hikes and health care costs. Based on the contract details finally passed on Monday, the term of the agreement runs from July 1, 2008 through July 1, 2013.

Teachers will retroactively receive a 2.5 percent salary increase for each of two years through June, 2009. For the current school year, teachers will receive an additional 2.6 percent.

For the 2010-11 school year teachers will receive a 2.65 percent increase, in 2011-12 they will receive a 2.7 percent increase and in the final year of the agreement, 2012-13, they will receive a 2.6 percent raise.

The increases are nearly one percentage point lower than a fact-finder’s report had suggested, and less than the nearly four percent argued for by the teachers union.

These salary increases are in addition to the “step” increases that average about 2.7 percent each year.

However, both parties were content as school board members were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, having approved all details of the contracts, which had been approved by the teachers union last Thursday, December 4.

“This is probably one of the most difficult things we do because we know a lot of the staff,” school board president Walter Wilcoxen said moments before the vote. “[Negotiations] had gotten very bitter, and I hope it never happens again that way. But, this agreement allows us to turn the page in a positive fashion.”

“It was long and hard for us,” said Eileen Kochanasz, president of TASH. “But my teachers are at peace with the settlement and we’re happy to have this behind us.”

Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier, who also played an active role advocating for the teachers union over the past months, added: “Nobody got everything, but it’s as balanced and fair as possible.”

Teachers initially came to the bargaining table hoping to receive salary increases of 3.9 percent, commensurate with salary increases in neighboring districts. But the board took a hard-line stance against such pay increases, evoking the tough economic times.

“This agreement is very consistent with what the board had offered all along,” said school superintendent Dr. John Gratto.

He added that the district budgeted for a 2.5 percent salary increase (and a more conservative 2.7 percent increase this year) since contracts expired in 2008. So these funds, which were kept in the school’s general fund, will be paid retroactively to all teachers on December 25 of this year.

The new contracts also allow for alternative health insurance options, a point the board emphasized as a cost-saving measure. In the past the district has been locked into the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP), the price of which continues to rise. So, while teachers are still able to take advantage of state insurance, Dr. Gratto said he will now explore other health insurance options that offer a lower premium. Besides, he added, “[NYSHIP] probably offered more than most teachers needed.”

The ability to pay less might be even more attractive to teachers now that their contribution fees to their insurance plans have increased. Retroactive to July 1, 2010, teachers will pay 17.5 percent of health insurance costs, up from the 15 percent they have paid in the past. Also decreasing will be the amount teachers receive for supervising the cafeteria during lunch periods. By reducing the pay by $8.80, bringing it down to $17.25, Dr. Gratto estimates the district can save about $19,000 a year.

Finally, beginning July 1, teachers will be required to post information online using school e-boards. Such information will include course descriptions, homework assignments, grading policy, grades, project and test dates and attendance records. Coaches as well will be required to post practice times and game schedules.

Though the details of the contracts were not discussed at the school board meeting — the district’s lawyers are currently drafting the final version — both parties seemed poised to celebrate their new agreement, and take this as a learning experience going into the future.

All who spoke on the matter — including Dr. Gratto, Kochanasz, Kinnier and school board members Wilcoxen, Dan Hartnett and Chris Tice — agreed. And during the public comment session, community member Walter Tice elaborated: “Now is the time for both parties to examine their participation in the process which just ended. Do that. Put it in writing and convey it to subsequent boards. If you turn and leave right now with relief and don’t look back, you will make the same mistakes again.

“Give the next board your insight about what went wrong this time,” Tice added.

And for the second time that night, there was applause.

Letters March 12, 2009

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Class Warfare


To the Editor,

Millions of words have been exchanged trying to fix the bailout. Meanwhile golden parachutes litter the sky and bonuses still survive. Slap me five, five million or five billion, in the language of Wall Street. An addiction hard to break, now it’s too late.

Confusion, fear and doubt are the signs of our time. Brother can you spare me a dime? Money is our bottom line, we haven’t reached it yet. No one has the answer, no one has the answer. Maybe we need to identify the problem — class warfare.

Politicians, the wealthy and the elite keep their money by insulating themselves from the poor. The minimum wage of five dollars and fifteen cents remained the same for ten years. An insult to human dignity. For the average workers, salaries have gone down for the last thirty years or more, slaves of Capitalism. Welfare for the poor is scrutinized, corporate welfare is subsidized. Tax cuts, tax cuts, why are we surprised?

Ironically, Congress actually got rid of the usury law in 1980, which was supposed to protect the poor from the power of the wealthy. I asked a former congressman, “Why are we so afraid of the poor?” He shot back “Because there are so many of them.”

Class warfare has been with us for a long time. Have you ever heard the term class warfare mentioned in Congress or our government? How many times have you heard reference to the American Dream?

In peace,

Larry Darcey

Sag Harbor


Remembering Alex


Dear Bryan,

 Jim and I and the girls would like to thank our wonderful community for all they have done for us, in our time of sorrow. It will be two years since our son Alex died and we have spent each day trying to grasp and understand why he died.

We have been through many trials in the past two years no family should endure. We would have not gotten through  without the love and support from this community. You have all been there when we organized fundraisers, to contribute and your money has helped many.

We gave to the YARD program, and also to the Cassidy Hagerman Scholarship, the Jordan Haerter Fund, and finally we were able to present St. Judes Childrens hospital a large check of $10,000 to help in their research of brain cancer. Jim and I traveled to Memphis, and were given a tour of this wonderful place. It was humbling. Maybe one day they will find a way to detect this cancer, and to treat it.

We are also able to present our scholarship at this year’s graduation. All these things are what keep us going. Alex so loved life and all it had to offer; to remember him and live life to the fullest is what he would have wanted. March 29th we will be remembering Alex on his second anniversary in Heaven, at the 5:30 teen Mass at St. Andrews. I invite you all to this Mass, and share in his love of God. May you all be blessed with the love you give when you need it.

Thank you again

Lisa and Jim Koehne

Sag Harbor


Teachers Disconnected


Dear Editor,

I am a 30-year resident and property taxpayer.

I attended the informational presentation given by our local Teachers Association, hoping to inform myself about the issues concerning the salary and benefit negotiations. I was surprised that only very few people attended. I would say less than half a dozen were from the general public. That may be a result of the original meeting date being canceled on short notice. I found this out when I showed up, only to see the cancellation notice on the door.

The arguments for the top range of increase were not persuasive. The speakers exhibited a disconnect to what the rest of the community is going through. I guess nobody on this panel listens to Public Radio, where we learn of layoffs and pay cuts in N.Y. and across the nation.

I thought they might have noticed the disappearance of the trade parade or felt the rapid weight loss of our local papers. The East Hampton Star has instituted a 20% work hour reduction for their entire staff. Lumber yards are cutting staff. All the local governments are scrambling to close budget shortfalls. Politicians are voting their own pay cuts.

No accommodations to reflect these hard facts were offered. I would have thought that job security alone would suggest to the Teachers Association that they might entertain taking a step back. If budgets are not brought under control, what is left at the end is, you guessed it, job cuts.

The Teachers Association talks of real estate value to budget ratio, as though that should make us feel better. They then propose that their demands should be met as an appropriate gesture of appreciation for their effort to educate our children.

Might I suggest that this important job also includes teaching our children about community responsibility? If we don’t all make sacrifices when faced with this unprecedented financial meltdown, our children will not appreciate their teacher’s sincerity if in fact the school administration insists on being the last man left standing.

I would like to close with the obligatory thanks to everybody who is doing a wonderful job for doing what they were hired for.

Anthony Hagen

Sag Harbor


Attack on Capital Budget


Dear Bryan,

In response to your editorial of February 26 (“Ease the Confusion”), I would like to explain our two track attack on reconciling the Capital Budget.  Because the Board said, and rightly so, that it would not approve any Capital funding for 2009 until it knew the status of each capital project, we initiated these weekly briefings as track one.  The status of each capital project is the only objective of the weekly briefings.  Some are bored or frustrated with this lengthy process, yet I know of no other valid way of achieving consensus on future funding for important and time sensitive projects such as road paving and drainage improvements.

Track number two involves “reconciling” the revenue and expenses of the entire capital budget going back several years.  While the “checkbook” analogy works for the operating budget, it is not that cut and dry for the capital budget.  Is better bookkeeping needed in the future?  You bet and that is our goal for the future.  In fact, several changes have already taken place.

I’m trying to avoid the appearance of making excuses because, clearly, changes are necessary to assure the public that the capital budget is a reliable document.  In the meantime, I know of no “bombshells” that are being hidden except that we all wish we could get to the answer faster.  I hope, however, that we will not give an answer until we know the answer is correct.  To make any declarations until we have fully vetted all 180 capital accounts could be a disaster.  It is the comprehensive review and analysis that is time consuming.

 Unfortunately, while this controversy is about the Capital Budget, residents can get the impression that all of the town’s finances are in disarray.  That is simply not true.  The 2009 operating budget is balanced and as long as anticipated revenues like permit fees and mortgage tax proceeds come in as expected, we will end the year balanced.  By the way, the town’s 2009 operating budget is the most readable and understandable operating budget I have ever seen.  Any town resident can look at it on-line and judge for themselves.  From our side of the table, it can be frustrating that there is so much emphasis on what is wrong without a note or two about what is right. 

The naysayer will mock that statement.  Naysayers do not concern me, for I have written this to those readers who are willing to listen to both sides of the story.  Let the results of the soon to be released audit of the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) by the New York State Comptroller’s Office be a test case.  The town has been a good steward with this multi-million dollar program and we know the state audit will show that to be true.  So, while we have work to do on managing the capital budget all of the town’s finances are not in disarray.   

Thank you.

Bill Jones, Deputy Supervisor 

Town of Southampton  

Letters January 22, 2009

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Remembering Ned


Dear Bryan

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

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

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

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

Very truly yours,

Michael Thomas

New York


Support the Process


Dear Bryan,

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

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

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

Thank you

Sandi Kruel

Sag Harbor


Congress Should Give Back


To the Editor

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

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

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

Lee M. Zeldin,


The author was a candidate for Congress. – ed.

Letters January 15, 2009

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Doing Anything for Increases


Dear Editor,

The “Comments from the Web” on Sagharboronline.com are totally erroneous and misinformed. In my letter “No Bailout for the School District” (Sag Harbor Express December 4, 2008) I prophesized that the Sag Harbor Teachers’ Union will do anything to obtain unrealistic and unaffordable fixed step increases as they had in their expired contract, even at the expense of bankrupting the community. When I questioned, “Why can’t the teachers’ union take a pay freeze so they do not bankrupt the community,” I also asked the following: “Or do they think that the Sag Harbor School District is going to get a government bailout?”

Well, in reading the “President’s Perspective” column in Dick Ianuzzi, President of eth New York State United Teachers’ Union, I predicted correctly: He states, “In the same way Congress passed a $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street, it should also approve direct fiscal relief to New York through emergency block grants and for Medicaid and other underfunded mandated programs (New York Teacher, page 10)” Ianuzzi wants his union to get some of the bailout money. I rest my case.

Vince Starace



Everyone is Hurting


Dear Editor,

At the informational meeting the Sag Harbor School District held on December 18, 2008, the District’s attorney presented the board’s contract offer to TASH as well as the demands of TASH, the teachers’ union. The BOE offered what amounts to a 23% increase per teacher for a three-year contract. TASH is demanding what amounts to a 27.72% increase for a three-year contract. Both figures include salary and benefits for three years. There are other issues such as health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, domestic partner insurance, personal days, duty periods, course approval, increased pay for field trips, coaching stipends, etc. also on the table.

Everyone has to ask, “What is reasonable based on today’s economy?” I read an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sarah Needleman entitled “Pay Raises Seen Taking a Hit,” dated December 16, 2008. The article analyzes salary trends for many professions, white collar occupations and blue collar jobs. Needleman states that employers are “bringing some workers’ projected annual pay raises to a low not seen in three decades.” The article analyzes data from trustworthy sources, such as the Wharton School, Hewitt Associates and Watson Wyatt Worldwide Inc. Needleman enumerates what we hear on the news on a daily basis: “Companies are very concerned about managing their fixed costs.” Needleman cites Professor Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School who informed us that the “latest salary cuts are particularly noteworthy given employers have eliminated 1.9 million jobs in the past year and various industries may see lower pay gains than others.” Needleman also states that “Workers in education and financial services are also expected to receive below-average annual merit increases for 2.3% and 2.9% respectively, down from 3.5% and 3.9% in July.” I emailed this article to the Board of Education when I heard that the board and TASH’s negotiations hit a roadblock. Fact-finding is the next step in negotiating their contract.  I hope that the board, the district’s attorney, and TASH heed the admonitions of this article. Everyone is hurting in this economy.

How can the taxpayers afford to cover a large increase in taxes when their salaries, 401Ks and benefits are dwindling? The board should reconsider their overly generous offer. The union should reconsider their unaffordable demands in this economy. The community is pleased that the district’s teachers have raised the achievement levels of their students. However, the teachers should also value the working conditions of the Sag Harbor District. Their classes are generally small, their student load is low, and for the most part, the students are a homogeneous group who have excellent family support. The teachers do not need combat pay that other teachers deserve who teach in districts rife with onerous socioeconomic issues.

As I stated in a previous letter, I hope an agreement is reached that is fair to the taxpayers as well as the teachers.

Elena Loreto



In Memory of Guy Bennett


Dear Bryan:

Since our father’s passing we keep thinking about how, in our quest to “take him home” as we had promised, that we were unprepared to offer any words of comfort to the friends and family who gathered a year ago in his memory. It was not that we were at a loss for words, but that we had too many to express how profoundly his passing affected us.

That first year was certainly a long one filled with trials and tribulations as we all experienced a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Finally when we found the right fit for him — where he was comfortable, well cared for, and loved — everything else seemed to fall into place. The disappearance of “Old Daddy” was a painful process making way for the emergence of “New Daddy” who we came to know, love, and understand on a whole different level. In fact we feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of both those lives, as our children may have never known their grandfather at all.

We want his friends and family to know that we never let him forget them. We read him their cards and showed him their pictures while reminding him of their names. We kept him abreast of deaths, births, weddings, and other important events. His favorite photo of Mommy hung on the wall where he looked at her every day. He did not suffer and he was comfortable and happy. He was never a burden to us and we looked forward to our visits with him very much. He brought our families closer and taught us how to love on a whole different level. Together we developed an alternative form of communication that did not require him to remember words or names. We were his “two” and he was always happy to see us, as he touched our faces, patted our heads, and squeezed our hands.

It was that last day as we sat by his side and he squeezed our hands so tightly that he bruised his own and his eyes were clear and aware that we knew he had come full circle and that Old and New Daddy had become one. Although he was unable to speak, he let us know that he was not frightened or in pain. We held the phone to his ear so he could hear Mommy and Bruce say goodbye and we saw his eyes fill with tears of joy to hear their voices and comprehend their words. The joy reflected in his face that day filled our hearts. We are not sure what he was experiencing but we like to think that in those final hours everything we had “remembered” for him came flooding back and he was up to date like he had never been away – or perhaps his loved ones were there to guide him on his next journey – or perhaps his life was passing before his eyes and it had become clear that the beautiful girl whose photo he looked at every day was in fact his wife of more than 60 years. Something we know for sure is that we were blessed to have been able to share this time with him and that we miss him very much.

Barbara Bennett Armstrong

MaryBeth Bennett Schoen


Adrift — And I Don’t Mean Snow


Dear Bryan,

From Labor Day on it’s always fun to watch the harbor clear out, as boats large and small take their winter (often Saran Wrapped) vacation. By November’s end, there’s usually a straggler or two visible from my house in North Haven. This year, however, there remains one lonely sailboat moored nearby. It seems very touching to me. Is it a victim of the bad economy? A bitter divorce? Death in a family? Or simple abandonment, Because this is all too disturbing to contemplate, I’ve decided to give the boat it’s own voice. Here goes — and Happy New Year, by the way. Keep up the good work.


Here I float — alone in the bay,

Having braved Christmas, New Year’s —

Soon, Valentine’s Day.

I watched. I waited and the harbor cleared out,

Awaiting the dinghy, the whir of a prop

Anything at all to signal some help.

Now it’s turned real cold, and I can’t even yelp.

Where is Malloy, or Reiser or Sander —

Any of the regulars who used to meander?

I’m growing moss and a colorful mold.

For all I know, there’s a mouse in the hold.

At least for me, there’d be sweet company,

But by now he’d have eaten through all the provisions,

As a voyage this long, he’d never envisioned.

Come to think of it now, is it long or short —

When you’re just sitting here and haven’t left port?

Does no one notice — do they just look away?

Certainly the locals see me bob and sway.

The wharf is long, but the nights are longer.

Won’t someone save me who’s bigger and stronger?

Please have a meeting or some kind of mingling — 

Before I’m reduced to a mere pile of kindling.


-       Susan Dusenberry

-       North Haven

Letters January 8, 2009

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The Chosen


Dear Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

David Carney

Sag Harbor


How Much Can Taxpayers Afford?


Dear Editor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Rizzo



Safer and More Efficient


Dear Bryan,

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

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

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

Thank you.


Valerie Justin

Sag Harbor