Tag Archive | "The Sag Harbor School"

Not Your Average School Cafeteria

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When the Bridgehampton School’s brand new eating space opens during the second week of classes, you might want to think twice about calling it a “cafeteria.”
Administrators at the school call it a “café,” and for good reason — It really won’t much resemble the sort of cafeteria that serves up mystery meat and canned green beans. Instead, students are much more likely to dine on homemade quiche and thin-crust, whole-wheat pizza.
“We’d rather call it ‘café’ than cafeteria, because it’s kind of quaint,” said the school’s head chef and manager, Dan Pacella. “We don’t serve cafeteria food.”
Earlier this summer, the Bridgehampton School began renovating its old kindergarten classroom into the new café, which should be completed next week.
According to school district superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, the renovation “was suggested by the administrative team last year, as the [old] café was a bit small.”
In addition to seating an additional 15 to 20 people, the new café will feature a greatly improved kitchen in what used to be the coat closet of the kindergarten room. And with a new electrical and plumbing system, commercial gas range and exhaust hood with a fire suppression system, the district’s business administrator, Robert Hauser, believes it will be a more modern and energy-efficient space.
Bridgehampton’s budget for the construction project was $175,000. According to Hauser, the district is “on target” with that budget and will probably end up spending less money than allocated.
Redesigned by the architectural firm Chaleff & Rogers Architects P.C., the school’s architectural team and building and grounds advisors, the café keeps the original character of the historic classroom. The dining area features a window-laden rotunda with built-in wood seats, as well as an existing fireplace, which is decorative at this point.
“It’s been a kindergarten since the 1930s, and there were people who were very sentimental about the room,” Hauser said, explaining why the school sought to keep as many details of the old room as possible.
The school has even preserved some of the kindergarten’s original murals, cast iron radiators and oak wood trim not only for posterity’s sake, but to keep renovation costs down.
However, the café will feature brand new tiling to replace the original red-and-cream tiles which featured illustrations of ducks, bears and other animals. About 15 of the tiles were saved during demolition, and they will be displayed on the café’s walls.
Furthermore, the new café will free up space on the gym/auditorium stage, which had been used to house cardboard boxes of food, a sink for dishwashing, refrigerators and other appliances. According to Hauser, the school hopes to refinish the stage by next summer.
Cooking will also be easier for Pacella, who did not even have a stove in the old café. Instead, he made everything from tomato sauce to chili in a small oven or on a hotplate.
“I can be a little more creative now,” he said.
The old café — which will continue to serve food up until construction on the café is complete — will revert back to its original function as a classroom.
The renovation project comes at a time when Bridgehampton has opted to provide its own food for its students, rather than employing the outside food service provider, Whitson’s, which it had been using previously. However, Pacella, who used to be an employee of Whitson’s, has now been hired as an employee of the district.
The decision to self-operate the café, Dr. Favre said, has “further solidified the board of education’s commitment to health, wellness and East End sustainability.”
While the school has its own greenhouse and has been a longtime advocate of the Slow Food movement, the school plans to provide healthier and less processed meals, as well as more vegetarian options, this year.
Pacella, who serves between 80 and 100 meals per day, will continue to incorporate items from Bridgehampton’s garden and greenhouse into the cuisine served to Bridgehampton School students. He is looking forward to cooking with tomatoes, beans and herbs from the greenhouse, as well as with the sweet potatoes and squash that will be harvested in October.
“It’s great — you can just pick it and cook it,” he said.
According to Hauser, self-operating the café should also save the district money — perhaps as much as $50,000 annually, he estimated. Last year, the district spent about $20,000 monthly in food service. This year, Hauser hopes that will be only $15,000 per month.
With a $5,000 savings each month, Hauser estimates that the $175,000 construction project will have paid for itself in less than four years.

Schools Look for Mandate Relief

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When the two-percent property tax levy cap was adopted last year it was done alongside a promise that New York State would scale back on the unfunded mandates it requires school districts and local governments to meet.

So far, for school administrators like Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, the promise of mandate relief has been just that — a promise, and one that has gone unfulfilled even as school districts begin the preliminary process of drafting their budgets.

Last Friday, at SUNY College at Old Westbury, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Council held one of several forums it will host throughout the state to hear from stakeholders about what kind of mandates should be rolled back or readdressed.

According to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., a package of mandate relief is expected to be rolled out in March, although he stressed he believes true relief will come over several years.

In the meantime, before a final package is rolled out, everyone is being asked to comment and Dr. Favre and Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto are by no means short of ideas.

“One substantive relief that would assist Bridgehampton would be some control of healthcare costs that have a major impact on our budget, despite efforts towards employee contributions,” said Dr. Favre. “Another area that should be seriously considered is aligning special education requirements with the federal regulations, as New York State seems to add many more requirements to what is required federally.”

Dr. Favre said she would also like to see the rules allowing student choice to attend charter schools changed so that it is limited to schools that are failing.

“Bridgehampton has a strong program that is designed to meet the individual needs of students and consistently makes adequate yearly progress, yet parents can opt for a charter school placement, even if we can effectively meet the students needs,” she said.

Dr. Favre added the transportation costs coupled with tuition are tremendous in these cases.

Lastly, Dr. Favre said new requirements for teacher training, evaluation, and curriculum leads to less time in the classroom and a lot of unanticipated costs for school districts.

“I would say by far and away, the biggest mandate relief for school districts, and the villages and towns would be the repeal of The Triborough Amendment, which requires public employees to get an automatic salary increase annually,” said Dr. Gratto.

The 1982 Triborough Amendment requires public employers to provide step salary increases annually to their employees even if they are unable to reach agreement on a new contract. Since the terms of the old contract remains the same, there can be less of a motivation for a union to offer concessions during contract negotiations.

“It has the consequential result of inflating salary increases,” said Dr. Gratto. “If that was repealed and there were no salary increases given until a contract was settled it would equalize the playing field for both sides.”

Dr. Gratto said pension reform, which would require employees to pay into retirement, helps in the long run, but in the short-term offers little relief.

He suggested the state could revisit its retirement formula, allowing teachers to retire after working to the age of 55 with 25 years of service rather than 30.

Last week, Dr. Gratto met with Thiele and New York State Senator Ken LaValle to suggest having Suffolk County alter the time in which it collects school taxes. Of the 62 counties in New York, Suffolk is the only one that collects school taxes in January as opposed to September. As a result, schools borrow money through Tax Anticipation Notes (TAN) to see themselves through to January, Dr. Gratto added.

“Even though we have favorable interest rates, this district spends about $125,000 a year in TAN interest,” said Gratto, translating to millions spent throughout the county.

“That is two or three teaching positions that could be preserved by not having to spend that money on interest,” said Dr. Gratto.