Tag Archive | "Theresa Samot"

Landslide Victory For Sag Harbor Budget, Incumbents Reelected

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Above: School Board Candidate Tom Gleeson (top, far left) waits to hear the results of Tuesday’s election.

By Claire Walla

Coming as no surprise to the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School gymnasium Tuesday, May 15, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $34,182,256 million budget passed by a landslide, with 892 votes for the budget versus only 420 against.

Similarly, Proposition #2, which will allow the district to spend up to $575,000 for the purchase of six new buses, passed with a similar margin: 851 to 432.

“I’m very pleased the budget passed,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto commented after the results were read. “And I’m pleased the bus proposition passed.”

This year’s election garnered 1,377 total votes, a drop of 264 from last year.

The 2012-2013 budget represents a spending increase of $956,172 over this year’s operating budget. But, more importantly, is represents a tax-levy increase of only 1.94 percent, which means it successfully falls below the two-percent tax cap imposed by New York State for the first time this year.

The real nail-biter this year was the race for school board, which had three candidates vying for two open seats. In the end, incumbents Gregg Schiavoni and Walter Wilcoxen each managed to secure another three-years on the board, putting Schiavoni in his second term and Wilcoxen in his third.

“The vote on the board is a testament to the trust the community has in the job this board has done,” Dr. Gratto noted.

When the votes had all been tallied, Schiavoni was the clear victor with 1,039 total votes. Wilcoxen came in second with 795 and Gleeson was a not-too-distant third with 576 votes.

Many in the gymnasium that night congratulated Gleeson on a hard-fought campaign.

“It’s tough to beat the incumbents,” Gleeson said after having walked over to congratulate Schiavoni on his win. (Wilcoxen had a work conflict and was unable to make it to the gymnasium before doors closed at 9 p.m.)

“It was a good learning experience,” he added. “I just hope the board continues to improve education. The kids are what’s most important.”

With his youngest daughter — who stood by his side as results were read — graduating from Pierson this year, Gleeson said his loss wouldn’t mean he would vanish from the district.

“I’ll try to stay involved as much as possible,” he declared.

In the wake of his win, Schiavoni — flanked by his two young sons — smiled as he talked about his plans for the upcoming year.

“What’s next will be keeping track of IB [the International Baccalaureate program], making sure it’s implemented correctly, and keeping track of the Pre-K program,” he said. “Going forward, we just have to keep the ball rolling.”

In an interview the day after the vote, Wilcoxen said he was excited to find he had been elected for a third term.

“We have a lot of challenges, like trying to understand how we can deal with each other more effectively [as a board],” he said.  “That seems to be number one on the list.”

But, he added that supporting IB and continuing to find ways to make the school’s finances more transparent will be key issues in the coming year.

After congratulating candidates, both board members Theresa Samot and Chris Tice said they were very pleased to hear the election results for the budget this year.

“The margin the vote passed by was really great,” Samot exclaimed, as Tice noted it was nearly 2:1. “The administration put a lot of hard work into the budget.”

Board member Sandi Kruel concurred with this sentiment, and applauded voters for passing Proposition #2.

And to her fellow board members about to begin their new three-year terms, she added, “Congratulations.”

Board Accepts Second Reading of New Wellness Policy

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By Claire Walla

School Board Member Mary Anne Miller has made it a mission to restore health and wellness to the Sag Harbor School District. And on Monday, November 28, school board members approved a second draft of the school’s updated Wellness Policy, over which Miller, a member of the school district’s Wellness Committee, had great influence.

The issue of health and wellness has been a growing one across the nation, as the rate of childhood obesity in America continues to climb, and it’s been a focus for this school district of late. Just this summer, the administrators made Health and Wellness one of its four over-arching goals for the school year, emphasizing, as Miller put it, that “We need to live and breathe wellness.”

The Wellness Policy thus extends the goal of promoting healthy habits outside the cafeteria and standard physical fitness classes.

“It’s not just about isolating nutrition education to health classes [which students are only required to take in seventh and tenth grades], but to bring nutrition education to the whole education program,” Miller explained.

It promotes the use of physical activity in the classroom, and clearly states that recess and physical activity are not to be used to discipline students. According to the policy, “Students may not sit out of physical education class as a response to inappropriate behavior, unless that behavior affects safety,” and “recess shall not be used for punishment or reward.”

The program also promotes physical education programs that students “can pursue throughout their lives,” like yoga, fitness walking and step aerobics.

The new Wellness Policy not only targets students, it lays the groundwork for healthy habits district-wide. As the policy explains, one of its purposes is, “To incorporate into the curriculum, whenever possible, nutrition education and physical education to instill in our students lifelong habits of healthy eating and daily physical activity.”

The impetus to change the district’s policy came just over two years ago when the school board began to take a good hard look at the floundering Pierson cafeteria.

“At the beginning of my term [on the school board], the cafeteria was struggling so much and was going to be shut down,” Miller began. At first, she continued, “I looked at it from a business stand point. But then I became keenly interested in school service programs.”

Miller said she noticed that the Sag Harbor School District was in “a unique position” because it doesn’t contract out food services with a larger corporation. “We have the freedom to be a really good program and to provide higher quality food.”

“There’s much more to wellness than the cafeteria,” Miller said. “We’re trying to broaden the horizons of the policy to make it more meaningful to everyone.”

Miller worked closely with other members of the Wellness Committee — including fellow board member Teresa Samot and Athletic Director Montgomery “Monty” Granger — to craft a clearer document that, as Miller put it, “is easier to digest.” (According to Miller, the former policy was vague and included 19 recommendations toward the end that she said should have been incorporated into the policy itself.) She also worked to make sure the Wellness Policy was updated to conform to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, as well as the school’s own values regarding health and wellness.

For example, she explained, the wellness policy is now stricter when it comes to ingredients. At least half of the cafeteria’s starches must be “whole grain rich,” and the school will be required to provide vegetarian and gluten-free options on a daily menu or as a la carte options. Both two-percent and whole milk will not be provided by the school, and nor will foods or beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners, hydrogenated or trans-fats, and high-fructose corn syrup.

“It was, I have to say, a ton of work,” said Miller, who added she took part in numerous webinars about health and wellness in the process of crafting this policy. “But I put a ton of time into it because I feel so strongly about it.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to healthy eating habits, Miller said it often feels as though administrators are swimming against the tide.

“We have laws that make it more difficult to buy lettuce from farmers in Bridgehampton than from farmers in Ohio,” she vented.

She went on to explain that public schools often cave in to less nutritious menu items because they are typically more cost-effective. This is especially the case with schools that have a high percentage of students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunches. Schools are required to offer “complete” meals at a low cost to qualifying students, for which schools receive government reimbursements.

Miller pointed out that the cost of public school food has been a national issue recently. Congress was faced with a bill in November that would have prevented tomato paste from being classified as a vegetable (thus preventing pizza from also meeting the school-lunch vegetable quota — as it does now). But, a noticeably steamed Miller continued, the bill was rejected.

In Sag Harbor, however, only about seven percent of students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. This ends up being to the advantage of the district, she continued, because it means the majority of students can afford to buy higher-quality food items. So, even though the district might not be making a profit from the full meals it provides, the cafeteria can bring in other food items and sell them individually at a higher price.

“It’s a slightly different business model, and no one’s held that entrepreneurial hat before,” she explained. In this way, the cafeteria can hope to make money, while at the same time providing full meal options and nutritious food.

“We cannot teach our kids that it’s lethal to eat high-fructose corn syrup and then serve it in our cafeteria,” she went on. “What we’re saying is, the cafeteria is part of their education.”

Sag Harbor Passes Budget / Elects Miller, Samot and Kruel

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The Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $33.2 million budget was passed by taxpayers Tuesday, May 17 with a final tally of 917 to 698.

“I’m pleased for the community,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said after the results were read to the crowd gathered within the Pierson gym. The budget—which represents a 5.48 percent increase over this year’s $31.5 million operating budget—includes $75,000 for a new playground at the elementary school, and $180,000 for a universal Pre-K program.

Incumbent school board members Mary Anne Miller and Theresa Samot secured their seats on the seven-member board with the highest number of votes at 1,065 and 1,053. While former two-time board member Sandi Kruel nabbed the last vacant spot with 886 votes, just 85 more than challenger Annette Bierfriend.

Though this year’s budget seemed to pass without much of a kerfuffle, Dr. Gratto did note that voting numbers were down this year.

According to District Secretary Mary Adamczyk, as of Tuesday night this year’s total is nearly 500 voters short of last year’s count of 2,097.