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Meet the Candidates: Four Hopefuls for the Sag Harbor School Board

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Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas R, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

Moderator Bryan Boyhan (left) with the candidates for the Sag Harbor Board of Education: Incumbent Sandi Kruel, challenger Thomas Ré, challenger Diana Kolhoff and Incumbent Theresa Samot, at the Meet the Candidates night, Thursday, May 8. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Two incumbents and two challengers vying for three spots on the Sag Harbor School Board debated last Wednesday, May 7, at the annual Meet the Candidates forum at the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

The candidates, Diana Kolhoff, Sandi Kruel, Thomas Ré and Theresa Samot, were allowed one-minute answers and optional 30-second responses during the forum, which was moderated by Sag Harbor Express consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan and hosted by the PTA and PTSA.

Newcomer Diana Kolhoff, 41, was a high school math teacher for 12 years. She now owns Black Swan Antiques and works as an educational consultant, providing professional development for math teachers, especially in the Common Core standards.

“I’ve served districts all over Suffolk County, but I’m most rewarded when I serve the district that’s educating my children,” Ms. Kolhoff said.

Incumbent Sandi Kruel, 51, graduated from Pierson High School and will see her second of three sons do the same this spring. She served on the board from 1999 to 2005, then took six years off but “still maintained probably 80-percent attendance at board meetings,” she said, until her return in 2011.

Another challenger, Thomas Ré, 62, an attorney, has a daughter at Pierson. He has served on several school committees, including the long-range financial planning committee, and is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition.

“I bring new ideas and perhaps new ways that could be very useful to the school,” he said, adding he has commitment to the school and its children “before all else.”

Current school board President Theresa Samot is completing her ninth year on the board. A graduate of Pierson, Ms. Samot has had three daughters go through the district, with her youngest currently in 11th grade. She works in healthcare administration as a nurse.

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates for their thoughts about how Common Core was implemented in New York and whether they believe the new curriculum should be changed in any way.

“The Common Core has, initially, not been orchestrated nor implemented very well,” Mr. Ré replied. “The thought was there, the protocol was there, but the preparation and the training—both of the teachers and also the materials that were necessary—I think had not been done well.”

“I actually have a bit of expertise on this,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “There’s a lot of issues that surround Common Core that get mixed in with Common Core that actually have nothing to do with Common Core. The standards themselves are excellent, the way the modules were introduced definitely has some hiccups.”

“The idea and the concepts behind the Common Core were certainly good ones in the goal of advancing and standardizing education across the state,” Ms. Samot agreed, although she said there were many unfunded mandates that proved challenging. “I am very confident in the way our administrative staff and teaching staff were able to pull together.”

“It’s not the first time that the state has mandated us and said, ‘Here’s this, do this and by the way, you have no money to do this,’” said Ms. Kruel, adding the district has been “very proactive” in meeting the challenges of implementation. “I feel like a rigorous program is great and I want our children to be challenged, but if they’re going to challenge our children, they have to help us with budgeting for it and smoothing out a textbook.”

Mr. Boyhan asked the candidates whether they believe the state should continue with the mandated cap on property taxes once it expires in 2016.

“It would be nice to have a little more flexibility, but we have to see where the economy goes. I can understand where the spirit of the tax cap came in,” Ms. Kolhoff replied. “Ultimately, funding of the schools is up to the community, what burden they’re willing to bear, so that issue needs to go out to the voters.”

“I do not think the state should continue with the tax cap in 2016,” Ms. Samot said. With many unfunded mandates, Ms. Samot said it will be “more and more difficult” for Sag Harbor to stay under the cap while maintaining its programs and staff. She stressed the need for continued long range planning with community input.

“The tax cap takes away the local control,” she added. “The local community should be in control of their school district and that includes the spending and the programs that they want in place.”

The tax cap “was quite frightening for all of us and we have managed to stay under it,” said Ms. Kruel. “It is going to start to decimate programs and the teachers, that’s not what the Sag Harbor community is about. I do think that it’s going to be problematic for us.”

“We’ve actually gained a lot of trust throughout the community that we’ve been able to do this, but I think it has not been easy,” she said, adding later, “With or without a tax cap, it’s important to me to be respectful for all of our taxpayers.”

“The concept of a tax cap or limitation on financial matters is a good idea,” said Mr. Ré. “It should be examined in terms of the percentage, I understand how it was originally derived, but I think that that can be refined.”

Mr. Ré added he would like to see “a much longer range plan” of three to five years and the district should look into other options, such as grants and new programs, to secure funding.

Referencing the budget tightening under the tax cap, Mr. Boyhan said many districts are looking toward shared services as a way of saving money and asked the candidates for new ideas of how Sag Harbor could share services.

Ms. Samot said the board is planning on hosting a program with its administrators and neighboring districts to look at ways they could share services. She said some of those savings could come from personnel areas, sharing sports or sharing “some of our more advanced programs.”

“There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to sit down with the smaller districts and consolidation is going to be inevitable,” Ms. Kruel said.

Rather than viewing consolidation as failure, she said, other districts need to be on board and “understand that uniting with us makes the district stronger and better.”

Mr. Ré agreed consolidation is going to have to happen at some point. Excellence, he said, would draw the parents and encourage them to rationally pressure their district “to find a way to work together in a consolidation.”

“If we’re going to look at consolidation,” Ms. Kolhoff said, “we really need to explore what our options are, how much money it would save us, what are the benefits, what are the detriments.”

“Consolidation needs to be on the table, but I’m not willing to commit one way or another without more information,” she added, adding it is “absolutely worth exploring.”

All four candidates agreed the research supports later school start times and such a change would be beneficial to Sag Harbor’s children, although they also recognized with sports schedules and other logistical constraints, the district would need to be creative if it were to change its times.

The candidates also unanimously favored pursuing more green initiatives within the schools.

The Sag Harbor school board budget vote and elections will be held Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium.

Four Candidates Announced in Race for Sag Harbor School Board

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By Tessa Raebeck

With three incumbents’ terms ending this summer, four candidates—two of them newcomers—have come forward to enter the race for the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education (BOE).

The three-year terms of BOE President Theresa Samot and longtime members Sandi Kruel and Mary Anne Miller are ending June 30. While Ms. Miller will not be seeking reelection, Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel have again entered the contest.

Thomas Ré, who had an unsuccessful bid for the school board last year, and newcomer Diana Kolhoff are also in the running.

The three open spots are for three-year terms beginning July 1 and expiring June 30, 2017.

Diana Kolhoff.

Diana Kolhoff

Ms. Kolhoff, who moved to the district from Southampton about five years ago, has two daughters at Sag Harbor Elementary School, in the first and second grades. She has a background in education, having worked as a high school math teacher for 12 years and currently as a Mathematics Education Consultant, training grade school teachers in best instructional practices.

“Although I serve districts throughout Suffolk County, I am most rewarded when I serve my local school district,” Ms. Kolhoff said in an email Wednesday. “I am running for school board so that I can make a positive impact on the school charged with educating the children of this community I have grown to love.”

Ms. Kolhoff has coached the Pierson Girls Volleyball middle and high school teams and is on the district’s Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee.

Seeking her fourth term on the board, Ms. Kruel has had three children in the district. The second will graduate Pierson High School this year and her youngest is in the sixth grade.

Sag Sandi Kruel

Sandi Kruel

“I definitely have thought about possibly not running, but I feel that we’ve made such amazing strides in the last couple years that it was really important to keep consistency,” Ms. Kruel said Wednsday. “Our tax increase has been under the [state-mandated 2-percent] cap, we’ve passed bonds, we’re the only district not to lay off employees, we’ve actually been able to increase programs—which is unheard of.”

“So at this point for me, it was like, we’ve got a superintendent to put in place and you know what, let’s finish what we started,” she said, adding if elected, she would “keep it going and going in the right direction.”

Thomas Ré, an attorney with a daughter in the 10th grade at Pierson, is seeking a school board position for the second spring in a row.

“I have a general sense of service for the community and with the school…and I want to help,” Mr. Ré said Wednesday.

Thomas Re

Thomas Re

Mr. Ré said there are three main categories of issues for the board: people, plant and program.

“We have to always remember that the whole purpose of everything is to give to the children the best possibilities and to create the best possible educational situation for them, so that they can grow and can have productive lives and can be important members of their community wherever they are,” he said.

Current BOE President Theresa Samot is seeking her fourth term on the board. She has served as president for three of her nine years on the board, and also as vice president. Ms. Samot has had two daughters graduate Pierson and her youngest is currently in eleventh grade at the school.

Theresa Samot

Theresa Samot

“I think it’s important that I continue to collaborate with the district and community on the goals that we’re currently working on,” Ms. Samot said Wednesday.

Ms. Samot pointed to the recent implementation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the high school and the passage of the bond as recent achievements of the board.

The three key components, she said, are continuing to work on student achievement in a cost-effective manner, develop budgets that are under the tax cap but maintain programs and staff, and focus on building and improving our facilities.

“And certainly the umbrella that comes over all that is sound fiscal cooperation,” she said, adding that community involvement “in everything that we do” is another key element.

The budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at Pierson Middle/High School, 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.