South Fork school districts are banding together for a second time in the hopes of earning a state grant to explore the possibility of school district consolidation and ways in which districts can work together to share services (and save some money).
After a consortium of East End schools failed to obtain a Local Government Efficiency Grant last fall, a number of districts — including Sag Harbor — are joining forces again to reapply for the same grant this year.
Last March, school districts and Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) applied for the grant, which could have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for a study on how they might consolidate or share services.
Despite strong support from New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, the districts learned in October that they had not been selected for the grant.
At Monday evening’s board of education meeting, it was announced that Sag Harbor School District was looking once again to partner with BOCES and other districts on the grant application.
“We would like to join with our neighbors and resubmit that application for funding for this grant,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent. “We want to do research regarding how we could save money by working together with our neighboring districts.”
“We’re going to take some suggestions given us in terms of the last application and see if we can tweak it and be successful this year,” he added.
Board member Mary Anne Miller, who had been BOE president during the first application process, pointed out that the grant was not “specifically [for] consolidation. It’s just one of multiple options. That was actually not the focus of the grant; shared services was the primary focus.”
The board noted that the school district was not interested in forming one large school district on the South Fork.
As Theresa Samot, school board president, said in a separate interview, the board simply hoped to find ways of “saving taxpayers money,” and that merging schools was not on the table at this time.
According to Samot, Dr. Bonuso will be meeting with several other school district administrations for the first time later this week, after which time she and other members of the board would know more about the grant. She added that the board would update the community on the process at future board of education meetings.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board of education gave an update on the Dignity for All Students Act, anti-bullying and discrimination legislation that went into effect in July 2012.
Called “the Dignity Act,” the law prohibits discrimination based on a wide variety of factors —including race, sexual orientation, sex, gender, weight, disability and religion — in schools or at school-sponsored events. For the first time, faculty and staff in New York schools are required to undergo training on how to deal with bullying and discrimination, and they must also report incidents in a timely manner.
Board members noted that the district planned to hold additional workshops on cyber-bullying and other related topics in the coming months.
Gary Kalish, assistant principal of Pierson High School, serves as Pierson Middle/High School’s coordinator for the Dignity Act. He said it was important to let students “know that all of these different kinds of harassment and discrimination is unacceptable.”
“And it’s my job to take care of it, not yours,” he added.
According to Matthew Malone, principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School, one of the important parts about the legislation was identifying the need for ongoing education about what bullying is.
The Internet, added board vice president Chris Tice, has changed the face of bullying. For example, she said, students will use social media websites or seemingly harmless cell phone applications like Instagram – a photo sharing service tied to Facebook – to bully or harass classmates.
Tice added that education about technology and bullying needs to take place for elementary school children.
“That wasn’t around two years ago. Instagram is another form of communication and kids are doing it in school in most grades,” she said.
Parents, said Tice, also need to be educated about the kinds of technology out there being harnessed as a tool for bullying.
“Their parents have a responsibility there, but I bet most parents don’t even understand Instagram,” she said. “I think the technology is really what’s ramped up a lot of the bullying, even at young ages, and I don’t think we’re doing as much as we could be in that area.”