At their last meeting, the Sag Harbor Board of Education was treated to a demonstration by Pierson High School Jeff Nichols, who showed the students’ achievement levels compared to others on a global scale. At this week’s board of education meeting, superintendent Dr. John Gratto talked about those achievements and proposed that the school look at ways to raise revenue, including a plan to invite more students to the district on a tuition-based status.
“There are good test scores and they are attractive to any parent that may want to send their kids to this school,” Gratto said on Monday. “Could we be a bit entrepreneurial? And are we willing to accept students on a tuition basis?”
Gratto explained that by looking at the master schedule, he predicted the school could accept more students at no additional cost.
“How many kids could we take, without negatively affecting class size?” asked school board member Ed Haye.
Gratto responded there could be up to 35 more students per grade level, on the current schedule. Haye suggested that the district should start off slow, and added that 35 seemed like a lot of additional students in one grade.
School board president, Walter Wilcoxen suggested that for some of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses, adding more students might make those classes more economical to run.
Gratto added that the school might have to make some major decisions next year as to whether the school will offer the AP courses with limited enrollment.
“If we decided as a district to keep the classes vibrant, keep a rich curriculum … it would be a good thing to look into as long as we are able to say when we have too many students,” board member Mary Ann Miller, said. “We have tuition paying students now and this is the school they chose; I think that speaks to the program.”
“I second the notion of exploring it gently,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think our school may be appealing because of our small class size.”
“We are talking about negatively increasing 25 to 35 percent and that it won’t have a negative impact on the kids,” Parent Teacher Association President Chris Tice said at the meeting. She said the idea of raising revenue was approached nonchalantly by the board and noted that even if the district added three, four or five students to the class it would have a negative impact on the students. She said she would be cautious about adding to class size.
Gratto said on Tuesday that he intended to bring in more tuition-based students, but still stick to the school’s goal of small class sizes. For example, he said that if 30 new students came in to the school on a tuition-paying basis, and that tuition was $20,000 for each child, that would be $600,000 revenue for the district. He added, if the district had to add a teacher to keep class sizes small – that may cost the district $50,000, but the district could still potentially make $550,000 in profit.
President of the Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor, Eileen Kochanasz, spoke at Monday’s meeting about the prolonged teacher contract negotiations, which are closing in on the one-year mark.
“We are asking the board for a change in the process,” Kochanasz said, “There is an inordinate amount of time that goes by to consider the proposals.” She explained that in between the contract negotiation meetings, too much time lapses before they are able to come to the table again. She asked on Monday that the board consider authorizing the superintendent and the school’s attorney to negotiate at the table – eliminating the study and review process after each session.
Kochanasz said that as TASH president she is able to actively negotiate on the teachers’ behalf.
Wilcoxen responded that the board hasn’t discussed that but said that he supposed board members and Gratto could do so after the meeting.
“Let John [Gratto] know prior to the 10th [of December], that would clearly move this process,” said Kochanasz to Wilcoxen, “rather than stopping and waiting, stopping and waiting.”
“I’m torn,” Wilcoxen said. “On one hand I want to be honest and open, but I’m limited to what I can say, I’m only one voice of our seven.”
“We always had the authority to negotiate within parameters,” Gratto said on Tuesday. He said along with the board and the school’s attorney, he will meet with TASH members to talk about teacher negotiations on December 10.
At the start of Monday’s school board meeting, high school art teacher, Peter Solow, asked the board if he could show them a short film about past school trips to Italy.
“We hope to show you the effects and lasting effects of this very meaningful experience,” said Solow who would like to plan a trip to Italy in 2010.
At last month’s board of education meeting, a change in policy for field trips was discussed. In the past, several trips have extended beyond scheduled school vacation time and the board had its first reading of a new policy at that meeting, which outlined parameters for class-based and extra-curricular trips.
Resident Elena Loreto expressed her concerns that students would be losing valuable instructional time and also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind. Loreto asked the board to reconsider the policy.
Wilcoxen said that he did not believe the policy was ready to go yet, and it was tabled, for now.