Tag Archive | "walter wilcoxen"

School to Save a Bundle on Bus and Van Purchase

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Like any household strained by the economy, the Sag Harbor School District continues to scrutinize spending to find ways of cutting costs. The imminent purchase of a school bus and van, a provision voted through by the community on May 19, is expected to save the district an additional $56,000, reported school business manager Len Bernard at the board of education meeting on Monday, June 8.
Originally, Bernard and superintendent Dr. John Gratto predicted the purchase would cut transportation spending by $125,000, but by combining the responsibilities of the full time bus driver, the measure is expected to save the district $181,000 next year.
“The savings will be outstanding,” declared Bernard. “The first year our net savings will be about $181,000. Once our debt services [for the bus and van] kicks in [next year] the savings will probably be around $140,000 per year [for the next five years]. After debt service is finished we will be back up to savings around $180,000 to $190,000.”
Bernard reported that the full time bus driver employed by the district will also conduct lunch duty around 150 days and will do spot monitoring for two hours per week. The plan of doubling up the responsibilities of the full time driver, said Bernard, would save the district nearly $12,250 overall. Bernard added that the school already has a trained and certified candidate for the position, who is also familiar with the area.
The school will also combine several bus routes, slashing district spending by around $255,000. The morning and afternoon bus routes for Ross School students living in the district will be synched with the bus schedule of the Sag Harbor Elementary School, totaling almost $100,000 in savings. Other combined routes include the morning buses for Stella Maris, Ross School and Hayground, and the afternoon buses for Hayground, the Ross Lower School, Our Lady of the Hamptons and the Montessori school.
In addition, the school is eying a plan to team up with the Bridgehampton and Springs school district to share transportation costs in the summer. Two Sag Harbor students are attending a “Life Skills” course over the summer in Springs and the Springs School District is willing to pick up these students, reported Bernard, saving the school around $4,500.
Last week, Dr. Gratto reported that the school would jointly transport students to the BOCES Riverhead location for summer classes with Bridgehampton School, but after further review the schools discovered a New York State law prohibiting school districts from sharing the services of private companies. In the original plan, Pierson kids were to be transported to Bridgehampton where a private bus company was to take the Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor students to Riverhead.
Among the laundry list of items mulled over by the BOE on Monday night was an idea to implement a student and staff recognition program. Board president Walter Wilcoxen said the school already had avenues to recognize achievements in sports and scholastics, but wanted to see students receive school appreciation for community projects and artistic accomplishments. Dr. Gratto noted that three Pierson students had recently performed at the famed Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“Testing isn’t everything. We are also making community members out of our students and this is another way to re-enforce that role,” said Wilcoxen.
Dr. Gratto suggested the school hand out certificates to student and staff with the words “We’re proud of …” printed on them and filled in with the persons name and their accomplishment.
Sprucing up Pierson
Over the summer, the school plans to beautify the Division Street side of the exterior landscape with the help of students and art teachers Peter Solow and Joe Bartolotto. According to Solow, the students hope to construct a small brick wall along the grassy knoll leading up to the main side entrance. Bartolotto, who is also a professional mason, will teach the students basic masonry skill as part of a service learning project. Although the school has agreed to pay for the materials, Solow says the group is still looking for additional outside funding for Bartolotto’s time and are waiting for cost estimates for the brick.

Four Sag Harbor Contenders Share Views at Debate Night

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Groups of students, members of the Noyac Civic Council, scores of school parents and dozens other local constituents came to the Pierson Middle and High school library on Friday, May 8, to meet their school board candidates. Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, along with local parent Gregg Schiavoni and current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, sat in their seats facing the crowd, ready to share their viewpoints and visions for the district. From programming to their vote on the budget, the candidates weighed in on nearly every issue facing the school in the coming year.

Programming was a key concern for the candidates. They differ, however, on the future direction of Pierson’s curriculum. Schiavoni is a supporter of the Advanced Placement program and said more students should attend these classes. Drohan, however, believes the school must emphasize bilingual education and computer science by adding new courses. Loreto added that offering classes like computer repair, web design, artificial intelligence and renewable energy studies would better prepare Pierson graduates for future job markets. Wilcoxen focused on programming for the younger set and said “establishing a pre-kindergarten improves the quality of education.” He added that it was vital to operate an after-school service to correspond with the pre-k program.

The idea of starting a pre-kindergarten program is far from new and in light of this time line, the candidates were asked if it could become a reality by creating a combined pre-k program with the Bridgehampton school district. Although Drohan conceded the pre-k program was a good idea, he would like to see the issue studied to determine how many students would participate in the program and if Bridgehampton has the necessary space.

“Bridgehampton has the space,” reported Loreto, who added that around 65 Sag Harbor district children are currently eligible for pre-k. Loreto thinks the district should focus on using a SCOPE program. SCOPE is an educational not-for-profit agency that districts use to run pre-k classes. The district provides the space and certain materials but SCOPE supplies the personnel. Although the district could tap into federal Universal Pre-K funding, Loreto said using a lottery system — a requirement of the UPK program — wouldn’t be fair to students.

Wilcoxen added that the board discussed pre-k during their summer goals meeting. He said several options with Bridgehampton could be explored, but noted classroom space might also be freed up in the Sag Harbor schools.

“I think I heard that for every dollar spent on pre-k it will save $8 in the future. We need to look beyond the first year costs,” Schiavoni remarked. “We should look at housing the pre-k in the high school.”

The candidates were then asked if they believed the budget was sustainable or if modifications to programming and staffing were needed. Loreto came prepared for the question with a poster board displaying various graphs on the district’s finances. She reported to the audience that a majority of the district’s spending is reserved for salaries and benefits.

“We just don’t have the money to continue spending like this,” said Loreto, who noted that the budget could increase by over $1 million this year. Loreto added that the district’s spending might increase significantly in the future due to GASB 45, or the government accounting standards board which projects the district’s future annual spending for retiree benefits.

Wilcoxen took a different view and said he believed the budget was sustainable for this year, but conceded that the district might have to find ways to “economize beyond [their] ability in the future.” Wilcoxen underscored his comments by noting that nearly every public service is facing the same fiscal worries, especially the social security system.

Schiavoni worried the district might lose top teachers unless the board put something “on the table” to further contract negotiations.

Drohan, however, noted the average pay for teachers is $87,000 in addition to annual raises. He said spending on pensions and medical benefits was “getting out of control.”

“We need to arrive at a fair figure,” Wilcoxen said of the board’s future negotiations with teachers. He added that teachers who have made it to the highest step are no longer eligible for pay raises and as time progresses their salaries could become inconsistent with the cost of living.

“I don’t think fair is equal,” rebutted Drohan, who said that he believed teachers should be compensated based on performance. “I think there should be incentive compensation.”

Loreto asked why the district couldn’t stick with the current contract for the year, noting that neighboring school districts asked teachers to give back a portion of their salaries to avert staff reduction.

Wilcoxen said the district wasn’t contemplating cutting staff at this point. But Schiavoni reiterated his concerns over losing teachers if the district doesn’t offer competitive salaries.

In an effort to save costs and attract new revenue, the district has explored sharing services with Bridgehampton and tuitioning in out-of-district students. The candidates were asked if these were sound measures. Schiavoni said Sag Harbor school should look at what they and the neighboring school districts have to offer. He added that if the voters pass the proposition to purchase a bus and a van, the school could share transportation services with Bridgehampton.

Drohan said he was “leery” of shared services, believing it “diluted the efforts of the school district.” He added that out-of-district students should only be absorbed by the school so long as it doesn’t increase costs.

Wilcoxen noted that Sag Harbor had already looked into sharing business services and a technology coordinator with Bridgehampton and said that once both parties “got over the hump of sharing … there are really no limits to the possibilities.” He added that it will be easy to attract tuition based students because of the school’s excellent programming, saying the school is a model for districts on both the south and north forks.

Loreto, however, believed the districts could share administrative services, psychological services and pool custodial staff and said accepting out-of-district students is a “no-brainer.”

In one of the final questions broached, the candidates were asked to weigh in on the budget. Up first, Loreto said she would vote “no” on the budget, but supported propositions two and three. Likewise, Drohan said the budget wouldn’t get his vote, but that he agreed with the propositions.

“I have never seen a year where we so successfully culled out the budget,” said Wilcoxen, who favors this year’s budget. Schiavoni also threw his support to the budget.

The school elections and budget vote will be held on May 19 in the Pierson Gymnasium.

Separation of Art and State

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Many believe religion and politics shouldn’t mix, but in Sag Harbor some believe art and politics should also be separated. After last year’s school vote, a group of residents complained that housing the student art show and the voting area side by side in the gym influenced voters to approve the budget.

Sag Harbor citizen Robert Nicholson sent a letter to the New York State Commission of Investigation on November 11, 2008, detailing this concern.

“I had to make my way through the entire length of the gym, which was displaying student works of art and other displays which clearly intended to convince voters that the school budget is good,” wrote Nicholson of his voting experience. “Teachers … point out some of the works, some voters don’t agree and resent being subjected to this kind of subtle electioneering.”

Amongst the school board candidates, the issue of whether or not student art qualifies as electioneering is still up for debate. School board candidate Ed Drohan brought up the issue on behalf of angered voters at a recent school board meeting. Although Drohan declined to give his personal opinion, he said some voters felt the art “put the best foot forward for the school” and was “unfair.”

Rival candidate Gregg Schiavoni, however, believes the exhibit didn’t influence the budget vote.

“For as long as I can remember, [the art show] was there … I don’t think having it in with the voting polls favored voting for or against the budget as some would say,” said Schiavoni. “I personally have not heard anyone come up to me and complain.”

Current school board president Walter Wilcoxen said over the past year the board received less than 10 objections to hosting the voting area and art show side by side, but added that this year the school will separate the two using room dividers.

“We wanted to level the playing field … and avoid an argument … [Using room dividers] is a way to get away from the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ issue,” opined Wilcoxen. “Voting should take precedence.”

School board candidate Elena Loreto said separating the two areas was a “great idea,” and felt having the voting booths in the front of the gym provided easier access for handicapped voters — although the voting area was in the front of the gym last year. She said that the art show might have influenced votes in the past.

“Some allege that the art show is an attempt to influence votes [in an area] where there shouldn’t be any outside influences over the vote,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent John Gratto. “Everyone will still have the opportunity to see the artwork and those who don’t won’t have to see it.”

Gratto added that he felt most voters enter the voting area with an understanding of which way they will vote. In an effort to be more compliant with voter concerns, he noted that poll watchers will have designated tables to the side of the voting area. Previously, poll watchers from various school groups set-up camp in the hallway leading into the gym.

The school budget vote will be held at the Pierson gym on May 19.

Budget Big Issue for School Board Candidates

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In the months leading up to summer, the weather will get warmer, plants will bloom and potential candidates for the Sag Harbor School board will hit the streets seeking signatures for their petitions. It is only April and already current school board president Walter Wilcoxen, school Budget Advisory Committee members Ed Drohan and Elena Loreto, and local parent Greg Schiavoni announced their intention to run for the two seats, which will be open in June. Although they differ on several points, the budget and maintaining academic rigor is a chief concern for each candidate.

Wilcoxen, who has been on the board for three years, said the school has come a long way in increasing transparency and accountability. With an open system already in place, Wilcoxen said he would now focus on finding ways to expand upon existing school programming without incurring additional costs.

“We can constantly make the program better … perhaps we can start teaching about green technologies,” said Wilcoxen. “We are a small school so it is hard to have big programs because it is expensive … I want to be able to deliver the system in the most economical and efficient way.”

For Wilcoxen, education is always his top priority, but he conceded that funding the school will always be an issue. He said the board worked very hard this year to winnow down the budget, but making drastic percentage cuts simple isn’t possible for the school.

Paring down the budget is a top priority for Noyac resident Ed Drohan. Drohan is currently a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the school’s budget advisory committee. Although Drohan lauds the elementary school and the special education program, he feels the school’s budget could use some restructuring. Some of Drohan’s ideas for the school include the slow introduction of employee attrition, enlarging classes slightly and phasing back certain elective programs. Drohan admits, however, that many of his ideas are preliminary and would take thorough planning and research. He would also like to see the computer science department expanded because he believes the ability to manipulate technology is an invaluable skill in today’s job market.

Drohan said one of the reasons he is running is to give a voice to local taxpayers who either are retired or have a second home in the community.

“I wanted to run as a community and taxpayer candidate … I take a different position than many of my counterparts in the board of education activities,” said Drohan.

Prospective candidate Elena Loreto believes she will represent a broader base of constituents, including the local taxpayer.

“I am a parent. I am retired. I was a teacher. I have been a local taxpayer for 32 years. I represent many factions of the district,” said Loreto. Like Drohan, Loreto is a member of the Noyac Civic Council and the Budget Advisory Committee. For Loreto, creating a good school board and an efficient school district is all about balance.

“The main priority for the current board members is to find the right balance between improving educational programs for the students, providing a fair wage for the faculty and also being mindful of what the average taxpayer can afford,” said Loreto.

As a former school teacher for 33 years in New York City and its suburbs, and a part-time substitute teacher at Sag Harbor and the Ross School, Loreto believes she has a unique insight to the school and how it operates. Among her chief priorities, Loreto would like the school to update the curriculum and offer programs that will teach job skills. Loreto recommends the school develop a mechanical drawing and architectural design class.

“We have to look at the curriculum in a more innovative way, so that kids will get the best possible program and the taxpayer will get the best buy for their buck,” opined Loreto.

Candidate Greg Schiavoni, whose children currently attend the elementary school, hopes to encourage student involvement with the school board. He hopes through student involvement the board will be able to sound off on what is working within the school and what can be improved upon.

Schiavoni feels it is imperative to maintain the Advanced Placement courses, but agrees there are perhaps additional ways the school could save money.

“We don’t necessarily need to look at cutting programs or taking away from higher educational program offerings, but there are probably things we could do to save money, and I hope to be one of the ones to help figure it out,” said Schiavoni.

Although Schiavoni is an active parent in the school district, he feels an obligation to represent the village taxpayer as well.

“I compare it to my own house. I have two children to raise and I have to be financially responsible about what we can or can’t afford for them. When [the school board] makes decisions everybody should know where the money is going and what it should be spent on,” added Schiavoni.

Candidates have until April 20 to drop off their signed petitions.

Sag Harbor Schools Adopts $29 million Budget

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After weeks of numerous budget meetings and workshops, the Sag Harbor school’s board of education adopted the budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

On Monday night, at the board meeting, the board unanimously voted to adopt the 2009-2010 budget in the amount of $29,640,657, an increase of $950,000 over last year’s spending plan.

The tax rate for the proposed budget will see an increase of 4.33 percent for East Hampton residents and a 4.35 percent increase for Southampton Town residents.

That means for a home in the Sag Harbor school district located in Southampton Town, the dollar change per $1,000 of assessed valuation would be $.18 and in East Hampton it would be $28.58. 

When the budget goes to a vote on May 19, there will also be two propositions on the ballot for voters.

One will be a proposition to move $71,185 from the capital reserve fund — a surplus fund — for repairs on the high school roof, elementary gym floor and auditorium renovation — projects that have already been completed. Superintendent Dr. John Gratto informed members at the meeting that this will not affect the tax levy or the tax revenue.

Another item on the May vote will include $165,000 for the purchase of a bus and a van, which Gratto and business manager Len Bernard maintain will save the district $126,000 in transportation costs per year.

The board of education also approved the contingency budget, which would be adopted if the proposed budget is voted down. The contingency budget is based on a New York State Education Department calculation and is $29,410,810 — a difference of just over $200,000.

Audience member and PTA president Chris Tice said that if the contingency budget were to be adopted, the savings to taxpayers would be “eight cents a day” for a resident in the village.

“Is it so important to get eight cents a day? To say no to these kids and cut their program?” said Tice.

“Eight cents here, eight cents to the fire department, I feel like I’m watching paid programming,” said one audience member to the man seated next to him. 

Area Students May Get to Choose Pierson

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The Sag Harbor School district is “moving slowly,” but moving none the less on trying to get more students to come to the district on a tuition basis, with Superintendent Dr. John Gratto leading the initiative.

Right now, students in schools in Amagansett, Springs, Wainscot and Sagaponack are sent to East Hampton High School, for the remainder of their middle and high school careers because those schools do not reach grade 12. Gratto said he would like to see if it is feasible that school boards of those smaller schools agree to give kids a choice of whether or not they want to attend East Hampton or Sag Harbor schools.

According to Business Manager in the Sag Harbor School District, Len Bernard, this is not uncommon. Currently, Tuckahoe school in Southampton gives students an alternative; they can either attend Southampton High School or West Hampton Beach High School — because classes at Tuckahoe only go to eighth grade.

Gratto said for example Sag Harbor could easily absorb the four or five students expected to graduate from Sagaponack, which only goes to fourth grade, for next year. And this, he said, could be done without the need for increased staffing or other expenditures. “It would just be revenue,” he said.

“If 20 students came here at $20,000 a piece, then is $400,000 of revenue a taxpayer wouldn’t have to come up with,” the superintendent said.

Two weeks ago, the Sag Harbor district gave a tour of their schools to the Spring’s school principal, Eric Casale and Gratto reported Casale “liked what he saw.” According to Gratto, there is a possibility that 10 students could come over from the Springs School next year.

Gratto noted the board of education in Springs, has not yet made a decision on the matter, but they are “open to the idea.”

He added the larger perspective is striking a balance between expenses and revenue — the two sides to every budget.

“If you want to keep the same level of program and your expenses are relatively constant, although we did cut out a lot of expenses this year, then that means our taxes are likely to go up. If you bring in more revenue, then you mitigate the cost of taxes.”

And according to Gratto, by adding tuition based students to the school’s roster would help that cause.

Dana Wexler a Pierson High School junior, who lives in Sagaponack, was a tuition-based student who came to the district last year.

At Monday’s Sag Harbor board of education’s meeting, the eleventh grader asked the board if it was possible the school taxes her parent’s pay be used toward her tuition.

Currently her parent’s must pay tuition because there is an agreement between the Sagaponack school district and the East Hampton district.

Currently, a school district that does not have the full 12 grades, must pay for a student to attend the district agreed upon by the school board. If the agreement suggested by Gratto is approved, then students in Sagaponack could have a choice of either East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Then, the tuition would be paid for by the Sagaponack school district for a student such as Wexler to attend Pierson, rather than the parent.

The intent of Gratto’s initiative, explained school board president Walter Wilcoxen, is to get schools like Sagaponack to agree to allow the students to have a choice of either district.

According to Bernard, a student such as Wexler would pay around $18,622 per year for her to attend Pierson.

“It is not unprecedented for a district to sign agreements to send their students to other districts,” Bernard said.

According to Bernard, there are nine kids currently paying tuition at the school’s in the Sag Harbor district, but in the past three years, since Bernard joined the institution, there have been as many as 12 at one time.

Although Bernard could not confirm a number of new tuition paying students for next year, he did say the school received “calls of interest.”

Wexler’s father, Peter, said his daughter chose Pierson over other schools in the area because “she liked the people and she liked the school.” He also said she spent an entire day at the school and seemed to really enjoy all the aspects, including the small class size.

“It seemed like a really good public school,” said Peter, although he also looked at sending her to private schools in the area close to the same price.

Gratto said he expects to hear back from neighboring school districts by April 2009, in hopes of gaining new students for the 2009-2010 school year.

 

 

Teachers Say They’re Seeking Middle Ground

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Nearly 70 teachers, parents, administrators and community members packed a math classroom at Pierson High School last Thursday night to listen to teachers tell their side of what has been happening with teacher contract negotiations. The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) gave a presentation to supply some history and contradict the presentation given by the district’s attorney last month.

TASH and the district have been in contract negotiations for several months. Last June, when the current teacher’s contract expired, the two sides declared impasse — which called for a mediator to come in. In August that mediator met with the district, TASH and their attorneys to try to reach consensus on salary, healthcare in retirement and course approval among other issues. The mediation failed. At their last meeting, the two sides agreed to go to fact finding, where a representative from the Public Employee Relations Board (P.E.R.B.) will hear both sides and make a recommendation based on the findings. As of yesterday (Wednesday) school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he has not yet heard from P.E.R.B. on the scheduling of the fact finder.

Eileen Kochanasz, guidance counselor and president of TASH began on Thursday by explaining that in her 34 years of teaching in the district, she has never been in this position before.

“The superintendent and the board of education believed that a press release issued by the teachers, which is a very common action during difficult negotiations, warranted an immediate exposure of the specific details of the proposals to the public,” she said.

Math teacher Jim Kinnier took the stand to discuss the issues that deal with salary. Kinnier said the district’s presentation talked about increases in salary that are given when a teacher pursues post graduate courses.

“What the district’s presentation didn’t state was that the teachers pay approximately the same amount or more to take those courses,” noted Kinnier who also compared the district’s salaries to those in surrounding districts.

He indicated that in Amagansett, teachers will receive a 3.5 percent increase for 2008-09 and a 3.75 percent increase for 2009-10. East Hampton and Southampton will be getting a 3.5 percent increase for 2008-09 and 2009-10 as well.

Kinnier explained that in February of last year, TASH offered a 4.5 percent increase, which he said was done so the teachers could negotiate down to a figure somewhere in the middle.

Kinnier then explained that on November 6, TASH offered a 3.9 percent increase and in December the district came back with a 2.5 percent increase.

During the presentation, Kinnier also compared teacher’s salaries with surrounding districts. He said, Sag Harbor offers $46,000 for a teacher at the first “step” if they are hired with a bachelor’s degree. According to his data, Sag Harbor pays those teachers lower than Mattituck and East Hampton and higher than Southampton. For teachers with a master’s degree with an additional 30 credits at “step” 15, Sag Harbor pays a bit less than $90,000, falling behind Southampton’s $95,000 and East Hampton, which is just above $95,000. According to Kinnier, Sag Harbor’s salary for that level is higher than Mattituck and Southold.

Social Studies teacher Jim Sloane spoke about health insurance. The district said during their presentation that they want to require all teachers after 2010 to contribute 15 percent to their health insurance in retirement.

Sloane said that teachers in Sag Harbor have paid more toward their health insurance for a longer period of time than the vast majority of Eastern and Suffolk BOCES school districts. The teachers want to maintain the current model, which is that only teachers hired after July 1, 2000 will pay 15 percent toward their health insurance in retirement.

“Currently more than 50 percent of the teachers in the district will contribute to their health insurance in retirement,” Sloane said.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, president Walter Wilcoxen read aloud a statement from the board in response to the TASH presentation.

“We will share TASH’s presentation with our attorney and ask him to compare our presentation and TASH’s presentation for the purpose of clarifying any misunderstandings we may have presented and to highlight any information TASH presented that we believe to be inaccurate,” Wilcoxen said.

He also said that the board takes “a long term view of the financial viability of the district…and the board of education is trying to alter the dynamic burden on taxpayers due to ever increasing health insurance and retirement contributions.”

“We will all have to work together in the future to address the challenges created by the economic tsunami that has befallen us,” Wilcoxen said on Monday.

Wilcoxen acknowledged the teachers and credited them as being a major contributor to the quality of education in Sag Harbor, but added that the students, taxpayers and the board are all “crucial to the current and future success of the district.”

At Monday’s meeting, former Sag Harbor school board president Walter Tice asked school board members if they had given TASH a reason why the board had decided to go public with information related to negotiations.

“We had negotiated to a stalemate,” Wilcoxen responded. “I think the public has a right to know, this was not an attempt to negotiate in public. For me it was a fair position.”

Wilcoxen further argued that there is nothing in law that states that the board of education could not go public. He added that the district’s presentation, “didn’t belittle anyone.”

“Almost every time this [going public] has been done, it has led to bad relations between the parties,” countered Tice. “Now it’s all out there.”

“What I’m suggesting,” added Tice, “is that you take into consideration…getting back into traditional negotiations for the public and for the community of Sag Harbor.”

 

 

Students Can Get 49 College Credits at Pierson

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Pierson High School has always offered advanced placement (AP) courses for students interested in them but now, many of those courses will be accepted by the State University of New York (SUNY) standards.
At Monday night’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting, superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced that he has been able to get college level credit for those students who enroll in AP classes.
“Conceivably now a student can get 49 credit hours of college courses finished while still in high school,” said Gratto, who has been involved with this type of program five times in his career.
He announced that the students will pay $50 per course credit.
The typical cost for a three credit course at Suffolk County Community College is $423 plus fees. With the implementation of this plan, it will cost Pierson kids $150. Gratto outlined in his presentation that for a student attending a four-year SUNY college, the average cost for 30 credits would be $9,320. Now, for Pierson students to get 30 college credits, it would cost them $4,500 if they enroll while still at the high school.
“Some students may be dissuaded to take the course because of the cost,” board member Ed Haye said at the meeting. Gratto countered that the courses will still be offered for students who are not getting the college credit.
“Those who need the credit, won’t get it,” board of education president Walter Wilcoxen said adding that perhaps the PTA or PTSA would be able to help students raise money and pay for it.
“We appreciate that vote of confidence,” Chris Tice, president of the PTA, said “but we can’t write that check.” She added that it would be against the PTA and PTSA policies.
Gratto said that his daughter was involved in a program like this at her high school, and she was able to enter college as a sophomore.
“This saved us a year of room and board,” he said.
The college level courses include chemistry, English, Spanish, physics, history and math.
Tuition Rates Set
Also on Monday, the board of education looked at setting tuition rates, and allowing the district to try to recruit students from surrounding schools.
The tuition rates for a non-resident student are now set at $20,381 for a 6 to 12 grade student and $16,050 for a student in Kindergarten through fifth grade.
Currently the Sag Harbor Elementary school has five non-resident students whose families are paying more than the newly adopted rates. The resolution suggested that the rates are based on 80 percent of the maximum amount a school is allowed to charge.
Board member Daniel Hartnett asked if the school had supplies needed for the additional kids, like textbooks. Gratto said that there will be a task force that will look at this and other related issues.
PTA president Chris Tice recommended that the board consider adding wording to the requirements such as limits on the amount of students per grade level allowed to enroll.
Walter Tice, a former Sag Harbor school board president, said that the board should be careful, because if there were additional local students that would “miscalculate the number of out of district kids.” This, he said, would require additional teachers to keep class sizes small and would not be an additional revenue making tool as the board and superintendent intended it to be.
Business manager Len Bernard said he received a request for a non-resident student as recently as Monday.

Athletics offers a three-year plan

The new athletic director and supervisor of buildings and grounds, Bill Madsen is not even through with his first year on the job, but is already implementing some changes for the athletic department. Anyone who has attended an athletic event in the gymnasium at the high school may have noticed photos of athletes that now line the lobby area. Madsen announced at Monday’s board meeting that he also has created a three-year plan, which is intended to enhance the athletic department by adding a booster club in hopes of creating more pride in Pierson’s athletics throughout the community.
Every year, the department hopes to add one new athletic unit. Next year, he would like to add a junior varsity girl’s soccer team. In the future he wants to see golf and tennis added to the program.

Teachers Protest in Sag Harbor

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Sag Harbor School District attorney Tom Volz speaks at a special BOE meeting on Dec. 19

 

Last week, teachers in the Sag Harbor UFSD met outside both the elementary and high schools before school brandishing signs to protest the school board’s move to make public information pertaining to teacher contracts.
“Don’t Dismantle a Decade’s Progress in One Year,” “Keep the Excellence Going” and “Invest in Your Child’s Future,” read some of the signs held by teachers as they greeted parents and honking horns before school Friday morning.
The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) and the board of education have been negotiating teachers’ contracts for nearly 10 months. At the end of June, the two sides went to impasse — a stage that requires a mediator. After one meeting, it was decided by both sides that the mediator was not going to help them reach an agreement. The teachers and the district met again in hopes of bargaining at the table earlier this month, but the two sides could not agree.
They did, however, jointly decide to go to fact-finding, a stage of negotiation that involves bringing in an individual from the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to look at both sides and make a non-binding decision. By January, a fact-finder should be in place and school superintendent Dr. John Gratto said that this is not the first time he has been involved in the process.
“I’ve been through fact finding before and it is a fair process,” he said on Monday, “The fact-finder renders his answer to questions on both sides then both parties need to re-assess based on the recommendations.”
But last Thursday, the teachers were noticeably absent from a special board meeting called by the school board to share with members of the community negotiation information on teachers’ contracts. At that meeting, the district’s attorney, Tom Volz, gave a presentation outlining what the district is asking for and what the teachers want and where the relative discrepancies lay.
TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said sharing information about negotiations with members of the public is “unfavorable.” In recent months, Kochanasz, a Pierson High School guidance counselor, had criticized the board for stating at board meetings that they would not negotiate with the teachers in public, yet, she added, by calling the special meeting “You [the board] just did.”
On Thursday, Volz outlined for the public the salaries of teachers within the district, and how much of an increase they would get this year if given the raises the teachers are requesting.
According to Volz, TASH is proposing a 3.9 percent increase for teachers. That means a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in their second year of teaching would earn $50,115 for the 2008-2009 school year, an increase of $4,178 over last year. For teachers with a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus 45 credits, the salary would be $54,575 with the raise as proposed by TASH, giving these teachers a $4,551 or 9.1 percent raise (which includes a built in step increase) over last year.
According to Volz, at the highest step level, a teacher with 27 years in the school district, a master’s degree and an additional 30 credits, earns $113,579 (without the raise proposed by TASH) — the second highest salary for teachers at that level in the area.
Kochanasz said that not long ago, however, the teachers in Sag Harbor received salaries noticeably lower than those of teachers in nearby districts.
“In 2004, we were finally able to reduce the gap for teachers,” Kochanasz said, “Now we could lose what we gained.”
Kochanasz expressed her frustrations with the district, and said superintendent Dr. John Gratto and school board members have been unable to negotiate in a “give and take” fashion. She added that the district has been meeting TASH with proposals already prepared and have not been willing to budge beyond what was on the table.
Some of the other major sticking points in the teachers’ contracts include health insurance in retirement, academic support responsibilities, and coursework approval for teachers looking to enhance their teaching skills. Teachers are also asking to keep advanced payment for vacations, something the district wants to change. The district also would like to change the requirements for personal leave, so that teachers are not permitted to take off a day prior to or directly following a school holiday.
Volz also outlined in his presentation that the district would like teachers to electronically post their homework assignments, grading policies, field trips and major test dates on the school’s website.
The 30 or so attendees of Thursday’s meeting also learned that, according to Volz, teachers are asking to receive 50 percent of their unused sick leave and personal leave in cash upon retirement.
“We have a fabulous school and fabulous test scores to prove it. I don’t know why they [the district] want to create this atmosphere,” said Kochanasz who felt that Thursday’s presentation by the board was in “blatant disregard” and “disrespect” to those who work within the school. She also said the custodians and secretarial contracts have yet to be agreed upon.
Walter Tice has sat on both sides of this argument, first as a teacher in Yonkers for more than 30 years and then as member of Sag Harbor’s school board for seven years. For four of those years, Tice served as school board president and he was involved in the last contract negotiation with TASH.
“It’s unfortunate that they chose to negotiate in public,” said Tice. “The general wisdom is that once you start to bargain in public, your ability is restricted.”
Tice also said that the information presented on Thursday was a “PR story from the board.”
He added that there are some very complicated issues that would be difficult for the community to grasp from just one presentation.
“It simplifies issues from both sides,” he said. “They both have long contract issues and this tends to politicize these issues.”
“And it’s not good for the morale,” Tice added. “These people are actually teaching in your classroom, you don’t want them mad at you. You can solve your differences rationally, not by hanging them out to the public.”
“I think we accurately portrayed the issues of all sides,” said Gratto of last Thursday’s meeting, “I think all that [meeting] has done is informed people.”
“Reasonable people can reach reasonable results,” he added.

Negotiations Over Teachers Gets Tough

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Last week the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) members and their lawyer met with the Sag Harbor UFSD Board of Education and superintendent Dr. John Gratto at what was meant to be a negotiation session, but instead, became yet another failure in the attempt to come to agreement about teacher contracts.
After Wednesday’s talks, TASH president Eileen Kochanasz said that the meeting “went nowhere” and the district’s salary proposal “still lags behind the rate of inflation, even as the rate has slowed during the economic crisis.”
She announced that both parties agreed to go to the next step, which is hiring a fact finder.
“This is the process after mediating,” Kochanasz explained, “their [the district’s] representative will contact the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] to notify them that we can’t go forward. Their rep and ours will consider jointly requesting a fact finder.”
A fact finder is someone who looks at both sides of the issue and makes non-binding suggestions to further the talks between the two sides.
“We are not surprised,” board of education president Walter Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We believe the real sticking points are the salary increase.”
In response to a press release sent out by TASH last week, Gratto called for a press conference in his office on Monday. At that gathering, Gratto and Wilcoxen jointly explained that salary has been the main issue stalling the new agreement and said the board has called for a special meeting on Thursday to present the district’s information to members of the public.
“I have to tell you I find it curious,” Kochanasz said on Tuesday in response to Thursday’s meeting, “why am I learning this in an email? I’m not sure what our strategy will be, but this time of year people have plans. This quick and sudden meeting leaves people with their heads spinning, it’s a sudden calling of a significant meeting… It’s not a tactic that is used and it’s not popular. I’m stunned,” she said.
At the press conference, Gratto outlined five major areas where the two sides are disagreeing — terms of contract, salary increase, workday issues, health insurance and retirement and coursework approval.
At present, teachers are on a three-year contract term, which the board and superintendent outlined during Monday’s press conference. But according to Kochanasz, the board asked first for a five-year term, then the two sides agreed on a four-year term and now the board is asking for a three-year term — again.
“That is curious,” Kochanasz said.
As for the salary disagreements, Gratto explained that the board and their representatives see the numbers differently than do TASH members. Gratto explained that the 2.5 percent increase in salaries proposed for the agreement excludes the cost of moving on salary step (the level at which a teacher’s pay is determined), which would cost the district an additional 2.77 percent in 2008-2009 school year, 2.57 percent for 2009-2010 and 2.31 percent in 2010-2011. For example, for 2008-2009 Gratto said the increase, when the two figures are added, would be 5.27 percent for the 2008-2009 school year.
“We see it as total new money [coming from] the taxpayers,” Wilcoxen said of the total increase, “TASH generally doesn’t see it that way.”
“There is an automatic increase every year, after that it is a raise – that’s what you are negotiating,” Kochanasz said. “They are counting that increase as part of the raise, and they are spinning it that way.”
Gratto explained that the board would like to keep the salary step increase “as is” as was worked out in the previous contract.
Concerning retirement and Social Security, Gratto explained that in Sag Harbor, teachers hired prior to July 1, 2000 do not contribute toward their health insurance in retirement but those hired after that date contribute 15 percent. The board is now asking for all teachers to contribute 15 percent.
Kochanasz said that the teachers in Sag Harbor were the first in Suffolk and Nassau counties to agree to contribute 10 percent to their health insurance in 1996, then in 2000 the teachers signed a new contract agreeing to the tiered system for anyone hired after 2000.
“This way the new teachers would know that when they took the job so we weren’t pulling the rug out from underneath them,” Kochanasz said and added that as of now, more than half of the teachers are paying 15 percent towards their health insurance in retirement indicating half the teachers were hired after July 1, 2000.
Gratto said that teachers in the surrounding districts, like East Hampton and Southampton, contribute upwards of 35 percent to their health insurance in retirement for family coverage. Gratto said in order to phase in this change, teachers hired before 2000 would have until July 1, 2010 to retire and still get 100 percent of their health insurance in retirement paid for.
During the press conference, Gratto explained that teachers can move ahead in their “salary steps” by taking additional courses, advancing them to higher salaries. Gratto said that the board is suggesting that teachers take courses related to their teaching field.
“The concept is you are getting a better teacher,” Gratto said and added those courses should be closely related to the teacher’s field of study.
Kochanasz said it is “changing times in education,” and that the school may be adding a new program or other offering that a teacher may not be qualified in, but may be able to implement into their curriculum.
“Dr. Gratto wants complete control to say whether or not you take a course,” Kochanasz said and added, “This has never been an issue in prior negotiations.”
When asked what would be the earliest date of the next meeting between TASH the board and their fact finder, Gratto said most likely February.
The Special Board Meeting will be held in the Pierson High School Library Thursday, December 18, at 6 p.m.