Tag Archive | "walter wilcoxen"

District Considers New Plans for Auditorium and Parking at Pierson

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The “Facilities Study” of both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School in the Sag Harbor school district is a compilation of different tasks that need to be completed at the schools in order to comply with current codes and standards. At their most recent monthly meeting, however, the district’s Long Range Planning Committee focused more on big-ticket items such as a new auditorium and parking.
If combined, those two projects alone could cost the district as much as $12.7 million — but that is if they include all the bells and whistles. Although the beginning of last Thursday’s meeting focused on parking, the majority of the time was spent discussing the new auditorium. The conversations on Thursday mirrored those of earlier meetings. This time, district architect Larry Salvesen prepared three plans for a new auditorium as requested by committee members during their October meeting.
The three different plans for the auditorium included a basic plan, an improved plan and then the complete plan — costing $900,000, $2 million, and $12 million, respectively. Salvesen explained that the most expensive plan would include the creation of a separate space in the courtyard area, adjacent to where the current auditorium is.
“The art [department] is looking for space,” Salvesen said, “If you added art where the current auditorium is, then the entire center of the building becomes the arts.”
During Thursday’s meeting, some committee members shared their personal feelings from music concerts and plays they have attended in recent weeks. Members of the committee, which is made up of teachers, administrators, parents and other community members, expressed frustration about the lack of air conditioning, ventilation, torn curtains and other issues in the current facility.
Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols said that because of the inadequacies of the facility, he schedules “moving up” ceremonies and other similar assemblies in the middle school gymnasium.
Further, members of the committee talked about the vinyl tile that makes up the floor, the risers and issues with the stage itself.
“Why are we are looking at the little details?” committee member and former chemistry and physics teacher Richard Gold asked. “It is such a big project that has such a big impact and I wonder if we should be talking about the dismal feeling of the facility or are we trying to create a place that will give excitement to the facility and the community — and bring possible income to the school?”
“It’s a weird time to say that the energy that can be created by pride and enthusiasm is something that can’t be seen in dollars and cents,” said Gold who also noted that he attended a play the week prior, and there was a contrast as to what was going on on-stage and the actual room it was taking place in.
“It was painful to me,” he said. “This is the center of the school and it’s a shame. It’s a question of motivation and not just economies.”
But others at the meeting had different concerns, and requested more information about the current use of the facility.
One committee member asked how many school-related performances happen in the auditorium, and noted that it seemed like a lot of money to spend on a facility that hosted three performances a year.
Nichols disagreed with that number, saying he hadn’t yet finished tallying up all the performances scheduled for the year, but added that it was more like 20 in a school year.
“Right now the situation is oppressive,” said Nichols. “You can’t enjoy it.”
Pierson art teacher Peter Solow added that the number of performances is misleading.
“You are talking just about the performances, but not utilization,” Solow said. “Right now there is no facility to be used for rehearsal, there is no space for sets and there is no other place for them to go. They are rehearsing in the auditorium, and there are a number of other uses for this space.”
Solow explained that the new space can be used for awards ceremonies and other events, which have been moved due to the failing HVAC system.
“Some of the performances had to be moved. It was too hot, we had to change it. People have fainted in there while watching performances,” Solow said.
The three different alternatives for the auditorium include both minor and major changes.
“Scheme A is small improvements,” Salvesen explained. “Scheme B has everything in A and a little more.”
Plan “C” is a proposal that puts the new auditorium in the court yard and could potentially create more space for additional classrooms and storage.
The arguments bounced back and forth on what a reasonable solution to the pending issue of building a new auditorium should be.
“No one is arguing that the space doesn’t work,” president of the school board Walter Wilcoxen said addressing Solow’s concerns.
“You could say generally it doesn’t work, but we should say that it is fundamentally inadequate if you don’t build storage,” Solow argued.
Questions also raised by members of the committee focused on the idea that the new space may be able to generate income for the school if it is rented out.
“The motivation should not be to make money off of this,” Solow said.
Wilcoxen told members of the committee that the “C” plan may be more of a long term goal.
“It may not be realistic, right now, but start thinking about it as a possibility,” he said.
But Nichols informed the members, “There is another issue, there is an immediacy.”
The other large project occupying the Long-Range Planning Committee is the issue of parking at both the elementary school and Pierson.
The committee members decided at a previous meeting that the lots at Jermain Avenue, Atlantic Avenue and Hampton Street should be reconfigured to allow for more spaces. At their last meeting, committee members asked Salvesen to create a new plan, this time allowing for even more spaces along Atlantic Avenue by moving the asphalt court closer to Clinton Street and utilizing empty, unused lawn area for an extension of the court additionally providing an extension of the parking lot.
At last week’s meeting, Salvesen showed his plans to move the court and extend the parking lot along with the price tag for each of the three proposed lots. For the lot on Atlantic Avenue it would add an additional 26 spaces and cost the district $340,000. The reconfigured lot off of Jermain Avenue has a $375,000 price tag and would add an additional 17 spaces. And the lot on Hampton Street would cost $320,000 and add 25 spaces — but none of these estimates included contingencies and fees, according to Salvesen.

Kids can Earn College Credits at Pierson

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A few weeks ago, Jeff Nichols, the principal of Pierson High School, gave a presentation at a board of education meeting about Advanced Placement (AP) courses that the school currently offers. The presentation outlined how the students in the district compare with others taking similar courses around the world.
At this week’s board of education meeting, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto announced that he and Nichols are looking to get district students college credit for enrolling and passing the AP courses.
“We have been talking about the ways we could offer these courses to have dual credit,” Gratto said referring not only to high school, but college credit as well. “Jeff [Nichols] has been working with the Suffolk County Community College.”
Currently, Suffolk County Community College offers courses similar to those offered at Pierson such as European History, Physics and US Government.
The students would still be required to take a mandated AP exam, but at the same time, the students would be able to earn three college credits per course.
With the number of AP classes currently in place, the students could take 10 additional courses at Pierson and conceivably earn 30 college credits even before graduating from Pierson, according to Nichols.
At present, Pierson students can earn college credits for AP Math and AP Spanish through Long Island University, which gives the students college credit for these courses which are similar to courses at a college level.
The administrators are now waiting to hear back from Suffolk County Community College to see how the AP courses can be modified to fit the requirements.

Also at Monday’s board of education meeting, the board unanimously adopted a new policy on extra-curricular trips, which had been the topic of much discussion in prior meetings. Some residents and board members have, in past weeks, expressed concern for the students left behind as well as the educational purpose of the trips.
On Monday, Tin Wilcoxen, school board president Walter Wilcoxen’s significant other, said that she is in favor of extra-circular trips and believes these trips are a great asset to the curriculum.
The new policy outlines that a single teacher may only be allowed to take part in one extra-curricular trip per school year and that each teacher attending a field trip must submit a lesson plan to the principal a week in advance.
Also, the new policy will now require teachers to give a follow-up report on the trip to the principal, superintendent or board of education.

Purchasing Consortium Dead

In other news, at Monday’s meeting, Gratto announced that his idea for a South Shore Purchasing Consortium (SSPC) was “defunct.” The SSPC was an attempt to combine the resources of schools on the East End and have local businesses bid for providing things like fuel oil and paper. After a meeting with BOCES’ (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) district superintendent, Gary Bixhorn, Gratto found that it would be better to let BOCES work on getting better pricing for items while keeping the focus on schools on the South Fork. Gratto said that BOCES is better equipped with staff and information to put out request for bids for lower pricing.
According to Gratto, BOCES will hold informational meetings for local businesses to learn how the bidding process works.
“Now we have the opportunity to get bids on more products,” Gratto announced.
Additional items BOCES will focus on will include paint and supplies, fine and recycled paper, stationery, custodial supplies, fence equipment and art and craft supplies.
Business Manager of the Sag Harbor School District, Len Bernard, said at the meeting that BOCES will not charge a separate fee for this opportunity.
“We will get products at a lower cost and educate local bidders,” he said.
Gratto said on Monday that the South Shore Purchasing Consortium idea could be resurrected in the spring, if need be.

Push for Tuition Students

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President of School Board Walter Wilcoxen and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto

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.

Teacher Contracts
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.

Extra-Curricular Trips
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.

Principal Back Before She Left

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One week ago, the community learned that in January, Sag Harbor Elementary School would lose one of its most valuable assets — an administrator, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a mother and a grandmother — principal Joan Frisicano.

This week there were tears in the office of the elementary school – but they were tears of joy as news spread that Frisicano has reconsidered her decision to retire.

“I felt like my world was off kilter,” said Frisicano’s secretary Karen Mullen, with tears in her eyes.

Frisicano has been the principal and guiding force of the elementary school for 19 years and among many things, has developed the morning school program, which helped to turn the Sag Harbor Elementary into a Blue Ribbon school, an annual national school recognition program.


After announcing her decision to the board of education last Monday, and after telling her staff last Wednesday afternoon, Frisicano said she thought it might become easier to accept the fact that she would be leaving.

“None of that seemed to come together,” said Frisicano in an interview Wednesday.

Frisicano met with superintendent Dr. John Gratto in his office this past Monday and informed him that she would not be retiring after all. After the board of education’s executive session Tuesday night, Gratto announced to board members that Frisicano would not be stepping down.

On Wednesday, around 12:30 p.m. Frisicano told her staff during a lunchtime meeting that she had decided to renege on her original decision and would continue to stay on as principal of the elementary school.

Frisicano said on Wednesday that the decision to retire weighed very heavily on her heart, and added that she loves what she is doing. Frisicano explained that she imagined the decision would be easier — once she made the announcement she thought it would be easy to accept her retirement as reality but she added after it was all done she wasn’t able to cross over into that mindset.

“I had a feeling of emptiness,” Frisicano said on Wednesday. “I thought about all the work I’ve done and I thought about all the responses I got from the kids and staff,” and that, she said, helped her realize she wasn’t ready.

Frisicano said a feeling of “you’re not done” came over her and she felt she needed to keep moving forward with the job.

It is well known in the elementary school that Frisicano loves ladybugs. In her absence on Friday the students and staff members helped adorn the building, particularly her office, with red and black ladybugs, recognizing the hard work and dedication Frisicano has put into the school and also as a good-bye and thank you.

Frisicano said that helped her make the decision.

“We are a family,” she said, “I just thought, what can I do that I can’t do in Sag Harbor? You expect a reaction, but not the reaction that I had,” she added. 

“I have always had interests, I have my fun and still work, I thought I can continue to do this and still be the principal.”

Frisicano also said after speaking with her daughter over the weekend, who agreed that this job is what Frisicano loves, she decided to stay.

After she announced her resignation, many in the community raised questions about why she was leaving and why her retirement would go into effect in the middle of the school year.

“People thought I was being pushed out, but that was not the case,” Frisicano said on Wednesday. “I hope the community understands that the decision to retire was my decision, and the decision to change was my decision.”

Frisicano said that part of her reason for leaving was that she wanted a new challenge in her life.

“And a new challenge looked attractive to me,” although she said she had no plans for what that would be, she said she just thought she would be able to find it.

“But then,” Frisicano said, “I realized that this job can still be a challenge.”


“Welcome back,” school board president, Walter Wilcoxen said on Wednesday, “Here’s a woman that has worked hard in this district and made the elementary school what it is now, she has been a great asset to our district.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, where Gratto told the board of education about Frisicano’s decision to stay, the group was discussing the next and final steps for confirming Frisicano’s retirement. Close friend and former school board president, Sandi Kruel, said that Frisicano was supposed to have submitted a letter of resignation, which would’ve made her decision final, but Frisicano did not submit the letter.

“I am so happy,” Kruel said. “She is just not done with our district, and I’m thrilled she is staying.”

“I was ready to petition or sit out, whatever it took – we were hoping that she would realize that this was not the right decision,” said Kruel, who believes as the week progressed Frisicano could not go through with it. “Her family is here, her roots are here.”

Kruel also said that she feels this is a good decision, “Kudos to Joan, the board and Gratto – it’s now a team again.”

Last year, Sag Harbor’s board of education considered adding an assistant superintendent position, which has not been created. When asked if the administrative structure of the district faces any changes, Gratto said when he began working in the district people were asking him that question. He replied that he needs a sufficient amount of time to determine any changes and will be able to report and recommend any changes in December. It will then be up to the board of education to decide whether to follow those recommendations.

“Joan is a very talented person who has done a great job of administrating that school and I’m sure she will continue to do a great job,” Gratto said on Wednesday. “I would be happy to have her stay for as long as she wants.”

When asked what her long and short-term goals for the district would be Frisicano said she would need to give it some more thought but added she thinks that Gratto has been positive about the school district and hopes together they can work on accomplishing more in grades K-12 with a continued articulation between both schools.

Frisicano explained that with Gratto, she hopes to accomplish both state and national recognition for the schools where she can focus on getting the elementary school back to a Blue Ribbon school.

While Frisicano said on Wednesday that it is possible she will retire within the next 10 years, she isn’t thinking about going anywhere for at least the next five years.

“I still haven’t finished with this,” she said.




Frisicano to Resign

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After almost two decades as principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School, Joan Frisicano has announced she will retire. The news came during a meeting with co-workers and staff after school on Wednesday, November 12 when Frisicano announced that she will be stepping down as principal of the school as of January 1, 2009.

“I have been holding back the tears,” close friend Sandra Kruel, former school board president, said when she learned the news on Wednesday night. “She was the epitome of an amazing leader — I don’t think the district has any idea what they are losing.”
“She is so dedicated,” said board of education president Walter Wilcoxen. “I think a lot of people will be sad to see her go.” When asked who will take over, Wilcoxen said, “I think [assistant principal] Matt [Malone] is perfectly capable – wonderfully capable.”
Kruel said that Frisicano took only five short years to turn the elementary school into a Blue Ribbon school. She has touched the lives of thousands of kids, said Kruel adding that there are not many people who can say they have done that. Kruel added that Frisicano has created a great foundation for whoever takes over her role.

The Sag Harbor Express would love to hear your thoughts on the impact Joan Frisicano has had on our community and what her departure means for Sag Harbor School District. Please comment below. 

Sag Harbor School Kids – Three times better than Global Average

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Although teachers are still working without contracts, the Sag Harbor school district has managed to triple the worldwide average for certain college-based courses for its school students.
At the Sag Harbor school board meeting Monday night, Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board, community members and faculty on how the students in the high school compare with those in surrounding districts and other high schools with similar curriculums worldwide.
Currently, Pierson offers a variety of Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students in subjects such as world history, English, chemistry, calculus, art and so on. Nichols compared recent test results to those collected from previous years. In 2005, according to the data, there were 48 students enrolled in at least one AP course at Pierson and in 2008 there were 79 students. Nichols said that there was a 16 percent achievement rate for AP courses in 2002, but that results from 2007-08 show that there was a 74 percent achievement rate, even though the amount of students enrolled in AP courses has increased dramatically.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison of the average exam results in AP classes in Sag Harbor and how they compared to other schools worldwide.
“We are doing very well against the global mean,” Nichols said on Monday.
The information presented was taken from the College Board and the results show that Sag Harbor doubles the physics and biology worldwide average and nearly triples the worldwide average for English literature and composition.
Nichols’ presentation also showed a comparison to local districts such as Bridgehampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Greenport, Mattituck and Eastport among others. Pierson typically scored higher in most state regents mandated exams such as English and math for eighth graders. Sag Harbor Regents test results showed Sag Harbor leading in five out of seven courses.
“Regents are tests mandated by the state and AP is not mandated,” Nichols told the crowd on Monday. “But the AP courses are the courses that help prepare for higher education and I see it as a necessity.”

Extracurricular Trips
After Nichols’ presentation, superintendent Dr. John Gratto explained that he and Nichols have worked on a revision of a new policy which outlines restrictions and allowances for extracurricular trips.
The new policy requires an outline for trips, those that will be curriculum-based and those not particularly tied to a curriculum. The new policy indicates students would not be allowed to miss more than two school days.
Board president Walter Wilcoxen said there is great concern for the quality of the education for the children that are left behind. He said they are trying to do a better job of finding a substitute or design activities relative to the subject for the children that remain in school.
Board member Sue Kinsella said on Monday that she is not in favor of taking the teachers out of the classroom for more than two days at a time and said that extensive field trips should be taken during vacation time.
Resident Elena Loreto, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting, said that she believes the only real impact a teacher has on a student is during traditional classroom instructional time. Loreto also expressed concern for those students that would be left behind.
This was the first reading of the policy, there will be a second reading and a chance for more input at the next meeting.

More Cost-Saving Measures
On Monday night, Gratto talked about additional plans that the district is investigating to try to save more money. Gratto said that there could be a mid-year state aid reduction, and that he and business manager Len Bernard are working diligently to try to come up with creative ways to cut costs. At the moment, Gratto said there are 16 ideas in the works for ways to try to reduce costs, including the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, a reduction in special education contracts and a freeze in the budget on some supplies. The district is now adding to that list an analysis of a different dental insurance company and requesting that computers are turned off when not in use, which Gratto said has shown a tremendous reduction in energy use in other municipalities. The district is also looking at a Medicaid reimbursement for services.
“We are in for a difficult year this year and possibly next year,” Gratto said.
Wilcoxen said, according to a publicized report from New York Governor David Paterson, the state has a two billion dollar deficit in education.
“I believe there will be no state money coming our way in the foreseeable future,” he said.
In response to the possible aid reduction, the school is considering buying a school bus and shuttle for field trips and trips for daily sporting activities. Bernard explained that the current bus company charges $85 per hour for a minimum of three hours.
“We had a field trip to Shelter Island, it cost three hours to bring the kids to the ferry and three hours to pick the kids up,” Bernard said. If the school had its own bus, the district could easily save money on trips such as this, according to Bernard.
Bernard said that the school might be able to examine shared services with Southampton or East Hampton and ask if those districts could pick up additional students. At the moment, Bernard said the district pays $22,000 to pick up Stella Maris students.

Space, the final frontier – Parking and Storage Issues at Pierson

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Although administrators are looking for ways to save money for the Sag Harbor school district, the newly formed long range planning committee is still meeting regularly to talk about major changes to both the high school and elementary school. This week’s topics were storage, spatial issues and parking.
The meetings take place in the library at the high school, where anyone from the community is invited to attend. The purpose of the meetings is for members to go through a facility study —completed in February 2007, which was revised in September of this year — to develop a long-range plan for both the high school and elementary school. The topics in the study can be as small as ventilation issues or as complex as a new auditorium.
At last Thursday’s meeting, the district’s architect, Larry Salvesen, said that the parking at the elementary school desperately needs to be upgraded, because there aren’t even enough spaces for the faculty. Salvesen said that there are currently 54 spaces available for parking on school grounds but there are 95 faculty members. At present faculty members are parking along Ackerly Street and other small streets near the school, which school board president Walter Wilcoxen said is a major issue.
“The village has complained that there is no containment of parking on the property of the schools,” he noted.
At one of their earlier meetings, Salvesen said that changes could be made to the lots along Clinton Street and at the bottom of Pierson hill, along Jermain Avenue. In the past, the community has expressed concern over creating parking there and on Thursday the committee took these two options off the list. The proposal for a reconfigured front parking lot at the elementary school was discussed, and it was decided that the lot should be re-designed to allow for more spaces. Salvesen said that the changes to the front parking lot at the elementary school would cost just over $350,000.
Also at the elementary school, Salvesen referred to the Atlantic Avenue parking lot as a “fender bender in the making.” He proposed extending the lot approximately 30 feet and a little into the asphalt basketball courts at the back of the elementary school. The proposed changes to the Atlantic Avenue lot, according to Salvesen, could cost the district $160,000 but committee members made no decisions on that lot last week.
At the high school, the proposed changes would include some work to the parking lot along Jermain Avenue. This lot has caused problems for the teachers recently, according to building/grounds athletic director, Bill Madsen. Madsen believes that this too should be top priority.
“We have teachers and administrators parking illegally,” Madsen said, “we have them parked on the grass, too, because there is no where for them to go.”
Wilcoxen and fellow board member Mary Ann Miller both said they believe it would cost the district less money if the board of education could apply for approval of all the parking projects at one time. The proposal for a reconfiguration for the lots on Jermain Avenue would add 17 more spaces for $375,000.
Members of the committee asked why there was such a big price tag attached to the parking projects, and Salvsen responded that it is not just a matter of re-striping, but there are drainage issues and sealing and realigning that become costly.
Wilcoxen suggested that at the next meeting, the committee could continue their conversation of parking and invite police chief Tom Fabiano to attend and give the group his input. Salvesen said that the only restrictions for parking in the village, seem to be those directly surrounding the schools.
In addition to parking, Thursday night’s agenda also included storage and spatial issues at both schools. Elementary school principal Joan Frisicano said that currently there are two portable storage sheds, which are located at the back of the elementary school. One is waiting to be sent back, because it is broken, and the other is either filled with chairs or tables. Frisicano said that there is not enough room in the storage container for both the chairs and tables at the same time. She also said that the school has to reduce the ordering of some items because there is nowhere to store the items.
“We have to split the art order and order different things a few times per year because we don’t have anywhere to store them,” Frisicano said.
Salvesen presented a proposal for a two-story addition to the right side of the elementary school that he said would possibly solve the storage problem and may help create additional classrooms. This project could cost the district $4.8 million, according to Salvesen.
At the high school, Salvesen said there were items being stored in the corridor downstairs in the woodshop and cafeteria area — when he first completed the facility study. Those items have since been moved.
“I don’t know where these things disappeared to, but they all seem to have a home now,” he said. He added there are still storage needs at the high school.
Madsen proposed that the committee do the same thing as they did with plans for a new auditorium.
“We could have one plan, the Taj Mahal, and then less expensive plans – A,B,C – that can be looked at,” he offered.
The next long range planning committee meeting will be held in the Pierson High School library on November 13.

Sag Harbor School District Making Slow Steady Progress

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Although the Sag Harbor School Board and Superintendent Dr. John Gratto will meet with their attorney today, Thursday, October 23, regarding teacher contracts, the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) is still pressing for an answer as to when they will be able to begin negotiating with the board again.
At the school district’s board meeting on Monday, TASH president Eileen Kochansz told the board that she and fellow TASH members want to settle on a timeframe for meeting so agreements can be worked out on contract issues such as salary.
The teachers’ contracts expired on June 30 and TASH also declared impasse that month, which required a mediator to come in to help the two sides agree on issues pertaining to the contracts. The mediator spoke with both sides in August, and the board asked for more time to review additional data. District attorney Tom Volz was asked to collect salary information from surrounding school districts and is expected to bring his findings to today’s meeting with Gratto and the board.
“I would like to direct this question directly to you Walter,” Kochansz said to school board president Walter Wilcoxen. “Will we be able to hear by Friday morning?”
“We could have an executive decision two weeks from today and we could set that as our wrap-up date,” Wilcoxen said, “I’d love to do it sooner and it is possible we could reach consensus on Thursday night. John [Gratto] and I will speak on Friday morning for some sense of plan.”
Kochansz said she was concerned that the school board is still reviewing data, which they said they were doing on September 23.
“And now it will be October 23, and the board is still going over data,” she said.
“My intent is to move forward as quickly as possible,” Gratto said, “and I’m happy to push for it. I will call you on Friday.”
“I will wait then,” replied Kochansz.
In addition to the teacher contract updates, Wilcoxen said the GASB report — which shows the district’s anticipated expense for health coverage for its current and retired employees — will be another topic the board will be discussing with attorney Volz at their meeting today.
School district business manager Len Bernard explained that GASB report shows tables that predict things like retirement age and life expectancy of district employees. From these tables the school district would be able to calculate each employee’s post-retirement benefits.
Bernard said that this is a new requirement for public entities’ yearly reports and all governmental units will be required to have this data for their 2009 audits.
“It shows for the next few years what the estimated cost will be for insurance issues and is more useful in the scheduling and how we will pay for the budget,” Bernard said. He explained that for 2009 there will be $370,000 for post retirement costs, but in 2017, it could quadruple to $1.3 million. Bernard said that the report adds a long-term liability to the balance sheet.
According to projections, the school district can expect to pay a total of $27 million in benefits over the life of its current employees and retirees. Lifetime benefits for employees and retirees in the year 2015, are expected to cost the district $50 million.
“That liability has to be included every year in our external audit report,” he said on Monday, noting that the report will be used to understand the commitment of the school district for over a 30-year period.
“It’s a way for the GAS board to have disclosure to the public,” said Bernard. “Every village municipality and every school district will be required to do it.”
Bernard added that the school district is ahead of schedule in having this information.
South Shore Purchasing Consortium
On Monday night, the school board also approved a resolution to join the South Shore Purchasing Consortium, an idea proposed by Gratto. By joining the consortium, the district will become part of a regional plan to combine resources in an effort to save money for districts on items like paper products, food, custodial supplies and fuel.
“We want to try to beat the state contracted and BOCES pricing,” said Gratto.
In early September, Gratto contacted the superintendents in nine surrounding districts to see if they would be interested in the idea.
“We will have the business officials in each district choose one high priority item and see if we can get a better price on things such as diesel fuel and paper,” Gratto said. “There is no downside to this opportunity.”
At Monday’s meeting, parent Kristyn Toole and her father, Paul Lankau, expressed concerns about Toole’s children’s bus stop. The children are being picked up at Hildreth Street at the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike but because it is dark in the morning when her two children leave for school, the family would like them to be picked up in front of their house. Toole asked Montauk Bus Service to consider driving down the street to pick the children up at their home but the Montauk Bus Service sent a letter to the board denying the request for the new bus stop.
“The school bus drives right past my house, but my kid still has to walk 500 feet to an intersection where the bus will pick him up,” said board member Daniel Hartnett.
Wilcoxen added that buses “shouldn’t stop for any particular kid ever.”
The board agreed to look at more information and will be addressing the issue at their next meeting.
Thank You
On Monday, Gratto applauded the school board and thanked them in honor of School Board Recognition Week. Gratto read a proclamation from Governor David Paterson and presented each member of the board with travel coffee mugs as a thank you for their time and hard work for the district. The board then enjoyed punch and apple cobbler after the meeting.

Sag Harbor Teacher Contracts – Still Waiting to Hear

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President of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, Walter Wilcoxen has been on vacation and missed the last school board meeting where nearly 50 teachers showed up in black shirts and buttons asking for new teacher contracts. In his place sat Theresa Samot who faced the upset teachers with fellow board members and superintendent, Dr. John Gratto.
The teachers contracts expired in June, and Gratto said on Tuesday that school attorney Tom Volz has been collecting data on surrounding districts and is expected to make a presentation to the superintendent and the school board on October 23.
The teacher contracts developed in 2004 expired on June 30. The teachers and school board were not able to come to an agreement on certain issues pertaining to the contracts so the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) declared impasse in June, which required that a mediator come in to help negotiate.
TASH President Eileen Kochanasz, said that her group is not invited to the October 23 meeting and she believes it may be a while after that meeting before TASH can meet with the board and superintendent to go over the contracts.
“I don’t know what to anticipate,” said Kochanasz who explained that after the school board met with Gratto and Volz last time, she was left in the dark about the next meeting date.
“I hope we will hear something at the end of this October 23 meeting,” Kochanasz said, “but I can’t be sure.”
Kochanasz said the data being collected by Volz has to do with salaries in other nearby districts, but Wilcoxen said the district is also looking at other issues involved, like post retirement data, which is also a concern.
“Tom Volz is compiling a review of our bargaining position – but it’s more than that,” Wilcoxen said.
Business Manager Len Bernard explained that an actuarial study is being performed by Milliman Inc., a global consulting and actuarial firm, regarding post retirement issues including health benefits, which he expected to have received on Tuesday. This is a new requirement that will determine post retirement issues for the next 20 to 25 years.
“It would be irresponsible to go ahead now, for the community,” Wilcoxen said on Friday, “We are asking ourselves, are we going to have this great school 10 years from now? Well that all depends on what we do now.”
“We want to make a recommendation about everything that is known so we can do our due-diligence,” Wilcoxen said, “We would back ourselves into a corner if we didn’t.”
Wilcoxen also added that he believes the old contract is not a bad contract, and the board is trying to do the best thing for the district.
“Hopefully we will be signing in the next few weeks,” Wilcoxen said, “We’re moving forward not backward, so that is positive.”

School Criticized In State’s Audit

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The New York State Comptroller’s Office released their audit of the Sag Harbor School District, from July 2006 to November 2007, this week and found three areas in need of corrective action.
The audit states “the district did not have adequate controls in place to disclose possible interests in contracts with district employees, the district’s business official had administrative access rights to the computerized financial system, and the board of education did not solicit a request for proposals for independent auditing services.”
Superintended Dr. John Gratto called the audit “very innocuous.”
“There certainly was no malfeasance of any kind, and the problems that existed at the time of the audit have been corrected long ago,” he said on Wednesday.
The first area of concern the audit addressed was the hiring of Bob Schneider as an interim assistant principal at Pierson in 2007. The audit found that Schneider and his wife, Marian Cassata who was also appointed the district’s interim Director of Pupil Personnel Service at one point, owned and operated a company the district once contracted with. According to the audit, neither Cassata nor Schneider properly disclosed their interest in contracts with the districts.
Secondly the audit identified that district business manager Len Bernard had access to the computerized financial system. It states, “With [Bernard’s] broad financial responsibilities he should not have the ability to control access to the system.” Further the audit found that nine users had unlimited ability to override cash disbursements and purchase orders.
Bernard said at a board meeting last month the auditors checked his computer and found he had never even logged into the system.
Thirdly, the audit found that the district failed to issue a request for proposals to hire an independent auditing firm for the 2006-07 school year.
In a statement from board of education president Walter Wilcoxen included in the audit, he addressed the problems.
As for the issue with Schneider, Wilcoxen said “the board should have better disclosed the fact that [Schneider] had had for a number of years provided consulting services to the district in the from of service learning.”
Further Wilcoxen said, “Since the comptroller’s staff made our district aware of this situation, no individual has been hired under similar circumstances.”
Pertaining to the district’s computerized financial system and the access by Bernard, the board president stated, “This was a situation that was already being addressed by the district at the time [of the audit] as the district was in the process of transferring the responsibility for system coordinator from the business official to the technology director and adjusting access rights accordingly.”
Wilcoxen also states that the adjustments were made prior to the comptroller’s office’s audit being completed.
And in response to the independent audit, Wilcoxen pointed out that the auditors being used by the district in the year prior to the audit, “were involved in the Roslyn debacle and the district faced the need to sever ties with the accounting firm.” He said the decision to go forward with issuing a request for proposals was made “in effort to secure auditing services on very short notice.”
Wilcoxen also pointed out that a request for proposal was issued for the past two years for the district’s independent auditing.

Top photo: Superintendent Dr. John Gratto and board president Walter Wilcoxen insist all the problems identified in the state’s audit have already been corrected.