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Story - Education

Mar 31, 2010 12:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor School District asks entire staff to consider pay freeze

Mar 31, 2010 12:42 PM

Facing a tax increase that they fear voters will not support given the lean economic times, the Sag Harbor School District is asking its employees to accept a pay freeze for the 2010-11 school year to ease the burden of the budget on taxpayers.

The district’s two schools were gripped with anxiety late last week after administrators told several faculty and staff that their jobs might be on the line if the school budget fails at the polls in May and the district is forced to adopt a substantially reduced “contingency” budget under state guidelines. After drawing up a contingency budget plan with Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, the administrators of both buildings late last week began informing those employees who face elimination.

Salaries account for about 60 percent of the district’s $30.5 million proposed budget.

Representatives of the district’s five labor unions met with Dr. Gratto last week, and the superintendent appealed personally to all of the district’s employees, in an e-mail to the entire staff and in two open forums at the schools on Friday, to consider a pay freeze. In his message, he warned that if voters do not approve the proposed budget, significant program cuts and layoffs would be necessary under the state-mandated restrictions that would force the district to cut an additional $1.3 million from the budget.

“The administrators and I have prepared a list of potential program reductions and layoffs if a contingency budget is adopted,” Dr. Gratto told employees.

“In the meantime, we have asked union presidents of the administrators, teachers, custodians, secretaries and teaching assistants unions to consider asking their members to take a pay freeze,” his e-mail to the staff reads. “Doing so would reduce the budget by about $1,200,000 and, therefore, greatly increase the chances of this budget passing.”

The pay freeze would cut about 5 percent from the expected tax rate increase and Dr. Gratto said on Tuesday that he thinks the goodwill engendered by the sacrifice would win over voters and make it likely that the budget would pass. Dr. Gratto said he is willing to forgo his own salary increase for next year.

In the last month, administrators and the Sag Harbor School Board have cut nearly $2 million from the $32.6 million first draft of the budget, reducing the potential tax increase from more than 16 percent to just under 10 percent. But some board members have said that they’re worried that in hard economic times, the typically supportive Sag Harbor electorate will not stand for such a large tax hike.

Dr. Gratto said he would like to have an answer on the possibility of a pay freeze before the board adopts its final budget on April 12.

Teachers Association of Sag Harbor President Eileen Kochanasz said she does not understand why the question of a pay freeze can’t be left unanswered until after district voters cast their ballots on the budget. If the budget were to fail at the polls, the district would be allowed to put it up for a second vote, presumably with cuts. If it failed a second time, the district would be forced to adopt a contingency budget, which would automatically become the budget for the coming school year.

“Dr. Gratto told me that if the employees agree to the freeze, he would recommend they go straight to a contingency budget,” Ms. Kochanasz said. “My initial response is, I’m not sure why they are asking for this when they have not even put out a budget for approval yet.”

Ms. Kochanasz, like several parents have at board meetings, noted that Sag Harbor residents have traditionally supported the school’s spending proposals, even when they meant tax increases. Board members have pointed out that the district has not had such a large tax hike in recent years and that the lingering effects of last year’s recession have many residents in dire financial straits.

With the recession at full boil last year, the School Board received much criticism from some members of the community for its 4.5-percent tax increase. But the budget was overwhelmingly approved by voters. A $6.7 million bond proposal to make structural repairs to the school buildings, however, was defeated at the polls in December by a broad margin.

The School Board and Dr. Gratto have been deadlocked in an increasingly combative standoff with the district’s teachers union over contract negotiations, rooted largely in the district’s refusal to adhere to traditional contractual salaries and health benefits because they say they will lead to out of control spending increases in the next 10 years. At recent board meetings, parents have, for the first time, implored the teachers to back down from their salary demands in light of the slumping economy.

Ms. Kochanasz said she fears the dragged out contract battle—the teachers’ contract expired nearly two years ago—and now the pay freeze proposal and threats of layoffs will send some of Sag Harbor’s teachers in search of jobs elsewhere.

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Are you listening Westhampton Beach? Hello!! There's no more money! We don't have $100K for guidance counselors who rent out their homes in the summer. The party is officially over.
By realdeal (23), Southampton on Apr 1, 10 2:33 PM
3 members liked this comment
Is there a reason you've singled out westhampton beach?
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 1, 10 3:57 PM
It is interesting Dr. Gratto proposes a pay freeze for everyone now--but he made sure he got his hefty raise first!
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Apr 1, 10 3:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
Gratto deserves any penny. --, since he his the only one in that school attempting to hold costs DOWN... If the teachers unions have their way, spending will go nuts, and no one will be afford to live in the school district in a few years
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 2, 10 8:23 PM
At what cost does Gratto deserve a raise--the hard feelings and rift in the community?--maybe his raise could have gone toward the education and well-being of our children--isn't that an interesting theory! Maybe some of the extra-curricular programs that benefit the students could have stayed intact instead of his taking the money! How is Gratto taking a large raise saving the district money?
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Apr 3, 10 10:48 AM
Actually, the district has the teachers exactly where they want them...I highly doubt teachers would be going out looking for other jobs, because in case you haven't paid attention, nobody's hiring!
By cat (18), Riverhead on Apr 1, 10 4:02 PM
I support a combination of both a salary freeze (It's NOT a hardship to have a guaranteed income every week)... and a cut in benefits. Where else to employees reap such a big pile of benefits as the teachers have? They should contribute 50% to their own health care cost; That's what the real world does. And THAT will help the budget!
We have to get control of the ever increasing spending.

By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Apr 1, 10 4:52 PM
Ms. Kochanasz says above that the taxpayers have traditionally supported the school budget. Don't you think it is time for the teachers and staff of the school to try to help the taxpayers in these economic times. Stop being so selfish and be happy you have a paying job. A lot of the taxpayers aren't that lucky right now. I agree with the pay freeze and with the comments of pressguy, Sag HarborBob and cat and will be doing all that I can to get voters to really think before they vote on the ...more
By favaunt (24), Sag Harbor on Apr 1, 10 8:42 PM
You and others seem very annoyed that the teachers make as much as they do. I have but one question: Would you not fight for every penny you could at your job? Or would you agree to a pay cut for the good of the company? This contract I'm sure was signed before the economy tanked, would you not want your contract honored?
By Whb82 (13), Westhampton Beach on Apr 3, 10 12:46 PM
Everyone is aware of the economic times, but lets not forget that teachers perform an extremely important professional job. They deserve to be paid as professionals. Many locals appear to be jealous and resentful of teachers and cops. Remember all people have a choice to what they wish for a living.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Apr 1, 10 9:40 PM
The teachers and cops have a choice too. If a district can't pay you what you need look elsewhere or find another career. NYS is paying some of the highest teacher/public service salaries in the country (if you don't believe me just look to the south and west of our great state for comparison) and it has reached the breaking point with taxpayers. The salary excesses are absurd. It is time for change.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 1, 10 9:54 PM
2 members liked this comment
Not only should there be a freeze, but what about the benefits??? Teachers, like the rest of the world should be contributing much more to health insurance and retirements. Why are teachers different then the rest of the world? Many people, yes, even on the east end, have taken cut backs in salaries; no raises in the last two years; have been asked to do more in their employment or have just lost their job. Instead of "automatic" pay increases, teachers should earn their raises through performace. ...more
By powerwalker (52), Southampton on Apr 1, 10 10:49 PM
As we read the comments above and below, don't forget that the teachers are enjoying yet another paid week off.
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 10 6:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
There seems to be some logic in what many people say here but this screams jealousy. I imagine that many teachers are grading papers and taking graduate courses to better prepare our kids.
By 14thgeneration (2), Sag Harbor on Apr 5, 10 4:25 PM
Why does every story about the Sag Harbor Schools have to turn iinto negative, hateful comments about the teachers? This freeze will affect ALL employees--including those in the District Office--they are the ones that are never mentioned--and they are the ones that are continually hired at exhorbitant starting salaries!
Why didn't Gratto just propose the wage freeze in the beginning of all of this mess and let the teachers just stay with the current contract? So many hard feelings and fighting ...more
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 10 8:00 AM
Sorry, but I don't have much sympathy for the Sag Harbor teachers. I used to support our teachers, but now they are just about MORE, MORE, MORE. When the rest of us have to take pay cuts to keep our jobs, the teachers whine about not getting their raises. Just HOW many days have the teachers worked this year anyway?????
By lovesag (17), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 10 10:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By lovesag (17), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 10 10:00 AM
The reality of the situation is that this is happening in districts all over the island..actually the country. So go ahead and look for employment elsewhere, good luck with that. Unless you plan on moving to a city, you will find that postings for open teaching positions are few. I understand how hard teachers work, to educate and in some case help raise our kids these days. However, no job, union or non union is immune to the effects of this economy. Take the pay freeze, you don't miss what ...more
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Apr 2, 10 1:24 PM
Frequently, teachers remind me of professional athletes pining for another few million tacked onto their already excessive pay packages.

Am I the only one?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 2, 10 1:37 PM
the teachers are actually far WORSE, because the athletes arent screwing over taxpayers.
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 2, 10 8:20 PM
3 members liked this comment
Actually, if your neighborhood is desirable, and they move in, most likely they will screw you, and your children.

Oh, wait, the "elite" did that here...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 2, 10 11:33 PM
It is time to be grateful you have a job. Times are hard for everyone. Teachers wake up! step outside of the bubble and look around. The cuts are going to happen, let us teach our students by example about dignity. About everyone coming together in hard times, not whining and kicking our neighbor for a buck they may not have to give. I am a small business owner. I have taken it on the chin this year, I am holding on, not much more to give. benefits, I wish.
By RPK (3), Southampton on Apr 2, 10 4:50 PM
I've lost count, nor do I care to count, the times I've fixed cars, or computers for people who are broke, Don't really have the desire to get paid for the work, or an interest in taking what someone doesn't have.

I learned to share back in Mrs. Ricker's kindergarten class...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 2, 10 11:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
School board, What were you thinking when you dished out a fat raise for one person(Gratto)who was by your account doing his job and saving the district
money. The teachers are doing there jobs and i have not seen a pay raise like Gratto recived .I know what we could do is to have Dr Gratto give back his fat pay raise and divide it up to all the teachers for doing there jobs,Teaching our
By taxpayer1 (72), Southampton on Apr 3, 10 9:05 PM
1 member liked this comment
Well, we have the Smith's, who have moved in from elewhere with a boatload of money in their pockets. Now, to have security, and the "American Dream", the Jones' must play catch up, and they need "fat raises", to live nominally, or even excessivel like their new, mostly part time neighbors, do. Most likely, whose lifestyle they covet.

Talk about trickle down economics...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 4, 10 12:43 PM
how about the board paying Gratto 10,000 to move out here......wtf is that, time for total clean slate next time, these people are out of their mind, then he gets a raise, but the teachers, custodians etc. are expected to take a bath? Foil his contract very interesting....
By BCHBUM11968 (81), SOUTHAMPTON on Apr 5, 10 1:13 PM
Yeah, I heard that they paid to move Superintendent Gratto here and for what??? It seems like its mearly to ruin, not run, our local school system and its long standing good name. I had to check his contract out. I discovered that Gratto makes 200k, and gets a total of more than ten weeks off each year. There was a slue of benefits too.

People complain about teachers, but if they are smart they will go into administration, afterall there must be a demand if we need to ship in hired ...more
By 14thgeneration (2), Sag Harbor on Apr 5, 10 5:13 PM
There are way too many teachsrs. Class sizes should be increased from the current 12 - 15 per class to 20-25 per class. Some of the numerous electives need to be gotten rid of. The emphasis in school should be on the core subjects. The taxpayers can no longer afford to pay for the excesses that have beuilt up in schools over the past 20 years.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Apr 5, 10 8:39 PM
2 members liked this comment
The ultimate goal in educating our children from grades K - 12 is that they get into college. Cutting the FEW electives offered by Sag Harbor compared to most other schools in the area is absurd. Not everything is about money--we need our kids to be successful!
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Apr 6, 10 12:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
3 points for clarification: 1)Isn't the (required) state pension contribution increasing over $1million this year, and isn't that one of if not THE single largest increase in costs? and 2)When Mr. Gratto asks for a pay freeze from teachers, would they still get their "STEP" increase of a few percent a year? and 3)If Salaries account for 60% of costs, what is the TOTAL labor percentage, including benefits, social security and the HUGE pension increase?
By saggish (8), sag harbor on Apr 6, 10 8:33 PM
Florida has the right idea on education: merit-based pay, and the abolition of Tenure.

By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 10 1:49 PM