Editorial: True Transparency
Actions speak louder than words, and the Sag Harbor School Board on Monday night failed to do what most had promised when campaigning to represent the taxpayers of Sag Harbor: to be transparent, and to be a board that seeks public involvement in the decisions that shape the way the school district is run.
On Monday, a majority of board members voted to create a handful of new administrative positions — including three that significantly change the way athletics, buildings and grounds, and finance will be handled in the district. Board member Chris Tice voted against the creation of two of these positions but in support of the people asked to take on these tasks; Susan Lamontagne was not present at the meeting.
It may be that these new positions are necessary, but frankly, due to the lack of public discussion prior to Monday’s meeting, it would be impossible for us to state whether they are necessary or even fiscally prudent. We expect that any shift in administration would be a conversation ripe for public discourse prior to any meeting where the board is scheduled to vote on new appointments. This would give members of the public a chance to weigh in on the changes, keep them informed about why they are important, and help them understand what the true tax impact is.
We have been told that this was a discussion held in executive session, as it impacted individuals and their employment. While we agree that an individual’s contract is executive session material, a philosophical change in how the Athletic Director/Buildings and Grounds Supervisor position is staffed, or new priorities for the business office should have been discussed in public prior to specific conversations about how the roles are going to be filled. Either the board discussed this in executive session — in direct opposition to the spirit of open meetings law — or the board rubber-stamped these changes with very little public discourse.
We were told Monday that these new positions, totaling roughly $404,000 in funds not listed as line items in this year’s budget — since it was not discussed as a part of the budget process — are tax neutral, due to about $1.1 million in savings incurred by the retirement or resignation of several teachers. However, in recent meetings we were also informed that transportation costs may increase by $200,000 this year and that after school programming at Pierson, while improved, will also likely be more expensive than it was in the past.
We have long supported board president Diana Kolhoff, and recently endorsed both January Kerr and Alex Kriegsman, in large measure due to their commitment to transparency, which they failed to offer in a meaningful way with Monday night’s actions. Frankly, if this approval had happened under the majority two years ago, social media pages would have been filled with concern or criticism and calls for greater transparency on the part of the board. Interestingly, and certainly noted, is the relative silence on social media now that those we and others supported failed to live up to one of their key campaign promises.