Editorial: For Sag Harbor School Board

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Two years ago, this newspaper titled its endorsement editorial “A District Divided” in advance of the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education election and budget vote. When it comes to certain issues — and clashes in personality — it remains a district with divergent views on priorities and how to handle communication, despite its continued success on multiple fronts.

In 2017, a new group of largely likeminded residents was elected to serve on the Board of Education, joining a relatively young board in the midst of a large demographic shift in Sag Harbor. There were a number of issues and projects on the table, the largest being the planning for the Sag Harbor Learning Center in the former Stella Maris Regional School building on Division Street. In the next year, the Board of Education will have ongoing oversight of that project and will have to address a number of other concerns, including transportation and impacts on student athletes, available athletic and recreational space, declining enrollment, the development of next year’s budget amid property tax assessments that rose a whopping 30 percent for some residents and, of course, the hiring of a new superintendent. In short, the Sag Harbor Board of Education is going to have a lot on its plate during the next year and myriad opinions from residents about how it all should be handled.

Fortunately, it became clear at a Meet the Candidates event earlier this month that all six of this year’s candidates are prepared to tackle these issues head on. District residents should be grateful so many qualified individuals offered to volunteer their time for what is often a challenging and thankless job that means less time for family and work.

Yorgos Tsibiridis appears particularly well-suited to join the current board. Even-keeled and personable, Mr. Tsibiridis immediately volunteered himself for a position on the policy committee when he and his family moved from Springs to Sag Harbor three years ago. As most school board junkies understand, policy is key to most every action undertaken by the board and administration and his experience on that committee coupled with a background in finance can only benefit residents moving forward into a potentially challenging period, which is why we wholeheartedly endorse his election.

Board experience, keeping oversight over large-scale projects like the Sag Harbor Learning Center and understanding the process of hiring a superintendent will also be critical for the board moving forward. With nine years on the Board of Education and a reputation for asking hard questions, even when they are unpopular, Chris Tice is impossible not to endorse. At a recent debate, it was clear her history with the board was an advantage. Her experience on the board comes with the kind of institutional knowledge that residents should not discount amidst a campaign that, in some circles, has revolved around unseating this veteran board member.

Caleb Kercheval is a longtime resident and member of the school’s transportation committee — certainly an asset — and his calls for better communication are warranted. Thomas McErlean, known as “Tom Mac,” brings a tremendous amount of passion, heart and history to his candidacy and his work with local youth cannot be overlooked. Julian Barrowcliffe, who like Mr. Tsibiridis, has substantial finance experience, brings board experience from a private school in Manhattan and is a parent with an understanding of what it takes to raise a child with special needs. The district would be lucky to have any these candidates on the Board of Education.

Ultimately, our last endorsement is for Brian DeSesa, who has served on the board for the last five months and brings a healthy knowledge of law and land use to the table. Mr. DeSesa has also shown recently that he will not always vote with the pack but will strike out with his own opinions — and votes — when necessary. We hope to hear more of his voice if elected in the next year.

We also encourage residents to support both the budget and the transportation proposition. Current board members deserve credit for bringing the budget down from what administrators originally proposed. And while the controversy over the purchase of a Chevrolet Fleet Suburban to transport students from Sagaponack is not lost on the editorial board, it would be a shame to see the district unable to purchase the larger school bus it needs, particularly when the funding for both is already set aside in reserve accounts.

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