District Clerk Mary Adamczyk swears in new superintendent Dr. John Gratto.
Sag Harbor’s new superintendent arrived on Tuesday and he rearranged the desk in his office, took a tour of the facilities and met with Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols. He also attended his first board of education meeting and his first executive session.
His hiring by the board and his arrival to the district has been steeped in controversy, particularly concerning what he may or may not do as the new boss. Some in the community have expressed privately their fears that Dr. Gratto, whose last job was in Windham, N.Y. will be here for the short term simply to address staffing and spending. On Wednesday, Gratto said, “In the search process, I told the [consulting] firm I wanted to work for four years if not longer. I certainly would not have come here for one year. It’s a very expensive move for me.”
“The board signed me to a three year contract and I would add, I did not come with preconceived notions or an agenda,” he said. “Certainly decisions have to be made. We have the teacher contracts and positions that need to be filled.”
When asked what directives he’s received, Gratto said, “We’re still working through the goal setting process for the coming school year. They haven’t given me specific directions per se but in general we want to keep strengthening academic achievement, keep managing the district in a fiscally prudent manner and make sure the community is well informed about the decisions. Those are more like themes than directives.”
Gratto acknowledged the three issues that have mired his arrival, the fact that a number of people wanted to see elementary school principal Joan Frisicano hired to the superintendent position, his employment history and the process by which the board hired him.
“People have to trust the board in that they elected the board to represent them,” said Gratto. “They are often in difficult and challenging situations.”
He mentioned budgets, contract negotiations and the hiring of a superintendent as examples.
“With their superintendent choice, they used a process and selected a candidate they thought was best for the district. People can sit back and second guess, but they have to have confidence that the board acts in the best interest of students, community and employees.”
“I want to do what’s best for the students, fair for adults and what the community supports. That’s my mantra.”
As for the goal setting process, the board has been “working to set district goals” for the last two years. Typically they have a summer retreat where among other things, goals are discussed. This past year the goals included benchmarking and establishing a zero-based budgeting system. The goals though have never been fully fleshed out and have been a topic of discussion at many board meetings. Gratto said in his experience, as superintendent at other districts, goals could generally be established in one night. On Monday, July 14, the board will hold their annual reorganization meeting and Gratto is prepared to bring a list of goals to that meeting.
“I’m going to bring some recommended goals to the board based upon conversations with the administrators. We’ll look at student achievement results, operational efficiencies and recommend goals to the board. Board’s typically add some more.”
On Tuesday Gratto spoke with Nichols and was hoping to meet with Frisicano; she he is on vacation however. He did say he checked in on the elementary school’s gym floor, which is being replaced this summer.
“The floor is progressing nicely. The clerk of the works is doing a good job and it looks like it will be done on schedule and on budget,” he said.
He said he spent time with district business manager Len Bernard discussing district spending, specifically transportation costs and the cafeteria program and ways to make them as “fiscally sound as possible.”
Speaking to the current contract negotiations, which last week came to a halt when the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor declared an impasse, he said, “Contract negotiations are generally a prolonged process because the board has the responsibility of balancing being fair to the teachers and the responsibility of being fair to the community. Ultimately it takes time, but both parties will come to an agreement.”
Gratto said the subject of Tuesday night’s executive session was the negotiations. He said the board basically informed him of each side’s arguments and they discussed the impasse as well as ideas to “bridge the gap.”
As far as his immediate plans, Gratto reiterated what he said at the special meeting two weeks ago when community members were invited to question both him and the board concerning his hiring. On that night, he said he planned on doing a lot of listening.
“Things aren’t always what they appear,” he said. “For example, the local people know the issues. The people that have been here for a long time know the issues better than I do, for instance, the music teacher position. Is there even enough of an enrollment to justify having that music teacher?”
Gratto said he would be willing to sit down with any community groups to listen to their input on such issues.