By Kathryn G. Menu
More than 60 parents, students and teachers attended Monday’s Sag Harbor School Board of Education meeting to praise Superintendent Katy Graves and demand the school board extend her contract beyond 2017, as questions continue to mount about when, and why, the board chose not to do so earlier this summer.
“I understand that many of you are here out of concern for our superintendent and there are a few things we can say, and there are a lot of things we can’t say,” said board president Diana Kolhoff, noting the board could not discuss events that occurred in executive session.
“I know it is frustrating, but we are bound by that,” she continued. “That being said, Katy is still under contract. She is still our superintendent.”
“At this time, Katy’s contract has not been extended, but no decisions have been made,” she added.
“In all my years connected to the school system, our superintendent has probably contributed more to the school system in many different ways, and in a short period of time,” said Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry, who was also a founder of the Hampton Day School. She credited Ms. Graves for leading the charge on the purchase of the former Stella Maris Regional School building, among other initiatives.
“We have trusted you all by election to man that ship and I speak to you as a fellow elected official — that is a grave responsibility,” said Andrea Schiavoni, who is a Southampton Town justice and is married to school board member Thomas John Schiavoni. “It is a trust, it is heavy, but by the fact that this room normally has only a few people and now has many it is an indication that faith is shaken. I will say, as an elected official, our job requires constant self-awareness and self-reflection about why we do what we do. There is no place for personality in the decisions we make; there is no place for anything but the business at hand and that business at hand is our children.”
“It is never too late to right things,” she added. “It is never too late to take a look and say I have learned something new, and I am going to behave differently.”
Pierson Class of 2016 salutatorian Evan Johnson was one of three students to speak in support of Ms. Graves.
“I think you would be hard-pressed to find one student that doesn’t love Ms. Graves,” said Ms. Johnson.
“I leave for college on Thursday — I have a million things to do here and I just spent two hours here so I could speak. I love you,” she said, looking at Ms. Graves with tears in her eyes. “And I think you should be renewing her contract.”
“I love Katy Graves for what she has done with this community,” said Jackie Fuchs, a parent with a child in middle school. “We lost four fathers this year. Katy went to every single service … Katy shows up at all the games, she is in our community, she brings her family into the community, she did not leave her job lightly to take this job, and I know that all these parents and families are here to support that we keep things the way they are and we have transparency about what happened. I know we are not allowed to ask why, but we all want to know why.”
“I really hope you go into a meeting and make the right decision for our families here,” added Ms. Fuchs.
“We have had constant change since I have come to this town,” said parent Larry Baum. He noted that since 2008, the district has employed four superintendents, nine athletic directors and four business administrators, and has had a number of board members either resign or choose not to seek another term in office.
“We need consistency, our children need consistency,” he said. “We cannot keep having a revolving door.”
Mr. Baum alleged that something occurred in a closed-door session that led to Ms. Graves’ contract not being extended, based on clear deadlines set out in her original employment agreement with the district.
Ms. Graves was hired in 2014. While she did receive a raise this July, increasing her salary from $215,000 to $224,562 for the 2016-17 school year, her contract was not extended beyond its original expiration date of July 30, 2017.
The contract contains language specifically requiring the board to inform her of its intentions to extend or not extend her employment at least a year before the contract expires.
“If the Board has determined not to renew this Agreement at its expiration, it shall, at least one (1) year prior thereto, provide written notice of intention not to renew the Superintendent, so that she may have ample opportunity to seek other employment,” it states.
The contract also states, “The Superintendent may waive her right to notice of intent not to renew or waive the one (1) year requirement without formal amendment of this Agreement, but any such waiver must be in writing to be effective.”
On Friday, Ms. Graves confirmed that her contract runs through June 2017, and that there is a deadline in it for the board to inform her if it plans to continue employing her, but she declined to elaborate.
“I am not comfortable answering at this time,” she said. “I genuinely believe conflict is not good for children and I want to open this school year with the least conflict as possible. We have a building project we are working on right now, and we are getting ready to open school, and I want all of that to be completed in as positive a way as possible.”
When asked if she had received correspondence from the board regarding her contract, Ms. Graves said, “Yes, but that is confidential in nature.”
On Friday, The Sag Harbor Express, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with district clerk Mary Adamczyk seeking any correspondence between the board of education and Ms. Graves regarding her contract. By Wednesday afternoon, that request had not yet been met, although Ms. Adamczyk did acknowledge receipt of the request and said she would look into the matter.
On Wednesday, Ms. Kolhoff confirmed Ms. Graves “was notified of the board’s intent,” but declined to elaborate in detail. “I do want to thank the community for being involved in education,” she added.
“In order to respect a district employee’s right to privacy, the Board of Education does not comment or discuss any employee’s contract,” she later said in a statement through Syntax, the district’s public relations firm.
“I just think we have the most special community,” said Ms. Graves on Tuesday. “I deeply cherish this community. I think it was reflected last night this community cares deeply about its school, and its children, and it shows.”