The main topic of conversation at Monday night’s, May 24, Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting was, unsurprisingly, the status of the district’s contract negotiations with Mashashimuet Park.
Several members of the public weighed in with their thoughts about the situation, which has been a hot topic of conversation in Sag Harbor after the district announced on May 14 that it would not be renewing a contract with the park after its current three-year contract expires next month. If the district cannot come to a new agreement with the park — which it paid an annual fee of $211,000 last year to host its interscholastic sports teams — it would need to find new venues for many of its middle school, junior varsity and varsity athletic teams to practice and play.
Pierson sophomore athlete Lizzie Hallock started a petition to keep sports at the park, and it has garnered more than 800 signatures. Contract negotiations broke down last week after the park’s board declined to include in a new contract the majority of demands from a list of improvements and upgrades the district felt were necessary to ensure a safe and quality experience for the athletes.
School Board President Brian DeSesa did not offer any new details about the status of trying to renew contractual discussions, but said simply that “all aspects are being looked into with respect to the park and options.” He added that “once things develop, we will have more information for the public and we will put that out there.”
Superintendent Jeff Nichols said on Tuesday afternoon that the district is “continuing to communicate” with the park board in an attempt to try and come to a solution that will benefit the student-athletes.
Nancy Hallock, the mother of Lizzie Hallock, was the first to speak at the meeting, saying she “heard the board of ed and the park board are talking more,” and said she was happy to hear that lines of communication had remained open. She said she hoped the two parties would continue to try and “figure out a plan that works for the school and the park to keep the athletes at Mashashimuet Park.”
“The thought of not being there is just really very stressful to the kids,” she said. “That’s their home.”
Kevin Dehler, another Sag Harbor resident who has one child in the middle school and another in the elementary school, has been a frequent critic of the arrangement between the park and the school, and weighed in again, as he has at previous meetings, sharing his desire to see the park board operate with more transparency when it comes to how it spends the money it receives from the district each year. He said he hoped a solution could be reached through a “collaborative effort,” not just between the district and the park board, but with the larger Sag Harbor community as well, including local business owners and contractors who he said have volunteered to help complete some of the necessary safety upgrades and improvements at the park.
“A lot of people have offered to help, and would like to see a more receptive response to people who are trying to provide exactly what everyone is trying to do,” he said. “I think everyone wants the kids back on the fields and playing there, but we need to keep the communication lines open.”
Tracy Cavaniola, another parent who has been vocal at Board of Education meetings about her disappointment with the conditions at the park, echoed similar sentiments as Mr. Dehler, saying she was eager to see the park operate with more transparency and offer more solutions for upgrading the facilities.
“We make this blanket statement of everyone just wants the kids to be able to walk to the park, and yeah we all want that, but if the fields are not what they should be for our students, then we have to say something,” she said, adding that she was happy to see the school board “stand up” to the park board when it came to contract negotiations. The park board “is not being very forthright about what they are going to do to help out and listen,” she said.
The remainder of the roughly half-hour meeting proceeded quickly. Superintendent Jeff Nichols thanked the community for passing the 2021-22 school budget, 344-142, and also for passing the three propositions that were on the ballot this year. He pointed out that voter turnout was roughly half of what it usually is, but said that outcome, in a pandemic year, was similar to what other districts in the area experienced.
Mr. Nichols also gave an update on the status of vaccines, saying that the district had offered to bus students ages 12 and older to a vaccine clinic that was being run over the weekend by school physician Dr. Gail Schoenfeld, but said that there were no signups for that offering, although he did point out that several families took their children there on their own to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved for use in children ages 12 and older on May 12.
“We will continue to publicize vaccine opportunities to the school community because we know that the more people that are vaccinated, the better it is for the community in terms of keeping transmission down,” he said.
Mr. Nichols also reiterated that even as higher rates of vaccination have helped push the test positivity rate to just under 1 percent, the district will continue with the mask mandates for the remainder of the school year, and will evaluate guidance over the summer before making a determination about what the mask policy will be when school resumes again in September.
In the principal’s report, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone announced that the school will offer a “summer academy” this year, similar to programs that have been offered in the past for some students whose individualized education plans call for summer instruction. The academy will be offered to children entering second through fifth grades, who may want or need extra support primarily in math or English language arts. Close to 40 students have signed up so far, Mr. Malone said, for the program that will run on Monday through Thursday mornings starting on July 5.
“It’s a nice opportunity for kids to receive a little boost in the summer and keep their skills sharp before they head back to school in the fall,” he said.