By Kathryn G. Menu
As the Sag Harbor School District formally opens its doors for classes next Wednesday, September 7, administrators, children and teachers will walk into school buildings with the knowledge that the school’s top brass — Superintendent Katy Graves — has a contract in place that will keep her at the helm of the district through June 30, 2018.
The decision, which was unanimous, was made following a marathon Sag Harbor School Board of Education meeting Monday night, where parents — many there to support Ms. Graves — waited hours to speak to the board for the second time in three weeks, calling for the extension of the superintendent’s contract.
Following the public session, the board called an executive session to discuss the employment of “particular persons.” Following the closed-door meeting, the board went back into public just before midnight and voted to extend Ms. Graves contract by one year.
“As we approach the state of the school, we look forward to working together with our Superintendent of Schools Katy Graves to ensure another productive and successful school year,” stated board president Diana Kolhoff in a prepared statement released by the school district’s public relations firm, Syntax, mid-day Tuesday.
“We appreciate the public’s patience as we worked through this process and the board felt it was important to resolve this issue before students came for the first day of school, which is why we stayed late,” Ms. Kolhoff added later on Tuesday during a phone interview. “The reality is it is difficult to get together with seven schedules and we felt it was important we expedite this process.”
“I am honored to have my contract renewed,” said Ms. Graves in a written statement on Wednesday morning. “Our Sag Harbor School family is busy getting ready for the start of school year next week that will include safe new entryways, additional sidewalks and enhanced learning spaces. We hope to make this the best school year ever for our students and their families!”
According to Ms. Kolhoff, Ms. Graves contract has not changed outside of the extension. On September 2, Ms. Kolhoff did state an addendum was added to the contract that calls for a quarterly review of the superintendent’s job performance.
Ms. Graves was hired by the district in 2014 at a salary of $215,000 annually. That salary was increased to $224,562 in July for the 2016-17 school year. As in the original agreement, the board is required to notify Ms. Graves in writing one year prior to the end of her contract if the district does not intend to renew, meaning Ms. Graves will be notified in writing no later than June 30, 2017 by the current school board if they do not intend her to stay on past June 30, 2018 — unless she waives that requirement in writing.
A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Sag Harbor Express on Friday, August 12 asking about communication between the Sag Harbor School Board and Ms. Graves regarding her contract was fulfilled Tuesday afternoon by district clerk Mary Adamcyzk. In a letter, dated June 29, 2016 and signed by former school board president Susan Kinsella, Ms. Graves was informed her contract would not be renewed.
“As you know, your current Contract of Employment expires on June 30, 2017,” reads the letter. “In accordance with Paragraph 4(B) of the Contract of Employment, please allow this letter to inform you that the Board of Education of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District has determined not to renew your Contract of Employment at its expiration.”
When asked for “the public record of the vote that resulted in the drafting of this letter,” Ms. Adamcyzk replied, “There are no documents which are responsive to this request.”
According to the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government, the Freedom of Information Law requires that “Each agency shall maintain: (a) a record of the final vote of each member in every agency proceeding in which the member votes …”
A 2013 opinion rendered by the Committee on Open Government is more specific: “If action is taken during an executive session, minutes reflective of the action, the date and the vote must generally be recorded in minutes pursuant to 106 (2) of the Law.”
“Stated differently, when a final vote is taken by members of an agency, a record must be prepared that indicates the manner in which each member who voted cast his or her vote,” reads the opinion. “Further, in an Appellate Division decision that was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, it was found that ‘[t]he use of a secret ballot for voting purposes was improper’, and that the Freedom of Information Law requires ‘open voting and a record of the manner in which each member voted’ even when a vote is taken during an executive session.
That Court of Appeals case was Smithson v. Ilion Housing Authority.
On Monday night, residents waited hours to speak to the school board regarding Ms. Graves contract for the second time in less than a month.
“What I think is the best about Katy is she has established a level of trust with the teachers and community. Everyone has shortcomings — whatever those shortcomings are, I do not believe they outweigh the trust she has established,” said Jim Kinnier, president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor. “It has been said the community doesn’t know what you know and that is true, but the board doesn’t know what I know. I meet with the superintendent once a week and I know what that is like and I met with other superintendents once a week and none of them established the level of trust she has. If you are looking for perfection you will never find it and you will only delay the progress this school continues to make.”
“Since the 1960s I have been involved with the school and she has done more good than you can imagine,” said Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry.
“Four superintendents, six board of education members, eight athletic directors, and four business officials, all in the last eight years,” said parent Larry Baum of the turnover in the district. “This is no way to govern. We are asking for stability at the top for our kids.”
One of the eight board members Mr. Baum was referring to was Mary Anne Miller who chose not to seek another term in 2014. She spoke at Monday’s meeting and asked the public to respect the board “during a very complicated decision making process,” understanding it is the board’s primary job to hire and evaluate the superintendent.
“My request for you tonight as a former board of education member, and this is said out of due respect, I am asking you to partner with the community you serve and be as communicative as possible,” said Ms. Miller, asking for the board to share with the community not only its actions, but the reasons behind those actions, and the challenges the district may be facing.
“You don’t have to violate whatever rules and regulations there are and you can actually communicate more than you have been,” she said.