Sag Harbor School District Looking at Options for Stella Maris Purchase



By Kathryn G. Menu

Administrators presented the Sag Harbor School Board of Education and the public with a final list of goals for the coming school year on Monday night. Notable among the long list of items is a community discussion about whether or not to purchase the former Stella Maris Regional School building on Division Street.

The former private Catholic school building, which closed in 2011 and is owned by St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is on the market for $3.5 million. In addition to the Sag Harbor School District, other potential buyers have been reported to be interested in the property.

In July, the district agreed to hire BBS Architects of Patchogue to research potential uses, and the associated costs, should the district decide to purchase the 0.74-acre property.

On Monday night, the potential purchase of the property was included in three broad district visions and goals, which came with specific tasks under each general topic. Under “Accountability,” the Stella Maris purchase is listed along with the development of a four-year fiscal plan for the school district under the shadow of a state mandated property tax levy cap. That fiscal plan will evaluate professional development, staff evaluation, tenure recommendations, policy manual review and update, the Stella Maris property and all its potential or lack there of, as well as a total evaluation of the district’s facilities, current capital projects and bonds, and technology and security.

According to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves, the purchase of the Stella Maris property was also up for discussion during the board’s executive session on Monday. The board is reviewing three phases of a potential purchase of Stella Maris, which are being researched by BBS Architects. Phase one looks at the purchase of the building as an educational building in its current state, she said. Phase two looks at the costs associated with bringing the building up to New York State standards for a public education facility.

“This was a private school,” Ms. Graves said on Tuesday. “New York State education standards are different. We would need an elevator, handicap access, panels you can see through in offices, covers on the windows,” as well as technology and security upgrades on the property.

“Phase three would be to bring it up to what our community or the board of education may want it used for,” she said, noting that phase would look at different uses like creating a space for special education – which could fill a regional need – or a career and technical education program offering classes in subjects like the culinary arts.

“Or what if we made it a building for the sixth and seventh grade – honestly, people keep asking what we would use it for but we don’t know yet,” said Ms. Graves, adding the district wants to hear from the community first before it sets any ideas in stone.

According to Ms. Graves, while a calendar has yet to be set for public meetings on the property, she hopes they will begin in November, and continue monthly until February or March, when the district would likely put up a bond vote if voters appear interested in the project.

“We need the bottom line costs before we move forward because that is the first thing taxpayers are going to ask for,” she said, adding, “We want a really good feel for all the community’s ideas before we move forward.”

“We also want to talk to neighboring school districts about their needs,” said Ms. Graves. “This ideally could be a decision that could develop revenue for the district. We have to share services – there is no doubt about that – so those are other conversations we have to have.”

The four-year fiscal plan is expected to be unveiled at the next business meeting, which will be held on Monday, October 19.

Other goals and visions laid out Monday night include increased communication. Ms. Graves said the district plans to launch a new website with enhanced information and links by the spring of 2016. She said the district would also expand other forms of communication – electronic newsletters and surveys, email blasts, phone calls, video, and student and parent guidebooks. College readiness and cyber safety programs will also be improved over the next year, said Ms. Graves, as well as security based communication within district and to parents out of district in the event of a situation on either campus.

The district also hopes to enhance the overall “Sag Harbor experience” for its students this year, setting a goal to focus on at-risk or fragile students, and connect students into new programming opportunities whether that be through field trips, clubs and organizations like drama, robotics, and new STEM opportunities in Sag Harbor.

A three-to-four year educational plan, expected to be rolled out over the next two years, will also look at curriculum throughout the district including math programming throughout the district, the implementation of distance learning and a new middle years International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

In other school news, a revised policy requiring the video-recording of all school board meetings – gavel to gavel and including public input – was approved Monday night with key changes made before the second and final reading was adopted by the board.

Board member Chris Tice requested the policy be changed to ensure its annual review is held in September – rather than in June – so that whoever is elected to the board of education has an opportunity to weigh in on policy that impacts the following school year. She also suggested the policy read that video-recording should be “continued” rather than “discontinued” if the board takes no action.

Present board members agreed and passed the policy. Both Diana Kolhoff and Sandi Kruel were absent from Monday’s meeting, but supported the revision to the video-recording policy at last month’s board meeting.

In terms of technology, Ms. Tice also asked the board set a formal agenda item to discuss district policy on the use of technology – cellphones, tablets and the like. Ms. Tice said that while the administration currently has a policy in place, and while the district’s shared-decision making committee has made their recommendations about that policy, she would like to see the public have an opportunity to discuss the issue. The board, she added, could also make its own decision about what technology policy it believes should be in-district.

The shared-decision making committee policy allows students unlimited access to cell phones outside of class. In the classroom, devices must be turned off, and not seen or heard – including vibrations. Exceptions are made when teachers utilize the technology for instruction.

When discussing the committee’s recommendations in June, Pierson Middle-High School Principal Jeff Nichols said that if a phone is interfering with teaching and learning, or if the policy isn’t followed, the phone would be held in administrative offices for one to five days. Student detention or suspension could follow for repeat offenders.

The next Sag Harbor School Board of Education meeting will be held on Monday, October 5.