Sag Harbor Voters Approve School Budget, Bus Referendum

Chris Tice, Susan Lamontagne and Brian DeSesa share a laugh after Ms. Tice and Mr. DeSesa were elected following the Sag Harbor School Board election in the gymnasium of the Pierson High School on Tuesday night, 5/21/19. Michael Heller photo

Sag Harbor School District voters on Tuesday approved a $42.88 million spending plan for the 2019-2020 school year, with about 68.7 percent saying “yes” to the budget.

For three open seats on the school board, the community re-elected Chris Tice and voted in Yorgos Tsibiridis and Brian DeSesa from a pool of six candidates. Ms. Tice and Mr. Tsibiridis earned full, three-year terms and Mr. DeSesa earned the one-year, six-week term left over after a school board member resigned in December of 2018. Mr. DeSesa was sworn in after the results were announced Tuesday night.

Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent Katy Graves gives Yorgos Tsibiridis a hug as his wife looks on after he was elected following the Sag Harbor School Board election in the gymnasium of the Pierson High School on Tuesday night.

The second ballot proposition, in which the school district sought approval to spend reserve moneys on a large school bus and a Chevrolet fleet Suburban school bus, also passed, with a final tally of 638 to 463, or about 58 percent voter approval. School officials have said the purchases will not affect taxes because the money was set aside in previous years for this exact type of situation. The large bus will not exceed $103,524 and the Suburban bus will not exceed $74,922.

The school budget passed by a tally of 761 to 347. The total voter turnout of just over 1,100 was higher than last year, when just 515 ballots were cast, but lower than the district’s average of 1,332 voters over the previous 15 years.

After Tuesday’s results were announced, Superintendent Katy Graves, who will retire in January, thanked the community for its support.

“Once again, we had a wonderful turnout by our community,” she said. “It is so great to see so many take time out to be here and participate in supporting our students and our referendum items.”

She acknowledged “challenging economic times” that many are facing. “I know so many of our community members are concerned with what’s happening with their taxes both on the local level and the state and federal levels,” she said.

School officials have said the $42.88 million budget preserves all current programs, staff and services while adding some resources. Among the additions will be another teacher for English as a new language classes, more funding for International Baccalaureate program fees, more “interactive technology” for the elementary school and more textbooks and materials for math and computer science classes. Money for supplies and additional staffing for the opening of the Sag Harbor Learning Center is also included in the budget.

The budget carries a tax levy increase of 3 percent. It is lower than the potential tax levy increase the district would have been allowed under state law, which was 4.56 percent. Both of those figures are higher than the “2 percent tax cap” phrase that people are used to hearing because the law takes into account bustling real estate growth within the district, exclusions for capital debt and other factors.

The expected tax impact for a Southampton Town homeowner with a house valued at $1 million is about $137 more for the year. For an East Hampton homeowner with a house valued at $1.1 million, the tax impact is expected to be approximately $151 more.

The purchase of the SUV bus had emerged as a somewhat controversial issue in the weeks leading up to the vote. Ms. Graves said getting the go-ahead on the SUV bus means the district can finish up its negotiations with the Sagaponack School District, which had initially requested the bus for the shared transportation program Sag Harbor provides for its students.

“I know there were questions and concerns around the purchase of the Suburban SUV so I’m really pleased to see they supported that effort as well,” Ms. Graves said. “We couldn’t move forward with the contract until we had the purchase of the bus, so the community will be seeing that at an upcoming board meeting. Please stay tuned for future contracts with neighboring school districts.”

In the school board race, Ms. Tice received the highest number of votes with 674, followed by Mr. Tsibiridis with 666 and Mr. DeSesa with 548. Julian Barrowcliffe got 503 votes, Tom McErlean got 409 and Caleb Kercheval got 170.

“I want to thank the community for coming out in such high numbers and supporting the budget as well as the proposition on our buses,” school board president Diana Kolhoff said Tuesday. “I think the buses are going to be a huge asset for our district and in the long run will end up saving us quite a bit of money.”

On the outcome of the board elections, Ms. Kolhoff said, “I would like to congratulate Yorgos. We look forward to working with him when he gets sworn in in July, and we get to swear in Brian for the same seat for the remainder of this term, so there’s a nice easy transition. And congratulations to Chris Tice for being the highest vote-getter.”

Ms. Graves said it was “really great to see so many people wanting to participate” in their local school district.

“I was really pleased to see that,” she said. “I want to thank all our candidates, and to those that weren’t elected, I hope they take part in our committees. We are always looking for more representation and it’s a great way to be active participants.”