Sag Harbor Voters Approve School District’s 2018-2019 Budget

Susan Schaefer and Jordana Sobey were elected to fill the to vacant Sag Harbor School Board seats during the 2018 school board election in the Pierson High School gymnasium on Tuesday night. Michael Heller photo

Sag Harbor voters came out Tuesday to approve the school district’s 2018-19 budget, with close to 69 percent saying “yes” to a $40.88 million spending plan.

The year-over-year spending increase is about $1.97 million, or just under 5 percent. The budget plan’s 3.51-percent tax levy increase is within the state’s limitations, so it only needed a simple majority vote to pass. The final tally was 353-162, with the total turnout of 515 voters representing a dramatic drop from last year’s voter count of 1,242.

Superintendent Katy Graves thanked the community for its support and called Sag Harbor “a very special place.”

“I think that our lower rate of folks coming out to vote speaks to the confidence that our community does have in the school district,” she said after the results were announced. “I think they felt very safe with the budget and the budget process this year. When we do see high volume, it’s because there’s a high concern. I don’t think we saw high concern.”

School officials have said security is a priority in the budget, with at least $300,000 allocated for staffing and technology to boost safety measures. They have also said the $40.88 million budget preserves all current programs and services for students, while increasing opportunities in areas like science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“They want to see continuity of program, they don’t want to see any of our programs go away, they want more STEM,” Ms. Graves said, “but the largest concern by far was safety and security, and that we make sure we are tapping into the wellness of our students, because that becomes a part of safety and security. Our students need to feel welcomed, but we balance that with strengthening our security systems as well. How we’re going to do that is going to be a very collaborative effort with our law enforcement and at the state level and local level, and some of those things we’ll never be able to share with the community because they’re going to have to be confidential. But what we can share, we will share.”

Additionally, voters approved a proposition that gives more students access to school bus transportation. Currently, students must live at least one mile away from school to qualify for busing, but now, the minimum distance will be reduced to a half mile. That proposition garnered about 67 percent voter approval, with a final tally of 343-170.

“I think that it will be a good year to kind of look at our transportation again and make sure what we’re doing makes sense,” school board president Diana Kolhoff said. “It’s a good starting place and that conversation will continue.”

The two school board candidates, Susan Schaefer and Jordana Sobey, were running unopposed for the two open seats on the board. They received 436 votes and 389 votes, respectively. Ms. Schaefer’s term continues immediately, as she had been appointed to serve in the role that was initially vacated by Tommy John Schiavoni, who resigned in December after he was elected to the Southampton Town Council, but whose term was to expire June 30. Their full, three-year terms begin July 1.

Eleven different people received write-in votes, including Gregg Schiavoni, Sandi Kruel, Mary Anne Miller, Michael Hayes, Leif Hope, David Diskin, Aura Winarick, Tom Fabiano, Jeff Peters and Tom Gleason, as well as sitting board member Stephanie Bitis, whose term is up June 30 and who chose not to seek reelection.

“We’re super happy the community came out to support the budget, and support the candidates that are willing to serve,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “I thought it was very interesting that there were so many write-ins, which tells me that the community feels like people should participate in the democratic process.”