Thiele Pitches Commuter Trains in Sag Harbor

Fred W. Thiele Jr. appeared at Monday's school board meeting to pitch the South Fork Commuter Connection. Christine Sampson photo

Members of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, the union of faculty employed by the Sag Harbor School District, expressed cautious support of the proposed South Fork Commuter Connection in a survey conducted by the school district last week.

The survey, done in conjunction with a planned visit by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to pitch the train service to school employees at Monday’s school board meeting, showed 52 percent of teachers reported having at least an hour’s commute or more each day. About 46 percent of teachers reported the commuter trains would work for them either as currently proposed or in a slightly adjusted form. Fifteen percent chose a survey response that said, “I live west of the [Shinnecock] Canal but I’d still prefer to drive.”

To launch the commuter service, the Long Island Rail Road, working with Mr. Thiele and other state and local officials, is offering a total of six morning and afternoon trains in both the eastbound and westbound directions set to begin in March of 2019. The final step in the works is “last mile” transportation between train stations and employment centers, such as the schools, commercial hubs and the hospital, for which East Hampton and Southampton towns are seeking proposals right now from transportation providers.

“The ‘trade parade,’ the traffic that backs up, is something that we have endured for a long, long time,” Mr. Thiele told an audience of school board members, school administrators and a couple of community members on Monday. “We need options. We’re not building any new highways. We have to have public transit here on the South Fork, not just to move people but for all the environmental reasons. This is something elected officials and community leaders have been working on for the better part of two decades.”

The qualitative part of the survey revealed many teachers — whose names were redacted — are enthusiastic about the coming commuter train service.

“I would take the train every day as it takes me sometimes two hours to get to work.”

“I hope this happens for the commuters!”

“Something needs to be done. … I was considering leaving last year due to the exhausting commute.”

Indeed, last week, Sag Harbor superintendent Katy Graves said the long commute is what contributed to the district losing about a third of the 17 new teachers and aides it hired last year.

“For Sag Harbor schools, it has been a challenge to keep employees because of the commute, what we lovingly call the ‘trade parade,’” Ms. Graves said.

The district is currently having trouble finding a technical specialist to fill a support role working in its technology department, with school officials citing Sag Harbor’s distance and commuting situation as the reason why civil service candidates choose not to pursue the job — which pays $85,000 per year plus benefits, according to the district’s website.

Some of the survey answers suggested additional support for commuters, such as the ability to board trains farther west and adjusting the times that teachers are allowed to arrive at and leave school to account for the trains.

“If it is possible, can a later train also be provided for those who coach or lead clubs after school?” one teacher asked.

Mr. Thiele said Monday that the service beginning in March is only a starting place that he hopes can be expanded with the building of sidings on East End railroad tracks that will allow trains to pass each other.

“The reason we’re limited to begin with is it’s a one-track system,” he said. “It will take a couple of years but we anticipate we will be able to provide even more service as part of this” once sidings are added.

The East Hampton Town Board also briefly discussed the South Fork Commuter Connection this week.

Assistant Town Planning Director Joanne Pahwul told the town board that transportation service providers will be hired “for a block of time,” not for a particular route. They will be “hired for a certain number of hours,” she explained, so it will be flexible for them which roads they will serve and where they will make stops.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc agreed. “We don’t know where the ridership and the demand will be,” he said, although it’s clear that users will include workers from the schools, the town government and other “major employers.”

Ms. Pahwul said planners were looking for advice from people in the town and businesspeople in transportation services about routes and stops. “We’re not really trying to design the routes,” but just be sure “that we get complete coverage.”

Middle School Principal Appointed

Also on Monday, the Sag Harbor School Board appointed Brittany Carriero, the current Pierson Middle School assistant principal, to the recently created role of middle school principal. She will earn a salary of $158,000 and will serve a four-year probationary term before she is eligible for tenure as a principal. While the board made its appointment without much discussion on Monday, one member of the community spoke during a public comment session to question the need for a middle school principal.

She was told by Ms. Graves the district would not be filling the assistant middle school principal job, and that the position of principal was to support the creation of “an authentic middle school” once the business offices and prekindergarten classes move over to the former Stella Maris building.

“That’s going to take leadership,” Ms. Graves said.

The board also accepted the resignation of Marcus DaSilva, assistant plant facilities administrator, who has accepted a similar job in a different school district. Coupled with the recent resignation of Thomas Primiano, the assistant school business administrator, the Sag Harbor School District is currently hiring to fill two high-level administrative positions.

Additional reporting by Peter Boody