Six candidates—three incumbents and three challengers—are running for four open seats on the seven-member Sag Harbor School Board this year.
The two highest vote-getters will serve full, three-year terms beginning July 1 and ending on June 30, 2016. The third- and fourth-highest vote-getters will each complete two unexpired terms, beginning immediately on election day, May 21, and ending on June 30, 2015. The unexpired terms were left open when former members Walter Wilcoxen and Gregg Schiavoni, who won their seats in the 2012 election, resigned this year. They each criticized the board over its behavior, particularly behind closed doors, and a perceived lack of communication, both among board members and between the board and the public.
Calls for greater transparency have figured into the public discussion as a result. Also looming large in this year’s election is the search for a permanent superintendent and the negotiations for the next teachers contract—a long and bitter process last time around—along with the perennial budget challenges and curriculum changes.
District voters may vote on the district’s proposed $35.51 million budget, two additional propositions and for board candidates on Tuesday, May 21, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson Middle/High School gymnasium.
David Diskin, 48, of North Haven, is running for the Sag Harbor School Board for the first time this year. The president of Artivise, a nationwide design home accessories company based in Bridgehampton, Mr. Diskin holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of British Columbia.
Married to Faith, a former physical therapist in the district, he has two daughters, Zoe, a 10th-grader at Pierson High School, and Jade, a sixth-grader at Pierson Middle School.
Mr. Diskin serves on the board of Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, as well as on the district’s audit committee. He previously served on staff selection and the buildings and grounds committees and was once involved in the development of a squash program at Southampton Youth Services.
Noting the high degree of turnover in the administration and on the board, Mr. Diskin said in a recent interview that his business experience would serve him well as a “bridge builder.”
“A person who’s willing to cross over and listen to everyone’s options would be valuable at this time,” he said. “I have about 25 years of extensive business and management experience, my mother was an educator. I have a great commitment to public education in general and the children in the district.”
Mr. Diskin said he favors an open, data-driven decision-making process and said he would listen to all sides to “make sure we get the very best education possible for the children, at a cost that’s going to be reasonable for the taxpayers.”
Specifically, he noted that the search for a permanent superintendent is most pressing right now. The district is set to start its search in September at a consultant’s recommendation, though Mr. Diskin said he feels the search should have been continuous and not shut down until then. Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso will be at the helm through the 2013-14 school year. Mr. Diskin also named budget (keeping under the tax cap) and contract negotiations as key issues.
In terms of communication, Mr. Diskin said it is important to obey the state’s Open Meetings Law and speaking with one voice, a recommendation of the State School Boards Association, does not mean the board should not discuss in open sessions how it arrived at consensus.
“I love the school,” he said. “We’re very happy with the education our children are getting there. We want to see it move from a good district to a great district.”
Ed Drohan, 78, a resident of the Pine Neck neighborhood in Noyac, is running for a second straight term on the School Board, having won his first in 2010 in an uncontested race. An information technology consultant for the small partnership, ITNC, Mr. Drohan holds a bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College in the history of political science.
He is married to Joan, and the couple has three adult children, Mary, Katherine and Daniel. His firstborn daughter, Elizabeth, is deceased. He also has three grandchildren: Adam, 6, a kindergartner at Sag Harbor Elementary School, 17-month-old Emily and 13-month-old Edward James.
Mr. Drohan serves on several district committees, including those for long-range planning, facilities and curriculum. He is the Grand Knight for the Knights of Columbus in Sag Harbor and a liaison between churches and Birthright of Peconic, a Christian organization that supports pregnant women who want to carry to term instead of choosing to end the pregnancy.
“I don’t feel my work is finished on the School Board,” Mr. Drohan said of his reason for running. “I joined three years ago to work for the entire community—for second-home owners, senior citizens and the rest of the community in Sag Harbor. There’s a lot of work that can be done.”
The introduction of the state’s Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR, continuation of the International Baccalaureate program—a progressive system that emphasizes learning through analysis and discussion that Sag Harbor started this school year—and keeping the district excellent, yet affordable, and selecting a permanent superintendent are his main goals, he said.
To keep below the tax cap, he said the district should continue to seek ways to increase its revenue and continue programs like its in-house busing.
In terms of communication, he said he feels the board should view the criticism it has received of late as constructive criticism. Daniel Hartnett
Daniel Hartnett, 56, of the Bay Point neighborhood, is seeking a third, non-consecutive term on the Sag Harbor School Board, having served two full terms from 2005 to 2011, when he did not seek reelection.
A bilingual (English and Spanish) social worker in the East Hampton School District and past assistant principal at John Marshall Elementary School, Mr. Hartnett holds a post-master’s certificate in educational administration from Stony Brook University, a master’s degree in divinity from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, a master’s degree from Fordham University in social work and a bachelor’s degree from the same school in philosophy. His Spanish skills come from his years as a seminary student when he had opportunities to study in the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
He has three sons, Brook, 20, Sean, 19, and Dennis, 15, a ninth-grader at Pierson High School, and a daughter, Johanna, 18.
Mr. Hartnett serves on the board for Immigration Legal Services of Long Island, a not-for-profit that offers affordable immigration services to indigent immigrants. He is a guitarist and singer at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Bridgehampton and St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in Sag Harbor. He is also a past Sag Harbor Little League coach and board member.
“It’s a chance to put myself forward. I have some experience in all of these areas,” he said. Some issues he named are the search for a superintendent, a changing curriculum with the new Common Core, testing being tied into evaluations and a number of capital issues in the district that will require bonding, such as safety repairs—all while staying under the cap. “I would like to put myself before the community as willing to help and serve in that fashion,” he said, referring to building consensus around the issues in challenging times.
The main issue, he said, is the tax levy cap. “Whether a board member wants to say it or not, or realizes it or not, that is the issue,” he said, noting that it would affect contract negotiations, building repair and other measures. “It’s a noose.”
“First and foremost,” he said, “Sag Harbor has to regain the confidence of the community.”
He said he feels confident in the members of the board, but has questions about its process of decision making and communication, both among members and between the board and the public.
His first goal is to reestablish and make public the district’s goal-setting process. Second is to reset the chain of command and third is how to maintain excellence, like the IB program.
Susan Kinsella, 50, of North Haven, was appointed by the Sag Harbor School Board in September to fill a vacancy created by former member Walter Wilcoxen. Previously, she served one term, from 2006 to 2009, when she opted not to run again.
A stay-at-home mother, Ms. Kinsella formerly worked as a financial statement auditor at the now-defunct Arthur Andersen, LLP in Melville and New York City and as a supervisory accountant at MSC Industrial Supply in Melville. She has an inactive Certified Public Accountant license and a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from Adelphi University.
Married to Gene, she has two daughters, Courtney, a ninth-grader at Pierson High School, and Kelly, a sixth-grader at Pierson Middle School.
Ms. Kinsella, who has served on many district committees, is the president of West Banks Association, a homeowners association, and is a past PTA president. She was also on North Haven’s deer and tick management committee, formed this year. She used to be involved with a John Jermain Memorial Library committee and Mashashimuet Park Board.
“I was very involved in the school district for many years and I think it’s a very good cause,” she said. “I’m actually surprised there are so many people running because not a lot of people want to do it.”
With her financial background, Ms. Kinsella named the budget and the tax cap as the most salient issues. “I think it’s going to be very challenging to … find new sources of revenue.”
Other big priorities are finding a new superintendent to lead the district into the future who will “be able to carry on, especially in light of the challenges we have ahead.”
She defended the district’s decision to follow its consultant’s advice to start the search back up in September. “You kind of have to depend on the advice that people in the business give you,” she pointed out, noting that a superintendent is unlikely to step away from a job midyear to take a new one. Resources, such as those spent on placing ads and doing interviews, must be used wisely.
Sharing services—like Sag Harbor does now with Southampton servicing Sag Harbor’s buses—are not being more encouraged at a state level, and continuing to share services, whether it’s custodians or athletics programs, is a way forward.
Implementing the new Common Core standards is another big challenge, she said.
In terms of communication, Ms. Kinsella pointed out, “No board is ever perfect.” She said she still doesn’t quite understand why the two board members quit this past year, other than to perhaps draw attention to the board election in an effort to get like-minded people on board.
“I don’t think the board is at all dysfunctional,” she said. I find that the board members are very respectful of each other.”
Tom Ré, 61, of Brick Kiln Road in Sag Harbor, is seeking his first term on the Sag Harbor School Board. A regular attendee at School Board meetings over the past year, Mr. Ré interviewed with the board last summer when it was looking to fill to fill a vacancy.
An attorney for his own Sag Harbor firm, Mr. Ré holds a law degree from St. Louis University School of Law and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, physics and sociology from Fordham University. He has listed the London School of Economics as another place of study on his resume.
Mr. Ré has a 15-year-old daughter, Sabrina, in ninth grade at Pierson High School.
His extracurricular service includes the district’s long-range planning committee, the Sag Harbor Community Coalition, which seeks to curb high risk activities by teens, and the Knights of Columbus in Sag Harbor.
“I think I can do some good,” the first-time challenger said. “I’m a new, fresh candidate. I think that’s useful because I have no historic or personal agenda other than service.”
Mr. Ré named the upcoming teachers contract as a major issue to tackle. “I think we should pursue it on as early a basis as possible,” he said.
Maintaining programs while keeping under the tax levy cap is also key, he said. “There will be a continual need for additional funds. I think that we should find sources of additional revenue. That should help us so there’s no adverse impact on taxes.”
The superintendent search process is another that needs attention and should be done openly, he said.
“And I think overall there have been topics that have come up in the past few years—with resignations and questions of what has been going on—it’s very important to further the communication between the board and the community. We need bidirectional communication.
Adopting a “true” shared-decision-making approach is one way to do this, he suggested. Another would be to start a regular district newsletter, because not everyone has a chance to check the district website, he said.
He praised a recent tool whereby the district has accepted questions and input on certain topics, such as the budget.
Allowing the public to speak in the middle of meetings, instead of at one of two designated “public input” sessions at the beginning and end of meetings would also help, he said.
Finally, he would also like to see the International Baccalaureate program be made available on a limited basis to ninth- and 10th-graders to give them a sense of what they can expect down the road.
“We really have a gem of a school, I believe” he said. “It’s almost like a private school. It’s up to us to try to appreciate that.”
Chris Tice, 52, of North Haven, the current Sag Harbor School Board vice president, is seeking a second-straight term, having won the first time in 2010 in an uncontested race. She is one of the most vocal members of the board at meetings.
A realtor with The Corcoran Group in Sag Harbor, Ms. Tice has 22 years’ experience as a publishing and new media executive, including, most recently as a senior vice president for Sony and vice president of worldwide interactive marketing and strategy for American Express. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York at Albany.
Married to Steve Cox for nearly 24 years, she has three daughters in the school district, senior Lindsay Cox, freshman Taylor Cox and fifth-grader Samantha Cox.
She is involved with the Ladies Village Improvement Society in Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Community Coalition, which seeks to curb high-risk behaviors among teens. She also participates in Katy’s Courage efforts in memory of a 12-year-old village girl who died of cancer a few years ago. She is a past Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce board member.
“I’m proud of the Sag Harbor School District and its programs and staff,” said Ms. Tice, who was a part-time resident of Noyac starting in the 1960s and became a homeowner in that hamlet in 1996, before moving to the East End full time in 2004, “but I think there’s more important work to be done and I think I can make that difference.”
She cited her corporate background as an asset.
“I have personally managed budgets over $50 million, so I understand how to evaluate and manage budgets effectively,” she said, adding that she also has extensive experience in hiring and personnel—useful for the superintendent search, as well as contract negotiations and marketing.
“I bring a unique set of skills to the table,” she said. “I also have a passion for public education. My family is full of public educators (her father Walter is also a past Sag Harbor School Board president), and I have a deep love for this community.”
A past second-home owner who has parents on a fixed income and children in the district, she said she feels she has a certain sensitivity to those different perspectives.
Starting universal prekindergarten, expanding Spanish instruction in the elementary school by starting it in kindergarten rather than third grade, increasing the number of tuition students attending the district, expanding the transportation program and coming in two years in a row under the state tax levy cap without cutting programs are among the proud highlights of her first term, she said.
Key challenges, she identified, include transitioning to the new Common Core standards and the new Annual Professional Performance Review and completing the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program.
An ongoing challenge is the tax cap, particularly with contractual costs, such as those for employee health insurance and retirement costs set to rise every year.
To stay under the cap, Ms. Tice said the district must focus on shared services and continue to evaluate ways to deliver the same programs at the same cost or less.
One ongoing focus in the district is to put into writing processes for the way it conducts business.
Communication is important, she said, adding that she feels criticism about the board’s communication comes from a subset of the community. Many have come up to her and said the board is more civilized and respectful than it has been in the past.
“I really welcome feedback, and we take it seriously, and the board is continuing to work on and fine-tune the processes and how we operate. We’re very committed to that,” she said.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be on the board in Sag Harbor, which is a community I really love.”