Five residents will compete for three open seats on the Sag Harbor School Board this month.
One seat is being vacated by incumbent David Diskin. Another, currently occupied by Thomas Schiavoni, has also expired, as Mr. Schiavoni was appointed to the board last summer to finish the term of Daniel Hartnett, who resigned. Vice President Chris Tice’s term is up as well.
Mr. Schiavoni and Ms. Tice, along with newcomers Stephanie Bitis, James Ding and James Sanford, each hope to claim one of the three three-year seats that are up for grabs.
Polling will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Pierson Middle/High School gymnasium, 200 Jermain Avenue, Sag Harbor.
Having lived in the district for 20 years, Ms. Bitis has previously worked at CBS Radio’s WFAN-660AM and said that her experience there would help her as a board member.
“With my business background in running radio stations, with $50 million budgets, I believe now I can lend that experience to the School Board,” Ms. Bitis said. “The district and our schools are our biggest institutions. A $37.5 million budget is one that needs to be spent wisely, giving the best we can to the children without cutting any programs, never losing a teacher, and staying under the tax cap.”
Ms. Bitis said she hopes to “continue to provide the best education to equip these children, when they graduate, to go off to great universities and have careers that are relevant to the 21st century.” She added that she would like to help the district maintain its programs throughout future budget seasons, as well as be involved with the potential purchase of the former Stella Maris Regional School, which the board announced it was considering earlier this year.
Ms. Bitis works as a real estate agent for Sotheby’s International Realty in Bridgehampton. Her children, Sophia, 14, and Yanni, 13, both attend Pierson Middle/High School.
The candidate said that she thinks it’s time for another new voice to be heard. “I’ve been a parent in this district for years. I’m very familiar with most of the families and most of the children,” she said. “I think that if you have someone who’s extremely approachable, who will listen, that some of the issues [people] might be upset about could be resolved quickly. I don’t think a lot of people are letting their voices be heard.”
Mr. Ding has lived in the district nearly 40 years. His goal is to encourage more students to take courses in STEM, an acronym for studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The future will hold an abundance of jobs in those disciplines, he said.
“We’re in a technological revolution that has been happening for 50 years. The people, the parents, have to be involved in directing their students to the new age,” he said.
Mr. Ding said that as a board member, one of his goals would be to help set up a fiber technology program that would involve students reaching out to the community more, which would also help with their communication skills. He stressed that it is important to prepare students for the jobs that often employ people who come from countries such as China and India rather than the United States.
Additionally, he said he would like to see more community involvement, using Sag Harbor’s Meet the Candidates night last week, which only 40 voters attended, as a prime example of the lack of participation. He also would work to have the district revamp its website to make it more interactive.
Mr. Ding said his experience as a small-business owner will also help during budget season, as he always remained within the limits of his business’s budget. He owned Atlantic Coast Embroidery and Screen-Printing in Southampton for more than 25 years, but sold it recently and now works as a business consultant.
The candidate added that even though he has no children in the district, he still wants to help students be as successful as possible.
“I just want these children to have the potential to fulfill their lives, because we only have one life. My motto is: Do what you love, love what you do,” he said. “But we have to be able to offer them choices. And they have to make the correct choice.”
A native of Connecticut, Mr. Sanford lived in New York City for about 20 years before moving to Sag Harbor full time in 2010.
He said he would like to be part of future budget processes, especially as it gets harder to meet the state-implemented cap on tax levy increases. He stressed that it is going to take some creative, out-of-the-box thinking to continue to stay under the cap without cutting programs and laying off teachers.
“The budget is going to get more difficult for Sag Harbor down the road. It’s going to get more involving and more dicey,” Mr. Sanford said. “Sag Harbor has a great district—people pay tuition to go there. There’s a reason for that. You don’t want to blow those reasons.”
Mr. Sanford said he would like to help implement a later start time to the school day, which the district has been considering. He would like to see a greater emphasis on STEM education. He also said the district will need to be more innovative in tackling challenges from the state.
He stressed that it is important for board members to be motivated and experienced enough to handle those matters.
“You’re talking about an area that has a flat to declining student population and exploding housing costs,” Mr. Sanford said. “We’re going to need people who are heavily engaged and have the political will and financial background to scour the budget.”
Mr. Sanford is a 21-year veteran of Wall Street and the founder of Sag Harbor Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisory company. His son the attends Sag Harbor Elementary School.
Mr. Schiavoni was appointed to the board in August to fill the remainder of Mr. Hartnett’s term after Mr. Hartnett moved out of the district.
The candidate said he is running to keep his seat so that he can help “maintain and build on the successful academic programs in Sag Harbor. “I want to be part of the shared educational vision—and I think it’s a good one,” he said.
A lifelong resident of Sag Harbor, Mr. Schiavoni is a government and economics teacher at Center Moriches High School, and that experience alone is something that he said makes him valuable to the board. He added that having worked for his family’s construction businesses as a child and teen would be useful on the Educational Facilities Planning Committee as well.
Mr. Schiavoni now serves as the district’s legislative liaison, which requires him to make occasional trips up to Albany. But his favorite part of being on the board, he said, is also being the liaison to the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. The museum has recently created some summer internships for Pierson students, something he said he is excited to see.
If he is elected, one of Mr. Schiavoni’s goals would be to have the district purchase Stella Maris. “I really think that owning that property could give the school leeway to do things such as create programs … to help service other districts,” he said. “Owning that building would help.”
Like other candidates, the teacher said one of Sag Harbor’s greatest challenges in the future is to continue to keep its budget within the tax levy increase cap without cutting services to students.
“We have some financial challenges to maintain the programs that we have,” he said. “One of the challenges is going to be being creative in a number of areas to generate revenue, or find the savings to maintain and build our programs.”
Mr. Schiavoni has two children in the district: Anna, who is in eighth grade, and Thomas Jr., who is in fifth grade. His wife is Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni.
Ms. Tice, currently vice president, has served on the Sag Harbor School Board for the last five years. She has lived in the district for the past decade, although she spent most of her summers in the Hamptons as a child.
Ms. Tice said she would like to continue her work on the board, adding that she has no learning curve and can hit the ground running for the 2015-16 school year.
“I’m very passionate about public education. I’m a strong believer in contributing time to things that are really important,” she said. “I want to be able to continue to do that. I think that it’s getting tougher and tougher for schools.”
A former executive in Manhattan who has worked for companies like Sony Online and American Express, Ms. Tice said she offers valuable financial expertise as well as the skills to help the district better communicate internally and externally. She said she is proud to have been able to help the district expand and maintain educational programs, such as the International Baccalaureate program, without laying off teachers during her tenure, and hopes to build on that.
Also during her tenure, Ms. Tice was involved with starting the district’s prekindergarten program and introducing more STEM, computer and coding-related classes, as well as a coding club. She, too, would like to see a continued emphasis on STEM education.
She foresees budgeting to be the biggest challenge the district will face. But with the district remaining under the tax cap over the last three years, she noted that it is in the best fiscal health it has ever been in.
Ms. Tice works as a real estate agent with Corcoran, in the company’s Sag Harbor office. She has three daughters: Lindsay, a student at Binghamton University; Taylor, a junior at Pierson; and Samantha, who is in seventh grade, also at Pierson.
“With all of these additional mandates, the tax cap … it’s a harder and harder job. If you’ve got a great track record, and are really experienced like I am, it serves the community well,” Ms. Tice said. “I’m so grateful to have had this experience on this board. If I get reelected, I will continue to work my hardest for the children in this community.”