Voters in the Sag Harbor School District are casting ballots Tuesday on the $36.8 million budget for the 2014-15 school year and deciding between four candidates for three positions on school board.
Hoping to keep their seats, Theresa M. Samot, the current school board president, and Sandi Kruel are seeking their fourth terms in office, while Thomas C. Ré and Diana Kolhoff are looking for a seat at the table. Mary Anne Miller decided not to seek re-election. The terms are for three years each.
Ms. Kolhoff, a math educational consultant who works as an independent contractor, has lived full time in Sag Harbor for five years and on the East Coast since 2000. A Utah native, she and her husband, Randy Kolhoff, have two daughters in first and second grades at Sag Harbor Elementary School. They own Black Swan Antiques. Ms. Kolhoff also coached volleyball at Pierson for four years until last year.
Having worked as a teacher for 12 years before starting a family, Ms. Kolhoff said she brings a vast knowledge of the education system. This is the first time she has run for elected office, and she said she hopes to help find creative ways to keep all programming without piercing the property tax cap in future years. “I don’t feel like I have an agenda,” she said. “I like to solve problems and I’m flexible when it comes to problem solving — I keep an open mind.”
Mr. Ré is familiar to voters, as his name appeared on theballot just last year, when he lost by 100 votes. An attorney, he has practiced for nearly 40 years. Though he has been visiting Sag Harbor for 21 years, he did not move there until 2009 when he closed his New York City practice, which focused on international law. He now has a general practice and lives just outside the village with his daughter, a 10th grader.
He cited three major areas of focus and their related financial implications: people, programs, and plant. He wants to help find alternate revenues for the district in order to maintain essential programs, and to craft a long-range budget. “With hard work we can come up with a three-to-five-year projection, even if it changes annually,” he said. He suggests “careful and studied examination of sharing additional services beyond what we have today, and including a multi-year study regarding the benefits to other districts to consider synergistic consolidation,” things that seem worthwhile “as more and more out-of-district students seek schooling in our district and pay for that possibility.”
His legal, business, and economic experience will be an asset to the board, he said. He said he has worked for for-profit and nonprofit organizations, as well as 28 foreign governments and the United States. He said he will offer an independent voice on the board. “I’m always willing to have an open mind.”
Ms. Kruel first served on the school board in 1999. She left in 2005 and returned in 2011. In between, she said, she remained a vocal, involved member of the school community. “I never stopped going to the meetings, whether it was with the PTA, the PTSA, the YARD program. I never let it up,” she said with a laugh. She has three sons, one of whom graduated from Pierson, another who is graduating this year, and a sixth-grader in the middle school.
She decided to come back three years ago because she was concerned about the 2-percent tax cap and the possibility of layoffs and program cuts. “We were so successful the last three years, collaboratively as a board, that there were no layoffs, better fiscal responsibility than ever before, and no program cuts,” she said, adding that the board settled four contracts in three years with the help of the union employees. “We’ve accomplished a lot and I’m proud of that.”
Ms. Samot, a Sag Harbor Village resident who works as a healthcare administrator, has served as board president for three years and vice president for four years. She has two daughters who have graduated from the school, and her youngest is in 11th grade.
Throughout her tenure on the board, she said she has focused on long-range planning, goal setting, and data-driven decision making. “We have developed budgets under the tax cap that maintain as well as grow programs while maintaining positions,” she said. “I am committed to including all key stakeholders in the decision making process. While on the board, I have implemented a committee structure that facilitates community input on issues.” The latest committee focuses on communications, she said.
Other key accomplishments that Ms. Samot pointed to were the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program in 11th and 12th grade, which is now being expanded to the middle school, implementation of the prekindergarten program, successful passage of a facilities bond earlier this school year, and the hiring of superintendents, including the latest, Katy Graves.
Moving forward, both Ms. Samot and Ms. Kruel said strategic long-range planning will come into focus. “As we enter a new chapter in the Sag Harbor School District with a new superintendent, a building project, and enhanced programs, I welcome the opportunity to build on my accomplishments and to collaborate with the school and community to lead the district to the next level of success,” Ms. Samot said.
The proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year represents an increase of $1.3 million, or 3.83 percent, over this year’s $35.5 million budget. Sag Harbor’s cap on tax-levy increases next year is actually 1.51 percent; the district is proposing an increase of 1.48 percent.
If the budget passes, taxpayers in the Sag Harbor School District, which straddles the town line, will pay an increase of about $5.80 per month for a house assessed at about $1 million.
The vote takes place in the Pierson High School gym on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m.
Correction: The increase in the tax bill was previously reported as about $5.80 per year, but it is actually an increase of $5.80 per month.