Community fights back against proposal to close high school

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While Bridgehampton School Board members Joe Berhalter and Joe Conti are remaining quiet about whether or not they plan to continue to pursue a petition to close the high school, two parents with children in the district are planning a strategic maneuver to remove Mr. Conti from the board.

Parent Teacher Organization President Nicki Hemby and Secretary Karen Hochstedler filed petitions this week to run for the two positions on the School Board currently held by Mr. Conti and Elizabeth Kotz.

Ms. Kotz has already filed her petition. Mr. Conti has not.

Both Ms. Hochstedler and Ms. Hemby presented their plan to remove Mr. Conti, who signed a petition Mr. Berhalter recently circulated seeking a referendum to close the high school, at a “Community in Crisis” meeting held at the Bridgehampton Community House last Thursday night. Mr. Berhalter and Mr. Conti were the first to arrive at the meeting and were also among the first to leave. Mr. Berhalter would not comment on whether he plans to submit further documentation to back up his petition now that the School Board has voted to reject his proposal because it did not contain detailed information about the costs associated with the proposed school closure.

Mr. Berhalter maintains that the lack of educational opportunities for Bridgehampton High School students leaves them less prepared for the outside world than graduates of larger high schools.

Mr. Conti did not return calls for comment.

Ms. Hemby has said that Mr. Conti told her the petition was just a feeler to see whether the closure was feasible.

“Those two men have many enemies,” said John Wyche, a former Bridgehampton School Board member who serves on the school’s BOCES board and who attended the session last Thursday. Mr. Wyche said Mr. Conti has been asking probing questions about the costs of education since he was elected to fill a one-year slot on the board last year.

The forum, attended by about two dozen people, was led by T.J. Williams, the pastor of Bridgehampton’s First Church of God in Christ.

“We’ve got to be activists, not reactionaries,” Pastor Williams told the crowd at the Community House. “We love our school. Bridgehampton has been one of the best-kept secrets on Long Island.”

Ms. Hochstedler reminded community members that they have until May 5 to register to vote with District Clerk Joyce Manigo.

Ms. Hemby suggested that the school hold an open house before the vote to allow members of the community who may have never set foot in the school to see some of the benefits of education in a small environment.

“We should have a huge cookout north of the highway side and invite the south of the highway side,” said Bridgehampton graduate and local real estate agent Ron White. “We need to show them that what they’ve heard, that’s not what it is.”

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