Set aside, for a moment, the emotion connected to conversations about the future of Bridgehampton School—with all the accompanying race and class issues, it’s a debate with more baggage than JFK—and you’re left with two questions. In order of importance: What is best for the students of the Bridgehampton School District? And what makes the most financial sense?
The good news is that, with the second question at least, the answer can be quantified—it’s not just rhetorical. A close and careful study, with sensible projections, can give you an answer in dollars and cents. The first question, though more esoteric, is also likely to have an answer that most everyone can agree on, if the factors are extensively and carefully researched.
And so it is time, finally time, for Bridgehampton School District officials to stop hedging, stop allowing the discussion to deteriorate into pure sentiment, and answer those questions, once and for all.
Bridgehampton School Board member Joe Berhalter’s impetus for seeking the closure of the high school is, in the end, not important. In fact, nobody should have a firm position on the idea right now, because there isn’t enough unambiguous data to shape an informed opinion. And that’s what the School Board needs to resolve, once and for all.
It’s a fair question: Are there better solutions for educating the children of the Bridgehampton School District? It is a district with many unusual characteristics, including miniscule class size, and district taxpayers who, as often as not, choose to send their children to private schools rather than to the public school.
The district’s “cost per pupil” figures and test scores are frequently deployed to attack the school, but both are skewed to near invalidity by the school’s small enrollment, which doesn’t provide enough of a comparative sampling to determine anything. Individual opinions on the quality of education are invariably influenced by individual experience, making an objective opinion nearly impossible to come by.
And that’s the problem: An objective opinion is what is needed, once and for all. It’s time for the Bridgehampton School Board to get one.
Mr. Berhalter’s research on the potential savings created by sending high school students to neighboring districts was correctly called “not accurate enough” and “very rushed” by his colleagues, who rejected his petition calling for a ballot measure on the matter. District officials countered with a cost analysis provided by parent Kathryn DeGroot, a former financial analyst who studied the question with Superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood and concluded that Mr. Berhalter’s plan actually would cost the district more.
With all due respect to the efforts of both Mr. Berhalter and Ms. DeGroot, neither is qualified to do the analysis—because each is firmly on one side or the other, and thus compromised.
What is needed is a legitimate, unimpeachable examination of this important and legitimate question, by a qualified and objective consultant. It will be money well spent by the district—in fact, an argument can be made that the board’s fiduciary responsibility requires such an examination that will finally settle, once and for all, whether Bridgehampton’s small size makes it more or less effective and efficient.
The fact that the question arises every so often suggests that there has never been a conclusive answer to some basic questions about the Bridgehampton School. Rather than asking an uninformed populace to settle the matter based only on emotion, or tax bills, or something uglier, it’s time for the School Board to stop ducking the question, take it on willingly, and settle it. Once and for all.