In East Hampton, Six Candidates, Three Seats And A $64.2 Million Budget Proposal

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Six candidates—five of them newcomers—are running for three School Board seats in East Hampton this year. Voters will also weigh in on a $64.2 million budget proposal, which is approximately 2.2 percent more than the $62.8 million budget for 2012-13. If approved, the 2013-14 proposal would meet the state tax cap after exemptions have been factored in. There would be a 5-percent tax levy increase, an estimated 5.53-percent increase in the tax rate. The annual school tax would rise an estimated $152.20 for a house assessed at $6,000, according to a budget presentation on May 7.

Voting will be from 1 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at East Hampton High School.

Alison Anderson, who’s finishing her first three-year term on the board, is the only incumbent who’s running for another term. The terms of School Board President Dr. George Aman and Lauren Dempsey also end this year.

The other five candidates are Wendy Geehreng, Mary Ella Moeller, Nicholas Boland, Rich Wilson and J.P. Foster.

Ms. Anderson was the East Hampton Middle School and High School PTA president from 2003 to 2010 before embarking upon her first term on the board. “Definitely, it’s still my passion to be involved,” she said, citing the need to be “proactive and productive.”

Ms. Anderson is a lifelong East Hampton resident. Her three children graduated from East Hampton High School and all are studying or working in education. Members of Ms. Anderson’s extended family work in the East Hampton School District, but not any immediate family members, she said.

Ms. Anderson studied business at SUNY Cobleskill and Suffolk Community College.

As a board member, she said she too is proud to have helped to appoint Ana Nunez, a liaison to the Spanish-speaking community, to secure a LIPA rebate for $213,573, to improve the physical conditions of the East Hampton Middle School, and to have helped create budgets in the face of unfunded state mandates and contractual obligations. She is also proud of the board’s efforts to increase transparency by starting board meetings earlier, using Google groups, the district website and a mass calling system to keep parents and others informed, and revising the hiring process to include more input from community members.

“I feel kids are first,” said Mr. Foster, whose daughter will enter East Hampton High School and whose son will continue at the East Hampton Middle School this fall. Financial responsibility is also important, Mr. Foster said, adding that drafting annual budgets is going to be “really difficult” under the state’s tax levy cap.

Mr. Foster said he would like to see more consistency in administrative leaders, especially at the John Marshall Elementary School and the middle school, and he shares a “kids-first” platform with Ms. Geehreng, his sister-in-law, and Mr. Boland that highlights that issue.

“I would like to see the communication improve between the district and the community,” Mr. Foster said, adding that it might help to broadcast School Board meetings on LTV. The current board works hard, he said, but he thinks he could “bring better relations” to the table.

The senior supervising dispatcher for the East Hampton Village Emergency Communications Department, Mr. Foster also serves on the East Hampton Town Planning Board. He grew up in Sag Harbor, graduated from Pierson High School in 1989 and moved shortly afterward to East Hampton, where his mother’s family harks back to the 1600s.

Rich Wilson said he wants to bring attention to science literacy. “Only 18 percent of high school students nationwide are considered to be scientifically literate,” he said, which means they can’t pursue careers in science and technology. “The bottom line is, where are the jobs for these kids?” Mr. Wilson said. “I want these kids to know that there’s something out there for them.”

Mr. Wilson worked for the Sag Harbor School District as a science teacher and coordinator from 1968 to ’98, starting a robotics team and opening the Village Toy Shop and Gifted Generation Inc. in East Hampton with his wife, Pat Wilson.

Their four children attended the East Hampton schools, as do four of their six grandchildren.

Mr. Wilson is teaming up with Jay Fruin of Montauk to found East End Science and Technology Initiative, a nonprofit that will fund robotics programs in the schools in East Hampton Town. Instead of textbook-driven instruction, he said, “kids should find out for themselves through investigation.”

Nick Boland has lived in East Hampton since 1996. He practiced law for 15 years before starting a home improvement business in 2005 and launched a second business, Fuel Renewal Inc., in 2012. He is married to Deborah Meyer Boland, a first grade teacher at the John Marshall Elementary School. They do not have children.

“What inspired me is that I want to give back to the community, and I think this is the best way I can do it, using my background and experience in business and in law,” Mr. Boland said this week.

Transparency and clarity as well as consistency are key elements of his vision for the district. Mr. Boland thinks the district needs to “have some consistency in the building principals, particularly at the elementary school. … I think they need to find somebody that’s going to be there for a while.”

Mr. Boland said the public might feel more confident in the School Board if it took better advantage of “modern media,” for instance with better use of the district’s website. “Doing things in open meetings is not the 21st century … of transparency,” he said. “I just think they can improve the way things are done.”

Mary Ella Moeller taught home economics in Bellport for 28 years before retiring, and herself attended kindergarten through 12th grade in East Hampton, which her Parsons ancestors helped found. She is or has been a member of the LVIS, the East Hampton Town Citizens Advisory Committee and Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, a volunteer at the East Hampton Health Care Center and a deacon at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church.

Like Mr. Wilson, Ms. Moeller stressed the need for students to find jobs after graduation. “We have to prepare all our students,” she said, including those who do not go on to college as well as those who are English language learners.

The board will have to be “creative” to continue to meet the state tax levy cap, she said, naming as an example the district’s recent decision to increase some class sizes while maintaining the same selection of course offerings.

Ms. Moeller says she has no “self-serving interest” in the district, as there is no one in her family who works at or attends East Hampton schools. “I think it’s important to look at things objectively,” she said, adding that she wants to represent “all the taxpayers,” not just seniors, parents or second-home owners. She has time to devote to the School Board, she said, and is known for giving “150 percent.”

“I’ve been in education for a long time,” Ms. Moeller said. “I understand what’s going on in school because I attend board meetings regularly, I ask questions.”

Ms. Geehreng is the mother of four children, each of whom will be in one of the three East Hampton schools next fall. A pediatric nurse practitioner in Southampton, she just finished her third year as president of the East Hampton Middle School PTA.

Ms. Geehreng said the middle school’s graduating eighth grade class had three different principals and assistant principals in three years, not including the recently announced resignation of Philip Pratt, an assistant principal who splits his time between the middle school and the high school.

At the elementary school, too, Ms. Geehreng said, her children have had four principals in six years.

“I just feel like in order to move forward and make progress, you need to provide consistency and continuity,” the candidate said. “I think the board definitely has a say in the roles of administrators in our schools,” she said, adding that having a child in each school makes the need for consistent leadership seem especially obvious.

Ms. Geehreng said the current board “has been really good about being transparent about the budget,” from which it cut over $1 million this year, after making even deeper cuts the year before.

She wants the district to offer “the best education we can” while being fiscally responsible. “The budget is going to just get harder and harder,” Ms. Geehreng said. “East Hampton’s definitely going to have to pierce it at some point,” she said of the state tax levy cap, which many, including current School Board members, have said will grow more constrictive every year.

“I think that’s a given reality,” Ms. Geehreng said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

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