East Hampton School Board Holds Off On Filling Empty Board Seat

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The East Hampton School Board on Tuesday announced that it will not immediately fill the empty seat on the board created by the resignation of former School Board President Patricia Hope in July.

Legally, the board has three options for the vacancy, the board’s new president, J.P. Foster, explained: hold a special election, appoint someone to the seat, or leave it empty. For the time being, the board will leave the seat empty, leaving six members, but could opt to fill the seat via appointment later in the fall, after the start of the school year.

The board’s decision, according to Mr. Foster, is influenced heavily by the cost of holding a special election, especially in the wake of the district piercing the 2-percent state cap on tax levy increases.

“The election this year cost $11,892.31,” said District Clerk Kerri Stevens, explaining there would be a few costs the board could eliminate for a special election, but it would save the district only $1,000. “It would still cost over $10,000 to hold a special election,” she noted.

The reason for the cost, explained board member Jackie Lowey, is not that the school must employ personnel or have security on duty—all of its staff during elections is volunteer—but rather because the district is required by state law to place announcements for the election in local, paid subscription-based publications, which can be costly. The two paid local subscription publications are The East Hampton Star and Newsday, she added. The East Hampton Press is available to readers at no cost.

“We’re certainly exploring our options going forward, but as of right now, we’re going to stay as we are,” said Mr. Foster of the board’s decision.

Ms. Hope’s departure leaves the School Board with only six members, Mr. Foster said on Thursday, August 7, and thus unable to guarantee a majority during a vote. However, Mr. Foster said, the even number of board members shouldn’t be a problem. “I don’t think we’ve been in that situation,” he said of instances where the board could be split. “Not to say that it couldn’t happen, but, basically, the way we looked at it was, we decided we didn’t want to have an election because of the cost. That we ruled out. Our process will be slow and deliberate.”

If the board decides it wants to fill the seat via special appointment, said Mr. Foster, it can do so at any time. “It would probably take us until at least October to figure out what we want to do,” he said. “There’s so much business we need to take care of in the next month, and we don’t want it [an appointment] to get in the way of starting up the school year. I’m sure we could do it quicker, but there’s no sense of urgency.”

The district is also in the process of performing kindergarten screenings in August. Dr. Robert Tymann, assistant superintendent, said the district is currently working with its community liaison, Ana Núñez, to engage and assist Spanish-speaking families. “We’re going to set up days where she’s going to translate for any Spanish-speaking families,’ said Dr. Tymann of Ms. Núñez’s involvement. Dates have not yet been set up, but are usually the last two days in August, said Dr. Tymann, and will be posted to the school’s website as soon as they are scheduled.

So far, 92 students are registered for kindergarten at John Marshall Elementary School, said Isabel Madison, the district’s business administrator.

The board will hold its next meeting on August 26 to make last-minute organizational changes before the start of the school year, said Superintendent Richard Burns.

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