After initially deciding to allow a vacant seat on the East Hampton School Board to go unfilled for the time being, the board has changed course and now plans to appoint a new member, President J.P. Foster announced on Tuesday, September 2.
The seat in question has been empty since July, when former Board President Patricia Hope unexpectedly resigned, citing personal reasons.
The board is seeking a candidate with a financial background and possible municipal experience, according to a job description read by Superintendent Rich Burns. The district will accept resumes, which should be sent to District Clerk Kerri Stevens, through October 1. The position will be filled shortly after that, said Mr. Foster, and the appointed member’s term would run through June 30 of next year, after regular School Board elections have been held.
“We could be strengthened by somebody who is a CPA, or has experience in municipal finance,” said Mr. Foster. “We felt as though that’s something that would really strengthen the board, and we’re interested in seeking candidates with that background. We’re grateful for everyone who is stepping forward.”
But the emphasis on finance prompted some opposition from community member Stephen Grossman, the husband of former School Board President Laura Anker Grossman, who retired in 2012 after serving 20 years on the board. Three of his children have graduated from East Hampton High School, and a fourth is a current student.
“You’re discouraging people from applying,” he said during the public comment period, explaining that the board’s decision to seek out someone with a financial background could be attributed to its feeling “deficient.” Instead, he said, the board should look for candidates who represent the best interests of students, and that it should “rethink the preferences [it’s] giving.”
But Mr. Foster said the interest in someone with a financial background is well justified. He said it would add even more knowledge and experience to an already strong board. “I think it’s just being responsible,” he said of the search for someone with experience in finance. “I think we handled the [state] tax cap well last year, but any help we can get is welcomed.”
The East Hampton School District would have been limited to a 1.46-percent increase in its tax levy last year by the state cap, but the district won approval from voters for a 2.43-percent increase in the levy, with 73 percent voter approval in a referendum.
Appointing a person to the position is one of three options the board has. Previously, the board contemplated the idea of holding a special election to fill the empty seat, but the cost of doing so was a major deterrent. “The election this year cost $11,892.31,” Ms. Stevens said previously, referring to the cost of the regular election for School Board positions. A special election likely would save only about $1,000, she said, adding, “It would still cost over $10,000 to hold a special election.”
Finding avenues for savings has been a top priority for the district as it enters the 2015-16 school year, especially after piercing the cap.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, the board also heard reports from the facilities committee, which managed to save roughly $87,000 in supplies and copy paper compared to last year, according to the committee’s head, Mark Field. He said that last year the district spent about $160,000 on supplies and roughly $16,000 on copy paper. This year, it budgeted $81,000 for supplies and only $8,000 for copy paper.
“As we get toward March, we might have to boost it up, but there was so much extra paper sitting in each building,” Mr. Field said, explaining that having paper left over allowed the district to save money in its supply budget.
The district also managed to save some money in hiring internal custodial workers to buff and clean wood in the gym and auditorium. “The crew stepped up and did a better job than what we used to hire people to do,” he said.