Wainscott School District Says Affordable Housing Would Significantly Raise Taxes

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Wainscott School officials say they anticipate “destructive changes” for the district if two proposed affordable housing complexes, one by East Hampton Town and a second by the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust Inc., come to fruition.

In a letter to Wainscott taxpayers on Wednesday, October 8, School Board President David Eagan warned of a tax rate increase of between 66 percent and 168 percent should the pair of projects be approved.

“The Wainscott School will be forced to alter its programming and become a conventional grade school, much to the detriment of our present and future students,” he wrote.

When reached the day after the letter was sent, Mr. Eagan explained that the school’s education consultants determined that an additional 70 to 110 students would be added to the school’s classrooms, which cover kindergarten to third grade, forcing an increase in taxes to fund the necessary accommodations.

The two affordable housing complexes in question are both proposed to be constructed in the Wainscott School District. East Hampton Town is currently working on plans for a 49-unit complex on Stephen Hands Path, with a 3,000-square-foot community center, behind town-owned soccer fields. Closer to Sag Harbor, but still in Wainscott, the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust Inc. is in contract to purchase The Cottages at 782 Route 114. The 2-acre parcel has eight dwellings, some of which already serve as housing for families with children attending the Wainscott School, according to Greg Ferraris, the trust’s president and founder. He said there are no plans to increase the density at the property, therefore it will have no greater impact then what currently exists and what has existed for years.

The trust would be using affordable housing funds it collects to go forward with the project.

Currently, the Wainscott School educates 21 students and has a capacity of only 24 students, according to Mr. Eagan. The building has one big classroom, which can be divided into two as necessary. If there were more than 24 students, the district would have to consider building an addition, he said.

He said the School Board and its consultants based the projections of the number of children the affordable housing complexes would add on how many children there are per bedroom in Wainscott’s existing 238 households.

In a best-case scenario, in which approximately 70 additional students would attend the school, it would cost $4 million to add more classroom space, according to Mr. Eagan. If 110 students were added, he expects the cost would be $6 million.

Mr. Eagan said once a school district needs more than two rooms, the state requires it to build a more conventional facility, with space for different grades and an all-purpose room.

And with more students, the school would need more teaching staff, he said. The School Board projects it would need to spend $250,000 in salary for additional staff if 70 students were to join the district, and $500,000 more if 110 students moved in.

Officials are also expecting to spend $50,000 to $100,000 for additional supplies and materials for the extra students, and $20,000 to $50,000 for additional transportation.

Mr. Eagan noted that the cost to the district in tuition for students going on to the East Hampton School District after completing third grade at Wainscott would be higher as well—at least $1 million more, or, in his “more realistic” estimate, as much as an additional $1.6 million.

Currently, Wainscott pays an average of $34,000 each in tuition for Wainscott students in the East Hampton School District. Mr. Eagan said tuition is $26,000 a year for general education students and $56,000 a year for students who need special services.

All increases would be passed on to the taxpayer, he noted, saying “doubling or trebling” the student population at Wainscott School would result in significant and unprecedented increases.

In an email, Wainscott School Superintendent Dr. Stuart Rachlin said that currently a taxpayer with a house assessed at $1 million has a tax rate of $1.135 per $1,000, for an annual tax bill of $1,135. For that same house, if 70 students were to move into the district, the tax bill is projected to increase to $1,801, a difference of $666.

With the “more realistic” increase of 110 students, that same homeowner would pay $2,829 in school taxes—a difference of $1,694, he said.

Moreover, Mr. Eagan said, Wainscott School’s unique classroom setting, where each student gets individualized attention in the two-room schoolhouse, as well as the most up-to-date technology, would be jeopardized.

“We, as the board, take no position whether affordable housing is needed in East Hampton … [but] we think these changes are dramatic,” he said. “We think they are unacceptable. We’ve had generations of educating kids in an open setting with an individualized setting, and it’s been wildly successful. It’s something that shouldn’t be so easily waved off by anyone. We intend to do what we can to stop it, but we want to find a way in which we can be sure these impacts are more beneficial and equally distributed.”

Tom Ruhle, the town’s director of housing and community development, said his department had just filed a rezoning application for affordable housing with the town clerk’s office, which will be reviewed by the Planning Department and considered by the Town Board. He said the town doesn’t have a problem with the current proposal, but that the School Board’s concerns will be discussed.

“I don’t want to dismiss the school’s concerns—they’re legitimate,” he said. “But if this can’t happen, then we’ll never be able to build anything in Wainscott. It’s like putting a giant wall around one entire school district.”

Mr. Ruhle said East Hampton already has several affordable housing complexes—Accabonac Apartments, Whalebone Village, Windmill Village I and II, and Springs Fireplace Apartments—and that both Amagansett and Montauk have their respective complexes as well.

Currently there is no affordable housing in Springs, but residents there pay the most in school taxes compared to other East Hampton Town school districts, Mr. Ruhle said.

The Housing Authority put together numbers for how many students come from the affordable housing complexes across the town to give an accurate depiction of what could be expected if the two Wainscott complexes were added.

According to Neil Hausig, a real estate agent and chairman of the board of the Whalebone Village apartments, out of 141 comparable apartments, or 248 bedrooms, there are 79 school-aged children.

He estimates there would be an addition of 40 students to the Wainscott School District, and said that while that is a lot for a small school with 21 students, Wainscott is the “logical place.”

He said there are would likely be students who are already attending the East Hampton School District schools and wouldn’t want to transfer, so he believes there is a chance the number of students who actually attend the Wainscott School could be lower.

There had been talk about the East Hampton School District taking on some of the elementary-age children living in Wainscott, but Mr. Eagan said Wainscott cannot legally do that. “We have to provide and offer the same program to every student,” he said.

Likewise, Mr. Ruhle agrees that Wainscott has a responsibility. “Every school district is created to educate the students that live in that district,” he said. “The town does not have the governmental responsibility to educate children. That lies with other elected bodies. Our role is what is in the best interest of the entire town.”

Mr. Eagan said he expects to hold informational meetings with the public and meet with the Town Board to discuss the School Board’s concerns.

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