The East Hampton School District’s ongoing legal battle with Sandpebble Builders will most likely enter its final deposition in March and head to trial in the fall, Superintendent Richard Burns said at a School Board meeting on February 4.
Sandpebble Builders, a Southampton firm owned by Victor Canseco, sued the East Hampton School District in 2006 for $3.75 million. The two entered into an $18 million construction contract, and Sandpebble claimed the district wrongfully terminated the contract after signing an $80 million contract with a different construction company for a larger three-school renovation.
“That’s not much of a report,” said East Hampton resident Paul Fiondella during public comments at the meeting. “What will we, the taxpayers, pay if we lose this lawsuit? I think you owe it to the people in this community to tell us what the potential liability is.”
Mr. Burns said he did not have the numbers “off the top of [his] head,” but board member Jackie Lowey insisted that the numbers had been discussed previously. She added that “not a single one of us had anything to do with that lawsuit, but the board has had several public discussions” on those numbers.
On Monday, Sandpebble’s attorney, Stephen Angel, estimated the current potential liability at $6 million or more, given New York State’s maximum interest rate of 9 percent per year on pending awards. “Because they’re a school district, the rate may be lower than 9 [percent], but even if they could prove a lower rate, it’s still a substantial addition,” he said.
According to Mr. Burns, the district has spent more than $2.7 million on its legal fees to date.
The district’s business administrator, Isabel Madison, said that, according to the state comptroller’s website, if the tort judgment exceeded 5 percent of the district’s budget, the district could exclude it when calculating the amount impacted by the state’s cap on tax levy increases from year to year. The district’s budget was $62.8 million in 2013; 5 percent of that amount would be $3.14 million.
Also at the February 4 meeting, Theresa Grimaldi, director of data, information and assessment, presented student achievement data on AP and SAT scores. She noted that the number of students to achieve a rating of AP Scholar with Honor—having an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP exams, and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of the exams—had doubled, from six in 2012 to 13 in 2013.
The high school, which adheres to an open enrollment policy (meaning there is no GPA requirement for students to take AP classes), also has seen a jump in AP class enrollment—from 239 in 2013 to 305 registered for 2014, which is about a third of the school population, said Board of Education President Patricia Hope.
The percentage of East Hampton students who scored a 3 or higher on AP tests consistently fell behind the rest of New York State over the past five years, according to a handout Ms. Grimaldi provided.
However, the numbers don’t measure up to the value for students of taking a college-level class, Ms. Hope said.
“Taking the course is a bigger deal than getting a 3, 4 or 5,” said Ms. Hope, “And we don’t want to deny anyone that opportunity.”
Students’ SAT scores for each section—reading, writing and math—however, placed just above the state average, Ms. Grimaldi added.
She has budgeted a third SAT administration at the high school for 2014-15 to spare students in the East Hampton and neighboring districts from having to travel a long distance to take the test.
The board also heard a presentation from Michael Espina of SchoolSource Technologies, a computer program used to view and analyze all of the data for the district’s finance and human resources files; administrative systems; student management systems; and learning management systems. The program is used to cut administrative costs for districts, making their systems more effective so employees can focus more on the educational experience for students, Mr. Espina said.
While the board has not adopted SchoolSource Technologies as of yet, “I think this is a step in the right direction and would be really beneficial,” Mr. Burns said.
The board will hold its next meeting on March 4.