Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. Mark Twain’s famous quote could have applied to the first budget workshop session for the East Hampton Union Free School District. Although district residents, parents, staff, and faculty have had plenty to say in the past, the East Hampton School Board began slogging through the proposed 2012-13 budget line by line on Tuesday night to a cold and empty boardroom.
One of the largest changes is a whopping 133-percent rise in the cost of lawyers, a $200,000 addition, for the 2012-13 proposed budget.
“It kills me,” said Jacqueline Lowey, a school board member. “It just kills me.”
When asked by other members to elaborate, Ms. Lowey said, “I feel that the new board members inherited this train wreck.”
“To say that this has been handled poorly in the past is akin to saying that Japan had a little windstorm,” she said.
The additional fees are due to the district’s ongoing legal battle with Sandpebble Builders, now in its fourth year.
“We are being bled to death by a contractor at the expense of our children,” Ms. Lowey said.
“And we have tried in every way possible to settle this,” added Laura Anker Grossman, the school board president. Alison Anderson, another board member, said that the district is planning to release a statement in the very near future.
“It’s unfortunate that this is totally out of our hands,” said Liz Pucci, another board member.
There was some discussion about the superintendent’s salary, which was put in the proposed budget at $200,000. Richard Burns, the interim superintendent, is paid substantially less than the former superintendent, Raymond Gualtieri, whose salary at the time he retired was $256,976.
The district is currently searching for a superintendent, and a few of the board members expressed concern at starting with so high a number. But it was decided to leave the number as is for now, until the budget workshops progress, with a placeholder to go back and change the number if needed.
During the course of the evening, several cuts were made, too: an $80,000 secretarial job will not be reposted now that the most recent employee has vacated the position, and $64,000 has been saved in the audit department. A Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax, which has been eliminated for this year, will save the district $106,837.
The next budget workshop is scheduled for Feb. 28.