Not By Limiting
May 9, 2011
To the Editor,
As we make the decision about whether to support the current Springs School budget, we think it is important to decide what our motivation is. The difference between the current budget proposal and austerity is only $78 per year. That $78 will help provide your children and your neighbors’ children a more complete education. For $78, isn’t that a good thing? If you do not have children, a school district that is on austerity will have a negative effect on your property values.
If you are unhappy with the decisions that have been made at the Springs School, please do make your opinions heard, but not by limiting the education that our children are receiving. Voting down the current budget does not provide solutions to our current financial problems; it only hurts our children and thus the community of Springs.
Let’s all make a positive difference by voting yes for the budget and then working together to consolidate East Hampton into one unified — and fair — school district.
May 9, 2011
Voting yes to Springs School budget costs me $74 in additional taxes this year. In contrast, the opposite vote immediately reduces my property value by $60,000 to $100,000 and it takes 5 to 10 years to recover from that substantial hit.
My house is my biggest financial asset; it will fund my retirement and my child’s college education. I know why I’m voting yes on May 17 at the Springs polls.
May 6, 2011
To the Editor,
We bought land in Clearwater Beach in 1972 and built our house the following year, 1973. In the past 38 years our taxes have ballooned slightly more than 24 times the original amount.
As everyone knows, too many houses are in foreclosure or “under water.” People everywhere are struggling to pay their mortgages. Incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs, especially of gas and food. These are not hard-luck stories; they are the sad realities of post-great-recession life. Many of us are retired on fixed incomes; some, like me, recently widowed.
We in Springs pay exorbitantly high property taxes, 70 percent of which are currently absorbed by the school budget. Is there an end in sight to this escalation? I believe there is, providing residents vote no on May 17.
May 9, 2011
All the caterwauling we are hearing from candidates for the board of education, PTA members, and teachers about how an across-the-ballot no vote on Tuesday is to condemn the children of Springs to an inferior education and an abysmal future in a Dickensian workhouse is a last-gasp attempt to deflect voters from the real issues. The need for salary caps, the need for teachers to pay more for their share of benefits, the need to end the automatic “steps” (salary increases) that are no longer necessary, and the need to terminate nonmandated programs and perks, etc., until the economy recovers and Springs homeowners have some financial breathing room are the real issues.
Vote no to numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the ballot and let the reorganization of how the Springs School does business begin.
Springs HomeOwnersAlliance.com is planning to meet and greet between 5 and 7 p.m. at a Springs restaurant the evening of the vote. Vote first, drinks second! Keep an eye on the Web site for more details.
LYNNE W. SCANLON
May 9, 2011
I am a retired senior citizen living in Springs on a fixed income. It is my understanding that if the current Springs School budget passes, it will increase my taxes by about $289. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to choose between a school budget and my taxes, but I do. That is why I am choosing to vote in favor of the Springs School budget.
I am an 11th-generation Bonacker and have lived in Springs for over 40 years. My four children attended the Springs School during the ’70s and ’80s. I remember what it was like for my kids the year the school was on austerity. It was all black and white. The kids went to school and came home with little joy or excitement about their day. The whole community felt it.
For all but one of the 15 years my children were in Springs, community members passed the budget and allowed my children to have a great education. Not only did they learn, they fell in love with learning. That great start in school led all four of my children to college. Now it is my turn to support the children of this community.
I understand the difference between a passed budget and an austerity budget would only save me about $78 for the year; that’s $1.50 per week. I know my kids’ education was worth that when they were in school, and so are the kids there today.
May 9, 2011
“The teachers union is a slavering, junkyard dog.” Note from Comment Moderator: “What an image! Should we ball up some steak tartare (this is The Hamptons after all), lace the meat with poison, and toss it over the fence?”
These comments appeared on a recent blog posted by a group in Springs and represent the sentiment and intent of individuals affiliated with that organization.
I coach Little League baseball and umpire games throughout East Hampton. I would remove any child from my team and escort any adult from the field for uttering such a comment. I might even call the police.
This divisive, incendiary, and grotesque commentary has no place in our Springs community and certainly should be kept far, far away from our school and our children. Vote no to the garbage being spewed by this offensive organization.
May 9, 2011
To the Editor,
This is the final opportunity for me to offer thoughts on my candidacy for a seat on the East Hampton Board of Education, and at this point, I can keep it concise.
I will bring:
• Knowledge and experience to budget-building and financial oversight
• Experience with and respect for stakeholders
• Dedication to student academic performance
• Careful preparation and research to school board tasks and issues
• Measured and thoughtful dialogue to school board considerations
• Common sense and transparency to school board decisions
I would also like to commend John Ryan and James Amaden, two sitting members who have decided not to run, for their long and faithful efforts on behalf of the district.
Please vote on Tuesday at the East Hampton High School between the hours of 1 and 8 p.m. to support both the budget and my candidacy.
Must Be Reformed
May 3, 2011
I want to thank the East Hampton Group for Good Government for hosting a forum for school board candidates on April 30 at the high school. It was a great opportunity for candidates to share our visions for East Hampton’s schools.
There is nothing more important than ensuring that all children in East Hampton receive an excellent education in a healthy and safe school environment. As a parent of two children who attend John M. Marshall Elementary School, I am running for school board because I believe parents need a voice on the board. Those who know my children from school may know me as Jackie Kuperschmid.
The district is fortunate to have many outstanding, committed teachers. I support them, and want to ensure that they get the resources they need to help our children achieve academic excellence.
Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely and directed toward programs that benefit students and learning. That is why I believe the budget process must be reformed. The current board took a great first step by appointing a budget advisory committee. In the future, we must insist that the budget be crafted cooperatively with much longer lead time for review and meaningful input.
Having worked in senior positions in the federal government for many years, including serving as deputy chief of staff at the United States Department of Transportation and deputy director of the National Park Service, I have experience managing big, complicated bureaucracies. I know how to work within organizations collegially yet independently, skills that will serve me well if I am elected to the school board.
I don’t have a personal agenda in seeking this office. I will approach the challenge with a strong voice and an open mind. I will fight for the interests of families in the district, who want and deserve the best for their children.
I would be honored if your readers would vote for me on Tuesday and welcome their thoughts and ideas about the East Hampton schools. Voters can reach me at TellJackieBOE@aol.com.
What I Would Do
May 8, 2011
The school board election is next Tuesday from 1 to 8 p.m. at the high school. For those who want to know my credentials and educational philosophy, go to the Star’s Web site and click on the May 5 candidate summary and look under the comments.
Some people have told me they understand the budget crunch that will come in 2012-13 when we can only spend $900,000 more than this year and have fixed costs exceeding that amount. They want to know what I would do to cut the budget. This is a fair question for all candidates. Here is what I would do:
First, we need to know which line items will bust the 2012-13 budget and by how much. I have asked Ray Gualtieri for this information on two occasions because I am not willing to guess. I will ask the board of education to pass a resolution requiring him to deliver this information. That will tell us how deep the hole is. Then, I would ask the other board members to endorse the following steps:
• Begin an open dialogue with the teachers and workers of the district in which any employee can make suggestions for saving money without fear of jeopardizing their position and without having to get permission to speak up.
• Require all central office, building-level, and department heads to prioritize all expenditures based upon what is required by law, in the interests of safety, to keep a program going, and to improve a program. Ask them to suggest specifically how the work of their department can be done more efficiently if their budgets were cut by specific amounts.
• Encourage the public and the parent associations to use board meetings to bring to the attention of the board programs they feel are too expensive or not working and ideas they have for cost effective improvements.
• Give the citizens budget committee all of the financial information it has been asking for from the administration such as the details of the $80 million building program.
• Identify nonacademic programs that could be managed or run outside of school using outside agencies including the operation of the school bus program, drivers education, etc.
• Settle the Sandpebble lawsuit to avoid further litigation costs, which total, to date, over $2.2 million.
• Require that any expenditure of more than $10,000 for any budget item be brought to the attention of the board before the check is cut. This red flag would have saved us from the $2.2 million litigation costs of the Sandpebble lawsuit because we would have known what we were getting ourselves in for when we got the first bill of $38,000 for the 18-page initial complaint!
• Examine where we can share recreation programs with outside groups and other school districts. This is effectively done with the Y.M.C.A. with our swimming program where the Y has greater expertise and runs the program at a fraction of what it would cost if the school district ran it.
• Wherever possible open up our part-time non-classroom positions to the East Hampton community where many people have greater expertise and need the work. End the practice of giving these positions exclusively to in-house staff already more than adequately compensated through their full-time salaries.
• Examine ways to use power-supply engineering techniques to reduce the costs of operating the heating and air-conditioning systems and thus the cost of electricity and fuel. This has been done effectively in other school districts using control systems from Anderson and Honeywell.
After this process is completed we will know where we stand financially for 2012-13. We can then address the two major worker contracts that have ended or will end and must be renewed.
What I was able to accomplish this year with suggestions to the board from the floor was a reduction in noninstructional expenses amounting to over $350,000. We have now built a consensus around cost reductions that do not have an impact on the quality of education. This consensus needs to be strengthened.
My candidacy is an appeal to reason, not to prejudice. With intelligent budget cutting we can avoid layoffs and save the taxpayers money. We must do this. You have a vote, cast it wisely.
May 2, 2011
To the Editor:
After attending the school board candidates discussion sponsored by the Group for Good Government at the high school on Saturday, I am compelled to state my disappointment in four out of the five candidates (Paul Fiondella being the fifth candidate), when it comes to their overall positions. This is hard for me to say, because I do not doubt that all five candidates share a sincere desire to provide the children with the best education possible. However, after two hours with the candidates, it is clear to me at least that four of the candidates (the “Group of Four” to differentiate them from Mr. Fiondella), present overly simplistic solutions and an amorphous approach to solving the very complicated financial and educational problems facing the East Hampton community. In fact, I am not sure they totally comprehend the problems they will be tackling if elected. Several of the Group of Four stated that they have never even attended school board meetings until their decision to run for a position.
Before writing to attack me, please remember that these are my impressions only. I do not have a relationship with any of the candidates. It is not my intention to denigrate anyone on a personal level. They all appear well meaning and earnest. However, that will not get the job done. We are too far down the road toward financial disaster to be redirected onto the right path by warm, fuzzy feelings. I urge you to go and listen to the candidates and then make up your own mind.
Saturday’s discussion forced me to focus on the current school dilemma. Our school budget is so large and so complicated — currently up into the stratosphere of what the town board has allocated to run the whole Town of East Hampton — that solid expertise and experience are required to deal with it. The job of spending other people’s money is not easy and should not be taken lightly.
Interestingly, not once did any one of the Group of Four speak in terms of representing all the taxpayers of the town. Unlike Paul Fiondella, they geared their total focus toward parents of the children in the schools. Maybe that is their concern because they have children currently in the schools and/or because they work in the schools, or because they are retired and receiving benefits from having worked many years in the schools. As a school board member representation must be of all taxpayers in the district, not just parents of children attending classes.
Unquestionably, there is a depth of knowledge required to deal with our current financial crisis and while it is good to have candidates who are sincere, honest, and hard-working, they must also be financially sophisticated, and able to comprehend complicated budgetary concepts. Our school board must be willing to make those necessary hard choices, like possibly having to fire friends or teachers or school staff. From what I heard on Saturday, Paul Fiondella will be able to do those things.
On the other hand, each candidate in the Group of Four described an intimate relationship with the East Hampton school system. While listening, little red lights began flashing in my brain — possible conflicts of interest. Maybe it is my own naiveté, but I don’t want my interests represented by people who are today working within or collecting benefits from the very system they will need to scrutinize for places to cull and pare down personnel, costs, and expenses.
For me, Mr. Fiondella, with his extensive business and computer background and teaching experience at the university level, spoke intelligently and knowledgeably about what needs to be done. I take comfort in the fact that he comes from outside the East Hampton school system. He is extremely current on computer literacy and outspoken on its importance to students of the 21st century.
While he spoke of computer programs that are available free to the school as teaching devices, the other candidates surprisingly seemed to downplay the role of computers in today’s world and instead were pushing the importance of “pen and paper.” They appeared to frame the issue in terms of one or the other (computers vs. pen and paper), but not both. They spoke as though children cannot be taught simultaneously how to use both means of communication. I think with their approach they underestimate and would ultimately shortchange the children to whom they want to provide the best education possible.
Additionally, Mr. Fiondella is the only candidate who dared to say the unmentionable: If elected he would vote not to renew Ray Gualtieri’s superintendent contract when it expires and would convene a search committee immediately for his replacement. Anyone who has followed the school board for the past five or more years knows that a great deal of blame for where we find ourselves today financially must fall on Mr. Gualtieri and the “yes” boards we the taxpayers have elected and kept in office by our uninterested, lazy actions (or nonactions) on voting day.
The central theme of the candidates was: The community wants the best education for our children, the children represent our future. I can’t disagree but this must be viewed in context. We pay for the best now, but apparently are not getting a return on our money where it counts. Our children score below many other communities that spend less. When a school is run on a budget equal to that which it takes to run the whole Town of East Hampton and our children score in the mediocre range, it is clear that a good education does not necessarily equate to a costly education.
How our hard-earned dollars are spent must be critically examined. Many people in this town are drowning in debt. A balance must be struck and a hard look taken.
With the town facing a $27 million deficit, the town board through hard work and zero-based budgeting was able to reduce the current budget by 17 percent, despite increased costs for health care and interest on borrowed money. There are parallels here, and the new school board must be equipped with the knowledge of the tools available to do the same for the school budget. We can no longer afford the luxury of a lengthy education process so board members can do on-the-job learning. The newly elected board members will be required to possess the experience necessary to enable them to hit the ground running. This process must be taken out of the hands of the superintendent, placed where it rightfully belongs, in the laps of qualified school board members and shared with the public. Learn all you can about the candidates and then go out on Tuesday and vote.
May 8, 2011
To the Editor,
As a member of the East Hampton Board of Education for the past year, it has become very clear that in order to be effective all seven members must work together without distrust or animosity. One will not always agree with someone else's opinion but it is crucial to respect that opinion and to honestly listen to that person's reasons for holding that opinion.
This year we will be electing two new people to replace two incumbents who have decided not to run again for another term. The three of us who were elected one year ago are still "learning the ropes" while the two soon-to-be-elected members will be total rookies, making cooperation even more vital than usual.
Having listen to the five candidates present at the recent Group for Good Government program and having read their resumes, I would be comfortable with any two of them on the new board. One, however, has particularly impressed me with his passion and knowledge, namely Paul Fiondella. I am aware that some in the community may feel that Paul is too passionate or too outspoken about his perceptions.
As one who may be working with Paul this year as one of seven board members, I am very confident that he would work well as a team player. I do not believe that he would try to dominate discussions and would listen openly to the viewpoints of the other six members. He realizes that no individual board member can act by himself or herself. Nothing moves forward unless a majority of the board supports a decision.
In summary, I look forward to working with Paul if he is elected to the East Hampton Board of Education. I also encourage every eligible voter to vote on Tuesday. It is both a right and a responsibility.
GEORGE AMAN, PH.D.
East Hampton Board of Education