Inequities Remain at the Springs School

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote on the Springs School expansion bond, one statement was repeated frequently that needs examination — the question of overcrowding, the sense that Springs has many more than its fair share of students. The numbers, it turns out, do not support this.

There is no question that the school building is being used far beyond capacity. There are just under 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade in a facility suitable for only about 340 students, according to the district superintendent. The bond approved Tuesday will add seven classrooms and additional sports and support space, somewhat easing the crunch.

The reasons offered for why the Springs School is vastly overcrowded, however, begin to fall apart when the number of students is compared to the number of taxable properties. By this measure, Springs is within range of East Hampton and Sag Harbor, the nearest comparable districts. 

Statistically speaking, there is about one kindergarten through eighth grade student for every 10 taxable properties in the East Hampton School District. The Southampton School District has about one student for every 12 properties. In Springs, there is approximately one student for every eight properties. This is a difference, yes, but hardly an enormous disparity. Sag Harbor’s rate of students to taxpaying properties is just about the same as East Hampton’s. 

Where things get weird is elsewhere in East Hampton Town. Montauk, for example, has about one K-8 student for every 20 properties, and Amagansett has about one student for every 30 properties. In Wainscott, it is about one student from kindergarten through eighth grade for every 25 properties.

This is another way of explaining that Springs, while having the most populous school enrollment as compared to its tax base and the school’s physical space, is not some wild outlier. It is within the ballpark of the East Hampton and Sag Harbor School Districts, to which it can be fairly be compared in terms of relative size. 

Where there is a real difference among the districts is in the tax rate. Springs’s rate is almost double East Hampton’s and Montauk’s, and more than three times Amagansett’s. This disparity has been ascribed to various factors, including a relative lack of commercial property to fatten the tax base in the Springs School District. 

But that is only part of the story. In East Hampton Town, commercial real estate is not the big tax plum it is often thought to be. Other factors in Springs include the lack of high-value oceanfront estates and that the town has for decades stalled state-mandated townwide reassessment. The assumption is that if and when a townwide reassessment is conducted, a great deal in locked-up value in Springs’s many miles of valuable waterfront would be added to the tax rolls.

Right now, Springs students and property owners alike are getting a bad deal. Taxpayers are asked to contribute the most of any district in East Hampton Town but, in terms of square feet of educational space and class size, students get the least. Reform is needed. 

East Hampton Town officials must begin the townwide reassessment process. State lawmakers must push for district consolidations that would end these stark inequities once and for all. All of East Hampton’s young people deserve equal educational opportunities — and taxpayers should demand parity among the districts. Even after Tuesday’s vote in favor of the Springs School improvements, it remains unarguable that all things are still far from equal.