Consolidation was the word on everybody’s lips on Tuesday night as four Springs School Board hopefuls — Tim Frazier, Arthur Goldman, Phyllis Mallah, and Liz Mendelman — answered questions posed by the Group for Good Government and audience members in a packed Springs School multipurpose room.
The candidates are competing for the two seats that will be vacated at the end of June by Christopher Kelley, the board president, and Thomas Talmage, a board member.
“You don’t have to consolidate all at one time,” said Mr. Frazier. “There can be some programs and services you start with first.”
“Springs can no longer exist under these conditions and with the current funds. It’s becoming an anachronism, and the tuition contract is perilous,” Mr. Goldman said, referring to the new five-year high school tuition contract with East Hampton that will return approximately $3.2 million to Springs from previous overcharges. Both he and Mr. Frazier advocated looking out further than the next five years.
“Greater than the tread of an army is an idea whose time has come,” Ms. Mallah said of consolidation, and Mrs. Mendelman agreed, saying “We are one town, East Hampton.”
Mr. Frazier, an 11-year resident of Springs, is the principal of the Southampton Intermediate School. His wife, Tracey, is a fifth-grade teacher at Springs.
Mr. Goldman is a social studies teacher at East Hampton High School and an 18-year resident of Springs whose wife, Eileen, is also on the Springs faculty as a teaching assistant. He wants to “continue to make this school the center of this community,” he told the audience. “I think the key issue is the education of our children while being fiscally responsible.”
Ms. Mallah, who retired in 2004, was a teacher and assistant principal in the Yonkers school system. She lives on a fixed income, she said, adding “I want to see my property values maintained or increased, and I’m a big proponent of consolidation to reduce waste.”
“The census shows there are over 1,600 new residents in Springs,” said Ms. Mallah. “And there are not 800 new houses. We need to make sure that every child educated here is a legal resident of Springs.”
Mrs. Mendelman is the PTA president. “I walk the halls of this school every day,” she said. As a former General Electric human resources manager, Mrs. Mendelman said she has “the sort of skills we need to continue forward. I see the pressures on the schools to cut costs.”
When queried on the Springs School’s educational programs, Mr. Goldman said, “Kids learn to read and then read to learn, and Springs does an excellent job teaching kids to read.”
Ms. Mallah admitted that she does not know the school well, but said “I want to come in and learn.” She said she would also like to see more education for parents of English as a second language students in the community.
“I look at Springs School as the little engine that could,” Mrs. Mendelman said. “This school never stops moving forward,” She advocated “preserving our art, our music, the athletic programs,” but also said she understood that some of these may become deficient due to “lack of resources.”
Mr. Frazier said the middle school programs merited further investigation, but was quick to compliment the school on its reading and English language arts programs, along with “science, and the addition of the greenhouse and wellness” into the students’ lives.
He would like to see increased use of technology in the district. “I think it’s a key to the quality of education and performance of students to decide on a platform for this school to use, and a technology plan for this building,” he said.
The other candidates agreed with Mr. Goldman, who suggested a technology survey in the school and advocated using the available technology to establish sister classrooms in other countries.
“We’re far behind,” added Mrs. Mendelman. “Technology is constantly changing and whatever is implemented here, we also need to train the teachers to use.”
When questioned on the 2011-12 budget and its proposed 5.89-percent tax-rate increase, and on budgets in general, Ms. Mallah answered first. “We need to scrutinize all budgets carefully,” she said. She said the district might see substantial savings participating in shared purchasing, not just with the East Hampton district but possibly with Amagansett and other schools as well, and that it might also save on fuel costs and vehicle wear and tear by combining some bus stops.
She refused to say if she supported the proposed budget.
Mrs. Mendelman supports the budget, but also said, “I recognize for many in our community the need to slow the rise of our tax levy.” She favors sharing transportation and other costs with neighboring districts. “Consolidation may come,” she said, “But we need to think shorter term and get creative.”
Mr. Frazier will vote yes on the budget because “with the proposed 2-percent tax cap, it puts Springs in a better position to control expenses next year,” he said.
Mr. Goldman also supports the budget and the transparency with which it was handled, but proposed the further investigation of available grant money to offset expenses. “Every dollar we can bring down can help,” he said.
Responding to a question, Mr. Goldman said Springs needed a budget advisory committee similar to the one East Hampton started this fiscal year. “There seems to be a feeling that this is a gold-plated school. Look at the chairs you’re sitting on,” he said. “Look at the buildings outside which are substandard but are still used for teaching and are okayed by the state. No one here is getting rich off a bloated budget,” he said, to a round of applause from the audience, the only one of the night.
“What is the most important message you have to people who do not have kids in this school on why they should vote yes on the budget?” an audience member asked.
“This school provides a foundation in this community. The people who leave here better educated become better citizens,” Mrs. Mendelman said. “So you’re not only investing in our school, you’re investing in our community.”
“It’s that idea of investing in the future, that’s always been the way it is,” said Mr. Frazier. “I would hate to see Springs turn against that process of democracy.”
“This school is the centerpiece of our community,” Mr. Goldman said. “We shortchange our community when we don’t fund our schools.”
Ms. Mallah had the last word on that subject. “In a democracy, Thomas Jefferson said, you get what you deserve. We have to invest in our children, we have to compete. . . . My mother supported you, and she didn’t mind. These are the kids who are going to vote on your Social Security.”
In closing Mrs. Mendelman said she wants to “involve everyone — parents, teachers, and community — working together to solve the problems and to preserve and maintain this wonderful school.”
“I believe in education,” Ms. Mallah said. “I have no ax to grind; I don’t know anybody at this school. I’m only interested in getting the highest quality education for the least price.”
Mr. Goldman said he had “no agenda except to act as a trustee for every child in this district.” With over 1,000 children between Springs and the high school, along with charter school students, “It’s a weighty responsibility that I look forward to,” he said.
“Advocacy is something that needs to happen,” said Mr. Frazier. “I want to be that advocate for Springs by working with the community to tackle the tough problems that this district is going to be facing in the next few years.”
“I’m tired of people taking potshots at this school and then sitting back, because a true advocate gets and stays involved,” he said.