Budget Cuts in East Hampton

    Tuesday night’s East Hampton School Board meeting saw virtual scissors being used on next year’s budget for special education and high school expenses, among other areas, while those involved attempted to keep the necessary meat in place.
    High points included Cindy Allentuck’s cuts of over $300,000 in special education expenses and Chuck Westergard’s suggested slice out of the technology pie to the tune of $94,432, a 16-percent decrease from last year’s budget, and even more as the board and Mr. Westergard went through the technology budget line by line. One cut he suggested was the elimination of the Safe Schools helpline, which allows residents to anonymously report problems but is never used.
    Ms. Allentuck, director of pupil personnel services, outlined the savings to be realized by bringing “special needs” kids back to district classes rather than sending them to programs of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Education Services and other out-of-district places.
    “We try our hardest to convince parents of the great programs we have here, and that’s no lie,” Ms. Allentuck said. She added that the special education department was trying to do whatever it could to offer programs locally, so children don’t need to travel so far every day and are afforded the opportunity to make better connections with peers and the community.
    “The state aid that we would get for occupational therapy or on-site services has to go to the charter school or elsewhere,”  Richard Burns, the interim superintendent said. “It’s a big number going out of the district. We need to teach the parents early that we have many of the available programs here.”
    Laura Anker Grossman suggested that accommodating special needs children in prekindergarten become a priority. “We would lose less kids to BOCES if they started here earlier,” she said.
    Adam Fine, the high school principal, plowed through the behemoth high school budget, with very few objections from board members.
    “It’s obscene,” Jackie Lowey, a board member, said about the cost of leasing Xerox copy machines, almost $50,000 a year. “I would really like to see someone smarter than me look at this and make a goal to do something about this, like reduce paper usage by half,” she suggested.
    Caps and gowns for graduation, which are purchased for students, cost the district $9,000 a year, but Mr. Fine said East Hampton was “the only school district in the world that buys caps and gowns for its kids.” It was suggested that parents absorb the approximate $30 cost, except in hardship cases.
    Catering for parent breakfasts and other noninstructional events was also given a sideways glance. Ms. Lowey asked Isabel Madison, the district business administrator, to come up with a list of catering expenses for such items as cakes for imminent retirees and so on.
    “I think it’s great that we do it,” Ms. Lowey said, “but if we’re talking about $10,000 to $15,000 of feel-goods, and it’s between that and another teacher or program, it should be ‘bring your own doughnut.’ ”
    Retrieving textbooks from students still causes grief in the district, it was reported, and lost textbooks cost thousands every year. Patricia Hope, a board member and former high school teacher, suggested the burden for textbook retrieval, and the associated fines, be placed on teachers.
 “I used to go to students’ houses and look for them,” she said. “It’s not a victimless crime,” added Ms. Lowey. “It’s a real sock to the district.”
    Something not in the budget was described as a “want rather than a need” by Kristine Swickard, chair of the foreign languages department — the popular, after-school Mandarin Chinese program. Students who participate use Skype to speak with a teacher in China.
    “The teachers are animated and entertaining,” Mr. Westergard said. “The kids really love them.” However, the cost is about $26,000 to $28,000 a year, and Ms. Swickard and Mr. Fine want to add a third level for those students who have finished the first and second. “It looks so great on their college résumés,” Ms. Swickard said. “There is a tremendous interest in students who have taken Chinese.”
    Although the benefits of offering Chinese were clear, the cost was not something to be taken lightly by the board. The board nevertheless agreed to keep the program in place.
    “Cut all the textbooks and battery packs out of the math department,” Mr. Fine said abruptly. “There, that’s about $11,000.”
    Ms. Hope looked shocked. “You can’t just do that, can you?” she asked.
    Mr. Fine burst out laughing. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I talked to Pat St. John about this earlier. I wouldn’t just cut stuff from his department without checking with him first.”
    Meanwhile, the district expects to save $700,000 because seven employees  have opted to take an early retirement incentive, and it is expected that their jobs will not be filled. The resignations go into effect on June 30.