East Hampton School District Adopts Budget

A vote on May 21

   After weeks of tears, tension, and tumult, Tuesday night’s meeting of the East Hampton School Board seemed tame.
    Following months of line-item budget workshops, during which board members sparred over the cost of sheet cakes and field trips, all seven of them voted to adopt a $64,238,501 budget for the coming school year.
    The budget, which comes up for a vote on May 21, includes a 5.53 percent tax-rate increase. The board cut nearly $1 million from the total since first reviewing the budget earlier this year, but it still represents a 2.21 percent increase over last year. (By comparison, last year’s school budget raised taxes 3.18 percent over the previous year’s.)
    Despite an estimated increase of 5.01 percent, the budget still meets the state-mandated 2 percent tax levy cap, once exemptions are included.
     “We’re definitely staying within the 2 percent tax-cap levy,” said Richard J. Burns, the district superintendent, at Tuesday’s meeting. “We will not ask taxpayers to pierce the cap.”
    The board next meets on May 7, when a public hearing is planned. Mr. Burns will convene a budget presentation, hoping to clarify what he described as generalized confusion when it comes to the issue of tax caps and exemptions, and particularly, how individual taxpayers will be affected.
     “If I’m a taxpayer, I would like to know how much my taxes are going to go up, but if my house is assessed and it’s going up $8.29 a month, I want to know that, too,” said Patricia Hope, the board’s vice president.
    In addition to adopting the budget, the board acknowledged the superintendent’s recommendation not to grant tenure to Wendi Heffner, a probationary teacher who instructs English Language Learners at John M. Marshall Elementary School.
    The board further voted to suspend an unnamed teacher, believed to be a Spanish teacher at East Hampton High School, with pay, and agreed that the teacher “undertake an evaluation by a clinical psychologist to ascertain fitness and performance of teaching duties.”
    Mr. Burns also updated the board regarding the status of the district’s lawsuit with Sandpebble Builders. At issue is a multimillion-dollar contract for a school construction project that dates back to April of 2002. A trial is expected in the fall, said the superintendent; lawyers have already spoken with all board members and administrators during depositions.
    After announcing that he would not seek reelection this spring, George Aman, the board president, noted that the Sandpebble lawsuit was one of the main reasons he had sought board service in the first place. “When I ran for the board three years ago, this was a big issue,” he said. “We were spending a tremendous amount on the lawsuit, and we’re still spending more money than I’d like, but I feel like it’s in the right legal place and I will be satisfied once it finally comes to trial this fall. And hopefully after October and November we never have to talk about it again.”
    Mr. Burns circulated a document concerning the district’s hiring process as it relates to administrators. He also distributed fee schedules for organizations seeking to use the district’s facilities — athletic fields, gyms, auditoriums — for fund-raising and other activities.
    Near the end of the meeting, each of the district’s three principals provided a brief update.
    Charles R. Soriano, principal of East Hampton Middle School, noted that state ELA testing was under way, with few absences reported. Gina Kraus, the principal of John M. Marshall Elementary School, reported much the same, though noting that some students had struggled considerably.
    Adam Fine, principal of East Hampton High School, said advanced placement exams are planned in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, college acceptances continue pouring in, “with seniors arriving later and later to school,” said Mr. Fine.
    Of the 1,140 college applications, East Hampton seniors have received acceptances from Williams College, Colgate University, Dartmouth College, and Brown University, among others.
    Survey results from the school climate study are back, said Mr. Fine. The National School Climate Center, an organization based in New York City that helps schools establish an environment of emotional well-being, administered the survey. Mr. Fine summed up the study’s findings: “We have a very strong foundation in place, with definite areas for improvement.” The sample included 80 to 90 percent of the high school’s students and staff, and 27 percent of its parents.