Budget’s Casualties Speak

Before adjourning into the rain-soaked night, Tuesday night’s East Hampton School Board meeting took on a deeply personal tone, with recently terminated employees vociferously airing their grievances.

All told, the district sliced more than $1 million from the $65 million 2014-15 school budget. Among the cuts, the district eliminated seven paraprofessional positions and reduced an elementary guidance position to part time.

Tuesday’s meeting was heavily attended, with audience members spilling out into the adjoining hallway.

“It feels like the little guys are getting squeezed, although we know the squeeze is district-wide,” said Pat Hand, president of the non-teaching association, which includes several dozen paraprofessionals among its members. “We understand how the budget works and that sometimes we all get caught up in the numbers and spreadsheets. But these positions are also people. As you finalize the budget, ask yourselves if we can put a monetary value on that.”

 John Prusack, a paraprofessional assigned to East Hampton High School’s library said that he was “disappointed and a little taken aback.” And Regina Astor, a paraprofessional at the John M. Marshall Elementary School, concluded her remarks by saying, “We make a difference.”

“The laying off of people is due to the seniority list,” Patricia Hope, the board’s president, said yesterday. Ms. Hope, a retired high school teacher, adjourned Tuesday’s meeting with tears in her eyes. She said that “no job description will go unfilled” and that the district plans on “repurposing the staff.”

Earlier that night, the board unanimously voted to adopt the nearly $65.1 million proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year. Even with the staffing cuts, budget will exceed the state-mandated 1.46-percent cap on tax levy increases. The cap allows school districts to increase their budgets by either 2 percent or the consumer price index (the 2013 consumer price index is 1.46-percent) — whichever amount is lower.

The proposed budget represents a 2.43-percent increase in the $47.5 million tax levy. As such, it requires the approval of 60 percent of voters in order to pass on May 20. The budget is up by 1.3 percent, or around $800,000, over this year’s $64.2 million budget.

“After much work that started in November, we looked at every possible line, every nuance,” said Richard Burns, the superintendent. “The board is in agreement that we’re going to move above the tax-levy cap.”

Isabel Madison, the assistant superintendent for business, explained that if that budget fails to gain the support of 60 percent of voters, the board would present an amended budget to voters in mid-June. “After that, if the budget still doesn’t pass, we will go to a contingency budget based on the 2013-14 numbers,” said Ms. Madison, who said that would mean an additional $400,000 worth of cuts.

“I don’t think there are any other places to cut, and $400,000 is quite a swipe,” said Mr. Burns.

“Good education costs money and I don’t think we should apologize for that,” said Jackie Lowey, a board member. “This community is at a crossroads and it’s my hope we can all move forward on that.”

The board again referenced a recent plan unveiled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuoma that will give residents who live in districts that stay within the cap a rebate check equal to the tax increase imposed by their new budget. Should voters in East Hampton approve the adopted budget, which pierces the cap, they would not receive a rebate.

Mr. Burns explained that only those making less than $500,000 a year and those whose primary residences are in East Hampton would be eligible. He estimated a rebate check in the amount of $27 for a house with a median assessed value of $6,000. A $4,000 assessed value would see rebate checks in the amount of $18, while an $8,000 assessed value would see checks in the amount of $36. All numbers are approximate.

Earlier in the meeting, the audience briefly relocated to the gymnasium, where members of East Hampton Middle School’s Science Olympiad presented their experiments. Out of 36 teams at a recent Long Island competition, the East Hampton team ranked 20th and placed far higher in individual events. Jonathan Mautschke, a technology teacher at the middle school, oversees the program.

The board also acknowledged Theresa Kraycar, a math teacher at East Hampton High School, who was recently named a New York State Master Teacher.

In other news, the board voted to extend Beth Doyle’s maternity leave by one week. Ms. Doyle, the principal of John M. Marshall Elementary School, is now expected to return on May 19. The board also accepted a donation of 88 nonfiction books from DWJ Books for the high school’s library and approved the addition of $9,000 to its budget to cover snow removal costs. 

Monday was also the deadline for East Hampton residents to declare whether they intended to run for two school board vacancies. Only Ms. Hope and Ms. Lowey, both incumbents whose terms expire June 30, submitted their paperwork. Each seeks a second, three-year term.

Ms. Hope, 72, retired from East Hampton High School in 2007 after 33 years. She was the first woman hired by its science department. A native of Manhattan, she moved to East Hampton in 1970. She first attended the City College of New York and later finished her undergraduate degree at Southampton College. She also received a master’s in biology from Stony Brook University.

“I have a lot of regard for the district. I get it,” said Ms. Hope, who described the decision to run again as an easy one. “I’m not finished on my journey down the educational pathway. One of the things I would like to see smoothed out are the snags that keep teachers from addressing their passions.”

Ms. Lowey, 49, who runs her own consulting firm, has two children in the district. A graduate of Swarthmore College, Ms. Lowey served during both terms of the Clinton administration and as the deputy director of the National Park Service. She also worked on various congressional campaigns, including that of her mother, Representative Nita Lowey.

 “Despite extreme fiscal challenges, I believe we have made great progress in moving the district forward in the past three years and am seeking re-election because I’d like to be part of the effort to continue this progress,” said Ms. Lowey. “All of the pieces are in place. We have a solid administrative and support team, a staff of skilled and committed teachers, and a board of education with a shared vision for the future of the district.”

A final budget hearing is planned for May 6 at 7:30 p.m.