School Board Vacancy Unresolved

In the wake of Patricia Hope’s surprise resignation one month ago, the East Hampton School Board’s decision about how to fill the vacancy has remained up in the air.

The remaining six members of the board could call a special election or the district superintendent could appoint someone. On Tuesday night, at the first public meeting of the board since the resignation, the board still seemed to be mulling the options. The consensus was unclear.

However, as the scheduled public meeting was about to begin, it was learned that the board had already met for 90 minutes in a closed-door, or executive, session. Since the law requires boards to vote to go into executive session during a public meeting and to announce the reason for doing so, the closed-door session was apparently illegal.

“This is the first time the board has convened,” Richard Burns, the district superintendent, said. “We’re exploring our options, but as of right now, we think we are going to stay as we are, but continue to explore our options,” he said.

“The board has been functioning very well,” Richard Wilson, a board member, said. However, J.P. Foster, who had been chosen to replace Ms. Hope as president of the board, said, “At this time, we have to take it slow. We will stay at six.” According to the state education law, nothing can be decided during executive session.

Time is apparently of the essence. According to Section 2113 of New York State Education Law, such a vacancy must be filled by an election within 90 days, with legal notice 45 days before the election. During that time a district superintendent can appoint a “competent person” to fill the vacancy, but should the vacancy remain, the state commissioner of education can order a special election to be held.

Should the East Hampton board ultimately decide that someone should be appointed, all interviews must be conducted in public. In that case, the newmember of the board would serve until next May’s election. If, however, a special election were convened, the person would serve out the remainder of Ms. Hope’s term, which expires in June of 2017.

Midway through the East Hampton meeting, Kerri Stevens, the district clerk, reported on the costs of a special election. Voting in May cost the district $11,892. Though she estimated that district officials could shave $1,000 off the price tag, “We’re still looking at over $10,000 to hold a special election.” In a follow-up email yesterday, Ms. Stevens further explained that districts must advertise elections in two newspapers, each with paid subscribers. For the May vote, notices in Newsday cost $5,712; in The East Hampton Star, the cost was $621. In addition, Board of Election costs (machines, custodian, telephone service, and delivery) totaled $1,191. Four election inspectors totaled $403, with printing costs $3,587. Lunch and dinner for volunteer election staff totaled $377.

In recent weeks, the Sag Harbor School District has faced a similar scenario, after Daniel Hartnett, a board member, resigned because he had moved to Springs. All board members are required to live in the district they serve. To fill his seat, the Sag Harbor board decided to appoint a new member rather than hold a special election, whose costs were recently estimated at $3,000. Monday is the deadline for anyone interested in being appointed to submit a letters of interest. The board hopes to announce a new candidate at its next meeting, on Aug. 18.

Mary Anne Miller, whose second three-year term on the Sag Harbor School Board ended in June, had decided not to seek re-election. However, in recent weeks, she has pressed for a special election. “I don’t think the board should decide who they should be working with,” Ms. Miller said earlier this week. “The board has the final say on everything. Why should they pick the board members, too?”

Earlier in the East Hampton meeting on Tuesday, the board accepted the resignation of Keri DeLalio, a special education teacher, effective July 29. The board also appointed Joseph Lipani to the position of head school bus driver at an annual salary of $60,000. He will also continue in the position of auto mechanic III at an annual salary of $70,000.

During public comments, Mary Ella Moeller, an East Hampton resident, balked at his $130,000 salary. Mr. Burns said the two responsibilities had formerly cost the district upward of $180,000, so that Mr. Lipani would save the district around $50,000 by assuming the joint roles. “It worked this past year, and it was successful,” Mr. Burns concluded.

In other news, Ana Nunez will continue as neighborhood aide, serving as a liaison between the district and Spanish-speaking families. She will be paid an annual salary of $47,987. Last year, by contrast, she was paid nearly $24,000 for a position limited to 30 hours each week. Mr. Burns said that a federal Title II grant will cover half her salary, with the hours increased to full time.

In faculty news, Catherine Helfand was appointed to a part-time, non-tenured math position at an annual salary of $55,219. Ryan Mahoney was appointed to a secondary social studies tenured position at $63,283. Due to budget cuts, the board has reduced Richard Klein’s schedule as a science teacher, and he will be paid $71,790.

Further, Dawn Diamond, an art teacher, will resume full-time teaching duties at an annual salary of $94,381. Janine Lalia will also resume her full-time position as a family and consumer science teacher at an annual salary of $80,503. In addition, Diane Curtin received tenure in elementary education.

Lastly, the board approved the pre-kindergarten agreement between the district and the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, which will cost $335,000 in the coming school year.

Before adjourning the meeting, Jackie Lowey, a board member, briefly addressed what she called the affordable housing crisis and the recent plea by the Wainscott School Board that a proposed affordable project be built elsewhere. Ms. Lowey said what had occurred made a perfect case for shared services between adjoining districts. She asked that the district set up a meeting about housing with the East Hampton Town Board. “The burden is now falling on the shoulders of school districts instead of a shared responsibility between schools and the town,” she said.

The board will next meet on Aug. 26 to address reorganization issues before the start of the school year.