Small School With Big Gripes

In a letter published in The Star last week, Mary Eames, an Amagansett resident, wondered why three administrators were needed at a school with “103 students and 75 others attending East Hampton Middle and High Schools,” and why only two of their salaries appeared on the 2017-18 school budget, for a total of $356,567. Omitting the third, she said, allowed the school to claim an $815 savings on administrative costs compared to last year.

On Tuesday, during the school’s annual public hearing on the proposed budget, Ms. Eames launched into a long and heated sparring match with the district superintendent, Eleanor Tritt.

“You hired an administrator [Tom Lamorgese] to help you with instructional evaluation,” Ms. Eames told Ms. Tritt. “His salary comes out of taxpayer dollars. So why isn’t that figure included in the budget?”

“He is not a salaried employee,” responded Ms. Tritt. “Only salaries appear on the budget. He is on a per diem rate.”

According to the superintendent, Mr. Lamorgese’s day rate is $350, and since January he has earned approximately $24,000, which translates to between 17 and 20 working days each month.

“And if he continues from September to December,” said Ms. Eames, “that means another $25,000, totaling about $50,000 of taxpayer money for a school with a projected number of 96 kids for the next year. So, admin costs are actually close to half a million dollars. There’s no savings here.”

Ms. Eames then turned to Patrick Bistrian III, the school board president. “You’re the superintendent’s boss,” she said, asking him to explain what she called the “full-time employment” of Mr. Lamorgese, who joins Ms. Tritt and the school principal, Maria Dorr, to form the administrative triumvirate.

“He is not a full-time employee,” objected Mr. Bistrian. “We use him when we need him, and not just for instructional evaluation but also for other duties as specified by the superintendent.”

Ms. Eames moved on to Ms. Tritt’s own compensation package, demanding to know why one of the smaller school districts in the area pays its superintendent a yearly salary of $195,520, plus free housing and various perks, including an expense account.

Patrick R. Bistrian, a school board member, interrupted her. “That’s just not fair. Ms. Tritt is not at the top of the list of superintendents as far as salaries go.”

“Oh, yes she is,” Ms. Eames responded. “If you think about how much more work other superintendents have to do in order to manage a lot more than 95 kids, she is definitely at the top. She’s got the premium rate.”

According to a recently published report on the salaries of local school superintendents, the East Hampton School District, with over 900 students, pays its superintendent some $250,000. Montauk pays $192,000 to a superintendent who is also the school principal for a school with about 350 students. In the Springs School District, which has over 700 students, the superintendent’s salary is approximately $200,000.

Ms. Eames concluded her remarks by stating that, for the first time in 40 years, she will vote against the budget. Ms. Tritt had earlier reported that should the budget not be passed, the school would be forced to adopt a contingent budget of about $200,000 less, resulting in cuts to after-school programs, salaries, and the prekindergarten program for 3-year-olds.

“That’s simply not true,” said Ms. Eames. “You are bullying the taxpayer. You have a reserve fund, not earmarked for anything specific, that could be used to help cover the deficit of the backup budget. You cannot bully, you cannot steal, and you cannot cheat the public, and then teach kids not to do so.”

Rona Klopman, another longtime resident of Amagansett, followed Ms. Eames with more harsh words.

“I was really hoping, with new board members, that it wouldn’t be deja vu this year,” she said. “But I feel that board members are once again picked simply to rubber-stamp whatever the superintendent wants to do.” Citing a lack of transparency in the proposed budget, Ms. Klopman sounded ambivalent as to whether she would vote to adopt it.

“I have never voted against the budget,” she said. “But I really feel that this board is not being respectful of taxpayers.”

In a phone interview yesterday, Ms. Tritt reacted to Tuesday night’s heated comments, pointing out that the budgeting process is a very complex one. “We are only required to report administrative salaries for people making $130,000 or more a year. Tom [Lamorgese] is making a fraction of that and receives no benefits, so we are saving the taxpayer dollars,” she said.

She also wanted to tell the community that an independent auditor had recently visited the school and complimented the district on being fiscally responsible.

“That has always been my goal,” said the superintendent, “to serve our students responsibly and maintain consistency in what we do and how we do it, so that there are no ramifications in the future.”