School District Budget May Rise 3.5 Percent

A ‘soft’ $65 million; Soriano’s leave extended
Morgan McGivern

    At Tuesday’s East Hampton School Board meeting, a packed house of parents, teachers, and staff members sought warmth from the bitter cold and answers to their many questions. Near the end of the meeting, the first draft of the proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year was finally unveiled. Isabel Madison, the assistant superintendent for business, presented the 27-page document to the board. A copy was not made available to the public.
    “The numbers are still very soft,” Ms. Madison said in addressing the board. Revenues related to state aid and the tax levy were still unknown, she pointed out, among other missing pieces. Despite outstanding items, the proposed budget is $65,040,170 — representing a 3.47-percent increase over last year’s budget of $62.8 million. According to the first draft, the budget for next year amounts to an increase of more than $2 million over the previous year.
    In scanning the budget for big-ticket items, legal costs are expected to rise by more than $55,000 — reaching nearly $570,000. Further, the budget for staff is also projected to increase by more than $100,000.
    In terms of cuts, reading instruction in kindergarten to third grade is expected to decrease by nearly $150,000, while art instruction in grades seven and eight shows a drop of nearly $80,000.
    The English as a second language program, on which the district spent more than $1.7 million last year, will be cut by 5 percent. Technology instruction, on which the district spent nearly $400,000 last year, will see a decrease of 33 percent. Further, the music and social studies programs will see cuts of 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
    On Tuesday, the board will conduct its first line-by-line budget work session at 6 p.m. The public, while invited to attend, will not be allowed to comment. George Aman, the board’s president, said the meeting is not expected to go much past 8 p.m. Future work sessions are scheduled for Feb. 12 and 26, March 21, and April 9.
    But prior to the unveiling of the budget, parents of East Hampton Middle School students were on tenterhooks, awaiting some resolution regarding the whereabouts of Charles R. Soriano, the middle school principal. Dr. Soriano, who has been out on an extended medical leave since early fall, was originally scheduled to return to work following the Martin Luther King holiday earlier this week.
    Those plans were diverted Friday afternoon, however, following an e-mail Dr. Soriano sent out to teachers, parents, and staff at 2:29 p.m. In it, he wrote: “Unfortunately, yesterday’s follow-up with my doctor in N.Y.C. did not go as I wanted or planned; he declined to write my clearance to return until I see another specialist next week. This was a personal disappointment, but my health must come first; and I know that you would agree. I have made a request to our superintendent for extending my medical leave until 25 January.”
    Dr. Soriano concluded with, “I look very forward to being back at E.H.M.S. as soon as my doctor gives me the green light.”
    At the time the e-mail was sent, teachers and staff had already begun gathering for a going-away party, complete with cake, for Thomas Lamorgese, who has served as interim principal of the middle school since mid-November. This past week, Dr. Lamorgese has continued filling in for Dr. Soriano.
    Dr. Soriano again declined to discuss his leave, preferring to respond to The East Hampton Star by e-mail only. Concerning his extended absence, Dr. Soriano wrote that “as soon as my doctor in N.Y.C. clears me I will be back to work. I hope that will be very soon.”
    At Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously approved a late-added resolution to the superintendent’s report. It did not appear on the written agenda. It read: “Resolved, that Superintendent Burns is authorized to undertake a review of the matter of the status of the middle school principalship in relation to establishing and assuring that the necessary continuity of leadership can be established for the remaining term of the 2012-2013 school year, and it is further resolved that Superintendent Burns is to report back to the board of education at its Feb. 5 meeting with recommendations as to the manner in which such continuity can best be established and assured for the benefit of the middle school community.”
    As had been the case at prior meetings, when the board voted to extend Dr. Soriano’s medical leave, several expressed surprise that the board did not address the issue of a precise return date. By instead opting for a review of the situation by Richard J. Burns, the district superintendent, some wondered whether Dr. Soriano would be returning at all.
    Nevertheless, the review temporarily eased the concerns of many. “We’re pleased that the superintendent is reviewing the status of the principalship and assuring that the necessary continuity of leadership will be established for the remainder of the year,” said Claude Beudert, who teaches special education at the middle school. “That it will benefit the middle school is appreciated.”
    Earlier in the evening, Ana Nunez, who the district hired at the beginning of December following the suicide of David H. Hernandez, an East Hampton High School student, told the board that as a community liaison between the district and Spanish-speaking parents she has already gotten in touch with more than 300 parents.
    Ms. Nunez will conduct a meeting tonight in the high school library to go over issues related to school structure, requirements, report cards, and absences. The meeting will be conducted entirely in Spanish. Future sessions will convene at both the John M. Marshall Elementary School and the high school.
    Also Tuesday, Bridget LeRoy, the district’s communications consultant, updated those assembled about the continuing education program, which was eliminated from the budget last spring.
    The program will run from March 12 to April 18. Classes, which range from basic drawing to bridge to defensive driving, among other offerings, will be held at the high school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings between 5 and 8. Those interested in learning more can call Ms. LeRoy at the district office. Admission is granted on a first-come-first-served basis.