The purpose of a community forum at the Springs School — held on Dec. 14 and attended by parents, teachers, and taxpayers — was to work with Raymond Fell of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, who has been hired by the district to search for a superintendent to replace the departing Michael Hartner, and come up with a short list of what is most important in a candidate. But the evening, which lasted three hours, also brought up a philosophical question: Does Springs need a full-time superintendent at all?
Pat Brabant, a parent of a child in the school, posed the question to Mr. Fell: “We have a $22-million budget and almost 1,000 kids. What do you think we need?” Mr. Fell has helped more than a dozen school districts in Suffolk in their quests for new superintendents.
“I can’t answer that,” Mr. Fell said. “Only you can answer that question. What do you need in this district to best provide the best education for the kids?”
Other administrative models were explored, besides the existing full-time superintendent, full-time principal model. One of the most popular seemed to be the model of a full-time principal-superintendent, similar to Jack Perna’s position in Montauk, with the addition of a full-time assistant principal. Another was the possibility of hiring a part-time superintendent, preferably a retired school administrator who lives in the area.
There was some talk of Eric Casale, who has been the school principal for eight years, taking over both jobs. When several members of the audience turned and asked Mr. Casale directly if he had the proper certification to become a superintendent, the normally outgoing principal offered a barely perceptible nod.
No board members were present, but Mr. Fell, who had met with the board earlier, said that they were considering changing the current administrative model.
Some in the audience also said that it would be hard to choose a model without a cost breakdown. “You know what you’re paying for two people,” Mr. Fell said. “The question is, can you get two and a half people for less?”
In coming up with a punch list of important qualities in a superintendent, some of the suggestions included a passion for education, a knowledge of how to keep programs in a fiscally challenged environment, an ability to settle employee contracts, political savvy, strong fiscal management experience, and an awareness of the diversity of the school population.
A good relationship with East Hampton High School would be a big selling point, too. “We pay millions to send kids from Springs to the high school,” said Deb Foster, a former East Hampton Town councilwoman and a teacher for many years. “But we have no representation there.” Michelle Grant, a school parent, concurred. “It would be important to have a voice in the high school,” she said.
Raymond Wojtusiak, a teacher, brought up the challenges the district is facing. “We’re a working-class neighborhood,” he said. “We’re dealing with a growing population without a change in the tax base. New houses aren’t being built, there’s just more people living here year round or moving into the community. We’re cash-strapped. With the tax cap coming up, we need someone who is going to know how to deal with it.” He pointed out that a recent conference showed that Springs has six times the population density of any other South Fork district.
“The impression of Springs is that it is very rich,” said Mr. Fell, who seemed surprised by the numbers. “You probably wouldn’t be eligible for a lot of grant money — the district looks rich on paper.”
It was agreed that someone who has been an administrator in a similar situation — a fiscally challenged but dynamic and artistic rural community — would be welcomed.
Carol Saxe Buda, who lives in the hamlet, talked about the importance of having a superintendent capable of repairing the divide that exists in the community. Budget meetings at the school have been contentious in the past, with many taxpayers feeling that their concerns have not been acknowledged. “It’s not a good situation right now,” she said. “It shouldn’t be parents versus the community. We all believe in excellence in education.”
Kristy LaMonda, a teacher at the school, suggested the wording: “The ability to educate the community about its resources and its needs and to repair the polarization that has occurred within disparate groups.”
Mr. Fell said that after a suitable model was chosen, the board would place ads in trade magazines, along with possibly Newsday or The New York Times, and come up with a list of candidates.
A new superintendent is expected to start on July 1.