Volunteer Chaperones?

School board ponders unpaid crowd control

    In the next-to-last meeting before school starts up again, the East Hampton School Board on Tuesday was focused on forming committees, cafeteria food, changes to the Web site, and various possible savings.
    The timers, scorers, and chaperones at athletic games, who are paid $59 for a single game or $83 for a double, were the first issue.
    “I’m 100 percent in support of the athletic program,” said Jackie Lowey, a board member, “but the actual amount spent is in the tens of thousands. With so many parents that go to games anyway, is this necessary? Is this something volunteers could do?”
    “We need decent chaperones,” said Richard Burns, the interim superintendent. “The sanctioned Section 11 games have certain requirements.”
    Joe Vas, the district’s athletic director, was in agreement with Mr. Burns. “We do need people trained to deal with crowds,” he said. “Some of the games have in excess of 500 people. We’ve tried to cut back where we could.” He added that chaperones on the approved list, thanks to their training, once “saved a man’s life.”
    Mr. Vas was referring to the quick action of staffers at a junior varsity basketball game in 2008. With the help of an automated external defibrillator, they came to the aid of a referee who had gone into cardiac arrest.
    But Ms. Lowey was not swayed. Volunteers, either parents or other community members, could take up the mantle and save the district about $40,000 a year, she maintained.
    “Is there no way we could train a cadre of volunteers?” she asked. “The cumulative effect on the district’s budget is much bigger than the amount that goes into someone’s pocket — it’s death by a thousand cuts.”
    Lauren Dempsey, another board member, pointed out that anyone who volunteers for the school is required to go through a background check and fingerprinting, at a cost of around $100, which the volunteers themselves would be obliged to pay.
    “So we wouldn’t just be asking them to volunteer, but also asking them to pay for the privilege,” she said.
    Ms. Lowey suggested a pilot project, “to see if we can’t move to try and train a bunch of volunteers and halve this budget.”
    Mr. Vas was unconvinced, saying that the trained staffers “provide a safe environment. I don’t know if we can put a volunteer in that position.”
    Alison Anderson, a board member, suggested that the athletic committee look into it.
    On the subject of committees, six were formed with the new board members.  Pat Hope, Laura Anker Grossman, and Ms. Lowey will be on the academic committee; Ms. Hope, Ms. Lowey, and Ms. Dempsey on the finance committee; Ms. Anderson, Liz Pucci, and Ms. Dempsey on facilities; Ms. Pucci, Ms. Anderson, and Dr. Anker Grossman on the athletic committee; George Aman, Ms. Anderson, and Ms. Dempsey on personnel, and Ms. Lowey, Ms. Hope, and Dr. Aman on the policy committee.
    Ms. Lowey also outlined a meeting with Whitsons Culinary Group, which provides school meals. The idea, she explained, was to get more healthy food into the elementary and middle school cafeterias.
    “They were receptive,” she said. Nachos will no longer be offered, and cut fruit, which is easier for younger children to eat than an unpeeled orange, may be on the menu come September.
    Ms. Lowey also discussed the district’s Web site, saying it was not as user-friendly as it could be and was due for an upgrade. The board agreed that the site, ehufsd.org, could be used to post homework assignments for students, make announcements in a more timely manner, and in general be a useful place for parents and taxpayers to learn what’s happening at the schools.
    “We have enough talent among our students to make this sparkle and shine,” said Ms. Hope.
    Ms. Lowey acknowledged the expense of a Web update, but suggested that the cost could be offset in part by sending more materials by e-mail and fewer by paper.
    Speaking during the public commentary, Paul Fiondella voiced concerns over both the 2-percent tax cap and assessed values in the town.
    “Assessed value is probably 30 percent higher than market value right now,” he said. “If people start bringing their grievances to the assessors’ office, you’re likely to see the total tax base decrease.”
    Isabel Madison, the district’s business administrator, did not have a final number yet for the tax levy, when asked by Mr. Fiondella, who also brought up the Sandpebble lawsuit, urging the board to “not let it go.”
    Dr. Anker Grossman agreed, and said that the district’s new attorney, Kevin Seaman, would give a public report on Sandpebble at an upcoming hearing.
    Finally, the board and school staff acknowledged the death of Herman Stephens, a custodian and cafeteria worker for the middle school, who died earlier this month.
    “He was known for sneakers,” said Claude Beudert, a special education teacher at the middle school. The board discussed with Mr. Beudert and Eric Woellhof, the district’s facilities administrator, the possibility of building a box to house a pair of Mr. Stephens’s maroon-and-white  sneakers, with a plaque of remembrance underneath.