Budget Takes Its Lumps in Montauk

Amy Duryea-Kelly and Tom Flight asked the Montauk School Board to increase the 2013-14 budget proposal to pay for smaller class sizes, especially for younger students. The answer was no, and the board approved the budget for $18.7 million on Tuesday. Janis Hewitt

    The Montauk School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a budget proposal in the amount $18.7 million for the 2013-14 school year.
    But not before two parents, Tom Flight and Amy Duryea-Kelly, who were representing a larger group of preschool parents, haggled a bit about lowering class size, which has been an ongoing discussion since the budget process began.
    Mr. Flight said he had found the budget process to be too political. He wondered when the board considers the students’ needs for the future. “There is far too much mention of the AARP at these meetings,” he said.
    At previous meetings, parents had asked if the board would be willing to pierce the state’s 2-percent cap on tax levy increases, saying they would rally parents to vote and pass it with the 60-percent margin that the state requires.
    Jack Perna, the district superintendent, said at the time that if the budget didn’t pass by that margin, another vote would be held, and if that one didn’t get the 60 percent, the school would lose its right to increase the budget at all for next year.
    A petition with 185 signatures that was handed in by Mr. Flight at last month’s meeting states that the financial planning going into the 2013-14 school budget threatens the education of the hamlet’s children at all grade levels if the board increases class-size policy up to 28 students per class. (When the board voted on changing that policy, it left an actual figure out of the resolution, but gave the board the flexibility to change class size depending on individual classes.)
    The petition stated that the board needed to put forward a realistic financial plan that pierces the 2-percent cap in order to have a fiscally and educationally responsible budget that limits class sizes, with kindergarten through third grade having no more than 18 students per class, and no more than 20 students per class in the other grades. The current policy calls for 18 students in a class with a maximum of 24.
    The petition also asked that the board reinstate various programs that have been cut because of finances in recent years, such as summer school and morning and after-school programs.
    In response to the petition, Diane Hausman, the school board president, said the board took offense to the part that said the education of the students was at risk. “This board would never threaten the education of students in the Montauk School,” she said in a follow-up interview.
    Ms. Duryea-Kelly told the board that she had sent out a mass e-mail asking parents to attend the meeting. She looked around the room at Tuesday’s meeting and noted that there were no other parents there. “Not one parent has been accommodated at these meetings. They don’t feel that coming here makes any difference.”
    Addressing the AARP comment, board members said that Montauk has a large contingent of senior citizens on fixed incomes who must be considered when raising school district taxes. “Where you are all sitting right now in the front row, it’s usually senior citizens sitting there,” Ms. Hausman said.
    When the board was asked how parents could be more involved with the school, it was suggested they join the school’s site-based or curriculum committees. There is also a position on the school board opening up: Therese Watson will vacate her seat at the end of the school year. To run for the board, a candidate has to file a petition with 25 signatures on it by April 22. As of Tuesday, two petition packets had been picked up. They are available in the school office.
    In other school news, the board learned of the resignations of three longtime employees, John Salmon, the physical education and health teacher, Sue Nicoletti, a fifth-grade teacher, and Kathleen Byrd, a Spanish teacher. Danielle Kastrati, who is a special education teacher and Mr. Salmon’s daughter, received tenure.