After a year described by many parents and staff as alternately chaotic and mismanaged, the three openings on the East Hampton Board of Education are shaping up to be an unusually contested race.
Though the deadline for residents to decide whether they’re running for a local school board seat isn’t until next Monday evening, three in East Hampton have already submitted the requisite paperwork — with more petitions likely to trickle in over the coming days.
As of press time, nine individuals had picked up a nominating packet. Each requires the signature of 25 registered voters.
“It is unusual,” said Kerri Stevens, the East Hampton School District’s clerk. “We normally don’t have this many people running.”
So far, J.P. Foster, Nicholas Boland, and Richard Wilson have submitted their petitions. Additionally, Wendy Geehreng said she intended to file her paperwork later this week. And at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, though she declined to discuss the issue in further detail, Mary Ella Moeller was also seen collecting signatures.
In Springs, by contrast, while two school board members have decided not to run again, only two individuals have picked up nominating packets. One has been returned. Frances Silipo, the district clerk, declined to disclose the name of the resident.
On the current East Hampton School Board, whose seven members each serve three-year terms, Lauren Dempsey, George Aman, and Alison Anderson are each finishing their terms. While Ms. Dempsey and Dr. Aman have announced they are stepping down, Ms. Anderson remains undecided.
“I decided I’m not running. I had my chance to say my piece and steer this district in a direction that I think is good for it,” Dr. Aman said in a telephone call early Tuesday. “Most of the things I got on the board to do and try to accomplish have been accomplished, or are well on their way to being accomplished. It’s time for someone with their ideas to come aboard.”
Freed from board service, Dr. Aman hopes to avail himself of either interim or part-time assignments, conceivably as a superintendent at a nearby, smaller district.
On numerous occasions over the past few months, different board members have lamented the number of hours the unpaid position requires — an especially considerable burden during the budget season, which stretches from January until May.
Between school board meetings, executive sessions, and committee assignments, Ms. Anderson said the workload routinely stretched to upward of 30 hours per week. At Tuesday’s meeting, she thanked Ms. Dempsey and Dr. Aman for their board service.
“Your time and input has been an asset to this district and our community,” said Ms. Anderson. Though many predict she will run again, she avoided such a proclamation. “I want to thank you for your service and am sad you’ve decided not to run again. It’s been my pleasure to work with you.”
All of the candidates running for the East Hampton School Board attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
Among them was Ms. Geehreng. Come fall, she will have one child at East Hampton High School, one at East Hampton Middle School, and two at John M. Marshall Elementary School.
“You do have to step up to the plate,” said Ms. Geehreng, 41, who works as a part-time pediatric nurse practitioner at Southampton Pediatric Associates. She also works as a real estate salesperson at the East Hampton branch of Brown Harris Stevens.
She conceded that the turmoil of the past year, particularly at the middle school and elementary school, ultimately tipped her hat in favor of running.
“I wanted to show my kids that you do give back to your community,” said Ms. Geehreng. “Things have gotten very hard for boards of education in the state in general. To get the kids of East Hampton the best education they can get, and to do it by being fiscally responsible, is tough, it’s really tough. I would like to help.”
Seated near Ms. Geehreng was Mr. Boland. At 48, he has never sought public office. While he doesn’t have any children in the school system, his wife teaches first grade at John Marshall. A former lawyer, Mr. Boland moved to East Hampton in 1996. Now a self-described “small-business entrepreneur,” he started a home improvement business in 2005 followed by a company called Fuel Renewal in 2012.
“The district is in a state of confusion. There’s a communication problem,” said Mr. Boland. “It’s time for some new blood.”
Mr. Foster, who was unsuccessful in his run for the school board in 2005, has two children in the district. Both attend the middle school.
Of his motivation to run, Mr. Foster cited the chaos of the past year. “I hope they get it back on track for the kids’ sake,” he said. “It needs to be smoothed out.”
Mr. Foster, 42, works as a supervisor in East Hampton Village’s Emergency Operations Center. He is also a real estate agent at the East Hampton office of Town and Country, and is on the town planning board.
Of the time commitment required of school board service, Mr. Foster didn’t seem worried. “It’s my kids and I don’t know if there are ever too many hours you can put in for your kids,” he said, adding that the planning board meets on a different night of the week. “The commitment to your children and your community supersedes all.”
Also present at Tuesday’s meeting was Mr. Wilson, who taught science in Sag Harbor for 30 years. He retired in 1998. At 73, he’s never run for elected office. An East Hampton resident since 1968, he has four grandchildren who attend school in East Hampton — from prekindergarten to seventh grade.
“One of the most important things we do as citizens of this country is to educate our kids,” said Mr. Wilson.
Following Monday’s deadline of 5 p.m., Ms. Stevens will review each of the petitions to ensure that all 25 signatures are legible. Afterward, a drawing will determine the order of how each name will ultimately appear on the ballot. The election takes place on May 21.