In East Hampton on Monday night, about 50 audience members sat through a 90-minute meet-the-candidates forum at the John M. Marshall Elementary School to hear from five newcomers and one incumbent with their sights set on three openings on the East Hampton School Board.
It’s quite a contest compared to last spring, when two candidates ran unopposed for the two open seats.
The forum, sponsored by the John Marshall PTA, provided the only opportunity for residents to hear the positions of each candidate before Tuesday’s budget vote and school board election.
The six candidates are Alison Anderson, Nicholas Boland, J.P. Foster, Wendy Geehreng, Mary Ella Moeller, and Richard Wilson. Ms. Anderson, the incumbent, is seeking a second three-year term. The other two seats are being vacated by George Aman, the board president, and Lauren Dempsey, who have decided to step down.
“Three years go by very quickly,” said Ms. Anderson. “I’d like to continue to be involved in work that’s already in progress.”
On Monday evening, talk of consistency and continuity ruled the night, with several candidates referring to administrative chaos that has plagued the district’s upper ranks in recent years.
“Our eighth graders have had three principals and three assistant principals in as many years,” said Ms. Geehreng on Monday night. “John Marshall has had four principals in six years. I’m looking forward to making things more consistent. We can’t move forward and make progress without that happening.”
The candidates also presented their views on issues related to the 2-percent tax cap, the sharing of services between districts, and the possibility of piercing the cap in future years to ensure that a quality education could continue being offered to the district’s students.
Longstanding ties to the community were also a frequent topic of discussion.
“I’m not a Bonacker,” said Mr. Wilson, with a smile. “I’ve only been here since 1968.”
Both Laura Anker-Grossman, a former East Hampton School Board president, and Priscilla Campbell, the teachers association president, asked questions related to how board members would respond to issues of diversity.
“This room does not represent the diversity of East Hampton,” said Ms. Campbell, likely referring to the largely white audience. “The high school is 45 percent Spanish-speaking, and John Marshall has an even a larger number. It’s no fault of anyone here that this room does not represent the diversity of our district, but what could you do to get our community more involved in the district and the decision-making process?”
“It comes back to communication,” said Mr. Boland. “If you increase the communication, you will allow the public to have confidence in the system.”
In addition to increasing the outreach of Ana Nunez, the district’s Spanish-speaking liaison who was hired in December, several of the candidates also weighed whether the district would consider a bilingual program in future years.
Concerning the oftentimes thankless, not to mention unpaid, position, Ms. Moeller, already a regular attendee at bimonthly meetings, where she frequently sits in the front row, offered the following: “It’s your choice whether I sit on this side of the table or that side of the table. Either way, I will be there.”
Ms. Anderson, 49, is a lifelong resident of East Hampton. Her three grown children all graduated from East Hampton High School. In past years, she worked as a religious teacher at Most Holy Trinity Parish and served as a PTA president at both the high school and the middle school. She studied business at Suffolk Community College and SUNY Cobleskill.
Mr. Boland, 48, is a former lawyer who moved to East Hampton in 1996. While he doesn’t have any children, his wife teaches first grade at John Marshall. As a self-described “small-business entrepreneur” and graduate of Cornell University, he started a home improvement business and then a company called Fuel Renewal.
Mr. Foster, 42, has two children at East Hampton Middle School and last ran for the school board in 2005. He now works as a supervisor in East Hampton Village’s emergency operations center and is a real estate agent with the East Hampton office of Town and Country. He also sits on the East Hampton Town Planning Board.
Ms. Geehreng, 41, works as a part-time pediatric nurse-practitioner at Southampton Pediatric Associates and as a real estate saleswoman at the East Hampton branch of Brown Harris Stevens. She has four children in the district, and come fall will have at least one child at each of the district’s three schools.
Ms. Moeller, 75, is a retired home economics teacher, who grew up in East Hampton and now lives on Newtown Lane in the house that her parents formerly occupied. Since returning to East Hampton in 1996, she has participated in the East Hampton Town Citizens Advisory Committee and the Ladies Village Improvement Society and volunteers at the East Hampton Healthcare Center.
Mr. Wilson, 73, is a retired Sag Harbor science teacher and former Citizens Advisory Committee member who has consulted with the district in helping to establish the FOSS science curriculum in kindergarten through eighth grade. He hopes to improve the district’s science and technology program so that future generations are well-equipped to enter the job market. His four grandchildren attend the East Hampton schools.
Several of the candidates are heading into the weekend by continuing to put up signs, making phone calls, and meeting with local residents — hoping to sway any undecided voters. Additionally, LTV taped Monday evening’s forum and will likely rebroadcast it in the coming days.
On Tuesday, East Hampton will convene its annual budget and school board vote. Residents can cast their ballots in the high school’s auditorium from 1 to 8 p.m. A school board meeting is also scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the district office on Long Lane.