On Tuesday evening, hours before freezing rain resulted in yet another day of school cancellations across the South Fork, members of the East Hampton School Board heard that the weather was likely to impact this year’s spring break and that the district expected to go to trial over its longstanding dispute with Sandpebble Builders.
Patricia Hope, the board president, reviewed the policy on snow days. Yesterday was the third day that school was cancelled so far this year. “Students in New York State must by law attend school for 180 days per year,” Ms. Hope said, explaining that two snow days had been built into the calendar. Given this year’s weather, and the possibility of further closings, Ms. Hope said any additional cancellations would mean subtracting days from this year’s spring break, which is set for April 14 to 18.
“We would start with that Monday, go into Tuesday, and Wednesday, if need be,” continued Ms. Hope. “ We will obey the law and do our best. State law says you can’t do it in July.” The last day of school is June 27.
During the first opportunity for public comments, Paul Fiondella, an East Hampton resident, expressed frustration at the duration and expense of the Sandpebble lawsuit, which has stretched on for more than a decade. At issue is a multimillion-dollar contract for a construction project dating back to April of 2002. Richard Burns, the district superintendent, said that with depositions nearly finished, the lawsuit was finally expected to go to trial in the fall, echoing a similar prediction more than a year ago.
“In event we lose this lawsuit, what is our liability? The public never received an answer,” Mr. Fiondella said. “You should think seriously about suing the attorneys you hired at the beginning of this lawsuit to recover some of the $3 million spent by this district for litigation. I haven’t heard about what this district is liable for, and we should have had that answer 10 years ago.”
Several board members, including Jackie Lowey, expressed similar frustration during the meeting, noting that the decision to continue the fight occurred under a prior superintendent and an entirely different school board.
Earlier in the meeting, Michael Espina made a presentation about School Source Technologies, a firm that helps link various technologies used by school districts into a single user interface. He said he is now working with 10 districts on Long Island and 20 across the state. Though the initial platform license would be free, he said later fees could be negotiated. “We try to keep the price point for an integration platform below $10,000,” he said.
Turning to educational matters, Theresa Grimaldi, the district director of assessment and reporting, made a presentation on advanced placement and S.A.T./ACT scores at East Hampton High School. The high school offers 16 A.P. courses, with student participation going up, she said. In addition to a significant number of sophomores and juniors, she said a large number of seniors are taking as many as four to five A.P. courses at one time.
With a population of around 900 students, about one-third are enrolled in at least one of these courses. The goal over the coming years is to increase student performance. Among students scoring a 3 or higher on the ACT (the usual score needed for college credit), East Hampton generally ranks below national and New York State averages. But on the 2013 S.A.T., East Hampton consistently ranked above the state in critical reading, writing, and math.
In other action, the board voted to extend the appointment of Ryan Mahoney, a leave replacement social studies teacher, through the remainder of the school year. The board also extended a medical leave for Stephen Bock, a custodial worker, until Feb. 26. A decision on whether to help fund a proposed boys’ varsity lacrosse trip in April to see an Army vs. Navy game at West Point was delayed. At a cost of $1,450, several members expressed reluctance to sign off on such an amount, raising issues of equity with other school trips.
It was also noted that the district is looking into how it might be affected by the Affordable Care Act. The law requires that health insurance be provided to employees who work at least 30 hours. Isabel Madison, the assistant superintendent for business, said that the district didn’t have any part-timers who went over that number of hours.