East Hampton Budget Riding On Turnout

School board incumbents want three more years
voters will see two familiar names on the ballot — Jackie Lowey and Patricia Hope — both incumbents seeking second, three-year terms Morgan

Get-out-the-vote efforts have started to intensify, with school budget votes only five days away, and in the East Hampton School District, turnout is particularly crucial after the school board voted unanimously to pierce the state-mandated 1.46-percent cap on tax levy increases earlier this spring. Overriding the cap to adopt the proposed $65 million budget requires the support of 60 percent of voters who cast their ballots on Tuesday.

The district is proposing a 1.3-percent increase in spending next year and a 2.43-percent increase in the tax levy. Had it stayed within the tax cap, the school board told voters, the district would have had to lay off teachers and support staff and “cut deeply into our instructional programs.”

If the budget does not pass on Tuesday, the school board can put the same budget up for a second vote or propose a new spending plan. A second no vote would force the district to adopt a budget based on this year’s numbers. 

In addition to the budget, voters will see two familiar names on the ballot — Patricia Hope and Jackie Lowey — both incumbents seeking second, three-year terms.

Ms. Hope, the board’s president, retired from East Hampton High School in 2007 after 33 years in the classroom. She was the first woman hired by the school’s six-man science department. By the time she retired, the department included six women and seven men.

Ms. Hope, 72, considers the school board a full-time (albeit unpaid) job, regularly putting in 40 hours a week, particularly during budget season. But despite the demanding workload, she had no hesitation about running again, believing that her work is not quite finished. She also intends to find ways to help teachers rekindle the passion that brought them to the classroom in the first place, she said.

Looking ahead, with two more years of the state-imposed tax cap, she sees more districts unable to sustain themselves among the tide of rising costs, and voting similarly to pierce the cap.

In the three years she has served, she believes the board has established itself as a trustworthy and conscientious steward of public dollars for the children of East Hampton.

A native of Manhattan, she moved to East Hampton in 1970, a newly divorced single mother drawn to the open spacen which to raise her daughter.

She first attended the City College of New York and later finished her undergraduate degree at Southampton College, then earned a master’s in biology from Stony Brook University.

“To me, school is always the answer,” said Ms. Hope, who worked as a waitress during the day so she could attend college at night. “The freedom to be educated is what I recognize as one of the greatest aspects of this country.”

Her older daughter, Hilary Thayer Hamann, a novelist, lives in Sag Harbor.

As an unwed teacher at East Hampton High School, Ms. Hope’s second pregnancy resulted in much controversy and national press attention. She appeared in People magazine three times in the same year, and on the “Phil Donahue Show.” Her younger daughter, Penelope Jarvis, lives in Springs and recently received a master’s degree in elementary education.

If asked by her fellow board members to serve again as president, she said she would accept the post.

Over the past three years, Ms. Lowey is most proud of working collaboratively with her colleagues to push for improvements throughout the district, including the hiring of a Spanish-speaking liaison and updating the district’s website. Ms. Lowey is also proud that existing resources were repurposed to establish a robotics team, a Science Olympiad program, and coding classes, among other science, technology, electronics, and math offerings — a direction she hopes the district will continue to head in during her next term.

Since she assumed her position, the board has made over $5 million worth of spending cuts. The past year was no exception, with more than $1 million sliced from the original 2014-15 school budget.

Speaking about the decision to pierce the cap, Ms. Lowey said she believes that good education ultimately costs money. “We have pockets of excellence in East Hampton,” she said. “There’s so much good here. Our job is to now expand those pockets of excellence.”

Ms. Lowey, 50, grew up in Queens. After graduating from Swarthmore College, where she studied English literature, she spent 15 years in Washington, D.C., serving during both terms of the Clinton administration and as the deputy director of the National Park Service. She also worked for two members of Congress and on various congressional campaigns, including that of her mother, Representative Nita Lowey, a Democrat who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester County in New York.

Ms. Lowey has two children, ages 9 and 12, in the district. One is in fourth grade at the John M. Marshall Elementary School and the other is in seventh grade at East Hampton Middle School.

In 2000, two years after meeting her husband, David Kuperschmid, a local businessman, at the Stephen Talkhouse over Labor Day weekend, Ms. Lowey left Washington and relocated to East Hampton. She now runs her own consulting firm, where she works with nonprofit, corporate, and government clients helping with strategic planning, fund-raising, and writing projects.

Prior to running for the school board three years ago, Ms. Lowey was already an active member of the community, regularly volunteering her time at John Marshall and also serving on the board of the Children’s Museum of the East End.

 “Everyone has a responsibility to do something for their community,” she said of her decision to run again. “If you want to make something better, you need to get involved and do something to make it better.”