Resignation a Surprise to School Board

Patricia Hope, president, will not reconsider
Patricia Hope, president of the school board, took members by surprise on Tuesday by submitting her resignation, effective immediately. Morgan McGivern

Shock waves went through the East Hampton School Board meeting Tuesday night when it was learned that Patricia Hope, one of the board’s most outspoken members, had resigned.

“Due to compelling personal and professional circumstances, I find it necessary to withdraw from membership on the East Hampton School Board, effective immediately,” Ms. Hope wrote to Kerri Stevens, the district clerk, in a letter dated July 7. The letter concluded: “It has been an honor and pleasure to serve the community as a member of the Board of Education, and to work with the consummate professionals in our district office.”

For the past year, Ms. Hope had served as president. On Tuesday night, most expected to see her continue in that role, which she so clearly cherished. Instead, Richard Wilson, a board member, promptly nominated James P. Foster, who is called J.P., as its next president. Mr. Foster received unanimous backing, as did Christina DeSanti, as vice president.

“It’s sad and shocking,” said Richard Burns, district superintendent, at the conclusion of the two-hour meeting. “It’s a total surprise for everyone.” During an executive session that began at 5:30 p.m., Mr. Burns said they had tried to call Ms. Hope, hoping she would reconsider.

“I love the district. I’ve spent exactly half my life in that building,” Ms. Hope said yesterday morning. She said she plans to focus on a compilation of essays and  writing. “I can’t lead both a public life and a private life at the same time.”

“It’s a mystery and very sad,” said Liz Pucci, the outgoing vice president. “She was the most dedicated president I’ve ever seen. She poured her heart and soul into it.”

 “The decision was surprising and unexpected,” said Claude Beudert, who teaches at East Hampton Middle School and attended Tuesday night’s meeting. “Pat has always been a dedicated person in all aspects of her life. I’m sure there are good reasons for her decision.”

In May, Ms. Hope and Jackie Lowey, who each sought second, three-year terms, won wide support, receiving 531 and 535 votes, respectively. Ms. Lowey was sworn in on Tuesday. Looking ahead, though it has yet to be formally decided, Mr. Burns said the board is likely to appoint a seventh member, who will serve a one-year term. He said that convening a special election would be too costly.

During the rest of Tuesday’s organizational meeting, board members pored over a 13-page agenda. Among the highlights, board members chose committee assignments, and accepted the resignation of Tracee Van Brunt, a foreign language teacher, effective Aug. 31. The board also appointed Robert Hagan as director of learning technology and instruction, effective July 1. He will receive an initial annual salary of $158,000.

Come September, the district will also bring in Robert Eldi and Douglas Schumacher, computer science consultants, to help with curriculum development and expanding the district’s coding course offerings. Each consultant is to be paid $800 a day, not to exceed 12 days for the 2014-15 school year.

In other news, the board announced that Pinks, Arbeit, and Nemeth, a Hauppauge-based firm, has been retained as special counsel at an hourly rate of $375 to represent the district’s interests in two ongoing lawsuits: East Hampton Union Free School District vs. Sandpebble Builders Inc. and Sandpebble Builders Inc. vs. Deborah Mansir. 

At issue is a multimillion-dollar contract for a construction project that dates back to April of 2002. Mr. Burns expressed frustration with the Sandpebble lawsuits. He described a recent telephone conversation as “very intense,” saying that the trial, which was expected to begin this summer, has now been delayed until fall. “I know the board is frustrated, but it’s out of our control at this point.”  
 
On Wednesday, Ms. Stevens and the board issued a joint statement. “We were surprised and saddened by Pat’s decision to resign from the Board,” it read, describing her as an “ally” and “valued friend,” who brought “passion, experience, and dedication to the job.” It concluded by stating: “It is our hope that she will be in a position to reconsider her resignation. However, we all have a life beyond our Board of Education responsibilities and we respect and understand that she may have personal circumstances that preclude further service at this time.”

Shortly after adjourning the meeting Tuesday, Mr. Foster tested out the wooden gavel for the first time. “How’d that feel?” asked Mr. Beudert, one of two remaining audience members. “Great,” Mr. Foster said.

The board will next meet on Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m.