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Amagansett School: Quiet Appointment Draws Emphatic Response

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 12:34

Several parents and others in the Amagansett School community have expressed unhappiness with a recent decision by the school board to appoint a new member to a vacant seat without widely publicizing it.

Claudia Quintana, who was in the final year of a three-year term, resigned in September, and the board appointed Kevin Warren in October to fill the vacancy. The vote on Oct. 15 was 3-to-1, with Hank Muchnic abstaining.

Sandy Nuzzi, the district clerk, said at the time that the board had “sent out inquiries seeking prospective members” to the community. Kristen V. Peterson, the school board president, told The Star that four responses were received.

“If they did ask members of the community, it’s no one I know,” Matthew Feyh, who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in May, said last week. “They have the right to appoint whoever they want, but I don’t think that they ever really needed or wanted input from the community.”

In the event a vacant seat arises, school boards have three options. They can appoint a new member until the next election; they can hold a special election, or they can leave the seat unfilled. (Also, the state commissioner of education can step in and appoint someone.) There are no formal state requirements for the announcement of a vacancy.

In October, Ms. Peterson said in an email that the vacancy had not been publicized because “it is a seven-month appointment, which is common after a resignation.”

“Whenever there is a resignation, the Amagansett School Board has appointed a community member to fill the vacant spot until the next upcoming election,” she said in a follow-up email. “This is common school board protocol. There is an election in six months for any interested community member [to] run for a seat on the Amagansett School Board.”

The board followed a similar protocol the last time a vacancy arose. When Patrick Bistrian III moved out of the district in 2018, the board appointed Anna Bernasek, who was eventually elected to a three-year term.

Like Mr. Feyh, Caroline Cashin, a school parent and a recent president of the PTA, said she had not heard of anyone who had been contacted regarding the vacancy on the board after Ms. Quintana’s departure. She suggested the board was not “open or transparent.”

“There’s no communication,” she said by phone. “They’re not even interested in how we think — the community members and parents.” She said the board should have called upon the people who ran for board seats in May. Mr. Feyh, for example, received 81 votes; Mary Eames received 98. “Why not reach out to these people? If the community is interested, there are people they have supported.”

Following the announcement of Mr. Warren’s appointment, Ms. Cashin wrote in a letter to the editor of The Star that “last year, the Sag Harbor School Board conducted a transparent process to fill a board seat that opened midyear. The Amagansett taxpayers are paying for a full-time superintendent and principal to educate just 80 students:, where is their leadership in all of this?”

Ms. Eames, who has written numerous letters to The Star over the years critical of the Amagansett School Board, moved out of the district recently, but said this week that the board should at least have contacted Mr. Feyh. She too said she had not heard of anyone who received notice of the vacancy.

“They are within their rights,” Ms. Eames said, “but it’s not fair, I would think, to the community if we go all out and campaign for months and walk the streets and stand at the post office, and then they put someone else in. It’s like a closed club.”

“I’m not happy about it, but,” she repeated, “they are within their rights. Whoever ran should be the first choice. But no hard feelings. What are you going to do?”

Seth Turner, the school superintendent, said the district would not comment further in response to complaints. “The Amagansett Union Free School District allows for public comment as part of each of our meetings of the Board of Education,” he said by email. “In addition, we have a policy which allows for members of the public to raise a concern with any facet of the school by either meeting with an administrator or submitting their concern in writing. Generally, the school leadership will not respond to concerns or complaints which do not follow these protocols.”


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