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May 10, 2016 2:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Three Seek Two Seats In East Quogue Board Of Education Race

May 11, 2016 11:15 AM

In addition to deciding if their district should pierce the cap on the tax levy by supporting the $23.8 million 2016-17 school budget, registered East Quogue taxpayers also can vote next week for two of three candidates seeking a seat on their Board of Education.

Incumbent Dianna Gobler, who is making her first reelection bid to the five-member board, will attempt to defend her seat from a pair of challengers: Jessica Stalters, and former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney.

A second seat is available: Board member Carrie Bender, who will complete her first term at the end of June, opted not to seek reelection this year. She was elected in 2013 when she beat incumbent Joseph Tsaveras.

The stakes are high in East Quogue this year, as at least 60 percent of those who come to the polls on Tuesday, May 17, must vote in favor of the district’s $23.8 million budget for it to pass, as the spending plan pierces the state-mandated tax levy cap. Board members opted to pierce the cap to avoid making significant cuts to staffing and programming.

If the budget fails, board members will be tasked with deciding if they should pitch the same budget a second time, or make cuts before putting it up for a second vote—one that would still require 60-percent approval. A second rejection would force the board to adopt a $22.6 million contingency budget, a plan that totals $450,000 less than the current year’s $23.05 million budget, and nearly $1.2 million less than the budget proposed by School Superintendent Robert Long.

Two of the three candidates—Dr. Gobler and Ms. Stalters—have declined to share their opinions regarding The Hills at Southampton, a proposed luxury golf resort community targeting East Quogue. Mr. Heaney has said that he supports the proposal, as it should provide much-needed tax revenue to the district.

The proposal, which requires Southampton Town Board approval of a planned development district, calls for the construction of 118 homes—95 single-family homes, 13 clubhouse cabins and 10 clubhouse condominiums—along with an 18-hole golf course on nearly 600 acres in the hamlet. Representatives of the developer, Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, have stated that their community would provide an estimated $4.4 million in annual tax revenue for the cash-strapped district while not enrolling any children in local schools, as the units would be marketed as vacation homes to the wealthy.

Residents can vote on both the budget and the School Board races between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17, in the gymnasium of the East Quogue Elementary School on Central Avenue.

Dianna Gobler

Dianna Gobler, 43, a research scientist at Stony Brook University, said she is seeking a second three-year term on the board so she can continue to improve offerings at the East Quogue Elementary School, which is now attended by her youngest child, Luke, a second-grader. Her two older children, Abby and Sarah, also attended the elementary school and now enrolled in the Westhampton Beach School District.

“I decided to run again because I feel like I’m making a difference for the district,” Dr. Gobler said. “I’m a very hard worker.”

She said that one of her most noteworthy accomplishments during her first term was advocating, along with the rest of the board, for the district to receive for the first time payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, through Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund. The district, which has struggled financially under Albany’s tax levy cap, expects to receive a $1.2 million payment, money that will lower taxes for next year’s $23.8 million budget.

She also volunteers at fundraisers and runs the Parent Teacher Association website, www.eastquoguepta.org.

Dr. Gobler, who is married to Stony Brook Southampton marine science professor Dr. Chris Gobler, declined to offer her opinion of The Hills application, explaining that all of those now seated on the board previously decided to not comment on the application. “The School Board decided we are going to be neutral about it,” she said. “I know there are some benefits to the school, but we agreed as a board to remain neutral.”

Patrick “Skip” Heaney

Patrick Heaney, 71, a longtime East Quogue resident and a former Southampton Town supervisor, said he decided to make his first run for the Board of Education because he wants to help the financially strapped district with its future budgeting.

“I was watching how difficult it has been for the School Board to maintain a level of excellence for the students,” Mr. Heaney said, pointing to the recent decision to pierce the tax cap. “As town supervisor, I dealt with a spending cap restriction.”

Mr. Heaney has two grandchildren—Nolan, a sixth grader, and McKenna, a fifth grader—who now attend the East Quogue Elementary School. He noted that he would like to help the district figure out ways in the coming years to tackle the budget without cutting programs that benefit his grandchildren and their peers.

“The spending cap is not going to go away,” he said. “We certainly need to be looking at things like the physical plan of the building. How old is the boiler system? Is there a chance to burn cleaner fuel? Can we use solar energy to lower the cost of electricity?”

Additionally, Mr. Heaney pointed to his 15 years of experience on the Southampton Town Board, including six as supervisor, as reasons for taxpayers to have faith in his ability to serve them. He served as a town councilman from 1992 until 2001, and as supervisor from 2002 until 2007.

Regarding The Hills, the former town supervisor said he supports the proposal because all hamlet taxpayers would benefit from the taxes generated by the development. He also noted, as the developers have done repeatedly in the past, that the owners of the luxury homes would only be living there in the summer months, meaning they are unlikely to put any children in the school district. Mr. Heaney said he also likes the developer’s plan to address groundwater pollution in the area as one of the proposed public benefits of the PDD, noting that their suggestions should lessen the amount of nitrogen entering already suspect Weesuck Creek.

Jessica Stalters

Jessica Stalters, 38, a lifelong East Quogue resident, says her two biggest passions are her children and education—so deciding to make a run for the Board of Education was the next logical step for her.

Her 8-year-old son, Andrew, is a second-grader at the elementary school while her 5-year-old son, Jack, will start kindergarten in the fall.

“I was born and raised here,” Ms. Stalters said. “I have always cared about our community and since I’m involved in education, I really care about education and I really want to do what’s best for them.”

Ms. Stalters has been employed as a special education teacher in the Rocky Point School District for 15 years. She thinks that her familiarity with the area, combined with her experience as an educator, makes her a good fit for the board.

“I really represent all of East Quogue,” she said. “I’m a parent, a taxpayer, a community member and an educator.”

Ms. Stalters explained that she began paying closer attention to the school budget over the past few years, once Andrew began attending the elementary school, and thinks she can offer some insight instead of watching from the sidelines. “I know it’s a problem our district is facing, but I just want to get in and see what I can do to help,” she said. “I can’t do anything alone by myself, but if I get on that board I can assist them.”

Regarding The Hills application, Ms. Stalters said she still has not decided if she supports or opposes the project. “I’ve been following the articles, and I understand both points of views,” she said. “It can potentially help the school and improve Main Street, and then I see the other viewpoint that people are worried about preserving the land.”

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Skip Heaney is for "The Hills" and thus for what many of us in EQ are against. I will not vote for him. The BOE is a platform for him to use in his quest to have, "The Hills" approved.
By crusader (391), East Quogue on May 14, 16 8:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
How about a job at the ASPCA?
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on May 22, 16 8:24 AM