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Apr 23, 2019 5:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Heated Races For School Boards In East Hampton; Wainscott Will Seek To Pierce Tax Cap

Apr 25, 2019 4:18 PM

There will be contested races for school board seats in nearly all of East Hampton Town’s districts this year.

Additionally, the tiny Wainscott School District will ask its residents to approve a budget that pierces the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases after years of spending down an inflated surplus and lowering tax levies.

Incumbent school board members in the East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett and Sag Harbor school districts all have challengers seeking to unseat them in the May 21 elections.

As has become typical, Sag Harbor will have the busiest race—though not as crowded as in some past years—with six candidates seeking election to three seats on the board. Technically, only one incumbent, Chris Tice, is seeking reelection. But Brian DeSesa, who was appointed to the board in January to fill a vacated seat, is seeking election to remain on the board.

He will be joined by Caleb Kercheval, Thomas McErlan, Julian Barrowcliffe and Yorgos Tsibirdis on the ballot for the three seats. Mr. Kercheval and Mr. Tsibirdis had also been considered by the board for appointment to the seat Mr. DeSesa was ultimately awarded.

The top two vote-getters will win the seats on the two full three-year terms that are on the ballot and the third-place finisher will earn the final seat until the 2020 elections.

There will also be four candidates to fill two seats on both the East Hampton and Springs school boards.

In East Hampton, incumbents J.P. Foster, the board’s president, and Wendy Geehreng are seeking reelection to new terms. They will be challenged by Jeffrey Erickson and Sandra Vorpahl.

In Springs, incumbents Amy Rivera and David Conlon are being challenged by Joseph Sullivan and Deborah Goodman. Mr. Conlon and Ms. Rivera are both at the end of their first terms on the board and the winners of the race will earn a three-year term.

In Amagansett, there will be five candidates for two full-term seats and a two-year term to fill a vacated seat. Kristen Peterson and Hank Muchnic are at the end of their three-year terms and seeking reelection to new terms, and Anna Bernasek is seeking to win a seat on the board after having been appointed to the board last summer to take over the seat vacated by Patrick Bistrian III. The three incumbents will be joined on the ballot by Mary Eames, who narrowly lost a bid for a seat on the board last year, and Matthew Feyh.

The only uncontested races in the town this year are in Wainscott, where William Babinski is running unopposed for a new term on the three-member Wainscott School Board; and in Montauk, where incumbent Tom Flight is seeking reelection and Nick Finazzo is seeking election to complete the final two years of the term for the seat left vacant by longtime board member Patti Leber, who has stepped down after moving out of the district.

The ballots on May 21 will also ask voters to approve budgets—and in that regard, Wainscott offers the most startling budget proposal, at first blush. The proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year will actually go down from the current one, by about $8,000. But because the board has finally after five years spent down its once inflated surplus reserves—which earned it an admonishment from state auditors—the district will have to increase its levy for next year by more than $416,000, to $2,664,365, a jump of more 18 percent.

Wainscott School Board President David Eagan said the board has known that a readjustment year was going to be necessary and is hoping voters will stomach it and provide the 60-percent support required to pierce the state tax cap.

“We’ve been telling our residents that this was going to happen because we were going to have to reduce the reliance on fund balances,” he said. “We have been working hard to right-size this budget and we think this is a very tight budget for us, but a realistic one.”

Mr. Eagan said that along with reducing the surpluses, the board has also seen a large influx of students into the district, both of the age who attend the K-3 Wainscott School and those of older ages who attend other schools but have their tuition covered by the district. The school saw 17 tuition students move into the district during the last school year and will have 32 enrolled students enrolled in the school next year, which Mr. Eagan said is 125 percent of the building’s capacity.

In contrast, Montauk presents another easy choice to its voters: proposing a budget that reduces spending by more than $400,000, or about 2 percent. The district’s tax levy will decline by even more: dropping by more than $573,000 overall—some 3.5 percent. There will also be a ballot proposition asking voters to approve the $7.4 million bond for the Montauk Library’s planned expansion.

The other districts’ school boards all adopted proposed budgets that increase spending, though none proposes exceeding the state’s mandated tax cap allowance.

Amagansett will hike spending by only about 1.5 percent, to $10,913,234, though the amount the district will raise by taxes will increase by about 3 percent, to $9,863,103.

The Springs School District will see an approximately $818,000 spending increase, or about 2.8 percent, to $29,692,160. The tax levy hike will be about 3.25 percent, to $26,589,534.

East Hampton will increase spending by about $1.1 million, to $70,947,119. The tax levy will increase $938,844, or about 1.8 percent.

Sag Harbor’s budget is increasing by just over $1 million, to $42,885,375.

With reporting by staff writer Elizabeth Vespe

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Julian Barrowcliffe is also running in Sag Harbor- Please correct.
By jane rogers (5), sag harbor on Apr 24, 19 5:44 PM
2 members liked this comment
The story has been updated to reflect Mr. Barrowcliffe's name being omitted. Our apologies for the error.
By Michael Wright (25), Southampton on Apr 25, 19 10:45 AM