Portables to Go in Montauk

Montauk School’s proposed budget for 2018-19, approved by the school board last Wednesday, is almost $19.8 million, up from this year’s $18.8 million. 

The difference of about $970,000 is mainly due to an $800,000 proposed payment into the school’s capital reserve fund, which the district hopes to use next year to replace its aging portable units.

“The portables were supposed to last 10 years,” said Jack Perna, Montauk’s superintendent and principal for the last 23 years. “But we’ve had those four units since 1973. It’s time for them to go.”

Mr. Perna also arrived at the Montauk School in 1973, first as a fourth-grade teacher, then as the assistant principal, and finally becoming principal and superintendent in 1995. He said he is currently the longest-serving superintendent in Suffolk County and has no plans to go anywhere quite yet.

He discussed the school’s enrollment for 2018-19, which appears to be about the same as this year. “We’ll have 27 eighth graders graduate this year and so far, we’ve got 29 prekindergartners signed up for next year,” he said. However, he pointed out that 12 years ago the school had a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade enrollment of 425 while today’s prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade total is 306.

“Property prices have driven away families,” he said. “There’s no place here to live affordably.” It is a topic he said he has had many conversations about with town officials.

Following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Mr. Perna had informed the community that he had hired an outside firm called Blue Line Protection, which employs retired police officers, to patrol the Montauk School. 

On Monday, the school announced that it will be accepting bids for “armed security services” to be present at the school. However, the budget does not indicate any additional cost for these security services because, Mr. Perna explained, the school had actually budgeted for increased measures after the 2012 shooting in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. 

“I never wanted us to be the school that said, ‘we didn’t ever think it would happen here.’ ” In fact, the superintendent said, a study of the Sandy Hook school and the demographics of that small suburban town revealed that the Montauk community mirrored those statistics almost identically. 

As a result, two unarmed officers currently take turns patrolling the school each day. One is a retired New York City cop, the other a retired East Hampton officer, Mr. Perna said. 

“We always have one security officer here from 7:45 a.m. to a little after 3 p.m.,” he explained, before adding, “It’s a sad reality that we have to even think about this stuff.”

As for the budget, of the $19.8 million, approximately $17 million will need to be raised by taxes, a 1.04-percent increase over this year.

Mr. Perna does not anticipate any issues getting the budget passed on May 15. “Montauk is a very supportive community,” he said.

Lee White is the only member on the school board who will appear on the ballot for re-election. He will run uncontested.