School district elections are Tuesday, and we encourage residents to take part. While there is a dearth of contested school board races, important ballot measures are proposed in Springs, Sagaponack, Sag Harbor, Montauk, and Amagansett. Polling hours vary, so be sure to check before you go.
First, the budgets. A state cap limits the amount that districts can increase spending from year to year without approval from a supermajority (at least 60 percent ) of voters. Most proposals meet the cap or stay below it. In Bridgehampton, a tax-levy increase of nearly 9 percent will need an extra push; officials there explain that health insurance, benefits, and a newly expanded school building added up. Still, the tax increase per household is not excessive. Plus, since voters approved the expansion expenditure twice it would be odd for them to do an about-face and not fund its operation. Sagaponack’s plan would increase the amount raised by taxes by close to 10 percent. This would go to mental health services, student computers, and the possibility of renting extra classroom space and paying teachers accordingly.
As to the proposals, two in Sagaponack for sending students to either Sag Harbor or Bridgehampton for middle and high school will probably pass, though the justification for the choice has always struck us as curious. Springs wants $150,000 for a new school bus and a minivan; it also asks for authorization to spend $1.1 million on a new roof. Both are worthy of a positive vote.
Sag Harbor is putting three proposals out to voters. One would pay for a small school bus, another would allow the district clerk to conduct voter registration in person during regular school hours. The other is a dubious big-ticket item: giving the district the right to redirect budget surpluses to a reserve fund rather than return them to taxpayers. In several examples from the region, surplus reserves have led to lax budget writing and worse. This is too vague for us to support, as it invites misuse. If Sag Harbor officials want an additional rainy-day fund, they should ask voters directly.
Amagansett is asking voters for a dedicated reserve for technology and energy-use upgrades. As long as students benefit from a few more new computers and taxpayers from more energy-efficiency measures, we are all for it. The district also would like to spend $150,000 for much-needed outdoor basketball court repairs, which is a good idea as well.
It is difficult to know what to make of Montauk’s request to lower the distance its buses can take residents’ children to private schools from 50 miles to 25 miles. It is our belief that the state policy that allows this was a response to segregationist divides and should be phased out. All taxpayers fund the public schools, but only a small number of them can afford private school. Perhaps whittling away at the distance is a way to eventually right this injustice.
As to the candidates: Barbara Dayton, the current Springs School Board president, should be re-elected. She has done a great job guiding the district through a host of problems and a big building project while at the same time helping to keep spending down. Five candidates are contesting three seats on the Bridgehampton School Board. Michael Gomberg, who has a solid background in money matters, has served before and would be an asset. Ronald White, the board president, has managed the school’s growth well. We also support Jo Ann Comfort, who was on the board previously and whose life passion as a farmer and horsewoman adds a good dimension to the board.