With an eye on school enrollment, which is likely to increase, the Amagansett School District has proposed a budget of $11.37 million for the 2020-21 school year.
“The community members take pride in the school, so we obviously want to maintain what we have right now and be responsible for the long-term management and sustainability of the district, which in the coming months is going to be put to the test,” Tom Mager, the district’s treasurer, said by phone this week.
Amagansett is budgeting for two new teaching assistants, anticipating an influx of children from both the new Gansett Meadow housing complex and from second-home owners deciding to stay here in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, as happened after the 9/11 attacks. Districtwide, the enrollment, including students in middle and high school, is projected at 134, down from a peak of 193 in the last 10 years.
A nearly 11-percent increase in the cost of school busing is proposed, due in part to a new agreement to provide bus drivers with holiday pay. “It became a topic of conversation — how come the bus drivers aren’t getting this benefit when they do so much for the district?” Mr. Mager said. “It’s very hard to retain bus drivers. Any little bit we can do for them, we want to do.”
While other schools on the East End are budgeting for what they project will be a 20-percent decrease in state funding, again because of the pandemic, Amagansett is positing a 5 percent increase from the state. For an Amagansett house with an assessed value of $6,000, which equates to a fair market value of approximately $1,000,000, the school tax increase would be a little under $22 for the year.
Also on the school ballot this year is a new, five-year tuition contract with the East Hampton School District, for Amagansett students in the seventh grade and up. Another proposition asks voter approval to spend $350,000 from a reserve fund on new playground equipment. School officials have said doing so will not increase taxes because the money is already in hand.
Budget to budget, Amagansett is looking at a 4.23-percent increase in spending, with a tax levy increase of 2.67 percent. That is the maximum the district can boost its tax levy without needing a supermajority of voter approval. The district also proposes to take $666,701 left over from prior years’ budgets to offset some of the increases and spend down its surpluses, thus staying within state limits on the number of surplus funds a school district can hold onto.
For two seats on the school board, there are three candidates. They are Meredith Cairns and Kim Slicklein, who would be new members, and Kevin Warren, who was appointed last year to fill a vacant seat after a resignation. Hank Muchnic has chosen not to seek re-election.
Ms. Cairns is an attorney who spent about 10 years prosecuting sex crimes in the office of the Manhattan district attorney, winning nearly every case. Her law degree is from Columbia University. She has one child, who attends the Amagansett School. Ms. Cairns is a liaison between the PTA and class parents, serves on the school’s Shared Decision Making Committee, is a trustee of the Amagansett Library Board, and leads a local Girl Scout troop. She is fluent in Spanish.
“I do believe we’re at an important juncture,” she said this week, calling the present time a “fire drill” moment. “If we want good things for our school and community, we need to contribute and step up,” she said. “Our community is looking to its leaders to be prepared and have contingency plans in place . . . I was trained to gather all the facts, to do research, to put together a case that people can trust and rely upon. I’m a good listener. I’m not the loudest person in the room, but I am thoughtful and measured in my approach, and have the ability to make sound decisions.”
Ms. Slicklein, a parent of two who has a background in the corporate world, is now working in the field of social entrepreneurship to build sustainable businesses. She founded a school in South Africa for an impoverished community, and in 2013 was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She is also running a children’s clothing drive for victims of domestic violence. She holds degrees from Princeton and from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and is a board member of the Children’s Museum of the East End.
“I want to be part of the school community and help define some of the overarching principles that are relevant to both the hamlet of Amagansett and the school,” she said. “I’m truly focused around education, sustainability, and helping others, helping children. There’s a lot of work to be done. . . . It’s a tricky time right now where everyone around the world is trying to figure out how we reopen borders, how we reopen shops, how we reopen schools. I would really like to be a part of that decision-making process and that dialogue.”
Mr. Warren, who attended the Amagansett School for a time as a child, is a partner in a construction company. He oversees project management and team leadership of about 50 employees, and cites particular expertise with regard to school facilities and safety and security, “which is evolving by the hour.” He is a parent of two Amagansett students and a member of school committees involving facilities and the eventual reopening of the school in light of Covid-19. A board member of the East Hampton Housing Authority, he is the treasurer of its Gansett Meadow project.
“I feel very strongly that I have the utmost heartfelt commitment to the safety, well-being, and education of all students,” Mr. Warren said, adding that he wants to “better unify our community and stakeholders to develop comprehensive plans to continue to empower the educators while engaging students in the learning process. Ultimately I just want to be a voice of support for the students, and set and continue to maintain the proper goals.”
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held on June 2, virtually. There is a link to join the meeting, via Microsoft Teams, on the district website: aufsd.org. Voting on the budget and the school board candidates will take place a week later, on June 9, by absentee ballot only.