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Two Vie for a Single Seat in Wainscott

Wed, 05/10/2023 - 20:26
David Eagan, at left, and Melanie Hayward

Melanie Hayward and David Eagan are facing off for a seat on the Wainscott School Board in the district’s first contested board election in 12 years.

The key issue that has emerged in the race is how to handle burgeoning enrollment, which has put enormous pressure on the budget. The district is seeking a 50-percent jump in overall spending and a tax-cap-busting 95.5-percent levy increase.

Likely coming down the pike will be an even bigger enrollment influx after East Hampton Town completes a proposed 50-unit work force housing complex on Route 114, within the school district.

Mr. Eagan has been a school board member for 19 years. “My skill set dealing with the town and my deep knowledge of Wainscott are probably needed now at this critical junction more than ever,” he said in an interview. “I still have the same conviction about public education that I’ve held my whole life. . . . Public education, to me, is probably one of the few things that a community can do for itself, to make sure the young families and children are given an exemplary start to their education and social and emotional development.”

A land-use attorney in private practice for the last 20 years, Mr. Eagan owns the Kilmore Horse Farm on Town Line Road along with his wife, Mary Anne McCaffrey. He was co-chair of the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center’s board of directors for several years. Unlike many school board candidates, he is not a parent, “which makes me a little different, but I have a deep understanding of the community that I’ve been a part of for four decades now.”

His challenger, Ms. Hayward, has worked in nonprofit education for more than 10 years, including training and fund-raising roles with Teach for America and a strategic planning role as chief operating officer of Pencils of Promise. She is currently working toward a master’s degree in business administration. Her daughter is in kindergarten at the Wainscott School, and her son will follow suit in a few years.

“I felt a craving to be in the decision-making room in my own community,” said Ms. Hayward, who was a summer resident of North Sea as a child and moved to Wainscott full time with her husband nine years ago. “This has been on my mind for a very long time . . . I’ve been committed to kids for my entire professional career, and as a volunteer before that. Making sure kids have everything they deserve has been in my blood my whole life.”

She wants to bring her background in fund-raising to the Wainscott School, “especially in light of our increases to the budget. We have to get creative in how we are funding our school so it’s not on the taxpayers’ shoulders every time costs rise.”

In a letter to the editor, published elsewhere in this issue, and in a similar letter distributed to Wainscott residents, Mr. Eagan takes aim at what he claims is his opponent’s prioritizing community housing over continuity at the school. “There is no doubt,” he writes, “based upon Ms. Hayward’s written and oral comments to the Board of Trustees during this past school year, that she looks to eliminate the Wainscott School in its current format, thereby eliminating that perceived obstacle. . . .”

Ms. Hayward has objected to that opinion, telling the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee on Saturday that she has no intention to drastically change anything. She “proudly” spent a few months “supporting [the] community housing ballot proposition that won” in November, she said, refuting Mr. Eagan’s claim that she had not been forthcoming about her relationship with “local housing advocacy groups who view the Wainscott School as an obstacle to their singular goal of building affordable housing in Wainscott.”

Ms. Hayward told the committee that when the district is presented with enrollment challenges, “there are a number” of possible solutions, “and many yet to be uncovered.”

Mr. Eagan, who as an attorney is representing the owners of the proposed Wainscott Commercial Center, declined an invitation to speak about his school board candidacy before the advisory committee.

In his letter to the community, Mr. Eagan wrote that “if re-elected, I will continue to use my best efforts and skills to lead the trustees’ efforts to urge the town to size and design the proposed Route 114 project to ensure that it does not eliminate the Wainscott School. I respectfully ask for your vote for my re-election as a trustee at this pivotal point in our school’s long and impactful history.”

In an interview, Ms. Hayward said that “there’s no denying what the crisis is here. There is no doubt that proportionally to the school size, an influx of students has an impact, financial and programmatic. My orientation is to balance the need for housing with the impact on the school; listen to the needs of the community broadly; listen to ideas for how we might be able to accommodate new students and play a part in increasing housing stock, and work on leaning in on dynamic relationships with the surrounding districts.”


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