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Donor Steps Up for Wainscott School: Art, Music, Gym to Return

Thu, 08/17/2023 - 11:51
Deborah Haab, the Wainscott School superintendent, center, said specials like art, music, and gym will return despite the district's austerity-budget circumstances thanks to an anonymous donor.
Christine Sampson

An anonymous donor has pledged $54,500 to the Wainscott School so that the cash-strapped district can reinstate "specials," which are classes such as art, music, gym, and technology. Facing an austerity plan after the failure, twice, of a tax-cap-busting budget, the school district had axed specials in order to cut costs.

"That will make a tremendous difference in the day-to-day operations, especially for the students, and the school itself," said Deborah Haab, the district superintendent, during Wednesday's school board meeting. "It's a godsend — we're very grateful."

The district has seen a slight decrease in enrollment. Since June, eight students have graduated high school and four more have moved out of the district, amounting to about $135,000 in tuition savings. Because Wainscott is a kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school — it was K-3 before the defeat of the  budget — children who age out go on to campuses in East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and Bridgehampton, with Wainscott paying sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per student in tuition. There are a total, so far, of 79 students in fifth grade and up.

In-house enrollment has also decreased, from last year's 29 children down to 26 so far; school officials say the numbers may yet change, as the start of school is still a little over two weeks away.

There is still a budget gap to address, Ms. Haab said Wednesday. It's unclear how deep in the red Wainscott will be when school starts.

Fewer tuition students "will help, but we're still working on our projections," she said. "What I would suggest is . . . we have a financial advisor look over all the numbers we have, and they can guide us."

She and David Eagan, the school board president, have been in touch with State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Anthony Palumbo, who are planning to pitch special legislation allowing Wainscott to borrow money interest-free from the state to support its operations. It would need to be paid back over 10 years.

Mr. Eagan said he favored that option over short-term borrowing from a financial institution, known as a tax anticipation note, a common practice that helps schools pay expenses until tax revenue starts flowing in. Tax anticipation notes are costly, however, because of interest rates and associated expenses such as legal counsel.

As of now, Ms. Haab said, Mark Carlson, one of the school's three full-time teachers, will teach fourth grade; Kelly Yusko, the lead teacher, is slated to teach kindergarten and first grade, while Shannon Nunez and a new, yet-to-be-hired teacher will cover the second and third grades.

"Between the support we're getting from the community member and our staff, we'll be able to operate so the kids don't notice a difference," Ms. Haab said.

Kindergarten screening is coming up on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The district will also invite all parents in on that day, to start off the school year on the right foot.


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