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Voters Support Over-the-Cap Spending Plans

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 11:56

All schools here easily pass 2024-25 budgets

The Amagansett budget won approval from 77.5 percent of voters.
Christine Sampson

Months of strategic planning and detailed debate culminated in Tuesday’s budget votes and school board elections, with positive results for the three local districts piercing the tax cap — East Hampton, Springs, and Amagansett.

School districts in Montauk, Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack, and Wainscott also saw budgets approved by a wide margin for the 2024-25 school year, covered separately in today’s Star.

These eight districts all avoid a revote in June and the potentially dire circumstances that would have come along with a second failed budget.

In East Hampton, Springs, and Amagansett, the budgets needed a supermajority of at least 60 percent approval to pass.

In East Hampton, voters supported the school district’s tax-cap-busting budget of $82.88 million with 80 percent saying “yes.” The official vote tally was 472 to 116. Included in that were 44 absentee, early, and affidavit ballots, accounting for 26 “yes” votes to 18 “no” votes. With this vote the associated tax-levy will increase by 8.71 percent, a little over 5 percent of what the tax cap would have allowed.

When the results were announced, the mood in the room was jubilant. “First I’ll say I am absolutely ecstatic that the community came out and supported this budget,” said Adam Fine, the district superintendent. “To me it shows that they support the current school program and wish us to continue to do the good work. We are thrilled and so appreciative of their support.”

This excitement was shared by the members of the East Hampton School Board who were present. “I’m very happy that the community supported the budget — very happy that it passed, and happy to say that we have the same high level of education today, and we’ll have it tomorrow going forward,” said J.P. Foster, the board president.

According to school officials, the approval means the district can continue the programs and partnerships that its students and families rely on, such as the Project Most after-school program; the dual-language program at the John M. Marshall Elementary School; sports, clubs, and theater arts districtwide, and robust support for students’ mental health needs.

With the history-making budget vote behind him, Mr. Fine is already looking ahead. “We’ll take a deep breath,” he said, “and get to planning out everything else, maintaining our current programs, and looking to the future. We’re super excited.”

In the uncontested race for two seats on the East Hampton School Board, both Christina DeSanti and Sarah Minardi were re-elected to new three-year terms, receiving 496 and 511 votes, respectively.

On the budget vote and her re-election, Ms. Minardi said she was “so happy about the results. I am thrilled about the support. . . . The East Hampton community came out. It’s just a really good night. I’m excited to move on another three years with the school board.”

In the Springs School District, 63.86 percent of voters delivered the supermajority needed to pass the over-the-tax-cap $37.8 million budget plan. The final count was 463 to 262, with roughly 47 votes coming in via absentee ballot. Turnout was high for the district, officials said; more people Tuesday than had voted for a bond referendum on the school expansion in 2018. By 8 p.m. Tuesday, 646 votes had been cast, already 100 more than had been tallied for last year’s tax-cap-piercing budget.

“I held my breath on this one,” said Debra Winter, the superintendent, who will retire at the end of the school year. “I knew it was a big ask, but I couldn’t ask for less. The kids deserved it. A huge thank-you to our community for coming out to vote.”

The outcome means Springs avoids having to make difficult budget cuts next year — good news for the students, families, and teachers and staff. “We didn’t want to threaten people” by telling them what would happen if the budget went down. “We wanted people to know what we needed.”

“I’m just so relieved because this is really setting the school up in a really good position,” said Barbara Dayton, the school board president.

Ms. Dayton lost her re-election bid to a first-time candidate, Dermot Quinn. “I’ve been really happy to do this for the amount of time I have,” she said. “I know the school is in very good hands. Dermot seems like he’s going to be a really great addition.”

Mr. Quinn received 457 votes to Ms. Dayton’s 198 to win a three-year term on the board. His family was there to witness the outcome. “I’m speechless,” he said after the results were announced. “There’s a steep learning curve ahead for me now. I know there’s so much to do.”

More important than the school board race, he said, was the budget. “I’m so glad that passed. There’s just so much good stuff being done by this little school.”

The Amagansett School District’s controversial academic year, which started with a national Blue Ribbon award and continued with administrative changes and staff turnover, culminated in a victory for the district on Tuesday when voters approved the budget for 2024-25 by a tally of 148 to 43.

The $13.44 million spending plan needed a minimum of 60-percent voter approval, and it got 77.5 percent.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome and thankful to everyone who came out to vote,” said Richard Loeschner, the interim superintendent, after the votes were counted by hand due to an issue with the paper ballots. “We had some good communication with the community to let them know why some decisions were made. We’re very happy that the community came out.”

Even though the budget was approved, the administration still plans to lay off four teachers in an area where school officials say they are currently overstaffed — special education. The tax-levy increase would have been even larger — into “double digits,” administrators previously said — if those four teachers had been retained.

In an uncontested school board election, Dawn Rana Brophy, an incumbent candidate, earned 118 votes and Robin Jahoda, a newcomer who is a teacher in a neighboring school district, received 119 votes. Ms. Jahoda will serve a full three-year term, while Ms. Brophy will fill the seat created by Kevin Warren’s recent resignation from the board.

Voters in Amagansett also weighed in on three other ballot propositions. A measure to approve up to $205,000 from the capital reserve account to repair the cupola passed by a vote of 155 to 33. A measure to spend $95,438 from the reserves on a school bus passed by a vote of 167 to 25. A plan to extend busing to students living half a mile or more away from the school also passed, 124 to 57. The library budget vote tally was 166 yes to 26 no, meaning it too passed.




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