Commissioner Nixes Bid to Close Bridgehampton School

Posted on 10 April 2009

By Marianna Levine

With three seats available that could ultimately have a dramatic effect on the direction of the Bridgehampton Board of Education, the board majority was relieved this week to learn an appeal to allow a vote on closing the high school was denied by the state’s commissioner of education.

The proposal was originally floated by current board member Joe Berhalter and former board member Joe Conti, and would have seen the district close the upper grades beginning this year.

In a vote last year, the board denied the proposal for this year’s ballot saying, in essence, the proposal failed to give voters enough financial information to make an informed decision.

In his decision released this week, commissioner Richard P. Mills, responding to an appeal from the two men, upheld the school board’s decision, and added the timing of the vote would have made it impossible to effectively make the changes at the school, and ultimately indicated the ballot would have asked voters to decide on something they were not empowered to.

“I think everyone is looking forward to just moving on,” said board voce president Elizabeth Kotz on Wednesday. “It’s been hanging over our heads.”

Board president James Walker agreed: “It’s good to have this behind us. Everyone on the board is very pleased with the decision.”

Walker’s is one of the three seats available on the board this May, and he is the only one who so far who has committed to running for re-election.

“I have seen some excellent progress going on at the school, and want it to continue,” he said Wednesday. “I want the school to continue to provide a better education for students in our district and perhaps other communities as well.”

The two other sitting members, Rick Delano and Sue Hiscock, have decided not to run again.

Hiscock states, “I have done nine years on the board, many of them as president and vice president so I am not going to run again. Let’s get some other parents involved.”

Delano has been kept out of town on business too much recently to feel he can devote a proper amount of time to serving on the school board. He explains, “my travel schedule has gotten so crazy that I am not participating at the level I should, so I have decided not to run for a second term.”

Delano further recounts that he ran in 2006 for three reasons, “First it came to my attention that the district was carrying forward a very large unused fund balance whose size and lack of public disclosure was a serious impediment to the community’s continued trust. Second, I felt my experience in education reform around the country could be useful in our community’s school. Third, I wanted to get to know my community better.” 

He feels after three years on the board that the district’s finances are now transparent enough, and that he is more connected to the community. He adds, “I hope to be invited to continue to serve the school in other ways.”

When asked what advice he would give those seeking a place on the school board this year, he joked, “don’t do it for the money!”  And then more seriously added, “and don’t do it with a particularly narrow agenda in mind.”  Instead, he emphasized one should have a desire to improve the quality of the district’s educational and social outcomes.

Joyce Crews Manigo, the Bridgehampton district clerk, said no one else has yet picked up a petition to run for the board. Petitions are due back at the school office by April 17 for the May 19 election. 

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