By Tessa Raebeck
Following the resignation of board member Daniel Hartnett two weeks ago because he is moving out of the district, the Sag Harbor Board of Education decided on Monday, July 28, that it would interview candidates for the newly vacant seat on the board.
The board discussed three options at Monday’s business meeting: Having a full interim election to allow the community to vote for the candidate; not filling the empty seat, which would allow the New York State Education Commissioner Roger King to fill the seat for the board if he so chooses; and appointing a candidate of its own choosing who would serve until May 18, 2015.
Citing similar situations in the past, board president Theresa Samot recommended the board interview potential candidates and choose a new member.
Ms. Samot said the first option of holding an interim election is “a costly one,” adding, “I don’t think we want to leave it open to the commissioner to appoint someone who may not be familiar with the workings of the board.”
The board’s vice president, Chris Tice, said most districts on Long Island that are currently facing “this challenge or opportunity” seem to opt for the board appointing a new member. She added that was the decision recently made by the East Hampton School District, which saw its president Patricia Hope resign this month.
“Unless it’s a month before an election… there’s almost no districts now that are spending the money to have elections and few districts are leaving it open,” Ms. Tice said.
Board member David Diskin said he was torn over the decision. He said although his heart always feels an election is the best choice, the financial and legal implications make him think it’s the wisest choice to fill the position as a board.
“I’ll concede to the will of the board on that one,” Mr. Diskin said.
“I’m for the appointment,” said school board member Sandi Kruel. “The election, I think, is just too costly and time-consuming. The only time I think you should leave a board position open is if there’s a very short period of time before the next election.”
The next scheduled school board election will not be held until late May.
Ms. Kruel added that this will be her seventh appointment in reaction to a resignation during her tenure as a board member, “so that’s the way it’s been done since I’ve been on the board so far.”
The board agreed unanimously to appoint its next member and expressed the hope that as many applicants as possible will come forward. Board members discussed ways to get the word out to all members of the community; even those who are outside the “school family” and do not regularly use social media.
“I would love to see a ton of applicants,” Mr. Diskin said. “I don’t want to choose between a handful of people because people didn’t know about it.”
During public input, former board member Mary Anne Miller expressed her support of a public vote.
“We should try very hard to let the public decide the board members,” said Ms. Miller, adding she believes a lot of community members would support a vote despite the cost.
She said while the annual 14-hour election in May costs upward of $7,000, the district could consider holding an election on a smaller scale.
In an email Tuesday, July 29, Ms. Miller said the district could keep the polls open less than 14 hours, use one machine, which would cost $550 to rent, as opposed to three, or consider using paper ballots to save on the machine rental altogether.
Ms. Miller said in the September vote held on behalf of the John Jermain Memorial Library, polls are open 10 hours, only two machines are rented and the vote does not include newsletters and associated postage fees. According to estimates given by former Superintendent Dr. John Gratto in 2012, a special election similar to the library vote would cost an estimated $3,841, as opposed to the $7,655 he estimated for a standard, larger vote.
Ms. Miller’s remarks were made after the decision to move forward with interviews had already been made by the board.
The deadline to submit applications to be the newest member of the Sag Harbor school board is Monday, August 11. The BOE is hopeful it will have a candidate by the next scheduled board meeting, Monday, August 18.