By Amanda Wyatt
What was a few weeks ago a smattering of voices urging the Sag Harbor School Board to elect, rather than appoint, its new member, is now something resembling a movement.
For slightly over a week now, a petition to hold elections for the vacant school board seat left by Walter Wilcoxen’s resignation has been circulating throughout the village and in an online forum at www.ipetitions.com/petition/sag-harbor-boe-candidate-vote. Created by Sag Harbor resident Diane Hewett, the petition had 126 signatures online as of Tuesday afternoon and about 64 on paper, as of press time.
Hewett, a graphic designer who has two children in the district, sent a PDF of the petition to the board on August 3. However, she plans to submit the final document in person at the board’s August 13 education meeting, when they will publically discuss the options for filling the seat.
At the same time, the board is also winding down its search for an interim superintendent. On the evening of Wednesday, August 8, they reportedly interviewed two finalists. According to anonymous sources, one contender is the former superintendent of the Westhampton Beach School District and the other is the former superintendent of the Wantagh School District.
Meanwhile, tension continues to brew over how to fill the open board seat. After the abrupt resignation of Wilcoxen, the board emailed a letter of solicitation for people interested in filling the seat. Originally, they planned to appoint one of these individuals, but they have recently decided to consider additional options.
As of press time, there were seven people who sent letters of interest – Marian Cassata, Stephen Clarke, David Diskin, Tom Gleeson, Thomas Re and two others who have not been named yet.
However, Hewett hopes the board will decide against appointing a trustee, in favor of holding a special election. In an interview, she said she was inspired by Laura Avedon’s Letter to the Editor in the July 26 issue of The Sag Harbor Express. She discussed the topic with a friend, who suggested she start a petition.
“Any parent and all citizens should be concerned for quality education,” Hewett said. “Quality education is upheld by a good school board. And the board is made up of people elected by the community. I, and many others, value our right to have a say in the person that will represent us with our school’s quality of education and fiscal responsibility.”
According to its bylaws, if the board does decide on an election, it must be held by September 30. The announcement of the election must be made within 45 days of the election, which is August 16. Candidates must also file their petitions to run 30 days before the election.
If a candidate is appointed, he or she would only be on the board until May 2013. At that time, another election would be held for a full term on the school board.
But according to School Board President Theresa Samot, the board cannot decide how to fill the vacant seat until they have discussed all of their options in a public, open setting. The first opportunity to do that, she explained, is the August 13 board meeting.
“We certainly welcome everyone to come with their input,” said Samot.
Elena Loreto, President of the Noyac Civic Council (NCC), also plans to attend the August 13 meeting. If an election is indeed held, she said, the NCC will invite the candidates to join them at their September 11 meeting.
But as Hewett noted, if the Board of Education doesn’t hold an election, it could potentially cause “backlash and distrust from the community.”
“It will not create a good atmosphere going forward,” she said.
“We need unity or consensus building, or even unanimity of purpose, not mistrust, grandstanding, micromanaging,” said Hewett. “We the people cannot live with a house continuously divided, in this case a divided dysfunctional B.O.E. — especially when individual ideologies try to trump common sense.”