By Marianna Levine
Students’ privacy and academic achievement were at the heart of an intimate and often passionate Bridgehampton Board of Education workshop on Monday night.
While all board members attended the session, there were only four community members present. One from the audience, former board member Joe Conti, kicked off a vibrant discussion on new and out-of-district students.
“With the economy facing a significant downturn … this is not the time to raise tax rates or taxes in the Bridgehampton school district,” read Conti from a prepared statement. He expressed concern that in-coming students were not properly vetted for residency or had been allowed to attend tuition free. Conti was especially worried that out-of-district special needs students cost Bridgehampton taxpayers too much.
Board member Elizabeth Kotz was quick to point out that in the past two years the district has followed a formal process that insures students are indeed within district, and that there is an out-of-district tuition policy in place.
With the exception of students grandfathered into the school district as they were attending the school prior to the board adopting an out-of-district tuition rate, those students who do not live in Bridgehampton are charged $11,500 a year for kindergarten through eighth grade and $15,000 for high school. The cost for an out-of-district special education student far exceeds those rates.
On Monday, Conti reminded the board that “counsel recommended to do a study to see what it cost the district on a per student basis for non-resident students (approximately 15) who are presently attending our school.” Berhalter answered that it had been a slow process to start the study but told Conti there would be a meeting about this study in December.
Shortly after Conti’s statement, the board held a tense discussion regarding Berhalter’s request for new students’ addresses. Berhalter said that his request created a firestorm he never intended and he was merely curious why there was a sudden increase in students after years of static or declining growth in the district. Kotz pointed out that nice things are being said about the school and therefore more people are considering it as an option for their children. Board president James Walker wanted to know specifically why Berhalter needed these addresses, and Kotz added that the board had been advised by legal counsel that it was illegal to give out personal information without a specific school directory policy in place.
Berhalter, as well as Conti, stated that this information would be helpful for marketing reasons. Conti said, “it may be a way to figure out how to reach out to people who are in the community to take a look at the school and perhaps join the school.” Ms Kotz insisted the board could not give out personal information, and that the school is already working on attracting people to the school including hosting a community wide open house.
The board ultimately decided to give Berhalter information on whether the students were coming in from other public or other private schools, but no further defining information as to protect the privacy of the students.
Parent Teacher Organization president Karen Hochstedler finished the discussion by asking Berhalter to come and visit the school and meet the new students himself. She also reminded him that both economic factors and the school’s positive reputation in recent years has created the current influx of students.
Concurring with Hochstedler’s statement was Principal Jack Pryor’s report announcing that 67 percent of students between grades seven and 10 were either honor students or received an honorable mention. He added that 82 percent of 11th graders were on the honor roll or received an honorable mention. Berhalter asked if so many students are indeed on the honor roll why were more of them not taking a Princeton Review class for the SAT exams. Board member Nicki Hemby noted a scheduling conflict exists for some students already engaged in extracurricular activities. Pryor and Kotz added Berhalter should look at the results of Regents exams, as opposed to SAT scores, as a measure of student achievement, especially in light of the fact that Bridgehampton boasts a number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students and those with special needs who may not perform as well on the SATs as others.Â