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Candidates Come Forward for School Board Races in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton

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By Tessa Raebeck

Voters in Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton  will return to the polls next month to cast their ballots for school board candidates and approve or deny districts’ proposed budgets.

SAG HARBOR

With three seats up for grabs in Sag Harbor, five candidates have come forward. Incumbents Thomas Schiavoni and Chris Tice are running to keep their seats and have been  joined in the race by challengers Stephanie Bitis, James Ding and James Sanford.

The top two vote getters from among the three candidates will serve three-year terms starting on July 1, and ending on June 30, 2018. Ms. Tice and board member David Diskin, who is not running again, currently hold those positions. Both Ms. Tice and Mr. Diskin were elected to two-year terms in light of resignations in the spring of 2013.

The candidate who receives the third highest number of votes will serve the balance of an unexpired term, starting on May 19, the day of the school board elections, and ending on June 30, 2016. The third, shorter term is a result of the board’s appointment of Mr. Schiavoni last August to temporarily fill the position vacated when Daniel Hartnett resigned after moving out of the school district. Mr. Schiavoni’s appointment expires on election day, May 19.

A lifetime resident of the Sag Harbor area who is known as “Tommy John,” Mr. Schiavoni now lives in North Haven with his family. A Sag Harbor parent, Mr. Schiavoni is also a teacher of middle and high school social studies in the Center Moriches School District. He is an active member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and a North Haven Village trustee, as well as a former member of the North Haven Village Zoning Board of Appeals and past president and treasurer of the Bay Haven Association.

Since he was selected out of a handful of candidates vying for Mr. Hartnett’s position last summer, Mr. Schiavoni has acted as legislative liaison to the school board. Last month, he traveled to Albany to lobby state legislators in support of public schools.

The parent of two Sag Harbor students and a Pierson graduate, Ms. Tice is the school board’s vice president and has been on the board since 2010. She is a real estate agent with Corcoran’s Sag Harbor office and a past president of Sag Harbor’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a past board member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Prior to relocating to Sag Harbor full time in 2004, Ms. Tice worked in various marketing and management positions for companies such as American Express, Cablevision and SONY.

Newcomer Stephanie Bitis is also a real estate agent, having worked at Sotheby’s in Sag Harbor since March. She has a master’s degree in business administration from St. John’s University and was previously the general sales manager of WFAN Radio, an affiliate of the CBS Corporation, in New York City from 2006 to August 2014. Before that, Ms. Bitis was the vice president/general manager of Univision.

Challenger James Ding, of Noyac, is an active member of the Noyac Civic Council and has been vocal in the opposition to helicopter noise from the East Hampton Airport. He was a member of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee of the Town of Southampton in 2013.

The third challenger, James Sanford, is the founder and portfolio manager of Sag Harbor Advisors, which he launched in New York City and Sag Harbor in 2012. A CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), Mr. Sanford has worked on Wall Street since the early 1990s with companies including Credit Suisse and JP Morgan. He is also chief financial officer for fragrance company Lurk.

A “Meet the Candidates Night” for the Sag Harbor Board of Education, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and Pierson Middle and High School PTSA, will be held on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson Library, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor. The Sag Harbor School District budget vote and school board elections are on Tuesday, May 19.

 

BRIDGEHAMPTON

The Bridgehampton race is thus far uncontested, with three incumbents, Douglas DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, and Ronald White, all seeking reelection. If no other candidates come forward, they will each serve three-year terms starting July 1, and ending June 30, 2018.

First elected to the Bridgehampton School Board in 2009, Mr. DeGroot is president of Hamptons Tennis Company, Inc. and has facilitated many tennis clinics and athletics-oriented field trips for Bridgehampton students. His four children are all students or alumni of the Bridgehampton School.

Mr. White is a lifetime Bridgehampton resident, and both a past graduate and current school parent. He has been president of the school board since 2013, and was vice president beforehand. Mr. White is a real estate agent at Prudential Douglas-Elliman.

Also elected in 2009, Ms. Tyree-Johnson became vice president of the school board when Mr. White became president in 2013. A bookkeeper, she is also an avid Killer Bees fan—her husband, Coach Carl Johnson, led the Bees to the New York State Class D Championship this winter.

Because the race is uncontested, the district will not host a “Meet the Candidates” night this year, but will hold a budget hearing and school board meeting on May 6, at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at the Bridgehampton School, located at 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. The Bridgehampton School District budget vote and school board elections will be held Tuesday, May 19.

 

Local School Board Challengers Emerge

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Sag Harbor
By Claire Walla

In the wake of possible tax cap legislation and a proposed $33 million school budget, giving Sag Harbor voters even more decisions to wrestle with this election season are four people who will be running for three open slots on the Sag Harbor Board of Education.

Current board member Mary Anne Miller and vice president Theresa Samot will run for reelection, joining former two-time school board member Sandi Kruel, as well as current Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President Annette Bierfriend on the ballot.

All cited the current economic climate as a pressing issue for the board this upcoming year, though how the district should respond in tough economic times depends on the candidate.

Miller said, “We have to continue to look in our district to see what we’re doing well.” Though she added that “IB is another part of the discussion in terms of our curriculum.” In the ongoing process of continually revisiting the school’s curriculum, she said she appreciates IB for fostering project-based learning and collaboration among staff.

Additionally, as a member of the district’s Wellness Committee, Miller said ensuring the ecological and physiological aspects of wellness and sustainability are important issues she will continue to tackle, if reelected.

Though, she added, it all comes down to finances.

“Without financial health, we can’t make it happen,” she said.

In line with Miller’s push to revamp the district’s curriculum, Bierfriend said the IB program is the main platform of her campaign for school board.

“I’m a huge advocate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program,” said Bierfriend, who is running for the school board for the first time this year. (She said she would have run last year, although she had not yet met the official one-year residency requirement in Sag Harbor Village until this year.) “I think IB is a curriculum that creates more of an open-mindedness. It gives teachers a creative way of teaching.”

In addition to being a proponent of the high school-level diploma program, Bierfriend also supports bringing IB in at all grade levels. Plus—as part of the Pre-K committee this year—she said implementing a Pre-K program within in the district should be a high priority.

“I just think that right now it’s important to give every child every opportunity available,” Bierfriend continued. “As parents, community members and tax payers, we’re responsible for their education. Because no matter what you go on to do in life, you always have your education to fall back on.”

Though she is the only candidate without prior board experience, Bierfriend said her past experience as a senior mortgage underwriter in Manhattan helps.

“I knew tax returns like the back of my hand,” she explained. “I hated math in high school, but somehow I’m good with numbers.”

For Samot, who is running for her third term, the primary issue for the district is long-term planning.

“We’re not exactly sure what the tax cap might bring,” she said, adding that in order to adequately prepare for the future, wider involvement from the community at large is key.

“We need to focus on transparency and collaboration,” she noted. “What I would like to see is improved attendance at the board meetings. And if we can’t get people at the meetings, we need more forums.”

Samot said the board is headed in the right direction.

“Now that the appropriate administrators are in place and [the district has established] the audit committee, we will continue to work for transparency,” she added.

Sandi Kruel, who has served two terms on the board of education from 2000 to 2006, but wasn’t reelected for a third term, noted that it hasn’t deterred her from attending meetings and staying involved.

“I never believed that I needed to be on the board to fight for children,” she stated.

Especially important in this economic climate, Kruel continued, is not looking too far down the road in terms of implementing new programs and increasing district costs, but rather keeping the district’s current programs in place.

“People are hurting [in this economy] and we have got to take that into consideration,” she added. “I don’t want to hire someone for six months and then say, ‘Sorry, we’ve got to let you go.’”

Kruel emphasized that preserving the district’s existing programs is her ultimate goal.

“We need to make sure we can keep what we have here,” she explained. “It’s not easy, it’s not a fun job. But, I don’t think anybody’s on that board because they don’t like kids.”

“I go to the meetings of the board, anyway,” Kruel added. “I’m already there.”

Bridgehampton

By Kathryn G. Menu

The Bridgehampton Union Free School District has gone through a number of changes over the last five years, particularly on its school board, which has just one member — Elizabeth Kotz — who has been present on the board for more than half a decade.

However, it appears for this year at least, there will be no change to the school board as Kotz and Bridgehampton School Board President Nicki Hemby will seek re-election to the board unopposed this May.

On Tuesday morning, Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre confirmed that Hemby and Kotz alone submitted petitions to run for school board by the district’s deadline on Monday afternoon.

Hemby, a first year president of the school board, will seek her second three-year term.

The 39-year-old was elected alongside Kotz in 2008 while she was president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization. Hemby, who is one of the founders of the online parent resource Macaroni Kid, has four children in the Bridgehampton School. She originally ran, in part, to oust former board member Joe Conti after he supported former board member Joe Berhalter’s initiative to put out a referendum to district voters to phase out the school’s small high school over four years. Had it succeeded, that initiative would have sent students to neighboring school districts after eighth grade.

Hemby was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment.

Kotz, who has served as vice president and president of the school board, is seeking her third term on the board. A member and past co-president of the PTO, Kotz has also served on a number of the school’s committees including the audit committee, the district strategic planning/site based committee, the budget committee, the policy committee and the wellness committee.

Since 1999, she has also been a trustee of the Hampton Library.

Kotz has two children who currently attend Bridgehampton School and a daughter who graduated from the district in 2009.

“I decided to run for another term because I felt the district has undergone so many personnel changes this past year it would be good to have some consistency on the board,” said Kotz on Tuesday. “We are a good team and I think collectively we represent the interests of the entire community.”

Kotz said she is committed to seeing the school district through its Middle States Accreditation process, and is pleased to see that the district’s replacement of the windows at the historic school is moving forward.

The school has also expanded the breadth of its course offerings, including the introduction of new advanced placement and foreign language classes, as well as its experientially-based environmental design course, which has expanded through the creation of the Bridgehampton Foundation, a not-for-profit that successfully erected a greenhouse on school grounds last month.

However, the next few years at Bridgehampton will not likely be without challenges, said Kotz.

Budgeting, in particular, will be one of the biggest issues, she said, with the impending state-imposed two percent property tax cap school districts and municipalities will likely have to adhere to next year.

Kotz said to tackle that issue, she believes the board is already on the right course and will continue to work with Dr. Favre, business administrator Robert Hauser and the school’s budget advisory committee towards strengthening programming at the school, while also remaining fiscally responsible.

“Another challenge the school district will have to take on is dealing with much needed capital improvements,” said Kotz. “We need more space and we need to address this issue.”

In addressing the dialogue about capital improvements at the school, Kotz said she believes the board can reach out and educate the community on the importance of supporting its local school.

“Whether we have children in the school or not, we all benefit from improved property values,” she said.