A consortium of administrators from every feeder school district in East Hampton began plotting a quiet revolt against the East Hampton School District last Wednesday night in the Montauk School Library.
Superintendents and School Board members from Montauk, Springs, Amagansett, Wainscott and Sagaponack met for a little more than an hour on April 14, but in that time they resolved to consider creating their own high school, demand that East Hampton re-examine its tuition fees and continue negotiations with other school districts to provide high school services to students in their districts.
The Montauk School District invited the East Hampton School District to send representatives to the meeting after learning that the cost to educate its students at East Hampton High School, which could be as high as $27,000 per student when a final rate for this year is calculated, could force Montauk into a double-digit tax increase this year, even after it makes sharp cuts to its own programs.
East Hampton School Board members declined to attend, stating as their reason that Montauk is the only district that does not have a contract with East Hampton for high school service for the next three years and that East Hampton could not negotiate a separate rate for one district.
The administrators at the table had ideas aplenty, many of which came from the Springs School District, which has waged its own lengthy battle with East Hampton over tuition.
The Springs School has placed a measure on its May budget ballot that would allow parents to enroll their children in the Bridgehampton or Sag Harbor school districts for high school, and is toying with the idea of hosting ninth grade students on its campus instead of sending them to East Hampton.
“The only way we have control of our own destiny is to have our own high school,” said Springs School Board member Tom Talmage. “We have the property to do it.”
Montauk Superintendent Jack Perna had another idea.
“Would Springs consider a central high school? Public schools can authorize a charter high school,” he said. Mr. Perna agreed to look into the charter school concept.
Springs School Superintendent Michael Hartner said later that evening that he was intrigued by the idea of a charter high school on his school’s grounds, though he said that he would need to do some legal research on whether a charter school can be housed on public school property.
“We’ll have our attorney start looking into it tomorrow,” he said. “As an administrator, we tend to have a negative view of charter schools because they rob revenue from public schools, but it would work well in this context.”
Many in attendance seemed disgusted with the East Hampton School District’s attitude toward the districts that pay it tuition.
“East Hampton used to send representatives to each school district to give student feedback,” said Wainscott Superintendent Dominic Annacone, who added that he has been unable to get information on student attendance from the high school either.
“What’s your dropout rate? If you’re a high school principal and you don’t know what your dropout rate is, you’re not paying attention,” he said.
Springs School teacher Tracey Frazier recently attended an East Hampton School Board meeting to ask that board if it could make high school service a separate item in the budget vote.
“The impression we got was the feeling that it’s us versus them and egos and agendas are in the way,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting. “They’re getting 52 new Macs and redoing the computer lab, whereas in Springs I think that we’re the little engine that could. We use a cart of five-year-old laptops.”
Many at the meeting said they also didn’t think East Hampton has calculated its tuition rate correctly.
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with Isabel Madison,” said Montauk School Board member Therese Watson of East Hampton’s business administrator.
“What brought everyone here is the Seneca Falls formula,” said Mr. Talmage of the state formula used to calculate the maximum tuition rate a district can charge. “Is it applied right and is it fair? We have to have an understanding of what goes into that. State Ed said they used the numbers in the formula properly, but I’m not sure if they’re using the right numbers to begin with.”
“Show your work and then we can argue if its flawed,” said Montauk School Board member Lisa Ward. “You expect your students to show their work on the Regents.”