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Dec 31, 2018 9:27 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Empty School Board Seats In East Hampton And Sag Harbor Won't Be Filled By Voters Until Spring

Former Sag Harbor School Board president January Kerr and board member Alex Kriegsman. PRESS FILE
Jan 8, 2019 2:59 PM

Open seats on the East Hampton and Sag Harbor school boards will not be filled by voters until May.

The president of the Sag Harbor School Board, January Kerr, announced her resignation at the last School Board meeting, on December 17, leaving a vacant seat. Earlier, in October, East Hampton School Board member Richard Wilson died after a long battle with cancer, leaving a vacancy on that board as well.

The Sag Harbor board received an email on December 13 announcing Ms. Kerr’s immediate resignation in order to spend more time with her family. In her first year on the board, Ms. Kerr was vice president and then president in the second half of the year. During that time, she worked to revise school policies including the code of conduct for students and code of ethics for employers and officers.

“I’m proud of the amount of progress this board made in 1.5 years, but I have two young daughters (ages 3 and 9) that need me now,” Ms. Kerr said in an email on Friday. “I know the district is in a good place.”

Her resignation created a second board vacancy in the span of two years for the Sag Harbor School District: Almost a year ago to the day, Tommy John Schiavoni left the board after being elected to the Southampton Town Council.

At the December meeting, the board unanimously nominated Diana Kolhoff, who had served two years as board president previously and was the present vice president, to move back up to Ms. Kerr’s seat as president.

“It would be great if you could do it because you have great experience,” said Susan Lamontagne, another School Board member. “We think the board will be in good hands.”

Ms. Kolhoff agreed to act as president only for a few months. “Someone else will have to step up,” she said. “I appreciate the confidence, and I am willing to take that on—but not on a long-term basis.”

Jordana Sobey was nominated to be vice president by Ms. Kolhoff. “She is very new to the board, I realize that, but every time she speaks, I think about things a little bit differently,” Ms. Kolhoff said about Ms. Sobey, who was elected to the board in May. “I think she is a huge asset.”

Unanimously, the two women were voted in as president and vice president. Ms. Sobey shifted her seat to sit next to Ms. Kolhoff, and the women were sworn in by Victoria Handy, the district clerk.

“I think it’s not a good thing to leave a vacant seat,” board member Alex Kriegsman said. He suggested holding a special election, as Ms. Kerr’s term had one and a half years left. “I don’t like appointing people. I’d rather it be a selection by the community,” he said. “But I don’t like spending money on special elections.”

Using the same process the board used last year to fill Mr. Schiavoni’s seat by appointing Susan Schaefer, the School Board voted unanimously to appoint a new member on February 11, 2019. Applications will be open to the community, an interview process will require the candidates to answer the same set of questions, and the chosen candidate will be appointed to the board until district residents elect a new member in May.

Mr. Wilson, of the East Hampton School Board, left a vacancy after his death on October 7 at the age of 78. During the October 16 meeting, the board had a moment of silence for Mr. Wilson as a bouquet of white and yellow flowers rested on his former seat.

“Whenever I think of Rich, I think one thing: he’s a good guy,” board member John Ryan said. “It’s just the way he came across whenever you dealt with him. I’ll miss him deeply.”

Board member Jacqueline Lowey added, with tears in her eyes, “He was so tenacious and single-minded in terms of fighting for our kids, and that’s why he was on the board … He took such pleasure when his grandkids were doing something.”

Mr. Wilson was a science teacher at Pierson High for 30 years before retiring and opening the Village Toy Shop and Gifted Generation in East Hampton. He helped with East Hampton’s Science Olympiad programs, and the Invention Convention, and volunteered with the full-day prekindergarten program.

“It’s a different district because of him,” Ms. Lowey concluded.

Christina DeSanti, the board’s vice president, and James P. Foster, the board’s president, reminisced about Mr. Wilson and his time as their teacher at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. “He inspired an entire generation—he was that kind of teacher,” Ms. DeSanti said. “An entire generation of Pierson students remember him for doing cartwheels on the last day of school.”

Mr. Foster added, “He’ll be greatly missed.”

Mr. Wilson’s term would have ended in June 2019. The board decided not to immediately fill his seat, but instead to wait for the general election in May.

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