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May 3, 2011 5:23 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton School Candidates Grilled In Forum

Editor's Note: CORRECTION:
The article has been changed to reflect that Marie Klarman made the statement: “There is no better use of taxes than to educate our children.If that means a tax increase, that means a tax increase.”
In the print version of the story it was incorrectly attributed to another candidate.
May 5, 2011 10:48 AM

The five candidates for East Hampton School Board fielded questions at a forum at East Hampton High School on Saturday afternoon that was attended by about 50 people.

The five hopefuls are Liz Pucci, Jacqueline Lowey, Marie Klarman, Patricia Hope, and Paul Fiondella. Arthur Malman read questions prepared by the East Hampton Group for Good Government, which was formed in 2009 to bring fiscal responsibility to East Hampton Town. The questions, which the candidates did not see beforehand, covered everything from budgets and board dynamics to consolidation and curriculum. The candidates took turns answering each in one minute or less.

Mr. Fiondella said non-English-speaking students should be regarded as an asset when he responded to a question that asked candidates how they would take advantage of the diversity of the school district. At the high school level, he recommended an immersion program “and then getting them involved in the rest of the curriculum.”

“Everyone should be treated as an individual,” said Ms. Hope. She suggested reaching out to parents with potluck dinners, translators, phone numbers and requests for help. Ms. Lowey agreed that a better job of “reaching out” could be done, particularly with registration dates.

Ms. Klarman and Ms. Pucci said they would like to see Spanish speakers enlisted to help teach their language to English speakers.

Asked what she would do to get up to speed as a board member, Ms. Hope said she has “a huge table at my house” filled with paperwork and books about issues from feeder schools to test scores. “I never met a piece of information I didn’t like,” she said.

Ms. Klarman said she knew statutes and could “hit the books.” “I looked at the budget line by line,” she said. “Not to say I understood it.”

“Thank God for Google,” Ms. Lowey said, adding that judgment and an ability to listen, work collegially and be independent were as important as the crash course she was taking on the internet.

“I have come to board meetings,” Ms. Pucci said. “I’m here to listen, take advice, be a team player.”

“I’ve been attending a lot of school board meetings,” Mr. Fiondella said. “I tried to get institutions in place, lobbied for a financial advisory board,” he said.

Locked-in increases in salaries, pensions and health care costs will already exceed a potential 2-percent tax levy cap on the district’s budget in 2012-13, according to the GGG. “What specific steps will you take to control costs, especially those that would not hurt the quality of the educational experience?” Mr. Malman asked the candidates.

Ms. Klarman said the efficacy of the reading program should be evaluated. She also suggested reducing paper waste, recruitment ads, and materials in general.

“Let’s start the process earlier and work together to make cuts,” Ms. Lowey said.

Ms. Pucci suggested online textbooks. “Everyone’s going to have to take the burden across the board,” she said.

Mr. Fiondella said next year’s budget process should begin this July. He noted that the district will be negotiating a new professional workers contract in the next year and suggested that “we look closely” at that.

Ms. Hope suggested using attrition to save money. She also mentioned contracts, “reading and all other programs that cost a lot of money” and outside consultants as areas to zero in on.

The candidates were asked whether they supported the consolidation of East End school districts.

Citing “economies of scale,” particularly where “administrative overlap with some of the smaller districts” was concerned, Ms. Lowey said she supported a consolidation study.

Ms. Pucci agreed. “I certainly see our community as one,” she said, “not Springs kids, Montauk kids.”

Mr. Fiondella said Springs taxpayers are assessed at almost twice the rate of those in East Hampton, where consolidation would mean an enormous tax hike. “What’s really needed is cutting the budgets in both East Hampton and Springs,” he said.

Ms. Hope said she saw some hope that, with the current tuition “détente” between East Hampton and Springs, the “eternal tug-of-war” would end.

“There is no better use of taxes than to educate our children,” Ms. Klarman said. “If that means a tax increase, that means a tax increase.”

When the candidates were asked to assess the good and bad points in the district’s educational system, Ms. Pucci said, “I love these teachers. They give their heart and soul in everything they do.”

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Fifty People . . . what a sad commentary on either GGG's second homeowner "input" on the community and/or "influence on the vote" -- OR the public's apathy. EH and the "village of" as a voting district has THOUSANDS of voters . . . guess this will be approved -- much to the chagrin of feeder districts once again . . . by the way - goodbye Chris Kelley and thanks a lot . . .
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on May 4, 11 11:30 PM
I am not sure my remark about taxes was clear. I am not advocating a tax increase. If I recall correctly, the question put to the candidates was to the effect of how we would feel about/address a tax increase. My response was that there is no better reason to raise taxes than for educational purposes, meaning that I will not argue against an increase in taxes if that is what is required to ensure excellence in our children's education.
By Marie Elena (2), East Hamton on May 5, 11 10:39 AM
Or the district can borrow money from other departments, like labor maintenance, construction etc. and stop negatively impacting kids and taxpayers. Maybe if we made systemic and psychic changes instead of replacing board members, writing letters to seemingly illiterate congressmen and government officials in the hope of short-term results, things would actually change.

By mttlsp (3), East Hampton on May 10, 11 4:38 PM
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