Dumont calls for a retreat on contract

07/22/2010 12:00 AM |

Oysterponds Board of Education members face a challenge from their newly elected president, who wants to overturn a resolution passed last month to extend by two years an existing three-year contract with Greenport to educate Oysterponds secondary school students.

Deborah Dumont — who won election to the board in May and took office as president at its July 13 reorganizational meeting — at that first meeting of her term introduced a resolution to rescind last month’s two-year contract extension.

After extensive discussion, board members agreed to delay a decision at least until after further discussion at the board’s August meeting.

If the contract stands, Greenport would educate the students through June 2014. Oysterponds reached agreement on the original three-year contract last year, making the past school term the first year of the contract.

Ms. Dumont argued that it was illegal for the previous board in June to approve the contract extension, when three of its members were lame ducks and the existing three-year contract was expiring.

Former board president Walter Strohmeyer, who remains on the board, maintains that it was legal for the board to have extended the contract because New York State law gives a district the right to sign a contract covering a period of at least two but as many as five years and board members are elected for three-year terms.

Ms. Dumont and Mr. Strohmeyer cited the same 1978 court case — Morin v. Foster — in arguing their differing points of view.

Both said their information came after consultations with attorneys. Ms. Dumont, an educational consultant who serves on a Bronx charter school board, engaged attorney Warren Richmond to interpret the case, paying him with her own money. Mr. Strohmeyer, as then-board president, consulted with the board’s contract attorney, Matthew Marks.

Ms. Dumont and new members Thom Gray and Deborah-Dean Thomas replaced Carl Demarest, Kathy Caffery and Nancy Williams this month. Ms. Caffery and Ms. Williams didn’t seek re-election, and Mr. Demarest was defeated in his bid for a third term.

The board also delayed action on four other resolutions Ms. Dumont placed on the agenda, all dealing with the Greenport contract.

Going to the heart of the existing debate, one resolution calls on board members to agree not to bind successor boards to decisions relating to governmental matters unless longer terms for such contracts are expressly provided for by state law.

Other tabled resolution call on the board to identify a receiving school for the education of secondary students by the first day of April of each year; and designate Greenport as the receiving district for the 2010-11 school year, but that resolution makes no mention of the 2011-12 school year, which was included in the three-year contract signed with Greenport last year.

The fourth tabled resolution would require the school board to obtain voter approval before entering into a contract with any school district for the education of junior and senior high school students.

That issue became controversial last year when Oysterponds, on advice from the state education department and the district’s own legal counsel, canceled a referendum in the fall of 2009 that would have allowed taxpayers to weigh in on what was then a proposed three-year contract with Greenport.

The board changed its meeting night from the second to the third Tuesday of each month and will reconvene to continue the debate on Aug. 17 beginning at 7 p.m.

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