Oysterponds designates Greenport, Mattituck as secondary schools; agreement subject to voter approval

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04/02/2012 8:51 PM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Oysterponds school board members Krista de Krerillis, left, and vice president Dorothy-Dean Thomas during a special meeting Monday night. The board designated both Greenport and Mattituck as its secondary schools.

The Oysterponds Board of Education voted Monday night to designate both Greenport and Mattituck as its secondary school districts, a state requirement that will allow the districts to continue negotiations on a new secondary school contract.

Oysterponds also approved a measure to put the contracts up for public referendum once they’ve been finalized. A referendum vote will be scheduled after the agreements have been signed and not in time for the budget vote next month, members said. The vote will likely take place in the summer.

“We think it’s important that the people have a voice on the contract,” school board president Deborah Dumont said at the beginning of the meeting.

Oysterponds graduates will remain at Greenport, the current secondary school district serving  former Oysterponds students, if both referendums are shot down, Ms. Dumont said.

If both the Mattituck and Greenport contracts pass, then parents can decide to send their children to either one.

Oysterponds is an elementary school district serving students from kindergarten through sixth grade. The school currently has 84 enrolled students. Fourteen are expected to move on to seventh grade next year.

The measure to support secondary school contracts with both schools was approved 5-2, with board members Linda Goldsmith and Krista de Kerillis voting in opposition. Ms. Goldsmith cast the lone dissenting vote to host a referendum.

Ms. Goldsmith and Ms. de Kerillis said they couldn’t support the two-school designation because they believed it wasn’t fair to leave expenses uncertain — mainly how many students each district would get, as well as transportation costs to Mattituck — this late in the budget process.

While Ms. de Kerillis said she likes the idea of voters having a say on a secondary school contract, she disagreed with finalizing an agreement after residents vote on the budget May 15. Both Oysterponds and Greenport schools are expected to adopt their budgets Tuesday night.

“We should be looking to do this next year, so we have enough time to do it properly,” Ms. de Kerillis said, adding that she favors a contract with Greenport.

School board member Tom Gray said he believes designating both schools will help give Oysterponds an upper hand in striking a deal that will result in a “savings or is a cost-neutral” deal.

“It’s favorable to our budget,” Mr. Gray said. “If you only have one contract, then you have zero leverage to negotiate a contract.”

During the nearly two-hour special meeting, more than a dozen residents spoke in support of a deal with Greenport.

Agreeing with many residents that described the board’s decision as “opening Pandora’s Box,” Orient resident Walter Strohmeyer questioned how choosing another school over Greenport would benefit taxpayers and the community.

“Mattituck would add an hour commute for parents and students,” Mr. Strohmeyer said. “This is totally unfair to parents. It’s totally unfair to students.”

If Oysterponds designates Mattituck as its secondary school, residents must then vote to approve transportation costs, because state law requires a referendum if a secondary school is more than 15 miles outside the district.

Should a transportation referendum fail, parents would be responsible for transporting their children to and from Mattituck.

Greenport Board of Education president Tina Volinski said after the meeting that she was “disappointed” with Oysterponds’ decision.

“We’ve always said we are willing to negotiate a contract,” she said. “We’ve been waiting over the past year for a proposal and didn’t get one until two and a half weeks ago.”

No representatives from the Mattituck School District spoke at Monday’s meeting.

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