Oyster Ponds-Greenport contract extended

Despite protests from a room full of taxpayers — including three new members who will take office July 1 — the Oysterponds Board of Education voted Tuesday night to extend the district’s secondary school education contract with Greenport.
There were two more years to go on a three-year contract and, following Tuesday night’s action, it will now extend until June 30, 2014. It provides that Greenport will educate Oysterponds seventh-through-12th-graders on a per capita basis, with the cost to be set by the state.
The board’s action could be subject to a legal challenge. From the audience at the meeting, incoming board member Deborah Dumont told members that state law prohibits a board from extending an existing agreement to a time when a majority of the board’s members might not still be serving.
Three of seven board members who voted Tuesday night are in their last month of service and the other four members’ terms expire in 2011 or 2012.
Ms. Dumont wouldn’t comment after the meeting Tuesday night on whether or not she might challenge the results.
The vote was 4-3, with the resolution passing over the objections of board member Kathy Syron, whose term expires in 2011, and Kathy Caffery and Nancy Williams, whose terms end this month.
Outgoing board member Walter Demarest favored the resolution, joining board president Walter Strohmeyer, Linda Goldsmith and Krista de Kerillis in passing it.
Residents who spoke Tuesday night complained the proposal to extend the contract didn’t surface until Friday, when the meeting agenda was made public. Technical glitches that resulted in some people not having access to the agenda until Monday further riled some.
“I am concerned that, once again, a decision that has impact on the budget and on education is being proffered without the opportunity for dialogue, debate or input or even … appropriate notice,” Ms. Dumont said.
When residents asked what the board’s reasoning was for wanting to extend the contract now, Ms. Goldsmith told them that a public comment period wasn’t a question-and-answer session, but simply an opportunity for the board to hear public opinion.
Mr. Strohmeyer, who put the resolution on the agenda, said only that he views Orient, East Marion and Greenport as one community and that it would be an opportunity “to encourage Greenport to give us more of what they can provide.”
Ms. Goldsmith said it would give Greenport a chance to plan for five years, without wondering if the contract would stay in place.
Ms. Dumont and other incoming board members — Dorothy-Dean Thomas and Thom Gray, who also were in the audience — said they had not formed an opinion about whether Greenport is the district’s best option for educating secondary students.
“I’m incredulous” the resolution is on the agenda, former board president Tim Frost said. “I don’t understand why we would be voting on this tonight.”
Retiring board member Nancy Williams said she favored delaying a decision because Greenport faces new expenses for a building bond and has a new superintendent, Michael Comanda, who might make some significant changes in that district’s direction.
“I, for one, cannot predict the future,” she said, encouraging others to follow her lead and refuse to extend the contract.
Resident Dick Leslie, who favors looking at other options, said the “scuttlebutt” was that the board was pushing to pass the resolution because it was concerned that a new board would try to move the students out of Greenport when the contract expires.
Ms. Dumont was a member of the task force appointed by the board in 2008 to study options for where Orient’s junior and senior high school students should be educated. Task force members made no formal recommendations for change, but their findings seemed to point to Mattituck-Cutchogue as the district best equipped to serve Oysterponds.
“This evening I feel like the door was slammed in our face,” new PTA president Karen Costello said, summing up the response of many members of the audience. She had earlier complimented the board on opening communications with the PTA, but said she now feels “blindsided by this motion.”
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