Oysterponds learns it faces tuition hike

Oysterponds taxpayers found out at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting that they will be sharing the cost if Greenport voters approve two building bond propositions Dec. 7.
That’s because, under the district’s contract with Greenport to educate Oysterponds secondary school students, the per pupil tuition rate would be raised to account for additional spending on critical building repairs.
Oysterponds currently pays Greenport about $15,500 per student and $55,000 per special education student. That’s not likely to change in the 2010-11 school year, Superintendent Stuart Rachlin said. But a hike would take effect in subsequent years if Oysterponds renews a contract with Greenport.
Still pending is a New York State Education Department ruling on whether the Oysterponds school board acted legally when it voted last summer to lop one year off its original three-year contract with Greenport and eliminate a two-year extension that would have kept the Seneca Falls agreement in place through June 2014. A previous board has made the extension.
If the Oysterponds rollback is sustained, the contract with Greenport would expire next June. And by April 2011, the Oysterponds board would have to tell the public whether it plans to renegotiate with Greenport or seek a contract with another school district.
The debate over the rollback of the original three-year contract centers on whether the  Oysterponds board acted legally when it signed the original pact without voter approval.
Former board president Walter Strohmeyer told his colleagues Tuesday night he had searched a file drawer — to which only he and district clerk Melissa Palermo were supposed to have keys, he said — and found that paperwork substantiating a decision not to hold a referendum on the contract was missing.
“What happened to these copies of legal opinions, I am not prepared to say,” Mr. Strohmeyer said. The documents are either in other hands or were destroyed, he said.
Ms. Palermo jumped in, asking if Mr. Strohmeyer was accusing her of taking material from the file. He insisted that wasn’t the case and said he didn’t believe that they were the only ones with keys to that file drawer.
The Suffolk Times filed a Freedom of Information request for the same documents and Ms. Palermo confirmed Tuesday that she can’t find some requested materials.
Also on Tuesday, Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda and high school principal Leonard Skuggevik came to the Oysterponds meeting to outline plans for curriculum development and explain the school building problems that they said make the bond propositions necessary for repair work.
The Greenport board decided last week to split the bond into two propositions: The first, for $7.485 million, would cover most of the work on new roofing, new boilers, windows and other repairs necessary to protect the integrity of the building. A second proposition, for $1.27 million, would fund some solar panels on the roof and some wind turbines on the north side of the school’s ballfield.
The average Greenport taxpayer would have to pay about $185 a year for 20 years to support the main bond and about $20 a year to support the solar and wind power initiative, which is expected to save the district money in power costs eventually. The second proposition would come into play only if voters approve the first, Mr. Comanda said.
About a dozen residents at the meeting applauded the presentation, although Orient resident James Duggan complained later that the Greenporters left the meeting without providing an opportunity for questions.
Oysterponds board members were fresh from a Monday retreat aimed at improving their communications with one another and were polite toward one another Tuesday night.
But that didn’t preclude a few slaps. Dr. Rachlin was chastised for purchasing computer equipment that had been budgeted, but wasn’t specifically authorized by resolution, until after the fact on Tuesday night.
And board president Deborah Dumont was criticized for spending $500 without prior board authorization to hire a service to send an e-mail blast informing residents of a September forum on the school’s future. But the board agreed to pay the bill.
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