State: Oysterponds contract rollback was legal

The New York State Education Department has ruled that the Oysterponds Board of Education was within its rights last summer to lop three years off its five-year contract with the Greenport School District, which currently educates Oysterponds junior and senior high school  students.

The state ruling, handed down Wednesday, said the agreement was not valid because a long-term contract with Greenport would have had to be approved by voters.

The issue became contentious last summer after a lame-duck Oysterponds Board of Education extended the original three-year contract between the districts, set to expire in June 2012, by two years. The extension brought the contract expiration to June 2014.

But just two months later, new board members Deborah Dumont, Dorothy-Dean Thomas and Thom Gray — who joined the board in July 2010 — along with board member Kathy Syron voted in August 2010 to not only end the two-year contract extension, but to lop one year off the original three-year contract. Ms. Syron’s term expires at the end of the month.

Former board president Walter Strohmeyer, who voted in favor of the contract extension in June 2010, insisted that there was no requirement for a referendum since the contract was with Greenport, the district which has been educating Oysterponds secondary students for many years.

Two other board members — Linda Goldsmith and Krista De Kerillis — were absent the night the new board voted last August.

“I’m disappointed,” Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda said about the state ruling, adding that he had hoped the Department of Education would uphold his district’s challenge to the rollback. But he said now the alternative is to either try to pursue legal action or, preferably to him, negotiate a new contract with Oysterponds.

Ms. Dumont, who is now Oysterponds board president, had no comment on the ruling. She said had just been informed of the decision and needed to speak with the district’s legal counsel and members of the board.

For complete coverage, see the June 23 edition of The Suffolk Times.