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Write-in candidate accepts New Suffolk Board of Education seat

05/23/2018 9:08 AM |

After receiving eight write-in votes in last week’s uncontested New Suffolk Board of Education election, Lauren Grant has decided to accept the position.

Ms. Grant officially informed the school district Monday after taking time to consider whether she wanted to serve. She will be sworn in to a three-year term at the school board’s reorganization meeting July 10, board president Tony Dill said.

“I was very surprised,” said Ms. Grant, 75. “I knew of one person, she called me and said, ‘Can I vote for you?’ and I said, ‘I’m not running’ and she said, ‘As a write-in’ … I knew I was going to get one vote, but when Tony called with the info I was very surprised. But also flattered. It always makes you feel good to know people think enough of you to want you in a position like that.” 

Ms. Grant received the same number of votes as Jim Baker. Since no one put in a formal petition to run for the board, the person who received the most write-in votes would be eligible for the seat left vacant by Jeanette Cooper. 

Mr. Baker called school board president Tony Dill last Wednesday and said he didn’t want the seat. Ms. Grant asked for time to think about her decision, ultimately accepting the position. 

“It would be hard to think of another person who had a greater depth of experience,” Mr. Dill said of Ms. Grant. “Not only in the school, but a host of other community organizations. She remains very energetic and enthusiastic and interested — qualities that are very, very important to us.”

According to Mr. Dill, Ms. Grant has been involved with the New Suffolk Civic Association, the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund and Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library, has volunteered on projects with the children at the school and more. 

Most recently, she was chairperson of the long-range advisory committee, a four-person group tasked with evaluating the small school district’s options for the 2018-19 school year and making a recommendation to the board in January. 

The district has been embroiled in controversy for months and, until recently, there was concern the tiny school would not remain open. Involved in a lawsuit with teacher Martha Kennelly, who had been fired and then reinstated last August, the district was tasked with finding a way to best serve the students while also managing a large cost increase with Ms. Kennelly’s salary and owed back pay.

The district eventually reached a settlement with Ms. Kennelly, who is resigning from the district effective July 1.

With everything going on this spring, Mr. Dill said, board members didn’t realize until it was too late that no candidates had filed petitions to run for the board. 

“It then became a system of trying it figure out if there’s anyone you’d like to recruit and get a bunch of write-ins for and so forth,” he said. “Because she’s done so much in the past it never occurred to me that Lauren would want to get involved with another organization. It’s a wonderful thing that she’s willing to do this because I’m convinced that she’ll bring a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of new fresh ideas to the school board.”

Ms. Grant, who’s lived in New Suffolk for 22 years, said she’s excited about the future. 

One of her first goals will be to get more people — especially young people — involved and attending monthly Board of Education meetings.

As a member of the civic association she expanded the board and its social outreach, creating a pool of potential candidates to fill vacancies as they arose, something she hopes to do for the school board to preclude another situation like this year’s. 

She also plans to work closely with parents and teachers. 

“I’m looking forward to working with the teachers as far as programs for the students. That seems to me where you can really make a difference,” Ms. Grant said. “And working with the parents and making sure the parents have their voices heard. I think they are, and always have been, but you never know. There’s always one or two who may have felt they were ignored.”

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