Editorial: A Divided District

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As residents in the Sag Harbor School District prepare to vote in another contentious school board election, everyone should remember that all the candidates for the board are volunteers — people who devote countless hours of service to this community, its children and its taxpayers. Unfortunately, that simple fact can be lost in the politics of small town life.

Power struggles aside, this is clearly a school district divided on a number of issues, whether it be synthetic turf versus natural grass, later start times or the status quo, the purchase of the former Stella Maris Regional School property or the future of the school administration. At the same time, the school board — past and present — has been clouded by questions of transparency, concerns over alleged micromanagement, and charges of infighting. At the same time, the district has flourished, becoming a desired destination for parents looking for a quality education for their children with real estate values reflecting that. Since the state placed a tax levy cap on school districts, Sag Harbor has not had to pierce that cap once — a feat that must be credited to both administrators and board members alike.

This year, there are three incumbents and two newcomers vying for three seats on the school board. In her short tenure at the helm of the board, president Diana Kolhoff has created a more welcoming environment for the public, encouraged debate, and has respectfully listened to opposing views with true thoughtfulness. She has clear opinions on issues, but is open to new ideas, and attempts to be a consensus builder. Her stances on later start times and turf have been progressive, but measured. Of all five candidates she has the strongest endorsement from this newspaper, and we hope, if re-elected, she is retained for a second year as board president.

Incumbent Sandi Kruel is strong-headed and strong-willed, providing the board’s relatively young membership with the valued voice of history and experience. Ms. Kruel, who does not mince words and whose stance on any issue will be made clear at every turn, can be frustrating with her unwavering convictions and occasional stubbornness. She is also honest, and devoted to the students in Sag Harbor, despite a campaign that has been waged against her for many years by some who have personal axes to grind, and that will not likely end Tuesday night. Incumbent Theresa Samot should also be thanked for her years of service to this community and the school district. She came to this table, we believe, with the best of intentions, and has worked hard to provide for the whole child.

Despite that, it is abundantly clear there is a call in this community for a clean slate, for a new board not under the microscope for mistakes made in the past, but one that can move forward and beyond an overwhelming concern about transparency.

We believe both January Kerr and Alex Kriegsman have qualities that can aid the board as it moves into what we hope is a productive future, despite many challenges ahead. Ms. Kerr, for the many who know her as a parent at Sag Harbor Elementary School, has strong opinions, is not easily manipulated, will allow herself to be informed, while also standing her ground on important issues, including later start times, which is shaping up to be the next big debate in Sag Harbor. Her legal experience will undoubtedly serve the board well, as will the skill of a proven litigator like Mr. Kriegsman, a dedicated parent with young children who like Ms. Kerr is looking to cultivate long-term success in a district he will depend on for many years to come.

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