Bridgehampton Parents Debate Administrators Versus Teachers in School Budget

Kathryn DeGroot speaks about hiring new teachers as Julie Burmeister, Doug DeGroot and John Kriendler look on. Christine Sampson photo

A handful of parents on Wednesday grilled Bridgehampton School officials over the district’s proposal to add more money to administrative salaries in its proposed budget than it is planning to add for the hiring of new teachers.

At a community forum on the topic of the school’s proposed 2019-2020 budget, parents said new teachers are sorely needed.

“There are kids in the school who have not been able to take a math class” in their junior or senior years, Kathryn DeGroot explained. Her son has three core-subject classes this year and multiple free periods. “I’ve been in this district for a while and nothing’s changed,” she said.

Susan Scripter, another parent, said the school needs teachers to lead electives so that students don’t have to repeat the same ones or have multiple free periods in their schedules. She said this year, her son, who is a senior, did not want to take horticulture or agriculture classes, which he had already taken, but wound up with them anyway.

“The need is for people who can teach Advanced Placement math and science and possibly other things,” Ms. Scripter said.

Julie Burmeister, a community member who volunteers as a mentor to the school’s robotics team, suggested Bridgehampton needs a new teacher for technology programs.

The district’s proposed $18.73 million budget includes salaries for three administrators — two of whom, the assistant principal and an administrator who oversees special education and English as a new language programs, have already been hired and started working earlier this year. The third, a director of curriculum, has not been hired yet. Bridgehampton School superintendent Robert Hauser said the decisions to hire the first two came mid-year this year, and their salaries were pro-rated and came from the district’s surplus moneys, so they have to be formally placed in next year’s budget.

“You clearly had a huge unassigned fund balance. If the budget doesn’t get passed, do they get fired?” Ms. DeGroot asked.

“That’s another dialogue that would probably have to happen,” Mr. Hauser replied.

He said the district needs to hire more administrators to handle the needs of a steadily-growing student population with diverse needs. Five years ago, a long-term enrollment study by the Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) predicted the district would have 197 students in 2023-2024 in kindergarten through 12th grade, but Bridgehampton surpassed that last year. Next year, 218 students are expected in those grades, with an additional 22 in prekindergarten. Current enrollment, Mr. Hauser said, is 231 in the entire school.

Community members suggested the district attempt to combine administrators’ responsibilities and therefore hire fewer senior officials, but board member Jennifer Vinski told them the district had already tried that. “Unfortunately, we didn’t find anyone,” she said.

Mr. Hauser the budget has not been finalized and the expenses could still be restructured “if the board and the administration decide that’s a different path they want to go down.”

He said people can come to the board meeting on March 27 if they want to discuss it further. The school board needs to finalize the budget on April 17.

“I make the final recommendation to the board, but it’s a dialogue,” he said.

John Kriendler, a community member, commented, “It seems clear to me that you need more teachers here and that you should open that discussion.”

The district does have one Advanced Placement (AP) math and one AP science teacher listed in its proposed budget at a total cost of $126,550 — meaning starting salaries could be around $63,275 each.

“It’s an informed and experienced position. For $63,000, I am a little suspicious” that you will find qualified teachers, said Ms. DeGroot, whose husband, Doug DeGroot, is a school board member.

A total of $373,370 has been budgeted for the three new administrative salaries — nearly three times the amount the district is budgeting for the two new teacher salaries together.

A search of a Board of Cooperative Educational Services online job system for New York State public schools indicates Bridgehampton has already posted two high school teaching positions with an anticipated start date of August 28, 2019. One is a math teaching position with “AP Statistics experience preferred” and the other is a high school biology teaching position with “experience teaching AP Biology preferred.” Application deadlines are at the end of March; no salaries are specified.

Bridgehampton School teachers typically teach five periods out of the 10-period day, with one reserved for lunch, one reserved for hall duty, one reserved for class preparation and two to monitor study skills sessions. Sometimes, though, middle and high school teachers are called upon to teach more than the regular five classes, a move that has to be approved by the school board and the teachers’ union. But Mr. Hauser said the district is also largely limited in hiring many teachers by space until the current construction project is completed in September 2020.

“We are at maximum capacity,” he said. “Where are we going to place these new teachers? We don’t have the room.”

He shifted the question to whether the parents and students would prefer to see AP English or social studies teachers added instead of math and science — or even in addition to them. “This is a financial question. A decision has to be made. Who comes first?” he said.

Mr. DeGroot urged the administration to publicize its meetings and agendas more vigorously so the community can get more involved.

“There’s so little input from the public,” he said. “Let’s make sure they know when important things will be discussed.”

In addition to the debate over hiring administrators versus teachers, Bridgehampton announced its projected tax-levy increase is about 10.8 percent. That’s different from the “2-percent tax cap” that most people are used to hearing because of factors such as increasing real estate development in the hamlet and allowances for Bridgehampton’s capital debt. The district expects to spend almost $1.1 million on new debt in next year’s budget related to its nearly $30-million construction project.

Even with a 10.8-percent tax levy increase, the proposed $18.73 million budget would only need a simple majority of voter approval to pass. The district projects its tax rate to increase by about 5 percent, up to $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value on a house in Bridgehampton. The increase for the year could be about $191 for a $1 million dollar house.

Those figures, however, could change in early April when the New York State legislature finalizes its own budget, which will include financial assistance for the Bridgehampton School District. The tax rate could also change later this year when Southampton Town finishes assessing its tax rolls.