Bridgehampton Readies for School Budget Vote, Board Elections

The Bridgehampton School Board Meet the Candidates event held in the school's gymnasium on Tuesday, 5/14/19. From left, Angela Torres Chmielewski, Randall Davis, Jennifer Vinski, Carla Lillie and Michael Gomberg. Michael Heller photo

The Bridgehampton School District ballot features not just an $18.69-million budget proposal, but also a proposition asking voters to weigh in on a continued lease of the farmstand property adjacent to the school on Montauk Highway. There are also five candidates vying for two seats on the school board. Here are the details.

Budget proposal:$18,689,852

Increase over current year’s budget:$2,392,387 (14.68%)

Tax levy increase: 10.83 percent

Exceeds tax levy cap?No

Additional proposition:Bridgehampton is requesting permission to extend its leases by three years on the two properties that comprise its farmstand on Montauk Highway. One comes at no cost, while the other property will cost $3,000 per year.

Summary: While the tax levy increase appears higher than the 2-percent state-mandated tax levy cap, it actually falls under the cap because of factors such as real estate development within district borders and exclusions for capital debt. About half of the budget-to-budget increase is for capital debt on the district’s current $29.4-million construction project. School officials have said other increases are for employee health insurance, school busing, three new teacher salaries, two new administrator salaries and anticipated pay increases for teachers. The tax rate is expected to increase by 5 cents, up to approximately $1.82 per $1,000 of assessed value; for a $1-million house, taxes would be about $1,820.

Voting information:2 to 8 p.m. in the Bridgehampton School gym

A graph showing recent years’ budget figures for the Bridgehampton School District. Graph by Chris Lester based on information published by the Bridgehampton School District

As the race for two seats on the Bridgehampton School Board shapes up as the district’s first contested election in several years, the Parent Teacher Organization held a meet-the-candidates session at the school on Tuesday for the community to get to know the five candidates.

They are, in the order in which they will appear on the ballot, newcomers Angela Torres Chmielewski and Randall Davis, incumbent Jennifer Vinski, newcomer Carla Lillie and incumbent Michael Gomberg. There are two board seats available.

Ms. Chmielewski is the vice president of the district’s Parent Teacher Organization, with two children attending the school. She works in real estate for Corcoran after having a career in financial services in New York City.

“I really want to do more. I want to be part of the future leadership of the district,” she said in her opening remarks on Tuesday.

Mr. Davis also has two children attending the Bridgehampton School. A lifelong resident of Bridgehampton, he has served as an elementary school basketball coach and Police Athletic League football director. He works as a custodian in the Sag Harbor School District.

“I love my community and I’m trying to be more useful,” Mr. Davis said.

Ms. Vinski is seeking reelection to what would be her third term on the board. She has three children in the district and works as a special education teacher in the Southampton School District.

“I definitely bring an educator’s perspective, which I think is crucial in being able to navigate and bridge the connection with the teachers and the school board,” Ms. Vinski said.

Ms. Lillie also has three children who attend the school. She is a lifelong Bridgehampton resident, having attended the Bridgehampton School herself for several years. She works as a medical biller and bookkeeper at East End Pediatrics.

“I’m running for school board because I’m passionate about my children’s future as well as the future of every child in this community,” she said.

Mr. Gomberg is seeking a second term on the school board. He has two children in the school and was a member of the audit committee before he was elected in 2016. He works in the financial services industry and has experience running his own business.

“My interest is vested,” Mr. Gomberg said. “I currently play an important role collaborating with the other trustees. …  I am running to continue the work we have started.”

Michael Mackey of Peconic Public Broadcasting served as the moderator of Tuesday’s event. His first question to each candidate was about “key issues” they feel the district is facing.

Mr. Gomberg said he wants to focus on academic excellence by expanding the school’s curriculum with a focus on “STEAM,” which refers to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“My goal is for Bridgehampton to be known as the premiere district for technology on the East End,” he said.

Ms. Lillie said she feels a key issue is “making things fit” in a budget, as well as making the students, teachers and programs fit into the tight spaces in the school while it’s under construction.

“I’d love to be a part of that,” she said.

Ms. Vinski identified the key issues as a lack of space until the expansion is complete; improving the school’s curriculum and academic rigor at the high school level; and completing contract negotiations with the teachers’ union.

“I’m looking forward to following through on some pretty awesome projects,” she said.

Mr. Davis also said the tight space is the key issue, and that he’d like to see the teaching staff and administration continue its “productivity.”

“I’d like to be a part of it in any way I can, help in any way I can. I just want to be a part of it,” he said.

Ms. Chmielewski said keeping the curriculum “competitive” is a key issue.

“We’re a small school, which in many ways is an asset to us,” she said. “Especially as we get to middle and upper school, I think one of the biggest challenges is keeping the curriculum innovative and competitive.”

All of the candidates pledged to be involved in the district even if they are not elected, and all expressed support for the current $18.69-million budget. They all agreed that Bridgehampton should not pursue school mergers, and they all agreed the district promotes a warm, welcoming atmosphere of acceptance for its racially, culturally and economically diverse population.

Mr. Mackey pointed out that the role of a school board member is a volunteer position that is time-consuming and often stressful. He asked the candidates why they want to take on such a role.

“I care so much,” Ms. Chmielewski said. “I’m passionate about education. I don’t like to be a passive person. I’m hardworking, I like to get things done, and I want to be involved in the future of the school.”

Mr. Davis joked that he didn’t know it was an unpaid position. “I just want to be a part of it,” he said. “I’m around kids all day. Kids call me by my first name. It’s a great feeling. It’s even better than getting paid, being part of something great.”

Ms. Vinski said she wants to see several major projects through to completion, including the construction project, administrative shifts and teacher contract negotiations. “I’m with kids 24 hours a day. Kids are my life,” she said.

Ms. Lillie said she has a lot invested in the community. “My father was a member of this school board and that was a big deal for me growing up,” she said. That’s a big reason why I want to run. I feel like I could make a positive impact.”

Mr. Gomberg said he still has goals he would like to accomplish, including boosting academic excellence and adding professional development opportunities for teachers. “I want to continue in this position because it gives me the opportunity to shape the education of our children,” he said.