New Names Emerge in Race for Sag Harbor School Board

From left, school board president Diana Kolhoff, candidate Alex Kriegsman, board members Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot, and candidate January Kerr. Board photos: Michael Heller; candidate photos courtesy Alex Kriegsman and January Kerr
From left, school board president Diana Kolhoff, candidate Alex Kriegsman, board members Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot, and candidate January Kerr. Board photos: Michael Heller; candidate photos courtesy Alex Kriegsman and January Kerr

By Christine Sampson

With three Sag Harbor school board members’ terms expiring in June — comprising nearly a majority of the seven-person board — some local school officials say this election cycle is a potentially notable one.

Although the expiration of three seats together happens every three years, and the outcome depends heavily upon the candidates that step forward to run for seats on the board, the number of hot-button issues and recent perception of some divisiveness on the board in Sag Harbor suggests this cycle, in particular, could swing the tide of opinion.

“It has the possibility to have the composition of the board change significantly,” school board president Diana Kolhoff said. “It takes four votes to pass any resolution or take any board action, so a change in three seats could have an impact on decision-making.”

Fellow Sag Harbor board member Sandi Kruel said three “is a lot.”

“The tide of a board can change in a moment,” she said, even when it’s not election season. “I’ve seen it myself. It just changes. It can go any way.”

Ms. Kolhoff and Ms. Kruel, along with Theresa Samot, hold the board seats that are expiring this year.

From the beginning of the election season in March, murmurs went through the community suggesting that the district was going to be short on candidates this year. A school representative on Wednesday said no formal nominating petitions had been picked up from the district office, although it has also been posted online this year, so residents may have accessed the petition that way. Nominating petitions are due in to the district clerk on April 17 at 5 p.m.

Indeed, it was only last week that Ms. Kolhoff told a reporter she would seek reelection for what would be her second term, and it was only this week that two brand-new candidates emerged: January Kerr, a writer and mother of two young children who is a former corporate litigation attorney, and Alex Kriegsman, a parent of three and an attorney who also serves on the North Haven Planning Board and the Southampton Town Ethics Board.

“I think there is a need for the parents at the elementary level to have more of a representation on this board,” Ms. Kerr said Tuesday. “We definitely need to encourage greater participation among parents at school board meetings.”

Mr. Kriegsman, who took a very active role during the debate over the synthetic turf field earlier this school year, said he was approached by community members who suggested he run.

“I thought this would be an opportunity to get more involved and hopefully contribute,” he said Tuesday.

Ms. Kolhoff said she decided to run again because “the district is going in a good direction and I am not ready to step away. Considering the learning curve involved with becoming a board member, some consistency is valuable. That being said, it’s always great to welcome new people with fresh ideas.”

Ms. Kruel and Ms. Samot said they are not 100 percent sure whether they will seek re-election. If they do, there will be a contested race. If they do not, Sag Harbor will have its first uncontested race — at least at this point in time — in quite a few years.

“I’m giving it a strong consideration,” said Ms. Kruel, who is finishing her fourth term on the board. “It is extremely time-consuming, but fulfilling. I’m ready for a break, but I also feel that my work is not completed. I think I might have more to give.”

“It is important to me to share my time and talents to support our community, our school district and our students,” Ms. Samot, who is finishing her fourth term, said in an email. “…I am still contemplating running this year.”

Ms. Kruel said she hopes whoever steps forward to run “understands the commitment that it takes, the length of time it takes outside the room to learn the contracts and learn the law. I just hope that whoever it is has minds of their own and comes in with no agenda but to do what’s right for the community, the taxpayers and the children.”

Ms. Samot said it truly takes a full board to make a decision, and one misconception some people have is that “board members can make independent decisions regarding matters in the district.”

“This is untrue,” she said. “The only action that the board of education can take is by a majority vote of the board. No board member has more power than another.”

Some board members say serving in the role is a great way to give back to the community.

“I may be biased but I think that Sag Harbor is one of the best communities on the East End, and it feels good to serve,” Ms. Kolhoff said. “My hope is that more community members feel like serving on the board is something they can do and are willing to do.”

Aura Winarick, president of the Pierson PTSA, which does not endorse candidates but which will co-host a “Meet the Candidates” forum on May 1 at the school, said having a slate of candidates with a range of expertise is great for the community. She said she is “encouraged by this year’s interest.”

“Our board of education sets the tone for the spirit of education and community involvement throughout the district, and throughout the East End,” Ms. Winarick said. “How this election goes could definitely set the course for which way our district moves forward. PTSA understands the importance of board service and the need for candidates who represent all constituencies and excellence in education.”