By Kathryn G. Menu
Susan Schaefer will be appointed to serve on the Sag Harbor School Board of Education on January 22, after she was unanimously selected by the school board Tuesday night from eight candidates who expressed interest in filling the term vacated by Tommy John Schiavoni. Schiavoni resigned from the board on December 18 after he was elected to the Southampton Town Board in November.
Ms. Schaefer, whose children Paige and Peter attend Pierson High School, is the assistant vice president at Bridgehampton National Bank and manager of its Bridgehampton branch. She has served as the parent liaison to the athletic advisory committee, and has previously served on the boards of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Sag Harbor Little League and Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt.
The school board unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday night to appoint Ms. Schaefer to the board at its January 22 meeting following a public interview of seven of the eight district residents who expressed interest in filling the remainder of Mr. Schiavoni’s term, which runs through May. Michael Hayes, Caleb Kercheval, former board president Susan Kinsella, Laurie Marsden, Tom McErlean and Yorgos Tsibiridis were also considered for the position, as was Gary Bierfriend, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s session, but was asked to submit a resume and written statement about why he wanted to serve on the school board, according to Superintendent Katy Graves.
“This decision was a difficult one for sure,” said board president Diana Kolhoff Tuesday night following the public interview, and after the board came out of executive session and nominated Ms. Schaefer. “There are so many good qualities in the applicants willing to put in their time, and they are invested and clearly care about the community and the schools and youth in general. It was really challenging for us to narrow it down to one, so I look forward to a lot of people running for two open seats in May so the community can have their voice, their choice to cast a vote.”
In addition to what will be Ms. Schaefer’s term, which will end in May, board member Stephanie Bitis has announced she will not run again, opening up a second seat on the school board for public election. During the public interviews on Tuesday, all seven candidates in attendance, including Ms. Schaefer, said they were interested in running in this spring’s election.
“I care immensely about the school and will put my time and energy into making it the best it can be,” said Ms. Schaefer during her interview. “While I have a true passion for the school, I also bring a lot to the table professionally. I am a respected business woman in the community, skilled with dealing with issues.”
She cited her experience as a manager of a team of 13 at BNB, and the financial expertise she brings to the table as tools that would serve as an asset to the board. Ms. Schaefer earned a degree in marketing with a minor in accounting at Marist College. “I understand budgets and financial planning,” she said. “I have excellent problem-solving skills, marketing knowledge, sales and experience. I know how to set targets and have strong decision-making capabilities.”
“Personally,” added Ms. Schaefer, “I am honest and have integrity. While I can lead and motivate others, I understand the importance of being a team player.”
While the meeting, which was attended by just a handful of residents, was entirely without controversy, some residents leading up to Tuesday expressed frustration that there was not more public notice prior to the session. The announcement of the Tuesday meeting came on Monday morning.
In an email to The Sag Harbor Express, resident Aura Winarick called the district’s initial attempt to inform residents “a cryptic message,” suggested the Tuesday interviews were scheduled on too short notice and said the nature of the information was hard to find on the district’s website.
“I know that this is not a vote, but the voting public certainly deserves to have the opportunity to attend this public and very important event,” Ms. Winarick said. “With the deadline for letters today, isn’t it possible that those folks need more notice as well? Why one day’s notice and no information or inclusion? Pretty sure we can do better.”
The school district later updated its website and sent out a more detailed email blast with additional information.
During Monday night’s board meeting, Ms. Kolhoff noted that the board had laid out a timeline during its December 18 meeting for how it would conduct the interview process and appointment — with the goal of appointing Mr. Schiavoni’s replacement during the January 22 meeting as the board begins to work on its 2018-19 budget. While Ms. Kolhoff noted that more public notice would be ideal, Tuesday was the only day that both board members and most candidates could meet that week. Vice president January Kerr also added that the board had made strides to make the process as public as possible — in the past, board of education members had screened potential appointments to its board behind closed doors.