By Tessa Raebeck
The debate continues at Pierson High School, as students and administrators dispute the balance between autonomy and security at the prom.
At the Board of Education meeting February 10, Pierson Middle-High School Principal Jeff Nichols stood by a recommendation made by the school’s Shared Decision Making Committee to require students who want to attend the prom—predominantly 17 and 18-year-old seniors—to take school-sponsored coach buses to the event and be subjected to a search conducted by an outside security firm before being allowed on the bus, as a means of curbing drug and alcohol use at the event.
The details of the plan and the specific parameters of the search, which Mr. Nichols called “more thorough” than those conducted by himself and other school officials in the past, have not yet been determined.
Various groups from the school community form the shared decision committee: parents, staff members, administrators, community members and students. According to Mr. Nichols, the adult SDM members supported the recommendation, but the two student representatives “were not enamored with that process.”
Mr. Nichols said he discussed four options at an assembly with the entire senior class.
The first option is to leave everything it has been; students would be free to take limos, drive themselves or even get a ride from a parent and be subject to the administrators’ security protocol. The second is the proposed plan to put students on coaches after being searched by an outside firm. The third option would allow students to rent “party buses” (a chauffeured vehicle furnished like a limousine but larger in size, although not as large as a school bus) but require each of those party buses to have school-sponsored security on board. Under the fourth and final option, students would be free to choose their own transportation to the prom, but prior to entering the actual dance (the school-sponsored portion of the event) they would be subjected to a search process administered by an outside firm.
A final decision has not been made, but Mr. Nichols, board vice president Chris Tice and Dr. Carl Bonuso, the district’s interim superintendent, expressed their agreement with the SDM recommendation.
“You can set a lot of trap doors, buses and that, but at the end of the day, my biggest concern is sometimes when you deny too much, the kids want to get over that fence even more,” David Diskin, a board member, said at the meeting.
The six members of the senior class in attendance asked whether they could get a party bus after the prom. Mr. Nichols replied, “Once you leave you can do anything you want.”
Veterans Tax Exemption
In December, Governor Cuomo signed a law authorizing school districts to provide veterans with as much as $40,000 in property tax exemptions.
The law leaves school boards with the decision of whether or not to offer the exemptions, which would increase the school taxes of non-veteran residents, who would need to absorb the loss in revenue.
For a house valued at $500,000 in Southampton the annual cost to non-veterans would be $8.62; for a house valued at the same amount in East Hampton, the cost would be $10.84 annually, according to John O’Keefe, the school’s business administrator.
The exemptions include reductions in assessed value of 15 percent for veterans who served during wartime (an $8,000 cap), 10 percent for those who were in combat zones (a $12,000 cap) and an additional, variable reduction for those with disabilities connected to their service (a $40,000 cap).
School districts must decide whether to offer the exemptions by March 1. The district must first hold a public hearing on the base exemption, and then adopt the resolution by a simple majority vote. If the district wishes to change the caps, another public hearing and vote is required. If the district wishes to enact extensions, such as the “Gold Star Parents” provision to also include parents of a soldier who died in service, it must adopt a separate resolution, although a public hearing is not required.
At the February 10 meeting, the school board appeared unclear on the procedure, as it adopted a resolution to approve the veterans tax exemption prior to holding a public hearing.
Four days later, the district announced it would hold the required public hearings on the base exemption and cap changes, as well as a hearing on the “Gold Star Parents” provision, on Thursday, February 27, starting at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library.