The Riverhead School District budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at these local polling locations: Aquebogue Elementary School, Phillips Avenue Elementary School, Riley Avenue Elementary School and the high school for Roanoke Avenue Elementary School residents, due to construction. Residents vote at the school their children would attend.
VOTERS CONSIDER BUDGET, BUS BARN PLANS
The Riverhead Central School District is proposing a $117.6 million budget that carries an estimated 3.82 percent tax levy increase. The ballot also puts forward two propositions related to replacing the district’s aging bus maintenance facility.
Proposed spending for 2013-14 is about $5.7 million, up 5.12 percent compared to this school year.
Under the plan, no one is being laid off and student programs and extracurricular activities are being maintained. It also includes a plan to use just over $100,000 from existing reserve funds to implement new district-wide security measures.
Superintendent Nancy Carney said that factoring in exemptions related to $1.13 million in pension costs and about $2.36 million in capital expenses from a 2011 voter-approved bond enables Riverhead to raise the tax levy by as much as 5.14 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval.
The spending plan also allocates a portion of the additional aid the state Legislature secured for the district in February toward offsetting next year’s tax levy increase.
In addition to increased revenue, the district succeeded in removing about $1.2 million from the expenditure side of next year’s spending plan through a retirement incentive agreement. Earlier this month, Ms. Carney said, 20 teachers, nine staff members and two administrators accepted the retirement incentive. The district is in the process of filling those positions.
Residents will also be asked to approve two propositions involving the district’s bus barn, located between athletic fields at its main campus on Harrison Avenue in Riverhead. The facility, which school officials said has fallen into disrepair, houses the transportation and maintenance departments and was built in 1920 as a barn for horses.
Proposition 1 on the ballot requests the creation of a Transportation, Maintenance and Athletic Fields Capital Reserve Fund that would top out at $10 million. The move will allow the district to deal with the bus barn without having to issue a bond, Ms. Carney has said.
The reserve fund’s first deposit would come from the sale to Suffolk County of district-owned farmland along Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue. On May 7, the county Legislature approved the purchase of the property’s development rights for about $1.25 million. The Riverhead school district will now look into selling the preserved land, which can be used only for agriculture. Ms. Carney notes that proceeds from that sale and some monies saved year-to-year will also go into the capital reserve fund, if approved by voters.
The “athletic fields” portion of the reserve fund name refers to the district’s desire to turn the current bus barn’s property into additional athletic fields, officials have said. If the district moves forward with the plan, officials have noted, environmental remediation work will need to be completed to clean up the bus barn property.
Proposition 2 calls for possibly using no more than $480,000 from the sale of the Aquebogue land to acquire two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School. The district would use those properties to establish bus access to an industrial park in Riverside, and then run buses to Route 24 from what would eventually be a new bus maintenance facility at the Phillips Avenue property. Ms. Carney has said that even though the Riverside location has been identified as a good one for the transportation facility, the district is still looking into other possible options.
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES STATE THEIR CASES:
Working together to preserve student programs and investing in technology were common themes addressed by Riverhead school board candidates at a public forum held last Wednesday in Calverton.
Incumbents Jeffrey Falisi of Baiting Hollow and Amelia Lantz of Riverhead and challenger Christopher Dorr of Baiting Hollow introduced themselves to the community at the event and offer pitches as to why they should be elected to the seven-member school board. The forum was hosted by the Greater Calverton Civic Association during its regular meeting at Riley Avenue Elementary School.
Seats currently held by Mr. Falisi and Ms. Lantz, each carrying a three-year term, are up for grabs in Tuesday’s election. Both candidates were first elected in 2010.
Mr. Falisi praised the district’s programs and said his three children have “benefited greatly” from the education they’ve received in Riverhead schools. The retired New York City police officer recently took on the task of looking into upgrading the district’s security system. He was successful in gaining support from the school board and administration to use just over $100,000 from existing reserve funds to implement new districtwide security measures.
The initiatives include purchasing new or upgraded security cameras, digital recorders and shatter-resistant film for glass windows, the addition of “Smart Key” technology and the creation of a bigger security office with large-screen video monitoring.
When civic association president Rex Farr asked Mr. Falisi if he supported the NRA’s position that armed security is needed in schools following the last year’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Falisi said he opposed it.
“I want to make sure every child feels safe to get an education in our school,” Mr. Falisi said. “I don’t want to see handguns put into a school, but I want to see our schools have the best technology available to keep our children secure.”
Mr. Falisi and Ms. Lantz both touted the success they’ve had during their tenure on the board, including preserving programs and working collaboratively with the community to revise a capital improvement bond project, which voters approved in 2011. Both also noted that they were successful in preparing school budgets within the state mandated tax levy cap over the past two fiscal years.
When Mr. Farr asked candidates what they would bring to the school board, Ms. Lantz said, “Teamwork.”
“I feel we’ve created a sense of calm and mutual respect between the board and the community,” she said during her opening statement. “Let’s continue our momentum of integrity and respect for each other. Let’s keep on top of getting the state aid we so desperately need. Let’s keep this momentum of preserving programs for kids.”
Mr. Dorr, the parent of a Riverhead High School senior and 10-year-old twins who go to Riley Avenue Elementary, said he believes the school board has done an excellent job of maintaining student programs, but he’s concerned about the district’s readiness for new state mandates, such as requiring students to take assessments online by the 2014-15 school year.
The data coordinator for Nassau BOCES, Mr. Dorr said his main job responsibility is state reporting for school districts and he believes his experience will help Riverhead prepare for the future.
“It’s because of these skills I’ve acquired through this job that I’m running for school board,” he said. “I truly enjoy living in the community of Riverhead and I’ve figured it’s my time to give back.”
Mr. Dorr believes the district needs to invest in technology so that students have access to tablets, laptops and other devices in the classroom. He’d also like the district to better prepare teachers on the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The common core standards are a new set of national benchmarks designed to help public school students master language arts and mathematics. They require instructors to teach more non-fiction and more rigorous math to students at a younger age, with the goal of better preparing students for college and careers.
“It’s not whether we agree with these assessments or not,” Mr. Dorr said. “It’s how we are preparing to implement them.”