First-year Riverhead Board of Education trustee Laurie Downs said Tuesday that she’d like to see the district include the salaries and educational backgrounds of new hires on school board agendas.
And she appears to have the support of some — but perhaps not all — of her fellow board members on the transparency initiative.
Ms. Downs, who was sworn in this July, and campaigned in part on increasing transparency with the public, raised the issue during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.
Ms. Downs said all of the information is public and can be accessed by filling out a Freedom of Information Law request, so why not just share it from the get-go?
“It’s their money and we’re spending it it,” she said of the taxpayers. “I believe the public has every right to see these numbers.”
Ms. Downs then read a letter from fellow board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, who was absent from the meeting. In her letter, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse backed Ms. Downs’ sentiments.
“It is after all a matter of public record,” wrote Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, a former teacher and union president in the district. “To not make this information public makes it appear that the BOE has something to hide, which could not be further from the truth.”
Fellow board member Amelia Lantz agreed, saying as long as providing the information in the agenda doesn’t violate any privacy practices, she believes sharing the information would be beneficial for all.
Board president Susan Koukounas had a different opinion. She said including the salaries on the agenda could lead the public to incorrectly think the board is voting on the dollar amounts staff and faculty make.
Instead the salaries are contractual and predetermined, she said. Ms. Downs said a solution would be to include language on the agenda stating that the salaries are contractual.
At the conclusion of the meeting, numerous community members spoke in agreement with Ms. Downs.
“This really is public knowledge,” Flanders resident Susan Tocci said. “I don’t see any reason why this isn’t done right away. You have a lot of problems with taxpayers thinking things are hidden behind closed doors and Mrs. Lantz you said it perfect, this is like an olive branch out to the community and the taxpayer.”
Aquebogue resident Yolanda Thompson agreed and asked the board what the next step is since tonight was just a discussion, but no action was taken. When Ms. Koukounas didn’t provide an immediate answer, another community member addressed the board with the same question.
After some back and forth, Ms. Koukounas repeated that Tuesday was just a discussion of a longtime policy and no plans were in place to vote on it. Ms. Lantz then asked that the issue be raised again at the next Board of Education meeting Oct. 18.
“I think the public deserves an answer,” she said.
Photo Caption: Superintendent Nancy Carney, board president Susan Koukounas, vice president Amelia Lantz and board member Chris Dorr at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)