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What’s on the Riverhead ballot: School board race and budget vote info

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05/13/2017 6:00 AM |

Here’s a look at the ballot for the Riverhead school district. Check back Tuesday night for complete coverage.

Current budget: $130,669,295

Proposed budget: $136,388,547

Estimated tax levy increase: 3.77 percent

Referendum: Establish a $7.5 million capital reserve fund

Three open seats, five candidates: Christopher Dorr, Gregory John Fischer, Gregory Meyer, Yolanda Thompson and Therese Zuhoski

Polling takes place Tuesday, May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents vote at the elementary school a child living in their home would attend. For more information,
call 631-369-4724

What’s in the proposed budget?

Riverhead school district residents will vote Tuesday on a proposed $136.3 million spending plan that carries a tax levy increase of 3.77 percent, or nearly $3.6 million.

The estimated $3.6 million tax levy hike is the most the district could propose under the state-mandated tax levy cap. The tentative budget reflects a district spending increase of 4.38 percent — or roughly $5.7 million — according to Superintendent Nancy Carney.

Ms. Carney has said her proposed spending plan calls for additional resources to accommodate the district’s ballooning enrollment, which she said has increased by 600 students since 2009. In addition, she said, the number of English Language Learners increased by more than 1,000 students and the number of special education students rose by 281.

At least four English as a New Language teachers and two special education teachers are included in next year’s spending plan, Ms. Carney said, noting that other new hires include a technology position to serve both the high school and middle school.

The proposed budget also calls for hiring an assistant principal and a part-time social worker for Aquebogue Elementary School, due to increased enrollment there, and creates a districtwide director of fine arts position, Ms. Carney said.

The superintendent pointed to employee benefits and debt service, which increased by 8.79 percent to $39.45 million, as budget areas that will experience the biggest hikes in 2017-18.

Those expenses are related to additional health insurance costs and bond payments toward the 2011 voter-approved capital improvement project, she said.

As for revenue, the district expects to receive $29.4 million in state aid, which Ms. Carney said helped her administration prepare a budget that came in under the state-mandated tax cap.

Voters will also be asked to approve a proposition to create a $7.5 million repair reserve, where funds left unspent at the end of each school year could be placed and later used for recurring maintenance on district facilities.

Before spending any money from the repair reserve fund, however, the Board of Education must first identify the projects it intends to pursue, hold a public hearing and pass a resolution authorizing use of the repair reserve funds.

School district deputy superintendent Sam Schneider has said that only $736 remains in the 2011 reserve and $824,289 in the 2015 reserve. If voters approve the current proposed referendum, those accounts will be closed and their balances will be moved into the new $7.5 million repair reserve, Mr. Schneider said.

Meet the candidates

At least one newcomer will be elected Tuesday to the Riverhead Board of Education.

Kim Ligon, who has served since 2011, is not seeking re-election and her seat is up for grabs, as are those of incumbents Christopher Dorr of Baiting Hollow and Gregory Meyer of Calverton.

Both are seeking new three-year terms. They will face challengers Greg Fischer, Yolanda Thompson and Therese Zuhoski.

CHRISTOPHER DORR (INCUMBENT)

Mr. Dorr, 48, was first elected in 2013 and works as a data analyst for the South Country School District. He has twins in eighth grade. Mr. Dorr volunteers for Riverhead’s PAL and is a lacrosse referee.

He has an MBA from Clarkson University, a bachelor’s in economics from SUNY/Potsdam, teaching certifications in elementary education and secondary social studies education and a postgraduate chief information officer certificate from Pace University.

Mr. Dorr is focused on maintaining student programs as enrollment increases and believes more pressure needs to be put on state and federal officials to increase school aid.

“Many of our new students entering Riverhead do not speak English and have limited or non-continuous education,” he said. “We need to provide support for these students to be successful.”

Mr. Dorr said he believes voters should choose him and his running mates — Mr. Meyer and Ms. Zuhoski — because they’re the “candidates with experience working with the district and the students.”

“We all pay taxes and I understand the burden that places on our families,” he said, “but a well-run school provides opportunities for our students and our community.”

GREGORY-JOHN FISCHER (CHALLENGER)

Mr. Fischer, 60, of Calverton, is a “semi-retired business management and strategic turnaround consultant.” He has a son in seventh grade and a daughter in fourth grade. Mr. Fischer’s volunteer work includes the Service Corps of Retired Executives under the U.S. Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce and he is an elected board member of Americans for Legal Reform in Huntington. His background includes over 35 years in organizational and business consulting and he also provides pro-se litigant for public interest causes.

Mr. Fischer said tax increases need to be brought in under the CPI and believes the district should hire a grant writer and explore ways to reduce costs like energy.

“Because of my business background,” he explained, “if anyone can cut taxes — I can.”

Mr. Fischer said he’s the best candidate for the job because he has “zero conflicts of interest.” If elected, he’ll focus on improving the district’s graduation rate and continue to video record meetings and post them online.

“I am open and honest about the road ahead and what must be done to improve conditions,” he said. “I will not be part of any effort to conceal problems.”

GREGORY MEYER (INCUMBENT)

Mr. Meyer, 48, of Calverton, has served since 2008 and works as a firefighter and EMT at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He’s also a volunteer coach at the middle school.

During his tenure, Mr. Meyer has attended biweekly meetings to discuss the district’s capital improvement bond, repair reserve projects, energy performance and relocation of the transportation facility. He’s also served on the district’s audit committee for eight years.

“I’m very proud of the results of our audits showing our finances and policies are sound and stable,” he said.

Mr. Meyer believes the biggest challenge facing the district is maintaining student programs within the state-mandated tax levy cap when increased enrollment isn’t fairly supported by state aid.

“Every child deserves an education and also needs to be college and career ready,” he said. “Forming new partnerships and trust throughout the communities and lobbying our local and state representatives for fair and proper aid to assist us to meet these challenges to truly put children first are the first steps we need to take.”

He’s also proud to campaign with candidates Christopher Dorr and Therese Zuhoski. His pitch for re-election is “kindness, cooperation, respect and kids first.”

YOLANDA THOMPSON (CHALLENGER)

Ms. Thompson, 45, of Aquebogue, is a “special education advocate” and personal care aide. She has children in sixth and 11th grades and volunteers at school functions.

She has a certificate in finance and banking from the Brookhaven Technical Institute and said she believes her financial background would benefit the district.

Her special education advocacy training came through Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy. She also received “mediation and parent member” training through the state education department.

Ms. Thompson believes the biggest challenges facing the district are rising education costs, fiscal transparency and improved public communication. She proposes seeking grants, using the robocall system to remind parents about board meetings and implementing a text messaging system to keep the public informed about important issues.

Ms. Thompson, who attends board meetings regularly, also put together a forum to discuss the state’s controversial Common Core standards.

“I have spent the past four years as an activist fighting against the harmful reforms in education that have hurt our students and teachers, traveling to Albany and meeting with legislators of the education committee,” she said. “My only goal is to improve education for all of our students and to foster better communication and engagement between our schools and our hard-working community.”

THERESE ZUHOSKI (CHALLENGER)

Ms. Zuhoski, 49, of Riverhead, is the mother of boys in sixth, ninth, 11th and 12th grades. She’s been involved with the district’s PTOs for several years and is currently president of the Pulaski Street School, middle school and high school groups. Her volunteerism also includes serving on the PTO executive council, the district’s health and safety committee and Riverhead CAP. She has a Master of Social Work from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Marist College. Ms. Zuhoski believes her background in psychology and her experience working in human resources would benefit the school board.

Her vision is to bridge the gap between the community and schools to promote camaraderie throughout town.

“We have always come together in full force in times of crisis and need,” she said. “Togetherness has been a strong and consistent reaction from our community to families in our community who experience unexpected loss, hardship and struggle. How incredible would it be if all of our kids and guardians could feel that same sense of openness and group acceptance all the time?”

Ms. Zuhoski said she stands with incumbents Christopher Dorr and Gregory Meyer to “strive to make Riverhead thrive.”

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