SWR voters oust incumbents; school budgets approved

Every family knows a trip to Disney World can cost a fortune. For school board members in the Shoreham-Wading River School District, one cost them a seat at the table. 

Following revelations that the district used more than $150,000 to send seniors on a trip to the Orlando theme park this school year, voters overwhelmingly rejected bids by the board president and a longtime trustee to gain re-election.

Tuesday’s vote, plus the recent resignation of another longtime school board trustee and a decision by one other to not seek re-election, means a majority of newcomers will guide the district in the coming school year. And they’ll do so operating with a school spending plan that was narrowly approved.

Just 53 percent of voters supported the district’s $74.8 million 2017-18 budget, with 1,112 voting in favor and 992 in opposition. A proposition to establish a $7.5 million capital reserve fund was also approved.

“I’m thrilled that the budget passed,” said interim superintendent Neil Lederer. “Mistakes were made perhaps, but we corrected them going forward and I think the community realized that, supported us and it’s a great relief.”

Shoreham-Wading River had again budgeted $40,000 toward educational portions of the annual Disney trip, but that money was transferred to other portions of the spending plan on the evening it was adopted by the board.

The backlash over the spending reached a fervor after Newsday reported on the $150,000 trip with a front-page article in April. Both Newsday and the News-Review published editorials that week admonishing the district against the expense.

The controversy certainly lit a spark with district residents who turned out in force to cast a ballot Tuesday. The 2,104 votes reflects a 33 percent increase over the previous year and the largest turnout since 2011 — the year the state property tax cap was approved.

This was good news for school board newcomers Katie Andersen, Henry Perez and Erin Hunt, who were each elected to three-year terms. A fourth challenger, Michael Yannucci, finished fourth in balloting and will serve in the seat left vacant earlier this year by the resignation of Michael Fucito. That term has just one year left on it.

The departure of Mr. Fucito and fellow trustee William McGrath, who did not seek re-election, plus the election loss of president John Zukowski and member Jack Costas, means more than 50 years of experience will be leaving the board this year. The district also recently hired a first-time superintendent in Gerard Poole, who currently works as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Freeport School District. He starts July 1.

The board’s newest members said they’re up to the task.

“I am so relived that with budget passed and the Proposition 2 passed,” said Ms. Andersen, the top vote-getter. “It’s great news for our community and I am very thankful to the voters for the election.”

Mr. Perez also praised the approval of the spending plan and said he’s looking forward to a future serving district residents.

“Hopefully I’ve gained the constituents’ faith and can live up to their expectations and move the school district forward,” he said.


Newest Riverhead School Board member Therese Zuhoski (right) is congratulated by member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse as fellow trustee Christopher Dorr looks on.

NO SURPRISES IN RIVERHEAD

Therese Zuhoski is the newest member of the Riverhead Board of Education after receiving the most votes in Tuesday’s election.

Even so, she had a delayed reaction to the news as she failed to pick on that fact due to all the commotion surrounding the announcement.

“I’m excited about the support I received from the community,” she said after being told she’d earned the most votes in a five-way election for three seats. “It just goes to show the community is extremely supportive of the work that I’ve done.”

Ms. Zuhoski also attributed her win to campaigning as a team with this year’s incumbents Christopher Dorr and Gregory Meyer, who were each re-elected to three-year terms. Challengers Yolanda Thompson and Greg Fischer failed to gain enough support to earn a seat.

Mr. Dorr and Mr. Meyer both said they’re looking forward to working with Ms. Zuhoski.

“I’m excited to work with Therese on the school board, but at the same time saddened [Kim Ligon] is finishing the last of her few [years on the board],” Mr. Meyer said.

Mr. Dorr said he’s “excited the voters came out and I’m looking forward to getting back to work.”

The school board and administrators will be working with a $136.4 million spending plan approved by 60 percent of voters Tuesday. Taxpayers also supported a referendum to establish a $7.5 million capital reserve fund.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said she’s thankful for the community’s continued support of the budget and capital reserve referendums.

“We work very hard to present a budget to the voters that really keeps our programs in place, provides everything our students need and is something the taxpayers can support,” she said.

Voter turnout was on par with the prior year.

Top Caption: Shoreham-Wading River school board incumbents John Zukowski and Jack Costas learn of their fate Tuesday. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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RIVERHEAD

Proposed budget: $136,388,547

YES 1,419

NO 961

Referendum: Establish a $7.5 million capital reserve fund

YES 1,526

NO 828

Board of Education

Three open seats

Therese Zuhoski 1,695

Christopher Dorr 1,559

Gregory Meyer 1,487

Yolanda Thompson 801

Gregory John Fischer 727


SHOREHAM-WADING RIVER

Proposed budget: $74,842,972

YES 1,112

NO 992

Referendum: Establish a $7.5 million capital reserve fund

YES 1,282

NO 813

Board of Education

Four open seats

Katie Andersen 1,318

Henry Perez 1,303

Erin Hunt 1,279

Michael Yannucci 1,087

James Smith 1,015

Jack Costas 563

John Zukowski 524

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