The Riverhead School Board of Education is leaning toward filling two open seats, left vacant following the abrupt resignations of Amelia Lantz and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse last month, with candidates they hope to appoint after an interview process.
Board member Laurie Downs proposed the board fill the two-year vacancy, left open by Ms. Lantz’s resignation, after conducting an interview process but said she thinks Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s remaining one-year seat could be left open until May.
Trustee Chris Dorr agreed that conducting an interview process was the best option, but felt both positions should be filled for one year. Greg Meyer, the newly elected president, agreed the positions should be filled, but didn’t specify whether they be filled for one or two years.
“I agree that we can’t go a full year down two [board members],” said Mr. Meyer, who was elected as president with a four to one vote. Ms. Downs opposed his appointment.
Sue Koukounas, the newly elected vice president, added that if only one position is filled, it should be the two-year position.
“We already have the opening in May for the second,” she said.
The board faces three options: appointing people to the vacant seats, holding a special election or leaving the seats open until the regularly scheduled election next May.
Ms. Downs and Mr. Meyer also inquired about the cost of holding a special election to allow taxpayers to fill the vacancies, which Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider said he’d get back to them with.
Mr. Schneider also advised that if they appoint people to Ms. Lantz’s remaining two-year seat they can only fill that position for one year and then have to run in the election in May 2018. He added that he wanted to double check that information with the district’s lawyers before the school board makes any decision.
The board is expected to discuss their options again at the next board meeting.
Some community members, however, disagreed with the board’s likely path.
“Don’t host a special election, don’t put this on the taxpayers,” Flanders resident Susan Tocci said. “Appoint Yolanda [Thompson] and Greg [Fischer].”
Ms. Thompson and Mr. Fischer ran against Mr. Meyer, Mr. Dorr and Therese Zuhoski, who were sworn onto the board at Thursday night’s meeting, in the election in May, but received the fewest votes.
Calverton resident Sal Mastropaolo agreed that Ms. Thompson and Mr. Fischer should be chosen to fill the vacancies, but felt that if the board doesn’t decide to give them the seats a special election should be held.
Ms. Thompson also agreed, reminding the board that she had the backing of 845 voters in May.
“The answer on how to fill the seats is right here,” she said. “Eight hundred and forty-five people have spoken.”
Mr. Fischer also spoke, and called for the resignation of any board members who participated in the alleged illegal acts Ms. Lantz and Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse referenced in their resignation letters. This included board member quarrels and violations in procedure, such as acting “contrary to New York State Education Law and the Open Meetings Law in appointments made outside of the regular BOE meetings,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse wrote.
Both the board members and community members agreed the two open seats should be filled quickly. Mr. Meyer said he hoped the board could make a decision on which option to pursue at the next meeting and then go forward from there.
The next board meeting is 7 p.m. Aug. 15.
Photo Caption: Yolanda Thompson, who ran for the school board in May but didn’t receive enough seats to be appointed, called for the board to appoint the two next highest vote getters from last May’s election at Thursday’s meeting (Credit: Rachel Siford).
Correction: Ms. Thompson’s last name was listed incorrectly in an earlier reference. Mr. Dorr and Mr. Fischer’s last names were also misspelled.