08/23/13 8:00am
Joe Ogeka retires from Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe Ogeka talks to Riverhead school officials on election night.

Recently retired Riverhead School District administrator Joe Ogeka will be paid his full salary throughout the coming school year as he assists the district with “transition and restructuring,” according to an agreement between Mr. Ogeka and the district.

The agreement was unanimously approved by the school board and signed by board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse on June 25. It was obtained by the News-Review through a Freedom of Information Law request. [Scroll down to view Mr. Ogeka's agreement]

Superintendent Nancy Carney said the plan to have Mr. Ogeka, who served as assistant superintendent for personnel and community services, stay with the district to assist with administrative transitions, came as a “clause in his original contract,” which was approved June 26, 2012, and was set to expire June 30, 2015. Mr. Ogeka retired this past June after working in the district for about 30 years. His total annual salary, listed on SeeThroughNY.net is $173,041.

“There’s a clause,” Ms. Carney explained. “We had to give him his 12 months and he does get his salary. We have to fulfill the contract.”

When reached for comment Tuesday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said she believed Mr. Ogeka’s unused sick time was being used to make up his salary.

When told by a reporter that the agreement states Mr. Ogeka is entitled to his accrued sick and vacation time in addition to his full salary for the 2013-14 school years, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said, “I don’t know exactly how it was worded, but I thought that the sick time made up the salary. That was my understanding.”

She also said she didn’t know the details of what Mr. Ogeka’s day-to-day duties would be in the district.

“That’s really not our purview,” she said. “It’s Nancy Carney’s, because she is in charge of making the district office run. We don’t micromanage that. I can’t comment on what he’s going to be doing.”

Later Tuesday, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse left the News-Review a voicemail message in which she said she had since spoken with Ms. Carney and she wanted to make it clear that if she had given the impression that she didn’t know Mr. Ogeka was to receive a year’s salary, then she had “misrepresented” the matter.

“I knew he was getting the year’s salary, but I thought that it was coming from unused sick days,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said. “In reality, it was a clause in his contract that said if he was going to be replaced or … excessed, he got 12 months notice.

“He’s been talking about retiring for a couple of years,” she said.

Ms. Carney described the 12-month agreement as a retirement incentive that was included in Mr. Ogeka’s original contract that would go into effect should the district choose not to fill his position. The 12 months pay was also referred to as an incentive in the agreement.

She added Mr. Ogeka’s salary was budgeted for the 2013-14 school year. Since the district hasn’t filled the position, she said, his salary isn’t costing the district any additional money.

Asked why Mr. Ogeka and the district had parted ways, Ms. Carney said he had “talked about wanting to retire and the district is looking to go in a new direction … It was mutually agreeable for both parties. We’re going in a different direction and, during that time, he’s completely available to us for anything we need.”

The agreement also includes clauses that would preclude Mr. Ogeka from filing any claims against the district.

Mr. Ogeka’s agreement, June 25, 2013

07/24/13 6:00am
07/24/2013 6:00 AM
Bus_Garage_BE_R.jpg

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead School District plans to form a committee to decide if the district should keep its bus facility in Riverhead or relocate it.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday the district is planning to form a committee tasked with finding a solution to deal with the district’s crumbling bus barn.

Ms. Carney said during the school board’s regular meeting that residents will be invited to join the committee and further details about the volunteer group will be released in September through a press release.

The maintenance and storage facility located between district athletic fields on Harrison Avenue in Riverhead was first built in 1920 to house horses and has fallen into despair. Discussions on what to do with it had been put on the back burner due to budget constraints, Ms. Carney has said. (The district posted photos of the dilapidated condition of the facility earlier this year on its website.)

Residents voted down a May 21 proposition that would have allowed the district to acquire two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside. The deal would have given the district access to a nearby industrial park, and then to Route 24.

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association opposed the project because it believed a school bus facility’s tax exemption goes against a revitalization plan nearly a decade in the making. After association members claimed the district failed to include the community in the planning process, it organized a campaign to have the Riverside land deal defeated.

When asked by a reporter if the Riverside location is officially off the table, Ms. Carney said the district will look into it again if the committee decides that the location is the best place for the bus garage.

“That’s the only way,” she said. “We’re going to brainstorm what are our options are: finding a place to move it to or renovating it in its place.”

Ms. Carney said the community-based planning process will be similar to the district’s Community Partnership for Revitalization committee, known as CPR, which was made up of district residents and employees. The volunteer group was asked to revise an infrastructure upgrade plan after the district’s proposed bond project was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in 2010. Residents ultimately approved a $78.3 million capital improvement bond project in 2011.

Ms. Carney updated the school board about those bond projects during Tuesday night’s meeting and said construction at Phillips Avenue, Riley Avenue and Aquebogue elementary schools is under way and detailed upcoming projects planned for the high school.

Reconfiguration of bus loops is being done at Riley Avenue and Aquebogue elementary schools, a sidewalk is being added to Edgar Avenue near the Aquebogue school and the second part of Phillips Avenue’s playground is being completed, she said.

The elementary schools will also receive new windows through an energy performance contract, which Ms. Carney said is separate from the voter-approved bond.

As for the high school, the front parking area and entrance will be closed once construction begins within the next two weeks, she said. The original auditorium is slated to get new flooring and seating. New flooring and bleachers are also being installed in the gym, Ms. Carney said.

“We’re in full construction mode,” she said. “There’s an incredible amount of work going on and we’re excited that we’re going to have buildings that look brand new come September.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

07/23/13 12:00pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Construction at Aquebogue Elementary School on Main Road is expected to be completed in September.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Construction at Aquebogue Elementary School on Main Road is scheduled to be completed in September.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney is expected to discuss ongoing capital improvement projects within the district at tonight’s school board meeting.

During the board’s May 7 meeting, the district’s planning consultants said the $78.3 million bond project approved by voters in 2011 remains on schedule with the exception of work being done at the high school.

Work at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside, Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton and Aquebogue Elementary School will be completed by September, school officials have said.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back later for an update.

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, July 23, 2013

06/20/13 12:00pm
Joe Ogeka retires from Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe Ogeka talks to Riverhead school officials on election night.

Longtime Riverhead School District assistant superintendent Joe Ogeka will retire at the end of this month after 30 years in the district.

Mr. Ogeka was not among the retirees announced at the Jun 11 school board meeting, when he was the one presenting plaques to the 31 district employees who are retiring at the end of this year, including another assistant superintendent, Lois Etzel.

But while rumors spread Wednesday that Mr. Ogeka was being forced out of the position, Superintendent Nancy Carney said this is not the case.

“Mr. Ogeka has been contemplating retiring for over a year,” she said. “He is retiring after many years of dedicated service.”

The retirements of two assistant superintendents has set off a change of other changes in district administrative positions.

Ms. Carney said current high school principal David Wicks will be replacing Ms. Etzel as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and insruction.

Assistant high school principal Charles Regan will replace Mr. Wicks as principal, and Sean O’Hara, who is the district’s director of fine arts and music, will replace Mr. Regan as assistant high school principal, according to Ms. Carney.

In addition, Stephen Hudson, who is the associate principal at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School, will take that same position at the Pulaski Street Elementary School, while Pulaski Street’s current assistant principal, Alison Conroy, will take that same position at Phillips Avenue, according to Ms. Carney.

“This is a mutually agreed upon opportunity to broaden their experiences,” she said of that switch.

The changes would take effect at the beginning of July, pending board of education approval.

The district has yet to name a replacement for Mr. Ogeka’s position of assistant superintendent for personnel and community service.

Mr. Ogeka is the district’s longest serving administrator, having been an associate high school principal prior to moving to the district office in 2003.

tgannon@timesreview.com

05/03/13 11:00am
Riverhead bus plan in Riverside

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Under the current plan, buses would be leaving Enterprise Zone Drive (above) and turning onto Route 24 in Riverside.

Residents are set to speak out tonight against the Riverhead School District’s proposal to demolish and replace the bus barn at its main campus with a new garage and maintenance facility outside Phillips Avenue School in Riverside.

First built in 1920 as a barn for horses, the current structure has fallen into despair, school officials have said. In March, the school board decided it best to relocate its entire fleet of buses and repair facility.

But the location of the proposed facility has caused concern among some Riverside residents.

“The whole idea of relocating the existing facility to the Phillips Avenue grade school is in our opinion insulting at best,” Vincent Taldone, a member of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association, said in an email he sent to residents on Thursday.

He complained students at Phillips Avenue School will have to look at an unsightly, ”giant bus parking lot,” and “our residential neighbors should not be inhaling fumes from a fleet of buses of which only a few vehicles actually serve our community.”

The Flanders Riverside North Hampton Community Association will be joined by members of the Bayview Pines Civic And Taxpayers Association for a public forum to address the issue tonight, Friday, at the Crohan Center at 7:30 pm.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney is expected to attend.

Ms. Carney has said the plans were designed specifically to prevent buses from traveling through residential areas.

District voters are being asked on May 21, during the school budget vote, to approve two propositions on the ballot to move forward with the new bus plan.

The first will appear as Proposition No. 1 on the ballot, requesting the creation of what officials are calling a Transportation, Maintenance and Athletic Fields Capital Reserve Fund, which can reach $10 million over 10 years.

The reserve fund’s first deposit would come from a sale involving district-owned farmland on Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue. The district acquired 27 acres on the east side of Tuthills Lane in 1965 and is now looking to sell development rights at the land to Suffolk County for agricultural purposes. Officials estimate the sale would be worth more than $1 million dollars.

A second pitch, called Proposition No. 2, asks voters to use the proceeds of the sale to purchase two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School for no more than $480,000 combined.

One property was described by Riverhead schools superintendent Nancy Carney as a 1.4-acre “paper road” that would be purchased for no more than $55,000, and the other is for an adjoining 1.5-acre parcel in what’s called Riverside Enterprise Park — a small industrial park at the site of the old Flanders drive-in theater property. According to the proposition, the second parcel would be purchased for no more than $425,000.

Although district officials don’t plan to build anything on these properties, the district needs them because school buses leaving the facility would need to cross the two properties in order to reach Enterprise Zone Drive, which encircles the industrial park, and then make their way to Route 24, officials said.

cmurray@timesreview.com


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04/23/13 10:00pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead school board members voting on resolutions Tuesday night. The board also adopted the 2013-14 budget.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead school board members voting on resolutions Tuesday night. The board also adopted the 2013-14 budget.

Update: The Riverhead Board of Education adopted Superintendent Nancy Carney’s proposed $117.6 million budget carrying an estimated 3.82 percent increase to next year’s tax levy Tuesday night by a 5-0 vote. School board members Jeff Falisi and Kimberly Ligon were absent from the meeting.

Previous coverage:

The Riverhead school board is expected to adopt Superintendent Nancy Carney’s proposed $117.6 million budget — which carries an estimated 3.82 percent year-to-year tax levy increase — at tonight’s meeting.

The proposed spending increase for the 2013-14 school year, compared to this school year, is about $5.7 million, up 5.12 percent.

Under the plan, no one is being laid off, and the budget maintains student programs and extracurricular activities.

During a special meeting last Wednesday, the school board voted 6-0 to use just over $100,000 from existing reserve funds to implement new district-wide security measures. It rejected another option to raise the proposed tax levy increase from 3.82 to 3.94 percent to cover the costs. School board member Kimberly Ligon was absent from the meeting.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as $1.13 million in pension expenses and about $2.36 million in capital costs in Riverhead, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Ms. Carney said Riverhead is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 5.14 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval. But, she said, it was her administration and the school board’s goal to present a budget to voters under the state’s allowable tax levy rate.

Earlier this month, Ms. Carney gave a budget presentation during a regular school board meeting and said a chunk of additional aid the state Legislature secured in February for the district will help offset next year’s tax levy increase.

The state aid boost wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked $18.75 million in state aid for the Riverhead district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been a 6.37 percent boost over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 16.17 percent increase, totaling $20.45 million.

In addition to increased revenue, the district was successful in reducing $2 million from the expenditure side of next year’s spending plan through a retirement incentive agreement. Without the agreement, Ms. Carney has said next year’s spending plan would need to increase by about $6.6 million carrying a tax levy increase of 7.48 percent.

Although each employee who takes the retirement incentive will receive $20,000, Ms. Carney said the move will still save the district over $70,000 per employee that accepts the offer.

When residents go to cast their vote on the budget May 21, they will also be asked to approve two propositions involving replacement of the bus barn off Osborn Avenue, which houses the transportation and maintenance departments and was first built in 1920 as a barn for horses.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back later for an update.

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, April 22, 2013

04/18/13 2:00pm
04/18/2013 2:00 PM

Riverhead parent Angela Partridge’s 8-year-old son arrived late to school Wednesday morning. She dropped him off at Riley Elementary School in Calverton about 11 a.m. to join his third-grade class.

The late start wasn’t due to a faulty alarm clock. It was because Ms. Partridge didn’t want her son to sit quietly in a room — away from his classmates and teacher for 90 minutes — reading a book by himself while a small group of students requiring assistance took an exam he was scheduled to take.

That was how her son spent his time the day before, Tuesday, after refusing — at his mother’s request — to take the state-mandated English assessment.

Ms. Partridge and other parents across Long Island and New York State have committed to have their children “opt out” of taking state tests this week, a statement they are making to Albany to express their displeasure with its testing model.

“For the past two months, they’ve just been preparing for these tests,” Ms. Partridge said about her son’s class. “It’s taking them away from the enrichment of what third grade is supposed to be.”

The mother of three said she sent a letter to principal David Enos and Superintendent Nancy Carney last week explaining why she doesn’t want her son take the state assessments.

“I’m not against testing,” Ms. Partridge said. “I think it’s great, as long as it’s written by the teacher and is appropriate for the students.”

Many educators predict dramatic drops in their students’ standardized test scores — not because students aren’t prepared, but because new standards have resulted in exams that are more rigorous than in years past.

This year, English and math state assessments include elements of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The common core standards are a new set of national benchmarks to help public school students master language arts and mathematics. It requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age. The move aims to better prepare students for college and careers.

The state’s lesson plans are created and updated frequently online at engageny.org.

The results of the new assessments are also tied to the state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required them each to implement their own APPR program.

Riverhead Charter School principal Raymond Ankrum told the News-Review he believes a growing number of parents are becoming concerned about how the state is measuring the growth of students and educators.

RAYMOND ANKRUM

RAYMOND ANKRUM

“I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with [opting out],” he said, adding that as of Wednesday, only one of his students had refused to take state assessments. “However, I must say that I am extremely impressed with parents exercising their right to do what they think is best for their students.”

Ms. Carney confirmed Wednesday that out of 2,177 Riverhead students in grades 3 through 8, seven students who were present declined to take tests.

“We followed state regulations, which states that ‘All students must have an exam placed in front of them, students must place their name on the exam and the directions must be read to them,” Ms. Carney said in an email. “If, at that time, a student chooses not to take the exam, the test is coded as such. Teachers were to let the student read quietly until the end of testing time.”

“As per the [state Department of Education], there is no ‘opt-out’ option,” she said of the phrase, which could be misleading.

Over at the Shoreham-Wading River School District, Superintendent Steven Cohen said Wednesday about 20 students out of nearly 1,200 students in grades 3 through 6 didn’t take the test.

According to a letter from the state Education Department issued in January to schools, there will be a “negative impact” on a school district’s accountability if it fails to meet a 95 percent participation rate in state testing.

“State testing is considered an important part of instruction in education programs,” the letter states. “It provides an evaluation of student mastery of content and skills in various courses of study and helps shape future instruction.”

Riverhead Central Faculty Association union president Barbara Barosa said this week the Riverhead district’s policy is to “not encourage nor discourage students opting out.”

“Parents need to do whatever they feel is necessary,” she said.

Ms. Barosa said she’s organizing a June 8 trip to Albany for a rally, not only to discuss the new state tests, but other issues parents and educators have about how children are being educated. [For more information on the rally, call (631) 727-2262.]

Ms. Partridge said she understands the position educators are in, and believes a grassroots effort, such as the Facebook group, called “Long Island Opt-out Info,” is the best way to currently deal with state assessment concerns.

“I feel they really need the parents to stand up to say, ‘This isn’t right,’” she said. “[Educators’] hands are really tied.

“But I think if we don’t do something then nothing will happen.”

jennifer@timesreview.com

Read more in next week’s News-Review newspaper.

Follow News-Review education reporter Jennifer Gustavson @jengust

04/10/13 5:00am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the tax levy.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the proposed tax levy increase.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney announced Tuesday that a chunk of additional aid the state Legislature secured last month for the district will help offset next year’s tax levy increase.

The state aid boost wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked $18.75 million in state aid for the Riverhead district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been a 6.37 percent boost over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 16.17 percent increase, totaling $20.45 million.

Ms. Carney said during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night in the high school auditorium that her $117.5 million spending plan proposal for next school year — if approved by voters — would increase the tax levy by 3.82 percent over this school year.

The spending plan includes applying $1.16 million of the extra $1.7 million in state aid money to cutting down the tax levy increase.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as $1.13 million in pension expenses and about $2.36 million in capital costs, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Ms. Carney said Riverhead is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 5.14 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval.

In an interview after the meeting, she said the amount of the unexpected state aid boost that would go toward reducing the proposed tax levy increase was determined after deducting some other costs that have come up during the budget process.

Some of those items include a reduction in federal aid from the federal budget cuts known as “the sequester,” and an estimated increase in expenses for students planning to attend the Riverhead Charter School’s new seventh-grade class. A recent projection of student enrollment also shows the district will need to add an extra special education classes next year, she said.

“We deducted those additional expenditures from the overage of the state aid and the rest is putting toward the tax levy,” Ms. Carney said.

The school board is also looking into the feasibility of using some of the state aid money to pay for security upgrades. School board member Jeffrey Falisi suggested investing in an enhanced surveillance system he described as an “eye in the sky.” It involves installing cameras in hallways, at entrances and outside buildings at all facilities, he said, and a single control room would monitor the entire district. Although there’s a cost to purchasing the new technology, Mr. Falisi said he believes the system will be more efficient and cost effective in the long run.

“It will be nothing compared to hiring [more security], pensions, medical, once we get passed the initial cost,” he said.

The school board agreed to schedule a public meeting April 17 to discuss the idea further.

The school board is scheduled to adopt its proposed budget April 23.

It goes before voters in May 21.

jennifer@timesreview.com