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

03/20/13 6:00am
Riverhead bus barn

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The bus barn on Harrison Avenue is used for mini-bus storage and houses the Riverhead School District’s transportation and maintenance departments.

Riverhead School District officials are hoping to set in motion a long-term plan that would see the district’s dilapidated bus barn at its main campus leveled and replaced with a new garage and maintenance facility outside Phillips Avenue School in Riverside.

And officials are taking the piggy bank approach.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to add two propositions to the coming May 21 budget vote, both 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.

“The garage is in extraordinarily bad repair and will be condemned in the future,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. “As a district it’s our responsibility to have a plan going forward. We don’t want to be shortsighted.”

The first proposition will ask voter permission to establish what Ms. Carney described as a savings account, which will appear in Proposition No. 1 on the ballot as a Transportation, Maintenance and Athletic Fields Capital Reserve Fund that can reach $10 million over 10 years.

The reserve fund’s first big cash infusion, officials said, would come in the form of proceeds from district-owned farmland on Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue.

The district acquired 27 acres on the east side of Tuthills Lane for $34,000 in 1965 with the intention of building a school there, according to News-Review archives. That never happened, and a plan unveiled in 2008 to build a YMCA and bus barn on the property never came to fruition either, due to opposition from neighbors.

The district is now planning to sell development rights at the land to Suffolk County, a measure that would ensure the property can only be used for agricultural purposes. After that happens, and Ms. Carney is confident it will, the district would sell the actual property to a private farm operation.

Although a potential sales price was not disclosed, the board in May 2012 unanimously approved a resolution agreeing to sell development rights at the property to the county for $1.3 million.

“This is a long-term plan [involving] the sale of the property at Tuthills,” Ms. Carney explained to the board and meeting attendees Tuesday night. “I did meet with [Suffolk County Legislator] Al Krupski last week to talk about” the county acquiring the development rights.

“He’s very hopeful to introduce legislation to do so,” she said.

The reserve fund would also be added to through other means as the years progress, and as board members allocate money and plan future budgets.

A second pitch that will go to voters in May, called Ballot Proposition No. 2, also involves the bus barn and Tuthills Lane land proceeds.

That proposition will ask for permission to use Tuthills money to purchase two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School for no more than $480,000 combined.

One property was described by Ms. Carney as a largely useless (development-wise) 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, that 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 if school officials want to move forward with plans to build a new garage for its bus fleet at Phillips Avenue Elementary School property.  The 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.

Ms. Carney said the district does not want to be running buses through residential areas, and this route would be all-industrial land.

She also stressed the propositions are all about planning, and nothing would be happening overnight.

“One of the criticisms we’ve faced is that we as a district never had plans in place for long-term maintenance,” she said early on at the meeting in the Riverhead High School auditorium. “And the bus garage was something that was taken out of the [voter-approved $78 million infrastructure improvement bond]. Through this, we will be able to have a saving plan as to what to do with the bus garage.”

But, she added, given the poor state of the bus barn, she hopes a new barn does get built much sooner than in 10 years.

The school board could also decide not to build a new barn on the Phillips Avenue property, she noted.

“So, as we go forward, we can decide to choose to sell the land [in Riverside],” she said, “but in the meantime we have established a plan that makes a lot of sense. It’s cost affective and won’t affect residents.”

Experts have informed school officials it would be cheaper to build a new garage rather than rehab the old barn, she said.

Resident Doreen Moore of Calverton, who toured the bus barn and other buildings during her time on the committee that helped hammer out the $78 million improvement bond proposition approved in 2011, spoke out in support of the plans for the bus barn.

“When I went through this building, I could not believe what I saw,” she recalled. “I really think the district is doing the right thing at putting this to the taxpayers at no expense.”

Ms. Carney also explained during a presentation that the athletic fields part of the Transportation, Maintenance and Athletic Fields Capital Reserve Fund name was included because district officials ultimately hope to use the property of the current bus barn for athletic fields.

Resident and school board watchdog Laurie Downs pointed out that the land is likely laden with pollutants.

“Absolutely,” Ms. Carney responded. “That’s been looked into in the overall cost. We don’t know what we’re going to find under there.”

Ms. Carney said the bus barn had fallen into such a bad state, and is “crumbling” mainly “because it doesn’t affect students directly.”

“It’s always something we’ve pulled out of the budget,” she said, adding small measures have been made to keep the barn usable and safe. “We have a very competent maintenance staff and we are constantly making sure [things are safe] and using Band-Aids.”

In other school board news, two seats on the seven-member Riverhead school board are up for re-election this year, those of Amelia Lantz and Jeff Falisi.

Applications to run for school board are available at the district office at 700 Osborn Avenue.

The deadline for the unpaid position is April 22. Terms run for three years.

mwhite@timesreview.com

03/13/13 3:40pm
03/13/2013 3:40 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney speaks at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

After being made aware of allegations of improper security at the February 5  boys basketball game, we conducted an investigation by interviewing those in attendance and reviewing security camera footage.  It is clear to me that our security guards, including Senior Guard Don Henderson, acted appropriately throughout the game in keeping order and enforcing civility in the crowd.  I applaud the efforts of Mr. Henderson and the other guards, along with the Riverhead Town Police, who prevented the incident from escalating into a physical confrontation.

The allegations made by a Smithtown resident and his daughter were serious, but it is clear to me that the facts do not back up their version of events.  I have no doubt that they found the incident to be unsettling, but the reactions of our security guards were appropriate and helpful.

Riverhead High School athletic events are intended to be welcoming to all fans who are there to support student athletes as they compete in their chosen sports.  We recognize that fans can become enthusiastic as they cheer on the players.  We welcome that zest and enthusiasm as long as it falls within the confines of good sportsmanship and behavior.  Our security guards are well aware of that policy and work professionally to enforce those rules.

02/11/13 5:00pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | This weekend’s snowfall and the dangerous road conditions that followed forced Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River schools to close Monday.

Children across Riverhead Town had a ball in the white stuff earlier this week, but they’ll pay later to make up for those snow days.

Both Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River school districts are already out of snow days due to multiple school closures during Hurricane Sandy and the storm’s aftermath.

And school officials are now finding themselves reducing vacation days.

To make up for Monday’s snow day, officials said the Riverhead School District will be open March 25, which was part of a five-day spring break. The Riverhead school board designated two other spring break vacation days, March 27 and March 28, as regular school days if the district requires any additional snow days.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated the region in late October, school districts across Long Island revised their calendars after closing for several days. This was done to comply with the state’s mandate of requiring districts to offer a minimum of 180 school days.

The Riverhead school board revised its calendar, requiring students to make up Sandy-lost days on Nov. 6 and May 28, both superintendent’s conference days.

The Shoreham-Wading River School District, which lost five school days due to Sandy, has already declared mid-winter vacation days, Feb. 21, Feb. 22 and one spring break vacation day, April 1, as regular school days. Since the district was closed on Monday and Tuesday due to the blizzard, it will now also be opened for classes Feb. 19 and Feb. 20.

The diminished five-day mid-winter break leaves students with only one day off on Feb. 18, Presidents’ Day.

If the Shoreham-Wading River School District needs to declare any additional school days, the school board has designated, in this order, March 27 and March 25 as days that would become regular school days.

When asked why the district required an additional snow day this week, Superintendent Steven Cohen said, “Buses simply can’t negotiate the streets safely.”

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney also said Riverhead schools were closed because of unsafe driving conditions.

Ms. Carney also confirmed the boiler at Riley Avenue Elementary School broke down sometime during the blizzard and has since been fixed.

None of five school districts in Southold Town closed this week due to the storm, but each had a two-hour delayed opening Monday.

The delayed openings do not affect any vacation days.

jennifer@timesreview.com

02/05/13 12:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney will give a presentation on next year's budget at tonight's Riverhead Board of Education meeting.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Superintendent Nancy Carney will give a presentation on next year’s budget at tonight’s Riverhead Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Nancy Carney is expected to give a presentation on her preliminary 2013-14 budget at tonight’s Riverhead Board of Education meeting.

According to the school board agenda, Ms. Carney will discuss the general support, benefits and debt service components of next year’s spending plan.

Last May, residents approved a nearly $111.8 million budget for the current 2012-2013 school year that carried a 1.73 increase to the tax levy by a 1,703 to 1,061 vote.

The tax levy increase had fallen under the state-mandated tax cap.

The school board will also likely vote on a bill to approve a memorandum of agreement with the Riverhead Central Faculty Association “concerning the resolution of a grievance filed by a certain employee.” No other details about the agreement were immediately available.

The public portion of tonight’s school board meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda.

Riverhead Board of Education meeting agenda, Feb. 5, 2013

10/10/12 3:00pm

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in May with his lawyer John Ciarelli.

The Phillips Avenue fourth-grade teacher who’s facing weapons and drunken driving charges has been removed from the district’s payroll, school officials said.

Joe Johnson was taken off the payroll through Feb. 1, 2013, said Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney.

Mr. Johnson, who had been a high school basketball coach prior to his arrest and was the keynote speaker at the annual “Say No to Drugs” march in 2006, faces multiple gun charges after police allegedly caught him driving drunk in Southampton in April with an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car.

The top charge Mr. Johnson faces is a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail, authorities said.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May on criminal possession of a weapon and driving while intoxicated charges and pleaded not guilty.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, which was pleaded down from DWI.

“The district will continue to monitor the proceedings involving Mr. Johnson in Suffolk County Court and will take appropriate action upon the conclusion of the matter in criminal court,” Ms. Carney said.

She could not provide additional details about Mr. Johnson’s case.

In July, the school board approved the hiring of a substitute teacher to replace Mr. Johnson, who was reassigned to his home after the arrest.

04/17/12 8:00am

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney, left, and Board of Education president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse at a recent meeting.

The Riverhead school board is expected to adopt the superintendent’s proposed 2012-13 school year budget at Tuesday night’s board meeting.

Superintendent Nancy Carney has proposed a roughly $111.5 million spending plan for next school year, which trims more than $3.2 million to keep the district under the state’s 1.73 percent tax levy increase cap.

A state law passed last year limits increases in the tax levy, the amount of money the district can collect from taxpayers, at 2 percent, but other variables kept Riverhead’s cap at the lower 1.73 percent.

In February, the district cut $1.9 million from next year’s budget by issuing layoff notices to 21 employees, including 12 teachers and nine teaching assistants. Last month,  Ms. Carney said unexpected increases in state aid will mean “at least two” of the laid off teachers will be retained.

No in-school programs will be cut due to the layoffs, Ms. Carney said, but some classes will be offered less often and each department will now have to work with a smaller budget.

The adult education program in the district would be completely cut, while extra-curricular activities and sports would also face cuts to equipment and coaches.

All after-school programs at district elementary schools would be eliminated and several sports teams would be combined rather than completely removed.

Ms. Carney has also proposed to combine the Riverhead Middle School and Pulaski Street School bus runs to save an additional $300,000.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Riverhead High School auditorium.