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

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