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.

03/31/11 4:00pm
03/31/2011 4:00 PM

The Riverhead Central School District will see $593,309 more in state aid next school year than district officials had anticipated, according to figures provided by the state Legislature when compared with the governor’s proposed budget in February.

Statewide, the adopted state budget restored some $272 million in school aid from the $1.5 billion in cuts Governor Andrew Cuomo had proposed.

“We’re very grateful and thankful for the hard work of our legislators,” Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney said of the money. “That’s more than we were expecting.”

Although Ms. Carney said “reducing the tax levy will most likely be a priority,” she added that it was too soon to say exactly how the $593,309 would be used.

“At the next Board of Education meeting we’ll be discussing the impact of that legislation,” she said. “It’s up to the board.”

The Riverhead district was set to lose about $2.95 million from this school year’s $19 million aid package, which includes some federal stimulus money, that won’t be available next school year, according to Mr. Cuomo’s proposed budget released in February.

Riverhead officials have already held several public meetings in consideration of a proposed $110.3 million budget for the 2011-12 school year that eliminates 38 full-time positions, including 15 teachers. A final budget proposal goes to voters on May 17.

The draft budget (not yet accounting for the extra $593,309) proposes a spending increase of about 2 percent from the previous year but the tax levy — the amount of cash the district collects from taxpayers — would go up 5.7 percent for 2011-12, which is $5.2 million, due to the loss of state and federal aid.

The smaller Shoreham-Wading River School District learned last Thursday that $33,510 in aid cuts was being restored from Mr. Cuomo’s proposed budget, according to News-Review calculations from those same state-supplied figures.

The superintendent there, Harriet Copel, said that amount is not enough to make much of an impact.

“$33,510 is a very small portion of our total aid,” Dr. Copel explained. “Although it certainly is a welcome additional revenue.”

“We always would like to get more, but we take what we can get, and this is good,” she added.

Shoreham-Wading River, which is proposing a $60 million budget, will be losing $820,000 from this year’s aid package, according to the newspaper’s calculations.

The state has passed cuts in all areas of its budget in an attempt to reduce a $10 billion budget deficit.

In his proposed budget, Mr. Cuomo had called for cutting 11 percent worth of state aid to Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City would have lost just under 8 percent with the state losing about 9.3 percent as a whole, officials said.

After weeks of outcry from Long Island superintendents and lawmakers alike, legislators were able to boost those numbers — and narrow the gap — to about 9 percent for L.I., 7 percent for NYC and just over 8 percent statewide.

mwhite@timesreview.com

03/23/11 12:01pm
03/23/2011 12:01 PM

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Riley Avenue Elementary parent Karen DiGiaimo said she is concerned over the loss of one security guard at the school.

The public has been mostly mum on spending under the Riverhead School District’s proposed 2011-12 $110.3 million budget.

But one school board member is concerned about how much money the district plans to use from the previous year’s fund balance.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting at Riley Avenue Elementary School, board member Tim Griffing said he is worried that using such a large portion — $3.4 million of the approximately $4 million fund balance — to offset a potential tax increase for Riverhead residents might lead to a larger tax spike in the future.

Last year, the district used $2.6 million of a $4 million fund balance, said interim assistant superintendent for operations and finance Joseph Singleton.
The district will likely use about $3.6 million in reserves for the 2012-13 school year, according to Mr. Singleton.
“That $3.4 million might not be available [next year,]” Mr. Griffing said. “You can’t bank on the same amount.”

Mr. Griffing said his concerns largely stemmed from the increase in the amount of money the district must contribute to the pension funds of former district employees. The $2.1 million state mandated increase, 39 percent over the previous year, is due largely to declining stock revenue in the down economy.

School officials said the fund balance would hopefully be replenished through unspent money under the 2011-12 budget. Mr. Singleton said fluctuations, such as changing oil prices and teacher turnover, often lead to a surplus at the end of the year.
Still, the exact 2011-12 fund balance will not be known until the end of that school year.

“We’re doing a lot of praying these days,” Mr. Singleton said during the meeting.

The tax levy — the amount of money the district collects from taxpayers — is still expected to rise 5.97 percent from $82.7 million this year to $87.7 million, even with the reserve fund drained. Without the use of those reserves, the increase would have been about 7.8 percent, according to a previous budget presentation.

That’s because Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed cutting $2.9 million, or 16 percent, in state aid to the Riverhead district, causing administrators to plan for the worst, school officials have said.

The meeting was the third in a serious of budget presentations held at different schools within the district. The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget on April 12 and the public will vote on the spending plan May 17.
Safety worries at Riley

• Several parents commented on safety concerns over Riley Avenue’s dismissal process. Parent and Riley Avenue Parent Association member Karen DiGiaimo said the loss of one of the school’s two security guards — just one of 38 positions being cut districtwide in an effort to keep down spending — could lead to a safety hazard when children are getting on buses at the end of the day. The school will continue to employ the other security guard.

“To decrease security from two to one, I think is going to be a very big problem,” she said during the meeting.

Ms. DiGiaimo said she would like Riverhead Town Police to conduct a safety seminar for children or to place a crossing guard near the intersection with Donna Drive.

vchinese@timesreview.com