06/10/15 6:00am
06/10/2015 6:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Laurie Downs is running for school board.

Laurie Downs says she’ll no longer be behind a camera at Riverhead school board meetings. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Laurie Downs has videotaped her last Riverhead school board meeting.

The Polish Town resident and school board watchdog announced her decision to step down from the responsibility during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’ve been doing this for the community for 15 years,” she said about her volunteerism. “I’m 59 years old. I was 44 when I started this. Tonight’s my swan song. Tonight is the last night of videotaping. I will still be here, but I will not be shuffling back and forth [between the school and Riverhead Town Hall] with any disks.”

The decision comes after vice president Sue Koukounas suggested at the May 26 school board meeting that the district upload the videos to its website along with continuing to air the recordings on public access, an idea Ms. Downs said she was “thrilled” about.

“For years, we were told it couldn’t happen,” Ms. Downs said. “Now we have the mechanism to do it. I’m very happy about that.”

The plan to post school board meetings online came after Ms. Koukounas said she had heard several complaints about how some meetings weren’t aired on public access. Posting the videos in BoardDocs, the same software that organizes the school board’s meeting agendas and minutes, would be beneficial to the community because residents could watch the videos at their convenience, she said.

Under the current videotaping arrangement, Ms. Downs records the meetings with the district’s equipment and school officials burn the videos onto DVDs. After a meeting is over, Ms. Downs returns the equipment to the school, picks up a DVD recording of the previous meeting, and delivers it to Town Hall to air on Channel 22, which is the town’s public access channel. The district sends the recordings directly to Southampton Town.

As a volunteer, Ms. Downs receives no compensation for her efforts.

After school board member Lori Hulse thanked Ms. Downs for her service, she said Riverhead and Southampton towns are currently negotiating their 10-year renewal franchise agreements with Cablevision and believes grant money is available for providing a camera person to video record meetings.

“It’s a public obligation,” Ms. Hulse said. “I think this is something we should pursue with the towns.”

Superintendent Nancy Carney and school board president Greg Meyer said while the district has attempted to pursue such a plan in the past, agreed to revisit those efforts.

“We’ll give it a try, again,” Mr. Meyer said.


05/27/15 6:00am
05/27/2015 6:00 AM
Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney, left, school board president Sue K and member Chris Dorr at Tuesday's meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney, left, school board president Sue K and member Chris Dorr at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Residents may soon be able to watch Riverhead school board meetings online.

During the Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday night, vice president Sue Koukounas suggested the district upload the videos to its website starting in September, since software is already in place to do so.


05/19/15 10:27pm
05/19/2015 10:27 PM


Sue Koukounas, center, and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, right, were the top two vote-getters on Tuesday night. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Sue Koukounas, center, and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, right, were the top two vote-getters on Tuesday night. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The Riverhead school budget passed Tuesday night and in the five-way race for two open school board seats in Riverhead, Sue Koukounas and Ann Cotten-DeGrasse were elected to three-year terms.

As for the the three propositions, all three of them passed.


05/13/15 8:00am
05/13/2015 8:00 AM

As it turns out, there is such a thing as a free lunch … and breakfast.

Beginning next fall, all students in the Roanoke Avenue and Phillips Avenue elementary schools will get a free lunch and a free breakfast at school on a daily basis, courtesy of the New York State Education Department program called “Community Eligibility Provision.”


04/21/15 10:01am
04/21/2015 10:01 AM
Former Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is running for school board this May. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

Former Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is running for school board this May. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

Ann Cotten-DeGrasse wants her seat back and some familiar names will oppose her.

The former Riverhead school board president is among four challengers facing one incumbent for two open seats in next month’s election along with past candidates Greg Fischer and Laurie Downs, newcomer Brad Harnig, and incumbent board vice president Susan Koukounas.

Trustee Tom Carson is not seeking a second term, paving the way for at least one seat to change hands.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse served on the school board for six years before stepping away last June. She announced in 2013 during her Democratic primary campaign for town supervisor that she would not seek re-election at the end of her second school board term in 2014.

“As much as I thought I was going to back off and walk away, I just can’t,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said when asked why she’s decided to run again. “There’s a whole lot of things that are out there that have to be overcome because of what’s happening with the state and state aid being tied into [teacher evaluations].”

As for her feelings about running against her former fellow school board members, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said, “I feel it will shake out the way it will shake out.”

Mr. Fischer said he believes the odds are in favor of the incumbent Ms. Koukounas and Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, a former president of the teacher’s union. He said with likely support from the teachers, the other three candidates will likely struggle to get votes.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said.

Mr. Fischer knows all about that, having run unsuccessfully for six different offices in the past eight years, including school board last year.

If elected, he said he will explore ways to modernize the current curriculum in the district to offer more trade and business entrepreneurship programs. He also said he has developed his own programs that he would offer district students independently and free of charge.

“I have one program for inventors that I’m hoping to run in June,” he said. “Any kid who is interested in inventing can become a billionaire.”

Ms. Downs said that she is a unique candidate because she represents no particular special interests. A longtime district watchdog, she said she values no one program over another, has no ties to any school unions and her children have already graduated from the district.

“I have no agenda other than doing what I’m supposed to do as far as being open to the community,” she said. “I want to make sure the public is informed about what’s going on with the district.”

A longtime attendee of school board meetings, she said that hasn’t always been the case with the board.

“What I see on the outside is the board is still not talking to people and not giving answers,” she said. “You ask a question and they stare at you.”

Ms. Koukonas, Mr. Carson and Mr. Harnig could not be immediately reached for comment.

In Shoreham-Wading River, incumbents Michael Fucito and Robert Rose are running unopposed.

Mr. Fucito has served for over two decades Mr. Rose was first elected in 2012.

The school board election and budget vote is May 19 in both districts. All school board seats are for three years, expiring in 2018.


04/15/15 10:08am
04/15/2015 10:08 AM
Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney speaks at Tuesday's budget presentation. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney speaks at Tuesday’s budget presentation. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The Riverhead school board has adopted a $125.9 million budget that would increase spending by 3.81 percent over the current year.

The proposed 2015-16 budget also includes an estimated 3.94 percent hike, or nearly $3.6 million, to the tax levy.  (more…)