School board member looks to rescind policy

The Riverhead Board of Education agreed this fall to let the superintendent award service contracts without its prior approval, and now some residents and one board member are wondering if that was such a good idea.
During last Tuesday night’s meeting, school board member Angela DeVito went so far as to call for a vote to rescind the policy.
The new policy, approved by the board Sept. 28, increased from $2,000 to $100,000 the value of professional service contracts on which the supervisor can sign off without prior board approval.
Ms. DeVito, who voted in favor of extending the limit, said Tuesday she thought the board needed to reexamine the policy because it allows the superintendent to award consulting contracts for services other than health and education.
“In looking at how it’s been applied, I have some concerns,” she said after the meeting. “I just think the board needs to pull it back.”
The Wading River School District allows its superintendent to sign off on contracts up to $5,000. Officials of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District said the superintendent there rarely, if ever, signs off on contracts without board approval.
After calling for a vote on expanding the meeting agenda to include a resolution to rescind the new policy, Ms. DeVito was the only board member to vote in favor. Board members Amelia Lantz, Timothy Griffing, Kathy Berezny, Jeff Falisi and Greg Meyer all voted against putting the resolution on the agenda. Board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse was absent.
At the time it was passed, administrators said the resolution would simplify procedures and prevent pressing work from being performed without a contract.
School board vice president Greg Meyer said he voted against putting Ms. DeVito’s resolution on the agenda because the matter required further discussion.
“To spring that on us at last night’s meeting, I thought that was a little unfair,” he said.
Although the board could have moved the resolution for discussion and then tabled it for a future meeting, Mr. Meyer said he would have felt more comfortable if Ms. DeVito had raised the subject with the board president first. He said he would be willing to discuss the matter further in the future.
Resident Laurie Downs, a school district watchdog, criticized the new policy, citing  a financial consulting agreement Superintendent Nancy Carney awarded to former interim business administrator Joseph Singleton without alerting the public.
“I want to know why there was not a resolution stating this man was coming here,” she said. “I want to know why this was kept under the table.” Asked why she objected to Mr. Singleton’s contract, Ms. Downs answered: “We don’t need to repeat past practices.”
The terms of Mr. Singleton’s contract were not immediately available.
Ms. Carney defended the contract, explaining that Mr. Singleton would provide a much-needed service to the school.
“The Riverhead Central School District has used financial consultants for the past three years,” she said. “Mr. Singleton is an expert in the field and well respected throughout the state of New York. He will provide specific fiduciary services on an as-needed basis.”
Former board member Chrissy Prete also expressed concern about the policy.
“The bottom line is it’s wrong,” she said.
Ms. DeVito also tried to add a resolution to the aqenda that, if adopted, would have placed a tax cap on the 2011-12 budget. The board voted down the measure 5-1, citing the need for further discussion.
Ms. DeVito said she would bring both initiatives before the board again at future meetings.
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