Riverhead school board adopts budget; goes to vote May 17

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Roanoke Avenue Elementary School students Lila Bowe (left) and Lily Kutner speak out Tuesday night against proposed cuts to the library staff at their school.

The Riverhead school board adopted a $109.6 million spending plan for the 2011-12 school year on Tuesday. It’s a budget that district officials say carries the lowest year-to-year spending increase in recent years.

The budget calls for a 1.26 increase from this school year, yet would raise the tax levy by just under 5 percent, or $4.6 million, due mostly to a $2.6 million reduction in state aid.

To keep spending down, Superintendent Nancy Carney said the budget eliminates 38 jobs — including 15 teaching positions — cuts funds for staff to attend conferences and restructures programs.

“I know this is painful,” said school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse, moments before the board unanimously adopted the budget during its meeting Tuesday night. “It’s truly, truly painful.”

Taxpayers will vote on the spending plan and on school board candidates May 17.

The terms of school board members Kathy Berezny, Greg Meyer and Ms. Cotten-Degrasse expire this year. Petitions to run for school board are due April 18 and as of Tuesday, only Ms. Cotten-Degrasse had filed the proper paperwork.

The board also voted to apply for a $5 million loan from the federal government for building improvements at the district’s schools. The loan’s interest would be paid for with federal stimulus money. Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said those funds would likely go to repair leaky roofs at the middle and high schools.

The board also voted to make a change to the only proposition that will appear on the ballot. The change increases the amount the proposition, if approved by voters, would allow the school district to allot in unreserved funds to a repair fund from $3 million to $5 million. That money could be used by the district for emergency repairs at its buildings. A public hearing is necessary for expenditures, except in emergencies, Ms. Carney said.

Several parents attended Tuesday’s meeting to protest the elimination of a full-time librarian and library aide from Roanoke Avenue Elementary School.

“An elementary school librarian is to me, one of the core members of the school community,” said Riverhead parent Sarah Bowe.

Ms. Bowe’s daughter, Lila, and a classmate, Lily Kutner, also took the podium to drive the point home.

“We’re also a little upset about losing our library aide,” Lila said.

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