Riverhead budget passes with 63% Sapienza-Brown loses 4-way race for 3 school board seats

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Newly elected school board member Kim Ligon hugs incumbent president Ann Cotten-Degrasse after the results were tallied Tuesday night.

Rainy weather and below-average temperatures didn’t keep more than 3,000 Riverhead School District taxpayers from trudging to the polls on Tuesday.

Those voters overwhelmingly approved a $109.6 million spending plan for the 2011-12 school year by a vote of 1,936 in favor and 1,153 opposed, or 63 to 37 percent.

And of the four candidates seeking three open school board seats in the at-large election, Patricia Sapienza-Brown garnered the least amount of votes with 1,661, so she failed to win a seat.

Incumbent president Ann Cotten-Degrasse and vice president Greg Meyer were both elected to their second terms with 1,960 and 1,957 votes, respectively. Newcomer Kim Ligon also won a seat on the seven-member board with 1,823 votes.

There appeared to be no feelings of sour grapes on the part of Ms. Spaienza-Brown, who campaigned with Ms. Cotten-Degrasse and Mr. Meyer, The trio had received the support of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, the district’s teacher’s union.

“I support Kim 100 percent,” Ms. Sapienza-Brown said after the tallies were announced shortly before 10:30 p.m. in the high school gym. “I’m really happy for her.”

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said she thought the turnout was a positive sign for the current administration, which is considering putting a multimillion-dollar bond proposal for infrastructure upgrades before the public for a vote later this year. A $123 million bond proposal was rejected by voters last year.

“I think this is the first step,” Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said. “…it’s reassuring that people in this town value education.”
Superintendent Nancy Carney stopped short of echoing Ms. Cotten-Degrasse’s thoughts.

“We take it one step at a time,” she said, adding she was thrilled the budget passed.

All the half-dozen people interviewed while exiting the polls before they closed at 9 p.m. said they voted in favor of the 2011-12 budget.

Reginald Moore of Riverhead said he voted yes “because of the kids.”

“We should not be cutting money back [for education] when we are so far behind other countries,” he said.

Voters also approved Proposition 2 by a count of 2,069 to 930. The proposition asked voters if they wanted to approve the funding of an emergency building-repairs fund up to $5 million.

The 2011-12 budget calls for a 1.26 increase over this school year, yet will raise the tax levy by just under 5 percent, or $4.6 million, due mostly to a $2.6 million reduction in state aid. The budget also eliminates 39 jobs, including 14 teaching positions, cuts funds for staff to attend conferences and restructures programs.

Riverhead school officials said district contributions to the state Teachers Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System, as mandated by New York State, constituted the highest jump in spending in the budget. The amount the district must contribute has increased by 39 percent, or $2.1 million, which is mostly due to fluctuations in the stock market.

Last year, Riverhead School District residents voted to pass a proposed $108 million budget, but by a smaller margin of 2,079 to 1,571, or 57 to 43 percent. Tuesday’s incessant rain may have caused some voters to stay home, as the elections drew 561 fewer votes in 2011 than last year, or 3089 compared to 3650.


Proposed budget: $60 million

Yes — 1,742

No — 905

Briarcliff Proposition

Yes — 1,705

No — 874

Fuel Tank Proposition

Yes — 1,688

No — 874

School Board election

Jack Costas — 1,304

John Zukowski — 1,116

William McGrath — 996

Robert Alcorn — 908

Keith Field — 830

Anthony DeLouise — 779

Stephen Offutt — 614

Check back here or in the May 19 News-Review newspaper for more complete coverage.

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