DeVito resigns from Riverhead school board

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Riverhead school board member Angela DeVito, pictured here at a school board meeting earlier this year, tendered her resignation during Tuesday night's board meeting.

A heated debate on a potential multi-million dollar bond for facility upgrades at Riverhead school buildings and grounds ended with one Riverhead school board member to tendering her resignation Tuesday night.

The announcement that Angela DeVito would no longer serve on the seven-member board as of June 30 came at around 9 p.m., two hours into the nearly three-hour long Riverhead school board meeting.

Board members were discussing either expanding the current gymnasium or adding a second gym at the high school, neither of which are included in the latest $78.5 million proposal that is being discussed.

School board vice president Greg Meyer, members Jeff Falisi and Tim Griffing Jr. have all said they would like to see additional gym space included in the bond proposal. Mr. Meyer has said that athletic teams do not have the proper facilities for practice, and Mr. Griffing said holding games and events at the elementary school gyms was impractical.

Representatives from BBS Architects & Engineers, the Patchogue-based company that designed the blueprints for the additions, have said another gym would add about $4.5 million to the proposal.

School board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse, members Amelia Lantz, Kathy Berezny and Ms. DeVito have not publicly expressed interest in adding gym space.

“Do you think by building a $4.5 million gym, we are going to solve these problems?” Ms. DeVito, an outspoken and often inquisitive board member, asked director of athletics Bill Groth.

Mr. Groth said it would alleviate many of the spacing issues.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse then suggested putting the athletic additions as a separate referendum on the ballot, something Mr. Griffing said he would oppose.

“You don’t support athletics, you support the arts,” he said to Ms. DeVito. “Everything I hear coming out of your mouth is negative.”

Moments later, Ms. DeVito announced her resignation.

Community member and school district watchdog Laurie Downs took the podium before the meeting’s end to remind Mr. Griffing that the proposal was the suggestion of the district’s 50-plus member Community Partnership for Revitalization team, made up of taxpayers and district employees, and not Ms. DeVito.

Mr. Falisi and Mr. Griffing both said they did not mean to disrespect members of the committee. Mr. Meyer, who works as a firefighter at Brookhaven National Laboratory, had left to go to work moments earlier.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse asked to schedule a meeting next Tuesday for the board to continue the discussion.

“If we sit and bicker over this now … we will never get this to fruition,” she said.

District officials have said they would like to put the plan before the public for a vote this fall. A $123 million plan for district upgrades was overwhelmingly rejected by voters in February 2010.

Ms. DeVito was first elected to the school board in 2003. She is also involved in the Jamesport Civic Association and has worked on commissions for Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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