Riverhead BOE: Resident criticizes bond tactics; architects talk timeline

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Robin Flannery criticized Riverhead School District officials at Tuesday's school board meeting for releasing residents' information to members of the Community Partnership for Revitalization team.

A $78.3 million bond for upgrades and repairs at Riverhead School District schools may have been approved by voters earlier this month, but at least one district resident at Tuesday’s school board meeting publicly alleged wrongdoing on the part of school officials in trying to get the vote passed.

Robin Flannery said that according to State Freedom of Information Law, the school district should not have disclosed the phone numbers and addresses of district residents to Community Partnership for Revitalization committee members who used FOIL to obtain that information.

The volunteer CPR team, made up of district residents and employees, was charged with hammering out a scaled-down plan for infrastructure upgrades the community could support. The team also embarked on a public relations campaign to encourage residents to vote in favor of the bond and used those numbers to contact district residents.

“That is … in violation of my personal privacy,” Ms. Flannery said.

Bob Freeman of the Committee on Open Government, who co-authored the law, told the News-Review last week that the district has the right to deny a FOIL request for district phone numbers if it determines that the information could be used for fund raising efforts, but it is also within its rights to disclose that information regardless.

“The school district could [deny that request] in my opinion, but it would be under no obligation to do so,” he said.

Ms. Flannery also criticized school officials for not releasing preliminary information on the 2012-13 budget, which will be the first budget the board crafts under the constraints of a two percent tax levy increase cap, until after the Oct. 11 vote.

Ms. Flannery had asked Superintendent Nancy Carney days before the vote if the district was expecting a shortfall in 2012-13. Ms. Carney responded on the morning of the vote and said it was too early to tell, according to an email Ms. Flannery provided to the News-Review.

But school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse told a reporter from local news website moments after the bond had passed that the district could have to trim up to $4 million from its 2012-13 budget to stay under that state-mandated tax cap.

“You should have announced your projections before the bond,” Ms. Flannery said to Ms. Cotten-Degrasse.

“Would that have made a difference?” Ms. Cotten-Degrasse asked Ms. Flannery. Ms. Flannery said she believed it would have affected the outcome of the vote.

In other school board news, representatives from Patchogue-based BBS Architects and Engineers and Garden City-based Triton Construction were on hand Tuesday night to explain the phases of construction for the massive infrastructure project.

Site plans for Riverhead High School, Aquebogue Elementary School, Phillips Avenue Elementary School and Riley Avenue Elementary School should be submitted to the State Education Department by September 2012, April 2012, March 2012 and May 2012, respectively, said Laurence Salvesen of BBS.

After site plan approval, the work is then put out for bids and work at Riley Avenue could begin as soon as June 2012, the earliest of the district’s seven buildings, Mr. Salvesen said.

Work at those three elementary schools could be completed by Nov. 2013 and work at the high school could be completed by August 2014.

“The high school is going to take longer just by nature of its size,” Mr. Salvesen said.

Construction at the middle school, Roanoke Avenue Elementary School and Pulaski Street School should be sent to the state for approval in September 2013.

Work on all seven buildings should be completed by September 2015.

Before work can begin, crews must take land surveys and examine the sites for hazardous materials. Those costs that were included in the $78.3 million price tag.

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.