SWR board member: Why do Riverhead residents pay more in school taxes?

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River school board member Richard Pluschau, center, offered concerns Tuesday night over how much more the average Riverhead resident pays in school taxes than residents in Brookhaven.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board set the tax levy for this school year at about $47.5 million at its meeting Tuesday night, but one board member offered his concerns over why district taxpayers in Riverhead pay almost twice as much as residents in Brookhaven.

This school year’s tax levy, the amount of cash the district collects from taxpayers, is about 2 percent higher than last school year’s levy.

About $34.5 million will be raised from Town of Brookhaven taxpayers and another $13 million will come from taxpayers in Riverhead.

But that translates to a $660 school tax increase on a home valued at $400,000 in Riverhead Town, and only $313 on a similar home in the Town of Brookhaven.

The board set the tax levy by a 6-0-1 vote, with board member Richard Pluschau abstaining.

Mr. Pluschau questioned the formula the district used to determine those numbers, noting that Town of Riverhead residents bear a greater tax burden.

“When voters approved our budget in May — and they did so by a nice majority — I don’t think they realized the methodology of the distribution between the two communities,” Mr. Pluschau said.

The formula is determined by equalization rates and assessed home values, two figures that are determined by the towns, said director of finance and operations Glen Arcuri.

“We don’t control assessed value; we don’t control equalization rates either,” he said.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the formula used to determine tax levies could be explained to residents at an upcoming superintendent’s forum later this school year.

Continuing talks of next year’s budget

Board members discussed ways to trim about $3.4 million from next school year’s budget during the second part of Dr. Cohen’s budget projection presentation. The superintendent first projected at the Oct. 4 meeting a $3.4 shortfall in district’s 2012-13 budget should it decide to maintain all programs and operations.

Dr. Cohen said the district could review contractual obligations and utility bills to look for savings, underspend this school year’s budget and apply excess fund balance to the 2012-13 budget, or increase rates community members are charged for use of the district’s facilities.

He said nearby districts are looking into the Princeton Plan, a money-saving method of grouping elementary school students by grade rather than neighborhood.

Measuring student engagement

Director of curriculum and instruction Alan Meinster asked the board in a presentation to consider using a survey created by Indiana State University to measure student engagement.

Mr. Meinster said the survey, costing a total of $2,000, evaluates emotional maturity and how students engage with peers and adults in and out of school.

The results would be compared to the larger high school student population previously surveyed by Indiana State University.

Mr. Meinster said the surveys, which would take 40 minutes to an hour to complete, would provide valuable information specific to Shoreham-Wading River students.

“Rather than going out and getting research on student engagement of high school populations, we’re going to get what the survey says about our students,” he said.

If the board decides to purchase the survey service this school year, surveys would be distributed in December.

Parents ask board to fix elementary school playground

Anna Acker of Shoreham and Alisa McMorris of Wading River asked the board for guidance in grant writing to secure money for a 30-year-old playground at Miller Avenue School. The Miller Avenue PTO is already trying to secure two grants, from Clorox and Pepsi, to tear down the existing playground and build anew.

Ms. Acker and Ms. McMorris said that children have gotten hurt on the Miller Avenue playground, a wooden structure they say is too high and is “falling apart.”

Mr. Arcuri said the school will be audited on Nov. 8 and 9 and he’ll ensure the playground is inspected.

PTO and PTA members are in the meantime asking residents to vote for Miller Avenue to win a grant in a program run by Clorox by going to the program’s website,, or texting CLOROX3946 to 44144 (fees may apply).

Orchestra pit musicians hired

The board unanimously approved a resolution to pay four orchestra pit musicians a total of $2,160 for the district’s production of “Beauty and the Beast,” set to take place Nov. 3-5 at the high school. Each musician will receive $540 for six rehearsals or performances lasting up to three hours each.

Mr. Pluschau suggested before the vote that student musicians perform during the production to save money.

Board member Marie Lindell said student musicians would have to volunteer for the roles but none did.

Mr. Arcuri said the pay for the musicians would come from the high school drama club’s fund.

“It isn’t a taxpayer dollar,” Mr. Arcuri said.

District hires college admission and college athletics consultants

In other school board news, the board unanimously approved a resolution to pay NA Consultants Inc. $500 to provide “College Information Night Presentation,” an event including information on college admissions, campus life and college finances.

It also unanimously approved a resolution to pay Andrew Herman $500 to provide information on Nov. 13 to student athletes who wish to pursue athletics in college. The resolution was tabled at the last board meeting, on Oct. 18, due to a possible scheduling conflict.

Board accepts donations

The board accepted a donation of an iPad, valued at $499, from the Wind family. The iPad will be used in a specific classroom as a teaching tool. The board also accepted a $1,300 donation from the Wading River Elementary School 5th Grade Committee to be spent on a field trip and a $5,100 from the High School Drama Club to purchase sound equipment. The money will go into the high school’s general fund and the equipment is intended for use by the drama club.

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