Riverhead School District

BOE member wants $5K limit on contracts approved by superintendent

School board member Lori Hulse speaks at Tuesday night's meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)
School board member Lori Hulse speaks at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

While Riverhead school superintendent Nancy Carney currently has the authority to approve contracts under $25,000 without school board approval, one member of the Board of Education wants to change that.  School board member Lori Hulse said at Tuesday night’s meeting that she’d like to see the scope of the contracts Ms. Carney is authorized to approve without consent of the board limited to $5,000. “People put us in office to make these decisions and to make sure that the money that the district is spending was something that was open in public and voted by us as representatives,” Ms. Hulse said, noting that the board should have a say in the hiring of consultants whose work might overlap with salaried administrators, for example. She said she isn’t questioning Ms. Carney’s judgement, but is concerned over the process. Her fellow board members, however, didn’t appear to agree with her. School board president Greg Meyer, vice president Susan Koukounas, and members Christopher Dorr and Amelia Lantz said a change could delay contract approvals, negatively affecting students. School board member Kimberly Ligon didn’t voice her opinion during the meeting and member Tom Carson was absent. Ms. Koukounas said she believes it isn’t the board’s job to “micromanage” the district’s administration. Mr. Dorr agreed, saying, “We hired a superintendent to handle the day-to-day operations of the school and some of these contracts have to be approved in a timely fashion — instead of waiting for the next board meeting.” He also said Ms. Carney has approved about $30,000 in contracts, a number he described as “miniscule.” When asked for comment on Ms. Hulse’s concerns, Ms. Carney said the process is “up to the Board of Education,” but is currently set up in a way that aims to ensure student needs are met. “Many of the contracts are for special education services for students and we don’t want to be providing services without a signed contract,” she said. As for the board holding special meetings to approve such contracts, Ms. Carney described that compromise as “not realistic.” “To get seven board members to meet is a challenge,” she said. Allowing the superintendent to approve contracts without school board approval has had a controversial past. In 2010, the school board reduced the amount from $100,000 to $25,000. At Tuesday’s meeting, Riverhead resident and school board watchdog Laurie Downs said she asked the school board at the time to vote on the reduction because she believed the school board needs to have move control over such matters. “The superintendent works at the pleasure of the board,” she said at that time. “The board does not work for the superintendent.” If school board members want to revise or further reduce the superintendent’s ability to accept contracts without their approval, they would have to vote on a resolution to amend existing policy. The school board took no action Tuesday night. [email protected]