Five candidates for two seats in Riverhead school board race

Former Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is running for school board this May. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)
Former Riverhead school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is running for school board this May. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

Ann Cotten-DeGrasse wants her seat back and some familiar names will oppose her.

The former Riverhead school board president is among four challengers facing one incumbent for two open seats in next month’s election along with past candidates Greg Fischer and Laurie Downs, newcomer Brad Harnig, and incumbent board vice president Susan Koukounas.

Trustee Tom Carson is not seeking a second term, paving the way for at least one seat to change hands.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse served on the school board for six years before stepping away last June. She announced in 2013 during her Democratic primary campaign for town supervisor that she would not seek re-election at the end of her second school board term in 2014.

“As much as I thought I was going to back off and walk away, I just can’t,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said when asked why she’s decided to run again. “There’s a whole lot of things that are out there that have to be overcome because of what’s happening with the state and state aid being tied into [teacher evaluations].”

As for her feelings about running against her former fellow school board members, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said, “I feel it will shake out the way it will shake out.”

Mr. Fischer said he believes the odds are in favor of the incumbent Ms. Koukounas and Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, a former president of the teacher’s union. He said with likely support from the teachers, the other three candidates will likely struggle to get votes.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said.

Mr. Fischer knows all about that, having run unsuccessfully for six different offices in the past eight years, including school board last year.

If elected, he said he will explore ways to modernize the current curriculum in the district to offer more trade and business entrepreneurship programs. He also said he has developed his own programs that he would offer district students independently and free of charge.

“I have one program for inventors that I’m hoping to run in June,” he said. “Any kid who is interested in inventing can become a billionaire.”

Ms. Downs said that she is a unique candidate because she represents no particular special interests. A longtime district watchdog, she said she values no one program over another, has no ties to any school unions and her children have already graduated from the district.

“I have no agenda other than doing what I’m supposed to do as far as being open to the community,” she said. “I want to make sure the public is informed about what’s going on with the district.”

A longtime attendee of school board meetings, she said that hasn’t always been the case with the board.

“What I see on the outside is the board is still not talking to people and not giving answers,” she said. “You ask a question and they stare at you.”

Ms. Koukonas, Mr. Carson and Mr. Harnig could not be immediately reached for comment.

In Shoreham-Wading River, incumbents Michael Fucito and Robert Rose are running unopposed.

Mr. Fucito has served for over two decades Mr. Rose was first elected in 2012.

The school board election and budget vote is May 19 in both districts. All school board seats are for three years, expiring in 2018.

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