Riverhead school board president Susan Koukounas, speaking for the first time following the abrupt resignation of two fellow board members, denied claims of procedural violations following Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
Board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said in a resignation letter that she believes the Board of Education has “acted contrary to New York State Education Law and the Open Meetings Law in appointments made outside of the regular BOE meetings.”
Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse and vice president Amelia Lantz’s resignations were approved unanimously Tuesday and their places were not set at the dais. Neither attended the meeting.
“[Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse] made an accusation that we, I don’t know verbatim, we were discussing things outside of meetings,” Ms. Koukounas said. “But she doesn’t recognize the topics she’s talking about — she had a one year hiatus — so she wasn’t there for the discussion or decision making.”
Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s tenure on the school board started when she was first elected in 2008. The former school board president stepped down in 2014 to pursue a Democratic primary for Riverhead Town supervisor. After losing the primary, she decided to run again for school board in 2015 and received the most votes in that election.
“I can’t think of anything that — we’re very careful — we say things we’re supposed to say in public session,” Ms. Koukounas said about Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s claims. “We have respect keeping confidentiality. There’s a short list of things we can say in executive session. There’s no hidden agenda. I don’t know why she left on that note.”
With two open seats, the board is faced with three options: holding a special election, appointing someone, or keeping the seat vacant until the next election in May.
Ms. Koukounas said holding a special election would be too expensive.
“We wouldn’t want to put the cost on the taxpayers,” she said. “Usually, I don’t want to speak for the board, we don’t [want to] put an expense on the district. So I can see doing the other two options just knowing the board. But again, we just received the news today, so we’ll open that discussion [at our next meeting on July 6].”
The agenda sent out Monday afternoon for Tuesday’s meeting listed Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s intent to resign, effective Tuesday. The district sent out an updated agenda on Tuesday that also listed Ms. Lantz’s intent to resign, also effective Tuesday. Their decisions came one month after the district held its annual school board election in which five people ran for three open seats.
Ms. Lantz served on the board for seven years and was most recently re-elected in 2015, meaning she had two years left on her term when she stepped down. She didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
The president and vice president are positions that are voted on by the board members annually at their July work session. A new vice president will be voted on then, Ms. Koukounas said.
Board member Gregory Meyer wished both Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse — who was hired as a business teacher by the district in 1966 and served as president for the Riverhead Central Faculty Association before retiring in 1997 — and Ms. Lantz luck in their future endeavors and thanked them for their service to the board and school district.
Flanders resident Susan Tocci spoke at the meeting and said the accusations made by Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse reflected poorly on the district.
“Accusations like this, if any of it is true, I need you to stop what’s going on,” she said. “When the community reads stuff like this, this district looks terrible. It’s upsetting, disturbing. These accusations have been made for years and now we have two board members that are stepping down making the accusations that the public is saying.”
Ms. Tocci was the only member of the public to speak about the resignations.
Photo caption: Riverhead school board president Susan Koukounas. (Credit: Nicole Smith)