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Equal Time: Why the Riverhead teachers union supports Koukounas, Connelly

To the Editor:

Riverhead Central School District’s budget will be presented for approval next Tuesday to voters, who will also choose three candidates to represent the community on the Board of Education. We are fortunate in this community to have a number of candidates who are willing to take the time to run for such an important position and all should be commended for their desire to serve the public. 

The Riverhead Central Faculty Association has chosen to support Brian Connelly and Susan Koukounas. In making this endorsement, we are breaking with past RCFA president and former board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, who wrote a similar letter last week.

Although we disagree with Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse, we hold no personal animosity toward her and are grateful for the time she spent as a dedicated public servant, as we are to Amelia Lantz, prior to both resigning their seats on the Board of Education before fulfilling their last terms.

We do understand that, as with any civic board, there may be interpersonal dynamics that cause tension between the members. If there were issues that needed to be addressed, as members of the board, Ms. Cotton-DeGrasse and Ms. Lantz were best positioned to advocate for change as members of the board rather than as members of the general citizenry.

Both Ms. Cotten-Degrasse and Ms. Lantz walked away from their seats just before a new superintendent began her post. It is the position of the RCFA that this was precisely the time that their experience and leadership were most needed, and therefore the timing was most detrimental to the district.

We believe that to support a ticket with a candidate who relinquished her seat only a year ago would send the wrong message to the community. It doesn’t matter if the board dynamics are civil or contentious: The Board of Education of the Riverhead Central School District needs individuals who have the resolve to see their terms through, while finding solutions to difficult and complex issues.

As dedicated teaching professionals, and as the largest employee bloc in this district, we take the endorsement process seriously. Many of our members not only work at Riverhead; our children, cousins, nieces and nephews attend this school. Many of us are your neighbors. All of us are committed to ensuring a high quality education for the children and future of our town.

On Tuesday, there are two candidates who stand out for their dedication to children in our mind: Ms. Koukounas and Mr. Connelly.

Ms. Koukounas became active in the PTO when her sons were in elementary school and has served on the board for two terms. Over that time, she has helped to deliver six consecutive budgets that are tax cap-compliant while preserving and expanding programs. Furthermore, Sue was an instrumental part in planning the school infrastructure project as a parent and executing the project as a BOE member.

Mr. Connelly, in addition to being a parent of two children in the district, is a 13-year veteran of the FDNY. He has passion for public service, a strong desire to serve and brings unique perspective on public safety at a time when the challenges facing school safety are in constant flux.

We believe that both these individuals will contribute collaboratively to Riverhead and not abdicate their office in the face of adversity.

Lisa Goulding

President, Riverhead Central Faculty Association

Caption: Susan Koukounas at a recent school board meeting. (Credit: Nicole Smith)