Voters to head to the polls Tuesday to decide school budgets in Riverhead, SWR

Although the proposed budgets for the town’s school districts will remain well under the tax cap, there are a few developments to keep in mind as school budgets come up for votes Tuesday, May 21.

Taxpayers in Riverhead Central School District will vote on two propositions in addition to the regular budget.

The proposed 2019-20 budget of $144.4 million carries with it a budget-to-budget increase of 2.88%. The tax levy increase is 2.21%.

Under state regulations, this year’s budget can be divided into three main parts, which district officials said mirror last year’s figures: Programs, which account for 76.5% of this year’s budget; Capital, accounting for 15.3%; and Administrative, 8.2% of the budget.

This year’s total expenditures fall into four major categories: general support, which includes central and BOCES administration, auditing, legal assessments and more; instruction and administration, comprising extracurricular activities, special education and other instructional expenses; transportation, which pays drivers, fuel costs and more; and benefits and debt, covering Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment and district debt.

The first ballot proposition outside of the budget seeks voter permission to spend $3.9 million on a five-year plan to purchase about 44 new diesel-, propane- and gasoline-powered school buses.

In 2007 and 2014, voters authorized a program to purchase school buses and retire old vehicles. District officials said the funds allocated under those authorizations have been spent.

The district has negotiated with five bus manufacturers and determined that vehicle prices will hold steady for all five years, but the prices are subject to change if state mandates are modified.

The second ballot proposition asks to spend $275,000 from the Cafeteria Capital Reserve for cafeteria-related projects. At the high school, that will fix the walk-in refrigerator, replace doors and improve the loading dock. At the middle school, the project would convert a dry goods storage area into a walk-in freezer and improve the kitchen entryway.

The Cafeteria Capital Reserve was approved by voters May 2018. Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said the reserve, which has $400,000, is funded solely through the cafeteria program itself and does not rely on taxpayer money, and voters must approve specific expenditures from the reserve fund.

This year, the school board will see a contested election, as incumbents Laurie Downs and Elizabeth Silva run for re-election against newcomers Matt Wallace and Jerome Bost. Voters can expect to see the four candidates on Tuesday’s ballot.

Polls will be open for voters at Riley Avenue Elementary School, Aquebogue Elementary School, Phillips Avenue Elementary School and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Shoreham-Wading River residents will vote on a $75.9 million budget this year, a 1.57% increase over last year’s adopted budget. The 2019-2020 budget remains under the tax levy cap and prioritizes the district goals of student achievement, safety and security, social-emotional literacy, financial security and community involvement.

The proposed budget maintains all current programs offered to students and includes continued improvement of safety and security measures and enhancements in curriculum, fine arts, extracurricular opportunities and athletics, district officials said.

Almost half of the proposed budget will go toward employee salaries, and nearly a quarter of the budget will go toward employee benefits — mirroring most school districts on the North Fork.

District-wide expenses and transportation account for roughly 12% of budget expenditures.

Debt and transfers, special education, facilities, technology, curriculum and staff development, athletics, community programs, health services and personnel make up the rest of the district’s expenditures.

After the district’s success of the Chromebook program at the middle school for the past two years, the budget would bring Chromebooks to high school students in grades 9-12 next year.

The addition of cameras for the inside of school buses and a portable visitors’ booth are one-time purchases, district officials said. The proposed spending plan includes the replacement of high school band shell, athletic uniforms, buildings and grounds equipment, educational supplies, and furniture.

If the budget is approved, high school students will have six new electives to choose from, like fashion design, independent research in science, engineering and mentoring opportunities in music, art and physical education.

This year, six school board candidates will battle it out for three open seats. The three-year terms of current board president Michael Lewis and vice president Kimberly Roff are open, as is the one-year seat of Erin Hunt, who retired earlier this year. Ms. Roff will not seek re-election. Mr. Lewis will face five challengers: former board member William McGrath, Edward Grandshaw, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt and Thomas Sheridan.

The Shoreham-Wading River budget vote will be held in the high school auxiliary gym from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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