Riverhead BOE adopts $147 million budget, outlines reductions in light of pandemic

During a virtual meeting Tuesday, the Riverhead school board adopted a budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The $147 million spending plan reflects a 1.87% spending increase over last year’s $144 million budget.

“Obviously there were effects of the pandemic on the district’s budget,” Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said Tuesday as she highlighted several revisions and proposed reductions as a result of the public health crisis.

Dr. Henriquez said since schools were closed March 13, the district has saved on certain purchases, substitute employees, fuel and a number of student events that weren’t able to be held.

While the district has continued to pay all permanent full and part-time employees during the shutdown, district officials have proposed a number of reductions to save on costs, which will be reallocated into reserve funding.

The reductions include three administrative positions, two math positions, one social worker, one ENL, one clerical, one maintenance and one transportation office position.

Dr. Henriquez noted that these reductions will be made through attrition in lieu of layoffs.

In addition, proposed reductions include the high school summer school program, instructional and non-instructional equipment and materials, overtime for non-instructional personnel and eliminating the school resource officer position.

Dr. Henriquez indicated that she is communicating with Riverhead police Chief David Hegermiller on how to address the “fiscal reality” while receiving assistance for the SRO.

These savings, along with unspent funds from this school year, will be appropriated into reserves to offset mid-year cuts to aid without disrupting academic offerings, officials said, estimating as much as $5 million could be cut as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

State officials are predicting up to a $15 billion deficit in revenue and authorized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to assess revenues quarterly and make cuts to school and other types of funding as necessary. Schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year.

The spending plan is broken down into three main categories: $114 million for programming, $21.9 million for capital expenses and $10.8 million for administrative costs.

Deputy superintendent Sam Schneider noted that both administrative and capital costs were reduced over last year’s costs to increase programming expenditures.

Another large cost, Mr. Schneider said, is an increase in enrollment in the Riverhead Charter School. In February, administrators were predicting funding for approximately 430 students. However, they are now anticipating 466 students to be enrolled in the charter school next year, at a cost of $18,871 per child, or $8.8 million total.

“This represents one of the largest expenses in the budget and one we have no control over,” Mr. Schneider said.

A second proposition will appear on the ballot this year to ask voters to authorize spending $469,470 from the district’s Cafeteria Capital Reserve Fund to replace serving lines at the cafeterias at the high school, middle school and Pulaski Street Elementary, as well as install a walk-in freezer and improve the serving area at Pulaski.

The Cafeteria Capital Reserve, established in 2015, is funded from surplus money generated by the Cafeteria program and not taxpayer dollars, though spending money from the fund requires voter approval.

The fund has approximately $635,292, according to district officials.

Full budget details will be available on the district website on Wednesday, according to officials.

The school board will convene for a virtual public hearing on the proposed budget on Tuesday, May 26 at 4 p.m. Members of the public who wish to comment for the record are asked to send their remarks via email to the board of education or district clerk at [email protected] or [email protected].

The comments will then be read aloud by board president Greg Meyer during the hearing.

Prior to the June 9 vote, all registered voters will receive an absentee ballot and postage-paid return envelope. All absentee ballots shall be returned to the Office of the District Clerk of Riverhead CSD, 700 Osborn Ave., Riverhead, NY 11901 no later than 5 p.m. on June 9, 2020, officials said.

Mr. Schneider also said voters will be able to drop off their ballots in person via a drop box that will be installed at the district office on Osborn Avenue.

The budget vote and school board election was originally scheduled for May 19.