Riverhead Board of Education outlines plans for contingency budget

The Riverhead Board of Education met virtually Monday to discuss their next steps after residents voted down a proposed budget of $147 million earlier this month.

Officials adopted a contingency budget of $144.8 million to take effect July 1, which is the end of the school’s fiscal year. It could remain in effect, unless the Board of Education opts to present a second budget proposal for a public vote.

Deputy superintendent Sam Schneider explained that contingency budgets have three key rules, including a moratorium on equipment purchases, no raises for individually contracted staff members and no increase to the prior year’s tax levy.

Mr. Schneider said $223,000 in equipment costs and $57,025 in pay increases were removed from the budget to reach contingency level.

In addition, he said $2 million must be removed from the proposed budget to achieve a tax levy of zero.

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“There are many ways to get there obviously,” he said as he unveiled a tentative budget reduction plan. The plan calls for $963,978 in cuts to athletic programs, $317,947 in clubs and music groups, $186,006 in after-school bussing, $100,000 in computer technology, $151,108 in high school elective courses, $135,122 from science programs, $148,459 from elementary literacy programs and $121,839 in auto and building maintenance costs.

“This was designed in a way to try and preserve the core academic programs for students as much as possible,” Mr. Schneider said. “It is by no means a perfect plan…by no means is this positive and by no means is this good news for everyone involved, but it’s the path of least pain.”

The budget, which failed by 361 votes, was the only school budget in Suffolk County to fail this year as elections were conducted entirely via absentee ballot. Riverhead voters had approved every budget since 2006.

According to the resolution adopted unanimously by board members, district officials will begin preparing a second budget that will be presented to voters for a second vote.

Under an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, revotes cannot happen until after July 9.

“They haven’t even told us when. It’s either going to be July 21 or July 28,” Mr. Schneider said. “We have no information as to how it will be conducted, whether it will be 100% by absentee ballot, whether it will be in-person voting. All of that has yet to be determined.”

Board member Therese Zuhoski said that while she understands the contingency budget must be adopted to allow the district to continue operating, she opposes cuts to programming.

“I think we need to look at any non-mandated programs and whatever would least affect our students,” she said. “And I would like to look at admin and director salaries and positions as a first resort where we find cuts. Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for these positions over cutting academics, sports, music, reading intervention and ROTC programs is a big no for me.”