Photos: Riverhead students rally for a ‘Yes’ as budget revote approaches

For several hours Saturday, Riverhead High School students and other supporters took to the Route 58 traffic circle to urge passing motorists with a say in Tuesday’s school budget revote to approve the proposed spending plan.

The event, which attracted dozens of supporters, including parents, younger students and even some faculty, was organized by sophomore Andrew MacGray.

“It’s been a good turnout with a lot of people honking in support,” Andrew said Saturday. “We’ve had a couple of thumbs down, but the support has been good.”

Andrew previously told the News-Review the idea came from talking to a few friends about what they can do to muster support within their community. On the social media app Snapchat, he urged his fellow classmates to join him for a rally.

For Andrew, a varsity wrestler, his biggest concern is what might happen to school sports, which are already under a microscope following the COVID-19 pandemic if the district continued to operate on its adopted contingency budget. This past school year, he was forced to miss out on planned workouts in the spring and an offseason wrestling program due to the coronavirus. Now he sees an even bigger threat in the looming possibility of a failed budget vote in a district that saw its first proposed spending plan rejected in June, months after a bond vote was also shut down by the public. He also worried about clubs and electives being eliminated under contingency.

The original proposed spending failed by 361 votes in a year that saw record turnout due to absentee ballots being used. The second vote, on an identical proposal, will include in-person voting Tuesday.

The $147.1 million budget carries a 1.87% spending increase over last year’s $144 million budget. The property tax levy would be $106,852,122, which is below the tax cap limit for Riverhead, according to Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider.

Mr. Schneider has explained that contingency budgets, should the spending plan fail again, 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.

“There are many ways to get there obviously,” he said as he unveiled a tentative budget reduction plan about a month ago. 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.