Education

Riverhead BOE votes to bring back spring sports, clubs, music

Action on some old business has given Riverhead’s spring sports athletes new hope.

Sports will return to the Riverhead Central School District this coming spring. COVID-19 willing, of course.

A last-ditch effort to save the spring sports season for Riverhead athletes proved successful Tuesday night when the Riverhead Board of Education approved funding for varsity, junior varsity and middle school interscholastic athletics for the spring season. Also included in the measure, approved by a 7-0 vote, were high school clubs and K-12 music activities covering the period of March 1 through June 30.

At the high school level, the affected sports are baseball, boys and girls lacrosse, boys tennis, boys and girls track and field, girls golf and softball.

Riverhead had already missed deadlines to participate in the fall and winter seasons, which have both been pushed back by Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body for interscholastic sports, to the first several months of 2021. Had the school board not taken action Tuesday, the Blue Waves would have missed out on a spring sports season for a second straight year.

Sports and extracurricular activities were the victims of budget cuts. The district is operating on a contingency budget. In September, an attempt to save sports, clubs and music by tapping into reserve funds failed with a 3-3 vote by the seven-member school board. Trustee Brian Connelly was not present.

The estimated cost for the added spring sports, clubs and music is $371,039, said interim superintendent Christine Tona. The money will come out of the general fund and any unspent money will remain there, according to deputy superintendent Sam Schneider.

District officials said health insurance costs came in lower than they had been budgeted for and noted that no additional information on any potential state aid reduction has been received from Albany.

Before the vote, trustee Christopher Dorr, a steadfast proponent for bringing back sports, clubs and music, expressed urgency that the board take action. “This is a time when we need to give some hope for our students,” he said. “They’ve suffered through not only COVID, but this budget, and their mental health is severely down.”

One of the impacted athletes, senior lacrosse player Nick Carragher, made a last-minute appeal before the vote. He explained that ever since he joined the school’s lacrosse program, “I felt like I’ve been part of a brotherhood, and you don’t get that anywhere else.” He added, “I see absolutely no reason to turn down spring sports because we obviously have the money to do it, and unless COVID strikes it down, I see no reason to not give it a try.”

During her report to the board, Ms. Tona said: “Any decisions that are made, we always have to be mindful of the fact we’re on contingency and know that all the decisions that we make will affect our future budget as well, but we certainly, I certainly, understand the students, their passion, their need for extracurricular activities, their need to participate in sports. Unfortunately, with this health pandemic, nothing is guaranteed. We certainly want everything we can possibly give for our students. We want to give you the most well-rounded education possible.”

Ms. Tona continued: “This health crisis is not easy for anyone, and being on a contingent budget is not easy for anyone, especially the ladies and gentlemen that sit to my left [referring to the school board members]. I know that this has been a struggle for the board of education.”

Dr. Susan Koukounas had a request to make of her colleagues on the school board. “We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road [with state aid], but I do ask that if we do hit a hiccup in January, February that we don’t put our literacy programs on the line,” she said. “That’s my only request from the board. That is the core of our education. That is the core of what we have to give our students, the tools to learn how to communicate properly so when they leave and go into the world, they may do so appropriately.”

When it came time to vote, school board president Laurie Downs counted seven raised arms and said: “All in favor. Motion passes.”

A round of applause followed.

RECOGNITION OF RETIREES

The school board recognized the retirements of five district employees: maintenance mechanic Michael Butler (32 years of service), cook Darlene Taylor (32 years), custodial worker Wayland Taylor (32 years), bus driver Kathy Knight (22 years) and groundskeeper Robert Ries (20 years).