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Top Stories 2020: As hardships go, Riverhead schools have had more than their share

The Riverhead school community was dealt a series of blows this year, between a failed bond proposal, a twice-rejected budget and the sudden departure of its superintendent — on top of navigating education during the pandemic.

In February, Riverhead voters soundly rejected two bond propositions totaling $97 million to fund repairs and renovations that would have addressed critical space needs in the district. A second bond proposal to fund athletic upgrades was also rejected.

Weeks after the failed bond proposal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all schools to shut down for an initial two-week period due to rising COVID-19 cases. Schools switched to remote-only instruction through the end of the school year, disrupting everything from the spring sports season to high school proms and graduations.

Due to pandemic guidelines, the annual school budget and board vote was conducted via absentee ballots in June. The $147.1 million budget was rejected in a 3,173 to 2,847 vote. Longtime Board of Education president Gregory Meyer did not seek reelection and voters elected Chris Dorr, Therese Zuhoski and Virginia Healy to terms on the board.

Just over a week later, Dr. Aurelia Henriquez abruptly resigned as superintendent, citing “certain irreconcilable differences” and “the best interest of her family” as her reasons. Christine Tona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, has since been serving as interim superintendent.

In July, the same $147.1 million spending plan was rejected again during an in-person revote that saw turnout soar compared to other years.

A total of 59 was the difference in the revote, which failed 2,108 to 2,049. It was the only failed budget in Suffolk County and the first for Riverhead since 2006.

Saving sports and music, which were slashed under the contingency budget, became a point of contention among board members, who ultimately voted in December to fund some spring sports programs, art and music.