Editorial: Vote yes on Riverhead’s school budget

It already seems like an eternity ago that voters in the Riverhead Central School District decided the fate of a proposed $97 million bond that would have funded repairs and renovations throughout the district. It was late February 2020 when voters soundly rejected the proposition, leaving no chance for the athletic upgrades that were included as part of Proposition 2.

Just a few weeks later, the world turned upside down as the coronavirus pandemic changed education in a way no one saw coming.

District officials might not have realized it at the time, but the frustration among voters who rejected the bond carried over to the budget vote, which failed not once, but twice, placing the district on a contingency budget with dramatic cutbacks in athletics, clubs and music.

The hope now in Riverhead has nothing to do with fancy athletic upgrades. It’s simply to get back to normal. Get a budget approved.

Voters should do just that and pass this year’s $159.4 million spending plan on Tuesday, May 18.

The students in the district, who have bounced between remote learning and the socially distant challenges of in-person classes, deserve to know their community supports them. The district has been through too many challenges in the past two years to have to needlessly endure another failed budget.

The voters made their voices heard clearly last year -— and that has not gone unnoticed.

But the costs facing the district continue to climb, particularly in light of the pandemic, and there’s no avoiding that. A significant boost in state aid — just over 42% —provided relief the district desperately needed, and has been fighting for, in putting together a budget that does not burden the taxpayers.

The voters can rest assured that they will be deciding on a budget where the lax levy, which is the amount raised by taxes, remains flat at $104.5 million. There is no increase. In preparing budgets, there’s simply nothing more than that a district can do to satisfy its taxpayers.

“We recognized that next year, students will need additional support and guidance, and our budget was designed to provide those services,” interim superintendent Christine Tona said. “I am very pleased that we were able to do these things without increasing the taxes of the hardworking residents of the district.”

This year’s budget addresses critical needs such as an additional guidance counselor, psychologist and social worker to provide enhanced support to students. Upgrades throughout the district such as to classroom furniture, security cameras and custodial equipment are all part of the necessary funding included in the budget.

Ms. Tona and deputy superintendent Sam Schneider faced a challenging task in navigating this year’s budget amid all the uncertainty not only from the pandemic, but last year’s failed budget.

The result is a sound, fiscally responsible budget that benefits the students. With a new superintendent slated to take the helm shortly, there is optimism that Riverhead is back on the right path with a fresh start.

Riverhead voters should approve the 2021-22 budget.