Riverhead budget passes by wide margin as Connelly, Palmer win BOE seats

There will be no revote, no contingency budget or empty athletic fields next year in Riverhead.

Residents in the Riverhead Central School District approved the $154.9 million spending plan Tuesday by a wide margin, allowing the district to breathe a collective sigh of relief after two failed attempts to pass the 2020-21 budget.

The final tally was 2,237 yes votes and 886 in opposition.

“I’d like to thank the community for their support of this budget so that we can get back on the right track, emerge from contingency and provide the students with everything they need to be successful,” interim superintendent Christine Tona said.

Incumbent Brian Connelly was reelected to a second term on the Board of Education along with newcomer Colin Palmer. There was six candidates vying for the two positions. The other incumbent, Susan Koukounas, finished in third in her attempt to win a fourth term.

Mr. Connelly received 1,392 votes and Mr. Palmer received 1,309. Ms. Koukounas received 1,215 votes.

The budget represented a 10.08% spending increase, but did not alter the tax levy thanks to a 42% boot in state aid this year. The budget restores cuts that were made to the district under this year’s contingency budget while enhancing academic, social and emotional support programs, officials said.

Anxious district officials and some of the school board candidates gathered inside Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Tuesday night as the results were tabulated. Results were revealed shortly after 10 p.m. and applause broke out when district officials announced the budget and resoundingly passed.

Christopher Venator, an attorney for the school district, and Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider during the counting of votes Tuesday evening. (Credit: Tara Smith)

The welcome news on the budget came as the district begins to wind down an eventful year that began under a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and remote learning due to the ongoing pandemic.

“The students were so resilient this year,” Ms. Tona said. “Our goal was to provide students with the best possible education in light of the pandemic and it’s heartening to see students now in the spring able to participate in some activities. It’s a great sound — my office is right there and I hear the crack of the bat on a regular basis.”

Mr. Connelly, 46, said he’s looking forward to “an amazing school year next year.”

“I’m just so happy the budget passed,” he said. “I’m looking forward to another term and now we can really do some great things, get everyone back in school and kids back to some kind of normalcy.”

Mr. Palmer, 30, thanked the community and fellow candidates for their support.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to work,” he said. “I want to get a copy of the educational laws so I can start to read things. Between now and July 1 I’ve got some time to get ready.”

He said he’s experienced a nice support group between board members past and present.

“I’m just honestly really happy the budget passed as well,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”

The final three school board candidates were Yolanda Thompson with 850 votes, Monique Parsons with 709 and Shannon Reitz with 602.

After record turnout last year when voting was done entirely via absentee ballots due to the pandemic, the number of votes cast dropped back closer in line with recent years. More than 6,000 votes were cast in the first vote last June and the turnout dropped by about 1,800 for the revote last July when a total of 59 votes was the difference.

This year’s turnout of 3,123 votes still exceeded the 2019 number when 2,274 votes were cast.

SWR Budget Approved

Voters in the Shoreham-Wading River School District approved an $80.6 million budget as well as two additional propositions. The budget received 669 votes in favor and 215 votes in opposition.

Proposition No. 2, which allows the district to spend $7.5 million in existing capital reserve funds on repairs districtwide, passed with 707 yes votes compared to 165 against. Proposition No. 3, which establishes a new capital reserve fund at no cost to taxpayers, was also approved with 677 yes votes and 192 against.

Incumbents Robert Rose and James Smith were both reelected to three-year terms. They ran unopposed. Mr. Rose received 689 votes and Mr. Smith received 670.