Riverhead School District

$169.7M budget adopted in Riverhead; voters head to polls May 17

The Riverhead Board of Education adopted a $169.7 million budget for the 2022-2023 school year at its meeting Tuesday night.

The spending plan was approved in a 6-0 vote, with member Therese Zuhoski absent.

According to Superintendent Augustine Tornatore, Riverhead’s proposed 1% tax levy increase is far lower than the Long Island average of 1.9%. It is well within the state-set tax cap of 2.27%.

The budget includes the implementation of a nine-period school day at the middle and high schools, eight additional classrooms at the high school that would be housed in the current Pupil Personnel Services portables and the hiring of a STEM director who would help implement ‘maker spaces’ in all seven school buildings. It would also allow the district to continue working on social-emotional learning programs and restorative practices in school, Mr. Tornatore said.

During a report to the board Tuesday, the superintendent detailed some last-minute changes he and interim business official Faith Caglianone made to the proposal after the state budget was adopted last week. 

Final state aid runs revealed that Riverhead will actually receive $800,000 less than forecasted, the superintendent said, which led to some reductions.

District officials had initially proposed a $170.6 million budget that was trimmed by nearly $800,000 to $169,750,296, which is still a $10.3 million spending increase over this year’s adopted budget.

Mr. Tornatore said that the trimmed-down budget will not negatively impact students. “We were very cognizant of increasing services, programming and support for our students,” he said, noting that reductions were made in the district office to make up for the shortfall.

Plans to expand the business office and provide additional professional development to administrators were placed “on hold,” he said.

“I appreciate that, because our children have gone through so much the last couple of years,” said Board of Education president Laurie Downs. “I don’t want to see them have to lose anything at this point.”

The tax levy has not increased since 2019, after voters in 2020 twice rejected budget proposals that led to a contingency budget. An influx of nearly $14 million in state and federal funding prompted officials to propose a zero-percent tax levy increase again in 2021.

Under this year’s budget, instruction costs will rise by more than $6 million, largely due to the expanded nine-period day at the secondary level, which will require additional teachers at both schools. Between the expanded school day and growing selection of elective courses, the budget anticipates adding 15 full-time teachers at the high school and four at the middle school.

The budget also includes a transfer of $1.5 million for a capital project to upgrade doors and security systems at the secondary level. During a prior budget presentation, interim business official Faith Caglianone said the transfer for capital will allow a tiered approach to grading security district-wide and that the district can’t sustain staffing needed to cover every door or access point at every building. The upgrades would include integrated video, door access and alarm management. “Leveraging technology is in the best interest of the District’s future,” the presentation notes.

In addition to the spending plan, voters will also be asked to approve a proposed expenditure of $66,000 from the Cafeteria Capital Reserve Fund for upgrades at three schools next month.

The expenditure would cover the installation of a walk-in refrigerator at Phillips Avenue School, the purchase of two warming cabinets at the high school and two milk chests at Riley Avenue Elementary School.

Two BOE seats currently held by board president Laurie Downs and vice president Matthew Wallace are also up for reelection this year. Candidates have until Monday, April 18, to submit petitions to the district clerk.

The board will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 10 and the budget vote and election are set for Tuesday, May 17.