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Editorial: Riverhead residents should vote yes on 2022-23 school budget

In May of last year, voters in the Riverhead school district overwhelmingly approved a $154.9 million spending plan. The passage was a huge relief to the district, as it came after two failed attempts to pass the budget one year earlier.

Those failed attempts forced the district into a contingency budget that cut deeply into athletics and extracurricular activities important to students and their parents. That was a hardship for everyone and opened the door for droves of students to transfer elsewhere, particularly those eager to continue building athletic careers.

On Tuesday, district voters will go back to the polls, this time to decide on a $169.7 million spending plan, which carries a budget-to-budget increase of 6.4%. These numbers allow the district to stay below the allowable tax cap with a 1% increase to the tax levy.

With all that’s at stake in the Riverhead district this year – and with memories of the impact of failed budget votes — we call on voters to go to the polls and, like last May, approve the spending plan.

Some residents have pointed to uncertainty within the administration as a reason to vote no. Former deputy superintendent Sam Schneider was reassigned last October and the district did not fill his position, instead hiring an interim business official. Mr. Schneider was placed on administrative leave following an allegation raised to the superintendent, and residents never got clarity on what exactly transpired.

In March, Mr. Schneider was appointed to a new position in the East Hampton School District, ending his tenure in Riverhead. A settlement agreement reached between Mr. Schneider and the district showed he would be paid in full through June 30, 2022. And under terms of the agreement, the investigation will not continue.

It is understandable to feel frustrated that the district paid a one-time lump sum to the former administrator for all the compensation he would have earned through the end of this school year. That came on the heels of a settlement agreement with former superintendent Aurelia Henriquez, who abruptly left at the end of the 2020 school year.

But it’s important to remember that taking out any frustration on the budget only hurts students, both immediately and in the long run.

Current Superintendent Augustine Tornatore will hit one year on the job at the end of the current school year. It’s clear he’s brought a new vision to the district and the decision to reassign Mr. Schneider and open an investigation was not made lightly. We hope it was the best decision for the district.

When questioned at the April 27 meeting on how the district can persuade residents to vote yes, board president Laurie Downs said it’s up to everyone to examine the budget line by line and make a decision.

Ms. Downs said that, in her opinion, it would be “crazy” to go back into another contingency.

“We’ve already seen what was lost the last contingency,” she said. “To have our children go through something like that again, to me personally, is horrific.”

For more information on the spending plan, visit www.riverhead.net. Polls will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This is a spending plan well worth a “yes” vote.