School budget and Board of Education elections are coming up on Tuesday, May 17. In Riverhead, three candidates are facing off for two seats on the Board of Education. In Shoreham-Wading River, two incumbent members are running unopposed. All candidates recently answered a brief questionnaire sent out by the Riverhead News-Review. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Current board president Laurie Downs and vice president Matthew Wallace are seeking reelection and Andrew Nadeau is running for the first time.
Terms are for three years and the position is unpaid.
The budget vote and trustee election will take place Tuesday, May 17. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and registered voters may cast ballots at the elementary school that a child living in their home would attend.
You can find your polling place at es.findmypollplace.com/riverheadcsd.
Ms. Downs, 66, is seeking a third term on the seven member school board, which she currently serves as president.
She said she’s seeking reelection to ensure that the district gets “back on track” after the pandemic. “We have a new superintendent that’s on the right path and I want to support him,” she said. “Our students need us more now than ever before.”
Ms. Downs cites Riverhead’s diversity as a strength but noted that graduation rates must be improved. “The district needs to focus on why certain groups just aren’t making it,”
She also said the district should better align programming between buildings and continue making pandemic-related adjustments. The district has hired psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and a dean of students as support for students in the wake of COVID-19.
The district is also contending with space and enrollment issues after a failed bond proposal. “We need help from the community; however we all know that dirty four-letter word ‘bond,’ ” Ms. Downs said. She supports working with the town to pump the brakes on housing development and advocates for reallocating PILOT payments to the school district to address space concerns.
A longtime district watchdog with two adult children who graduated from Riverhead, Ms. Downs said accountability is important. “Everyone from the top to the bottom and anyone in between should be held accountable; this also means the students,” she said.
As an incumbent board member, Ms. Downs said she’s advocated for more transparency, including posting salaries and staff contracts on the board agendas and website and is proud that the district plans to bring back a ninth period at the secondary level.
New programs, like an International Baccalaureate, are also something she is particularly interested in exploring for Riverhead students.
Ms. Downs added that she supports the budget proposition, which would raise taxes by 1%. “It was a struggle to get to 1%,” she said, noting that the proposal adds things to highlight the educational experience for students.
Andrew Nadeau, 32, is an independent duty corpsman in the U.S. Navy who resides in Calverton.
He was awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal in 2015 and recently participated in the town’s Earth Day cleanup.
Mr. Nadeau said his oldest son will begin school next year and he is running to “restore medical and educational decision making” to parents and Riverhead residents. He said Tuesday at Riverhead’s Board of Education meeting that is he currently “awaiting discharge for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” as is required by the Department of Navy.
He cited several COVID-19-related issues as his top reasons for running. He opposes mask and vaccine mandates and said he’d like to implement a ban on such mandates, restore medical decision-making to parents and eliminate the state’s power to interrupt local educational processes through declared health emergencies.
The statewide mask mandate for New York schools was lifted in late February and there is currently no mandate for the COVID-19 vaccine for students.
Mr. Nadeau is also advocating for decentralizing the school district from the state and eliminating “politically motivated” curriculum, instead offering parents a “variety of separate curriculums to choose from that best meets their family’s ideals.” School curriculum, he said, should be based on the “concept of liberty and personal responsibility.”
Mr. Nadeau also said he supports arming security guards.
In response to space issues the district has faced in recent years, Mr. Nadeau said internet-based lessons could allow students to revisit materials at their own pace. “There should be an investigation as to who and what entity is enrolling unaccompanied illegal nonresident immigrants into the school district,” Mr. Nadeau said.
An online system, he said, could also be an income-generating initiative that would allow students anywhere to enroll in Riverhead CSD and access coursework.
A 2007 Riverhead graduate, Mr. Nadeau said that he will not support the school budget proposition, which would increase the tax levy by 1%. “I am opposed to taxation in general,” he said. “I know there is plenty of fat to be eliminated and I am not in favor of sacrificing enrichment programs or sports to stay under budget.”
Matthew Wallace, 51, is a licensed practical nurse for Northwell Health who lives in Calverton with his wife and four children. He has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT for 35 years, currently serves as commissioner in the Wading River FD and also raises puppies for the nonprofit Canine Companions.
Mr. Wallace, who was first elected in 2019, is the current Board of Education vice president and said he’s seeking reelection to continue to be a voice for students.
He said he’s proud to have been part of last year’s search for a new superintendent last year and proud of the changes that have been made to the district so far. He hopes to continue working on committees on initiatives to support the superintendent, students and staff. “The Board of Education should work to know their needs,” he said, and reach them.
Mr. Wallace said they have already taken steps to add eight classrooms at the high school and said “further reorganization” needs to be looked at throughout the district to address space concerns.
Mr. Wallace also said the district should explore more advanced security systems within school buildings.
As the district emerges from the pandemic, he said expanded instructional opportunities that meet students’ physical, social and mental needs are crucial. “Students need to be re-engaged,” he said.
Mr. Wallace said he supports student experiences, from opportunities to take AP and community college courses at the secondary level to learning a trade at BOCES or participating in a club, sport or other activity.
“The experiences the students are provided with are among the top,” he said. “Riverhead offers clubs after school for students to engage in their interests, socialize and have feelings of belonging.”
That student programming, Mr. Wallace said, is one key reason he plans to support the budget. “It will enable us to offer more programs and opportunities for the students, allowing the district to get back to normalcy after [COVID-19] and contingency, which is vital.”
In the Shoreham-Wading River district, two incumbents are running unopposed for reelection to the Board of Education.
Voting takes place Tuesday, May 17, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the high school gymnasium.
Thomas Sheridan, 53, is a senior account executive and member of the Wildcat Athletic Club and Wildcats Helping the Arts and Music who said he’s running to continue advocating for the educational needs of the children, asking questions and providing input on district policies with a “common sense” approach.
Mr. Sheridan said he’s “often amazed” at the successful outcomes students achieve in academics, athletics, art and music at SWR schools but said the district should strengthen communications and school spirit.
“SWR offers great programs and activities including clubs and events, which allows students to connect at another level of engagement,” he said. “I’d like to see more school pride, to be proud to be able to show and celebrate all that the school has to offer.”
Key issues the board must contend with, he believes, are the receipt of school aid at a time where rising inflation costs compete with the state tax cap and increases in student need, and Next Generation English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics Learning Standards set by the State Education Department. He said the board can advocate with other school boards to voice their concerns and help get resources for students and teachers.
Mr. Sheridan said he supports the budget proposition, which will add a ninth period at the Prodell Middle School — something he’s advocated for in the past to expand student opportunities.
He has also advocated for expanded course electives at the high school and is eager to see the completed strategic plan. One area where he’d specifically like to see improvement in is in financial and economic education. “I’m passionate about providing financial literacy education, especially to high school students who may be getting their first job,” he said. “I believe that it’s important for students to understand finances, personal financial management, budgeting and investing.”
Meghan Tepfenhardt, 47, is a K-6 STEAM coordinator who resides in Wading River and is an active member of Parent-Teacher Association groups, SEPTA, the Wildcat Athletic Club and Wildcats Helping the Arts and Music. Since being elected in 2019, she has served on the audit, curriculum development and policy committees.
“As an educator, I have important contributions to offer in this role and I am wholeheartedly dedicated to continually improving the district,” Ms. Tepfenhardt said, adding that it’s been an honor to serve during her first term.
Throughout the district, she said, students benefit from continual improvement and “fierce dedication” from the work of parent groups, student groups, booster clubs, teachers, staff and leadership. “As a trustee, it is important to help set the district’s direction by building a shared vision, establishing goals and shaping policy while ensuring the annual budget supports these items,” she said.
In light of the pandemic, Ms. Tepfenhardt said it’s important to balance students’ social-emotional well being and academic achievement and also develop fiscally responsible budgets as costs increase. Improving access to high quality instruction was another issue she pointed to as a top priority for the Board of Education.
She said she supports the budget proposition because it maintains programming, expands elective courses and extends the current eight-period middle school model to a nine-period day.