Voters approve budgets in Riverhead, SWR
Voters in the Riverhead Central School District approved the $169.7 million spending plan for 2022-23 with about 62.5% approval.
It marks the second straight budget to pass in Riverhead after 2020’s failure sent the district into a contingency budget and forced sports and other extracurricular activities to be cut. The budget includes a 1% increase to the tax levy, which stays under the tax cap, and overall is a 6.49% increase compared to the current budget.
A total of 1,658 residents voted yes on the budget while 993 voted no.
Current board president Laurie Downs and vice president Matthew Wallace were both reelected to three-year seats on the Board of Education, easily defeating the lone challenger, Andrew Nadeau.
District officials gathered at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School Tuesday night and the room filled with applause as the results rolled in on the screen just before 11 p.m. showing the budget had passed. The group of administrators, building principals and other staff congratulated each other and the two school board members who were reelected. Mr. Nadeau did not attend the viewing.
Superintendent Augustine Tornatore, who is in his first year preparing a budget for Riverhead since taking on the top role last summer, said there’s always a sense of nervousness around an election.
“I want to thank the residents of Riverhead for supporting the school district and supporting our students,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting things for next year.”
He said he’s most excited for the nine-period day that will be implemented for both the middle school and high school, allowing students to take more elective classes.
“It really is going to have such a positive impact for our students and research shows that having a nine-period day is really the best pathway to go,” he said. “So I want to thank the residents for believing in this vision, supporting this budget, supporting me and the board.”
Mr. Tornatore said as a social studies teacher, he always thinks about history, so the budget failure of 2020 was not forgotten as the administrators prepared the 2022-23 figures.
“We wanted to be able to present a very fair budget where we could offer more for students but also be cognizant of the taxpayer,” he said. “Certainly with recent events, inflation and gas prices that did make me a little more nervous tonight, but I’m really pleased with how things are going and there will be great things to come for the students of Riverhead.”
Voters also approved a second proposition by a wide margin that allows the district to spend $56,000 from its Cafeteria Capital Reserve fund for renovations to the cafeterias at the high school and Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools. The fund was established in 2018 and the proposition carried no tax impact.
Ms. Downs was reelected to a third straight term on the board and for Mr. Wallace, this will be his second straight term.
“The budget passed with flying colors, the cafeteria project passed and people came out and supported me and Laurie,” Mr. Wallace said. “I’m happy to do another three years with the new superintendent and the changes for the positive going on in the district. Things are going well.”
Ms. Downs said the next three years “are going to be awesome.”
“It’s nothing but positive,” she added.
The two incumbents defeated a challenger who tried to embrace the political rhetoric of the far-right in his campaign. Mr. Nadeau, who in a virtual presentation at last week’s Board of Education meeting said he is “awaiting discharge for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” as is required by the Department of Navy, cited several COVID-19 related issues as his top reasons for running. He also had proposed decentralizing the school district from the state and eliminating “politically motivated” curriculum, a nod to the far-right’s disapproval of critical race theory, an academic concept that dates back four decades and seeks to examine the different ways racial disparities have affected decisions moments in history.
Mr. Nadeau, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate who said he lives in Calverton, was seeking a school board seat in a growingly diverse district, which has a population that is 58% Hispanic or Latino, 31% white and 9% Black, according to State Department of Education data for 2020-21.
A total of 74 write-in votes were received and former candidate Yolanda Thompson led the total with 33 of the votes.
The turnout this year in Riverhead declined from a year ago, but was still up from the pre-pandemic totals seen in 2017-2019 when there was record low turnout with declining totals averaging 2,355 per year. The numbers surged in 2020 when voting was done via absentee balloting due to the pandemic. Last year, more than 3,100 residents cast a vote in the school board election.
SWR Budget Approved
Voters in the Shoreham-Wading River School District overwhelmingly approved the $83 million spending plan for 2022-23. A total of 625 residents voted in favor while 167 voted against it.
The budget was a 2.87% increase from the current budget and included an increase of 1.7% to the tax levy, staying under the state cap.
The budget allows the middle school to expand to a nine-period day and includes new course offerings at the high school and a new shared librarian position at Wading River School and Miller Avenue School.
Voters also approved a second proposition of $2.9 million to fund several capital projects, including the renovation of two art classrooms at the high school. The funds will also be used create a physical wellness center at the former auxiliary gym that was formerly home to the school’s wrestling team.
Two incumbents ran unopposed for school board and were reelected to three-year terms. Thomas Sheridan received 659 votes and Meghan Tepfenhardt received 638.
Proposition 1: APPROVED
$169.7 million budget
Proposition 2: APPROVED
Cafeteria Capital Reserve Fund
Laurie Downs (Incumbent): 1,897 ELECTED
Andrew Nadeau: 822
Matthew Wallace (Incumbent): 1,915 ELECTED
A total of 74 write-in votes were received, led by former candidate Yolanda Thompson, who received 33 votes.
Proposition 1: APPROVED
$83 million budget
Proposition 2: APPROVED
Thomas Sheridan (Incumbent): 659
Meghan Tepfenhardt (Incumbent): 638
Write-in candidates: 14, each receiving fewer than five votes.