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05/03/13 11:00am
Riverhead bus plan in Riverside

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Under the current plan, buses would be leaving Enterprise Zone Drive (above) and turning onto Route 24 in Riverside.

Residents are set to speak out tonight against the Riverhead School District’s proposal to demolish and replace the bus barn at its main campus with a new garage and maintenance facility outside Phillips Avenue School in Riverside.

First built in 1920 as a barn for horses, the current structure has fallen into despair, school officials have said. In March, the school board decided it best to relocate its entire fleet of buses and repair facility.

But the location of the proposed facility has caused concern among some Riverside residents.

“The whole idea of relocating the existing facility to the Phillips Avenue grade school is in our opinion insulting at best,” Vincent Taldone, a member of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association, said in an email he sent to residents on Thursday.

He complained students at Phillips Avenue School will have to look at an unsightly, “giant bus parking lot,” and “our residential neighbors should not be inhaling fumes from a fleet of buses of which only a few vehicles actually serve our community.”

The Flanders Riverside North Hampton Community Association will be joined by members of the Bayview Pines Civic And Taxpayers Association for a public forum to address the issue tonight, Friday, at the Crohan Center at 7:30 pm.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney is expected to attend.

Ms. Carney has said the plans were designed specifically to prevent buses from traveling through residential areas.

District voters are being asked on May 21, during the school budget vote, to approve two propositions on the ballot to move forward with the new bus plan.

The first will appear as Proposition No. 1 on the ballot, requesting the creation of what officials are calling a Transportation, Maintenance and Athletic Fields Capital Reserve Fund, which can reach $10 million over 10 years.

The reserve fund’s first deposit would come from a sale involving district-owned farmland on Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue. The district acquired 27 acres on the east side of Tuthills Lane in 1965 and is now looking to sell development rights at the land to Suffolk County for agricultural purposes. Officials estimate the sale would be worth more than $1 million dollars.

A second pitch, called Proposition No. 2, asks voters to use the proceeds of the sale to purchase two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School for no more than $480,000 combined.

One property was described by Riverhead schools superintendent Nancy Carney as a 1.4-acre “paper road” that would be purchased for no more than $55,000, and the other is for an adjoining 1.5-acre parcel in what’s called Riverside Enterprise Park — a small industrial park at the site of the old Flanders drive-in theater property. According to the proposition, the second parcel would be purchased for no more than $425,000.

Although district officials don’t plan to build anything on these properties, the district needs them because school buses leaving the facility would need to cross the two properties in order to reach Enterprise Zone Drive, which encircles the industrial park, and then make their way to Route 24, officials said.

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04/29/13 3:00pm
Chris Dorr and Riverhead School Board

COURTESY PHOTO | Chris Dorr is running against two incumbent school board members in this month’s at-large election for two seats.

Baiting Hollow parent Christopher Dorr, the challenger running against two incumbents for a seat on the Riverhead school board, says he knows all too well about the ins and outs of state-mandated student assessments.

He’s a Nassau BOCES data coordinator who analyzes student tests, staff evaluations and handles state reporting for schools in Nassau. In the midst of new assessment and teacher evaluation mandates coming from Albany, Mr. Dorr believes his skills would be a great asset to the Riverhead School District.

“I do believe some testing is needed, because sometimes students may fly under radar in the classroom,” he said. “These tests help to pick them out.”

The downside to the current state-assessment model, Mr. Dorr said, is it involves “over testing” students and is tied to teacher evaluations.

He believes the best way to gauge how teachers are performing is to have them evaluated solely by “the people that know them best,” such as their principals, peers and students.

The parent of a senior high school student and 10-year-old twins said he’s thought about running for school board for awhile and decided to jump in the race now because he wants to make sure quality education is maintained.

“I don’t think budget constraints should be the reason to cut programs,” he said. “We have to find a way around that.”

Mr. Dorr will face incumbents Jeff Falisi of Calverton and Amelia Lantz of Riverhead. There are two seats carrying three-year terms up for grabs on the seven-member board.

While he understands challenging current school board members is difficult, he believes he has a good chance of winning the race.

“I know it’s tough running against incumbents, but that could be plus for me,” he said. “I’ll be able to provide a fresh set of eyes.”

The 2013-14 school board and budget vote is scheduled for May 21.

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04/10/2013 2:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO  |  The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at Tuesday night's meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at a meeting earlier this year.

Taxpayers in the Shoreham-Wading River School District will vote on a $66.1 million 2013-14 school budget this spring after the Board of Education adopted the proposed spending plan at its meeting Tuesday night.

The proposed budget represents a roughly 5.5 percent spending increase from this year’s plan and will preserve classroom and extracurricular programs by pulling extra funds from the district’s state aid reserves, school officials said.

The proposed tax levy — the total amount the district can collect from taxpayers — would increase by 2.29 percent. The increase can be higher than the usual 2 percent statewide cap on levy increases because of certain exemptions approved by the state, said district superintendent Steven Cohen.

The district recently learned it will receive more state aid than expected next school year, school officials said. The extra funds will go into a capital fund for improvements to district facilities, Mr. Cohen said.

School board officials said that while next year’s proposed budget keeps school programs intact, it will be difficult in future years to find ways to trim the budget to fit under the tax levy cap, largely because of increases in teacher salaries and benefits that will outstrip the pace of the cuts.

“You have to look at what we were able to do with this budget with the restrictions handed to us,” said board president William McGrath.

Since the proposed budget is within the tax levy cap, it only requires a majority to pass.

If the budget fails, the tax levy would not be allowed to increase and the district would have to cut middle and high school clubs, middle school athletics, three clerical positions and one teacher to cut $1.1 million for a contingency budget, Mr. Cohen said

• Security at Shoreham-Wading River schools dealt with two minor incidents last week, school officials said during the meeting.

In the first incident, a suspicious car was seen near the high school on April 2. The car was determined not to be a danger, officials said. Two days later, security spotted a man using prescription drugs in the parking lot. Both incidents were quickly dealt with, Mr. McGrath said.

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04/10/13 5:00am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the tax levy.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney said Tuesday her tentative budget uses additional state aid to offset the proposed tax levy increase.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney announced Tuesday that a chunk of additional aid the state Legislature secured last month for the district will help offset next year’s tax levy increase.

The state aid boost wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked $18.75 million in state aid for the Riverhead district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been a 6.37 percent boost over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 16.17 percent increase, totaling $20.45 million.

Ms. Carney said during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday night in the high school auditorium that her $117.5 million spending plan proposal for next school year — if approved by voters — would increase the tax levy by 3.82 percent over this school year.

The spending plan includes applying $1.16 million of the extra $1.7 million in state aid money to cutting down the tax levy increase.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as $1.13 million in pension expenses and about $2.36 million in capital costs, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Ms. Carney said Riverhead is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 5.14 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval.

In an interview after the meeting, she said the amount of the unexpected state aid boost that would go toward reducing the proposed tax levy increase was determined after deducting some other costs that have come up during the budget process.

Some of those items include a reduction in federal aid from the federal budget cuts known as “the sequester,” and an estimated increase in expenses for students planning to attend the Riverhead Charter School’s new seventh-grade class. A recent projection of student enrollment also shows the district will need to add an extra special education classes next year, she said.

“We deducted those additional expenditures from the overage of the state aid and the rest is putting toward the tax levy,” Ms. Carney said.

The school board is also looking into the feasibility of using some of the state aid money to pay for security upgrades. School board member Jeffrey Falisi suggested investing in an enhanced surveillance system he described as an “eye in the sky.” It involves installing cameras in hallways, at entrances and outside buildings at all facilities, he said, and a single control room would monitor the entire district. Although there’s a cost to purchasing the new technology, Mr. Falisi said he believes the system will be more efficient and cost effective in the long run.

“It will be nothing compared to hiring [more security], pensions, medical, once we get passed the initial cost,” he said.

The school board agreed to schedule a public meeting April 17 to discuss the idea further.

The school board is scheduled to adopt its proposed budget April 23.

It goes before voters in May 21.

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03/13/13 9:00pm
03/13/2013 9:00 PM

RIVERHEAD NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverehead school board discussed Tuesday next year’s spending plan.

Riverhead School District will spend about $940,000 for nursing in the 2013-14 school year, a 13.09 percent drop due to three retiring nurses being replaced with newer staff at lower salaries, Superintendent Nancy Carney said during a proposed budget presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meetings.

Ms. Carney gave a budget presentation about special education, student programs and school activities costs during Tuesday night’s schools board meeting. Last month, Ms. Carney announced that more than 20 Riverhead School District employees have accepted a retirement incentive offer, which she said will result in a $2 million savings.

Although each employee that takes the retirement incentive will receive $20,000, Ms. Carney said the move will still save the district over $70,000 per employee that accepts the offer and the district will now likely be able to present a budget within the state-mandated tax levy cap.

Spending in the other fields is going up.

She projected about $1.3 million in spending for career and technology education, a nearly 7 percent increase, because more students have expressed an interest in attending BOCES vocational classes during the 2013-14 school year.

She estimates special education and home instruction expenses for students home schooled due to health reasons or suspensions will cost nearly $15.3 million next year, a 2.72 percent increase compared to the current school year.

Counseling will cost more than $1.3 million, up 4.09 percent, and guidance and attendance expenses will be about $1.5 million, a 2.75 percent increase, she said, noting both of those budget lines items are expected to increase due to contractual salary increases.

Her preliminary spending plan has also allocated $1.3 million for extra curricular activities and athletics, a .58 percent increase.

The school board will continue its budget discussions on March 19, when Ms. Carney is expected to give a presentation on the district’s revenue stream and the projected tax levy for the next school year.

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03/13/13 7:30am
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | John Urbancik, a parent of a Smithtown High School West student, claimed his family was mistreated during Feb. 5 Riverhead Blue Waves basketball home game.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | John Urbancik, a parent of a Smithtown West High School student, claims his family was mistreated during a Feb. 5 boys’ basketball game in Riverhead.

A Smithtown West High School senior made a complaint to the Riverhead school board Tuesday night about lax security at a Riverhead boys’ basketball home game, saying a group of unruly parents verbally abused her in the stands as a security guard watched and did nothing from the floor.

Christina Urbancik, 17, said although the Feb. 5 game, in which Riverhead beat Smithtown West by a score of 72-71, started out “fun and exciting,” it turned into a night that would “haunt” her.

Christina claims Donald Henderson, the Riverhead School District’s head of security, watched as she was “verbally abused over 10 minutes” by a group of Riverhead parents sitting behind her and her father.

Christina said two Riverhead parents began cursing after the first foul was called on the Blue Waves with about two minutes left in the game. When she asked them to “calm down,” two other parents also started to shout at her.

“I thought the situation was going to be under control,” Christina said, referring to when she first noticed Mr. Henderson observing the confrontation. “I was wrong.”

[RELATED: Carney finds security staff acted appropriately]

Christina claims Mr. Henderson “only watched” the situation unfold and didn’t admonish the Riverhead parents’ actions. She also claimed Mr. Henderson told her “one more word out of you and you’re out of here.”

After the meeting, Christina said the Riverhead parents were yelling at her to “watch your own game” and “let the kids play.”

“I was horrified,” she said. “We begged [Mr. Henderson] to get them to stop.”

Christina’s father, John, also addressed the school board during its regular meeting Tuesday night and said he decided to make his concerns public because he believes the district hasn’t been responsive to his complaint.

Mr. Urbancik claims Mr. Henderson told him there were six police officers in the gym and that he was never in danger.

“My daughter was very upset and crying,” he said. “Mr. Henderson told her to pipe down and keep quiet or you’ll be asked to leave.”

Mr. Urbancik said he had to take his daughter to the emergency room for anxiety treatment due to the altercation and believes attempting to resolve the issue with the district is part of her therapy.

“I’m not looking for a lawsuit,” he told the school board. “I just want you guys to be aware of this.”

Mr. Urbancik said he felt so unsafe that he asked a Riverhead Town police officer who was at the game to escort him and his daughter to his car.

Mr. Urbancik said he when he asked the officer why the police didn’t stop the fans from heckling him and his daughter, the officer told him the police were never notified of the situation.

“If something would have happened physically it would have taken them 40 seconds to get over there, but the damage would have been done already,” Mr. Urbancik said.

Physical education teacher and Riverhead Central Faculty Association union president Barbara Barosa said during the public comment portion of the meeting she has never felt unsafe in the Riverhead gym for the 32 years she’s been with the district and said: “For the most part, our fans are wonderful.”

“I do apologize if somebody acted inappropriately, but I do not believe standing here and talking about one person who is in charge of security is the way to resolve the problem,” she told the Urbanciks. “They’re very intense games and I want to assure these people that if there were ever any situation where they were being threatened physically, that certainly would have been handled.”

School board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse thanked Mr. Urbancik and his daughter for bringing up their concerns and declined to discuss the issue further publicly because she said it’s a personnel matter.

The board later entered into executive session to discuss the allegations.

Christina said after the school board meeting she believes similar situations could be avoided if there was designated seating areas for home and away fans.

“I definitely think a little more organization would help the school,” she said. “I’m just looking to see an improvement because I would hate to see someone else go through what I went through. I was horrified.”

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03/12/13 6:00am
CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Tonight's Riverhead school board meeting is at 7 p.m.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Tonight’s Riverhead school board meeting is at 7 p.m.

The Riverhead school board is expected to continue its preliminary budget talks for the 2013-14 school year Tuesday night.

According to the Board of Education meeting agenda, Superintendent Nancy Carney will give a presentation about expenses on special education, pupil personnel services, guidance and other instructional items.

Last month, Ms. Carney discussed equipment costs, curriculum, instruction, operations and transportation.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda and check back later for updates.

Riverhead school board meeting agenda, March 12, 2013