Home Schools Board of Education On the other side of the podium: board ‘watchdog’ Laurie Downs takes...

On the other side of the podium: board ‘watchdog’ Laurie Downs takes her seat

Laurie Downs, right, took her seat on the Riverhead Board of Education last night next to School board member Ann Cotten-Degrasse, who often locked horns with Downs, a persistent, vocal critic of the board for many years. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Laurie Downs, the former PTO president and self-proclaimed school board “watchdog” who for many years videotaped every school board meeting and challenged board members with questions and criticism, last night took her seat on the Board of Education.

Downs, a Riverhead resident, was elected to the board in May, following her second run for the office.

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Laurie Downs questions why salary information for appointments is not included on the public version of the board agenda. Photo: Denise Civiletti

While she was mostly quiet during the board’s first meeting of the 2016-2017 school year, when it came time for comments by board members, Downs asked that the board’s meeting agenda in the future reflect the salaries, hourly and per-diem wages being paid to people being appointed.

The information is not provided on the agenda published for the public, though it is on the version of the agenda supplied to board members, she said.

“That’s always how we’ve done it,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said.

Downs said it wasn’t always that way and the practice should be discontinued.

“It’s all done by contract and contracts are available to the public,” Carney said.

But Downs insisted that the information should appear on the agenda itself. “It’s public information as per the open government law,” Downs said. “So I would appreciate it if you could make that change, please.”

“We’ll look into it,” board president Susan Koukounas told her.

Susan Koukounas, left, was elected president and Amelia Lantz, second from left, was elected vice president by fellow board members Christopher Dorr, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Laurie Downs at last night's organizational meeting. Greg Meyer and Kimberly Liggon were absent.
Susan Koukounas, left, was elected president and Amelia Lantz, second from left, was elected vice president by fellow board members Christopher Dorr, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Laurie Downs at last night’s organizational meeting. Greg Meyer and Kimberly Ligon were absent.

Board members sworn in, officers elected

Amelia Lantz and Christopher Dorr took the oath of office as trustees last night. Lantz, the top vote-getter in the May election, won another three-year term. Dorr, who placed third, was elected to fill the unexpired term of Lori Hulse, who resigned from the board Dec. 31 to take the bench in Riverhead Justice Court. Downs was elected to her own three-year term.

Susan Koukounas was elected president and Amelia Lantz vice president of the Board of Education in a unanimous vote of the board. Both served in those offices during the last school year.

Repair reserve fund expenditures approved

After a public hearing during which former school board president Angela DeVito questioned the expenditure of some repair reserve funds to replace some cafeteria furniture at Roanoke Avenue and Pulaski Street schools, the board unanimously approved the expenditure. The district will spend a total of $185,072 from the repair reserve fund established in 2011, closing out the five-year fund.

The repair reserve is “like a savings account” that funds repairs on an as-needed basis, Carney said.

In addition to repair and replacement of furniture in the two elementary schools — the last two buildings being renovated under the capital construction bond — the district will also use more than $69,000 from the fund to repair portions of one of the portables at the high school that is in disrepair.

Administrative appointments

Sam Schneider was promoted to deputy superintendent.
Sam Schneider was promoted to deputy superintendent.

Sam Schneider, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, has been named deputy superintendent. Schneider has served in the assistant superintendent post since July 2011.

With the promotion, “he will be the most senior person on our administrative staff who will be the go-to person if for some reason I am not available or out of district,” Carney said last night.

Carney, who was deputy superintendent before being elevated to the top post to succeed Diane Scricca in 2010, has not previously had her own deputy.

Christine Tona, executive director for curriculum and instruction at West Babylon schools, has been named assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, succeeding David Wicks in that post. Wicks left the district to become superintendent of Eastern Suffolk BOCES as of July 1.

Tona held her West Babylon position since 2012. Prior to that, she was an elementary school principal in the West Babylon school district for 11 years.

Tona is a “curriculum expert” that she is very happy to welcome to Riverhead, Carney said.

Turf field materials questioned

Calverton resident Sal Mastropaolo asked the board to reconsider the use of crumb rubber as the base material for the new turf field being installed at the district’s athletic complex.

Mastropaolo said studies he read concluded that the crumb rubber is dangerous to athletes playing on the field.

Board president Koukounas said the material is approved by the State Education Department whose own studies were “inconclusive” as to the material’s potential toxicity.

Mastropaolo, who has grandchildren in the district, objected to the district moving forward with the installation without knowing for certain whether the crumb rubber base would be safe.

“There are other materials available. Have you looked into them?” he asked.

Koukounas said the board is limited to the specifications for the construction published prior to the bond vote.

 

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.