Photo: Peter Blasl

In the last school board meeting before the start of the new year on Sept. 7, the Riverhead Board of Education discussed several housekeeping items, a new program for students from other countries, and had a somewhat contentious discussion about a controversial topic.

Family Community Life Center
Riverhead school board members are at odds over whether the board of education should weigh in on the Family Community Life Center proposal to build a community center and affordable rental apartments on land adjacent to First Baptist Church of Riverhead.

After some discussion at last night’s meeting, board members agreed to put the matter on the agenda of the next Board of Education meeting Sept. 8. Board members Kimberly Ligon and Greg Meyer asked that the question be reconsidered by the board.

“It has nothing to do with us. It is a political issue. It is not an educational issue, newly elected member and one-time board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse said. “So, I would like to amend the agenda to say the resolution will include as documentation from the Coverdales as to why they need the Board of Education’s approval.”

Board president Susan Koukounas said the New York State School Board Assocation looked over the situation this summer “and they do feel that it is a political matter.” She added the association explained by saying “the school board governs the educational system and cannot be used as a political chip.”

“When I first came in there was lots of talk about the YMCA. And, we by far, entertained them much more than for a church in our own district with the kids and the people that come to our district,” Meyer countered. “I think it’s quite clear that we’re supporting something that could have pre-k children attend, some extra recreational purposes.”

“The difference between the Y and this is that the Y didn’t have housing attached to it that would bring in hundreds of new families with absolutely no tax increase to educate the children that would be moving into those housing,” argued board member Christopher Dorr.

“We’re not in charge of collecting taxes,” Meyer replied. “I understand there’s housing associated with it. I think this is something that the whole community is in dire need of.”

Following the discussion among the board, Riverside community member Robert Brown spoke on the issue.

“I think that the opposition to this small item is way out of proportion. I really don’t understand what the huge, huge opposition is,” Brown said.

“Now, let me be frank. I grew up in Riverhead. I’m very sensitive to some things, some indignities growing up in Riverhead being black. This is the largest project that a minority community has undertaken in Suffolk County” and has attracted national recognition,” Brown said. “And just a little note of support from the school board seems like such a little thing to ask when you’re trying to do something in this town for the community. It’s not about a black thing, it’s a community project from which everybody can benefit,” he said.

“What it brings to mind to me is a lot of the eruptions that have been going on in this country. In this nation, what you see is the effect of what has happened previously. Like in Baltimore, these people had requested $2 million to build a youth center. There was no money available for a youth center, yet a year later they appropriate $30 million to build a juvenile jail center. This is what the explosions are all about. This is what it is about. I think Riverhead is the United States in microcosm. This is a chance for Riverhead to take a step forward and do the right things.”

Interscholastic athletics policy
The board approved an update to the district’s policy 5280 – Interscholastic Athletics in order to comply with state regulations. The policy allows for 7th and 8th grade students to compete on a senior high school team.

In addition, the board voted to remove a paragraph from the policy. The paragraph, located at the end of the Student Athletic Injuries section allowed for students in grades 10 to 12, who participate in inter-scholastic athletics to receive credit toward high school graduation which would be equivalent to physical education. The consensus of the board is that the policy was not implemented and at this time no procedure was presented by the high school which would make the policy pragmatic to implement.

New bus loops and parent drop-offs at the Middle and High School
This year students and parents will see a different transportation pattern for student drop-off and pick-up at both the high school and middle school. At the high school the bus loop will remain at the back of the building with the student drop-off and pick-up taking place in the front of the school.
At the middle school the bus loop with take place on North Griffing on the south side of the middle school and along the front of the school, while student drop-off and pick-up will take place in the rear of the school.

Construction wrapping up
Construction at the high school and middle schools are in the process of wrapping up in time for school to open, Carney said, with the work continuing, using every last moment. The district plans to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony next month with the high school open to the community for tours. “It’s very exciting when you get into buildings and look at them, the transformation is something that is wonderful for our students,” Carney said.

Giglio gives $10,000 to the district
The board voted to accept a $10,000 donation from Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. The donation was a payment in lieu of property taxes that had never been assessed on improvements to her Baiting Hollow home made without permits. Since the town tax assessors could not by law mandate payment of back taxes beyond the year prior to Giglio legalizing the improvements, which included a finished basement and second-story addition, Giglio voluntarily made the payment. She has also tendered payment for $3,000 in town taxes not assessed during that period, from 2001 to 2012. The councilwoman is a candidate for town supervisor this year.

The district will use the funds to purchase iPads for students

New program for high school students from other countries
During Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting Superintendent Nancy Carney discussed the district’s plans to use the north portables at the high school to implement a program for newcomers to the district from other countries. It will be “a place to really work with newcomers so they get acclimated to the country, the culture and learn the language.”

Community activist Lori Downs questioned why we are continuing to use the north portables when the district stated at the beginning of the bond process that part of the new bond was to get rid of the portables because it cost so much to have them repaired and they were in such ill health that we couldn’t put our children there.

Carney responded by stating that when the bond process began the district couldn’t anticipate the increase in enrollment across the district, “and with all the space that we have added, we are actually afraid of running out of space again.”

Former board president Greg Meyer clarified that there is no repair reserve funds currently slated to be spent on the north portables and that the long-term plan is still to get rid of them. However it is not something the district is ready to do just yet.

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Dawn Bozuhoski
Dawn is a graphic artist, designer and editorial assistant with many years of newsroom experience. A mother of four, Dawn is a Girl Scout leader and a longtime Riverhead resident. Email Dawn