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The Riverhead Board of Education formally adopted a proposed budget for the 2019-2020 academic year Tuesday night.

The proposed operating budget of $144,430,212 million represents a 2.88 percent spending increase over the current year’s budget. Of the $144.4 million, about 76 percent is for program costs, 8 percent for administrative costs and a little over 15 percent for capital costs.

The 2018-2019 budget contains funds to add the following positions in the high school: a full-time physical education teacher; a full-time Spanish teacher; a half-time business teacher; a half-time math teacher; a half-time science teacher and a half-time social studies teacher.

Henriquez said that these additions to the 2019-2020 budget have to do with the district’s increased enrollment at the secondary level.

Riverhead is in the process of slowly rebuilding the business program, which is needed to prepare students for college and career-readiness, Henriquez said.

The proposed real property tax levy — the total dollar amount raised through property taxation to fund the budget — is within the 2.21 percent property tax levy cap, according to the presentation last night. The property tax cap is recalculated each year based on specific factors relevant to the district, such as exemptions.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez explained that the property tax levy was revised down from 2.51 percent, discussed in earlier presentations, to a new figure of 2.21 percent this past week due to an addition by the Town of Riverhead.

The town informed the district that a solar farm in Calverton — Riverhead Solar-1 — will be operation in the 2019-2010 school year. The new solar farm will make a payment in lieu of taxes (known as a PILOT payment) of $301,388 to the district, said Henriquez.

The PILOT payment agreement outlined by the district refers to an agreement approved by the Riverhead Town Board last year, where Riverhead Solar-1, a project of solar power developer sPower, received approval from the planning and town boards to build a 20 MW solar facility in Calverton, Riverhead town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said in an interview Wednesday. The total sum of that PILOT payment will be split between the Town of Riverhead and the Riverhead school district and libraries in the district, Kozakiewicz said.

The district also anticipates state aid of $32,751,621, an increase of nearly $1.5 million over current state aid levels.

Henriquez said that even with the increase in state aid, it is still not enough to cover the district’s needs. She said that the formulas used to calculate that aid do not work for a district like Riverhead, where a lot of change has happened in a short period of time. Overall student population has continued to increase, despite surrounding districts experiencing decreases, and the number of English Language Learner students is also increasing, she said. See prior story.

In the school year 2009-2010, out of a total of 4,816 students enrolled, about 10 percent were classified as ELL students. Currently there are 5,595 total students enrolled, of which 27.5 percent are ELL students.

Henriquez said during the presentations that the board of education goals for the adopted budget have been met. These goals included: to design and adopt a budget that stayed within the tax cap limitations; to develop a budget that maintains district programs, resources and support from the community; to design and adopt a budget that recognizes the current fiscal reality for Riverhead residents; and to develop a budget that seeks to identify and implement cost efficiencies.

“It’s really important to highlight that the board of education has stayed within their goals, it’s a great accomplishment, and that is because of our commitment to this community” Henriquez said. “Our programs were not cut or decimated, we have maintained them, we are adding staff and we have stayed within the tax cap limitations.”

“But, we need more money too, and that’s where our continuous commitment to advocacy needs to continue next year and in the future,” she said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget has been set for Tuesday, May 14.

Residents will head to the polls to vote on the school budget on Tuesday, May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the district’s four elementary school buildings.

View the school budget here.

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria