Is it true that on the evening of April 9, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse interrupted the monthly RCFA executive board meeting when she showed up unannounced requesting a meeting with the RCFA leadership? Is it true that Lisa Goulding, Chris Butterfield, Gary Karlson and Gregory Wallace were present at that meeting? Is it also true that during this meeting, the executive board clearly stated that information being circulated in reference to the RCFA not supporting the current superintendent, Dr. Aurelia Henriquez, was not accurate? All of this is true.

What is also true — which Ms. Cotten DeGrasse failed to disclose in her May 19 guest column— is that during this meeting, she offered a quid pro quo in exchange for the RCFA endorsement of Laurie Downs.

If the RCFA were to endorse Trustee Downs, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said, Downs would vote affirmative on a renegotiated agreement between the teacher’s bargaining unit and the Riverhead Central School District when the current contract expires in July 2020. If the RCFA did not endorse Ms. Downs, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse claimed, Ms. Downs would be a “no” vote on any contract.

For this reason, the RCFA declined to endorse Ms. Downs.

We met with Ms. Downs and informed her of Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s proposition. Ms. Downs adamantly denied having ever spoken to Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse about such an arrangement and also stated that Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse was not authorized to speak on her behalf.

Although we found Ms. Downs’s denial to be credible, we decided that it was not appropriate to endorse her even if she had no knowledge of the scheme. The RCFA represents the largest group of employee stakeholders of the Riverhead Central School District. It is our mission to serve the community by serving our members. We, as an executive board, felt that a tainted endorsement was not worth jeopardizing our standing in the community, no matter the source of the stain.

RCFA leadership did meet with incumbent Elizabeth Silva and we mutually agreed that an RCFA endorsement of her candidacy was not in the cards for this election cycle.

We understand that some may question the rationale for offering a BOE candidate an endorsement. In some instances, our endorsement offer is declined by a candidate. No one can reasonably deny that politics are at play. This is, after all, an election.

It is paramount that the community know that an RCFA endorsement is never attached to any expected outcome. It is paramount that the community know that an RCFA endorsement expresses an alignment to philosophies as they relate to the educational outcomes of our children. It is paramount that the community know that an endorsement does not mean that other candidates don’t share perspectives with the district’s teachers and professional staff.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s unexpected appearance at our meeting and suggestion was a bridge too far. It was a league too far.

Furthermore, Ms. Cotten DeGrasse claimed in her editorial that the RCFA is beholden to board members who oppose the current superintendent. However, in evidence to the contrary, two board members who previously received an RCFA endorsement recently voted to extend Dr. Henriquez’s appointment, and two others who previously received an RCFA endorsement voted against the same. The RCFA hopes that all elected members of the board vote as they see fit to best represent the community.

With respect to Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s previous roles as an RCFA president and as the president of the RCSD Board of Education, she no longer holds either of these titles. And as we know, her truth is only that which she is willing to disclose.

With utmost respect to the Riverhead community,
Lisa Goulding, RCFA president
Chris Butterfield, RCFA vice president
Gary Karlson, RCFA vice president
Gregory Wallace, RCFA president-elect

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