“In a good and decent society, we take care of the children, because in doing so, we not only express our humanity, we ensure our future.” Wise words from Diane Ravitch, a former Deputy Secretary of Education and current public education warrior.
Let those words sink in: “in a good and decent society, we take care of the children…” Riverhead school district is in a crisis. Because of the 2% tax cap and the lack of fair foundation aid from our state, which owes our district more than $30 million, our schools have been starved of the money they need to provide our children with the sound, basic education to which they are entitled.
In addition, we are unique in that the charter school is in our town and costs us $7 million-plus per year. And now, they want to expand and “build from the ground up” to educate a few more students, which will cost us millions more. So, we are left with few options as we are faced with a crisis of overcrowded schools and buildings falling into disrepair. We must ask ourselves, as taxpayers of this community, will we continue to keep the promise of a sound basic education for our and our children’s futures?
Two of our schools, Pulaski Street Elementary School and Riverhead High School, are already bursting at the seams. Both schools are presently at more than 100% capacity, with large class sizes and hallways that are difficult to pass through. These conditions are neither safe nor are they conducive to our children’s access to a sound, basic education. The Riverhead School Board has had research conducted by Western Suffolk BOCES that reveals that our enrollment will continue to climb over the next several years. So, what are we to do?
In order to address this overcrowding as well as the disrepair of some of our buildings’ facilities, the Riverhead Board of Education has put forward two bond propositions to provide us with an opportunity to uphold the promise of a sound, basic education to our children.
Proposition 1 includes the construction of additions and/or renovations and improvements to all schools; safety and security upgrades; heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, bathroom and locker room improvements; improvements to facilities access by the physically challenged and paving and walkway improvements.
Proposition 2 includes the McKillop Field synthetic turf conversion; stadium track and field; varsity baseball field and softball field relocation; multi-use courts at Pulaski Elementary School and Riverhead Middle School; parking expansion and bus parking at Pulaski Elementary School; fairgrounds entrance and Riverhead Middle School baseball field improvements. It may seem like a big ask to some, but aren’t our kids worth the minimal increase in taxes in order to give them the same educational opportunities we had (and the one we promised THEM)?
Unless we are willing to make a small sacrifice for all of our children, split sessions at both Pulaski Street and the high school are not a threat but a reality. This could in turn affect sports, music, arts, and other extracurricular activities such as clubs. For the average assessed home in Riverhead valued at $43,000, Proposition 1 would cost only $16.41/month; Proposition No. 2 will cost only $3/month. Aren’t our children worth less than $20/month? And for those wondering about staffing costs, the district has demonstrated and reassured the taxpayers that they are steadfast on not breaching the 2% tax cap. Through creative financial planning such as retirement incentives and shared services the district appears to be in a good place to hire the additional staff that would be needed anyway.
Our children work hard and have achieved such great things thanks to the taxpayers, educators and educational opportunities they have received from the Riverhead School District.
At the high school, musicians were selected to perform in prestigious music festivals at the state and county levels; 40 students were named AP scholars; several sports teams were league champions; and 75 high school juniors were inducted into the National Honor Society.
At the middle school, students showcased their talents with a spectacular performance of Frozen, Jr.; eighth graders are participating in advanced math and science courses; and students gave kindergartners throughout the district a special treat when they visited their classrooms to present them with the plush fish they had sewn as part of a community service project for their family and consumer sciences class.
At Pulaski Street School, three sixth graders were recognized as winners in the 15th annual Hometown Heroes Essay Contest in honor of Garfield M. Langhorn, Jr.; students are participating in a new Long Island Science Center program in which they learn the principles of engineering through hands-on projects; and several students who are boy scouts led their school in a day of tribute to another local Boy Scout who passed away. At the other elementary schools, Aquebogue fourth-graders had articles they penned featured in Newsday’s Kidsday section, and a sensory path which blends academics and physical activity was created for students. At Riley Avenue, students celebrated Computer Science Education Week by learning code through activities provided by Code.org. At Phillips Avenue, the students have raised more than $1000 for ALS research. At Roanoke Avenue, second graders collected toys for pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
All of these achievements and opportunities have been made possible because of the promise of a sound, basic education that we made to all our children. Let’s continue to shine in Riverhead and make good on this promise we made to our kids.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, vote yes on the bond propositions so that we can continue the legacy we started. A yes vote is a vote for our children and their and our futures.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Allyson Matwey, a mother of two children in the Riverhead Central School District, lives in Wading River.
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