File photo: Denise Civiletti

Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez and Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider made the second of three budget presentations during this week’s school board meeting. They also discussed a ballot proposition — to be voted on in May — that would authorize expenditure of $469,470 from the district’s cafeteria capital reserve fund to upgrade three school cafeterias.

Tuesday night’s presentation covered four sections of the expenditure budget: facilities; transportation; curriculum, instructional administration and testing; and general classroom teaching, instruction and support. Proposed 2020-2021 expenditures in these budget sections total just under $68.3 million.

The expenditure in two of the budget sections — curriculum, instructional administration and testing, and general classroom teaching, instruction and support — can’t be directly compared with those in the 2019-2020 budget because the state began requiring expenditures for bilingual clerical staff and ENL teachers to be coded differently and grouped together. These expenditures are not reflected in the 2020-2021 “regular day school” budget and will instead be part of the third budget presentation, which is scheduled for March 24.

Proposed expenditures

The budget proposal presented Tuesday includes the following expenditures:

  • Facilities: $$8.04 million, an increase of 1.23% over current year
  • Security: $1.9 million, an increase of 16.87% over current year
  • Transportation: $7.58 million
  • Curriculum, instructional administration and state-mandated testing: $4.95 million
  • General classroom teaching $45.82 million

Spending on security would increase 16.87% ($258,553) to cover the cost of two new guards, additional funding for door monitors and the purchase of vape detection equipment for the high school and middle school.

Transportation costs are proposed to go up $5.64%. The district will continue adding security cameras to its fleet of buses, comprising 79 full-size buses, 27 vans, 10 wheelchair-access vehicles and two coach buses, the superintendent said. The district employs 89 drivers, 13 substitute drivers, 42 permanent monitors and four substitute monitors, as well as five auto mechanics.

Schneider said a new route-sharing program brought more than $303,000 in revenues, paid by surrounding school districts. He said it has been successful and will be expanding, increasing revenues to #365,000 next year.

The district proposes to spend $261,907 on BOCES services next year — a 62.62% increase over this year — which includes professional development for 430 teachers and 40 teaching assistants, Schneider said.

The superintendent and her deputy highlighted the budget’s anticipated expenditure for Riverhead Charter School tuition — a 26.46% increase over this year.

The estimated per-student tuition cost is $18,871 and the district is projecting 430 children who are Riverhead Central School District residents will attend the charter school in 2020-2021. That brings the total tuition payable by the district to the charter school to a projected $8,114,390.

“This year’s appropriation was budgeted based on 365 kids. That’s what we thought was going to happen,” said Schneider. “Turns out that 388 students were sent to the charter school. So when making next year’s budget, we not only have to make up not only the mis-estimation of this year, but the natural increase that we’ve seen.”

Charter school enrollment out of RCSD has been increasing every year since at least 2012-2013, when 120 Riverhead students attended the charter school at a cost per student of $16,076 for a total tuition payment by the district to the charter school of $1,929,120.

School officials and residents have voiced concerns about the increasing enrollment at the charter school during a February board meeting. ()

The district will hire replacements for each of the 20 faculty members who are retiring at the end of this school year. It would also like to hire additional faculty — the equivalent of 5.2 full-time teachers. But that additional staffing was not included in the budget proposal presented Tuesday night. Since the state aid number remains unknown, the district can’t yet determine what the budget can accommodate within the tax levy cap, Henriquez said.

The district plans to put a proposition on the ballot to approve the expenditure of $469,470 from the cafeteria capital reserve fund. The fund was established by voter approval in May 2018 and currently has $635,292 in it. The funds for this reserve come solely from the cafeteria fund and not taxpayer dollars.

The district proposes to change the lunch lines into double lines at Pulaski Street Elementary School, the middle school and high school. Pulaski would also have its dry goods storage room converted into a walk-in freezer and its serving area entrances would be improved.

On March 24, the superintendent will present proposed expenditures for special education, ENL, pupil personnel services, and guidance and other instructional services, as well as revenues and projected tax levy.

The school board will vote to adopt a budget on April 21 and a public hearing will be held May 12 on the adopted budget. The budget vote will take place on May 19.

Investigation of potentially overcrowded houses

Several members of the community raised concerns about what the district is doing to investigate reports of overcrowded housing and students who live outside the district but attend RCSD schools.

Director of the Suffolk County Chapter of New York Civil Liberties Union, Irma Solis, asked the board if they intend to verify the residency of existing students.

“So there is the registration process that takes place for the school district,” said Henriquez. “And when we receive reports that there are questions about residency, yes, it’s normal procedure that we do check.”

Reports can be made in person, over the phone or anonymously through the “Share it” app from Social Sentinel. The app allows users to send anonymous tips through the district’s website. If a report is made, staff is sent to the house to try to verify residency, which may be done through additional paperwork, Henriquez said.

Jen Stepnoski, of Aquebogue, asked what changes the school district is making to investigate reports to verify residency.

Riverhead Town Board created a joint task force with the school district at the Feb. 4 town board meeting. The joint task force aims to address difficulties faced by both the town and school district. The school board members assigned to the joint task force are Susan Koukounas, Laurie Downs and Christopher Dorr.

Outside of the joint task force, the school district plans to assign two neighborhood aides to verify residency, Henriquez said. The aids would work from 7 to 9 a.m. and do in-person inspections of any reports made to the district.

Acceptance of results of bond vote

This is the first board of education meeting held after the failed bond vote last month. The school board accepted the result of the vote on both propositions.

Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Gregory Wallace addressed the subject of the vote.

“Our organization fully respects the will of the voters and the decision rendered by our community,” said Wallace. “As we move forward and develop alternative strategies to deal with our space constraints, the RCFA’s main objective will be to advocate for solutions that will continue to preserve robust curriculum and programs that we have here for the students.”

Acceptance of two retirements

The board accepted the retirements of Pulaski Street Elementary School principal David Densieski and director of pupil personnel services Eileen Manitta. ()

“Well, I have concern that this is the second administrator allowed to leave the district with no consequences,” said former school board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse. “In this case, a buy-out.”

Along with the resignations, the school board approved an agreement with Riverhead Administrators Association. The incentive increased the payment of up to 222 accrued sick leave days from 50 to 80 percent. Cotten-Degrasse asked how much the retirement incentive would cost the district. According to Schneider, the incentive would cost about $95,000, but the district would save $63,000 in salary next year. The incentive would pay for itself within a year and a half, Schneider said.

The retirements are effective as of June 30.

Videotaping Meetings

The board members proposed having the high school’s broadcasters club videotape school board meetings. The broadcast club would launch in 2021 and could live stream the board meeting through Youtube, said Henriquez.

A test run of live streaming will take place at the next few meetings.

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Julia-Anna Searson
Julia-Anna is a Riverhead native and a recent graduate of Stony Brook University, with a degree in Biology and minor in Anthropology. She currently lives in Cutchogue.