Pulaski Street Elementary School in April 2020. File photo: Denise Civiletti

(Updated – 11:30 a.m.) School board elections and budget votes in New York State have been set for June 9 by an executive order of the governor signed yesterday.

All voting will take place by absentee ballot pursuant to the order.

Candidates seeking election to school board seats will still be required to file nominating petitions with the school district clerk, but under the terms of the executive order, will not be required to meet statutory minimum thresholds for the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. The order supersedes a provision of State Education Law that requires a minimum of 2% of the voters who cast ballots in the previous annual school board election.

All other requirements to qualify for the ballot, including any applicable residency and age requirements, remain in place.

The executive order signed yesterday also did not modify the deadline for filing nominating petitions at the office of the district clerk, which remains at 5 p.m. 30 days before the date of the election.

School board candidates will be listed on the ballot alphabetically, according to the executive order.

The order requires school districts to mail “every eligible voter” an absentee ballot with a postage paid return envelope.

The districts are also required to send out postcard notices detailing the date of the election, date of budget hearing, definition of qualified voter, and an absentee ballot.

Under existing executive orders requiring social distancing, the district’s budget hearing will have to be held remotely.

State aid to localities for the remainder of the state fiscal year remains uncertain. The enacted state budget actually increased state aid to the Riverhead Central School District by about $190,000 over 2019/2020 levels. However, the enacted budget authorizes the state budget director to reduce aid-to-localities appropriations and disbursements by any amount needed to achieve a balanced budget, as estimated by the budget department.

The district “remains concerned that mid-year cuts to state aid, should they come to pass, will devastate our academic program,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said in an emailed statement on Monday.

School district officials had not yet fully presented the proposed 2020/2021 budget to the public. The superintendent and her staff typically present the proposed budget in segments over a series of weeks. They had completed two presentations before the coronavirus crisis forced schools closed in mid-March. Two additional presentations were scheduled before the school board would vote to adopt the proposed budget and schedule a public hearing, which was anticipated to be held on May 12, a week before the statewide school election date.

Last year’s $144.4 million operating budget passed by a vote of 1,468 to 806.

The current school board at its organizational meeting July 2. File photo: Maria Piedrabuena

There will be three school board seats filled in this year’s election. They are currently held by board president Gregory Meyer, Christopher Dorr and Therese Zuhoski.

Meyer said today he has not yet decided whether he will seek a fifth three-year term.

“I haven’t really thought it through yet,” Meyer said. “This has been a really rough year,” he said. The district’s failed capital bond vote in February was a blow — and then the coronavirus crisis hit, he said. “I really haven’t thought that much about whether I would run again or not.”

Dorr said he plans to seek re-election.

Zuhoski, who was the top vote-getter in a five-way race for three seats in 2017, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The administration of a school election and budget vote by absentee ballot only is an unprecedented occurrence. It will be difficult and costly to the district, Meyer noted.

He said the superintendent notified the board of the new development in a group text last night but he had not yet had an opportunity to read the executive order and digest its directives.

The district is “grateful to finally receive direction on how to hold the school budget vote and trustee election,” Henriquez said in a text message this morning. “However, many challenges await us in the process,” she said. School districts just received the information Friday afternoon, and RCSD will review the parameters set by the governor and continue to plan for a June 9 vote, she said.

“The main priority for Riverhead is, and will always be, what is best for our students. That will guide us forward in all decisions,” Henriquez said.

The elimination of a minimum number of signatures to qualify for the ballot could mean an unusually large number of candidates may be on the ballot this year. That could impact the outcome of the at-large election, in which the top three vote-getters win seats.

“As the consequences of the pandemic unfold, we continue to find ourselves in uncharted territory — from education to elections,” Riverhead Central Faculty Association president Gregory Wallace said this morning.

These are the unintended consequences of the pandemic.

Gov Andrew Cuomo said in a press release last night that the remote voting is necessary.

“We’ve made great progress to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but we still don’t know when this pandemic will end and we don’t want to undo all the work we’ve already done to flatten the curve,” Cuomo said.

“We don’t want to put New Yorkers in a situation where they are possibly putting their health at risk,” he said.

All local special district and village elections have been postponed to Sept. 15.

Editor’s note: This article was amended to add comments from the district superintended provided after initial publication.

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