School officials during today's school board meeting on Zoom, left to right, from top: board member Christopher Dorr, RCSD technology director Robert Hines, member Matthew Wallace, member Susan Koukounas, attorney Christopher Venator, district clerk Lisa Rheuame, Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez, board president Greg Meyer, Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider, members Therese Zujoski and Laurie Downs. Image Video screenshot

The Riverhead Board of Education today adopted a $147.1 million budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The proposed spending plan is a 1.87% increase over the $145.1 million revised budget for the current year.

In a meeting held via the Zoom video conferencing platform and livestreamed on YouTube the board voted unanimously, with member Brian Connolly absent, to adopt the spending plan and schedule it for a public hearing on May 26 at 4 p.m.

The budget anticipates a property tax levy of $106,852,122, which Deputy Superintendent Sam Schneider said was below the state property tax levy limitation for Riverhead.

The budget will be put up for a June 9 vote by mail-in ballot only.

The budget also anticipates state aid of $32,941,318. However school officials expect cuts to state aid because of the pandemic — something the governor has warned is a real possibility. The state 2020-2021 adopted budget grants the state budget director authority to make mid-year cuts in order to keep the state’s budget balanced. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has has warned that, absent federal financial aid to the state, school districts will face cuts in aid to education of 20% or more.

To mitigate against those cuts, the district plans to set aside unspent funds from the current school year, which was disrupted by the coronavirus shut-down, and use those funds to offset anticipated cuts. This will allow the district to minimize or potentially eliminate the need for mid-year programmatic reductions, according to the superintendent’s budget presentation.

The budget proposal eliminates the high school summer school program and the school resource officer position, as well as one teaching position, three administrative positions, a clerical position, a maintenance position and a transportation office position. These positions will be eliminated by attrition rather than layoffs, Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said.

The full budget will be posted on the school district’s website tomorrow morning, Schneider said.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the May 26 meeting will also be held remotely. Comments for the public hearing must be emailed in advance of the meeting to the board of education [[email protected]] or the district clerk.[[email protected]]

The school board today also approved a ballot proposition
that would authorize the district to spend up to $469,470 from the “Cafeteria Capital Reserve Fund” established on May 15, 2018 to: replace the serving lines at the high school cafeteria, middle school cafeteria and Pulaski Street Elementary School; install a walk-in freezer at Pulaski Street Elementary School; make improvements to the serving area entrances at Pulaski Street Elementary School; and do incidental work required to be performed.

Also on the ballot will be 10 candidates for three open seats on the school board. The district announced yesterday that nine candidates had filed nomination forms by 5 p.m. yesterday. A 10th candidate, Yolanda Thompson, was added to the field today.

Thompson said she emailed her nomination form to the wrong email address. Thompson objected to being excluded from the ballot because the candidate packet supplied by the district, providing instructions for the nomination form and the reporting of campaign expenses etc. did not include the email address or fax number candidates should use to submit their nomination forms.

Thompson said she was notified by Henriquez late this afternoon that her name would appear on the ballot. She provided RiverheadLOCAL with a copy of the email.

The district clerk and deputy superintendent did not respond to requests for confirmation of the ballot amendment.

The district has already mailed out postcards to every resident as required by the governor’s executive order establishing rules for the first-of-its kind vote by mail, Schneider said. Residents who haven’t gotten a postcard will see one arrive in the mail soon, he said.

Paper ballots, along with postage-paid, pre-addressed return envelopes, will be mailed to all registered voters in the district on May 26. Ballots must be returned to and received by the district office no later than 5 p.m. on June 9.

“It is not a postmarked by June 9 situation,” Schneider said. The ballots have to be received by June 9 at 5 p.m. to count, he said.

The district will set up a drop box at the district office for people who prefer to hand-deliver their ballots rather than mail them.

The district will not conduct voter registration this year due to the pandemic and the closure of school buildings. However, prospective voters can register to vote by completing an online application with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles at https://dmv.ny.gov/more-info/electronic-voter-registration-application.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.