The school superintendent and embers of the Board of Education with four of the 18 retirees honored by the school district on Tuesday. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Riverhead Board of Education hired new legal, auditing and architectural firms, honored retirees and made some personnel changes during its meeting Tuesday, the last scheduled meeting of the school year.

The board celebrated the retirement of 18 employees at the end of this month: Deborah Baron, special education aide; Denise Boden, administrative assistant; Valerie Brown, school bus monitor; Ruthann Budd, teaching assistant; Stephen Conforti, custodial worker I; Janis Ellis-Smith, elementary teacher; Rita Moloney, elementary specialist; Matthew Moorman, science teacher; Virginia Naugles, senior office assistant; Kathleen Pettit, elementary teacher; Nancy Raynor, school district treasurer; Debra Rodgers, principal; Shelley Sancton, science teacher; Lisa Talmage, music teacher; Mary Trent, food service worker; Mary Trojanowski, teaching assistant; Reese Walters, maintenance mechanic III; and Michael Zorovich, school bus driver.

The board approved several employment contracts for employees not subject to collective bargaining agreements, including District Clerk Lisa Rheaume, Secretary to the Superintendent Rodney Parrish, Co-Directors of Transportation Leslie Moor and Colette Furcht, Director of Personnel Arlene Durkalski and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Elementary Education Lori Koerner, who all received an increase in pay.

It also abolished the position of the director of ELA and appointed Maria Casamassa, who held the position, in the newly created position of director of humanities. The resolution states the position is “no longer necessary for the operations of the school district.” 

Middle school principal Stephen Hudson was appointed to the position of elementary school principal to replace Debra Rodgers, the principal of Phillips Avenue Elementary school, who is retiring this year.

The board accepted the resignation of Director of ENL 7-12 Denise Stevenson, whose position was abolished earlier this year “for purposes of economy and/or efficiency.” The board appointed Elizabeth Scaduto, the current director of ENL K-4, to the position of director of ENL K-12.

The board also approved new contracts for professional services after issuing a request for proposal on May 5. A few of the firms the district uses will change as a result. The measure was passed by the board 4-1, with Trustee Christopher Dorr dissenting and President Laurie Downs and Trustee Virginia Healy absent. 

“I think we’re changing, not because we need to change but because we want to change,” Dorr said.

The contract for external auditing services was granted to The Bonadio Group of New York for one year with an option to renew for four additional one year terms. The firm will change from Cullen and Danowski, LLP of Port Jefferson Station. The annual fee for the new firm for the 2022-23 service period is $2,000 less than the price Cullen and Danowski proposed last year in response to a district request for proposal.

The contract for legal services was granted to Guercio & Guercio, LLP for one year with an option to renew for four additional one-year terms. The firm will change from Ingerman Smith LLP of Hauppauge. The annual fee for the new firm for the 2022-23 service period is $13,500 less than the price Ingerman Smith proposed last year in response to a district request for proposal.

The contract for internal auditing services was granted to Nawrocki Smith LLP of Hauppauge, which is currently conducting the district’s forensic audit, for one year with the option to renew for four additional one-year terms. The firm was changed from Questar III BOCES of Castelton. The annual fee for the new firm for the 2022-23 service period is more than $7,000 more than the price Questar III BOCES proposed last year in response to a district request for proposal.

The district also hired H2M Architects and Engineers of Melville for one year with an option to renew for four additional one-year terms. The firm was changed from BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers, the district’s longtime architectural firm. It is unclear how much H2M will be paid in comparison to BBS, as the contract with BBS is not posted on the district website or Board of Education portal.

The board also hired National Business Technologies, which it hired in February to provide I.T. and data security related support to the district, as the district’s I.T. services at a cost not to exceed $45,000. 

The board also approved suspending the board policy that counts regents exam scores as 20% of a student’s grade for classes which require the passage of a regents exam to graduate, unless the score improves the students overall average for the class. Parents urged the board to adopt the measure, often referred to as a “do no harm” policy, at its last meeting, citing the continuing stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic on students. 

Community members praised the board’s decision during the meeting, with some encouraging the board to make the “do no harm” policy permanent, including Trustee Dorr.

“I think this is great that we’re doing it for this year, but I really wholeheartedly believe that this should be done every year,” Dorr said. “There is no reason that a three hour exam should count the same as 10 weeks of coursework.”

“And I know teachers are concerned that kids won’t take [the exams] seriously, but the tests are still required to graduate. So the kids will still have to take them seriously in order to get a diploma,” Dorr added.

The board also approved several plans for the district.

The district’s new five-year plan, dubbed “Thrive in Five: a Blueprint for Success,” identifies five goals: improving academic success, improving the district’s culture, engaging the community and families, enhancing social-emotional support and improving facilities. [See prior coverage]

The board adopted a professional development plan for the 2022-23 school year, which focuses on integrating elements also expressed in the five-year plan like curriculum guides and mapping. Multi-tiered support systems will be the overarching focus, according to the document, and will include additional focuses on instructional strategies, the integration of educational technology, social emotional learning, restorative practices/justice and more. View the document on the district’s website.  

The board also adopted an equity plan aimed at implementing the state’s diversity, equity and inclusion framework in the district (Separate story to follow).

The board also heard a presentation of results of an ongoing forensic audit of the district’s finances by Ernest Patrick Smith, managing partner of accounting firm Nawrocki Smith of Melville. Smith said the firm found no evidence of fraud, embezzlement or malfeasance, but found the environment in the district’s business office was one of “conflict,” “seeming discontent,” and “disenchantment,” largely due to the overwhelming number of responsibilities assigned to the office. [See prior coverage]

Editors note: This article has been amended post-publication to include the board action suspending the board policy that counts regents exam scores as 20% of a student’s grade for certain classes.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]