School Superintendent Augustine Tornatore during the March 28 school board meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Riverhead school district administration this week presented a 2023-2024 budget that has a projected $8.9 million gap. The district’s business official said the gap will be closed before the Board of Education adopts the budget that will be put on the ballot for voter approval May 16.

According to the district’s budget development plan, the board is slated to adopt a budget at its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 19. A public hearing will be held on May 9.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Rodney Asse gave the last of three scheduled budget presentations Tuesday night.

The district is anticipating $12.8 million more in revenue than those projected in the current school year, mostly due to an increase in state aid. Both chambers of the legislature this year accepted the governor’s proposal to fully fund foundation aid, which aims to help bring equitable funding to school districts across the state. 

The district’s expenditures are projected to increase by $23 million next year— a 13.7% increase — to roughly $193 million — according to numbers presented by Asse. 

The administration is also proposing using $7.4 million from reserves to help fund the budget, an increase from the $5 million in reserves used to fund the current budget, according to the presentation. 

Towards the end of his presentation, Asse highlighted the the $8.9 million budget gap between projected expenditures and projected revenues. He said that multiple factors are driving the gap, including rising health insurance costs, inflation, shortages in the workforce that cause the district to use contractors, increased security personnel and systems, transportation service contracts, and teaching-related expenditures.

WATCH: Budget presentation (below)

When asked in an email why the administration was proposing a budget with a gap, Asse responded in an email sent from the district’s public relations firm. “The District has not proposed a budget with a budget gap,” the email said. The district is “in the middle of the budget development process.” Asse declined a phone interview for this article.

“The final budget that is adopted by the Board and put before voters cannot contain a budget gap. After all work is done during the budget development process each year, the final budget put to voters must be balanced with proposed expenses not exceeding projected revenue,” Asse wrote. He said that adopting a budget with a gap is against the law.

Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said at the conclusion of the presentation that the administration wants to propose a 0% increase to the tax levy. The district adopted a budget with a 1% tax levy increase last year.

“To also point out, again, this is the proposed budget. This has not been the finalized budget,” Tornatore said. “We certainly need to go back and continually review to see how we could attempt to cut as many costs as possible.”

According to past presentations made by Asse, the majority of the expenditure increases are for personnel. Asse said he could not provide a breakdown of how many additional staff and faculty the budget would be funding, and how much of the expenditures were for salary increases.

“The exact numbers for new personnel, and how many new personnel will actually be part of the final proposed budget, are still being determined as part of the development process,” he wrote.

Asse at Tuesday’s meeting also reviewed the budget lines for the district’s special education services, which will increase $3.5 million in total, and for other special instructional areas including social work services, psychological services, health services and the English Language Learners program. 

The administration is also proposing to spend $1.3 million in reserves on capital projects. This includes upgrading sound systems in selected auditoriums, courtyards, bathrooms, basketball backboards, storage rooms, as well as repairs and refurbishments.

Also during the meeting, the school board:

  • Appointed Melissa DeRosa, a special education facilitator in the district, as the director of special education and pupil personnel services at an annual salary of $159,099, effective April 11. She replaces Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro, who resigned from the district in October. Since Mazzaferro’s resignation, Cheryl Pedisich has acted as the interim director with compensation at $800 per day; Pedisich was retained by the board on Tuesday to act as a consultant for transition support for the role at the same cost.
  • Accepted the resignation of Colette Furcht, co-director of the district’s transportation department, effective June 20.
  • Approved a contract with a behavior analysis firm, Dragonfly ABA, to provide additional staff to classrooms to assist with children who have behavioral issues.
  • Accepted the district’s federal single audit report and approved a corrective action plan for certain recommendations expressed in the report.

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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: