Riverhead Board of Education President Colin Palmer takes the oath of office as president July 5, 2023. Photo: Alek Lewis

Trustee Colin Palmer was elected president of the Board of Education and past president Brian Connelly was elected vice president for the 2023-24 school year during the board’s organizational meeting July 5.

The votes to appoint both men were unanimous. Palmer, who was elected to the board in 2021 and is in his first term, was appointed vice president in April after former Vice President Laurie Downs resigned in March. Connelly, who won his second term 2021, served as president of the board this past school year.

Newly elected trustees Erica Murphy and Cynthia Redmond were sworn in during the meeting. They replace former members Christopher Dorr and Therese Zuhoski, who both chose not to seek re-election last year. Trustee Virginia Healy was also sworn in for her second term. 

At the annual organizational meeting, the board takes care of a variety of housekeeping tasks, including approving appointments to board committees, appointing impartial hearing officers, approving contracts for professional services, setting district policies, and appointing staff and faculty for the summer session, and club advisors and coaches. See the full agenda here.

The Riverhead Board of Education at its first meeting of the 2023-24 school year: James Scudder, left, Cynthia Redmond, Erica Murphy, Matt Wallace, Vice President Brian Connelly, Virginia Healy and President Colin Palmer. Photo: Alek Lewis

The board also approved the annual employment contracts of 10 district employees who are not members of an employee union and not covered by a union contract. An attempt to approve the contracts, which include giving raises to the employees, was blocked by Dorr during the June 14 meeting. 

The annual salary increases for the employees are as follows:

  • Superintendent Augustine Tornatore: $250,000 to $256,250.
  • Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Elementary Education Lori Koerner: $201,467 to $211,666 (includes contractual 2.5% longevity payment).
  • Assistant Superintendent of Business Rodney Asse: $190,000 to $194,750
  • Executive Director for Secondary Education, Grants and Student Outcomes William Galati: $180,000 to $184,500.
  • Director of Personnel Arlene Durkalski: $174,908 to $178,406
  • Data Processing Systems Coordinator Christopher Amato: $139,063 to $145,390.80.
  • Director of Facilities III Alessandro Gallina: $145,000 to $147,900.
  • School Lunch Manager Keith Graham: $111,687 to $114,768.76 (includes contractual 2.5% longevity payment).
  • Director of Technology Robert Hines: $134,507 to $140,627 (includes contractual 2.5% longevity payment).
  • Assistant School Transportation Supervisor Leslie Moore: $124,057 to $126,538.
  • Confidential Senior Clerk Typist and District Clerk Lisa Rheaume: $79,464 to $81,053 (number includes compensation for both roles).

Teachers union calls for reevaluating disciplinary policy

The Riverhead Central Faculty Association is asking the Riverhead Board of Education to reevaluate its disciplinary policy.

In a statement sent to the board and read during the meeting, RCFA President Gregory Wallace said the district’s Code of Character, Conduct and Support allows “universal administrator discretion” when it comes to disciplinary actions against students. 

“On the surface this caveat seems benign, especially for minor offenses. However this discretion can be applied to an offense,” the statement says.

“Hypothetically, there could be a serious fight in the cafeteria and in theory, the building administration could send the students back to class with minimal discipline. Hypothetically a student could inappropriately touch another student and, in theory, the building administration could send the student back to class with minimal discipline.”

“Hypothetically a student could threaten a teacher with physical violence and in theory, the building administration could send the student back to class [with] minimal discipline,” the statement continues.

“In theory, if building administrators were to fail to adjudicate discipline for serious offenses in a manner which triggers students’ due process rights, they would not only fail to provide students’ with the legal protection they are entitled to under education law, they would not be creating a pathway for students to receive access to important services they may be entitled to.”

“This is exactly how children fall through the proverbial cracks and this is precisely how serious, yet manageable issues unfold into full blown crisis.”

The statement does not refer to a specific case. Disciplinary cases are kept private to protect the privacy of a student or teacher.

Before the statement was read aloud, the school board recessed to receive legal advice from the district’s attorney. The attorney would not disclose the subject of the discussion, but stated the board would talk about “that,” apparently referring to the RCFA’s statement. 

“That was the first time we’ve heard any of that,” Palmer said in an interview on RCFA’s statement. He said the policy will be reviewed by the board’s policy committee. “It’s important that every year the code of conduct is one of those areas of policy that gets regular review. So any comments from anyone in the school community about reviewing policy we take seriously and that will be one of the areas we’ll look at.”

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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: alek@riverheadlocal.com