The issue of undocumented residents and their effect on school taxes burst into headlines last week when voters within the Riverhead Central School District overwhelmingly rejected capital construction projects to expand the aging district buildings and infrastructure.
Proposition 1, to authorize the expenditure of $88.2 million to address spatial needs, infrastructure, and security issues, fell by a vote of 2626 to 1151. Proposition 2, to authorize the bonding of $8.8 million to upgrade and expand the athletic facility, was defeated by a 3-1 margin, 2775 to 993.
“The board of education and administration wish to thank all residents who participated in the vote,” said board president Gregory Meyer. “We are, of course, disappointed, and very concerned that the work proposed in both Proposition No. 1 and Proposition No. 2 was not approved by voters. The facilities issues included in Proposition No. 1 are real and will only get worse and cost more to rectify the longer we wait to address these problems.”
He added, “The work proposed in Proposition No. 2 to improve our athletic facilities would have directly benefited our student-athletes and children enrolled in our community athletic programs that use district facilities. The board of education and administration will meet to analyze our options and share our plans with the community once decisions have been made.”
The district lobbied hard to sell voters on the need for the expansion, holding several special meetings in the weeks leading up to the vote on February 25. But the town’s general election last November proved a portent of the vote: Yvette Aguiar, a Republican harshly critical of the town’s effort to curtail illegal dwelling knocked then town supervisor Laura Jens-Smith out of office after only one term. Jens-Smith took an inclusionary approach to the school district attendance surge in the weeks before the school board vote, though she had already been voted out of Town Hall.
Aguiar, Jens-Smith pointed out, was not on hand, although the supervisor’s supporters said she was at an official function elsewhere.
“The community has spoken,” Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez said. “We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and try and come up with solutions that the community will buy into.”
Columnists and letter-writers to local newspapers made it clear that students who don’t legally belong in the district are swelling the student population and causing the need for a pricy expansion. Classrooms are desperately needed, Meyer said — 10 at the Pulaski Street school alone.
“The board of education and administration will need to make serious decisions regarding the scheduling of students at both Pulaski Street Elementary School and Riverhead High School, including the potential need to educate students using split sessions,” read a statement on the district website after the vote.
The district’s state aid ratio for building projects is less than 30 percent. The board of education and administration have made it their mission to increase this figure, as well as to increase the district’s unacceptably low level of foundation aid.