Voters within the Riverhead Central School District overwhelmingly turned down a nearly $100-million request for more funds last week for a desperately needed expansion and freshening of the facilities. We’ve seen other East End districts at loggerheads before, like Springs a decade or two ago, and Hampton Bays more recently.
A major problem, for voters at least, is paying to educate children who don’t live legally in the district. Property taxes must go up to accommodate them, and with a budget cap in place, needed renovations and expansions sometimes have to be put on hold.
Here is where the waters get muddied: Many school administrators believe a school-aged child living legally in the geographic boundary of the school district has a right to a free education, and we concur.
But the word legal pertains to the dwelling: overcrowded houses, illegal and unsafe basement apartments, buildings designated for commercial only use etc. are not legal dwellings. Any child in one of the above conditions is unfortunately, not a legal resident of the school district.
Our school districts owe it to their taxpayers to work with the town’s code enforcement personnel, diligently checking addresses, even following school buses to make sure the kids get off at their proper stops.
Then there are undocumented workers who live in the district, in dwellings that are legal one-family houses or apartments. Kids shouldn’t be part of the political tug-of-war tearing this country apart. If they live here, it is our responsibility to welcome them.
Yes, school officials can and should work with the town, but we don’t want our educators to be immigration officials: We want them to teach.
Our school districts and town governments must work in tandem to identify gray areas.
Riverhead is one of the East End’s more affordable districts. The median home prices are still realistic there. We attract young couples who marry and yes, want to raise a family. It’s the life blood of any community. These children are our future firefighters, our new ambulance volunteers, school board members, and our new neighbors.
Equally important is to weed out the crooked landlords who would profit from the overcrowding by increasing penalties. Those living illegally find a legal dwelling or unfortunately, leave the district.