Riverhead School Supe Resigns, Board Adopts Contingency Budget

Courtesy Riverhead Central School District
The Riley Avenue Elementary School is part of the Riverhead Central School District.

The Riverhead Central School District, now operating on a contingency budget after its proposed budget was voted down earlier this month, is also in need of a new superintendent of schools.

Dr. Aurelia Henriquez has resigned “based upon certain irreconcilable differences and in the best interest of her family,” according to a shared statement from Gregory M. Meyer, the board president. He read the statement during a special meeting, held virtually Monday, after the board came out of an executive session, in which it discussed a personnel matter. The board then executed a separation agreement and Dr. Henriquez’s resignation is effective on Tuesday, June 30.

“The Board of Education wishes to thank Dr. Henriquez for her commitment to the students, staff and community during her tenure with the district,” the statement read. “Dr. Henriquez extends her appreciation to the students, staff and community for their support of her leadership as Superintendent of Schools.”

Dr. Henriquez’s departure from the school comes after the district’s proposed $147 million budget for the upcoming school year failed. In a mail-in vote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voters rejected the budget, with 2,847 casting ballots in favor, and 3,173 against once all the votes were tallied on June 17.

Because the fiscal year ends June 30, the district must be on a contingent budget in order for it to continue to operate come July 1. The board has the option of staying on contingency for the rest of the fiscal year or going back to the voters for a second vote.

Sam M. Schneider, deputy superintendent, presented a $144.8 million contingency budget, a figure arrived at by “backing out” certain costs from the rejected budget. By law, while on a contingency budget, the tax levy can be no higher than the last approved budget, meaning slightly more than $2 million had to be trimmed.

Nearly $964,000 was cut from athletics, $318,000 from clubs and music performances, $186,000 from after-school buses, and $148,000 from the elementary school literacy program. There was also $122,000 stripped from auto and building maintenance, $135,000 taken away from the science program, $100,000 cut from computer technology and more than $150,000 removed from the high school electives budget.

Approximately $95,000 had to be added back in for unemployment costs, though the presentation did not include which positions specifically were being cut.

“It is by no means a perfect plan and it is by no means a plan that people will be happy with,” Schneider said, adding it preserved the core academic program as much as possible. The cuts were the “path of least pain.”

Also, school districts cannot make any equipment purchases or raises for individually contracted staff. Schneider said the district removed $223,000 in equipment purchases and $57,000 for raises from the rejected budget.

If the board decides to float a second budget, it is unclear exactly how or when that will take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The date and methodology of the second vote has not been announced by the governor,” Schneider said. A vote will likely be allowed on July 21 or July 28, but there is no information yet on how that will be conducted, whether by in-person or mail-in voting.

“I understand that this is to allow the district to continue running, but I just want to say I am not in favor of cutting any programs,” Therese Zuhoski, a board member, said. She said she wanted the board to look at cuts to administrators. “Paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for these positions over cutting academics, sports, music, reading intervention, ROTC programs, is a big no for me. We need to evaluate enrollment in certain departments to determine a priority list starting with non-required programs as per our regulations.”

Zuhoski still voted in favor of the contingency budget, along with the rest of the board. After the vote, Meyer added the agenda item regarding Henriquez’s resignation.

Afterwards, in a 4-3 vote, the board appointed Christine Tona, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, to serve as Acting Superintendent, starting on Wednesday, July 1. Before voting against the appointment, Zuhoski said just because Tona had been employed in the district for the longest amount of time of any of the administrators did not mean she was qualified for the position. She also noted that no less than two weeks ago, three board members had voted in opposition of her tenure appointment.

Brian Connelly, the vice president, and Laurie Downs, another board member, agreed and also voted against Tona’s appointment as Acting Superintendent.

The board intends to go through a thorough search process to find the best candidate to serve as the district’s next superintendent of schools, the statement said.

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