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Sports, jobs, music programs to be restored in Riverhead with extra $13.8M in state aid

Riverhead High School.

Riverhead High School. Credit: John Roca

Riverhead Central School District officials plan to use $13.8 million in additional state aid to restore jobs and sports and music programs that were cut last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the district operated under a contingency budget.

The proposed $159.4 million operating budget for 2021-22 was unveiled April 13 at the district Board of Education meeting. The proposal — which raises the budget by 10.8% from the previous year’s $146.3 million spending plan — would also add classroom furniture, new security cameras, musical instruments for students, classroom supplies and improvements to the district’s technology and electronic infrastructure. It will also allow for new teachers in business, world language, two new student deans, psychologists and social workers, among other positions.

Riverhead parents, school district and local officials have called for New York State to increase aid to the district for years. Riverhead Central School District Board president Laurie Downs issued a statement welcoming the funding.

"For far too long, the students of this district have had to make due with less than students in other districts because of the unfair state aid formula," she said. "Our representatives in Albany have delivered the tools we need to add staff and programs for our students. We are excited by the possibility of increasing our high school course offerings, improving our social and emotional programs, and continuing to strengthen our elementary education. We are also pleased to deliver a budget that has no tax increases for our hardworking residents. We hope the community will come out to cast their vote on May 18."

The State Legislature’s recently enacted aid package increased Riverhead’s portion by 42%, from $33 million to $46.8 million. Before that, school district officials said they were facing a $5 million revenue shortfall and were considering asking voters to pass a spending plan calling for a tax increase to the highest amount allowed under the state’s property tax cap, which is 2%.

Instead, the new budget will restore programs and positions, including all sports, music and clubs, and an assistant principal position at the high school, along with other expenditures that will improve learning across the district, according to a presentation by district officials at the meeting.

A proposed reduction in the number of elementary classroom sections next year has also been scrapped with the infusion of additional aid.

Mary Maki, president of the Riverhead High School Parent-Teacher Organization, said Thursday that she and her group think the state aid hike will benefit the district’s schoolchildren.

"We are very thankful and excited that Riverhead has finally gotten some of its aid back," Maki said. "We can put back some of the things that we lost during the year with the failed budget from last year. I have full confidence in the board and superintendent that they will use these funds to the benefit of the students in the best way."

FUNDING THE FUTURE

  • Other positions that will be restored include the assistant director position of Pupil Personnel Services; maintenance and custodial positions; and academic, social and emotional staff for students, such as four psychologists and four social workers.
  • District officials said they anticipate $18 million to be given to the district in special federal aid to supplement General Fund spending through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. The district expects that money to be spent over the next three years.
  • That money may end up funding elementary specialists to provide literacy and math support in K-12 classrooms; curriculum materials to support student learning and professional development for teachers; introduction to World Languages at K-6 schools; summer and after-school support and enrichment opportunities; and additional technology to support student learning.

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