With the public expected to weigh in on the Riverhead school district's on Tuesday night -- a public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at - Superintendent Nancy Carney said residents have been supportive so far.
The superintendent has given a number of budget overviews in the weeks leading up to Tuesday night's public hearing at schools within the district.
"The main questions I’ve encountered are about class size at the elementary level," Carney said in email Tuesday morning. "At this time, with the increase in state aid, we plan to add three positions back. We are still working on determining these positions based on scheduling and enrollment for next year."
Originally, the board of education said 21 positions were expected to be slashed from the budget, but an increase in state aid agreed to by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo in March allowed for an increase of approximately $268,000 that could be used to restore a number of the 21 teaching positions that were cut under the proposed budget in a "painstaking process," according to Carney.
At each of the presentations, the public has been supportive, Carney said. "We have one of the lowest budget to budget increases on the Island and we have the lowest tax levy cap on the Island," she said.
Overall, Carney said, state aid is up 5.9 percent. The total tax levy is 1.73 percent, with a budget to budget increase of 1.99 percent, including the spike in state aid.
Reflecting on the process, Carney said the road has not been easy. "This budget has presented the Board of Education and me with some of the toughest decisions we have ever faced in our careers," she said. "The restrictions of the tax levy cap have forced us to make choices that are painful to do because we are losing some programs that we have spent years building up."
Riverhead Board of Education President Ann Cotton-DeGrasse agreed that while the goal of staying within the state-mandated two percent tax cap levy was challenging, they were successful. "It was a very heartwrenching process," she said. But, she added, the board strived to make the budget "equitable," maintaining programs while still being mindful of the taxpayer -- and said they have the lowest tax cap levy in the area. "I hope that the public will come out and support us, and vote," she said.
Carney said because the levy increase is capped at no more than 1.73 percent, the board needed to cut approximately $3.2 million in existing spending for next year’s budget. "This has meant that we have had to let go of excellent staff members and reduce certain programs, such as elementary after school enrichment."
However, Carney noted, because of the process used in crafting the budget this year, with an emphasis on publically explaining each portion of the spending plan, she believes residents are well informed.
Carney gave presentations at each district PTO and also, to community groups. "No one likes the fact that we are reducing quality staff members, but they do understand that the board has made choices to preserve programs for our children to the greatest extent possible and stay within the tax levy cap restrictions," she said.
The budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 15 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at local elementary schools. Residents should vote at the elementary school where a child living in their house would normally have attended school, except residents living in the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School zone, who will vote at the high school.
Details of the budget can be found at www.riverhead.net, at each school, and at the public libraries.
"I urge all residents of Riverhead to educate themselves about the budget and to come out to vote on May 15," Carney said.