Riverhead parents spoke out at Tuesday's school board meeting against a remark made by school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse to the Riverhead News-Review that the school district would likely have to cut $4 million between the upcoming and last year's budget to stay under the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap.
The tax cap limits the school district to tax increases of more than 2 percent. The story, written after the $78.4 million school bond vote passed Oct. 11, cites Cotten-Degrasse as saying the cuts "could come to the art, music and foreign language department, though the school board will ultimately make that decision."
Cotten-Degrasse made similar comments to Riverhead Patch after the bond vote passed, though she did not mention specific cuts that were being considered.
"Right now budget-to-budget, there's $4 million that needs to be cut," Cotten-Degrasse said in an interview on Oct. 11. "We've cut just about as far as we can go with staff, now we have to start looking into programs. It's decimating public education, with this tax cap."
Cotten-Degrasse said on Tuesday that no specific cuts had been discussed yet and apologized for the comment.
"My point was it'll be very difficult this year to stay within that 2 percent tax cap without making some drastic cuts," she said,
Board member Timothy Griffing said if the school district needed to make cuts, the board would likely plan to cut programs at a lower rate across-the-board to be "fair and equitable" instead of targeting specific programs to shut down.
Still, parents who spoke before the board Tuesday night urged it to reconsider making cuts to district programs like the Latin program or arts.
Parent Sarah Bowe said programs like the arts, music and foreign language should be "off the table" if the board needs to make cuts.
"The success of our Latin program, in particular, is a source of great pride for our district and community," Bowe said. "It's baffling to think that anyone would consider cuts to such a valuable program." Bowe suggested that the board look at cutting interscholastic sports before the Latin program.
Bowe's son, 8th-grade student Alexander, told the board he had heard rumors that the board was going to cut 7th-grade Latin, and said he didn't want to see the program lost. Cotten-Degrasse told Bowie that the board had said nothing about cutting the 7th-grade Latin program.
Another parent said foreign languages are essential for children to learn in today's global and multicultural market, though she recognized it would not be east for the board to make cuts.
"I don't envy your position," she said.
Robin Flannery, who runs the Group for Riverhead Referendum Recall, which opposes the bond, accused the board of withholding the information about the $4 million deficit until after the bond vote was held to make sure the vote would pass.
Cotten-Degrasse said she never claimed the $4 million mentioned was a final number and said it was a projected difference between the budgets. Flannery said the projections should still have been announced.
"Would that have made a difference [in the vote]?" Cotten-Degrasse asked tersely.
"I 'project' it would," Flannery said.