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Story - Education

Feb 17, 2010 11:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Remsenburg-Speonk school officials are unfazed by Riverhead bond defeat

Feb 17, 2010 11:44 AM

Plans for a school renovation project continue to take shape in the Remsenburg/Speonk School District, even as another more ambitious and expensive proposal fell flat last week 10 miles to the north in Riverhead.

Officials with the Remsenburg/Speonk School District said this week that they are still planning to propose a bond as early as this fall that would finance renovations at the district’s single elementary school, despite the defeat of a $122.9 million renovation bond that was struck down by taxpayers in the Riverhead School District on February 9.

“We wouldn’t be taking that into consideration because Riverhead is a different entity,” said Remsenburg/Speonk School Board President Tom Kerr.

The Riverhead bond, which was rejected by 62 percent of voters, would have financed construction and renovation projects at all seven of that district’s school buildings, which officials contend are overcrowded and outdated. The measure, if it had been approved, would have raised school property taxes by about 5 percent in Riverhead Town and in the section of Southampton Town that is part of the school district—the hamlets of Flanders, Northampton and Riverside.

Christine Prete, the vice president of the Riverhead School Board, said she thought the bond was a casualty of the current economic downturn.

“I think it failed, first of all, because the economy is horrible,” she said. “People are losing their homes.”

Ms. Prete, who had pitched aggressively for the passage of the bond alongside other district officials in recent months, said that the next step for her district is unclear. She said she plans to focus on the upcoming school budget proposal, which will be voted on by the public in May, before she revisits the district’s facilities issues.

“Right now the board hasn’t spoken since the vote,” Ms. Prete said on Friday, February 12. “As far as I’m concerned, me personally, I think the voters spoke loud and clear. They don’t want to spend any money now, which is understandable.”

She said there is no contingency plan in place, and declined to speculate about possible future strategies, such as breaking the massive undertaking into multiple phases.

But officials at Remsenburg/Speonk, which saw taxpayers in December 2008 overwhelmingly reject a $14.7 million project that would have doubled the size of the district’s elementary school, said they are undaunted by the message sent by Riverhead voters last week. School officials said they are forging ahead with their own expansion plan, the details of which are still being hashed out, though they previously said their revised plan would be more conservative than the first proposal that was rejected by 86 percent of Remsenburg and Speonk taxpayers 14 months ago.

When asked whether the defeat of the Riverhead school bond would factor into her district’s push for improved facilities, Remsenburg/Speonk Superintendent Katherine M. Salomone said: “No, I hope not. It would be terrible if it did.”

She explained that her district is still laying the groundwork to try again, with a plan that Remsenburg/Speonk school officials say will be significantly scaled back.

“It definitely is far less in scope than the first plan,” said Dr. Salomone, who also serves as the school’s principal.

At a Remsenburg/Speonk School Board work session on January 25, board members interviewed architects from six different firms, and asked them to produce sketches for plans that would ease crowded conditions at the school, according to Dr. Salomone. At an upcoming work session set for Monday, February 22, at 7 p.m., School Board members are expected to discuss the sketches, and perhaps choose two or three that they will consider further, Dr. Salomone said.

Mr. Kerr declined to discuss details of the possible changes, but said they were not as radical as those proposed in 2008.

“We’re trying to do a minimal amount of work on the building to bring it up to standards,” Mr. Kerr said.

School Board members have said they are guided in their current push by two reports that were released in 2009. Both reports—one completed by a focus group made up of district residents and another by the Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services—concluded that the elementary school was strapped for space and recommended additions, such as a new library, small instructional spaces, a conference room and additional bathrooms and storage areas.

Mr. Kerr said his board is conscious of the current economic environment, in the wake of the Riverhead bond’s defeat and its own failed 2008 referendum.

“In this economy, people just seem to want to vote ‘no’ and we understand that,” he said. “If we go forward with something this year, it’s going to be with complete consensus of the community.”

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Weird spin - what does one have to do with the other? No story here - lame reporting. Is the Press trying to demonize all school construction? Sounds like it
By William Rodney (558), southampton on Feb 18, 10 1:34 PM