Tuesday’s Riverhead School Board race has drawn the largest field of candidates in the area as seven people, including three incumbents, are seeking three open seats on the seven-member board. School Board President Nancy Gassert, Vice President Kathleen Berezny and member W. Brian Stark are all vying for the three-year terms. They are being challenged by Mario Carrera, Sal Mastropaolo, Ann Cotton-Degrasse and Gregory Meyer.
In addition to the election, taxpayers will be asked to approve a proposed $102.5 million budget for the 2008-2009 school year, a plan that increases overall spending by 3 percent. Voting will be held from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Riverhead High School on Harrison Avenue in Riverhead.
Originally from Baldwin, Ms. Gassert has lived in Riverhead for the past 42 years. The retiree, who has owned the Cottage to Castle Cleaning Service for the past 25 years, is seeking her fifth term of office. Her husband now runs the business.
“We need continuity in the board to help Superintendant Diane Scricca stay on board to help her complete all the things she needs to do in the district,” Ms. Gassert said.
Ms. Gassert began volunteering her time in the district by serving as president of the Pulaski Street Parent Teacher Organization. She later held the same position at the middle and high school level. In 1990 she formed the PTO Council, an umbrella organization uniting all eight of the district’s PTOs.
“I first ran for the board in 1996 because I’m dedicated and committed to the safety, welfare and after-school programs that we can afford for our children,” she said.
Ms. Berezny , the board’s vice president, has served the community for the past six years and will be seeking her third term. She has worked in the utility department in Greenport Village for the past seven years, and has lived in Riverhead for the past 33 years.
“I first ran for the School Board because I wanted to try to make a difference,” Ms. Berezny said. “I was very active in the Parent Teacher Organization as president.”
If she is reelected, Ms. Berezny intends to bring stability to the district, noting that Riverhead has had five different superintendents in six years. “We hired [Superintendent] Scricca,” Ms. Berezny said, “and I want to move forward with her plans and curriculum.”
W. Brian Stark
An Aquebogue resident for 14 years, Mr. Stark is seeking his second term on the board. He said his initial reason for seeking election three years ago was to “bring rigor back into the curriculum, with an emphasis on math, science, and English,” he said. “I’m running again to make sure all curriculum changes are implemented correctly.”
Mr. Stark graduated from Riverhead High School in 1979. He has two children in the district, one enrolled in Pulaski Street School and the other in the middle school. He has worked for his family’s business, Stark Homes, since 1993, and now owns the company. The firm owns and operates Glenwood Village, a retirement community in Riverhead, and also develops modular housing.
Mr. Carrera is making his first bid for the board. A native of Hicksville, Mr. Carrera lived in Flanders for 19 years before relocating to Jamesport three years ago.
Mr. Carrera said his main reason for seeking election is to help curb rising costs in Riverhead. He said he wants to provide students with the best education possible in the most fiscally responsible way.
“It’s difficult to keep on paying increasing taxes,” Mr. Carrera said. “There’s a compromise that needs to be made. There’s too much excessive waste in the administrative venue and it has to be dealt with. Someone has to step up and make some tough decisions.”
Mr. Carrera has three children in the district—two are in the high school and the other attends Pulaski Street School. He has worked as a clerk for Suffolk County for the last four years. Prior to that, he was employed as an emergency management officer with the Suffolk County Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services.
A resident of Calverton for 20 years, Mr. Mastropaolo is also seeking election to the board. Mr. Mastropaolo, who retired from IBM in 1996 after 30 years of employment, has three children, two of whom graduated from Riverhead High School. Four of his six grandchildren are now enrolled in the district.
Mr. Mastropaolo held various management posts at IBM, including positions in planning and project management. Since retiring, Mr. Mastropaolo has worked as an administrator for the Riverhead Loyal Order of the Moose.
If elected, Mr. Mastropaolo said he will challenge other board members and said he will use his business and finance skills to benefit district taxpayers. His said one of his goals will be to “ensure Riverhead taxpayers are spending money wisely and getting the maximum return on their tax investment dollars.”
Ms. Cotton-Degrasse, a retired business education teacher with the district, is making her first run for the board.
“I decided to run … because I’m concerned with the lack of civility that’s been displayed by current board members and administration,” she said. “They have refused to let people speak at board meetings, they’ve turned off microphones when people are speaking, and they do not consult the public.”
A 25-year Jamesport resident, Ms. Cotton-Degrasse said that, if elected, she will work to reopen the lines of communication between parents, teachers and administrators.
Originally from Texas, she taught in the district for 32 years before retiring in 1997. Two of her stepchildren have attended the district.
A lifelong district resident, Mr. Meyer is also making his first bid for the board. A electrician for 22 years, he is now employed as a firefighter and EMT at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
“My experience in the construction field can help the district as it grows,” Mr. Meyer said. “It can be utilized during the planning for the facilities.”
Born and raised in Wading River, Mr. Meyer attended Riverhead schools before graduating from the high school in 1986. He and his wife, another graduate of Riverhead High School, have lived in Calverton since 1991. They have three children now enrolled in the district, two of whom are in high school and the youngest is in the middle school.
“With the current economy and taxes, it’s hard to live on Long Island, but I have the same concerns as my neighbors when it comes to this,” Mr. Meyer said. “I want to give guidance and fiscal responsibility and stability to board to ensure that the older and younger generations can afford to stay here in Riverhead.”