Five candidates, including one current board member and a former member, are vying for the two open seats on the Riverhead Board of Education on Tuesday, May 19.
Incumbent Susan Koukounas, who is seeking her second three-year term, and former board member Ann Cotten-DeGrasse are both seeking seats on the seven-member board. Joining them on the ballot is newcomer Bradford Harnig, as well as Gregory Fischer and Laurie Downs, both of whom made an unsuccessful runs last year.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. at the Riverhead High School, the Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton, the Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside and the Aquebogue Elementary School in Aquebogue.
Ms. Koukounas, 43, of Aquebogue, an assistant professor of mathematics at Suffolk County Community College, is seeking her second three-year term. If reelected, she would like to continue addressing educational challenges, including the Common Core standards and the new teachers’ evaluations, known as the Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR, as well as continue to oversee the $78 million construction bond approved by voters in 2011.
“As a school board member, you take the oath and part of that is really trying to give equal education and opportunity to all the kids within the district,” she said. “That’s what I’d like to continue.”
Ms. Koukounas and her husband, Theodore, a math professor at Suffolk Community College, have two children attending the district: Dean, 14, and Nicholas, 13.
“I always have the best interest of the whole community in mind with everything I do,” Ms. Koukounas said.
Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse served two terms on the board, from 2008 until 2014, before opting not to seek reelection last year. The 71-year-old Jamesport resident, who served as president from 2010 until leaving her post, had a change of heart and wants to return. She helped the district pass the $78 million construction bond that is financing various upgrades through the district.
Before retiring in 1997, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse taught in the Riverhead School District for 23 years. Her husband, Antonio, was a school administrator before he retired. Both of their children—Kendra Morgan, 52, who lives in Montana and Antonio DeGrasse Jr., 50, who lives in New York City—attended Riverhead schools.
“I’m upset at what’s coming out of Albany,” Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said of her decision to run again. “Between the Common Core and the high stakes testing … schools are being held hostage. It’s just ridiculous.
“We need to improve our test scores, that would help immensely, but we need a plan to be able to do that,” she added.
Mr. Harnig, 46, lives in Calverton and has three children now enrolled in the district. He is making his first run for the board.
“I wanted to be more involved with the process,” Mr. Harnig said, explaining his reason for tossing his hat in the ring. “I would like to see the students be the first priority.”
Mr. Harnig and his wife, Christine, have three children enrolled in the district: 15-year-old twins Adam and Kyle, and an 11-year-old son, Aidan. Mr. Harnig, who works as a conductor for the Long Island Rail Road, has volunteered as a Cub Master for the Riverhead Cub Scouts for nine years and coached Riverhead Little League for seven years.
While he values education, Mr. Harnig said he would also keep taxpayers in mind when making decisions. He also noted that he does not support Common Core.
“I do not believe Common Core was presented to the teachers properly, nor do I believe that teachers should be reviewed based on the results of student test scores. This has created a stressful environment for both the students and the teachers,” he wrote in an email. “I believe there are other ways teachers could be held accountable.”
Mr. Fischer is making his second run for the school board after falling short last May.
The 58-year-old Calverton resident boasts more than 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and investor, noting that he is concerned with the amount of financial pressure being placed on the district.
“The median taxpayer is already beyond their limit,” Mr. Fischer wrote in an email. “Funding is tight, supplemental streams of revenue have not been developed sufficiently.”
The father of four said his business experience would help the board develop a sound financial strategy. His older children, Adam, 29 and Andrew, 27, attended Riverhead schools. Clark, who is 10 and Anna, who is 8, now attend the Riley Avenue School.
Mr. Fischer said that, if elected, he would fight to suspend Common Core and incorporate more entrepreneurship courses into the curriculum.
Ms. Downs, 59, said she prides herself on being known as the district’s “watchdog,” and that is the main reason why she is making a second attempt to earn a seat at the dais.
“I plan to continue to be a voice for concerned parents,” said Ms. Downs, who is now in charge of bookings and contracts at M. Licata Entertainment.
The mother of two—both of her children, Melanie, 27, and Eugene, 25—graduated from Riverhead—said she has no specific agenda other than focusing on the well-being of students. If elected, she said she would work to guarantee that all students received a quality education while working to keep board members fiscally accountable to taxpayers.
If she’s elected Tuesday, Ms. Downs would also turn her attention to the curriculum and try to reintroduce courses that were slashed when the high school did away with ninth period.