Students busy in the RIley Avenue Elementary School makerspace. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Riverhead Central School District is now expected to receive $76.1 million in state aid for the coming school year, an increase of $19.6 million — or 34.6% — over the current school year and about $8.8 million more than anticipated in the budget the school board adopted last month.

The district’s proposed budget, which will be put to a vote by residents May 16, relies on state aid numbers published in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, which projected Riverhead would receive $67.4 million. That amount increased in the budget bills adopted by legislators and signed into law by the governor last week.

Total spending and the 1% tax levy increase in the board’s adopted will remain unchanged, but the amount of reserves and fund balance used to balance the budget will be reduced, Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said in an interview today. The school board will amend the budget at a later date to reflect those changes, he said.

“Instead of pulling that difference in amounts from reserves, it’s going to come in through the state aid,” Tornatore said. “So we’re very, very pleased about that. And this way, it really helps keep the reserves in a healthy place.”

The board’s adopted budget calls for total spending of $192 million in 2023-2024. It proposed using roughly $14.5 million in reserves and fund balance to supplement revenues in the budget, which is almost triple the $5 million in reserves and fund balance budgeted to supplement the current budget. The district currently had $33.5 million in general fund fund balance at the start of the current school year, according to a recent external audit.

Based on the numbers presented in the budget, the district now only needs to use roughly $5.7 million in reserves and fund balance.

READ MORE ON THE BUDGET: School board OKs $20 million spending increase for next school year, requiring 1% tax levy hike

The new revenue projections with the new state aid numbers will be presented to the Board of Education at tomorrow night’s meeting, Tornatore said.

The board will hold a public hearing on the adopted proposed budget at tomorrow night’s meeting.

District administrators used the governor’s projected state aid number in working up the 2023-2024 budget because the state budget wasn’t adopted by the legislature and signed into law until a month past its April 1 constitutional deadline, due to ongoing negotiations related to policy matters.

The executive budget document projecting state aid numbers indicated the Riverhead Central School District district was one of 11 in the state with numbers produced using incomplete data. 

State aid makes up more than one-third of the school district’s budget.

The state budget fully funding foundation aid for public schools and that accounts for most of the increase in total state aid this year. Foundation aid is determined based on a formula established by the state legislature factoring in wealth, cost of living, student need and the regional economics of the district benefiting from the funds. The aid was enacted in 2007 in response to a court ruling that found that the state’s funding of public schools was inadequate and unconstitutional. The state began to increase foundation aid after it settled a lawsuit brought in 2014 by an advocacy group demanding foundation aid be fully funded. 

A boost in foundation aid for Riverhead in 2021 allowed the Board of Education to propose an operating budget that restored many of its administrative positions and programs cut in 2020 — including athletics, extracurricular activities and music programs — without needing to raise the tax levy. 

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: