A District in Crisis

Apparently I’m up at 2:00 am today because this post is that important.

Before I became a metastatic breast cancer advocate/thriver, I was a vocal advocate for students. I wrote letters and attended forums on the state testing debacle, I rode a bus for hours to lobby at Albany, and I was probably put on a watch list for Governor Cuomo.

Apparently it’s time for me to put back on my rally cap.

Let me explain.

I’ve sounded the alarm for my district. I walk a fine line as a taxpayer, parent and employee. I’ve said we are a district in crisis now, due to a huge chain of events that have been years in the making. Our high school is so crowded that Madison said she had trouble getting up a stairwell yesterday. We’ve also had a huge surge in population of one specific group of students.

This has caused some racism to come out.

Taxpayers are angry and saying it’s not fair they have to pay for illegal students, and those students are sucking up all of the funds and attention that the “legal” kids need. And yes, it’s true. We have to spend more money on ELL services. Instead of getting angry at the district and children, get active and ask the state for more help. I also have a feeling there are a lot less illegal students than you think, and simply more legal immigrants who have flooded our town because of affordable housing, even if it means five families share a house.

The surrounding districts are going through the opposite. Homes are being snapped up by second home buyers, so there are less full time residents and enrollment is decreasing.

Not in Riverhead.

We have affordable housing, so everyone is coming to our town. We also have landlords who have been renting out homes to multiple families and not caring. Have you driven by Main Street lately? I shudder to think of what will happen to enrollment when those huge buildings with apartments become available for rent. We are a town with farms, restaurants, vineyards, hotels, where the businesses rely on workers with low salaries. The workers need a place to live, right?

I am disgusted by the blatant racism as well as the implied. Just because a child is a different color and speaks a different language doesn’t mean they aren’t a citizen… or they aren’t as smart as your child and entitled to a fantastic, free and appropriate education. Some people have their heart in the right place but the message is muddled with racial overtones. We need to all come together. There isn’t a wall that’s been built, as some have chanted for years, so stop waiting on a politicians promise. Did you all really think three years ago that a wall would be built and the problem would be solved? How has that worked out for you?

Sticking heads in the sand and saying “It’s not fair and I don’t want to pay for illegals” isn’t going to make this better.

So, what to do?

I attended a round table discussion during the middle of the day yesterday. I wish you all could have been there. It was a group of teachers from the district, selected because we all live here as well as have kids who go here. Some are alumni. Hearts are breaking because parents wanted their kids to graduate from riverhead like they did, and if things don’t happen soon… and I mean really soon, people are thinking of moving away. It’s that serious.

Our superintendent as well as our finance guru were there. Listen, I wouldn’t want their jobs in a million years. The same vocal people attack them over and over. Let me tell you a little secret.

No one is in that position to make money. They deserve every penny of their salary for putting up with all of you and all of us.

Here is another secret.

The money man? I have grumbled when my supplies get cut and have to make choices between red or green construction paper. Paper clips or staples? Birthday crowns or mini pencils? June is a month of hard cuts and choices for teachers. Yes, he is that tight with money. But he takes his job as the watcher of the coin seriously, despite what everyone thinks. As a taxpayer, I appreciate how seriously he takes his job. He isn’t out to screw anyone, people. He truly is looking out for the town. Don’t listen to the same angry people who bash him over and over. Facts matter. He has them and amazed me with his ability to rattle off laws and tax codes and numbers.

The man is brilliant with facts and numbers.

The teachers on the round table threw out other options to him, and he had already thought about it and worked out the numbers. You see, we are screwed in Riverhead… big time.

We have a governor and a senator who ignore us. Other districts get high twenty percent state aid, we get in the teens. It’s because of the land on the tax tolls …and off the tax rolls. Because we have so much land and less taxable area, we look like a wealthy area on paper. Acres and acres of land and less people per square foot makes you look on paper like we are wealthy. The truth is we are land rich and people poor. Cuomo doesn’t give a crap about our town. He is busy renaming bridges and pushing tests designed to fail kids. The politicians don’t care. That’s been obvious with the vaccine kids. It’s about money for their own good. Getting total control and pocketing the benefits.

We are the county seat and get the social services dumped here, shelters, the jail. But help out our schools?

Forget it.

Freaking crickets from them all.

Our district has been banging the gong for YEARS about state aid. Don’t tell me we haven’t, because it’s come up every year at budget time. We are also screwed with the charter school. They are now getting seven million dollars of our budget a year. People all think it’s this great option for those who don’t like our schools. News flash. I know someone who used to work there. Look up some of the things their principal has said. His test scores are better because miraculously somehow a certain population didn’t take the tests. Kids go there and then come back to us in worse academic shape and we have to do more remediation. It’s the dirty little secret no one talks about. We need to fight against the bleeding flow of cash that is going to those kids and taking from our schools.

Fair state aid, FUNDED mandates, and the charter school should be on everyone’s radar.

But now we have a space crisis, and it’s especially bad in the high school. No one will say this publicly, but I will. If we don’t fix this and get additional space voted on in the bond NOW, we will be out of room by 2024. What will happen?

Split sessions.

Half days for high schoolers, with some going in the morning and some in the afternoon. When that happens, everyone will want to sell their houses. Get the hell out of dodge. But guess who will want to buy your house and come to riverhead then?

No one.

Do I want to pay more taxes? Hell no.

I’m a stage four cancer patient who has blown through her kids college savings and has already given up extras simply to save my life. I don’t have extra cash and buy my kids clothes at target, for God’s sakes.

But I know I cant afford to vote no on this bond.

Listen, I WAS going to vote no on the bond that was rolled out a month ago. An elaborate field house was pie in the sky, and although I would love our district to have fancy and pretty things… we just can’t.

Practicality wins.

But here is where I applaud the BOE and district. The outcry was loud, and they went back to the drawing board. They are working overtime to find the best possible proposal that will pass and have reworked and reworked the options. The field house is now out.

Period.

Hallelujah.

The additional building for PPS and the District office has two options. One is with repairs to the thirty year old trailers, and one is a new building. Obviously repairs are cheaper. But what will happen in ten years? We will have then forty year old trailers that will need more improvements. You can’t simply add those departments to a current school building because of safety. You can’t have the public walking in and out of schools. It has to be stand alone. I support trying to get this crisis solved now, but also being forward thinking. No one is going to approve a fancy building for adults in a school district, but a safe building for employees and locals to come to meetings to discuss our schools? I can get behind that.

We also have a big issue to decide. If we add to our 5/6 building, it will be very expensive. A cheaper alternative is to spread the students between two buildings and instead of a 5/6 then 7/8 building, make two middle schools 5-8. Sounds good, right?

Until you have to figure out which kids go where. How do you decide? Have two primary buildings go to one and two to the other? Alphabetical order? A lottery? That won’t work. You have to be sure each school is represented with the same number of kids who receive special services, ELL support, demographics evenly spread. Making class lists is a nightmare each year trying to make them even. Imagine what would happen when parents say they don’t want their kid in the old pulaski, but the newer middle school. We have some hard decisions to make.

Pre k is another problem. Let me tell you, all pre k programs are NOT the same. As a kindergarten teacher, I can tell you which child came from which program. Some are good, and some are not. Throw in kids who never even went to pre-school, and we are already starting school behind the others and at an disadvantage. Some think it’s just pre school, just kindergarten.

It’s not.

If we don’t get kids on level by the end of first grade, studies show they will NEVER catch up. It ain’t nap time anymore, people. You try to make the playing field even with a class full of four and five year olds, all from different backgrounds, languages and poverty levels, with family trauma and stories that keep you up at night. By making pre k our own, we get control. We make sure kids learn what they need and are prepared, start school on a more level field. Build a strong foundation, and the sky is the limit.

People are also playing politics. The town is suddenly interested in code enforcement. Why?

It’s an election year.

Let’s see what happens in November after votes are cast. I guarantee the grandstanding will end. Our townspeople that we elect better get more vocal about state aid. Kicking people out of houses that are crowded is a short term fix. I dont hold much hope in politicians.

Everyone had their own agenda.

My hope is in the children.

My hope is in the PEOPLE.

I brought up the timing of the vote. Seniors fly south for the winter and it looks shady to have a vote in January. There is a reason.

Timing is everything.

By voting in January instead of in May, we get four extra months to get this building started. If we wait, and vote in May, it wouldn’t be able to be open until September 2024. By then, it’s too late. Every second counts, that is how serious this overcrowding is.

People are also confused and say they want more teachers and smaller class sizes. That’s a budget issue. We can’t pierce the 2% budget cap Cuomo put in place.

Cuomo is an asshole.

Put that in your cap, Cuomo.

(I’m totally going to be on a watch list now.)

What will happen when we build these extra classrooms? Will we have money to pay for staff?

Yes.

I’ve been here for twenty two years. I was hired with a huge amount of staff. Many will be ready to retire. Retirement incentives will come, and the salaries will flow to the other end of the scale with new teachers…. if you can find any. We have a huge shortage of subs now because who the hell wants to go into teaching in NY with Cuomo making horrible decisions and teachers being called no good greedy pariahs out for themselves?

People want redistributing and redistricting students to other towns. Redraw town lines and send kids to other districts.

Can you imagine being a Flanders kid and hearing adults saying they want to kick you out of your district and send you elsewhere? Its a racial and class thing. No one is saying to send Riley kids to Shoreham. These lines were drawn years ago. It would be a nightmare and another vote for the town. Think racism is bubbling up now?

The ugly undercurrents about race, class, legal status, poverty… come on people.

Be better.

We sound like the sneetches from Dr Seuss with people pointing out who has stars on their bellies.

Here is another news flash.

I love my Latino/Hispanic families. Most are humble, hard working, kind. They just want us to love their kids like they do. I’ve heard stories of where they come from and cried over situations these kids have experienced. So take your white priveledge and thank your lucky stars you were born here. I cant imagine being a Hispanic in this town right now. The side eyes and prejudice is palpable.

Be human.

Be kind.

Be active and involved and INFORMED.

I suggested instead of loading up PowerPoints and slides, make a video presentation. The explanations and round table yesterday opened my eyes. The truth that was told was needed to be heard.

Get yourself to these bond proposal meetings and listen and learn. Then speak KINDLY and be heard.

They ARE listening. The proof is in the fact that they will be taking out the field house.

I also said riverhead went through a crisis last year with the disgusting acts of one man. Everyone was shocked, ashamed, embarrassed, and kept our heads low.

It’s time to take back our riverhead pride. Get our heads out of the sand and draw a line in the sand.

I’m standing and ready to fight.

My kids are thriving.

THRIVING.

Being surrounded by kids from other cultures and incomes has made them more aware, more empathetic. They are more equipped to enter the real world. Our kids in riverhead are truly a global community. They represent the world.

I am excited by these kids.

It’s the adults that need to learn from them.

I went vocal on the riverhead news review article yesterday and some guy pretty much told me to keep my mouth shut if I didnt know all the facts.

First, he obviously doesn’t know who I am.

Twenty two year employee of this district and have been actively involved in front and behind the scenes.

Second, telling people to shut up won’t help anything. People need to have civil discussions. We fall into snide jabs, name calling, and good people stop speaking up.

(Although it is ok to call Cuomo an ass, in my opinion.)

Civil discussion with respect needs to be had. Stop the finger pointing.

Stop the blame game.

Come to the table, listen, learn…

And please…

Vote yes on the bond.

It’s still being worked on, but I am now confident it will be one that is needed.

For all those angry people who love to call me out on crap, go easy on me. I’m exhausted from chemo and fighting for my life as well as this town I love.

I’m a big girl and can take it… but man, I’m tired. Speak up if you’ve been quiet and agree with me. It’s lonely where I am.

Tell others about how amazing riverhead was, is and can be.

I do all the time.

That’s it.

I’m done.

It’s 4:01 am now, and I’m going to take off my

child and town advocate hat and put back on my manifesting healing hat and try to get some sleep.

But first I’m praying for all of us.

May we come together and work for the town and all of the people in it.

May we remember we all the human race, and walk forward with kindness.

In Jesus’s name, amen.

Xoxo

Amen

4 thoughts on “A District in Crisis

  1. Another spot on post, Keri. We have somewhat the opposite problem here in our non-affluent rural school district in western NY, with declining population. Yet we still have some of the classism and screamers and schools that desperately need capital improvements (which can only come from capital improvement funds) while we had to lay off teachers and waste endless money on pointless testing, curricula, APPR B/S, etc. Fortunately we finally have an excellent superintendent and school board (which includes my good friend Chris Cerrone, who you may know from the Opt Out movement), and our scaled down, but an adequate capital project was eventually approved. Keri, keep fighting the good fight and advocating for kids, public schools, compassion, and cancer research. So many, including me, are with you in this. (PS – And I agree, Andrew Cuomo is an ass.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thank you. Everything I have read on social media has talked about the illegals and the over crowding. I have read nothing from the other point of view. As a teacher, I want what is best for all students. I love this district, but we do need to do something. I hate how rude people are to the BOE at the meetings. No one wants to listen. Just attack. So thank you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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