Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Police have arrested a Huntington Station man for his alleged involvement in a March 31 shooting in Lindenhurst.

Hector Gonzalez, 27, of Huntington Station, an alleged Latin Kings gang member, was arrested May 15 and charged with allegedly murdering Herminio Torres, 25, of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Attorney information for Gonzalez was not immediately available.

An altercation started inside and continued outside at 105 Grados, located at 105 Sunrise Highway, at approximately 3:20 a.m. During the fight, two men were shot and three men were stabbed.

“The district attorney’s office remains committed to eradicating dangerous street gangs from our communities and cracking down on senseless gun violence,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said. “We will do everything in our power to bring this individual, a self-proclaimed Latin Kings gang member, to justice.”

Torres, was transported by the Lindenhurst Fire Department to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip where he was pronounced dead. The second shooting victim, 26, self-transported to an area hospital and was subsequently transported to another hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. A 23-year-old man was stabbed and transported to an area hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Two other men who were stabbed, ages 28 and 35, were transported to local hospitals where they were treated and released.

Anyone with information is asked to call Homicide Squad detectives at 631-852-6392 or call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

Stony Brook ophthalmologist and Port Jeff resident Aaron Wigdor. Photo from the Wigdor family

“The eye is like a camera,” was the ophthalmologist’s favorite expression.

Aaron Wigdor, an eye doctor with a practice in Stony Brook who lived in Port Jefferson since the 1960s, died in April at 82. He was among those who led the charge for Port Jefferson Village to purchase Harbor Hills Country Club from the late 1960s through the ’70s, an asset the municipality still owns today, and was the first men’s tennis singles champion at the club. He is survived by his son Douglas; daughter Caren Skutch; daughter-in-law Catherine; son-in-law, William; and four grandchildren, Jacob, Simon, Julia and Carly.

Wigdor was born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and went on to medical school at New York University. He served in the United States Army Medical Corps in Texas at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was also President Lyndon Johnson’s on-call ophthalmologist for a time.

“The eye is like a camera.”

— Aaron Wigdor

In 1968, he and his late wife Ellen moved from Texas to Port Jefferson, where the couple remained until relocating to Florida in 2016, reluctantly, according to his son.

“He really did love Port Jefferson,” his son said.

Both of his parents played a part in organizing the senior prom at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, which was a long-standing tradition in Port Jeff, for parents of the senior class to help pick a secret theme unveiled only on prom night and organize the over-the-top event.

Wigdor had many close friends in Port Jefferson, and as a young man enjoyed spending time out from of Darling’s Stationery, where many from the community would gather in what probably would resemble a social media chat group today.

“You would never know he was a gossip,” his daughter said. “After my mother passed away, he got very sad. As a couple, they had a lot of friends in Port Jefferson. They were always going out. They were really pillars in the community.”

Skutch described her father’s sense of humor and intellect as “acerbic,” a trait she said she loved. She said he enjoyed reading the dictionary as a hobby, and it was a favorite response of his to instruct his kids to “go read the dictionary” when they complained of being bored.

They were always going out. They were really pillars in the community.”

— Caren Skutch

“He was just an all-around good dad,” she said, adding that as a grandfather Wigdor taught her kids how to swim and play ball.

Wigdor’s son said he hoped people who knew him would remember how caring and dedicated he was as a doctor at his practice on Nesconset Highway, which he established in 1969.

“In this day and age when people go to see their doctor and are rushed in and out, I know that my father and his practice spent time with patients in caring for them and I believe his patients really respected that,” he said.

Longtime Port Jeff residents Anita and Arthur Spencer, who knew the Wigdors, traveled to Puerto Rico and Atlantic City among other destinations regularly together.

Anita Spencer called Wigdor a very sociable guy who had many friends and talked to many people during his days in Port Jeff.

“He was very friendly,” she said. Anita Spencer said the two couples avidly followed the Kentucky Derby and the other triple-crown horse races, though Wigdor was also a huge fan of the New York Knicks. “He had loads of friends. He was very concerned about what was going on in the village, being part of the village.”

BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Candidates for Port Jefferson School District’s board of education have thrown themselves into the world of public service at a tumultuous time for the district and education more broadly. To better inform voters about the positions of the six candidates vying for three trustee seats prior to heading to the polls May 15, each was asked to provide answers to the same  questions.

Candidate Mia Farina answered the questions during a phone interview while the other five chose to respond via email. Their answers to the questions, or answers in part, are provided below in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

If the district loses revenue as a result of a LIPA settlement, how can the BOE scale down the budget without doing too much harm to existing programs?

There is the possibility of losing property tax revenue as a legal battle plays out between Port Jefferson Village, the school district and Long Island Power Authority, which has a plant in the village. The utility company contends Town of Brookhaven  overassessed and is seeking to reduce the assessment. The district receives about half of the revenue in its budget from taxes paid by LIPA based on the plant’s assessment.

The village and Brookhaven have publicly stated a settlement is on the horizon, the result of which will likely reduce the plant’s assessment, though few details have been shared. The district has publicized a plan for the budget should an official settlement be reached in time to impact the 2018-19 school year, with
proposed cuts to instrument rental availability, textbooks, athletic teams, clubs and overnight field trips, to name a few.

Budget highlights
  • $44,945,812 for total operating budget
  • 3.72 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 2.23 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs
  • Second proposition on ballot to release capital reserves for roof repairs
  • Vote May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Ryan Biedenkapp: “There will need to be a scaling down of nonmandated costs by looking to trim where student participation fails to justify the cost. An increase in taxes combined with increased community participation in seeking alternative funding sources will also be required. Maintaining the academic integrity of Port Jefferson schools should be the guiding principle when deciding where reductions will occur.”

Mia Farina: “There’s actually grants out there — privately — [like] music grants that actually [pay for] musical instruments and pay for the maintenance of those instruments, so that alone would cover that lost revenue. I went to public school, and we did fundraisers. We could sponsor events. We possibly may lose revenue. If we could do anything to bring that back by having the community involved … ”

Jason Kronberg: “Depending on how severe the loss of revenue is, I’d like to hold forums with the community to come up with potential cuts to the budget.”

René Tidwell: “As a member of the BOE, I will work diligently to ensure the high standards the district has set for its instructional programs remain in place. I believe the district needs to form a Citizens Advisory Committee immediately, with the objective to assess the impact of the loss of LIPA revenue under various scenarios (such as 50 percent reduction of revenue, reduction on assessment or reduction on payments, etc.).”

Tracy Zamek: “The board can scale down the budget by looking at budget trends, participation rates, enrollment patterns and non-mandated costs. However, a combination of program adjustments and increased taxes will be necessary in order to absorb the significant loss of revenue. The community will once again be asked to provide input through a values survey and community forum response initiative. Understandably, not everyone is going to agree on every priority, but the most important thing to remember is our students come first.”

Ryan Walker: “Several suggestions that have been successful in other districts come to mind, such as encouraging increased philanthropic contributions, seeking out unused state and federal financial aid
opportunities and grant writing. The first thing to consider is what must the district have in order to maintain the high quality of education that makes families chose to move to Port Jefferson.”

Do you believe security officers and/or educators should be armed on school campuses?

Security in schools is never far from district’s and parent’s minds, though this has been particularly true in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 dead. Neighboring districts have moved to employ armed security personnel, while some participated in the national discourse through walkouts.

Biedenkapp: “I don’t believe in arming teachers, ever. The idea of having an armed security person inside our schools is one that gives me pause. The retention of a single, possibly two, retired officers, who also was/were licensed air marshal that was carrying [a] concealed [weapon] at the front of the school at the vestibule or outside the school on the perimeter is something that I would be inclined to support.”

Farina: “Absolutely not. Their job is to educate, not to have the responsibility of a [carrying] firearms. Security officers, I believe, should be armed if they’re fully capable of being armed, meaning training is a huge priority.”

Kronberg: “Weapons-trained security can be an essential layer of protection for our schools. There is no definitive study on the effectiveness of this form of protection, but in my opinion it is something, with proper training, that can help prevent and deter violence. Arming teachers in schools is an irresponsible idea.”

Tidwell: “I believe the answer to this question is best answered by the community itself, and as a BOE member, I would recommend a town hall meeting to listen to the community’s ideas and concerns regarding security for our facilities.”

Potential cuts pending LIPA settlement
  • Reduction of rental of music instruments for students ($12,000) Reduction in equipment ($18,000)
  • Reduction of textbooks ($15,000)
  • Reduction of 6 budgeted sports teams based upon student interest ($37,000)
  • Reduction of 6 extra curricular clubs based upon student interest ($18,000) Elimination of overnight/long distance field trips (Busing/Chaperons) ($18,000)
  • Reduction in Board of Education organizational dues ($2,000)
  • Reduction in District Community Printing/Mailings (Newsletters/Calendars) ($10,000)

Walker: “I worked in two school districts as a nationally certified School Resource Officer for the New York State Police Department. At first, residents were hesitant to have a police officer in full uniform, which included a gun, in the schools. Resident hesitation swiftly dissipated as I worked to build a positive collaborative relationship with students, families, administration, teachers and staff.”

Zamek: “I absolutely do not support the idea of having teachers armed in schools. Guns do not belong inside our schools. However, I would welcome a village and community discussion about having professional armed security guards on the outside of schools, especially at arrival [and] dismissal and on the perimeter of fields during recess.”

Do you think BOE communication and transparency with taxpayers can be improved, and if so, how would you do it?

The district and board have been criticized by members of the community for a lack of transparency and for their communication methods on issues, like how the district informed parents of a social media threat made by a student in February long after it was received and via email instead of a robocall.

Biedenkapp: “We can absolutely improve communication with all stakeholders, as well as our transparency. With respect to the taxpayers the district Facebook page should be utilized to give a brief synopsis of each BOE meeting, along with the live video of the meeting and quick links to any pertinent web pages. The school’s web page is rather cumbersome, but design of a new website would be fiscally irresponsible at this time. Residents should have an ability to have their phone number added to the school robocall list.”

Farina: “I think there’s always room for improvement in any type of communication whatsoever. I haven’t really had an issue [with] school communication because I’m very active. … I would ask the community for ideas on how they would want to be notified. Who’s not getting information that wants information? How do you get your information?”

Kronberg: “Communication between the board and community, although strong in many ways, can always be improved. I’m excited for the ‘super team’ approach arrived at by the superintendent for this fall [which brings community members from different sectors together to come up with ideas to solve problems]. While the meetings are online and available, it may be a good idea to provide a question and answer email session with board members, where community members can write in and receive answers to specific questions.”

Tidwell: “I believe there are significant gaps in the BOE’s communication process with all the district’s stakeholders. I would establish a telephone communication protocol that includes all district taxpayers — not just the parents of children attending the district’s schools. I would ensure that taxpayers who currently do not utilize the internet or social media are informed of upcoming BOE events in a timely manner. I propose utilizing cellphone alert applications to remind residents of upcoming meetings, important announcements, etc., all of which could have ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ choices for all residents.”

Walker: “The current way of disseminating information is adequate for those with children attending schools in the district. However, everyone else must seek out information by checking the district’s web page on a daily basis to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Printed newsletter mailings to residents are infrequent, costly and not always timely. All residents should have an opportunity to register their email addresses with the school to have the same information sent to them as parents of school children. Board members should make themselves more available to attend public functions, have face-to-face interactions with residents.”

Zamek: “There needs to be a greater emphasis on enrolling every community member on our connect-ed phone, text and email system. I have already started to improve communication between the school and village officials by creating a direct line of communication between the two offices. The school now informs the mayor’s office monthly concerning school board meeting dates and times and provides an agenda.”

Comsewogue School Board President John Swenning speaks during the school’s 2016 graduation ceremony June 23. Photo by Bob Savage

By Alex Petroski

Barring support for an unforeseen write-in candidate, Comsewogue School District taxpayers already know who will be on their board of education next school year. Three candidates are running for three seats, two of whom are familiar faces while one is a newcomer. The terms for board President John Swenning, and Trustees Rick Rennard and Louise Melious are up this year. Swenning and Rennard are running again while Melious is not. She did not respond to a request for comment about her decision. Corey Prinz, a district resident since 2004, is the third candidate and is making his first bid for the board.

Corey Prinz

Prinz, 37, lives in the district with his wife and two kids — a second-grader and a fourth-grader. He has worked for Bank United as a commercial banker for about a decade. Prinz said he enjoys the small-town feeling in Comsewogue and sees it as a good place to raise a family. He was previously involved as a board
member for Comsewogue’s youth lacrosse program and said running for the school board seemed like a natural progression to get more involved.

“I’m excited – this is going to be a lot of fun,” Prinz said. “I go to bed excited about this starting up.”

He said his personal mantra in his position with the youth lacrosse program was to help kids succeed athletically, but more importantly “I want them to be good humans.” Prinz called this day and age in education and beyond very difficult for kids who face pressures based on academics, security concerns and socially, among countless others.

“We’re going through some changes here in the world,” he said.

Prinz said he thinks the current board has done a great job.

“Honestly, it’s about listening right now,” he said of his approach stepping into the position. “I don’t want to imply there’s something broken that I’m coming in to fix. It can always be improved.”

John Swenning

Comsewogue is known to have among the highest opt-out rates for standardized tests on Long Island, a charge led by Superintendent Joe Rella. While Prinz said he doesn’t have a problem with parents electing to have students skip tests, his kids have taken them.

“Eventually kids will have to deal with testing that isn’t pleasant and comfortable. I’m OK with them getting used to that,” he said.

Prinz said his focus will be on helping to create well-rounded offerings, with equal emphasis on education, athletics, music and any other areas important to students and community members.

Swenning, 54, attended Comsewogue schools and has been a board member since 2005. He works as a sales and design consultant in the home improvement industry. He and his wife Andrea have been married for 32 years and have four children, all Comsewogue graduates.

“I have been part of so many good things here and look forward to continuing to see Comsewogue accomplish great things for our students,” he said of why he decided to seek another term.

The district earned the prestigious accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools in 2017.

He said safety and security improvements will be a focus for the board going forward, as well as expanding the district’s project-based learning pilot program, which the district implemented in recent years as an alternative to typical Regents-based classes.

Rick Rennard

Rennard started on the board in 2014. He has lived in the district for 14 years and has a child at each level in the district — an elementary student, middle schooler and a high schooler. He is a teacher at Newfield High School in the Middle Country Central School District, and also serves as Boy Scouts cubmaster and assistant scoutmaster for Troop 354.

“The reason that I decided to run again for the school board is because after serving for four years, I feel very comfortable with the responsibilities and commitments that come along with the position,” he said. “I feel the district is moving in a very positive direction educationally, and I want to continue that movement.”

He also expressed a desire to continue the project-based learning program as a focus moving forward.

To vote on the district’s budget, a $32 million capital bond proposal and BOE candidates, go to Comsewogue High School May 15 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

By Alex Petroski

Who knew walking could do so much good.

The Fortunato Breast Health Center, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson’s arm dedicated to treatment of breast cancer, played host to Families Walk for Hope, a fundraising event May 5 featuring a five-mile walk through Port Jefferson and Belle Terre villages. The event raised more than $81,000 for the center as of midday May 7. To donate to the center, visit familieswalkforhope.kintera.org.

A fire broke out at 201 Main Street in Port Jefferson during the early morning hours May 5, putting a serious crimp in plans for caffeine addicts far and wide.

The location, which houses Starbucks on the ground floor and Barito Tacos & Cocktails on the second floor, caught fire early Saturday morning, according to an 8:30 a.m. May 5 Facebook post by Port Jefferson Fire Department Chief Brennan Holmes’ office.

“A good stop was made and damage to the building was minimal with little extension,” the post said.

The department was aided by members of the Terryville Fire Department. Starbucks was open as of Monday morning, May 7.

Developer to get financial assistance from Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency

The location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Alex Petroski

What is currently an open field on North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station will soon be home for some.

A new 244-unit residential rental complex for senior citizens proposed

27 acres of vacant land on the west side of North Bicycle Path, north of Comsewogue High School, has been greenlit. The Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency announced in an April 26 press release it had approved an application for economic incentives with Benjamin Development Co., operating as The Vistas of Port Jefferson LLC, which will also be the name of the new community. The IDA is tasked with selecting projects that “promote the economic welfare and prosperity of the Town of Brookhaven by assisting in the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, and equipping of commercial and industrial facilities.”

As part of the financial assistance agreement between the agency and developer, The Vistas of Port Jefferson will make payments in lieu of property taxes for 13 years, starting with a $52,000 installment in year one, jumping to about $90,000 in year four, and concluding with a $1,516,043 payment in the final year of the agreement. In total, the company will pay about $8 million in lieu of higher town property taxes during the 13-year agreement. The total cost of the project is expected to be about $65 million.

The area boxed in red represents the location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Image from Google Maps

Lisa Mulligan, chief executive officer of the IDA, declined to comment on the agreement in a phone interview beyond what the agency offered in a press release, though she said the ball is in the court of attorneys on both sides to officially close the deal, which she said she fully expects to take place.

A request for comment to Benjamin Development Co. was not returned.

“As a result of IDA assistance for the development of this project, hundreds of new construction jobs will be added to the region,” the company’s application to the IDA stated. “The project development will also benefit local/regional firms through purchases from suppliers, subcontractors, etc. Finally, the project will create new full-time jobs and 245-plus new residents that will assist in the stimulation of the local economy through daily household spending.”

The project is expected to create more than 400 new construction jobs as well as 24 new permanent positions, according to the IDA press release. The Vistas of Port Jefferson will offer 64 two-bedroom townhouses, 36 one-bedroom units, 144 two-bedroom apartments with a clubhouse and a sewage-pumping facility. Construction is expected to take about two years. The facility is billed as a community for tenants age 55 and up. Fifteen percent of the units will be designated as affordable housing, available to prospective tenants earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, which was about $90,000 per household from 2012 to 2016, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an emailed statement through Legislative Secretary Carolyn Fellrath the town IDA is a separate entity from the board and does not seek input from councilmembers in making decisions.

“This proposed project has generated concern in the community,” Cartright said. “The re-zoning of this parcel in 2010 pre-dates my tenure. However, based on the community concerns raised to my office, I am not sure the decision to re-zone this parcel to Planned Retirement Community would be granted if this application were before this town board today.”

Dr. Jason Kronberg during a meet the candidates event at Port Jefferson High School April 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson School District board of education candidate has agreed to pay a settlement to resolve a legal issue pertaining to his day job.

A pediatrics practice with several Long Island locations, including one in Port Jefferson, and its current and former partner physicians agreed to pay $750,000 to settle claims of improper Medicaid billing practices, according to an April 25 announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. One of the partners of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the practice named in the press release, is Dr. Jason Kronberg, a Port Jefferson resident running for one of the school district’s three board of education seats up for election May 15. The practice operates as a limited liability partnership under the name Freed, Kleinberg, Nussbaum, Festa & Kronberg M.D. The legal action was brought about by a whistleblower, and the case was pursued under the federal False Claims Act and the New York State False Claims Act jointly by federal and state investigators.

“The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point.”

— Jason Kronberg

According to the release, the practice billed the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to millions of Americans including eligible low-income adults, children, people with disabilities and others and is jointly funded by state and federal governments, for services provided by physicians who were not enrolled in the program. Between July 2004 and December 2010, the practice and its partners employed a number of physicians who were not enrolled in the Medicaid program yet still provided care to Medicaid patients, the government’s investigation revealed. The defendants sought reimbursement from Medicaid for services provided by non-Medicaid enrolled physicians and did so by misrepresenting the identities of the individuals actually providing the treatment, the release said.

“The settlement related to billing practices from over eight years ago, a period when, for the most part, I was just an employee of the practice,” Kronberg said in an email, adding that the settlement shouldn’t interfere with his school board candidacy. “The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point. Given the extraordinarily complex nature of Medicaid billing rules, settlements like this are quite common – the government enters into thousands of them every year. We cooperated fully with the government investigation of this matter and we resolved the case with the government amicably.”

According to the complaint by the whistleblower’s attorneys accessed after Kronberg’s initial statement, he was a partner “at all relevant times herein.”

“I was a partner starting July 2009,” Kronberg said. “The complaint was 2005 to 2010. The statement said ‘for the most part’ — which is accurate.”

A request for comment sent to Kronberg’s defense attorney Christopher Fenlon was not returned, nor was a request sent to district Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

— Richard Donoghue

According to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Board’s Association, an organization that provides support for school boards in the state, the settlement will have no impact on Kronberg’s bid for Port Jeff’s board. Worona said anyone qualified to vote is eligible to run for a board of education position in New York, with a felony conviction being the only disqualifier, adding that it will be up to the voters to decide.

“Providers serving Medicaid beneficiaries must be properly credentialed and thoroughly vetted to ensure that proper care is provided and to preserve the integrity of the Medicaid Program, which serves our neediest citizens,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

As part of the settlement, New York’s Medicaid program will receive $450,000 of the $750,000 payment, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office’s press release on the matter.

Kronberg said during a meet the candidates event at the high school April 24 he was seeking a seat on the board to lend his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate and weigh in impartially. He is one of six candidates running to fill three seats.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said in a personal statement. “I believe I will bring to the board a fiscally conservative yet socially liberal viewpoint.”

This post was updated May 1 with information from the complaint filed by the whistleblower and a second comment from Jason Kronberg.

BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. Photo by Alex Petroski

Six candidates have come forward to run for three vacant seats on the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education.

The three-year terms of trustees Tracy Zamek, Mark Doyle and Vincent Ruggiero expire this year, though only Zamek is seeking another term. She joined five other community members at the Port Jefferson High School auditorium April 24 for a meet-the-candidates event, hosted by the district’s three parent-teacher associations.

Doyle, who ran a write-in campaign when he was re-elected in 2015, said in an interview he will not seek a fourth term, citing growing professional obligations and a desire to have his seat filled by someone more able to offer up their time. Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment sent to his school district email.

The candidates were asked six questions about relevant issues to the district — including the potential for lost revenue as Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village hammer out settlements with the Long Island Power Authority over an assessment dispute on its Port Jeff power plant — and education more broadly, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Each candidate also submitted personal bios to the administrators of the event, which were publicly distributed.

Meet the candidates

Tracy Zamek: She was first elected to the board in 2015. Zamek has lived in the district since 1996 and currently has two teens attending local schools. She is currently a fifth-grade teacher in the Hauppauge school district. She cited her desire for fiscal responsibility and to advocate for students as her reasons for running again.

“I believe every single student who attends Port Jefferson schools deserves a premier education,” she said. “Now more than ever, the people in this village and school community need to work together as one, in regards to the LIPA/National Grid gorilla staring us in the face.”

Ryan Walker: He moved to the district in 2010 and also has two children attending Port Jeff schools. Walker spent 10 years as a New York State police sergeant, followed by three years as a security guard in local schools. He was one of New York’s first nationally certified school resource officers in 2002.

He said his experience in law enforcement “will be an asset regarding the safety of the students in our schools.”

“I will work to balance the concerns of the residents with a common sense fiscal management plan to address our overall district funding needs,” he said.

René Tidwell: She has a daughter in sixth grade, and a long work history in banking and financial services. Tidwell currently works as a special education teacher’s aide. She is running because she wants to lend her
expertise in financial planning to help the community plan long term for the possibility of less annual property tax revenue, citing a need for not only student advocacy, but for taxpayers.

“With over 20 years of experience in banking and financial services, I will focus on data-driven research, analysis and long-term planning to develop solutions for our district’s funding requirements,” she said.

Jason Kronberg: Dr. Kronberg is a pediatrician with two children in district schools. He moved to Port Jeff in 2003 from Queens and cited his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate along with being “fiscally conservative,” yet “socially liberal” as assets he’ll bring to the district if elected.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said.

Mia Farina: She is a NYPD officer with a 6-year-old son in the elementary school. Farina said her philosophy if elected would be “if it’s important to your child it’s important to me.” She said her experience as a police
officer makes her uniquely qualified to address security concerns within schools.

“I would bring all my knowledge and assist the schools in every way to help keep our children stay safe at school and educate them in every possible way I know how,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp: He has a daughter and twin sons, and said an autism diagnosis for one of the twins precipitated their move to Port Jeff from Oceanside. He has experience as an occupational therapist and currently works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I see a need to increase communication among all stakeholders, while staying focused on the needs of all students,” he said about his reasons for running. “By increasing communication among all community stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community among students and staying focused on fiscal responsibilities, Port Jefferson will remain a school district we can all be proud of.”

The budget vote and trustee elections are on Tuesday, May 15.

Superintendent Paul Casciano and board president, Kathleen Brennan, listen to members of the public during an April 10 board of education meeting. Photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson board of education voted unanimously to adopt the district’s nearly $45 million 2018-19 budget April 18. This comes eight days after the board decided to table the resolution as it sought more specifics on an announced “agreement in principle” between Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s property tax assessment on its Port Jefferson power plant.

Ongoing litigation has loomed over the district and Port Jefferson Village, which each receive substantial amounts of property tax revenue as a result of housing the plant. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 the town had an agreement in principle to settle the case with LIPA, though specifics of the agreement have yet to be made public. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has also publicly said the village is nearing a settlement in its version of the dispute with LIPA.

“The board of education and district administration have been working tirelessly on creating a budget that addresses our responsibility to provide an excellent education for our students in a physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that is balanced with sensitivity to the fiscal impact on our residents,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said April 18. “The proposed budget assumes that a finalized agreement between the Town of Brookhaven and LIPA does not materialize in time to impact the 2018-19 school budget.”

Casciano said during the April 10 meeting taxpayers should prepare for the possibility of program cuts and/or property tax increases in the coming years.

A letter from Romaine to Casciano and BOE President Kathleen Brennan dated April 11 said the town attorney and assessor’s offices have been in touch with district officials to make the district aware of how a settlement would impact the 2018-19 town assessment rolls, which directly impact school tax rates.

The adopted budget carries a 2.27 percent tax levy increase and a 2.23 percent increase to state aid. The 2018-19 budget rolls over all programs from the current year, with contractual raises and higher health
insurance costs for faculty and staff driving the 3.65 percent overall budget increase.

The district also presented a backup plan should an official settlement be reached between the town and LIPA prior to June 30, which would impact the current year assessments. PJSD is prepared to make $130,000 in reductions to help mitigate a possible 5.67 percent drop in assessed value of the plant, or a 50 percent reduction in the assessment spread out evenly over a nine-year span.

On April 20, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would authorize municipalities to obtain “tax certiorari stabilization reserve funds” via the Urban Development Corporation Act in the event agreed-upon settlements result in loss of tax revenues or increased tax levies of more than 20 percent. The bill is before the state Senate finance committee.

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