Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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The rock is from the Huntington class of 1966's 40th reunion and it sits at the high school campus outside the back entrance. Photo from Lucille Buergers

Huntington High School’s past is raising money for its future.

On a night in September, the Huntington High School class of 1966 will be coming together for two very good reasons. They will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation, but they will also be raising funds that will go to the class of 1966 reunion scholarship, which will award a current senior $1,966.

Lucille Corcoran Buergers, a member of the class and one of the organizers of the event, said the recipient of the scholarship won’t necessarily be an honor student, but rather a student who has overcome obstacles and has ambitious plans for the future. The scholarship winner will be selected later this year.

The Huntington class of 1966 reunion cap and t-shirt, which will be sent to those that make a $66 donation. Photo from Lucille Buergers
The Huntington class of 1966 reunion cap and t-shirt, which will be sent to those that make a $66 donation. Photo from Lucille Buergers

Huntington High School students are in the process of crafting essays, with the winner to be selected by the high school’s general scholarship committee.

In 1966, the world was just being introduced to the Beatles, the United States was still coping with the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War was in full swing. Buergers, who attended Woodstock, said in a phone interview that the tumultuous events of the 1960s impacted the lives of people who were growing up at that time forever.

“People I know started to question the establishment,” Buergers said. She said that she went into social work to help people endure with life’s stresses.

The reunion will be at the Huntington Country Club. Buergers said the committee organizing the reunion believes about 150 of the 526 graduates from the class of ’66 will be in attendance so far. They are still working to locate more graduates.

“Our classmates have gone on to become successful businessmen/women, educators, entrepreneurs, other professionals, and overall good citizens,” Buergers said. “Overall the consensus is that Huntington was an ideal place to have grown up and those that have moved away are eager to return and revisit the many places that hold special meaning to them…many fond memories that we have of a time that we will always cherish.”

There will also be a silent auction at the event with works from the class of 1966. Buergers said three painters, a stained glass artist, a photographer, a basket weaver, a jewelry maker, a quilter and an author have all agreed to donate works for auction.

Tickets will be $95 at the door, though they will be less expensive if purchased in advance. Any members of the class of 1966 who have not yet purchased tickets are advised to visit huntingtonhighalumni.org.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields High School Principal Rory Manning was unanimously approved for a promotion by the board of education Wednesday.

He will be taking over as the assistant superintendent for administration and human resources. Francesco Ianni currently holds the position, though he has been tabbed to take over as district superintendent as of January 2017, when the current superintendent, Diana Todaro, retires.

“Dr. Manning, I have to say has performed a truly exceptional job in his position of high school principal,” Todaro said Wednesday at a board of education meeting at Oldfield Middle School. “When we began to seek a candidate for the position of assistant superintendent for administration and human resources we immediately, without hesitation, considered Dr. Manning for this position. Following several interviews and discussions our decision was confirmed, and it was clearly evident to us that he was the best candidate for this position and there was no need for us to conduct the so-called ‘nationwide search.’”

Manning has been the high school principal at Harborfields since 2012. Prior to that he spent time at Sachem High School East as both a principal and assistant principal from 2006 through 2012. He received a doctorate in education, educational administration and supervision from St. John’s University in 2011.

“I’d like to apologize to the board, because today when the proposition to hire Dr. Manning as our assistant superintendent comes up, I’m breaking protocol and saying a resounding ‘yay,’” student representative to the board of education Trevor Jones said, prior to the unanimous vote to approve Manning. “I know my vote doesn’t count, but that’s a fantastic man sitting over there.”

Jones’ address concluded with a standing ovation, and a hug from Manning.

Harborfields High School Principal Rory Manning smiles. File photo
Harborfields High School Principal Rory Manning. File photo

Manning was praised by Jones, Todaro and members of the community for initiatives relating to educational technology that he has been a part of while at Harborfields.

“It absolutely blew me away,” Manning said about the kind words shared about his new position in the district, and the work that he’s done so far. “Trevor Jones and our students, they’re just outstanding and Trevor really speaks from his heart. It really shows. Our students, my students, inspire me to be better everyday. That’s what keeps us going on the hard days, keeps us motivated on the good days. It’s just special working with these kids and their parents, the teachers, the superintendent, the board; it’s just a pleasure to work with everybody here. They call us the Harborfields family, and it really feels that way.”

Harborfields High School received a 2016 National Blue Ribbon award nomination, a distinction given to outstanding public and non-public schools by the National Blue Ribbon Schools program with the U.S. Department of Education. Winners will be selected in September, according to a release on the district website.

“Whenever Dr. Manning talks about the fact that we’ve been nominated as a Blue Ribbon school, he always talks about the students and our teachers who do amazing work,” Jones said. “He never gives himself credit. He deserves some.”

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The Smithtown time capsule sits in the hole it will remain inside for 50 years. Photo by Pat Biancanello

Smithtown’s Sesquarcentennial year, which began on March 3, 2015, has come to a close.

Smithtown concluded its yearlong 350th birthday celebration this past March 3 with the burial of a time capsule on the lawn in front of Patrick R. Vecchio Town Hall.

“I think it surpassed anything that any of the members of the committee might have guessed or hoped for,” Maureen Smilow, of Smithtown 350 Foundation, said in a phone interview. She was one of the members of the foundation, which was responsible for organizing the events over the course of the year.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) was also involved with many of the events over the course of the year.

“I think that the public who participated in the events will take a lot out of it because they were living history,” Vecchio said. “For me the last year was a wonderful experience.”

“The gala ball that was held in the midst of basically a blizzard turned out to be a huge success,” Vecchio said when asked which of the events were most memorable for him. The gala dinner-dance was held at Flowerfields in St. James last March.

A time capsule buried in 1965 in front of Town Hall was opened to kick off the celebrations on March 3 a year ago. The Sesquarcentennial year got off to a rocky, yet funny start.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello
Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello

“The smell was unbelievable,” Smilow said about the moment the half-century-old milk can was opened. “Everyone on stage had to stand back, it was horrendous,” she said laughing.

The can was not properly sealed when it was buried, so over the course of 50 years moisture got in and reeked havoc on the contents, which were arguably not that exciting had they been in mint condition. The milk can contained two hats, a phone book, a local newspaper, a flyer for pageant tickets and an assortment of coins.

Before members of the town board assembled in colonial costumes at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts to open the capsule, they first had to find it.

Members of the parks department searched for the 1965 time capsule in the area they believed it was buried, but after a lengthy search that involved poking a metal rod into the Town Hall lawn, finally it was found. A few days later, it was discovered that the town engineering department, who buried the capsule 50 years ago, had left a map with the precise location.

“That was more humorous than anything else,” town historian and Smithtown 350 Foundation member Brad Harris said in a phone interview. “Had we known there was a map in engineering all that time, we would have saved a great deal of effort and time by the parks department.”

Harris said that he envisions the Smithtown residents who open the 2016 time capsule in 2066 will have a more pleasurable time opening this one, thanks to the efforts of Smilow. They will find a smartphone, baseball cards, menus from town restaurants, letters from community members and Smithtown students, and pieces of memorabilia from the 350th anniversary celebration events, among many other things.

“This time, my good friend Maureen Smilow, really was very careful about how things went in there and how they would be preserved,” Harris said. “We took care so that they would be there for people who open it. We hope they will get a cross section of what the community was like. I think it was a great time capsule.”

Smilow said she ordered a marker for the new stainless-steel, waterproof time capsule. That way it will be both easy to find and preserved in 50 years.

Smilow mentioned the parade that took place on Sept. 26 as one of her favorite events from the year. She said there were more than 2,000 people marching in the parade, which was led by Richard Smith from Nissequogue, who is a direct descendent of the town’s founder Richard Smythe.

Harris said one of his favorite events was the fireworks display that was on the same day as the parade, at Sunken Meadow State Park.

“They were spectacular,” he said.

Some other memorable events included the unveiling of Richard Smythe’s life-size statue in front of the Damianos Realty Group building on Middle Country Road in September and the recognition of Marie Sturm last March, the oldest native-born resident of Smithtown.

Recently appointed Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy, who attended High School East and lived in Smithtown for most of his life, said that he was glad to learn more about the town that he grew up in during the year in an interview Tuesday.

Harris reflected on what the Smithtown 350 Foundation accomplished in executing all of the events, both large and small.

“I just think the year and the celebrations we pulled off over the course of the year made it a memorable one for the members of the community,” he said. “I think they’ve got lasting memories of the Town of Smithtown and some of its history. I hope that’s what sticks.”

Smilow was also proud of how successful the year was.

“It was a great year,” she said. “Everyone was really happy. It was just amazing how we had all of these people from different walks of life, different ages and backgrounds coming together.”

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

According to a New York State Comptroller’s report, Huntington school district has been overestimating their budget costs for the past three years.

Because of those miscalculated expenses, the recent audit says tax levies may have been greater than necessary from 2012 to 2015, resulting in the district collecting excess money from taxpayers that became surpluses in their fund balance.

“District officials consistently presented, and the board approved, budgets which overestimated expenditures for these three years,” state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s (D) report said. “As a result, district officials spent an average of approximately $4.7 million less than planned each year.”

A fund balance is the surplus of budget funds at the end of the year, which can be set aside as savings until the total reaches more than 4 percent of that year’s budget. According to the comptroller’s office, if the reserve is higher than that, the money must be spent to lower property taxes, pay for one-time expenditures or reduce debt.

To avoid exceeding that 4 percent, the district rolled over the excess fund balance with the alleged intent of using the funds to finance district operations in the next budget cycle — but according to the audit that never happened.

“Total actual revenues exceeded expenditures by as much as $4.1 million and no amount of appropriated fund balance was used to finance operations,” the audit states. “As a result, the district’s tax levy may have been higher than necessary to fund district operations.”

The comptroller’s office said that between the false rollovers and overestimated costs, Huntington school district appeared to be under the 4 percent maximum — when really it wasn’t.

“As a result, the board and district officials may not have adequately presented the district’s financial condition to its residents.”

The report recommended that the district “develop procedures to ensure it adopts more reasonable budgets to avoid raising more real property taxes than necessary.”

In a response letter to the comptroller’s office, Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky explained his position on the report.

“Our budget is an estimated spending and revenue support plan,” Polansky said. “As such, the district will continue to appropriate fund balance at a level estimated to address a potential operating deficit, but will always strive to spend within budgetary constraints and access available revenues to offset that spending.”

Polansky cited increasing enrollment — due to the reopening of the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School in 2013 and the opening of a housing development within district boundaries in 2014 — as the main drivers of increased budget appropriations.

School board President Tom DiGiacomo said Tuesday that the district would take all of the comptroller’s suggestions seriously.

“The administration and board have already taken and will continue to take the actions recommended by the comptroller in terms of responsibly analyzing historical trends in expenditures and revenue streams, while also considering fiscal uncertainties in particular areas,” he said in an email.

District administration and the board are in the process of drafting the budget for the 2016-17 school year. The next budget meeting is on March 21 at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School.

Northport Village trustees Jerry Maline, left, and Damon McMullen pose together. File photo

Northport Trustees Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen will each have a third term at the helm of their village.

Maline and McMullen each secured a seat on the village board of trustees Tuesday night over challenger Joe Sabia, with McMullen receiving 955 votes and Maline receiving 733 votes, according to the clerk’s office. Sabia finished third with 519 votes.

Maline and McMullen, who first won their seats in 2008, will have another four years together.

“It’s a very good working relationship,” Maline said in a phone interview last week. “We don’t always agree on things, but we talk it out and we come to a consensus on what’s best for the village. We support each other in our individual endeavors that help the village. We have a mutual respect for each other.”

One of the polarizing issues during this campaign cycle has been the board’s proposed budget, which would require piercing its 3.27 percent tax levy cap, causing a larger increase in taxes.

During a candidates night on March 8, Maline said piercing the state-mandated cap and increasing taxes above the limit, which the board can do with a 60 percent vote, would accommodate residents’ desires for village services.

“The facts are the facts,” Maline said at the event. “We don’t want to lessen your service. All the input I have from the residents [is] that you want the services to remain the same.”

McMullen said he is proud of the work he has done with the village’s budget.

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of the team that has helped the village get the best bond rating it can get,” McMullen said at the event.

Challenger Joe Sabia discusses taxes and the tax cap. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Challenger Joe Sabia discusses taxes and the tax cap. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Challenger Joe Sabia, who served on the Northport-East Northport school board and also ran for mayor in 2014, was opposed to the idea of piercing the cap.

“When you start to override the tax caps, it becomes a very, very dangerous thing because that means you’re raising your taxes higher than the rate of inflation,” Sabia said at the event.

None of the three candidates responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Giselle Barkley contributed to this report.

Hundreds of people gathered into Huntington Village on Sunday, March 13 to watch the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Participants included bag pipers, local legislators, and local fire departments.

Apple hand pies at Hometown Bake Shop. Photo from Danna Abrams

Pi Day will be extra sweet this year.

Hometown Bake Shop at 2 Little Neck Road in Centerport plans to open its doors on Monday, March 14, also known to math enthusiasts as Pi Day because the numerical date matches the first three digits of pi.

Northport resident Danna Abrams, 38, and Huntington’s Luigi Aloe, 42, are putting their collective business and culinary experience to use in the new shop endeavor. If they execute their vision successfully, “hometown” will not only be the name of their bakeshop, but the feel as well.

The menu will feature items made from scratch, both sweet and savory, with organic and gluten-free options and local influences.

“I’m a mom with three kids, and we all don’t have time to make everything anymore,” Abrams said in an interview at the under-construction shop on Tuesday. “We all wish we could do the slow-cooked brisket, the 20-hour pulled pork. We want that, and love that, with no preservatives and made from scratch and from someone who wants to make it and loves to make it. So that’s what [Hometown Bake Shop] is.”

The duo has been on a shared path for years, starting with graduating from Huntington High School.

Aloe also owns Black & Blue Seafood Chophouse in Huntington. He hired high school friend Abrams to be that restaurant’s pastry chef several years ago, and after some experience selling their products at farmer’s markets, the duo decided opening the new business was the next logical step.

Wrapped-up treats at Hometown Bake Shop. Photo from Danna Abrams
Wrapped-up treats at Hometown Bake Shop. Photo from Danna Abrams

Abrams’ three daughters are her inspiration, she said. Charlie, 9, loves her mom’s chicken potpie — which is Aloe’s favorite as well. Abrams’ recipe for her fudgy, chocolate brownies was perfected while she was pregnant with 5-year-old Ilan, and 3-year-old Riley loves anything with fruit in it.

“I’ve always been a foodie,” Abrams said. She holds a master’s degree in sculpture from Boston University but has worked in restaurants all of her life, including the Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club and T.K.’s Galley in Huntington. Her Italian and Jewish roots influence her cooking and passion. She said everyone jokes she must secretly be from the South, because her fried chicken and biscuits are so authentic, they couldn’t possibly come from anywhere else.

Even though Abrams said cooking comes second nature to her, this is her first time venturing into the world of entrepreneurism. That’s where Aloe comes in — he’s spent time in the food industry, owning restaurants since he was 23. Together the two have all the ingredients for success.

“Danna is very talented and she’s like the heart and soul,” Aloe said. “I think what our whole thing is here is to try to be a family-oriented place.”

Abrams has plans to dedicate a refrigerated display to local produce and dairy products, as a way of supporting local business owners’ dreams in the same way she says Aloe did for her.

“The community here is very good to the stores,” Aloe said. “They’re not into conglomerates. … Everybody’s rooting for us — that’s what we feel like in the community.”

Hometown Bake Shop’s manager, Nicole Beck Sandvik, reiterated both owners’ vision for the business.

“We want people to walk in this place and have it be like their second home,” Beck Sandvik said. “When they don’t have time to cook breakfast or make dinner, they know they can come here and get a home-cooked meal.”

Hometown Bake Shop will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Smithtown cross-country runner Matthew Tullo addresses the Board of Education with members of the team and community standing in solidarity. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown boys and girls cross-country team is facing the possibility of a split, following the release of Athletic Director Patrick Smith’s budget for 2016-17 which includes a recommendation to separate the one unified team to create individual high school East and West teams. Cross-country is one of four sports in the district that includes athletes from both East and West on one unified team. An online petition to keep the team together had more than 1,100 signatures at the time of this publication.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Smith said that Section XI, Suffolk County’s sports-governing body, encourages the district to split any combined teams within districts with multiple high schools that are not under budgetary, facility or participation constraints. Smith said that none of those factors are a problem for Smithtown cross-country at this time. He recommended splitting the teams as a means to create more opportunities for student athletes. Section XI recommends splitting teams when possible, though Smith said it is not a mandate.

“It’s based on the philosophy of the district,” Smith said. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for kids.”

Smith said allowing more athletes the chance to be starters and share in the spotlight if the teams were separated would only increase the community- and family-feel that the athletes have said they fear losing. Smith also said thinking behind the change was to provide chances for more athletes to earn interest, and ultimately scholarships, from colleges.

Members of the team and parents have attended the last two school board meetings, on Feb. 23 and Tuesday, to voice their opinions about the potential split. About 40 members of the team and the community stood in solidarity with the athletes who spoke during the public commentary period of the meeting Tuesday.

“We, as athletes, find this decision to be devastating to our sport,” sophomore runner Matthew Tullo said on Feb. 23. “Our sport has a sense of community we have created by being unified by the Smithtown team.”

Tullo addressed the board again Tuesday night.

“We just want to know why this is happening,” Tullo said. “We don’t understand it. We’re a family. We act as one. We’re closest as friends can be, and to split this up, it’s nonsense. We all, standing here, showing our support, it should be moving.”

Junior cross-country runner Samantha Catalano expressed a similar sentiment on Tuesday, suggesting that East and West are rivals in most sports. Cross-country, gymnastics, swimming and bowling are the only high school sports that have one team for the two high schools.

“The team is a family, yet it is also an identifying aspect of our community, and keeping it combined simply makes sense,” Catalano said.

The district’s Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, Karen Ricigliano, and Smith said the director plans to address the athlete’s concerns publicly at a board work session on Tuesday, March 15. The decision to split or keep the team unified will ultimately be decided by a school board vote.

Northport Village trustees Jerry Maline, left, and Damon McMullen pose together. File photo

Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen won their first bids for Northport Village trustees back in 2008. They both ran unopposed in 2012.

But on Tuesday, March 15, there is a chance the pair, who have been tied together for eight years, might be split up.

Former member of the Northport-East Northport school board Joe Sabia is the third candidate vying for the two open trustee positions this year.

“It’s a very good working relationship,” Maline said in a phone interview about McMullen. “We don’t always agree on things, but we talk it out and we come to a consensus on what’s best for the village. We support each other in our individual endeavors that help the village. We have a mutual respect for each other.”

Maline, 53, has lived in Northport since 1996. In addition to being a trustee, he also serves as the village’s commissioner of information technology, parks, personnel athletic activities and planning and development. Maline works as a trial attorney for State Farm, though his legal experience includes time in the district attorney’s office in the Bronx, as well as stints as a trial attorney for narcotics and homicide cases.

Maline said he believes his legal background has helped to keep litigation costs low for the village.

“I’m just running on my merits,” Maline said. “Everything I do is intertwined with the village… I live around the corner from Main Street. I walk through the parks five to seven times a week. I walk up and down Main Street five to seven times a week. I just want what’s best for Northport Village.”

Maline mentioned improving parking in downtown Northport as one of the goals he’d like to accomplish if he were to secure another term. One of McMullen’s causes during his tenure has been to improve the water quality of Northport Harbor and Bay, which Maline said is an issue he’d like more time to deal with.

“Ideally I’d love for kids to be able to swim in the harbor again,” Maline said.

Maline and his wife Carla have two kids, an eighth-grader and an 11th-grader, in the Northport-East Northport school district.

McMullen, who could not be reached for comment, is the current village commissioner of police and wastewater treatment. He is retired from the U.S. Postal Service, and is also a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Maline said McMullen has led the charge to improve water quality, which played a part in the reopening of the Centerport shore in July 2015.

“When you run for election, you have an idea of all of the things you want to get done, but other things came up that need attention,” McMullen said in an interview after his re-election in 2012. “Right now the main issues are improving the water quality [of Northport Harbor and Bay] and upgrading the sewer treatment plant. But we want to continue to make improvements to our parks.”

His colleagues have called McMullen a tireless worker who always finds time to help others.

Sabia said in an interview he is running because votes on the Village board too often pass with a consensus. He said he’d like to shake things up. Maline declined to comment on challenger Joe Sabia.

Election day is Tuesday, March 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Northport Village Hall.

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Comsewogue school board President John Swenning and Superintendent Joe Rella, along with the rest of the board and administration, have begun 2018-19 budget preparations. File photo by Alex Petroski

If Comsewogue School District wants to maintain all of its academic programs in the coming year, it’s going to need state officials to return aid that was previously taken away.

Superintendent Joe Rella released his first budget draft for the 2016-17 school year at a board of education meeting on Monday night, projecting an $87.2 million spending plan that would keep all existing programs. That budget would represent an increase of about $2 million over the current school year, due in large part to increasing costs in instruction.

But Rella’s proposed budget hinges upon a full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction of state aid taken from all New York school districts, enacted several years ago in an effort to close a state budget deficit.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), his chamber’s majority leader, recently sponsored legislation that would completely eliminate the adjustment in the next school year, though nothing is set in stone — his bill, S6377, passed in the Senate in January but has yet to come to a vote in the Assembly.

Comsewogue is not alone; school districts statewide are counting on a full restoration of the GEA this year due to a relatively low state-mandated cap on tax levy increases, which limits the amount of property taxes districts can collect and is largely determined each year by the rate of inflation. Before exemptions for a few items, such as spending on capital projects, school districts are looking at a 0.12 percent limit on how much they can add to their tax levies next year.

Comsewogue’s exempted spending, which includes funds to replace the roof at Clinton Avenue Elementary School, brings its proposed tax levy increase to 1.2 percent.

Restored state aid from the GEA could be crucial for some.

“If that doesn’t happen, then it’s a whole different world,” Rella said in an interview. “We’re anticipating it will happen. Albany’s been very quiet about it, and I’m taking that as ‘no news is good news.’”

Rella’s proposal suggests there would be cuts to staffing, including teachers, coaches and aides, as well as clubs, supplies and athletics if the schools don’t receive that additional state aid. His presentation also says Comsewogue would have to use $425,000 in reserves to help fund whatever is left.

If the state funding does come in, according to his proposal, the district would receive about $30 million in total state aid, which is an increase of $1.9 million over the current year.