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The North Shore Youth Council recognized Parents of Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, center. Photo from NSYC

The North Shore Youth Council has dedicated its attention to children across the local hamlets, but last week the organization thanked one group which looks to stop sexual violence against minors.

More than 150 students, their families and elected officials packed the ballroom of Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point, as the NSYC hosted its Big Buddy-Little Buddy and Volunteer Celebration May 20 and honored Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the founder and executive director of the Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center for her dedication to helping youth in the community. 

“Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

— Janene Gentile

The council presented Ahearn, who recently donated $5,000 to NSYC to develop the Laura Ahearn Resilience Scholarship, with an award and plaque. 

The scholarship will be given to high school students who have overcome sexual abuse to pursue a post-secondary education, and will be distributed in $1,000 increments during the next five years as students pursue higher education. 

Janene Gentile, executive director of NSYC, said the council is very grateful to be receiving the grant funds. 

“We are very excited to be giving this scholarship to a student, hopefully in September,” she said. “Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

Ahearn said it meant a lot to receive an award from such an active organization

“I want to thank them for all the great things they do in the community,” she said. 

The attorney said the council does a lot to protect kids from becoming sexual abuse victims. 

“For me, I’m really grateful that there are so many volunteers and people who want to dedicate their lives to help kids,” she said. “When kids don’t have the support they need, they become very vulnerable.”

Ahearn said it is very meaningful for her to be able to give out these scholarships, along with the support of the many people that made it possible for her to help people in the community. 

The attorney said the project has come full circle for her.

“I wanted to give back to an organization that took the time to listen to me when someone wouldn’t 20 years,” she said.  

During her acceptance speech, Ahearn spoke about her 25-year journey, her experiences with her organization and the importance of sexual abuse prevention. 

“The only way to stop this epidemic is to educate folks in the communities, educate your children and yourself,” she said. “Sexual predators are not strangers, they look like you and me, they act just like you and me — you would never know.”

The NSYC’s Big Buddy-Little Buddy program, which began in 1993, gets high school students paired up with younger children to become mentors for them. They engage in a variety of group activities that demonstrate, encourage and reinforce social competency skills.

“This is a celebration of our peer mentorship programs,” Robert Woods, the director of youth development at NYSC said. “Whether it’s helping them with homework, or talking about their day, it gives them a safe space to open up.”

This summer Brookhaven National Laboratory will collaborate with the Rocky Point nonprofit to offer a free STEM program. In addition, they will be working with the Staller Center at Stony Brook University to bring in young musicians to work with the children in the program.

Huntington High School. File photo

By David Luces

Northport-East Northport School District

Northport residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget of $171.1 million to a vote of 1,553 to 977. The 2019-20 amount was a $4.2 million and 2.56 percent increase from last year. The district tax levy cap for 2019-20 will be 2.78 percent and the levy amount will increase by over $4 million. 

A $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund will be used for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. 

Three candidates competed for three open seats this year. Allison Noonan, Larry Licopli and Thomas Loughran all ran unopposed and were elected to the board. Noonan received the most votes with 1,864, Licopli followed with 1,796 and Loughran received 1,770.  

Huntington Union Free School District

Huntington residents convincingly passed the $133.5 million budget with a vote of 1,064 to 259. The 2019-20 amount is an increase of 2.83 percent and $3.6 million over the current year’s spending plan. 

A second proposition on the ballot was approved by residents that would fund an estimated $3.9 million worth of projects. 

Three candidates competed for two open board seats this year. Incumbent William Dwyer secured re-election for another term with 804 votes. Michele Kustera received the greatest number of votes with 966 votes and won election to the board. Joesph Mattio fell short with 570 votes. 

Harborfields Central School District

Residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $88 million with a vote 754 to 340. The latest budget amount is an increase of 2.25 percent from 2018-19 and it leads to a tax levy increase of 3.12 percent. Administrative expenditures will cost $9.9 million, programs will cost $64.9 million and capital projects will take up another $13.2 million. 

Hansen Lee and Collen Wolcott won election to the board with 948 and 846 votes, respectively. Lauri Levenberg fell short with 630 votes and Freda Manuel received 248 votes.  

Elwood Union Free School District

In a landslide, residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $62.7 million, 1,223 to 350. The upcoming budget will have a tax levy increase of 2.56 percent. Administrative expenditures took up $7.1 million while programs took $47.1 million; $8.6 million will be used for capital projects. 

Two candidates competed for one 3-year term seat. Incumbent Deborah Weiss won election with 845 votes while Sara Siddiqui fell short with 712.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Residents passed the district’s $70.3 million budget with a vote of 241 to 108. The tax levy for 2019-20 will increase by 2.94 percent. Administrative expenditures will take up $6.2 million; $52.8 million will go to programs; and $11.3 million will be reserved for capital projects. 

Two incumbent candidates ran unopposed. Amelia Brogan secured 282 votes and Julie Starrett received 277.                                                               

Commack Union Free School District

Commack residents passed the district’s $197.1 million budget convincingly 1,797 to 537. The 2019-20 budget will see a 2.95 percent increase in the tax levy. $20.4 million will cover administrative expenditures; $142.3 million will go to district programs; and $29.4 million will be used for future capital projects.  

Four candidates competed for two 3-year term seats: Steve Hartman won election with 1,813 votes as well as Justin Varughese who received 1,543. Pamela Verity fell short with 453 as well as Jennifer Mansi who secured 660. 

Two candidates competed for one 1-year term seat, including Susan Hermer who won election with 1,627 votes while Jennifer Scully only received 565 votes.

Army veteran Ludmilla Lamothe sits in her new car for the first time. Photo by David Luces

“I never win anything, I was in disbelief — ‘like me?,’” Ludmilla Lamothe, a U.S. Army veteran, said when she learned a couple of months ago she was nominated by local nonprofits Driving 4 Change and Soldiers’ Angels to receive a newly refurbished car as part of the  National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides Program.   

On May 14, representatives from Caliber Collision and GEICO handed Lamothe the keys to a 2013 Mazda 6.  

Ken Lalia from GEICO embraces Army veteran Ludmilla Lamothe. Photo by David Luces

The single mother of two, who was stationed in Alaska during her time in the Army, had been without a car for the past year and turned to using services like Uber and Lyft to get around, but it proved to be costly. 

“This will help so much, taking [my children] to the doctor when they need to, sometimes [before] I’d have to cancel things and change stuff around,” she said. “Now I can just get up and go, taking them to school and not worry about what ride I’m going to take and which one is the least expensive. Now I can just put some gas in my ride and go.” 

The donated car was restored by technicians at Caliber Collision in Rocky Point who volunteered their personal time to refurbish the vehicle for Lamothe. 

Vartan Jerian, director of operations for Caliber Collision New York Region, said it is part of the company’s culture to support veterans as well as the communities in which they work.

“It’s a good way for us to give back and show our appreciation for her service and everything she has done,” Jerian said. 

Jerian has been involved in about 30 of these events and said it has become near and dear to his heart as he himself served in the military. 

“Every person has a different story — It’s great to see the reactions, great to hear how it’s going to help them and their family out,” the director of operations said. “She is a well deserving person — we’re excited to do it.”

Ken Lalia, GEICO Auto Damage manager in Suffolk County, said he felt similarly. 

“It’s our way to give back to the community,” he said. “I feel honored to be able to give cars to military families in need.” 

Lamothe was also gifted a car booster seat and other supplies. Photo by David Luces

Lalia said GEICO has been involved in the recycled rides programs for the past 10 years and has given away hundreds of refurbished cars.  

As part of the program, collision industry companies collaborate to repair and donate vehicles to individuals and families in need of reliable transportation.

Lalia said their goal in this region is to give away 20 cars to individuals in need, and hopes it will make a lot of military families very happy. Lamothe was the fourth recipient of a car this year. 

The Huntington resident said she is so grateful and thankful for the car. Though her children couldn’t make it to the unveiling because of school, they were equally excited. 

“They wanted to be here, they were so excited — they were like ‘What’s it going to look like mom?,’” she said. “I’m probably going to surprise them and pick them up at school.”

Above, incoming superintendent Scott O’Brien. Photo from RPUFSD

Beginning in July, the Rocky Point school district will have a new superintendent for the first time in over 10 years, after longtime superintendent Micheal Ring announced his plans to retire at the end of the school year. 

Scott O’Brien, who currently serves as the district’s interim assistant superintendent, who has nearly two decades of educational experience in the Rocky Point school district, said he was honored to be selected as the new superintendent as it has been a position he has respected and held in high esteem.  

“Having been a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent in this district has made the transition into the superintendent position exciting and very personal,” he said. “I have worked with most of the staff in one capacity or another and know the majority of families in the community. I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to provide our students with an outstanding educational experience and the staff with the tools and support to achieve these goals.”

O’Brien’s journey in education began in college when he initially explored a career path in landscape architecture. He quickly discovered that his true calling was education after taking a college elective and taking part in a classroom observation.

“The sense of wonder and exploration that was in the room was palpable,” the upcoming superintendent said. “I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a part of the educational environment and help to enrich the lives of tomorrow’s leaders and support learning for all students.” 

The new superintendent has cherished that decision ever since. 

“My evolution through the years — from classroom teacher to administration — has been a natural progression, as I consider myself a lifelong learner,” he said. “Much of what I have experienced over this time has impacted the way I approach my job and ultimately was the driving force behind my decision to follow the path to the superintendent position.”

O’Brien said, “Rocky Point has always felt like a home away from home.” His grandparents lived in the town and he often visited them during his childhood. Throughout his time in the district he has gotten to know community members and expects to build on those relationships. 

The new superintendent said he feels fortunate to have worked alongside Ring and learn from him. 

“I firmly believe that our district is well-positioned to build upon its tradition of excellence well into the future as a result of Dr. Ring’s leadership,” he said.   

Rocky Point Union Free School District Superintendent Michael Ring speaks to the class of 2018 June 22. Photo by Bill Landon

With retirement close by, Ring reflects on career at Rocky Point  

“Serving the Rocky Point schools community for these past 11 years has been a privilege and a pleasure,” Ring said. 

The outgoing superintendent said the most fulfilling aspect of being in the position is working with teachers, administrators and support professionals to create and implement new and enhanced instructional and academic support programs to improve opportunities and outcomes for all students. 

“I will truly miss this process, as well as witnessing the results once these programs are instituted,” he said.

Some of the things Ring is most proud of is what he called closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities and those who were economically disadvantaged. Also, over the years he said the district has substantially expanded opportunities for academic rigor through the nearly doubling of Advanced Placement course offerings, implementation of a science research program spanning grades 7 to 12, and supporting each student in pursuing more challenging curricula. As a result, students are graduating with impressive transcripts and the district has experienced a 38 percent increase in the number of Advanced Placement scholars and a 23 percent increase in graduates receiving Regents diplomas with advanced designations.

Ring added there was no better choice to succeed him than O’Brien.  

“His depth and breadth of experience both as an educator and as a member of the Rocky Point schools community position him to continue to move the district forward to even greater levels of success for all of our students,” he added.  “There is no doubt that the future of the district will be bright under his leadership.”

Ring has no specific plans for retirement other than to have more time with family, but said he will miss being around the students, both in the classroom environment and in extracurricular activities. 

“They are why we all come to work every day,” he said. “Watching their growth academically, socially, emotionally and otherwise is what inspires all of us.”

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Anthony Amen, back middle, with his emplyees at Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai. Photo from Anthony Amen

Helping people and seeing the positive impacts on their lives is the best part of the job for Anthony Amen, the owner of Redefine Fitness in Mount Sinai. 

“There’s nothing better than that,” he said. 

Though for Amen, his path to opening his new business last fall started almost a decade ago when he was a sophomore in college at SUNY Oswego.  

It was there in February 2010 when Amen was playing broomball, a game played on ice in a similar way to hockey, but instead of a stick it’s done with a rubber-headed broom, and instead of skates players wear rubber-soled shoes. He was playing with his friends, but his life changed when a friendly game took a turn for the worse.

Anthony Amen after his injury in 2010. Photo from Amen

“We were playing a game and a friend of mine went in for a slide tackle,” he said. “I was trying to avoid the hit and slipped, fell backwards and whacked my head on the ice very hard.”

Amen suffered a serious concussion, along with injuries to his neck and back. For three-and-a-half months he was unable to look at any visible light and sat in his bed in the dark for much of the time.  

As a result of his head injury, Amen began suffering from debilitating migraines. He could barely move his head and he was unable to put his hands above his head. 

He said sought help from doctors, but each told him that concussions take time to recover from, and it was something he would have to learn to deal with. 

“I went to 25 different doctors and they all told me the same thing — ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. We can’t do anything,’” Amen said. “They put me on Percocet and muscle relaxants and told me ‘Good luck.’”

He said a doctor told him he was “a physician, not a magician. I don’t know what you want from me.”

It was those experiences that served as the catalyst that would change Amen’s life. 

Amen said he was stubborn, and he didn’t want to give up and didn’t want this to be his norm. 

“I started experimenting and working out in the gym to try to make myself better,” he said. “The more I did the better I felt.”

The Mount Sinai business owner said he was able to fix himself from getting migraines every week and being unable to get out of bed, to never having one in more than five years. 

“One of the biggest moments for me was being able to put my hands over my head again,” he said. 

Amen works on a fitness ball at his gym. Photo from Amen

Amen fell in love with fitness and wanted to teach people what he had learned. He began working at various gyms throughout Long Island as a trainer and in management, with a goal to eventually own a place of his own. A year-and-a-half ago, his vision became a reality when he decided he would open Redefine Fitness. 

“It was very stressful to open a business, but I was passionate about this and I had to try,” he said. ”I think it was the right time for me to try. I have no wife and kids — I didn’t want to regret not doing this.”  

In fall 2018, Redefine Fitness opened its doors with one of the goals of making the connection between fitness, medicine and rehabilitation. They use research-based information in conjunction with their certified trainers to make tailored workout programs for their clients. 

Amen admits the first few months open have gone better than he could have ever imagined.  

“The clients have been so great, they tell me they see the passion in me,” he said. 

One experience that sticks out to Amen was when he trained a 65-year-old woman who had a lung transplant and had a breathing machine. He said she would struggle to tie her own shoes. 

“We got her to squat 175 pounds and got her to run,” he said. “It was amazing seeing this woman’s life change from being told you couldn’t do something. It shows that if you put your mind to something you could achieve anything.”

The Mount Sinai gym has five trainers, including Amen, and offers one-on-one training sessions, weight loss programs and various classes as well as special needs and post-rehab programs. 

In the future, Amen hopes to expand the gym to other locations, and wants to continue making a positive impact in the community.  

Reflecting to his pre-college days, Amen said he was not the athlete type and used to run 15-minute miles and be happy about it. 

“Looking back I would’ve never pictured this in a million years,” he said. “I want to show [people] that there’s no giving up. I want to pass that knowledge and passion to everybody else.”

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member AnneMarie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. Mount Sinai will host its budget vote and trustee elections May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the elementary school back gym.

Lisa Pfeffer:

The challenger has lived in Mount Sinai since 1998, and had moved into the district from Centereach with her husband Robert to be closer to family and for the excellent standards. In the past, she has served as president and vice president at a local cooperative preschool and volunteers for school and community organizations. She became a Mount Sinai civic board member in 2014 and currently serves as the civics’ recording secretary. 

“I want to make sure all students are represented and that we are providing them with skills that they can take to college and that they can use in their careers,” Pfeffer said. 

Pfeffer said she is passionate about community service and, as her youngest child is attending the district, she wanted to see if she could have a voice on the board. 

One of the areas she mentioned she liked to see the district improve on is offering more STEM-based and robotics programs for students. 

“There are over 50 school districts on Long Island, including many of our surrounding districts, that are competing in robotics and in national scientific research competitions, such as Regeneron,” she said. “Mount Sinai is not one of them.” 

Pfeffer has recently been working with the superintendent and the district’s director of STEM, on finding ways that they can introduce and implement programs that will support students that are interested in learning computer coding and robotics.  

“These are fundamental programs that are necessary for our students to be competitive academically and globally,” the Mount Sinai resident said. “They open up scholarship and internship opportunities for students who are preparing for higher education and for future careers in STEM, more specifically in computer science and engineering.”

Pfeffer said they have some of the best teachers on Long Island and for being a small school district they continue to offer many academic programs. 

“I would like to find creative ways in which we can hold on to such programs and even implement new ones,” she said.  “Some solutions might be, relying more on funding through BOCES, and through our parent organizations, as well as outside community members and donors.  Also, I would like to work closely with elected representatives to try and secure more funding for the school district.”

Pfeffer said she understands the dynamic of the community after living there for so long. She has the unique experience of working with the community as a civic board member and by volunteering in school organizations and in community fundraising events. 

AnneMarie Henninger

The incumbent has been a Mount Sinai resident for the past 22 years, and she has two children in the high school currently. She is seeking re-election after serving on the board since replacing trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. 

“I am running for the board because I feel like I bring a unique perspective as a parent and someone working in education/special education,” she said. “I am used to working collaboratively with a team to achieve goals. I think that the ability to work respectably as a group is vital.”

Henninger said she wants to make sure every student in the district reaches their fullest potential and that as a whole, the board is listening to the community. 

“Communication is vital — if we don’t know what is not working or how the community feels, we can’t help so that’s an area where the board has set up,” she said.   

Henninger has learned a lot from being on the board this school year. She said it has been a great experience and would like to continue to serve the district. 

“I think that I bring a long history of volunteering and giving back to our school and our community.  I am dedicated and will work hard to communicate to the community achievements, progress and challenges we are facing as a district,” she said. 

Lynn Jordan 

The incumbent has lived in the Mount Sinai community for 44 years and has served as a trustee on the board of education since 2007. She was elected vice president of the board for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The Mount Sinai resident has dedicated a majority of time over years to volunteering. She has participated in various PTA groups, was a founding president of the Mount Sinai Friends of Art and is a volunteer first aid instructor for American Red Cross on Long Island. 

Jordan said she brings a lot of experience and dedication to the position, has a strong interest in the community, past participation in the community/school programs and activities as well as a good record of attending board meetings and voting on budgets. 

When it comes to the strength of the district, the veteran board member believes Mount Sinai has strong principals, goals and a board that isn’t afraid to ask questions.  

“We constantly review data relating to classes, accomplishments and outcomes.  We are not afraid to makes changes if necessary,” Jordan said. “Our graduation rate is very strong — more and more of our students are being accepted in highly ranked colleges and universities.”

She pointed to infrastructure as an area of weakness for the district. 

“For too many years the infrastructure of the district has been fixed with Band-Aids; we worked to correct this via a bond issue, but it was voted down,” she said. “We will now do as much of the work as possible via capital projects, which need voter approval each year.”

Jordan said she loves this work and wants to continue to contribute to the school district.

Chris Quartarone:

The challenger has lived in Mount Sinai with his wife and three sons for the past 10 years. He and his wife were drawn to the town because of the small town feel of the community. He has led a sales team for Johnson & Johnson for almost 13 years. 

Quartarone said the decision to run for board came pretty quickly. 

“Parents from a few different circles have encouraged me to run because of my involvement in the community, the ideas I have and the affable approach I have to life,” he said. “Being a father is the proudest moment of my life. I want to be certain every child in our district is considered.”

The Mount Sinai resident wants to expand the level of communication between the board and the community. He said social media is a good platform, but he thinks more face-to-face meetings and community involvement will have a greater impact. 

“Meetings with the civic association, PTO and other well-established organizations will help create a true shared vision,” said Quartarone. “As far as issues, voter turnout is a major concern. We need to get more involved.”

He believes winning begets winning, and a few small wins like more votes will create excitement and will lead to a greater impact on everyone in the community.

The trustee candidate believes the district should continue to play to its strengths. He said Mount Sinai has a strong history and because of the size of the district and community they can make things happen quickly. 

“Economies of scale may not be on our side like other districts, but if we play to our strengths we will maintain and expand on the history we have established,” Quartarone said. “Mount Sinai is an amazing place that will only get better.”

The Mount Sinai resident said he is not afraid to speak up and as someone who is new to the board, would bring fresh set of ideas and look out for every child in the district. 

“I always maintain a positive attitude and most importantly I will always be honest,” he said. “The community can expect a common voice. I will make myself available.”

Robert Pignatello:

The challenger moved with his family to Mount Sinai more than six years ago and was looking for a place to establish roots. One of the reasons he chose Mount Sinai was the blue ribbon quality of the school district and he’d like to help the district return to that level. The Mount Sinai resident has three children in the district. 

Pignatello is a former small business owner who has spent the last 24 years as a chief steward union representative for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1101. He said in a Facebook post on Mount Sinai Resident’s Open Forum that his natural preference is to find common ground through honesty, transparency and cooperation. He believes he can apply his skills and experience of representing 500 workers to the district and community. 

Pignatello said he would use his experience representing a union to go out and engage the community. 

“The most important thing is to make sure people are informed,” he said. “You want someone to go out and engage with parents and educators who is personable and has a personality.” 

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

Rocky Point has two open trustee seats. Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, has said he has no plans on securing re-election in May and will let other candidates run for his seat. The candidate with the most votes will serve for the three-year term. The candidate with the second highest number of votes will serve the remainder of Coniglione’s term which is one year. The candidates this year are Susan Sullivan, Michael Lisa and Jessica Ward. Rocky Point will host its elections and budget vote May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.

Michael Lisa:

Lisa moved to Rocky Point seven years ago with his wife to raise their three children. Currently one is in sixth grade, one in fourth grade and next fall his youngest son will start kindergarten, according to a Facebook post. He has been an educator in the Massapequa School District for the last 21 years, and has coached at both the high school and middle school levels. 

“I am seeking the opportunity to serve on the board of education and use my experience as a teacher to listen first, lead with compassion and attentiveness to the needs of the members of our school community,” he said. ”And more importantly build strong partnerships with administration, students and teachers to work towards a common goal to benefit the children of Rocky Point.”

Susan Sullivan:

The former educator and assistant principal of Rocky Point High School has lived in the district for the past 34 years. She has been on the board for the past six years and recently served as board president. 

“I want to continue giving back to the community that gives so much back,” she said. 

Sullivan points to the AP and honors programs the districts offer as a strength and wants to keep taking Rocky Point to great places academically. She mentioned the tremendous work done on buildings in the district as part of bond works, though she stressed making sure they are being aware of the tax cap when it comes to the budget. 

Being retired, Sullivan said she has a lot of free time and would be able to attend many events throughout the district. With Rocky Point appointing a new superintendent, in Scott O’Brien, Sullivan is looking forward to working with him and continuing to build great relationships with teachers and administrators. 

Jessica Ward:

The challenger has lived in Rocky Point for the past 12 years and has four children in the district. She previously ran for a trustee seat six years ago but did not win election. After some time to reflect on it, Ward decided to put her name in the race again. 

The Rocky Point resident said, as a smaller district, they’ve been able to do great things over the years. One area she thinks the district is doing well in is the AP and honor programs the district offers. 

As a parent with children in the elementary, middle and high school, as well as a former employee of the district, she said she feels she has a unique perspective in the inner workings of the school system. 

Ward said she would like to see improvements in the mental health and social services being provided to students. She said she is concerned about the prevalence of e-cigarettes and Juuls in schools and wants to make sure parents are educated about this issue. 

The mother of four would like to see more security guards on school grounds who would have more of a presence. She also would like to maintain the athletics programs in the district. 

“I think it’s important to be present,” Ward said. “I believe I’m approachable and I am someone who will fight tirelessly to take care of the students and staff.” 

Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place School District Budget

The Miller Place School District is trying to maintain its current programming with a tax levy cap below 2 percent.

The proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year is $73,958,607, an increase of more than 1.2 million from the current year’s amount. The district will be receiving $22,600,228 in total state aid, including $14,090,960 in foundation aid. 

The total tax levy amount is $46,928,588, an increase of $638,534 from last year and sticking directly at the 1.38 percent tax levy cap. 

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said the budget maintains all current programming, despite the relatively low tax levy cap.

“We’re holding onto everything we can,” Cartisano said during a May 7 budget hearing. “We’re holding onto our programs.”

The teachers’ retirement saving rates will go down from 10.62 percent to 9.50 percent and would save the district close to $370,000. 

Miller Place looks to reduce capital project funding from $530,000 to $280,000 for 2019-20, though the district will use $72,335 to add playground equipment. Debt services will decrease by more than $391,000 due in part to the completion of payments to a 2003 renovation bond. 

The new budget will sustain the district’s program initiatives, which include new course offerings at the high school: new social studies and Advanced Placement classes, Common Core algebra math lab, Advanced Placement music theory, science-scientific computing and new electives in the English department. 

Miller Place trustee candidates:

Two seats are open for this year’s Miller Place school board election, and two incumbents are running unopposed. Both seats will be up for three-year terms starting July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.  Incumbents Johanna Testa, who this year served as the board president, and Noelle Dunlop are the only candidates that have filed nominating petitions. The budget vote and trustee election will take place May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School Gym.

Johanna Testa. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Johanna Testa: 

Testa has served on the board for the past seven years and has held the position of BOE president since 2015. 

Testa hopes, as a board, the administration will continue to look for creative ways to do more with less. As she said one of the main issues facing the district is the challenge of maintaining existing programs and expanding opportunities when a two percent cap doesn’t always mean two percent. 

The board president also wants to enhance the mental health curriculum in schools by offering assemblies and community events for parents. Additionally, she wants to support students in the area of mental health, make sure they are making good choices when it comes to the rise of vaping with products such as Juul, and make sure they are promoting the most positive environment possible in their schools. 

Noelle Dunlop:

Dunlop has served as trustee on the board since 2013. In addition to being on the board, she serves as a parent leader of the Miller Place Explorers 4H Club and has been the president of the Miller Place Friends of the Arts since 2016. 

The board trustee has pointed to the lack of funding at the state and federal levels as an important issue the district is facing. She also wants to increase demands on the budget and will look to remedy the funding issue by lobbying legislators to their cause and pursuing letter writing campaigns to local officials. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Six people are running for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. Incumbent board president Michael Lewis will face outside challenge from Edward Granshaw, Thomas Sheridan, Meghan Tepfenhardt, William McGrath and Jennifer Kitchen. SWR will host its elections and budget vote May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.

Edward Granshaw:

“As a Suffolk County police officer, I can offer a unique perspective when dealing with the safety and security of our children,” the Wading River resident said in a statement. “During my 27 years of law enforcement experience, I’ve participated in several training exercises specifically tailored towards school emergency incidents. When given a task, I have the ability to access the situation from several different viewpoints and make an objective decision, regardless of personal opinions or outside influences.”  

Granshaw said he believes that the most important issue facing the district is the safety and security of its students. He said he can use his law enforcement experience and training to work with the board and committee members to ensure its students will always be safe while on school grounds.  

“I would like to work toward providing all school staff the opportunity to receive training to identify specific signs of a need for mental health services in children and adults,” he said. “Continually evaluating our safety and security procedures to identify the need for changes would be a top priority. Additionally, I would remain focused on evaluating student programs, evaluating spending, and providing additional continuing education for teachers.”

Michael Lewis:

Shoreham resident and current board president Michael Lewis will be seeking re-election for the 2019-20 school year. He has served on the board since 2016 and was its 2017-2018 vice president. Lewis’ priorities are to develop a strategic plan for the district; continue to build strong relationships with teachers, administrators and staff; further secure buildings; provide a healthy environment for students and support fiscally sound budgets while enhancing student experiences.

“[I want to] continue the momentum in maintaining positive relationships between the board, superintendent and leadership units,” Lewis said in a statement. “[As well as] protecting recent facility investments and create a healthy environment for students, incorporating more collaborative and diverse classroom settings while strengthening technology initiatives.”

Thomas Sheridan

“In Shoreham-Wading River, we make this our community, strong and vibrant when we all come together in difficult and good times,” Sheridan said in a statement. “Our schools and children are at the heart of this community. I am running for school board as a parent of two daughters in our schools, as an involved community member and volunteer.”  

The Shoreham resident said he is passionate about pushing for excellence, asking the tough questions and addressing the issues. 

“I got involved attending school board meetings when the district was not at its best. Today, SWR is in a much more positive position,” Sheridan said. “I propose staying focused on enriching our academics, supporting and attracting excellent teachers and administrators to better enable our district to be a beacon, be celebrated and be recognized for our points of pride.”

He looks to approach the trustee position as an advocate for making sure all students get the best start in life. 

Meghan Tepfenhardt: 

“I believe that children’s educational experiences should be of the highest quality with consistent, sound instructional practice,” Tepfenhardt said in a statement. “I am dedicated to ensuring all students have equal access to an exemplary education.” 

The sixth grade educator has lived in Wading River for the past 20 years and has two children who attend the district. She has been involved in education for 18 years. Tepfenhardt is the Wading River PTA president and the past Wading River PTA treasurer.

“I want to make sure that all of our students continue to have the access to a high-quality education,” she said. “I also want to enhance program opportunities in our schools.”

Tepfenhardt stressed the importance of fielding a curriculum that will ready students in the district for the demands of a 21st century workforce. Other points included strongly facilitating responsible budgeting.

“I have the necessary disposition to serve as a trustee. I am a strong communicator, can make difficult decisions, and can effectively prioritize goals. I take pride in my ability to treat all people fairly and I value differing viewpoints as a way to facilitate our children’s educational experiences.”

The Wading River resident said she will strive to support parents, teachers, administrators and most importantly, the children of the district. 

“I would be honored to serve our community as a board of education trustee,” she said. 

William McGrath:

McGrath has lived in the district for the past 30 years and has experience on the board, previously serving a term as board president and trustee. He has been involved in district finances, technology improvements and capital projects. He was on the board from 2008-2017. He worked as a scientist and researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory until 2018, when he decided to retire. 

McGrath said he believes the important job he would have as a trustee is make sure teachers in the district have a good foundation and have the tools to be successful. 

“I’m willing to serve [the community] and ready to give 120 percent,” he said. 

McGrath said he wants to continue to strive for the best values in delivering all they can for student development, infrastructure maintenance and improvement in a fiscally prudent manner as well as always being aware that most of the resources are taxpayer dollars. 

He points to his wealth of experience on the board and his experience on school board committees as an advantage to other candidates. McGrath said he wants to monitor opportunities for educational advancement, especially in the fields of science, technology, arts and math.

“My pledge to you is to be that bridge that ensures all sides of a discussion are heard and treated respectfully, and that level-headed agreements are reached,” the Wading River resident said. “If necessary, I will carry concerns of our residents to the district administration and ensure they are being addressed.” 

Jennifer Kitchen: 

Kitchen has lived in the district for the past 14 years and has two kids in the high school, one in the middle school and one in the elementary. Kitchen has served in various PTA/PTO boards throughout the district for the past 12 years. She has also served as a chairwoman on nine school committees.

One of the motivating factors to run for board this year is her belief that there needs to be more of a presence from the board in the secondary level of schools. 

Despite being involved in various organizations in the community she believes being elected trustee will give her the opportunity to make a bigger impact. 

“I have three children that have benefited from the special education program in the district,” Kitchen said. “We have a strong legacy in providing an excellent special education program — I want to continue that.”

Another area Kitchen would like to improve on is the STEM curriculum being offered. As a member of the district’s curriculum development committee the past two years she has advocated for a better curriculum as well as an improved arts and music curriculum. 

“I want to be an asset to the community, and listen to the needs of all sides,” Kitchen said. “As a parent who has kids in each school, I think I’m a valuable candidate.”  

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a successful statewide lobbying campaign resulting in the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for a veterans peer support program some have called vital, and given an additional $300,000 for expansion, New York State officials introduced bipartisan legislation April 22 to expand the program nationally. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R.1749), which would expand the peer-to-peer support program nationally for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical traumas. The Dwyer bill was co-sponsored by NYS Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Peter King (R-Seaford) and others. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well.”

— Joe Cognitore

“Expanding nationally the Dwyer program, which is currently operating in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, eventually to all states in the U.S., will ensure that every veteran can have access to a peer-to-peer support group,” Zeldin said in a statement. “With the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue.”

This is the second time Zeldin has introduced legislation to expand the program nationally. Two years ago, the congressman proposed a bill that would authorize the VA to support veteran support programs modeled after the Dwyer project with federal grants. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, was in Albany with other veterans groups in March urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the Dwyer program, and he said the new bill is a great opportunity to expand these resources to other veterans throughout
the country. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well,” he said.

The main goal of the Dwyer project, which is currently overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

The commander of the VFW Post is glad the funds were restored as part of the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and in April stopped by the office of state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) to thank him for his support for the Dwyer program. The veteran group presented the senator with a framed picture of the famous photograph of Dwyer helping an ailing Iraqi child. 

“I support anyone who supports veterans, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat,” Cognitore said. “It is gratifying that we were able to do that, and we have officials that are doing the right thing.”

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008.

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