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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.

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr
Check back later this week for Miller Place’s proposed school budget and interviews with school board trustee candidates.

School districts throughout the North Shore of Long Island are gearing up for budget votes on May 21. Here is a round up of some of the local districts latest budget overviews and a preview of candidates who are running for board of education trustee seats.  

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai School District budget overview 

The final proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be 61,009,770, which is a 1.34 percent and $806,295 increase from the current year’s amount. 

The district is poised to receive $18,007,000 in state aid in the upcoming school year, a slight decrease than it received last year. 

Though it will receive slightly more in foundation aid for the upcoming school year in $12,909,109 compared to this year’s figure of 12,845,044, the district will be receiving less money in building state aid. The 2019-20 amount will be $1,168,106, a $489,000 decrease in funds. That’s due to a 25-year-old bond loan on the high school finally being paid off, according to Superintendent Gordan Brodsal. 

“The bond on the high school is paid off,” he said. “No more principal, no more interest. That means no more building aid from the state.”

The tax levy cap for the district in 2019-20 will be 2.168 percent and the tax levy amount is $40,986,735, a $870,000 increase from the previous year. 

The tax rate for an average assessment of a household valued at $3,700 will be $9,839. As a result, and the district said there will be a $17 increase in tax rates for the average homeowner.

For capital projects, a separate vote in conjunction with budget, the board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

Other highlights of the budget are plans to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4. To expand the program, the district would be looking to hire two additional instructors. 

Also, the budget will cover replacement of outdated textbooks in the middle and high school. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

Mount Sinai board of education trustee vote

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member Anne Marie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. The two candidates with the highest votes will get a three-year term while the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s vacated seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats. 

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point Union Free School District budget overview 

The latest proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and a tax levy amount of $52,491,371, which is an increase by more than $1.3 million from the current year’s figure of $51,166,218. 

The district will be receiving $28,864,295 in state aid for 2019-20, an increase of close to $130,000. Rocky Point will get $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 compared to last year’s figure of $18,902,525. 

Another highlight of the budget overview is that debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Superintendent Micheal Ring said the bonds expiring were approved by voters for various construction projects, including the construction of the Rocky Point Middle School. As debt service decreases, so does building aid from New York State, which is provided to offset part of the cost of bond interest and principal payments over the life of debt. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which is expected to likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Ring said that as rates have gone down it has resulted in opportunities to better support the district’s core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of facilities.  

Rocky Point board of education trustee vote

This year there will be 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. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District budget overview

The finalized proposed budget figure for 2019-20 will be $75,952,416. It is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure. 

The tax levy cap for the upcoming school year is 2.36 percent and the tax levy cap amount is $54,377,657, an increase of $1,257,442 from the current year’s amount. 

The district is expected to receive $12,676,465 in state aid for the 2019-20 school year, a decrease of over $98,000 from 2018-2019. Also, SWR will see an increase of over $48,000 in foundation state aid received with the total amount being $6,442,501. 

The fund balance for 2019-20 will decrease by close to $67,000 from 2018-19. 

The final budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse. 

Shoreham-Wading River board of education trustee vote

This year, SWR will have three trustee seats open.

The full terms of board members Michael Lewis and Kimberly Roff will expire June 30. Roff chose to not seek re-election. 

The third seat is for board member Erin Hunt, who resigned in March and whose term will expire June 30 as well.  

The candidates with the two highest number of votes will win the full three-year term seats.  These candidates’ term will be from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022.

The candidate with the third highest number of votes will win Hunt’s vacated seat.  The winning candidate’s term will begin the evening of the election, May 21, and their term of office will end June 30, 2020. An election will take place in May 2020 to fill the seat for a three-year term.

The five challengers for this year are: Thomas Sheridan, Jennifer Kitchen, Meghan Tepfenhardt, Edward Granshaw and William McGrath.

 

County officials joined Legislators Sarah Anker and Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing new changes to Cathedral Pines County Park. Photo by David Luces

County to increase accessibility options

As the weather begins to improve and with summer just around the corner, residents may begin to enjoy Suffolk County-owned parks. With their minds on attracting nature tourism, county officials came together April 26 to announce the start of a $5 million multiyear modernization project at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. 

“We are announcing our next phase of the Stay Suffolk campaign, where we are encouraging our residents to stay local,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We want them to enjoy the things that we have here particularly in the summertime.” 

The renovation project is part of an effort to promote Suffolk County parks, local tourism and highlight popular destinations, as well as regional attractions. 

The first phase of the project will be a restoration of some of the park’s most used areas. Roads will be widened and realigned to reduce congestion, while areas are planned to be reconfigured to accommodate 74 additional campsites. All sites will be outfitted with concrete paved picnic table pads, barbecue grills, fire rings, a Wi-Fi system, water and electricity. 

Additionally, the renovations will create a designated recreation area away from the current campsites in the center of the park, where visitors can have oversight over children without disturbing other campers. 

“When we invest in our parks, it improves our quality of life,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the chair of the Legislature’s parks committee, said.

“This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

— Kara Hahn

In 2012, the county had an analysis and study done on the park to develop a master plan, which has led to the $5 million expansion.

A playground will be converted into additional visitor parking, while the county would create a new children’s playground located adjacent to the activity building. New projects also include a new picnic pavilion area, additional picnic tables and grills, bathhouses with upgraded showers that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, five new horseshoe courts, two new boccie courts and a new sand volleyball court. The final phase of the plan is to create a new drive-up check-in station for campers to streamline the check-in process and updates to sanitary systems and the installation of a new central dump station with tanks to store sanitary waste from the bathhouses.

Hahn added that the project will go a long way in providing the necessary activities for residents to take a vacation locally.  

“There are so many spectacular spots available for hiking, camping and biking,” she said. “This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

Cathedral Pines consist of 320 acres of parkland located along the headwaters of the Carmans River and is one of 10 Suffolk County parks that offer overnight camping and possesses a 6-mile mountain bike trail system.  

The county has also announced new accessibility options at other county-owned parks.

Handicap-accessible golf carts will be available at West Sayville Golf Course for free for disabled veterans. Wheelchair-accessible beach chairs will be available at the Cupsogue, Meschutt and Smith Point beaches. Patrons can call the beaches in advance to have the wheelchairs ready upon their arrival. Mobility mats will be rolled out this summer at Smith Point to make it accessible for wheelchair users, elderly and families traveling with children.  

“I’m a part of the senior committee and I hear a lot of complaints that some residents are not able to come to our parks because it’s not accessible,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “So now moving forward we are investing in this very important issue.”

Northport High School. File photo

Northport residents were given an overview of a proposed finalized school district budget for the 2019-20 school year at the April 11 board of education meeting. Plans include important capital projects that the district will look to pursue in the upcoming school year. 

The overall budget figure totals $171,397,668 — an over $4.5 million and 2.75 percent  increase from last year’s amount. The district will see a projected tax levy cap of 2.78 percent and the levy amount would increase by over $4 million. 

“We’ve been on this budget process for about two months,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “We’re at the point when we will be rapping it up.”

The proposed tax levy would result in an increase of property tax rates of $187.918 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

This year’s budget amount will help cover expansion of integrated co-teaching model at elementary and high schools, funds for ongoing security expansion including the implementation of a smart card ID system, funds for extra/co-curricular and athletic programs. Also there will be improvements to instructional technology with more Chromebook laptops in classrooms and there will be a “future study” done that will look at the future demographics and capacity of the school district. 

Debt services increased $1 million compared to last year due in part to two major payments. One is a bond payment, which has gone up close to $770,000. The other is a tax anticipation note that has increased to $300,000.

The district for the upcoming school year will be receiving $16,130,805 in state aid, which is slightly more than they expected to receive in Gov. Cuomo’s first executive budget. 

“This has changed since the last time we spoke,” Banzer said. “We got a little bit more in state aid.”

The district used the funds from state aid to reduce the tax levy amount to the most recent 2.78 percent figure.  

Banzer proposed a general fund budget of $936,750 for capital projects in the upcoming school year. Roof repairs and replacement districtwide total $616,750. Asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs total $320,000. 

The superintendent also proposed to use $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. These projects will need resident’s approval come May. 

“We had to prioritize some projects,” Banzer said. “There remains other work to be done and we understand that.” 

Also discussed at the board meeting was the ongoing LIPA situation. 

“This is really important to understand, there has been a lot of questions,” Banzer said.

The school district has been involved in the third-party beneficiary case regarding LIPA alleged breaking a promise by seeking to reduce its power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The district has also been in mediation with the Town of Huntington, LIPA and a third-party neutral attorney. 

Residents most recently held a public rally against LIPA earlier this month. 

The next Northport school board meeting on May 9 at 7 p.m. will be a public hearing to discuss the finalized budget  at the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The budget vote is slated for May 21. 

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Members of the Port Jefferson Lions Club stand next to Howard, a Marine vet, and his new service dog Kito. Photo from Bruce D’Abramo

As a part of a tradition that has continued for over 20 years, the Port Jefferson Lions Club sponsor a dog through the Guide Dog Foundation to be matched with someone who needs it. Each dog sponsored is named after a Lions member, though this year was a little different. 

Dean T. Jenkins, president of the Port Jeff Lions, said the organization has been sponsoring a dog every year for the past 25 years. This year’s dog, Kito, was named after a member, Ben Kito, who passed away suddenly two years ago. Also, this is the first dog sponsored by the group that was matched with a veteran. 

“When we told Ben’s wife, Janice, about what we’re doing she thought it was very touching,” he said. 

Bruce D’Abramo, Village of Port Jeff trustee and Lions member since 1983, said he was glad he could support veterans. 

Initially, Kito was meant to be a guide dog, but D’Abramo said it fell short in some areas and instead was made into a service dog through St. James-based nonprofit America’s VetDogs, which trains service dogs for veterans. 

“Training of the dog takes a long time,” the trustee said. 

Service dogs undergo a rigorous training program, according to the America’s VetDog website. The animal companions can be trained up to over 200 tasks, and once the client is matched with a dog, instructors customize its training to meet the client’s specific needs.  

At the graduation ceremony March 24, Janice Kito presented the dog to Howard, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and suffers from PTSD.  

“Janice was ecstatic about finally presenting Kito to Howard,” Jenkins said. 

D’Abramo said Howard really loved the presentation and is glad Kito will be part of his life and will take him back home to Baltimore. 

“These veterans need our help, and it was a rewarding experience,” the trustee said. 

The Port Jeff Lions, which is a part of the Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest service club organization with more than 1.4 million members, raised over $45,000 for about 26 charities they support this year, according to Jenkins. 

The Port Jeff organization will be hosting a charity golf outing at the Port Jefferson Country Club May 20 at 12 p.m. The event is a major fundraiser for the club.

A scene from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

By David Luces

The Star Wars film series is well known for its depiction of the galaxy and space technology. For the many fans of the franchise, the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport will give them the opportunity to journey back in time to explore the Star Wars galaxy once again as part of a special event, Worlds Far, Far Away, on Saturday, May 4 — also known as Star Wars Day.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, said the event will merge entertainment and education by showing participants that technology and planets shown in the films are not far from becoming a reality in the future. “The film series has been very popular, it’s something that spans generations,” Reinheimer said.

“I remember myself going to the theater to see the first Star Wars film. Not only is this an educational event, but it is also a tribute to the film series and will be appealing to a lot of people,” he added.

The evening will feature a Star Wars-themed lecture that will take the audience on a tour of the planets and famous locations seen throughout the franchise. After the presentation, guests will be divided into the light and dark sides of the Force and will compete during the event to win prizes by answering trivia questions.

“Our purpose is to develop programs that will spark interest and bring people not only to the planetarium but the rest of the museum’s grounds as well,” the executive director said.       

Astronomy educators Matt Garber and Charlie Eder will be leading the lecture and act as “droids” as they take the audience on a tour of the Star Wars galaxy. “We will be talking about the science behind the spaceships in the films as well as showing them important locations,” said Garber. Though it seems that technology shown in these films will be hard to attain, he said it may well be a possibility in the future.

The astronomer said the event is timely as the franchise is widely popular and the teaser trailer for the next film, “Episode 9: Rise of Skywalker,” was recently released. Ultimately he hopes they can get the younger crowd in the audience interested in astronomy. “It would be great to capitalize on that — when you’re younger you sometimes dream about going into space.”

Reinheimer agreed, adding that everyone remembers their first visit to a planetarium and he hopes the upcoming event will renew their interest. The executive director said as time goes by, the Vanderbilt estate, which was built in the 1940s, has become more important. He also said the planetarium holds a special place in space history as it was built in 1971, during the height of the space race with the Soviet Union.

“We try to promote these events and get the word out that there is a true gem right in our backyard,” he said.

Visitors are encouraged to come 30 minutes before each showtime to enjoy the activities in the decorated planetarium lobby. Guests are also encouraged to come dressed as their favorite Star Wars character.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will present Worlds Far, Far Away on Saturday, May 4 at 7, 8 and 9 p.m.

*This information has been updated from original article – Tickets are $20 for adult members; $25 for adult non-members; $14 for members ages 15 and under; and $16 for non-members ages 15 and under at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

For more information, please call 631-854-5579.

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