Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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The Irish Viking Pub in St. James has stood vacant for nearly a decade. Photo by Kyle Barr

The doors have been closed and the windows shuttered on the Irish Viking pub on Lake Avenue in St. James for nearly a decade. Town of Smithtown officials are considering turning the eyesore into a parking lot.

Smithtown Town Board voted unanimously at its May 8 meeting to hire John S. Goess Realty Appraisal Inc. to
appraise the value of 369 Lake Ave. property to see the viability of turning it into a municipal parking lot.

“That building’s been vacant for years,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “I have to be honest, even when the place was open the place was an eyesore. It’s really time for this thing to become something better.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said that if the property owners agree to sell at the appraised value the town will look to turn the site into a parking lot that would include a center pavilion that could be used by local chamber or civics groups for many different kinds of events.

Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want addressed, along with speeding and safety.”

– Ed Wehrheim

“This will help generate tourism, revenue and aid in the goal to encourage residents to shop local,” Garguilo said in an email.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town will wait for a return on the appraisal before moving forward with contacting the property owners. He also said the parking lot could become an aspect of the St. James revitalization project, which is set to begin work early next year after the town installs a sewer system along Lake Avenue.

“Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want
addressed, along with speeding and safety,” Wehrheim said in a statement. “By providing both the parking space and a venue that can be used for small business, markets and showcasing the arts, we can be proactive in our efforts to ensure that Lake Avenue will be an epicenter for arts and entertainment, while maintaining its quaint, historic charm.”

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that he expects the appraisal to be completed in three to four weeks.

Nowick said the town hopes to get a grant from the county in order to build the parking lot, if the town wants to acquire the property.

There are two municipal parking lots in the area. One is down the road from the Irish Viking property used by the St. James Long Island Rail Road train station. There is a second municipal parking lot behind Spage’s Pharmacy, hiding behind the front facing businesses along Lake Avenue. Nowick said there is a definite need for more parking along that road.

I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“Cars often line up on both sides of the road where two cars in opposite lanes cannot pass through after that,” Nowick said. “You really cannot go through, and if you have a truck trying to get through, because there are trucks that need to deliver to King Kullen, it’s nearly impossible.”

Kerry Maher-Weisse, the president of the Community Association of Greater St. James said that while she likes the idea of a municipal parking lot, she also believes that Lake Avenue needs more restaurants to make the area more attractive to both businesses and customers.

“Here we are having people who are very interested to open up business in town, and [the Irish Viking property] would be a great place for a burger joint in the middle of town,” Maher-Weisse said. “I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

The town is required to buy the property at the appraised value. If the property owners decide they don’t want to sell, Nowick said there is not much the town could do and the only way the town would apply for eminent domain is if the aging building is posing a danger to the community. It would then take several hearings involving the owner.

“He’s still paying his taxes and it’s his property,” she said.

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials will pay out more than $13,000 in past-due overtime pay and offer training to settle labor disputes involving more than 25 town employees.

The Smithtown Town Board approved settlements at the May 8 town board meeting for two labor grievances with unionized town park employees related to overtime pay and hiring a third-party contractor installing its new playgrounds.

Currently, Gibbs Pond Park in Nesconset, along with Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James are receiving long-awaited renovations including the installation of new playground equipment. When the town bought the equipment in September 2017, it also hired the installation services of Minnesota-based Landscape Structures Inc. The members of Civil Service Employees Association local union Chapter 852 brought the labor grievance to the town board claiming that said town employees were not notified of the hiring of the third-party company and having an outside company install the playground equipment was a violation of the workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Despite repeated attempts, a representative from the union chapter could not be contacted by press time.

 [I]f somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.
– Ed Wehrheim

Some of the playground work included groundwork and removal of old playground equipment. The town paid Landscape Structures $144,000 for the installation of the Gibbs Pond equipment, $87,050 for Gaynor Park and $94,000 for Veterans Memorial Park for a total of more than $325,000.

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that the notification of hiring the third-party installer was run through the town’s Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds.

“For the type of playground that was purchased, it requires a certified installer from the company,” he said.

Town officials said that the playground equipment required workers who had Certified Playground Safety Inspector licenses, which are the National Recreation and Park Association produced certifications giving lessons on playground safety issues such as hazard identification, equipment specifications, surfacing requirements and risk management methods, according to NRPA’s website.

“We put that out to bid to furnish and install that equipment,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “The reason we did that is federal standards have changed in what we are required to do for liability purposes in playgrounds. In this case, when [the third party] installs, the equipment is warranteed. So, if somebody is ever hurt on that playground equipment the town is covered in terms of liability because certified people installed them, our guys were not certified.”

Under the settlement, Smithtown officials agreed with the union that, starting in 2019, the town will provide an opportunity for any town employee who wishes to get licensed to take the necessary classes and become certified. Wehrheim said the town will cover for any associated expenses.

Officials also agreed that in the future the town discuss whether any new playground equipment or playground maintenance will be done by town employees or a third-party directly with the chapter president or other chapter officers.

The town also reached an agreement with parks employees on overtime equalization.

In 2017, unionized workers brought to the attention of the town board, problems with the equalization of overtime pay of parks department employees in 2016. Under current agreement, member employees are allowed an overtime equalization equal to 80 percent of the employee who received the highest overtime pay. Jakubowski said that a mistake in the parks department meant several employees were not given those funds.

The town will pay out the sum total of $13,775 divided among 25 employees who did not receive their proper overtime wages.

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Linda Nuszen, Maryann Natale and Janet D'Agostino, parents who have lost children to opioid addiction, during an event dedicating a new garden at St. Charles Hospital May 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

They say it’s becoming impossible to walk through a crowd and not find at least one person who hasn’t been affected by the opioid crisis. On May 18 a group of more than 50 people, nearly all of whom have lost loved ones, or at least experienced the strain of a loved one having gone through the throws of addiction, gathered at St. Charles Hospital for the unveiling of a new “Remembrance and Reflection Garden” just outside the Infant Jesus Chapel on hospital grounds.

The idea started with Port Jefferson resident Marcia Saddlemire, whose daughter Nicole passed away as a result of opioid addiction in 2015. She said she didn’t want to leave the memory of her daughter as just an opioid addict.

“I was getting angry watching the news, when they say so many died from overdose in Suffolk County this year, I said dammit, she’s not a statistic, she’s a person, she has a name and a life,” Saddlemire said. “All the mothers agree with this, they don’t want to grow up to be addicts. This is not what they wanted from their lives, they had dreams, they had goals.”

Stones dedicated to families affected by opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Saddlemire said she didn’t have the connections or know-how to create such a project, so she managed to get in contact with three women — Janet D’Agostino, Maryann Natale and Linda Nuszen — all of whom belong to multiple anti-opioid organizations and support groups. They gathered together to plan and create the new garden.

“We want it to be public — we don’t want to hide it,” said Natale, whose son Anthony died of an overdose. “We want them to know it’s an epidemic. This garden also helps those families who are going through such time with an addict.”

St. Charles Hospital was chosen as the location for the garden because of its existing programs fighting opioid addiction, according to the mothers. The hospital has 40 beds that are allotted for chemical dependency rehabilitation, 10 for supervised detoxification for adults and four for detoxification of adolescents age 12 to 18. Jim O’Connor, the executive vice president of St. Charles Hospital, said administration expects to receive another 10 beds for detoxification services. He said he also expects to develop an outpatient center at the hospital for addicts who need ongoing, comprehensive care in the next several years.

“We are honored that these families have chosen St. Charles Hospital as the site for this very special garden, as St. Charles is committed to hosting hospital programs which combat Suffolk County’s current addiction crisis,” O’Connor said.

Stones dedicated to families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction in a new garden at St. Charles Hospital. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly all work for the project was donated by local businesses. The garden includes stones engraved with the names of victims of opioid addiction and quotes from their families. Ron Dennison and his son Alan from Bohemia-based Long Island Water Jet donated their time to create a heart sign featured in the garden. The sign features large words like “forgiveness” and “understanding” along with small words like “pain” and “fear,” to show positive emotions overcoming the negative.

Dennison’s daughter, Sarah, went through the St. Charles rehab program when she became addicted to opioids. She is out of the program now, and she has a daughter named Serenity.

“When your kids are addicted, you deny it, you deny it, you deny it,” the elder Dennison said as he fought to speak through tears. “And then one day you wake up you say, ‘what is going on here.”

Nuszen and her family founded Look Up for Adam, a foundation dedicated to her son who died from an overdose in 2015. Her organization helps to raise awareness.

“So many people don’t know how to show up for our loved ones,” she said. “So many people don’t know how to be themselves, or how to be here for each other. So now that we can come here and have a place where we’re not isolated — so they come here and know they’re not alone, that there are people who care about them.”

Miller Place residents listen to the board of education discuss the proposal of hiring armed guards and including it in the 2018-19 budget. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place residents passed this year’s $72,685,864 school budget with 616 yes votes and 209 no. The second proposition, the library budget, passed 722-101.

“The budget increase at 2.1 percent maintains all current academic programs, clubs and athletics, as well as maintaining our capital project planning,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in the weeks before the budget vote.

The budget saw a 2.8 percent increase to the tax levy. The increase stayed within the tax levy cap, so the budget only required a simple majority to pass.

The budget includes a $530,000 transfer to capital funds for initiatives such as new high school courses for honor chemistry, virtual enterprise — a course on learning about global business and enterprise — and Engineering Design using VEX Robotics, which includes design kits used to design automated devices and robots.

Incumbent trustee Keith Frank ran unopposed for his second three-year term and received 688 votes.

Frank ran on a platform of trying to offer programs for all students with different interests, especially including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes.

“We’re trying to balance the needs and the wishes of everyone, whether it’s arts, athletics or music — whatever the kids want to do,” Frank said before the election. “Kids should be able to go out and properly tackle the world.”

Board president Johanna Testa said she was happy to see Frank back for another term.

“We’re looking forward to the next couple of years with him here,” she said. “[Keith Frank] is an attorney and he’s had experience dealing with contract negotiations and things of that nature. That’s been a benefit to us.”

Rocky Point board of ed Trustees Joseph Coniglione and Ed Casswell and President Susan Sullivan discuss the vote results May 15. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite a storm that plowed through Long Island at the same time that many residents were to head out to vote May 15, Rocky Point residents passed the school districts $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“The most important thing for us was to put forward a budget that is fiscally responsible while we continually try to grow options for students at our schools,” Superintendent Michael Ring said.

The largest increases came from teacher benefits and new general education initiatives, like science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, new Advanced Placement courses and special education services.

Ring said he was disappointed with the voter turnout compared to last year, which saw 909 residents come out to vote. Ring partially blamed Tuesday’s storm that came around when the district usually sees most come out to vote.

“Most come out to vote after 5 p.m.,” Ring said. “Thankfully enough came out.”

Two trustee seats were opened on the board. Incumbent Ed Casswell was voted to his second term with 551 votes and newcomer Gregory Amendola was elected to the board with 571 votes. The race was uncontested, with current board Vice President Scott Reh stepping down.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, a 26-year resident who was elected alongside Reh in 2015.

The vice president, who is Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming,” Reh said. “I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it. I wish everyone the best of luck.”

Casswell has been a member of the North Shore Little League for 10 years and is currently the principal of Center Moriches High School.

“I feel it is important to be an active member of a community,” he said. “High levels of altruism and service among citizens help create vibrant communities. This has always been my driving force and calling. I believe in these notions and love serving.”

Amendola, a 13-year resident who is looking to get the community more involved, echoed Casswell’s comments about losing Reh, but said he looks forward to being on the board.

“It’s an exciting time,” Amendola said. “I’m excited to be part of the team and make a difference. As of now I really just want to get in and get my feet wet and help any way I can.”

The board members will assume their trustee positions at the July organizational meeting. There the board will also elect a president and vice president for next year.

Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance Co-President Donna Boeckel, co-owner of Awsomotive Car Care in Mount Sinai, talks to members about new goals during the chamber's first meeting May 16. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance has sprung up from the ashes after the dissolution of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce and hopes to learn from its mistakes.

“We will help promote shop local,” said Donna Boeckel, co-president of the chamber and co-owner of Awsomotive Car Care in Mount Sinai. “We want to help people recognize how much value and how many personable small businesses we have in these two areas.”

The first meeting of the new chamber was held last wednesday and was

“We want to help people recognize how much value and how many personable small businesses we have in these two areas.”

— Donna Boeckel

She was joined by more than 30 local business operators and owners, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) who wanted to show support during the chamber’s first meeting May 16. The Mount Sinai-Miller Place Chamber Alliance expects to hold meetings the first Wednesday of every month.

In October 2017, the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce, which covered businesses from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River, dissolved because the time commitment proved too much for such a large coverage area. It was then decided that the chamber would split up to take on original shapes, which focused on business in just a handful of hamlets.

“It got too big — the businesses of separate hamlets, whether they’re in Miller Place or Mount Sinai, know their needs and know their concerns,” Bonner said. “If you think about the Shoreham-Wading River chamber, their competition is the [Tanger Outlets in Riverhead.] That isn’t the same here.”

Boeckel said the previous group did not encompass enough volunteers but said that while these splintered chambers will remain separate organizations, they do expect to work with each other.

“We’ll probably do some joint meetings, maybe some joint events — we’ll bounce ideas off each other,” said Jennifer Dzvonar, owner of Bass Electric in Port Jefferson Station and president of the Port Jefferson/Terryville Chamber of Commerce. Her association began meeting in January of this year.

Chamber leadership anticipates forming connections with leaders at Heritage Park and Cedar Beach for plan or sign on to participate in events. Members also hope the chamber will help them and their business with networking and exposure.

“People have to remember to shop local — Amazon is not going to the schools, Amazon is not supporting your community, it’s not employing your children.”

— Jennifer Dzvonar

“It’s good to immerse yourself in the business community,” said chamber member Brett Hochreiter, managing director of Long Island Tint in Rocky Point. “You get your name out there, you get some exposure, hopefully you get some leads.”

One of the biggest issues that members said they face is maintaining clientele when the lure of online shopping, especially with Amazon, is so strong.

“People have to remember to shop local — Amazon is not going to the schools, Amazon is not supporting your community, it’s not employing your children,” Dzvonar said.

Anker echoed the Port Jefferson Station chamber president’s sentiment.

“Chambers are so important because you can energize your community,” Anker said. “You can make sure people understand they need to put their money where their house is. Made in the U.S.A and shop local are taking precedence over convenience.”

Boeckel emphasized that the work for the chamber was and will continue to be done on a volunteer basis. Every members work full time, but she said the important thing is that local businesses should continue to support one another by donating just a little time.

“That’s what it takes,” Boeckel said. “We’re all doers. It takes doers to do what we do.”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) in a scene from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

By Kyle Barr

Marvel movies tread a line between being formulaic comic-book style action movies and surprisingly nuanced examinations of real world problems with real emotional heart. Some do better than others with that. 

A scene from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was as much a condemnation of modern government surveillance as it was a spy-style action thriller. “Black Panther” was an exploration of afro-futurism and a condemnation of isolationist policies as much as it was a high-tech, high-flying romp. 

That’s not a bad thing, and in fact the formula has grown to the point it’s now expected that Marvel movies cannot have their introspection without the action, and visa versa.

So what extra edge does “Avengers: Infinity War,” directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, have to set it apart from its contemporaries in the action genre? Well, to avoid spoilers, the most I can say is that it flips the genre formula where “heroes learn a lesson and win the day” on its head. 

 

In this movie, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the main villain is also the main character. Thanos, played with such subtle menace and intelligence by Josh Brolin, searches the universe for the infinity stones, glowing rocks that control an element of existence, from time to reality. Superheroes from Earth and beyond must find a way to stop him before he commits the biggest act of genocide the universe has ever seen.

Unlike a normal Marvel movie, it is the villain whose decisions drive the plot. In most Marvel movies, the main characters need to learn, grow and change in order to win the day. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” even if a character learns a lesson and even if they make the right decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean they win.

Being that this is the most recent big crossover Marvel movie, it is impossible to list the characters and actors who play them without leaving out a number of characters who all make contributions to the plot. Many of these actors have been in their roles for so many years it seems it would be hard at this point for any of them to not play their characters effortlessly. 

A scene from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Chadwick Boseman of this year’s “Black Panther” remains great as the stoic and noble King T’Challa. Robert Downey Jr. adds an extra edge of fear and foreboding to the character that really takes the performance above the usual I’m-too-smart-for you sarcasm of old Iron Man. 

If there were to be a weak link, it would have to be Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who can’t seem to make an emotional impact compared to the other characters. His jokes land largely flat, and he doesn’t seem to be as invested as the rest of the cast. Another small disappointment is Eitri, the weaponsmith dwarf played by Peter Dinklage, who despite having an interesting play upon the “Dwarf” character, seems stiff and his performance seems almost phoned in.

Although it’s been a conflict built up to through 19 films so far, the ferociousness with how the plot develops is breathtaking. Again, trying to resist spoiling the plot is hard, but none of the characters come out of this movie clean. 

Thanos’ race to find the infinity stones takes place both on Earth and across the stars, but nearly every character plays off of the emotional conclusions of their own separate movies. For those who have been keeping up with every new Marvel release, you might feel as if you’re watching family members being repeatedly punched in the gut. 

If you haven’t been a hard-core Marvel fanatic, it might seem overwhelming. All of these characters have a backstory, and while some of them are meeting for the first time, several have long and troubled histories together like a big screen version of a soap opera. The movie tries to avoid info dumps (though it still has to go and explain what the heck the big colorful space rocks are) so people going into this as their first Marvel movie might have a hard time understanding what’s happening.

A scene from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

The film ends on a very deep and somber note. Of course that is in anticipation for “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2” to be released in May of next year. The sequel now has quite the task of concluding what happens at the end of Part 1, and one could be skeptical to see how they might manage to pull it off. 

Isn’t it strange how we got here? It has been a decade of nothing but Marvel fever. When the idea for a shared film universe was still new there were quite a few people who were waiting for the bubble to burst. They waited for the first movie that was bad enough to let the whole thing crumble.

Of course that didn’t happen. For now, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the real deal. There are few good movie series like what Marvel has done that combine real emotional heart with comic book action gravitas. As long as they stay good, they still deserve an audience.

“Avengers: Infinity War,” rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, language and some crude references, is now playing in local theaters.

From left, Zoey, Emily Ciano, Lucas, Debbi Haupert and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim watch the rose bush being planted May 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

Five-year-old Lucas Cianci watched Town of Smithtown officials plant a rose bush in front of town hall May 10. He could watch, but he wasn’t allowed to go touch it or play in the dirt. Lucas knew the reason why –he has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Lucas Ciano, 5, enjoys his new Kindle Fire. Photo from Debbi Haupert

“Cystic fibrosis is extremely germ driven, even by bacteria contracted in water and soil, which really is everywhere,” Lucas’ grandmother, Debbi Haupert of Smithtown, said. “[Lucas] knows he’s different. He knows he’s restricted from doing things that other children do.”

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic mutation that causes a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. The mucus traps bacteria inside the organs which leads to infections and extensive lung damage.

Smithtown town officials pledged May 10 to plant 65 rose bushes in the upcoming weeks in honor of National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month this May with the help of several local civic  and community groups.

The story behind the 65 Roses Project dates back to 1965 when 4-year-old Ricky Weiss, who when he first diagnosed with the disease could not say cystic fibrosis, but called it by the closest approximately he could “65 Roses.”

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) also gave Lucas a bag of superhero toys with a Kindle Fire so he can read books without having to pick up books that might have bacteria on them. When Lucas opened the Kindle, there was a personal message on it calling him a superhero.

“You know who else have genetic mutations? Superheroes,” Wehrheim said to Lucas. “You’re our superhero.”

Every day Lucas, a Merrick resident, has to go for airway clearance treatments that can last 20 to 30 minutes at a time. As people with cystic fibrosis get older, the treatment can take as long as four hours.

“You know who else have genetic mutations? Superheroes. You’re our superhero.”
Ed Wehrheim

“It’s a progressive disease, so as the years go by the need for additional treatments increases,” Lucas’ mother Emily said. “Right now, it’s not overwhelming for us, but it’s hard. It’s hard telling [Lucas] to sit still during treatment – he’s just a kid.”

Approximately one out of every 31 people in the United States are carriers for cystic fibrosis, according to the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25 percent chance the child will be born with the disease.

Lucas’ mother, Emily Ciano, a graduate of Smithtown High School, said that before she became pregnant she could not imaginethat she or her husband, James, were both carriers for cystic fibrosis.

“I was blindsided with it while I was already pregnant with Lucas,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to find out this information when you could have found out before hand with a simple blood test.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo plants a rose busy in front of town hall May 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

She expressed how important it is for prospective parents to get tested for being cystic fibrosis carriers before they make any decision. The American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that doctors offer pre-pregnancy screenings to all women.

Ciano said she has marveled at the strides that researchers have made in treating cystic fibrosis, and is optimistic that by the time her son needs more extensive treatment that there will be more options offer to help him.

Many area community organizations have pledged to help spread awareness of cystic fibrosis by joining the town in its 65 roses project. Local leaders including Rob Cartelli, of the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce; Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park chamber; Vincent Puleo, of the Nesconset chamber; and Kerry Maher-Weisse, Bill Capurso and Mario Mattera of the Community Association of Greater St. James have all made commitments to planting rose bushes at various plazas and parks in their respective hamlets. Bob Souto and Marie Gruick volunteered the assistance of the Nesconset Civic Association to help with the planting.

Smithtown residents who wish to be part of the 65 Roses project are encouraged to post photos of roses they plant in their yard on Twitter with the hashtag #65RosesSmithtown.

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Three candidates vie for two open trustee seats on board of education May 15

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen. File Photo.

The Kings Park Central School district is asking residents to vote on a proposed $92 million budget that looks to include new course offerings and security projects.

The Kings Park school board of education has put forth a proposed budget to the tune of $92,168,700, which represents a 4.09 percent increase, or approximately $3.6 million more than the current year.

The tax levy, which is the amount of money a district needs to raise through property taxes to balance its budget, shows an increase of 2.73 percent from last year, which is below the New York State mandated tax levy cap.

“We were pretty strategic in the adds for next year’s budget,” Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. “I think this year’s budget has some real positive inclusions in it.”

The proposed budget features plans for increased security measures. These include $100,000 dedicated to the creation of security vestibules in the main entryways of all Kings Park school buildings.

I think this year’s budget has some real positive inclusions in it.”
– Timothy Eagan

“What a security vestibule would do is you would come in the first door, and you’d be in a vestibule, but you wouldn’t get clearance or get buzzed into the building until security scanned your license and confirmed your identity,” Eagen said. “Then you are buzzed through the second door.”

Along with additional security cameras, the school plans on having the teachers download an app to their phones called Rave Panic Button, which will enable them to have a direct line to police, fire and emergency medical at the push of a button.

“The whole idea is to shorten the time that emergency services need to get to the school,” the superintendent said.

Eagen said that the new budget maintains all current curriculum, classes, clubs and activities while adding new courses. If approved, the budget will allow funding for a new AP Capstone Research program, an exploratory course where students learn to do research in any number of fields and synthesize that research into research papers.

Other new courses include an American Sign Language elective for eighth-graders, new math programs, robotics, computer programming and coding.

Kings Park board of education

Kevin Johnston. Photo from Kings Park school district

Three people are currently running for two open seats on the Kings Park board of education. Candidates include incumbent trustee Kevin Johnston, incumbent and current board Vice President Diane Nally and newcomer candidate Darryl Valinchus.

Johnston is a 31-year Kings Park resident. He has spent a year on the board and is looking for a second. He said there is still work to do on school renovations, modernization, decreasing class sizes and school security.

“I would like to see the process through,” Johnston said. “I’m a big proponent of education. I would just like to continue in the direction Kings Park is going with education because year by year the number of students going on to secondary education has improved.”

Johnston is a retired educator from the school district where he spent 35 years as an English teacher and coach. His two children are graduates of Kings Park, and he currently works for State University of New York Oneonta as a supervisor of student-teachers. He believes his experience as teacher helps him as trustee, especially when it comes to aiding students and promoting programs for kids with special needs.

“Some of them still feel vulnerable and isolated, and we need to give them the help and attention they need and deserve,” Johnston said. “They need an advocate, and we want to make everyone feel a part of the school.

Nally is a 58-year resident of Kings Park, and she has had three children graduate from the school district. She has been on the school board for the past six years and she is looking to run for another term.

 

Diane Nally. File photo

“My three children are educators, my husband is an educator, so I believe education is really important to me and my family,” she said. “I believe it is a responsibility of all citizens to educate our children. That’s why I feel the job I am doing on the board is really important.”

Nally retired as director of religious education at St. Joseph’s School of Religion program in 2016, and now she spends most of her time baby-sitting her three grandchildren. She said two of the most important things she wants to tackle as member of the board are drug issues and the mental health of students, and that she wants to involve the community in that process.

“There’s been a lot of concern over emotional issues facing some of our children,” she said. “I think that is something that needs to be addressed.”

Valinchus is a 15-year Kings Park resident and is a retired sergeant of the New York Police Department’s intelligence bureau. He currently owns a business as an expert witness providing services to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices. He has also spent 10 years on the Kings Park Youth Athletic Association’s board. He said he is running to provide his expertise on
security to the district.

Darryl Valinchus. Photo from Kings Park school district

“I think my background in law enforcement will help us with one of the most pressing things right now … securing our students and our schools,” he said. “I feel that diversifying the backgrounds on the school board will help us come [up] with better solutions and better decisions.”

Valinchus said he doesn’t want to wait for the state to give funds before they add extra security to the school.

“There’s things we can do to secure our buildings, without offending people, without making it look like smoke and mirrors, without sending our security too far,” Valinchus said.

Valinchus has had two sons who graduated from the district, one in 2014 and the other in 2017.

Beyond security, Valinchus said he wishes to provide a financially responsible budget that addresses the community’s concerns.

“Education is a priority,” he said. “We need to make sure our students are prepared for college.”

The budget and board of education vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kings Park High School rear gymnasium.

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2018-19 school budget, board of education trustee vote to be held May 15

Commack Superintendent Donald James. Photo from Brenda Lentsch

The school year is almost finished, and while students are sitting at the edge of their seats ready for summer, their parents and other Smithtown residents are being asked to vote May 15 on the school budgets and board elections.

Budgets saw increases across the board as districts attempt to increase security options and offer up more school programs and courses at nearly every grade level.

The Commack School District adopted its 2018-19 proposed budget with a $3 million increase aimed at expanding college level courses at the high school while also conducting a districtwide security review. The proposed budget of $193,222,797 contains a 1.61 percent increase over this year’s budget.

“We are very proud of our budget, and have again come in lower than our tax cap through our fiscally conservative, multiyear planning process,” Superintendent Donald James said in a statement. “All of our schools’ current academic and extracurricular offerings are included in next year’s budget with no cuts in programs — along with new opportunities for exploration and learning.”

We are very proud of our budget, and have again come in lower than our tax cap through our fiscally conservative, multiyear planning process.”
– Donald James

Board Vice President Jarrett Behar said the planned security review is based on community feedback. The district plans to put in a request for proposal for a districtwide security audit to identify potential security problems in the district and potential improvements.

“We really wanted to shy away from knee-jerk reactions,” Behar said. “These events that happened were horrific, but we wanted to take a considered approach.”

The budget maintains current programs while expanding upon others. If approved, it will expand the pottery wheel classes for sixth-graders and add more college level, project-based courses for high school students, and a Movement in the Arts program that will attempt to give elementary students 40 to 60 minutes of physical activity during the school day.

The proposed budget also provides funding for replacement vehicles for the security and maintenance departments, updated computers with more antivirus and malware programs and enhancements to Wi-Fi connectivity in the district buildings.

If approved, the budget will impose a 2.51 percent tax levy increase, which falls within the state mandated tax levy cap. This budget accounts for an anticipated decrease in state aid, which saw a decrease in the amount of building aid among other financial aids.

Commack board of education

One trustee seat is currently up for vote, and incumbent trustee and current vice president on the board Jarrett Behar is running unopposed. He says the biggest problems that the Commack school district will face in the upcoming years has to do with state financing.

“Largely, it’s funding issues, mostly from the state, and we’re going to continue to fight against unfunded mandates and to get Foundation Aid formula fixed so we get our fair share of state funding,” Behar said. “The foundation aid formula is like the formula for Coke, nobody can really figure out what it is. Whatever it is, I don’t think we’re getting enough as we should.”


By the numbers:
$193.2M proposed 2018-19 school budget
1.61 percent year-to-year increase
2.51 percent tax levy increase

Behar is a 12-year resident of Commack and he has been trustee on the board for the last three years. Before that he worked on the Rolling Hills Primary School PTA and as coach in both girls and boys basketball. He currently works as a partner at Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP in Central Islip. He believes his experience both in the community and as an attorney helps him to work with others on the board.

“The whole board starts with the mentality of what is best for the children and works from there. Couple that with the long-term planning that the board has put in place [and] I think we’ve done a really good job,” Behar said.

Board President Steve Hartman said that Behar’s legal expertise has been very helpful when dealing with any legal issues that come up in meetings.

“Mr. Behar has worked diligently with his fellow BOE members over the past three years to ensure that our children have had as many opportunities as possible throughout their school year,” Hartman said in a statement. “He also wants to ensure that our children go to school in an environment that makes them feel safe and secure. I look forward to continue working with him as we continue to improve our programs districtwide.”

Behar’s son, Jeffrey, is in fifth grade at Sawmill Intermediate School and his daughter, Mollie, is in first grade at Wood Park Primary School.

Go Vote 

Board elections and budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Commack Middle School and Commack High School.