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Steven Leventhal, attorney to the ethics board, spearheads a work session this week. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town officials took steps to strengthen the town’s ethics code by discussing various revisions during a work session Tuesday.

Mulling nearly a dozen residents’ suggestions at its annual meeting in March, Huntington Town’s Board of Ethics & Financial Disclosure discussed topics ranging from campaign finance disclosures, prices of penalties for ethics code violations and how frequently the board should meet during the year.

Training town employees and officials in the town’s ethics code and creating a “plain language” guide to the code are some suggestions board members said they are considering.

Chairman Howard Glickstein and members Lois C. England and Ralph Crafa attended the work session at Huntington Town Hall, as did Steven G. Leventhal, of Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney & Spector, LLP — the board’s counsel.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) listened on in the audience.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) directed Edwards to spearhead ethics code revisions. She said she plans to have a proposal for town ethics code tweaks in place at the April 21 town board meeting.

Board members said they agreed that creating what Leventhal termed a “plain language” guide to ethics was a good idea. Leventhal noted that the guide, which could be distributed as a small booklet handout to town employees and officials, would have both a simple, clear explanation of what’s right and wrong under the town’s code, and would, in the back, include the actual town ethics code. Ethics board members said they liked the suggestion.

“In my view it’s a great valuable service to the town workforce, to prepare and distribute a plain language guide that helps them interpret the language of the law itself,” Leventhal said. “The plain language guide does not replace the law and must, of course, remind readers that it is the law itself that controls, but that the plain language guide was developed to assist them in interpreting the law and to encourage them to bring any questions to the board of ethics.”

Ethics training of town employees and officials also earned consensus from board members.

“I regard it really as one of the most important functions of the board of ethics,” Leventhal said.
Board members also said they’d be in favor of increasing the penalty for an ethics violation, which is currently $5,000. Residents asked the board to consider holding meetings quarterly instead of annually. Leventhal said as the board’s work increases — possibly through increased ethics training of employees and officials — the board would meet more frequently.

Tom McNally, who spoke on behalf of the Huntington Republican Committee, called for mandatory training in ethics code for all town officials and employees. He also said all ethics complaints filed with the town clerk should be made public, as well as all decisions of the ethics board, how they voted and whether any ethics board members recused themselves from a vote.

“That was very, very well put together,”  board member England reflected.

Leventhal did, however, take issue with making all ethic complaints public, noting that in the early stages of an ethics investigation it “may be premature and ultimately unjust” to publicize the complaint. Many times, complaints are not actual violations — a complainant may allege someone was rude to him or her — but while “rudeness is bad,” it’s not a violation of the code, he said.

Edwards commended the board’s work in an interview after the meeting, saying she was “really pleased with what we heard.”

A budget and trustee election will take place at the Northport-East Northport library district on Tuesday, April 14. File photo

Come April 14, residents of the Northport-East Northport library district will be asked to vote on a nearly $10 million budget to fund library operations in 2015-16.

If approved, the spending plan would translate to an approximately $6.80 increase in taxes for an average library district resident with a home assessed at $4,000.

The proposed budget stays within the district’s state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

The Tuesday vote will also give residents the chance to elect two trustees from a pool of three candidates to serve on the board. Candidates include current trustees Robert Little and Georgeanne White, and Northport resident Jacqueline Elsas. All are vying for a five-year term on the board, according to James Olney, the library director.

Next year’s budget proposes increasing funding for adult, teen and children programming by $6,500 due to an increase in program attendance, Olney said on Monday. Program attendance has been up by about 16.7 percent in the last two years, Olney said, and so the additional funds in that line would go towards creating new programming
“We have had such an exciting turnout,” Olney said. “We would like to encourage that trend.”

The proposed budget also includes funding for $140,000 in capital and technological improvements, up from this year’s $50,000 in expenses. It’s also increasing its funding for facilities repairs and improvements, which Olney said was largely due to paying for capital upgrades at the two libraries, which have been aging for about two decades.

Improvements included replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Northport Public Library and improving restrooms and carpeting at various locations in East Northport. Other repairs included replacing new furniture that’s broken over the years and refinishing some tables and countertops “so we can get many more years out of them.”

Professional fees are also up in next year’s budget due to the district having to perform an actuarial study. Retirement and deferred compensations costs are down and total revenues are projected to slide slightly, according to the library’s own budget breakdown.

The district is projecting to increase its tax levy from approximately $9.5 million to $9.6 million, or about a 1.46 percent increase. That stays within the district’s 1.98-percent levy cap, Olney said.

Voting will take place at both the Northport and East Northport libraries. Those who live south of Route 25A would vote at the East Northport Public Library at 185 Larkfield Rd. Those who live north of Route 25A would vote at the Northport Public Library at 151 Laurel Ave.

Superintendent proposes adding assistant principal

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Shifts in staffing will be playing a big role in Huntington school district’s 2015-16 budget, as Superintendent Jim Polansky is recommending funding nearly 19 new positions — including hiring a new assistant principal at the high school.

“I’m just going to warn the board that what I’m about to present to you is what I believe is needed to service the district, K to 12,” Polansky said prior to a budget presentation on staffing on Monday night.

Polansky pitched hiring a new assistant principal at an estimated cost of $143,792, which does not include benefits. The position isn’t included in his proposed approximately $120.1 million working budget, “but I do believe that it’s something worthy of consideration,” he said, noting he’s thought about it for “quite a bit of time.”

The superintendent pointed out that there will be more than 1,400 students at the high school next year and 160 staff members and teachers who require observations and regular reports that can be time consuming for just two administrators.

“To run a building of that size with a principal and an assistant principal as the only two administrators, can it be done?” Polansky said. “Yes. Is it tough to do? Yes.”

Polansky pitched funding 18.7 additional staff positions next ranging from instructional, noninstructional and administrative employees. The greatest increase in instructional staff is in the area of bilingual and ESL teachers, where Polansky suggested hiring 3.6 additional instructors mostly at the high school.

The increase is needed, Polansky said, because of changes in New York State Education Department requirements governing ESL/bilingual education, which is known as Part 154.

“This does not mean there is a tremendous increase in ESL students, but there is an increase in the amount of services we have to provide for them based on Part 154.2 regulations,” Polansky said. “That hits the high school most significantly.”

School board President Emily Rogan added, “This is not necessarily in terms of the number of kids but the way and how we distribute services.”

School board member Bill Dwyer said the additional bilingual/ESL instructors would cost the district around $300,000 and asked if this cost would qualify as an unfunded mandate.

“That is most definitely what we call an unfunded mandate,” Polansky said.

All told, Polansky is recommending funding four new instructional positions at the elementary school, 7.7 instructional positions at the middle and high schools, six noninstructional positions and one assistant principal at the high school.

Susan Tully, a Huntington resident, urged board members to consider the long-term financial impacts of their present-day budget decisions. She noted that due to high taxes and cost of living, the area is becoming too expensive to live in for young people already, and she doesn’t want to see Huntington become just “a community of a bunch of old people.”

So far, the proposed budget includes funding for 12 contingent positions, meaning most of the proposed increase in staff is already accounted for. However, next year’s proposed $120 million spending plan is still about $408,000 above where it needs to be, as per a state-mandated cap on tax levy increases. Polansky expressed his hope that once the state aid figures become clearer, coupled with pending retirements, the gap will be closed.

The district could see a significant reduction in staff through two early retirement incentives it is offering its administrators and teachers. Five employees, including Huntington High School Principal Carmela Leonardi and Carmen Kasper, the district’s director of foreign language, ESL and bilingual programs, have already taken advantage of the incentive.

Huntington school district staff offer a standing ovation to administrators Carmen Kasper, left, and Carmela Leonardi at a school board meeting on Monday night. The two are retiring at the end of this year. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Two longtime Huntington school district administrators touting a combined tenure of nearly four decades are retiring at the end of this year.

The school board voted to accept the retirements of Huntington High School Principal Carmela Leonardi and Carmen Kasper, the district’s director of foreign language, ESL and bilingual programs, at a meeting on Monday night. The two are opting into an early retirement incentive offered by the district.

Leonardi has been at the district for 24 years and Kasper for 15 years. Both women, who sat next to each other in the auditorium of the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School on Monday, said while they were sad to go, it was time to move on.

“I loved every minute of it,” Leonardi said. “I really loved every minute of it.”

Leonardi and Kasper earned a standing ovation after Superintendent Jim Polansky announced the news, calling it “bittersweet.”

Kasper said she had been mulling the decision for three years, but kept putting it off. “This year I decided it’s not going to be a ‘next year,'” she said. She also recalled herself shaking as she walked into Polansky’s office to hand him her letter of resignation.

“I said, ‘If I don’t put it here, I’m not going to do it,'” Kasper said.

Before becoming principal of Huntington High School, Leonardi was the educational leader of the Woodhull Early Childhood Center and the principal at Huntington Intermediate School. She has a passion for languages, and is fluent in Italian, Spanish and English, as well as proficient in French. She also studied Latin for six years.

Leonardi led the Huntington Intermediate School to earn the New York Excellence in Education Award, according to her bio on the district’s website. She’s also supported the expansion of honors and AP offerings, which has led to an “increasing number of Huntington students” who have taken AP classes and have done well on AP tests.

During her time at the district, Kasper has secured “significant sums of grant monies” to support the district’s programs and services for ESL and bilingual students, according to her bio on the district’s website. Before coming to Huntington, she taught English, kindergarten, first, second and seventh grades in Peru, served as a bilingual resource specialist at Western Suffolk BOCES, taught Spanish at Eastern Suffolk BOCES and worked as a BOCES regional summer school coordinator.

Kasper has spearheaded after-school and weekend classes to help dual language, English Language Learner and Limited English Proficiency students and their parents. She also coordinated after-school Chinese classes for intermediate-level students “at no cost to the district as a result of her professional relationships in the educational community.”

Leonardi will be leaving the district with a retirement incentive award not to exceed $50,000, while Kasper’s award will not exceed approximately $39,472.

Leonardi and Kasper are not the only ones retiring from the Huntington school district come June 30. The school board voted to approve the retirements of three other instructional staff: guidance counselor Caterina Cain, high school foreign language teacher Carmela Mastragostino and school social worker Vilma Matos, who are all taking advantage of the retirement incentive.

Polansky estimates that a total of 10 staff members will take advantage of two early retirement incentives the district is offering — one for teachers and one for administrators. The deadline to opt into the incentives is today, Tuesday, March 24.

Cops call Sarah Strobel's death ‘criminal’

Above, a scene from a candlelight vigil where friends of 23-year-old Sarah Strobel gathered. Photo from Taylor Friedman

Suffolk County police have deemed criminal the death of a 23-year-old Huntington Station woman whose body was found in the Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve last Thursday, police said Monday.

The woman was identified as Sarah Strobel of East 6th Street in Huntington Station. Her body was found just before 9 am in the preserve off West Rogues Path in Huntington Station, according to police.

Detectives from the Suffolk County Police Department’s Homicide Squad started an investigation after a person walking at the preserve noticed the body off the side of the path and called police, the SCPD said last week.

The path was a favorite hiking spot of Strobel’s, according to 22-year-old Taylor Friedman, who said the young woman was one of her best friends. Friedman helped organize a candlelight
vigil with Strobel’s other friends, which was held last Friday.

Taylor Friedman, a close friend of Sarah Strobel’s, remembers the 23-year-old at a candlelight vigil. Photo by J.D. Neek
Taylor Friedman, a close friend of Sarah Strobel’s, remembers the 23-year-old at a candlelight vigil. Photo by J.D. Neek

“It’s still really fresh and raw for all of us,” Friedman said in a phone interview on Monday from Haven Hair Spa, where she works as an assistant manager. “This is my first day back at work, and I feel like I’m in a cloud.”

Friedman and Strobel visited the preserve a handful of times, and they both shared hiking as a favorite hobby, Friedman said.

“Sarah was a free spirit and a wise soul,” the friend said. “She lived her life to the fullest and made the best of any situation whether it was bad or good.”

Rebecca Stander, a childhood friend of Strobel’s, also remembered the 23-year-old fondly. In a statement Stander said Strobel was her “best friend since third grade,” noting how the two would do their homework together. Strobel’s favorite cereal was Fruity Pebbles, she said, and her favorite perfume was Lolita Lempicka.

Strobel, a 2008 Walt Whitman High School graduate, was also remembered by the South Huntington School District.

“We have little additional information at this point but do know that our hearts go out to Sarah’s family during this difficult time,” Superintendent David P. Bennardo said in a statement posted on the district’s website. “The members of our South Huntington learning community join in mourning Sarah’s passing and keep her in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Strobel loved music, both Stander and Friedman said. Her favorite bands included Incubus and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Friedman said.

“I want the world to know how loved she is,” Stander wrote, “and that beautiful rock star will always remain alive in my heart.”