Education

District to hold May 1 community forum to discuss status of lawsuit over power plant’s tax assessment

Northport High School. File photo

Northport school officials are calling for Long Island Power Authority to uphold a decades-old promise over taxes on its power plant as a June trial date looms.

Superintendent Robert Banzer has called for LIPA to stand by a 1997 agreement made between the district, the utility company and former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R) in an April 16 letter to community residents. Banzer alleged the power company had agreed not to seek to lower the assessed tax value of the Northport power plant as long as local authorities did not abusively increase it over time.

“While it is a very complex issue that goes back to the 1990s, it boils down to one simple premise: LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise,” Banzer wrote in the letter.

LIPA made a promise to our school district and we are fighting hard to make sure they, and others, continue to fulfill their promise.”
– Robert Banzer

In 2010, LIPA and National Grid filed a lawsuit against the district challenging the assessment of the power plant and demanding a 90 percent reduction in taxes, also seeking the difference in tax refunds retroactively.

“Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district, its residents and most importantly, our students,” Banzer wrote.

The district currently receives about 38 percent of its overall revenue from the taxes paid on the Northport power plant, or the equivalent of nearly $53 million per year.

The superintendent said the district has been involved in settlement discussions with LIPA “which at this point, has not yielded a reasonable resolution.” The utility company’s latest proposed settlement would be a 50 percent reduction in taxes over a nine-year period, according to the
superintendent, which would increase the tax burden on district residents by millions per year. Banzer said if this proposal took effect, the schools would be forced to “make additional modifications, including cutting programs and staff significantly.”

In his letter to residents the superintendent stated that the district remains open to negotiating a settlement with LIPA. He did not respond to requests for further interviews.

The two parties have limited time to reach an agreement as a state supreme court trial is slated to begin in June.

Obviously, a 90 percent reduction to the power plant’s assessment would be devastating to the school district… ”
– Robert Banzer

State senators John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) introduced legislation April 20 that could help mitigate any potential impact of the lawsuit on Northport taxpayers. The bill seeks to lengthen the time frame over which LIPA’s taxes would be gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. In addition, it would grant the municipal governments and school districts who lose a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program. This way, town government and schools could create reserve funds to mitigate the burden on their taxpayers.

Other municipalities, villages and school districts have had better success in bargaining with the utility company to varying degrees. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 that the town government had reached a settlement with LIPA on its assessment lawsuit over the Port Jefferson power plant. Port Jefferson School District officials called this news “deeply troubling.”

“This decision will … place the school district in harm’s way,” the district’s statement said.

A community forum will be held May 1 at 7 p.m. in Northport High School’s auditorium where district taxpayers can learn about the potential impacts of the LIPA lawsuit on their school taxes and their children’s education as it moves forward.

 

BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. Photo by Alex Petroski

Six candidates have come forward to run for three vacant seats on the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education.

The three-year terms of trustees Tracy Zamek, Mark Doyle and Vincent Ruggiero expire this year, though only Zamek is seeking another term. She joined five other community members at the Port Jefferson High School auditorium April 24 for a meet-the-candidates event, hosted by the district’s three parent-teacher associations.

Doyle, who ran a write-in campaign when he was re-elected in 2015, said in an interview he will not seek a fourth term, citing growing professional obligations and a desire to have his seat filled by someone more able to offer up their time. Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment sent to his school district email.

The candidates were asked six questions about relevant issues to the district — including the potential for lost revenue as Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village hammer out settlements with the Long Island Power Authority over an assessment dispute on its Port Jeff power plant — and education more broadly, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Each candidate also submitted personal bios to the administrators of the event, which were publicly distributed.

Meet the candidates

Tracy Zamek: She was first elected to the board in 2015. Zamek has lived in the district since 1996 and currently has two teens attending local schools. She is currently a fifth-grade teacher in the Hauppauge school district. She cited her desire for fiscal responsibility and to advocate for students as her reasons for running again.

“I believe every single student who attends Port Jefferson schools deserves a premier education,” she said. “Now more than ever, the people in this village and school community need to work together as one, in regards to the LIPA/National Grid gorilla staring us in the face.”

Ryan Walker: He moved to the district in 2010 and also has two children attending Port Jeff schools. Walker spent 10 years as a New York State police sergeant, followed by three years as a security guard in local schools. He was one of New York’s first nationally certified school resource officers in 2002.

He said his experience in law enforcement “will be an asset regarding the safety of the students in our schools.”

“I will work to balance the concerns of the residents with a common sense fiscal management plan to address our overall district funding needs,” he said.

René Tidwell: She has a daughter in sixth grade, and a long work history in banking and financial services. Tidwell currently works as a special education teacher’s aide. She is running because she wants to lend her
expertise in financial planning to help the community plan long term for the possibility of less annual property tax revenue, citing a need for not only student advocacy, but for taxpayers.

“With over 20 years of experience in banking and financial services, I will focus on data-driven research, analysis and long-term planning to develop solutions for our district’s funding requirements,” she said.

Jason Kronberg: Dr. Kronberg is a pediatrician with two children in district schools. He moved to Port Jeff in 2003 from Queens and cited his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate along with being “fiscally conservative,” yet “socially liberal” as assets he’ll bring to the district if elected.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said.

Mia Farina: She is a NYPD officer with a 6-year-old son in the elementary school. Farina said her philosophy if elected would be “if it’s important to your child it’s important to me.” She said her experience as a police
officer makes her uniquely qualified to address security concerns within schools.

“I would bring all my knowledge and assist the schools in every way to help keep our children stay safe at school and educate them in every possible way I know how,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp: He has a daughter and twin sons, and said an autism diagnosis for one of the twins precipitated their move to Port Jeff from Oceanside. He has experience as an occupational therapist and currently works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I see a need to increase communication among all stakeholders, while staying focused on the needs of all students,” he said about his reasons for running. “By increasing communication among all community stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community among students and staying focused on fiscal responsibilities, Port Jefferson will remain a school district we can all be proud of.”

The budget vote and trustee elections are on Tuesday, May 15.

Superintendent Paul Casciano and board president, Kathleen Brennan, listen to members of the public during an April 10 board of education meeting. Photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson board of education voted unanimously to adopt the district’s nearly $45 million 2018-19 budget April 18. This comes eight days after the board decided to table the resolution as it sought more specifics on an announced “agreement in principle” between Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s property tax assessment on its Port Jefferson power plant.

Ongoing litigation has loomed over the district and Port Jefferson Village, which each receive substantial amounts of property tax revenue as a result of housing the plant. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 the town had an agreement in principle to settle the case with LIPA, though specifics of the agreement have yet to be made public. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has also publicly said the village is nearing a settlement in its version of the dispute with LIPA.

“The board of education and district administration have been working tirelessly on creating a budget that addresses our responsibility to provide an excellent education for our students in a physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that is balanced with sensitivity to the fiscal impact on our residents,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said April 18. “The proposed budget assumes that a finalized agreement between the Town of Brookhaven and LIPA does not materialize in time to impact the 2018-19 school budget.”

Casciano said during the April 10 meeting taxpayers should prepare for the possibility of program cuts and/or property tax increases in the coming years.

A letter from Romaine to Casciano and BOE President Kathleen Brennan dated April 11 said the town attorney and assessor’s offices have been in touch with district officials to make the district aware of how a settlement would impact the 2018-19 town assessment rolls, which directly impact school tax rates.

The adopted budget carries a 2.27 percent tax levy increase and a 2.23 percent increase to state aid. The 2018-19 budget rolls over all programs from the current year, with contractual raises and higher health
insurance costs for faculty and staff driving the 3.65 percent overall budget increase.

The district also presented a backup plan should an official settlement be reached between the town and LIPA prior to June 30, which would impact the current year assessments. PJSD is prepared to make $130,000 in reductions to help mitigate a possible 5.67 percent drop in assessed value of the plant, or a 50 percent reduction in the assessment spread out evenly over a nine-year span.

On April 20, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would authorize municipalities to obtain “tax certiorari stabilization reserve funds” via the Urban Development Corporation Act in the event agreed-upon settlements result in loss of tax revenues or increased tax levies of more than 20 percent. The bill is before the state Senate finance committee.

Testing qualifies student for USA Mathematical Olympiad

Shoreham-Wading River senior Keyi Chen scored a 94.5 out of 150 points. Photo from Keyi Chen

If Shoreham-Wading River High School senior Keyi Chen wasn’t in class, he could have screamed in triumph.

Chen had taken the American Mathematical 12 math exam — one of the most prestigious and extensive national high school math exams — back in March. One text from his father told him he would move onto the next phase of the exam circuit, the American Invitational Mathematics Examination.

“When my dad texted me that I made it, I just screamed in my seat, inaudibly though,” Chen said. “Finally, in senior year, I was able to make it to the AIME.”

Shoreham-Wading River senior Keyi Chen. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Mathematical Association of America-produced AMC 12 is a nationally recognized, 25-question exam that covers all high school level math excluding calculus. Chen scored a 94.5 out of 150 points, which was within the top 5 percent of students who took the test. He has been taking other AMC tests for several years, but in March he was able to take the AIME. The tests lead all the way to the International Mathematical Olympiad.

“It was really exciting,” Chen’s father Hucheng Chen said. “We knew he had the capacity and capability, but we were still excited to learn that he had qualified.”

Keyi Chen’s math teachers were also proud of their student’s multiple math accomplishments.

“In addition to being very bright, Keyi works diligently to increase his understanding and awareness of mathematical content,” Shoreham-Wading River High School math teacher Ellen Fraser said via email. “He often comes outside of class to ask questions on material that is beyond the curriculum. He has also been practicing with released questions from past exams to prepare for the AMC.”

Chen was taught math starting at 2 years old, according to his father, who said his son was interested from a young age.

“Ever since I was little I always enjoyed numbers,” Chen said. “Starting in kindergarten I was able to do the basic math functions — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — which you learn in second grade.”

“Ever since I was little I always enjoyed numbers.”

— Keyi Chen

His affinity for math grew, and in middle school, he was introduced to multiple math competitions. His parents helped organize his participation in these competitions.

“We tried to present as many opportunities to him as we could with math competitions in middle school,” Chen’s father said. “We had to organize them on our behalf because usually the school doesn’t do that.”

The senior said he enjoys the way that math, when distilled, starts to connect with the forces that hold the world together.

“I’ve enjoyed how you can boil down numbers — math and physics all intertwine with each other,” Chen said.

He hasn’t yet confirmed his scores with his teacher to see if he qualifies for the olympiad yet, but Chen plans to attend Johns Hopkins University and major in physics after graduation. He plans to get a doctorate
and become a college-level professor in physics and mathematics.

“I’m really interested in being a professor,” Chen said. “I like the idea of being able to apply this critical thinking and mathematical problem-solving and hopefully spread it to other young people who have the same sort of mentality.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said, opening up about his feelings following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded. “I was horrified of coming out because all I see in the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be [identifying as] straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school district taxpayers will be asked to vote three times when they head to the polls May 15.

Huntington’s board of education unanimously adopted its proposed $129,812,991 budget for the 2018-19 school year at its April 19 meeting. The board members also elected to put two additional measures asking for the release of reserve funds to tackle various capital projects and repairs needed in the district’s eight buildings.

“I do believe the budget we are discussing this evening does not short change any educational programs,” Superintendent James Polansky said at the April 19 meeting. “We’ve been very responsible in terms of how we put our budget together and taking into account the taxpayer burden the way we do.”


Adopted 2018-19 Budget:
$129,812,911 total
2.85 percent budget-to-budget increase
2.68 tax levy increase
2.68 tax rate increase

If approved, the adopted 2018-19 spending plan would represent a budget-to-budget increase of 2.85 percent, or approximately $3.6 million more than the current year. The primary costs driving up the budget include the district’s approximately $800,000 increase in contributions to the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System, health care insurance for faculty and staff and rising transportation costs.

Polansky said the district has set aside funds to continue to increase and expand its education programs. Huntington High School will have a computer science course added as well as a virtual enterprise course, a new business elective which simulates an entrepreneurial business for students to run.

“Not many schools have this program yet, Huntington will be one of the first,” Polansky said.

The proposed budget also includes funds to redesign the math curriculum for the mid-level grades and augmenting the elementary school and social studies programs.

State Aid

Since March 26, the district has been able to trim more than $750,000 from its initial draft budget to bring the proposed tax levy intreasse to 2.68 percent. This is largely due to receiving $479,000 more in foundation aid than anticipated after state lawmakers approved the final state budget, according to Polansky, a significant boost from a mere $22,000 expected under the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The board of  education also approved using $155,000 from the district’s early retirement system reserves to offset the tax levy increase.

“It sounds cliché, but a lot of us receive tax bills twice a year and they are not pretty to look at,” the superintendent said. “We are trying to be mindful.”

Proposition #2:  Use $7.1 million from district’s capital reserves for infrastructural improvements

Proposition #3: Create a new Building Improvement Fund in order to be able to use funding from the Repair Reserves to replace the turf field

If the adopted budget is approved by voters, the average Huntington homeowner will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $213.69, or approximately $17.81 a month. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $3,430, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

Proposition #2

Proposition 2 will ask Huntington residents to approve the release of about $7 million from the district’s capital reserves fund for critical infrastructure repairs. The list of projects includes the replacement of the roofs at three elementary schools, Flower Hill, Jefferson and Southdown at $1.5 million each; tile replacement in 17 bathrooms at Jefferson and Nathaniel Woodhull School; security vestibules at Flower Hill and Washington primary schools; and replacing two of Woodhull’s boilers. Polansky said the full funding necessary is already available from the district’s reserves and projects cannot be sent to the state for approval, a step needed to begin construction, until the voters approve the funding. If approved by voters, Proposition 2 will have no impact on the tax levy or tax rate.

Proposition #3

Under Proposition 3, the district seeks to create a new building improvement fund. The superintendent said making a new fund is necessary in order to transfer money from the district’s existing repair reserve, which can primarily be used in emergencies, to a newly named capital reserve that will be used for turf field replacement. The district’s turf field is nearing 10 years old, according to Polansky, which is its recommended lifespan. If Proposition 3 is approved, it will also have no impact on the tax levy or tax rate.

A formal budget hearing will be held Monday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School auditorium.

An entrance ramp onto the Southern State Parkway which shows signs warning of no commercial vehicles allowed and the overheight vehicle detector system. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's Office

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The parents of two Huntington teens seriously injured when a coach bus slammed into a Southern State Parkway overpass are suing the driver and transportation company.

Frank and Allison Sgrizzi filed the first lawsuit April 11 seeking $5 million for the traumatic injuries suffered by their 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Samantha Sgrizzi was one of dozens of Huntington High School students coming home April 9 from a spring break trip to Eastern Europe on a coach bus traveling from John F. Kennedy International Airport headed to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington via the Belt and Southern State parkways. The coach bus slammed into the Exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass — which has a 7-foot, 7-inch clearance — sheering off the vehicle’s roof and sending debris raining down on students.

The teenager was impaled by a piece of debris and fractured her right femur in the crash, according to court documents. She was brought to a nearby hospital for immediate surgery.


Lawsuit #1
Filed by: The Sgrizzi family, of Huntington
Injured:  Samantha Sgrizzi, 17
Injuries: fractured femur, impaled
Seeking: $5 million

The lawsuit accuses the tour company; the driver, Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and the transportation company, Journey Bus Lines, of being “negligent and careless in failing to take proper and suitable precautions to avoid the crash herein, not limited to, failing to provide, obtain and/or utilize a global position system suitable and certified for use by commercial vehicles.”

Attorney John Giuffré, who is representing the Sgrizzi family, has requested the case be heard by a jury. Giuffré did not respond to requests for an interview on the case.

On April 13, Huntington father Richard Bonitz also filed a lawsuit against the driver and bus company seeking monetary compensation for the injuries suffered by his daughter in Nassau County Supreme Court.

Erin Bonitz, 17, received a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures and several lacerations as result of the bus crash, according to attorney Robert Sullivan of Garden City. Sullivan said she was treated immediately at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens and has since been released home where she is continuing her recovery.

The lawsuit accuses Gaston of ignoring clearly posted signs warning of Eagle Avenue overpass clearance height and “negligently using a noncommercial vehicle GPS device” which directed him to take a route utilizing the Belt and Southern State parkways, according to court documents. New York state law prohibits buses and commercial vehicles from traveling on these limited-access parkways.


Lawsuit #2
Filed by: The Bonitz family, of Huntington
Injured:  Erin Bonitz, 17
Injuries: head injury, facial lacerations
Seeking: trial by jury for monetary damages

They also seek to hold Journey Bus Lines responsible for the accident for its failure to equip the coach bus with a commercial GPS system. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised transportation companies to install these systems in 2013, as it has the capability to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges along their planned route.Sullivan said that the Bonitz family will not make a specific demand for compensation.

Journey Bus Lines did not respond to requests for comment on these lawsuits. Gaston could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced last December a $4.3 million project to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Southern State Parkway. These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet its response criteria. It will be monitoring the investigation.

The crash remains under open investigation by New York State police. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.

Budget stays within 1.97 percent cap

With declining enrollment at Three Village elementary schools like Setauket School, above, the district plans to maintain a low student-teacher ratio and introduce a third-grade orchestra. File photo

The Three Village Central School District Board of Education has adopted a $209.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year.

Among its proposals are additional resources for student mental health and counseling services, athletic training and elementary science.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, who outlined the budget at the April 12 meeting, said it will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase. There will also be no cuts for budgetary reasons, he said.

Jeff Carlson laid out the 2018-2019 school budget at the April 12 board of education meeting. File photo

As far as revenue, New York State will give the district an additional $833,579 in state aid, for a total of $34.4 million, Carlson said. The amount does not include building aid, which is tied to specific capital improvements and varies from year to year, he said.

The assistant superintendent said the budget is based on a combination of declining enrollment, staffing changes, student interest in courses across the secondary level and administrative restructuring. The result is easing the way for the proposed enhancements, he said.

Big changes will happen at the secondary schools, where enrollment in some courses will result in a reduction of two to three full-time equivalent positions, Carlson said. The district will therefore be able to add one FTE for another guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School and a .5 FTE for a psychometrician — a psychologist to conduct testing throughout the district. District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the addition will give school psychologists more availability to counsel students, a decision motivated, in part, by the tragic events in Parkland, Florida.

“We believe that as part of our safety and security procedures and protocol, the need for clinical staff — and a robust staff — is critical to our efforts,” Pedisich said at the March 28 board meeting.

Also, with an eye toward student safety, the administration plans to add an assistant athletic trainer to increase coverage at the district’s athletic events, she said. For greater accountability, the budget includes a transition coordinator to help special needs students transition to the workforce or to the next stage after high school, Pedisich said. This addition will come at a nominal cost, since the district had previously contracted out the position, she said.

The retirement of two administrators — the high school chair of foreign languages and the assistant director of health and physical education— will result in the reduction of two to three FTEs, allowing the district to combine certain positions to be more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” the superintendent said. One new position will be a district-wide director of foreign language and English as a New Language for kindergarten through 12. Rather than having separate administrators for health and physical education for grades seven through nine and then for 10 through 12, there will be one coordinating chair of physical education and health for all secondary grades and another for kindergarten through sixth grade, she said.

“We believe that as part of our safety and security procedures and protocol, the need for clinical staff — and a robust staff — is critical to our efforts.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

The district will also restore one FTE of clerical help for junior high media specialists and one FTE for a maintenance specialist to increase cost efficiency, Pedisich said.

Similarly, declining enrollment at the elementary level will help the district to maintain a low student-teacher ratio, while also introducing third-grade orchestra at no additional cost to the district.

With the continued decline in elementary school enrollment — between 120 and 130 students next year — there will be two to three fewer sections to staff and a possible decrease of two FTEs, Pedisich said. That will allow the district to add three teaching assistants plus an additional .5 FTE from junior high science staffing — again, due to lower enrollment — to help prepare for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, Pedisich said. Two more teaching assistants will come from existing staffing.

The Three Village free preschool program at Nassakeag Elementary School will continue into its second year. By the end of March, there were already 128 children enrolled, up from 109 this school year. The district can accommodate up to 200 students and has budgeted up to five FTEs for teachers should the program reach capacity.

Carlson said there will be an increase in the district’s contributions to the employee and teacher retirement systems. To cover the $1.5 million increase, the district will use funds from its reserves, which, he said, are set aside to cover employee retirement costs.

The vote to approve the budget will be held May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Like last year, for security reasons, the vote will take place at the secondary schools. Those zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School, while residents zoned for Mount Elementary School will vote at Murphy Junior High. Families zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at Gelinas Junior High.

May vote will also feature $32M bond proposition for district wide capital projects

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

Taxpayers in Comsewogue School District have two important choices to make at the polls May 15.

The board of education unanimously adopted its proposed $91,947,730 budget for the 2018-19 school year during an April 12 meeting. The board also voted back in March to add a second proposition to the ballot to seek permission from the community to borrow $32 million over a 15-year span, with about $3 million in interest, to execute more than 100 repairs and upgrade projects across the district’s six buildings.

If passed, next year’s budget would be about $2 million more than the current year, with contractual, retirement and health insurance increases for faculty and staff being the primary driver of the increase. The higher costs will be covered in large part by a 2.2 percent tax levy increase, a 3.2 percent increase in state aid, and a slight reduction in full-time employees due to several retirements.

Bond

$32 million

$3 million in interest

15-year life

Would fund upgrades at all six district buildings

The district has also placed an emphasis on security, budgeting for additional security guards and mental health support services. The budget for buildings and grounds staff, comprised of custodial workers, security guards and maintenance workers, was increased by 7.5 percent for 2018-19.

The district’s stated budgeting goal based on its public presentation provided by Assistant Superintendent for Business Susan Casali is to “develop a school district budget that is taxpayer sensitive and aligns with the district student learning objectives.”

Casali will be publicly presenting the adopted budget a total of six times, with Saturday, April 21, at JFK Middle School at 9 a.m. being the next opportunity for district residents to catch it.

The bond proposal and list of projects came at the recommendation of the district’s Facilities Committee, a group of 21 professionals from across the Comsewogue community including members of the board, administrators, architects, engineers, former teachers and civic association members assembled in early January and tasked with presenting recommendations to the board. It will need to be approved as a separate proposition from the standard 2018-19 operating budget.

“The proposed facility improvements preserve the integrity of the school buildings, address repairs, improve instructional resources for all and upgrade athletic facilities,” district administration said in a statement.

Budget

2018-19 total: $91,947,730

2.2% tax levy increase

3.2% more in state aid

School board President John Swenning said during a March meeting the bond proposal was the result of hard work and community input.

“I just want to say thank you to the Facilities Committee that spent a lot of time going through our buildings,” he said. “This bond was brought to us from the community members. They found what they felt needs to be addressed and they came and presented it to the board. We’re going to accept it just as the committee has submitted it to us.”

The district has made a concerted effort to inform voters about the contents of the bond, filming and disseminating an informational YouTube video featuring Superintendent Joe Rella, mailing brochures to residents, and hosting several public presentations at district buildings as well as before the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

Some of the projects include required upgrades to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; repairing parking lots and sidewalks; adding security vestibules at all of the district buildings; fixes to exterior and interior building infrastructure; improving athletic fields and facilities; and kitchen upgrades. Some of the higher-priced projects included in the committee’s recommendation are: a new roof with solar panels at Terryville Road Elementary School; interior work at John F. Kennedy Middle School, including some classroom and hallway renovations; and upgrades to the high school concession stand building. If passed, the average taxpayer would see an increase of about $120 annually to their school tax bill, according to the district.

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