Budget

The Three Village Central School District board members, above, approved the 2019-20 budget that residents will be able to vote on May 21. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school board has approved a $215 million budget for the 2019-20 school year.

The action, taken April 10, shows an increase of 2.51 percent from 2018-19, but Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent of business services, said the upcoming school year’s budget stays within the 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase. Contractual salary increases, utilities and a 2 percent hike in insurance costs account for the increase, Carlson said, speaking at the district’s most recent school board meeting.

He added that because of the cap, there is not much room to add a lot of new programs, but there are a few new initiatives of note for the upcoming year.

One initiative is the addition of a musical theater class at Ward Melville High School. A sixth-grade guidance counselor will be another addition next year. The district’s five elementary schools will share the new guidance counselor.

The most significant change next year is the addition of a tuition-based, half-day enrichment program to complement the district’s free prekindergarten. Beginning next year, the district will offer its preschool curriculum, which is currently offered only at Nassakeag Elementary School, at each of its five elementary schools. Students who attend a morning or afternoon prekindergarten session will also be able to enroll in the enrichment program to extend the day. Students will receive enrichment in STEM, music, art and movement.

The preschool, which has a cap of 200 students, already has 196 students enrolled for next year, Carlson said. There are more than 100 students signed up for the enrichment program, which costs $500 a month. The current enrollment means that the district will see more than $500,000 in revenue and that the enrichment program “more than pays for itself,” Carlson said. In addition to covering the cost of staffing the program, the tuition will also pay for the installation of age-appropriate playgrounds at each of the elementary schools, officials have said.

Carlson said that even with the additions, the district will stay within the tax cap without having to cut programs or services. Proposed staffing changes are a result of enrollment and course requests, he said. There is a potential reduction of two full-time equivalents at the elementary level and a reduction of two to three FTEs at the secondary level.

Funding from the state — not including aid for capital projects — increased by about $287,000, he said. That is about $175,000 more than projected in the governor’s January budget proposal and represents a 0.8 percent increase over last year’s aid package. Carlson said the percentage was consistent with the average rate of increases over the past 11 years.

The budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 21, at Ward Melville High School, R.C. Murphy Junior High and P.J. Gelinas Junior High. Voting was moved from the elementary schools two years ago because it is easier to secure voting areas to ensure student safety at the secondary schools, Carlson said. Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at the high school. Those who are zoned for W.S. Mount Elementary School will vote at Murphy Junior High, and Setauket Elementary residents will vote at Gelinas Junior High.

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New upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan speaks to school board. Photo by Kyle Barr

Board approves 2019-20 district budget

The Port Jefferson School District named the first female superintendent to the post Tuesday, and to top it off, she’s a nine-year Port Jeff resident.

At the board of education meeting April 9, the board named current Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica Schmettan, 42, as the new superintendent effective Nov. 1 this year.

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school,” Schmettan said of her connection to the village. “I’m just so excited to be chosen.”

The Port Jefferson School District welcomed new upcoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan, center with black coat, April 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The upcoming superintendent beat out a field of over 20 candidates, many of whom Kathleen Brennan, the board president, said were highly qualified for the position.

“Just because she was an inside candidate, she was not tossed any softballs,” said Brennan. 

Schmettan holds a bachelor of science in special education from Long Island University, a master’s degree in instructional technology from the New York Institute of Technology, and School District Leader certification from the College of
New Rochelle.

Before coming to Port Jeff in 2016, she began her career as an educator in the Three Village Central School District. She also has experience with special education from the Roosevelt Union Free School District and United Cerebral Palsy of Long Island. She went on to work for seven years in the Sachem Central School District as administrative assistant for instructional support and programming and later assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction.

Though there was one other female interim superintendent in the past, Schmettan is the first full-time woman appointed to the position

“It’s exciting for my daughter so she can see what she’s capable of,” the upcoming superintendent said.

In August 2018, current Port Jeff superintendent Paul Casciano declared his intention to step down from his position. In the following months, continuing into the new year, the district worked with Suffolk County BOCES in the process of finding a new superintendent. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said most of the costs to the district were from advertising in newspapers, including The New York Times. While he is still waiting for the bills to come back with precise amounts, he estimated the cost to be about $15,000 to $17,000 to the district. 

While Casciano originally intended to stay until July, he extended that until Oct. 31 to aid in the transition.

“I’m so proud of Jessica as the first woman to be appointed to the head of schools in Port Jeff,” the current superintendent said. “She’s proved she has a deep knowledge of our core mission, teaching and learning.”

During the meeting, Brennan spoke directly to Schmettan. “One of the things you said in response to one of the questions you asked was you’re going to have to have courageous conversations. And that phrase struck me, and that kind of describes Port Jeff going forward, we are going to have to have a lot of courageous conversations.”

“I’m a resident, a taxpayer, and I have two kids in school.”

—  Jessica Schmetta

Many of those conversations will revolve around the impact of the settlement with Brookhaven town and the Long Island Power Authority over the taxes levied on the Port Jefferson Power Station. The settlement agreement cuts LIPA’s taxes on the power station in half incrementally for the next eight years. 

Schmettan said she plans to resurrect the budget advisory committee, so the public can get involved in the process of crafting future budgets. She expects the district will continue to see cuts and will have to make some difficult decisions, but she is optimistic about the future of the district, saying “we’re up to the challenge.”

Board adopts 2019-20 budget

The Port Jefferson school board has approved a budget that, while consolidating programs, will still see a small increase. Along with the budget, the board is asking residents to approve the use of capital reserves to fix sections of the high school and elementary school roofs.

The board approved a $43,936,166 budget April 9, a $46,354 and 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget. The tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations. If the district pierced the tax cap, it would need 60 percent of residents to approve the budget come the May vote, rather than the normal 50 percent.

Leister said the district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation, and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

Leister said the district should be creating a tax calculator for district residents to roughly calculate their school taxes. The program should be available up on the district website in about a week.

The board is also asking residents to vote on allowing the board to allocate funds from capital reserves, the funds built up over time from money unused by the end of each school year, to fix portions of the elementary school and high school roof, equaling $3,600,000.

The board will have its budget presentation May 14 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium before asking residents to vote on the budget May 21. Residents can vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point residents were able to get a full picture of its school district budget for the 2019-20 school year after two workshops on Jan. 14 and March 18 that covered all aspects of the budget.  

The total proposed budget amount for the upcoming school year will be $86,743,446, a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount. The district will also see a projected tax levy cap of 2.59 percent and the tax levy amount would increase by more than $1.3 million. 

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

At the Jan. 14 workshop, district officials expressed concerns over the delay in implementation of foundation aid to its schools and how it could affect state aid funds they receive. On April 1, the state passed its budget and the district will receive a preliminary figure of $19,044,293 in foundation aid, an increase of more than $140,000 from last year. 

“The district is appreciative of the efforts of our elected representatives in Albany for all they have done to provide additional foundation aid for the 2019-20 school year,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “Although the increase for the school year represents a smaller rate of growth than in recent years, we are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

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

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

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

Ring mentioned over the past decade the district experienced large increases in required contributions to both ERS and TRS.

“Those increases were challenging to fund and necessarily constrained funding for instructional programs and maintenance of buildings and grounds,” he said. “As these rates have settled back down, the result has been opportunities to better support our core instructional programs and enhance maintenance of our facilities.”

In the March presentation, the district showcased recent enrollment numbers of its students. For the upcoming school year, they are projecting a decrease of 56 students in total, the middle school and high school look to be the most affected as they will have 26 and 23 fewer students respectively.  

“We are aware of the fiscal challenges being addressed in Albany.”

— Michael Ring

Ring said declining enrollment is a factor impacting most Long Island school districts, adding the district has effectively managed the impact of this trend through appropriate allocation of resources, redeployment of staff when ordinary attrition occurs and anticipating future needs based on an understanding of the population trend.

The proposed budget is tax cap compliant, according to the superintendent. However, the final tax levy proposal that will go before the voters in May will not be final until acted upon by the board at its April 16 meeting.

For the budget to pass, the district will need a majority of voters support. If the district doesn’t get enough initial votes, the district would call for a second vote with the same or a revised budget. If the second vote does get enough support expenditures could be cut by more than $1.3 million. That could mean potential cuts to instructional and administrative staff as well as instructional support and athletics. 

The district budget hearing will be held May 7 at the Rocky Point High School auditorium and the budget vote will be held May 21.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Mount Sinai residents finally have the full view of their school district budget, coming up on the annual vote in May.

The Mount Sinai School District continued its presentation of its proposed 2019-20 school budget at a district board meeting March 20. The March presentation gave residents the remaining 78 percent of the total budget. 

The total proposed budget figure for the 2019-20 school year will be $60,926,615, which is a slight increase of 1.2 percent from last year’s amount. This year will also see a tax cap increase of 2.17 percent and the district’s tax levy amount would increase close to $900,000. 

At the meeting, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the fund balance would decrease this year. For the 2017-18 school year, $5 million was transferred to capital projects to which the public approved to cover a new turf field, bleachers, press box, field events fencing and one-third of a new roof for the high school. 

“The board wants to set a capital reserve of $850,000,” Brosdal said. 

Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects. Brosdal proposed to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. 

“This room here, if you recall, last spring we had to move out of this room to the high school because the HVAC system died last year,” the superintendent said. It caused a lot of hot surrounding classrooms, and [it’s something] you can’t fix, it has to be replaced.” 

The district’s $25 million bond failed to pass in December, 2018 with a vote of 664-428. The district said it had intended to use the bond to fix the high school roof, along with providing new classrooms to some aging parts of the school buildings.

Residents will be able to vote on the potential capital projects in May. 

Another issue discussed was student enrollment. According to Brosdal, the district will see a steady decrease in the number of students it has in its schools.  

The current student population is 2,240, and by 2022-23 the district enrollment could drop to 1,909.

“The numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate,” Brosdal said. 

The superintendent said the problem can already be seen in the kindergarten level. The current kindergarten class has a total of 142 students and next school year they are only projecting 89 students. 

“Should these numbers bear fruit, it will have ramifications all over the schools,” he said. “We have to look at everything and be fiscally sound. It’s going to affect a lot of decisions that have to be made.” 

Other highlights of the meeting were that the Teacher Retirement System rate decreased to 8.86 percent, and district officials said they will likely save over $376,000. 

“We are lucky that the teachers retirement system didn’t hammer us this year,” Brosdal said. “It went down significantly from last year.”

The district will look to improve outside lights at schools and parking lots, citing visibility issues and will be bidding again for a security company for the high school. The district is looking for four armed and two armed guards. 

Brosdal said they are not certain on the exact amount they will receive in state aid. In Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) initial executive budget the district would receive $18,251,235. But with Cuomo considering proposing a new budget, the district won’t have an exact number until April. 

The next budget meeting will be on April 17, and the district must adopt a budget in time for a community vote on May 14. 

Superintendent Gerard Poole speaks to residents about the survey results. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is trying to gauge its long-term future with community, teacher and student feedback.

The district has surveyed district residents to help determine which school functions are doing well and which need to be improved. This data was especially important, Wading River Elementary School Principal Lou Parrinello said, because of expectations over declining enrollment.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment,” Parrinello said. “This shows what we want to hold dear, what we want to expand and what we want to let go. We don’t want to make those decisions in isolation.”

That loss of students could then mean a loss of revenue for the school over a period of several years, along with shrinking class sizes and potentially less specialized electives available. Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district has already hosted forums with teachers and students of all grade levels.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment.”

— Lou Parrinello

In a special focus group meeting Feb. 26, the district asked residents to present their own ideas for where the district should head in the next five years.

In the survey, close to 1,000 residents rated where the strongest and weakest elements of the district were. On the negative end, 47 percent of those surveyed said the cafeteria programs needed improvement. While the high school cafeteria remains as it is, the district has used funds from a bond passed in 2015 to create a new kitchen and cafeteria spaces in both the Wading River Elementary School and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The district plans to renovate the cafeteria with the ongoing bond funds this summer.

A number of teachers, parents and even some students were present to speak about the issues they see with the school, with some noting a lack of proper communication with parents and students, especially over social media.

Karla Roberts, a fourth-grade teacher in the district, said the schools need to look toward standing out among the flock of other districts on Long Island. She was especially disappointed to learn how some seniors in the high school, because they were already at the mandated amount of class credits they needed to graduate, were coming in late during the school day and leaving early.

“It’s making sure all students have something, and [the school] should be tracking if students are in sports, clubs electives, or not,” Roberts said.

High school senior Katie Loscalzo said there is a disconnect between the guidance counselors and the students, especially in guaranteeing there is interest for students in varying classes. She noted she is currently in an Advanced Placement course with only seven students and is taking an elective with only four enrolled.

“We don’t have those guidance relationships,” the senior said.

The district conducted an enrollment study in 2015, which was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to its current enrollment of 2,264. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district has in the past pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of its ebbing enrollment figures. 

“We don’t have those guidance relationships.”

— Katie Loscalzo

This fact brings a call for strategic developments of new school budgets. At its Feb. 26 meeting, the district revealed a preliminary proposed budget of $75,952,416, approximately a million more than the current year’s budget of $74,776,072 and below the current year’s tax cap of 2.96 percent.

Also represented in the budget is a 3.69 percent drop in state aid funding, based on projections of the New York State budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

In the continuing work of the 2015 bond, the district outlined a number of projects for the upcoming summer, including renovating the high school theater lighting and dimming system, a full reconstruction of the main parking lot, a renovation and expansion of the existing kitchen and serving line and a reconfiguration of the office spaces within the center corridor. The board awarded bids to a number of contractors for that work at the Feb. 26 meeting.

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Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. File Photo Photo by Kyle Barr

By David Luces

The Mount Sinai School District is looking at a budget that could see a decrease in debt services and changes to school textbooks and special education.

The district continued its presentation of its proposed 2019-20 school budget at a district board meeting Feb.13. Between the January and February presentation, the district has shown approximately 23 percent of the budget, which is just about $13 million out of the $62.5 million proposed total budget for the next school year. 

At the February meeting, after hearing the needs from parents, the board said it is supporting the recommendation to make the Consultant Teacher Direct Instructor program full day for children in grades 1 through 4 in the elementary school. CTD instructors provide services and support students with disabilities in his or her general education classes. This would increase the special education budget to $4.3 million, $98,780 more than the previous school year.

“It will align with the full-day program at the middle school,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “To create that [at the elementary school] it would take the hiring of two special education teachers.”

District officials said they will examine class size and registration to figure out how many teachers they would need overall. In addition to the planned full-day program, the teachers will be supplied with additional textbooks. 

“This is a pretty big add,” the superintendent said. “But we believe this is the best for our kids and what their needs are.”

“We believe this is the best for our kids and what their needs are.”

— Gordon Brosdal

Officials also stressed the need to replace older textbooks in the middle and high school. The district would be replacing sixth-grade algebra II textbooks, replacing middle school science textbooks, seventh- and eighth-grade English books along with social studies textbooks. 

The superintendent said that some of the textbooks in the middle and high school are over 20 years old. The total for the new textbooks will cost the district $75,550.

“[With the newer textbooks] everything is accessible online,” he said. “You could have the lesson in class and then see it again
at home.”

In conjunction with newer textbooks, the board will also renew IXL site licenses, which is a platform that offers students K-12 educational practice outside the classroom.

“We have seen many students use this —we are reacting to the popularity and use it,” Robert Sweeney, president of the Mount Sinai board of education said. “When students go home they can go through lesson plans, online help — it is helping them do better in
their classes.”

A highlight of the Jan. 16 meeting was the announcement of a 25-year-old bond loan that is expected to be paid off in full at the end of the year. 

“This is good news for us,” Brosdal said. “Finally, that bond on the high school that we got years ago to borrow money will be paid off this year.”

With the bond being paid off, the school district is projected to see a decrease of close to $1 million in debt services. 

The next budget presentation will take place on March 20 at 8 p.m. in Mount Sinai Middle School. Topics of discussion will be operations, maintenance, grounds/security, athletics,
salaries and benefits.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school administrators are cautiously aware of the district’s 2.57 percent tax cap in approaching their strategy to drafting the 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent James Polansky gave his first presentation on the district’s 2019-20 budget with a carefully thought out exposition of the district’s state-mandated tax cap allowing a 2.57 percent tax levy, or an increase of approximately $2.77 million over the current year’s budget.

“That number does not dictate the board will raise taxes by 2.57 percent, they could go above — I wouldn’t advise it — or they could go below,” Polansky said. “2.57 percent is the highest we could go without needing to secure a 60 percent supermajority.”

Huntington taxpayers approved a $129.8 million budget for the current 2018-19 school year, of which 84 percent is paid for by the tax levy on district homeowners and commercial businesses.

My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance.” 

—James Graber

For the upcoming 2019-20 year, the superintendent said the district’s overall tax levy number is higher than 2 percent primarily due to two factors: an assessed growth in the school district’s tax base, which increased the tax levy cap, and $475,611 carried over from last year.

“In basic terms, the carryover means we didn’t levy all we could have to the limit last year,” Polansky said.

In preparing the draft 2019-20 budget, the superintendent said initial estimates show two of the district’s major costs will decrease. The district’s state-mandated contribution rates to the NYS Teachers’ Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System are anticipated to drop.

The proposed 2019 Executive Budget of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)contains funding for a number of educational initiatives, but also calls for increasing foundation aid by 1.9 percent statewide. If approved by the state Legislature, Huntington stands to receive $49,615, or a 0.52 percent increase over the current year, which it will have the discretion on how to spend.

James Graber, president of Huntington’s teachers association, called balancing the budget an “unenviable task” but requested the board make several considerations.

“My request of having a librarian in each elementary school is of increasing importance,” he said. “As we are seeking to develop lifelong learners and a love of reading, these resuscitations are critical.”

Graber said currently elementary students only are scheduled for library time once every other week. He also requested more resources be made available to help meet the needs of English language learners and additional classes at secondary school level, where some classes have more than 30 students enrolled.

Polansky encouraged residents or groups with interests in the budget, or a particular interest in the 2019-20 budget, to reach out to his office as soon as possible.

“As the presentations go on into April and we get closer to adopting a budget, that’s sometimes when people start to offer ideas and give food for thought to the administration or the board,” he said. “That’s late in the process, it starts now.”

The district’s next budget presentation will be 7 p.m. Feb. 25 in the auditorium of Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. The official budget hearing is slated for May 13, prior to the May 21 budget and school board trustee vote.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By David Luces

Northport school administrators gave taxpayers their first glimpse at what potential issues the district will face as it starts to draft its 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave his first overview of the Northport-East Northport school district’s preliminary budget for 2019-20 at the Jan. 24 board of education meeting. The highlights includes two large expenses to the district are expected to decrease based on his initial calculations, but the schools have a different challenge to contend with.

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less. Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge,”

— Robert Banzer

The superintendent said the district’s state-mandated employer contribution to the Teacher Retirement System is anticipated to drop from 10.62 down to somewhere between 9.5 and 8.5 percent, and health care insurance premiums are projected to decrease. 

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less,” he said. “Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge.”

For 2019-20, Banzer explained the district will be permitted to raise taxes by up to 3.22 percent and remain with the state-mandated tax cap. The number can raise above the often cited 2 percent for numerous reasons including tax-base growth and rollover from prior years.

The superintendent said the district’s officials will be mindful of trying to draft a budget that comes in at or below the cap.

“Potentially it will be 3.22 percent, but I hope that it is less and we save taxpayers some money,” trustee David Badanes said.

The district’s budget for the current year is $166,810,381. According to the superintendent, the budget amount has increased by around 1.5 percent each year since the 2013-14 school year. Over half the budget is attributed to personnel’s salaries, about a quarter of it is attributed to employee benefits, according to Banzer. 

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000. About 10 percent of the district’s revenue comes in the form of state aid, the district is currently projected to receive more than $16 million based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2019 Executive Budget. Banzer noted that it is only a projected number, and one he hopes could be higher once the actual budget is passed.

There’s work to be done in between. There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

— Robert Banzer

One challenge the school district must face is how to deal with the continued declining enrollment. The superintendent projected the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

“That’s pretty significant, a lot of it has been in the elementary level,” Banzer said. “Things are starting to level off there but now it seems like it is coming to the secondary level.”

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000.

The next Northport school board meeting dedicated to the 2019-20 budget overview will be March 7 at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The district has approximately four months to refine the budget before the vote slated for May 21.

“There’s work to be done in between,” the superintendent said. “There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

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One of six Mount Sinai High School science rooms slated to be renovated with proposed bond. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com

Residents will soon be asked to take the trek down to the Mount Sinai school district campus to vote on a $25 million bond proposal, one that district officials hope will give its buildings long-term stability.

“The campus is the heart of the community, everything happens between these three buildings,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “You got to fix things otherwise it will become more expensive.”

In May residents voted 787 to 176 to use $5 million of the district’s capital reserve funds for a capital project that renovated the high school turf football field and track, replaced a portion of the high school’s ailing roof and created a new fencing around the perimeter of the school campus. The district is still in the midst of creating new gates at both the entrance on Route 25A and North Country Road that will match the new black iron fencing, and Brosdal said the planned new bleachers, which were slated as part of the capital project, will be installed in summer 2019.

Mount Sinai residents have recently criticized the district both in board meetings and online for its spending practices. In June the New York State comptroller released an audit saying the district had amassed millions of dollars in its unrestricted fund budgeted higher than the legal max of 4 percent of the district’s overall budget. District officials said they have made efforts to create a rainy-day fund that could support them in case of an emergency, but they have said they would be establishing a capital reserve of $750,000 to reduce that fund balance, which could go toward additional capital projects in the future. Brosdal said the new bond is completing work that couldn’t be paid with capital funds.

District officials calculated the tax impact on local residents to be $240.29 more for a house assessed at $3,700 and $370.54 more for a home assessed at $5,700. The district has a calculator on its website where residents can calculate their taxes if the bond passes.

“To give our kids the best opportunity to succeed we need to upgrade our facilities,” high school principal Robert Grable said.

If the bond passes, the district would renovation the air conditioning systems in every school building on the campus as well as adding interior door security modifications and additional security cameras throughout the district. Every building would also see upgrades to their bathrooms.

The bond vote will be hosted Dec. 11 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the elementary school back gym.

There is parking in the front of the building as well as handicapped-accessible parking in the back. Votes will be counted directly after 9 p.m.

High School: $8,415,559

The biggest expense for the high school is finishing the roof renovations that were started with the 2018 capital project. District officials and those who work in the high school said the roof leaks, causing constant damage to ceiling tiles and flooring throughout the building. The next biggest expense is the renovation of six science labs as well as the greenhouse, which Andrew Matthews, the district director of math, science and technology, said they badly need an overhaul of the science desks and sinks which tend to leak as well as a complete restructuring of the layout of some rooms. The bond would repave the parking lot in front of the high school as well as add barriers and fencing to increase security.

Middle School: $7,714,685

The middle school would receive a complete window replacement to restore broken and aging glass for $1.6 milllion. The auditorium would receive upgrades to its lighting, controls and sound as well as giving its ceiling a new coat of paint. The middle school library and interior offices would be renovated to create a STEAM lab and install a new security entrance like those in the elementary and high schools. In addition, the bond would replace the flooring in 47 classrooms as well as the gymnasium.

Elementary School: $3,911,369

The elementary school would receive renovations to its front exterior adding nonballistic darkened glass to the front vestibule and remodeling aging wood, paint and concrete around the front entrance. The bond would also replace windows around the kindergarten rooms and corridors and provide replacements for exterior doors.

Athletics and Grounds: $5,289,885

While the costliest renovation is to the high school locker rooms sitting at about $2.4 million, the most substantial changes to Mount Sinai’s athletics would be the creation of a new synthetic turf multipurpose field at the high school and the creation of a new girls varsity softball turf infield and boys varsity baseball turf infield.

Other amenities include a districtwide phone system for $491,625.

Trustees decide to leave Verity’s seat vacant for 2018-19 school year, will operate with four members

Commack BOE with former trustee Pamela Verity, seated front left, pictured at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

A month after a controversial investigation led to the resignation of a Commack board of education member, the price tag on that review has finally come through.

The Commack school district spent an approximate total of $72,443.24 on the four-month investigation of former trustee Pamela Verity. The board of education announced it intends to remain at four out of five members until the May 2019 school elections.

Board Vice President Jarrett Behar initially announced the district’s special investigation cost more than $60,000 at the Sept. 6 meeting. When the total was first announced, Verity said she found that number to be low compared to what she had seen before resigning from the board.

“I saw the bills prior to being off the board, and they definitely exceeded that number,” she said.

However, school officials said the district has since received additional invoices and corrected its initial estimate bringing the total bill up to more than $72,000.  

“What was not included in those [initial] costs were the costs of legal issues leading up to the
investigation,” said Laura Newman, the assistant superintendent for business and operations. “Those costs were reflected in the April billing by Lamb & Barnosky, totaling $10,585.06. In addition, there will be an additional bill of $1,798.97 reflecting August charges from Lamb & Barnosky.”

The law firm of Lamb & Barnosky, which serves as council to the district, was paid nearly $49,000, including disbursements, from April through August for work done relating to the investigation, according to documents obtained by TBR News Media. Attorney Jeffrey Smith, who had been hired on contract as an independent investigator at a $150 hourly rate, was paid $17,550 for writing the 80-page report released Aug. 2. His fees were included in the disbursements under the June invoice from Lamb & Barnosky. 

In addition, Albany-based law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo was paid approximately $13,500 to verify information that was written in the report and to prepare charges against Verity. Lastly Philip Maier, a hearing officer, received $3,600 in fees paid to attend the first two days of hearing, which did not take place.

Superintendent Donald James confirmed the money came from the legal section of the school’s 2018-19 budget. This is out of the total 2018-19 budget of $193,222,796.

School officials accepted Verity’s letter of resignation at an Aug. 1 special meeting. This came after a four-month investigation into allegations she had disclosed confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm. 

Board members discussed their options for the vacancy left by Verity at an Aug. 16 special meeting. Eugene Barnosky, the district’s attorney, said trustees could host a special election, appoint a new member themselves or leave the seat vacant. The trustees voted 3-1 to remain at four members until the next election cycle in May 2019 with member Jen Carpenter casting the lone dissenting vote.

Carpenter said she worried that without some sort of election it could harm the board’s ability to build trust in the community.

“If there’s a way to get [information of the vote] out there — with word of mouth or on social media — if we do vote and do decide to go in that direction, you’re electing us to be here, share those decisions and be here with you,” she said.

Behar said he feared there would be low turnout for a special election, considering that only 6 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot on the district’s  2018-19 budget and, historically, significantly less people have voted in prior special elections.

“For somebody to serve for that limited period of time to get that low of a level of community participation, the cost benefit analysis is just not there,” the vice president said.

James said the district did not want to rule out community involvement in the decision process, but it did not want to spend an estimated $12,837 to host a new special election.

Several community members spoke at the Aug. 16 meeting advocating for a special election.

“It’s ridiculous,” East Northport resident Dan Fusco said. “The district didn’t want to pay $13,000 to host special elections but they’d spend [tens of thousands] on an investigation? That doesn’t make sense.”

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