Budget

One contested board of education seat has Mandi Kowalik pitted against Christopher Alcure

Smithtown school district's administrative New York Avenue building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

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

The Smithtown Central School District is including new security measures in its proposed 2018-19 budget, which sets aside funding for new security guards for all seven elementary schools.

The school district adopted its budget of $244,913,464, which represents a 2.32 percent increase, or additional $5,546,259 more than this year’s budget.

“The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible,” Superintendent James Grossane said in a statement.

The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible.”
– James Grossane

The school district’s security was one of the larger areas receiving a funding increase under the proposed budget. The suggested security upgrades include vestibules in all school entrances that will be constructed over the summer as well as full-time, unarmed security guards for all elementary schools.

“Full-time security guards began on May 1 in all district elementary schools and will continue as part of the budget moving forward,” Grossane said.

The budget will also maintain all current programs while transitioning to universal elementary school start and end times from 9:20 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. It will allow the district to offer new elective courses at the high school including adding Advanced Placement Capstone Research in addition to the existing AP Capstone program.

If approved, the 2018-19 budget represents a 2.95 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s state tax levy cap. Because the district stayed within the tax levy cap, it only needs a simple 50 percent majority vote to pass the budget.

In addition to security, the district is looking to add one additional school psychologist, social worker and guidance counselor to its staffing.

The ballot will include a proposition for the use of capital reserve funds to complete a number of repairs and renovations in the district. This includes repairs to the tennis courts at Smithtown High School East and West, window replacement in the Accompsett Middle School and roof and skylight repairs at the Smithtown Elementary School.

Smithtown board of education

Two seats on the Smithtown school board have come up for re-election but only one race is contested. Newcomer Mandi Kowalik is competing against incumbent trustee Christopher Alcure for a trustee seat. Incumbent and current board President Jeremy Thode is running again for his seat unopposed.

Christopher Alcure. Photo from Alcure

Alcure is finishing his second term on the board and he is looking for a third.

“I am running for re-election in 2018 as there is still more to be accomplished,” Alcure said.

Alcure is a 15-year Smithtown resident where he currently operates a small business. In addition, he works as project manager at CA Technologies based in Islandia.

Alcure said he has two daughters currently enrolled in Smithtown schools. His experience raising his kids as well as his six years on the board, including three years as board president, has given him plenty of experience to deal with today’s challenges.

“I am battle tested and I have thick skin,” he said. “These are very important qualities for public service. I survived the economic downturn where the board had to make difficult decisions in terms of balancing the budget and making sensible cuts to programs that would not overly impact students.”

Alcure said he wants to focus on investing in additional security options for Smithtown schools, maintaining low class sizes and improving district facilities.

“I’m looking for ways to continue to improve educational opportunities for students, at all levels, on the path toward college and career readiness,” Alcure said.

Mandi Kowalik. Photo from Kowalik

Kowalik is a 14-year resident of Smithtown and a published author of the children’s book titled “Stella, Or Star: Coping with a Loss During Pregnancy.” She has worked as a school teacher for nursery school through sixth grade for 13 years before leaving to raise her three children. She has worked on a number of school committees including as area representative and member of the board for the Teacher Center of the West Hamptons.

Kowalik has one son starting kindergarten this September with two younger daughters she plans to enroll in the district.

“Our school board needs a mom with school-aged children,” Kowalik said in a statement. “My family will be attending Smithtown schools for 16 more years. I am very heavily invested in the welfare of the district.”

Kowalik said she wants to focus on security as well as the mental and physical well-being of students.

“The security of our students and staff are the most important issue that we are currently facing,” she said. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our school safe.”

The board candidate said she believes
students need time to socialize without adults actively interacting and closely monitoring them. While she said the district has explored this at some levels, she would like to continue to explore further avenues for it.

Go vote

The budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Depending on your election district, residents can vote at the Smithtown Elementary School gymnasium, the St. James Elementary School gymnasium, the Nesconset Elementary School gymnasium or the Accompsett Elementary School gymnasium.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

With residents set to vote on the school budget May 15, Three Village officials reviewed pertinent financial details at a public hearing during the May 2 school board meeting.

$209.8 million budget stays within cap

A main point is that the district will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase without the need to cut programs, Jeff Carlson, the district’s superintendent for business services, said to those gathered for the Wednesday meeting.

School board president William Connors is running unopposed for his seat on the board. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Highlights of the $209.8 million budget include measures to increase student safety and well-being and to support elementary science and music programs.

Cheryl Pedisich, district superintendent, said the district will hire an additional guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, as well as a psychologist to administer tests throughout the district to “free up” school psychologists to offer more counseling and guidance. She said security is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just infrastructure and security staff,” she said. “It’s also clinical staff.”

Three Village will receive $34.4 million — an increase of $833,579 —  in aid from the state, Carlson said.  It does not include building aid, which is tied to capital projects that vary from year to year.

The administrators said that declining enrollment at the elementary level, secondary student course preferences, retirements and administrative restructuring, all serve to ease the path for program enhancements.

A decrease of 120 to 130 elementary-age students could mean a reduction of two full-time equivalent positions in the early grades.  Pedisich said that would enable the district to add three teaching assistants to two from existing staffing as it prepares for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Lower student numbers also mean that the district can offer third-grade orchestra in the fall.

At the secondary level, changes in course enrollment could lead to a decrease of two to three FTEs, said Pedisich. As a result, the upcoming budget will be able to support an assistant athletic trainer to provide coverage for junior varsity games and seventh- and eighth-grade contact sports, as well as the addition of one full-time equivalent clerical staff member. Each junior high will have its own assistant to support the media specialists with the roll-out of the one-to-one device program that equips seventh through ninth graders with Chromebooks, the superintendent said.

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts.”

— William Connors

Additional positions include one FTE for maintenance and shifting the transition coordinator, who assists special needs students in their move to the next stage after high school, from a contract position to one that is in-house.

Administrative retirements offer the district an opportunity to save funds by combining positions, while also being more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” Pedisich said.

With the retirement of the high school chair of foreign languages, a new position that oversees foreign language and English as a New Language is being created districtwide for kindergarten through 12th grade. Similarly, the retirement of the assistant director of health and physical education, who oversaw high school programs, will result in a coordinating chair of physical education and health for elementary grades and one for all secondary grades. The district will not replace the administrator retiring from the child nutrition program, Pedisich said.

In other changes, Ward Melville High School principal, Alan Baum, will move to the North Country administrative building to become Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources. William Bernhard, principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will become the new high school principal.

Two trustees up for vote

Besides the budget, residents will also vote for school board trustees. School board president William Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka are running unopposed to hold their seats.

Connors, the father of three Ward Melville High School graduates, is running for his third term since being elected in 2012. He previously served on the board from 1994-2006 and said during a recent interview that his time on the board has taught him that the community will support a “reasonable” budget, sometimes at “great financial sacrifice.”

Deanna Bavlnka, elected for the first time in 2011, is running unopposed for her seat on the Three Village school board. Photo from candidate

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts,” said Connors, who retired from his position as associate vice president of academic affairs and college dean of faculty at Suffolk Community College in 2011.

He noted that the district offers first-rate programs, catering to all students, at all grade and academic levels, and now that also includes pre-kindergarteners. The next step, he said, is adding more vocational courses to address the needs of students whose next stop may not be college.

Connors said he takes his role as board president seriously.

“I try to present a public voice of the board,” he said. “I try to represent the board of education and what we stand for and advocate for the district.”

Fellow trustee and Ward Melville graduate Bavlnka also is proud of the district’s free prekindergarten program offered at Nassakeag Elementary School.

Director of human resources at P.W. Grosser Consulting, Bavlnka listed among the district’s recent accomplishments the elementary STEM program, establishment of writing and math centers at the secondary schools and the one-to-one device program currently in its first year at the district’s junior highs.

Bavlnka was elected for the first time in 2011, and like Connors, notes the challenge of sustaining quality programs while remaining fiscally responsible.

“As a board trustee, we represent the entire school community,” she said in an email.  Bavlnka added that the board accepts accountability for clearly representing the community “both from an educational and budgetary perspective.”

The vote for the Three Village school budget and board trustees will take place May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, and residents in W.S. Mount Elementary zoning will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High.

Superintendent Marianne Higuera discusses the proposed budget at a school board meeting. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Another end to the school year brings another round of budget votes. Local school districts adopted 2018-19 budgets saw increases with attempts to expand programs, repair infrastructure and increase security measures around campus.

All budget and board elections votes will take place May 15.

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Shoreham-Wading River

The Shoreham-Wading River board of education adopted a $74,776,072 budget, an increase of $701,500 from the 2017-18 school year.

“The district’s exceptional programs, and the performance of its students academically, artistically and athletically are a great source of pride to our community,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email. “The 2018-19 proposed budget fully maintains all current student programs and includes additional new student offerings.”

Poole said new offerings include high school electives and clubs in elementary and secondary school. The expanded budget also allocates for hiring a new middle school psychologist. The district plans to contract with an outside agency for any problems that go beyond the work of in-house psychologists.

The tax levy, or the money a district raises through property taxes to fund its budget, has dropped half a percent, a $269,775 total decrease from last school year.

In an April 18 presentation on the proposed budget, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Glen Arcuri said that the tax levy decrease is due to an increase of state aid, specifically building aid for renovations.

“The district spent money, successfully completing them as aggressively as the district was able to,” Aruci said. “This allowed the money to be returned back to the taxpayers because the formula requires the district reduce the tax levy by the return of the building aid.”

The budget also expands elementary enrichment clubs, the middle school’s chromebook program, security measures — including an anonymous reporting app — and includes money for maintenance projects and one-time equipment purchases like two new maintenance-work vans.

A budget hearing will take place May 1 at 7 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School. The budget vote will take place May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Shoreham-Wading River High School auxiliary gym, located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point board of education adopted a $86,128,785 budget, an increase of $2,842,439 from the 2017-18 school year.

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

“The proposed budget is one that was developed with an eye toward our district’s mission – to develop each child’s full potential in a nurturing and supportive, student-centered environment in order to provide a foundation for lifelong learning,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said in an email. “Our budget planning process also placed a strong focus on the fiscal health of our district and the commitment we have to taxpayers to operate in the most financially-efficient manner possible.”

The budget includes a 3.1 percent tax levy increase at $1,536,959 from last year. Board officials said that the increase stays within the tax levy increase cap.

“We kept things current,” board Vice President Scott Reh said. “We didn’t cut anything. We kept the programs in place and I think we were very responsible.”

A budget hearing will take place May 1 at 7 p.m. in the High School auditorium. The budget vote will be May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Rocky Point High School gym, located at 82 Rocky Point Yaphank Rd. in Rocky Point.

Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place

The Miller Place board of education adopted a $72,685,864 budget, an increase of $1,495,189 from the 2017-18 school year.

“The budget increase at 2 percent maintains all current academic programs, clubs and athletics, as well as maintaining our capital project planning, and we’re pleased we’re presenting that within the tax cap,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said.

Under the proposed budget the tax levy will see a 2.8 percent increase of $1,261,274 from the previous year. The increase stays within the tax levy increase cap, meaning a cap-piercing vote won’t be necessary.

The proposed budget plan include a $530,000 transfer to capital funds, boasts the inclusion of new initiatives, including new high school courses Chemistry Honors, Virtual Enterprise — a course on learning about global business and enterprise — and Engineering Design using VEX Robotics, which design kits used to design automated devices and robots.

“They’re there to address interest in different programs,” board President Johanna Testa said of the new classes. “Science Technology Engineering and Math is a big interest in our community — robotics falls right into that area. It’s trying to be timely and up-to-date with what’s going on in our world.”

A budget hearing will take place May 8 at 8 p.m. at Miller Place High School. The budget vote will be May 15 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School gym, at 191 North Country Rd. in Miller Place.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai

The Mount Sinai board of education adopted a $60,203,745 budget, an increase of $931,220 from the 2017-18 school year.

Earlier projections put the total budget at $60,469,490, but an increase in state aid, as well as a number of retiring Mount Sinai teachers. have brought the total down.

The largest increases in this year’s budget came from security improvements, including finalizing a bid to hire armed guards. One of the top bids is from the Hauppauge-based security firm Pro Protection Security Inc.

“We just feel that it’s important to have anything that’s a deterrent,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “When they’re not just in the building, but they’re actually checking ID’s at the gate, it gives people a second thought.”

The budget vote will also include two propositions to be voted on. One is a $750,000 increase to the capital reserve, and the other is a $5,000,000 capital project, coming from the unassigned fund balance, to pay for partial renovations to the high school roof, as well as improvements to the turf, track, bleachers, press box, sidewalks, nets and concrete plaza, while also enhancing security features like perimeter fencing and gates around the school property.

There is a tax levy increase of 1.95 percent, an increase of $766,589 from the previous year.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that it will pass,” board President Lynn Capobianco said. “I think it’s a fiscally sound budget.”

Capobianco was concerned that residents voting on the two other propositions would misunderstand what they are voting for.

“The capital project funds do not come out of the budget,” she said. “It will not raise the tax levy.”

A budget hearing is scheduled for May 8 at 8 p.m. at the middle school auditorium. The budget vote will be May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Mount Sinai Elementary School, located at 118 North Country Rd. in Mount Sinai.

This version corrects the time and place of the Mount Sinai School District budget vote.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File 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.

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.

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.

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

Residents have found their choices have narrowed regarding the historic Briarcliff property.

At a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School April 11, board members sat at multiple tables with groups of community members to engage in discussions on whether to keep or sell the 10.54-acre property. 

“How much do you want to do to maintain it?” Shoreham resident Lisa Geraghty asked.

Briarcliff Elementary School closed its doors in 2014. Since then, the district has had to pay for ongoing operating costs — currently $95,000 annually.

“If you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

— Glen Arcuri

The district originally came up with several ideas for the future use of the building, like having BOCES lease it, relocating the central office there or establishing prekindergarten classes in the space. Eastern Suffolk BOCES has officially stated it does not need to lease a building, and the district said there is no immediate need to relocate its central office. After residents spoke at the March 27 meeting, it was also decided that pre-K was a rejected addition to the proposed budget.

At prior meetings when the future of the Briarcliff property was brought up, community members came forward with ideas to create special education, STEM or art programs there or relocate the North Shore Public Library to the site to expand space at the high school. The additional space is not needed, and the other options were also turned down, according to the district. 

“Part of the issue is the North Shore Public Library is not just Shoreham-Wading River’s library, so it needs to be visible for other people in the local community,” school trustee Erin Hunt said.

If the district were to sell it, the actual value of the property cannot accurately be determined, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

“At this time as the appraisal company said, there’s no [comparison] to a 10.9-acre property in the Village of Shoreham that you’re really able to compare to, so they could give you a price based on square footage or acreage, but the real question is going to be on the buyer,” Arcuri said. “Understand from a district perspective, if you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials pair off with community members to have roundtable discussions about the future of the Briarcliff building April 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some residents fear the zoning of the town would change if the building were sold.

“I think these ideas should conform to the current zoning on the property,” Shoreham resident and developer Larry Kogel said. “I don’t see why they couldn’t come up with a value for the board as a worst-case scenario, because anything else would require petitions of zonings or change of zonings that would probably not fly with the residents in the community.”

There is opportunity to lease the property, according to the district, but that would incur new costs from
maintenance and realtors, and would take time for capital costs to be recovered.

There is also the option to attain a historical landmark status for the property, but that may create restrictions for owners, and historical designation grants are highly competitive.

Shoreham resident and member of the board of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, Dave Madigan,
was among those who said he would rather have the building remain in the district’s hands.

“As a community member I would rather just see the building remain in storage for a better day, until you find a user who would want to lease the property as a school or preschool,” Madigan said. “Something
may come up where somebody may want to use it as a private school. Who knows what the future brings?”

Superintendent Gerard Poole said discussions will continue at future board meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for April 18 in the Prodell Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m.

District hoping for details on Brookhaven, LIPA settlement before finalizing 2018-19 spending plan

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

An announcement by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) April 3 was supposed to provide clarity, but it has done anything but.

Romaine announced during his State of the Town address Brookhaven had reached a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. While in the midst of preparing its 2018-19 budget, Port Jefferson School District officials said in a statement they were caught off guard by the announcement and, as a result, the board of education moved to delay
adopting its proposed budget during a meeting April 10. The board will hold a special meeting April 18, when the budget will be presented before a vote to adopt. School budgets must be submitted to New York State no later than April 20.

“We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement.”

— Paul Casciano

“When you plan to make reductions, you need to know how much to reduce,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “That is the problem with what the town announced, because essentially what the town announced was that they reached a tentative deal. We don’t know what the terms of that agreement are — as a matter of fact, there is no agreement. That’s what we have learned. There are a lot of things that have been talked about at the town level. We have been spending a lot of time trying to find out what the details are.”

Town spokesman Kevin Molloy refuted Casciano’s claim that a deal is not in place.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed,” he said in a phone interview. “The town has sought state aid as part of this agreement. This state aid was not included in the recently adopted budget. We are continuing to work with LIPA for a settlement to this case that is fair for our residents and uses any funds from this settlement to reduce electrical charges to ratepayers.”

The town has not shared details about the agreement in principle publicly.

Casciano was asked by resident Rene Tidwell during the April 10 meeting if the district had long-range plans to address the likelihood it will be losing a chunk of the annual revenue the district receives as a result of the power plant’s presence within the district.

“I’m deeply concerned that this potentially devastating issue has not been more proactively addressed in the years since it was first initiated,” Tidwell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

Casciano strongly pushed back against the idea the issue hasn’t been a top priority for the board and administration.

“We have an agreement in principle, it has not been finalized or signed.”

— Kevin Molloy

“The plan is very simple — you cut staff, which results in cutting programs,” he said, though he also put the onus on residents to prepare for possible future tax increases. “There comes a time where it’s not all going to be the school district
cutting programs and cutting staff. At some point, taxpayers — and it may be this year — are going to see an increase in their taxes. We don’t assess. The town assesses. The village assesses.”

Board president, Kathleen Brennan, also disagreed with the idea the board has not been prepared to deal with the LIPA situation.

“I’ve been a board member for eight years,” she said. “Going back those eight years on that board and every subsequent board, this board has addressed the issue head on and has done things that you haven’t read about on our website.”

Board member Vincent Ruggiero first motioned to remove budget adoption from the BOE agenda.

“Given the uncertainty and the fact we don’t have a clear answer from Brookhaven, we have a week that we can adopt this budget, I’m just proposing that we wait as long as we can for some type of response, although we probably won’t get one, and hold the vote next week,” he said.

The public portion of the special April 18 meeting of the BOE will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Shoreham-Wading River school district Superintendent Gerard Poole, second from left, and the board of education. Photo by Kevin Redding

The board of education was met with loud cheers and a round of applause for its decision March 27.

Shoreham-Wading River school district added pre-kindergarten classes in its initial 2018-19 budget, but after receiving backlash from parents, the board unanimously voted to remove it from the plans.

“I’m a firm believer in early childhood education,” said Shoreham resident Megan Rowick, who said she attended the March 20 meeting in favor of the idea, but that her feelings quickly changed. “There are great benefits for social, emotional and cognitive development, and while not mandated by New York State I feel that pre-K is a gift.”

She explained what changed her mind.

“I absolutely support public education and I am a big proponent of a pre-K program in Shoreham-Wading River. But it’s our job not to push our own agenda, and I hear what the community is saying and want to make a decision based on that.”

— Erin Hunt

“When I saw the plans I immediately had concerns, and I know I’m not alone,” said the pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade teacher, whose son and 3-year-old daughter will have gone through pre-K programs. “Why wasn’t the community surveyed to see who has children that will be 4 years old before Dec. 1 and who would be interested in this pre-K program? It would have been helpful to gather information prior to this, then you would know how many sections you really need, or who would choose our program.”

The board of education announced at its March 20 meeting the plan was to include the addition of part-time pre-K classes into the district’s $74,776,072 budget draft. To fund the proposed program and avoid piercing the tax levy increase cap while keeping at the current 0.9 percent increase budget-to-budget, $270,000 in contingent funds was worked into the draft. Kindergarten class sizes would have increased at Miller Avenue School to clear classrooms for the program.

Residents questioned if the district had done sufficient research.

Wading River resident Robin Heavey said she was concerned, since the program was set to begin with an expectation of declining district enrollment, that if the trend were to reverse, the larger class sizes would place a burden on the teachers and their students.

“I do not think it is fair to those children, especially at such a tender age when they are learning reading and mathematics and things that require such attention from teachers, to put them in a situation where they are increasing their numbers for a non-essential and a non-required program,” she said.

Colette Grosso agreed that there’s no crystal ball for what enrollment would look like, and added she would prefer to see the money spent elsewhere.

“When you say the money could be used for this [pre-K] program or things that come up as needed, I’m just wondering why some of our needs over the past couple of years have not been addressed,” the Shoreham mother said. “We’ve had two suicides, I can’t even quantify how many suicide attempts we’ve had, several of which have been this year.  You’ve got kids in the hospital for anxiety, eating disorders, all kinds of things — with the current climate, don’t we think security and mental health staff would be the best use of this money?”

Wading River resident Nick Gallucci pointed out the elected representatives on the board campaigned on a message of financial responsibility last year. He asked the board if pre-K would not just be economically feasible now, but five years from now.

“I think pre-K is an essential element to a child’s education,” he said, adding his two children have gone to pre-K through a private organization in Wading River. “My belief right now is that this is getting rushed to get passed when there is a general distrust in the district’s spending habits. Tying pre-K into a budget in a rushed manner regardless of the negative tax cap only fosters that district and strays far for the 2017 hashtag #RestoreTheFaith.”

The 17-year public education high school teacher pointed out how last year’s budget just passed with a close 1,112-992 vote and said while he originally indented to stand up in front of the board and ask that pre-K be a separate proposition in the budget vote, he understood it is no longer an option after the district decided it would be packaged within the budget. He said, looking at the issue like a patchwork quilt — trying to do a lot with a little — he now sides with those who wanted pre-K removed from the budget.

“My belief right now is that this is getting rushed to get passed when there is a general distrust in the district’s spending habits.”

— Nick Gallucci

“My fear is heading into this budget that they are going to vote on one issue, and I don’t want my child’s education within this district being jeopardized by a program that is already existing within this community,” he said. “Perhaps our focus should be on things that cannot be replicated.”

Board of education president Robert Rose agreed that while no one could argue with the merits of a pre-K program, the process left much to be desired.

“Why the rush?” he asked before then asking the board if it was unanimous in removing the item from the budget. “The board should give the same about of time to pre-K like we are the future of the Briarcliff building. Are we really prepared? We’re putting the horse before the cart.”

Rose said Superintendent Gerard Poole recommended to the board on three separate occasions to hold off including pre-K in the budget — that it wasn’t the best fit this year. Rose said Poole also made the recommendation the board take the next six months to work with the community on the idea.

“We want to make sure it’s the most transparent process possible,” he said.

Trustee Erin Hunt, who proposed the idea after hearing the desire for a program from other residents, personally agreeing, said she appreciated the feedback and is thankful that the past two meetings people had shown up.

“I wish the conversation went differently — I absolutely support public education and I am a big proponent of a pre-K program in Shoreham-Wading River,” she said. “But it’s our job not to push our own agenda, and I hear what the community is saying and want to make a decision based on that. To potentially sacrifice the negative levy for a program I personally believe in I think is a mistake. I would never want a budget, especially this one, which is an outstanding budget, to fail.”

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