Education

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents said “yes” to the proposed $215 million budget for the 2019-20 school year Tuesday.

The usually sparsely attended meeting to certify the budget vote drew a number of parents, students and community members who wanted to voice concerns about a possible staffing change in health and athletics.

As expected, incumbent Jonathan Kornreich and newcomer Vinny Vizzo, who ran uncontested for two school board seats, were elected for three-year terms. 

Of the 2,087 votes cast, 1,559 voted in favor of the budget and 528 voted against it. 

Next year’s budget stays within the 2.53 percent cap on the maximum allowable tax levy increase and requires no cuts to programs or staffing for budgetary reasons, district officials have said.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, discusses the proposed 2019-20 school district budget at the April meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The $158.9 million tax levy makes up the bulk of the district’s revenue. Funding from the state, which includes building aid, is $46.6 million. State aid, not including money for capital improvements, increased by $287,729. Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said this is consistent with the 0.8 percent average increase in aid since 2009. 

The district will earn about $6.2 million in revenue from other sources such as tuition from school districts whose students attend Three Village schools, school-age child care and other district-run programs and enrichment. A sum of $3 million from the district’s fund balance account has also been budgeted as revenue.  

A new source of revenue in the coming year will be Patriots Plus, a tuition-based, half-day enrichment program to extend the day for students who attend the district’s free prekindergarten — also half-day. With a fee of $500 a month, the program will be self-sustaining, Carlson said.  

The prekindergarten curriculum, currently offered at Nassakeag Elementary, will expand to all five of the district’s elementary schools in the fall, at no additional cost to the district.

Next year, Three Village will also add a sixth-grade guidance counselor to circulate among the five elementary schools, and the high school will offer a new musical theater class.

Potential changes to staffing are the result of enrollment and student requests, Carlson said. Even so, changes would be small — possibly a reduction of two full-time equivalents at the elementary level and two to three FTEs at the secondary level, he said.

School board

Kornreich, chair of the school board’s audit committee, has been a trustee since 2008. “I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to represent the community and am looking forward to working with a board that puts the needs of children first,” he said Tuesday night. 

Earlier this year Vizzo, after 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the district, retired from his position as principal of R.C. Murphy Junior High School. When he officially begins his term on the board this July, he will assume the seat vacated by Angelique Ragolia. 

“In my new role as board trustee, I look forward to working with my board colleagues to sustain the excellence of our district and will continue to advocate for all students,” he said in an email.

Administration

While attendees of Tuesday’s meeting awaited the election results, parents, coaches, students and alumni gathered to speak on behalf of Peter Melore, executive director health, physical education, recreation & athletics for the district. They expressed concern that he may not be returning to his position next year. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said in a statement, “We certainly value and respect the feedback of our community. However, we are unable to comment on personnel issues.”

In other news, Karen Mizell was named the principal of Setauket Elementary School, and Deana Rinaldi Spanos was appointed as assistant principal of the school.

Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District residents passed the district’s $257,435,446 budget, 1,513 to 545.

The 2019-20 budget stays under the tax levy and is a more than $7 million increase from last year’s budget.

The tax levy increase is 2.47 percent, and according to the board, there will be no reduction of programs or services and includes a multiyear contract for transportation.

Part of the proposed budget includes $189,419,536 for salaries and benefits, $19,514,657 for BOCES, $18,377,310 for debt service and $24,446,737 for contractual items, tuition and transfers.

In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Robert Feeney, Kristopher Oliva and Dawn Sharrock won their seats back, with 1,501, 1,424 and 1,463 votes, respectively.

Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold commented on the results in an email.

“Thank you to the entire Middle Country community for supporting the district’s 2019-2020 budget and the ever-expanding opportunities we are able to offer our students,” Gerold said. “The district’s board, central administration, teachers and staff members will continue to provide students with an educational experience — based on the principle of empowering the problem solvers of tomorrow — from the moment they enter pre-K to the day of their high school graduation.

“This is all made possible by the community’s continued support and years of thoughtful financial planning and sound decision making — allowing for a budget that was below the district’s tax levy cap while still offering our expansive programs and services. The district looks forward to many more years of playing a role in helping your children reach their goals and preparing them for a promising future,” she added.

Mount Sinai School District

With a vote of 1059 to 322, the Mount Sinai School district convincingly passed its $61,009,770 budget, a 1.34 percent increase from last year.

In addition to the budget, the public voted 1,141 to 228 to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board are proposing 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. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

“I feel much better that the turnout [this year] beats the 960 from last year,” Brosdal said. “You can’t assume [the budget] is always going to pass, I was concerned about the bond.”

Brosdal said he is hopeful that the voter turnout is on the upswing. 

“We got over 1,300 voters this year, maybe we’ll get 1,400 or more next year,” he said. 

With five candidates running for three open trustee seats, board member Anne Marie Henninger, who replaced trustee Michael Riggio, secured re-election to the board with the highest vote tally of 790. Challengers Lisa Pfeffer and Robert Pignatello claimed the other two available seats with 713 and 662 votes, respectively. The race for the last seat was a close one with challenger Chris Quartarone coming up short with 655 votes. Longtime board member Lynn Jordan failed to secure re-election this year with 628 votes. 

“I’m very humbled,” Henninger said. “I had a lot of people pulling for me and I’m excited to get back to work, we have a lot to do.”

Pignatello said he was happy with the voter turnout this year for the budget. 

“I’m looking forward to working together with the board and do what’s best for the children and the community,” he said. 

Pfeffer said she is looking forward to serving on the board and doing what’s best for
the community. 

“I’m excited to be working with this group on the board and I’m just going to hit the ground running,” she said. 

Miller Place School District

With the Miller Place School District proposing a $73,958,607 budget, an increase of more than $1.2 million from the current year’s amount, residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget 610 to 173.

This year’s total tax levy amount is $46,928,588, an increase of $638,534 from last year and sticking directly to a 1.38 percent tax levy cap. 

“On behalf of the board of education and district administration, I would like to thank the entire Miller Place-Sound Beach community for their support of the 2019-2020 school budget,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. 

Two seats were open for this year’s Miller Place school board election, and two incumbents ran unopposed. Both seats will be up for three-year terms starting July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.  Incumbents Johanna Testa, who this year served as the board president, and Noelle Dunlop secured their seats with 657 and 636 votes, respectively.

Testa said she was pleased that this year’s budget passed by 78 percent. 

“I feel really excited and I’m looking forward to a third term and continuing to advocate for the community and district,” she said.

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Rocky Point residents passed the school district’s $86,743,446 with a vote of 703 to 213. The new budget is a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount but a $1.3 million increase in the tax levy.

“The district is once again extremely grateful to the community for its overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “This plan is one that will enable Rocky Point to continue to provide enriching academic opportunities for all students and a co-curricular program geared toward supporting student interests.”

Debt services 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. 

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. 

Rocky Point had two open trustee seats this year. Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, decided not to run for re-election. Veteran board member Susan Sullivan nailed down a three-year term with 618 votes. Challenger Jessica Ward secured the one-year term seat with 551 votes. Michael Lisa came up short with 410 votes. 

“I’m very excited to be on the board and I’m looking forward to working closely with our new superintendent,” Ward said.  

Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River school district residents resoundingly decided to pass this year’s $75,952,416 budget with a 1,129 to 329. The new budget is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure.

The district said the new budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse and new electives for high schoolers.

“I am very grateful to the Shoreham-Wading River community for their ongoing support of our students and school district,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Our students have a longstanding tradition of achieving academic, artistic and athletic success. This approved budget will allow us to continue to build upon that legacy while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Six people ran for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. 

Incumbent board president Michael Lewis was re-elected to a one-year term with 652 votes, while challenger Meghan Tepfenhardt received the highest votes with 744 and secured a three-year term. Thomas Sheridan also secured a three-year trustee seat with 691. Challengers who did not win election were Edward Granshaw who received 471 votes, Jennifer Kitchen with 568 and Bill McGarth with 603.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

With the final voters leaving the polling stations at the stroke of 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson School District residents passed the $43,936,166 2019-20 budget with 559 for and 160 against.

In addition to the vote, the second proposition to use $3.6 million in funds from the capital reserve fund for high school roof repairs passed 591 to 125.

Results of the budget are read to board members. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new budget is a 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget, and 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 have said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations.

“I have two words, thank you,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. This will be the last budget overseen by the Casciano, as his position will be filled by incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan in October. “The board and administration worked hard to make a budget the public would be receptive to, and apparently we were.”

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 the 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.

District keeps two incumbents, elects one newcomer

Much less controversial than last year’s election, Port Jefferson residents decided to keep two current members of the board and vote in one newcomer.

Incumbent trustee Ellen Boehm, a seven-year member of the board, was again asked to take her seat securing 521 of the votes. 

“I’m pleased with the positive confidence of the residents in Port Jefferson,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp is sworn in. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ryan Biedenkapp, who had been appointed to the board to replace resigned board member Adam DeWitt, was elected to the board to serve out the rest of DeWitt’s term, ending June 30, 2020. His seat will be up for election come that time. Biedenkapp was sworn in for the first time the night of the election.

“I’m honored the town saw fit to bring me back,” Biedenkapp said. “I look forward to serving the kids, all of the kids.”

Newcomer Randi DeWitt, a teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School, will be taking the post as board member thanks to a vote of 473. 

“I thank the community for their belief in me, and I look forward to working with the rest of the board members,” she said.

Mia Farina was the last candidate standing, securing only 291 votes. She said she plans to run again for the board next year as well.

“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported and voted for me even though I did not make the board this time,” Farina said in a Facebook post. “I have made so many new friends and learned so much through this campaign. So many people have helped and supported me with inspiring words.”

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Comsewogue school district voters resoundingly passed its 2019-20 budget with a vote of 660 to 152.

The district’s second proposition to create a capital reserve fund also passed with high margins, 656 to 150.

The new budget of $93,974,755 is an increase of $2,027,025 from last year and includes a $57,279,755, a 2.2 percent increase from last year and below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

“The budget passed by 81 percent, the highest margin it has ever been at Comsewogue,” Superintendent Joe Rella said. “I just want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart for supporting us.”

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photo

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

District re-elects incumbents

Being uncontested, current trustees Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter maintained their seats.

Shoreham-Wading River, Hauppauge and Northport-East Northport schools take home honors

More than 440 science projects from 100 Suffolk County elementary schools filled the rooms of Brookhaven National Laboratory on May 4 for the research center’s 2019 Elementary School Science Fair. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and coordinated by the lab’s Office of Educational Programs, the projects were judged by Brookhaven scientists, engineers and technical staff, as well as teachers from local elementary schools. One student from each grade was selected as a finalist.

Connor Nugent, a kindergartner from Miller Avenue School in the Shoreham-Wading River school district, won first place for his project titled “Spaghetti Strength,” while first-grader Audrey Leo of Lincoln Avenue Elementary School in the Sayville school district beat out the competition with her project, “Knot Again.”

 Zachary Lister, a second-grader from Miller Avenue School, Shoreham-Wading River school district, wowed the judges and captured first place with “Slippery Sock Science,” while third-grader Matthew Pokorny of Norwood Avenue Elementary School in Northport-East Northport school district grabbed first in his grade for “Rock and Barrier Waves.”

Liam Dwyer, a fourth-grader from Norwood Avenue Elementary School in the Northport-East Northport school district garnered first for “Rip Rap Paddywhack,” and fifth-grader Pranav Vijayababu, from Bretton Woods Elementary School in the Hauppauge School District won for his project titled “Race to the Future Hydrogen Fuel Cell.”

James Bulger, a sixth-grader from Robert Moses Middle School in the North Babylon School District rounded out the top six with “Nano-Remediators: Using Nanotechnology to Remediate Oil Spills.” 

In addition to the first-place winners, selected students received honorable mention for projects that ranged from “Rubber Chicken Olympics” to “Voice Recordable Smoke Detectors.” 

Ella Henry, a fifth-grader from J.A. Edgar Intermediate School in the Rocky Point school district, said she did her project on acid rain because she loves plants and cares about the environment. “My project took me 14 days to do. I didn’t win today, but I had fun and I loved caring for the plants,” she said. “Science is my favorite subject and I hope to be a zookeeper when I grow up.”  

Ella’s brother, John, a kindergartner who attends Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School in the Rocky Point school district, also had a project in the lab’s science fair. “I used LEGOs to learn that earthquakes can knock over towers,” he said.

Lucas Renna, a fifth-grader from East Moriches Elementary School, was excited that he got to attend the lab’s science fair. “My project was about creating bioplastic spoons to help reduce waste pollution in our environment. I really care about the animals in the ocean, so I want to find a way to help reduce trash. I hope I can be a veterinarian when I grow up.”

While students and parents were waiting for the award ceremony to start, the lab held a science expo with hands-on science activities. 

“There is some ‘down’ time while the projects are being judged and we are waiting for the awards ceremony to start,” explained David Manning, director of the lab’s Stakeholder Relations Office.

“We thought this was a good opportunity to share the excitement of some of the science being done here … and encourage these young students to think about a career in science, technology, engineering, or math,” he said, adding, “We were happy that many of the students and their families participated in the expo. It was a great day at the lab.”

For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov.

Above, incoming superintendent Scott O’Brien. Photo from RPUFSD

Beginning in July, the Rocky Point school district will have a new superintendent for the first time in over 10 years, after longtime superintendent Micheal Ring announced his plans to retire at the end of the school year. 

Scott O’Brien, who currently serves as the district’s interim assistant superintendent, who has nearly two decades of educational experience in the Rocky Point school district, said he was honored to be selected as the new superintendent as it has been a position he has respected and held in high esteem.  

“Having been a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent in this district has made the transition into the superintendent position exciting and very personal,” he said. “I have worked with most of the staff in one capacity or another and know the majority of families in the community. I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to provide our students with an outstanding educational experience and the staff with the tools and support to achieve these goals.”

O’Brien’s journey in education began in college when he initially explored a career path in landscape architecture. He quickly discovered that his true calling was education after taking a college elective and taking part in a classroom observation.

“The sense of wonder and exploration that was in the room was palpable,” the upcoming superintendent said. “I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a part of the educational environment and help to enrich the lives of tomorrow’s leaders and support learning for all students.” 

The new superintendent has cherished that decision ever since. 

“My evolution through the years — from classroom teacher to administration — has been a natural progression, as I consider myself a lifelong learner,” he said. “Much of what I have experienced over this time has impacted the way I approach my job and ultimately was the driving force behind my decision to follow the path to the superintendent position.”

O’Brien said, “Rocky Point has always felt like a home away from home.” His grandparents lived in the town and he often visited them during his childhood. Throughout his time in the district he has gotten to know community members and expects to build on those relationships. 

The new superintendent said he feels fortunate to have worked alongside Ring and learn from him. 

“I firmly believe that our district is well-positioned to build upon its tradition of excellence well into the future as a result of Dr. Ring’s leadership,” he said.   

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

With retirement close by, Ring reflects on career at Rocky Point  

“Serving the Rocky Point schools community for these past 11 years has been a privilege and a pleasure,” Ring said. 

The outgoing superintendent said the most fulfilling aspect of being in the position is working with teachers, administrators and support professionals to create and implement new and enhanced instructional and academic support programs to improve opportunities and outcomes for all students. 

“I will truly miss this process, as well as witnessing the results once these programs are instituted,” he said.

Some of the things Ring is most proud of is what he called closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities and those who were economically disadvantaged. Also, over the years he said the district has substantially expanded opportunities for academic rigor through the nearly doubling of Advanced Placement course offerings, implementation of a science research program spanning grades 7 to 12, and supporting each student in pursuing more challenging curricula. As a result, students are graduating with impressive transcripts and the district has experienced a 38 percent increase in the number of Advanced Placement scholars and a 23 percent increase in graduates receiving Regents diplomas with advanced designations.

Ring added there was no better choice to succeed him than O’Brien.  

“His depth and breadth of experience both as an educator and as a member of the Rocky Point schools community position him to continue to move the district forward to even greater levels of success for all of our students,” he added.  “There is no doubt that the future of the district will be bright under his leadership.”

Ring has no specific plans for retirement other than to have more time with family, but said he will miss being around the students, both in the classroom environment and in extracurricular activities. 

“They are why we all come to work every day,” he said. “Watching their growth academically, socially, emotionally and otherwise is what inspires all of us.”

Kings Park High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Three candidates vie for two open seats on the Kings Park school district board of education.

Registration will be held every Monday through Friday in the office of the district clerk, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The last day to register to vote is May 16.

If you are a resident of the district and are registered to vote with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, then you are automatically qualified to participate in the budget vote and trustee election. 

Pam Deford (incumbent) 

Deford has lived in Kings Park for the past 24 years and has a daughter who attends the district. Currently, Deford works as a second-grade teacher in the Northport-East Northport School District and has been an educator for 25 years. She has been a Girl Scout leader for the past five years and a member of the PFA at Kings Park High School. Deford is currently seeking re-election after serving the board for the past five years and has been board president for the past four. 

“I will continue to utilize my educational knowledge in advocating for the children of our community,” she said in a statement. “Under my leadership, I am proud of the work that was accomplished in establishing a legislative committee and a policy committee. I have a vested interest in ensuring our district is the very best it can be.”

Deford said as a board member she is a voice of the community and when planning the school budget, the board has to be fiscally responsible while meeting all the needs of our students.

Dan Tew (incumbent)

 Tew has lived in the district for the past 41 years with his wife Brenna and their three daughters. Tew is seeking re-election after spending three years on the board. He said his time on the board has taught him a lot about the budget process and the year-to-year constraints to put forth a balanced budget under the NYS tax cap. 

“Since my tenure we have been successful in doing such without having to sacrifice course offerings, athletic programs and extracurricular programs,” he said in a statement. “The district is very fortunate to have an excellent business office that works seamlessly with the superintendent and board of education.”

The Kings Park resident has been an active participant in the community volunteering with the Junior Achievement of New York and a member of the St. Joseph’s Parish 

Tew said being raised in Kings Park and raising my family gives him a great sense of pride. 

“Being an active participant in the community, my children’s lives and their classmates through various activities has given me a greater sense of Kings Park pride,” he said.  

Tew hopes to be able to continue this collaboration and serve the community as a fiscally responsible trustee. He stated what’s best for the students is best for the community. 

“The investment in our students is a great investment for the community,” he said. 

 JP Andrade

Andrade has been a  Kings Park resident all his life. He graduated from Kings Park High School in 2014. This is Andrade’s third time running for a board of education trustee seat. The most pressing issue facing the district, he said, is financial stability. 

 Currently, Andrade is finishing up his master’s degree at Hofstra University and is employed at Brentwood East Middle School as an assistant teacher and also coach for the boys lacrosse team. 

Andrade’s niece attends Fort Salonga Elementary and he said he’s actively involved in her education. Andrade stresses the importance of community service with all residents, especially young ones and students. He has volunteered at the Kings Park Heritage Museum and at the Kings Park Library.

“Many times over the past years, the board and community have been at a crossroads, so I want to help continue to ‘solidify a bridge’ with our elected officials at all levels,” he said in a statement. “As well as being the most transparent district on the island for our constituents.”

Andrade said his goal as a board member is to better serve students and give them the best tools to strive for greatness in the future. 

Before he began his career in education, he was involved in the political field working on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in New York City and for the advisory council at America First Policies.

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Alden Mohacsi will be traveling to the Czech Republic thanks to a scholarship. Photo from Mohacsi’s Facebook

A Port Jefferson graduate will be spending his summer in the Czech Republic, teaching high school students English thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.

Alden Mohacsi, 22, a history major at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, will be making his way to the Czech Republic this summer for the chance to teach high school students English through “art and music.”

“It’s an incredible honor to be named a Fulbright Scholar,” Mohacsi said. “I can honestly say that expression, ‘It takes a village,’ holds true for me.”

Mohacsi has been a docent at the Port Jefferson Historical Society, and thanked them, among others, for helping him make it through college. He is graduating May 19 with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in art history.

“I’m so grateful for all the help and guidance I received growing up in Port Jeff — from my teachers, coaches and mentors, the amazing team at the Performing Arts Studio, the Port Jeff Historical Society, and all the friendships and support,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with and being a part of the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program.”

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the program, which operates in more than 160 countries worldwide. Mohacsi is one of more than 2,100 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English and provide expertise abroad for the 2019-20 academic year.

Three Village budget vote is May 21. File photo by Greg Catalano

When Three Village residents vote for the school budget next week, they will see a familiar name on the ballot for board of education trustee.

Vinny Vizzo

Vinny Vizzo, a 34-year veteran of the Three Village Central School District, is running for the first time for trustee alongside current board member Jonathan Kornreich. They are running unopposed for two three-year seats. Vizzo is vying for the seat left empty by Angelique Ragolia who decided not to run this year.

Vizzo, the recently retired R.C. Murphy Junior High School principal, said that running for school board is an opportunity to give back as a member of “the community that I’ve loved for so many years, that gave so much to my children and to me. This is my home.”

The 65-year-old father of two Ward Melville graduates and his wife of 41 years moved to the Three Village area in 1988.

“What we have in Three Village is very unique,” Vizzo said during a phone interview.

As a teacher and an administrator in the district, he said he valued the “excellent working relationship” between administrators, teachers and the school board whose number one goal was to provide the best education to Three Village students.

Now assistant superintendent for the Diocese of Rockville Centre department of education, Vizzo hopes to add an educator’s perspective to the Three Village school board and serve as another resource to clarify and answer questions about mandates, school programs, language study or testing, he said.

While many in the community know Vizzo in his most recent role at Murphy, he started in the district in 1985 as a Spanish teacher at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, where he built its theater program. He went on to serve as foreign language chair at both junior highs before becoming Murphy’s assistant principal and then principal.

A longtime Spanish teacher at Suffolk County Community College, Vizzo has also held positions as the president of the local administrators’ union and vice president of the Nassau and Suffolk County Administrators Association.

Jonathan Kornreich

Kornreich, 49, who is running to retain his seat, first joined the board in 2008. He is chair of the audit committee and has also served as board vice president.

“It’s been gratifying to serve alongside a cohesive group of men and women,” Kornreich wrote in an email.

He pointed to the development of district security protocols as an important example of fruitful collaboration between the board and the administration. In his coming term, he hopes to continue to investigate the possibility of later start times for secondary schools, continue the development of the district’s business and entrepreneurial training and see foreign language instruction begin in earlier grades.

Kornreich runs a property management and investment company and sits on the corporate board of a biotech device manufacturer.  He is president of the Three Village Civic Association and was also vice president of the Suffolk County Boys and Girls Club. Kornreich and his family have lived in the Three Village area since 2005. His two daughters attend Three Village schools.

2019-20 Budget

The district has proposed a $215 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. This is a 2.51 percent increase over last year’s budget — the result of contractual salary increases, utilities and a 2 percent hike in insurance costs, Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said last month.

Even so, the budget stays within the 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase without cuts to programs. State aid to the district increased by about 0.8 percent, or $287,729, for a total package of $34.7 million, Carlson said.

New initiatives for the fall include the addition of a sixth-grade guidance counselor to be shared at the five elementary schools and a musical theater class at Ward Melville.

Three Village will also introduce a fee-based, prekindergarten enrichment program, Patriots PLUS, to supplement the district’s free half-day prekindergarten curriculum. The tuition for the self-sustaining enrichment program is $500 a month. The prekindergarten curriculum, currently offered at Nassakeag, and the Patriots PLUS enrichment program will be available at each of the elementary schools in the fall.

An additional source of revenue comes in the form of tuition for the district’s special education programs. Due to declining enrollment, Three Village has been able to offer empty seats in special education classrooms and at the Three Village Academy to students from other districts. These districts pay tuition — about $80,000 per student, an amount set by the state — to Three Village. In the 2019-20 school year, the district will see about $3 million in revenue from prekindergarten enrichment and non-resident tuition, Carlson said.

The budget vote will take place at the district’s three secondary schools Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementaries will vote at Ward Melville High School; residents zoned for W.S. Mount will vote at Murphy Junior High and those zoned for Setauket will vote at Gelinas Junior High.

Minnesauke principal

The board approved the appointment of Nancy Pickford, current Nassakeag Elementary School assistant principal and prekindergarten coordinator, to the post of Minnesauke Elementary School principal. Pickford, who joined the district in 2016, will take over for Brian Biscari, who will be the new principal at Murphy Junior High. Both begin their positions on July 1.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

This year, Mount Sinai will have five candidates running for three open trustee seats. Board member AnneMarie Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again after she replaced trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August. Board member Lynn Jordan will be vying for re-election. Challengers this year are Lisa Pfeffer, Chris Quartarone and Robert Pignatello. Mount Sinai will host its budget vote and trustee elections May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the elementary school back gym.

Lisa Pfeffer:

The challenger has lived in Mount Sinai since 1998, and had moved into the district from Centereach with her husband Robert to be closer to family and for the excellent standards. In the past, she has served as president and vice president at a local cooperative preschool and volunteers for school and community organizations. She became a Mount Sinai civic board member in 2014 and currently serves as the civics’ recording secretary. 

“I want to make sure all students are represented and that we are providing them with skills that they can take to college and that they can use in their careers,” Pfeffer said. 

Pfeffer said she is passionate about community service and, as her youngest child is attending the district, she wanted to see if she could have a voice on the board. 

One of the areas she mentioned she liked to see the district improve on is offering more STEM-based and robotics programs for students. 

“There are over 50 school districts on Long Island, including many of our surrounding districts, that are competing in robotics and in national scientific research competitions, such as Regeneron,” she said. “Mount Sinai is not one of them.” 

Pfeffer has recently been working with the superintendent and the district’s director of STEM, on finding ways that they can introduce and implement programs that will support students that are interested in learning computer coding and robotics.  

“These are fundamental programs that are necessary for our students to be competitive academically and globally,” the Mount Sinai resident said. “They open up scholarship and internship opportunities for students who are preparing for higher education and for future careers in STEM, more specifically in computer science and engineering.”

Pfeffer said they have some of the best teachers on Long Island and for being a small school district they continue to offer many academic programs. 

“I would like to find creative ways in which we can hold on to such programs and even implement new ones,” she said.  “Some solutions might be, relying more on funding through BOCES, and through our parent organizations, as well as outside community members and donors.  Also, I would like to work closely with elected representatives to try and secure more funding for the school district.”

Pfeffer said she understands the dynamic of the community after living there for so long. She has the unique experience of working with the community as a civic board member and by volunteering in school organizations and in community fundraising events. 

AnneMarie Henninger

The incumbent has been a Mount Sinai resident for the past 22 years, and she has two children in the high school currently. She is seeking re-election after serving on the board since replacing trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August 2018. 

“I am running for the board because I feel like I bring a unique perspective as a parent and someone working in education/special education,” she said. “I am used to working collaboratively with a team to achieve goals. I think that the ability to work respectably as a group is vital.”

Henninger said she wants to make sure every student in the district reaches their fullest potential and that as a whole, the board is listening to the community. 

“Communication is vital — if we don’t know what is not working or how the community feels, we can’t help so that’s an area where the board has set up,” she said.   

Henninger has learned a lot from being on the board this school year. She said it has been a great experience and would like to continue to serve the district. 

“I think that I bring a long history of volunteering and giving back to our school and our community.  I am dedicated and will work hard to communicate to the community achievements, progress and challenges we are facing as a district,” she said. 

Lynn Jordan 

The incumbent has lived in the Mount Sinai community for 44 years and has served as a trustee on the board of education since 2007. She was elected vice president of the board for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The Mount Sinai resident has dedicated a majority of time over years to volunteering. She has participated in various PTA groups, was a founding president of the Mount Sinai Friends of Art and is a volunteer first aid instructor for American Red Cross on Long Island. 

Jordan said she brings a lot of experience and dedication to the position, has a strong interest in the community, past participation in the community/school programs and activities as well as a good record of attending board meetings and voting on budgets. 

When it comes to the strength of the district, the veteran board member believes Mount Sinai has strong principals, goals and a board that isn’t afraid to ask questions.  

“We constantly review data relating to classes, accomplishments and outcomes.  We are not afraid to makes changes if necessary,” Jordan said. “Our graduation rate is very strong — more and more of our students are being accepted in highly ranked colleges and universities.”

She pointed to infrastructure as an area of weakness for the district. 

“For too many years the infrastructure of the district has been fixed with Band-Aids; we worked to correct this via a bond issue, but it was voted down,” she said. “We will now do as much of the work as possible via capital projects, which need voter approval each year.”

Jordan said she loves this work and wants to continue to contribute to the school district.

Chris Quartarone:

The challenger has lived in Mount Sinai with his wife and three sons for the past 10 years. He and his wife were drawn to the town because of the small town feel of the community. He has led a sales team for Johnson & Johnson for almost 13 years. 

Quartarone said the decision to run for board came pretty quickly. 

“Parents from a few different circles have encouraged me to run because of my involvement in the community, the ideas I have and the affable approach I have to life,” he said. “Being a father is the proudest moment of my life. I want to be certain every child in our district is considered.”

The Mount Sinai resident wants to expand the level of communication between the board and the community. He said social media is a good platform, but he thinks more face-to-face meetings and community involvement will have a greater impact. 

“Meetings with the civic association, PTO and other well-established organizations will help create a true shared vision,” said Quartarone. “As far as issues, voter turnout is a major concern. We need to get more involved.”

He believes winning begets winning, and a few small wins like more votes will create excitement and will lead to a greater impact on everyone in the community.

The trustee candidate believes the district should continue to play to its strengths. He said Mount Sinai has a strong history and because of the size of the district and community they can make things happen quickly. 

“Economies of scale may not be on our side like other districts, but if we play to our strengths we will maintain and expand on the history we have established,” Quartarone said. “Mount Sinai is an amazing place that will only get better.”

The Mount Sinai resident said he is not afraid to speak up and as someone who is new to the board, would bring fresh set of ideas and look out for every child in the district. 

“I always maintain a positive attitude and most importantly I will always be honest,” he said. “The community can expect a common voice. I will make myself available.”

Robert Pignatello:

The challenger moved with his family to Mount Sinai more than six years ago and was looking for a place to establish roots. One of the reasons he chose Mount Sinai was the blue ribbon quality of the school district and he’d like to help the district return to that level. The Mount Sinai resident has three children in the district. 

Pignatello is a former small business owner who has spent the last 24 years as a chief steward union representative for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1101. He said in a Facebook post on Mount Sinai Resident’s Open Forum that his natural preference is to find common ground through honesty, transparency and cooperation. He believes he can apply his skills and experience of representing 500 workers to the district and community. 

Pignatello said he would use his experience representing a union to go out and engage the community. 

“The most important thing is to make sure people are informed,” he said. “You want someone to go out and engage with parents and educators who is personable and has a personality.” 

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