Education

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

By Andrea Paldy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.

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Max Rutter gets the lightbulb lit inside the new science classroom at Andrew Muller Primary School. File Photo by Rebecca Anzel

The Miller Place School District announced this week it will be expanding its educational opportunities for the 2019-20 school year through the district’s newly implemented Parent Paid Pre-K Program. Presented by SCOPE Education Services, the self-supporting program will be offered at Andrew Muller Primary School and follow state pre-kindergarten learning standards with New York State certified teachers and STEAM initiatives.

“The District is thrilled to offer this educational endeavor to our parents and future students,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. “Our program represents an advanced opportunity for the young minds of our community to learn and explore early childhood education. We look forward to meeting our newest students.”

Students who will be four-years-old on or before Dec. 1 are eligible for registration at a fee of $270 per month paid directly to SCOPE. Registration can be found online at www.scopeonline.us. There is a non-refundable annual registration fee of $40 for a family’s first child and $20 for each additional child from the same family. Registration will be available to families outside of the school district, however in-district residents will receive priority placement.

The Pre-K program will take place Monday through Friday with two sessions, one being morning session at 8:45 to 11:45 a.m, and an afternoon session from 12:30 through 3:00 p.m. The District will not provide any transportation services for the Pre-K program, and guardians must provide transportation to and from the school. Families with more than one student registered for the program will receive a 10 percent sibling discount for a second child. Enrollment is limited to 18 Pre-K students per class and will be staffed with a certified teacher and teacher assistant. Meals will not be included in the program although SCOPE will provide appropriate snacks.

SCOPE representatives will facilitate an information meeting April 15 at 7:00 p.m. at the Andrew Muller Primary School café/gym for all interested parents. Additional questions parents may have regarding the program can be answered at the information session which will take place in the elementary school.

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

Board approves 2019-20 district budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—  Jessica Schmetta

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

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

Board adopts 2019-20 budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Michael Ring

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

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

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

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

Stock photo

For close to two months, more than 65 Middle Country Central School District bus drivers have expressed concerns over the district’s initial proposal to outsource bus drivers’ jobs to private bus companies.

At a recent board of education meeting March 27, district officials said they would be willing to work with the bus drivers and transportation department on the issue.

“We know you are concerned about the members of your department in light of the district’s request for proposal for vendor service options,” Karen Lessler, BOE president, said reading from a statement at the meeting. “We fully appreciate those concerns, and for that reason, we are willing to explore with the transportation department leadership whether we can make some meaningful changes in our operations that would enable us to continue to work together for the children of the district, and we hope to discuss that with you and the leadership in the coming days.”

The bus drivers, who are members of the Civil Service Employees Association, attended previous BOE meetings arguing that the proposal would be a mistake.

John Meyer, CSEA Middle Country school district transportation unit president, said that outside contractors don’t know the kids the way they do.

“We are not just bus drivers, we are like a parent, a friend and even a nurse to our kids,” he said at a BOE meeting March 13.

Angela McHale, a Middle Country school bus driver, argued outsourcing could lead to contracts with hidden costs.

“Extra expenses for field trips, special needs students and rising fuel costs could cost district the 10 to 20 percent more than what is budgetarily anticipated,” she said at the meeting.

Lessler said it is the board’s intent to reach out to leadership and begin to have some discussion regarding the inefficiencies of the department. The board president stated that it is not a targeting of the transportation department as the board looks at how every department can be more efficient and leaner due to the pressure of the tax cap.

“We certainly value the people that work in our district,” Lessler said. “At this time, we are opening that dialogue with the leadership of the department, with bus drivers, and hopefully, that will happen over the coming days, as time is of the essence for the both of us.”

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

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village is set to stay within the 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, made the announcement March 27 as he previewed the 2019-20 Three Village Central School District budget during its board meeting.

Based on numbers released Monday in the state budget, Three Village will receive about $34.7 million in state aid, not including funding for capital projects. The amount is $287,000 above last year’s aid package and $175,000 more than estimated in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal in January, Carlson said.

Among the district’s biggest expenses are retirement costs, which will decrease by about $1.2 million, and health insurance, which will increase by about 2 percent, the assistant superintendent said. Nevertheless, the district will not have to cut programs or staffing to stay within the cap, he said.

Decisions on programs and services will be based on enrollment and student need, and in coming weeks, the administration will meet with building principals to assess course requests and enrollment, Carlson said.

Next year, for the first time, the district will offer its free prekindergarten program — currently housed at Nassakeag Elementary — at each of its five elementary schools. Morning and afternoon sessions, taught by Three Village teachers, will meet for two and a half hours five days a week. This will be at no additional cost to the district, officials have said.

To supplement the program, the district will add a tuition-based, half-day prekindergarten enrichment program. The “fully self-sustaining” extended day will offer enrichment in STEM, art, music and movement during morning and afternoon sessions. Carlson said that there are already 100 students enrolled for the up to 200 spots across the district. Tuition — $500 a month — will also cover the cost of building age-appropriate playgrounds at each of the schools, he said.

The board is scheduled to adopt next year’s budget at the April 10 meeting. Three Village residents will vote on the budget May 21, at the district’s secondary schools. Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Mount Elementary, will vote at R.C. Murphy Jr. High School, while Setauket-zoned residents will vote at P.J. Gelinas Jr. High School.

New principal

Minnesauke principal Brian Biscari was appointed principal of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School. His appointment is effective July 1. Biscari will take over for Richard Pulaski, who has been serving as interim principal since Vincent Vizzo retired Feb 1. Vizzo, who was Murphy’s principal for 14 years, had worked in the district for 34 years. The district is interviewing candidates to head Minnesauke, where Biscari has served as principal since 2011, when he joined the school district.

Regeneron scholars

In other news, representatives from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals presented certificates to Ward Melville’s four Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholars — the most from any Long Island high school. The honorees were Kelsey Ge, Maya Peña-Lobel, Megan Specht and Elizabeth Wang.

Kim DeCristofaro, a representative from the company and a parent of Ward Melville graduates, thanked Three Village on behalf of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals for “continuing to provide opportunities for students to pursue scientific research.”

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal. File Photo by Kyle Barr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Former Hauppauge resident Lori Loughlin was indicted for alleged bribery in a celebrity college cheating scandal. Photo from When Calls the Heart Facebook page

By Donna Deedy

People everywhere are talking about the celebrity college admission cheating scandal, since more than 50 people were indicted last week on felony charges. Television actress Lori Loughlin — voted mostly likely to succeed in Hauppauge High School class of ’82 — was among those arrested. The situation has turned tragic for her family and the other people involved. But, as people in education often say in the face of crisis, “Let’s make this a valuable teaching moment.”

Dennis O’Hara, superintendent for Hauppauge School District, agreed to respond to a few questions about the situation. Here’s his advice to the community:

What lessons can be learned about self-worth?

The greatest lesson here is that one’s self-worth is an inside job, meaning it comes from within. If one feels less than another, or inadequate, being handed something or gaining an advantage through cheating, is when feelings of inadequacy only increase. Low self-worth is erased only through hard work and perseverance. In life, we deserve what we earn — nothing more, nothing less.

I’d like to add that integrity is priceless. Once it is given up it cannot easily be regained. In this case, the integrity of these parents, and possibly more importantly, of their children is severely compromised — in a very public way. I hope they, and current high school students, realize it was not worth it.

What messages do you want high school seniors and families in the community at-large to take away from this situation?

I would like our students to understand there is a sense of pride and real peace in rejoicing in accomplishments that are earned. Life is about a sense of purpose, about finding a calling and striving to be the best one can be in that purpose.

It’s less important to measure oneself against others than it is to strive for one’s own dreams. I have four sons, and I often remind them life will be filled with challenges, but there is no glory in the accomplishment if it was without difficulty. In essence, having something handed to you does not build self-worth.

I often say it is not about where one is at the moment that matters, but where one is headed that counts. Each day be better than the day before and everything else will take care of itself.

Regarding college admissions, parents should not look for the best window sticker. Instead, they should help their children find the college or university that is the best fit. I can tell you from personal experience this approach relieves a great deal of stress for the parents and the child. In Hauppauge, we embrace this philosophy and are proud of the effort our students are putting forth.

One last thought regarding parenting and college admissions is that I would much prefer to be judged by the kind of men my sons have become than by the college they attended.

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Parent Thali Lapidus discusses the importance of outdoor time and physical exercise at the March 13 board of education meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

As school administrators across the state begin to think about next year’s budget, Three Village Central School District officials announced last week that the district will not have to cut staffing or programs to stay within its 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said the 2019-20 district budget will be about a 2.4 percent increase on last year’s $209.8 million budget. Decisions on staffing and programs will be based on enrollment and student need, not on the budget, Carlson said at the March 13 school board meeting.

Though the assistant superintendent is not expecting an increase in aid from the state, he can anticipate the district’s higher expenses, such as health insurance and retirement costs. While retirement costs are decreasing this year, health insurance will rise 2 percent, Carlson said. Because the district is part of a self-insured consortium with a couple of other school districts, the rate is lower than the New York State health insurance plan, he said.

This year, districts in Suffolk County are required to distribute budget documents in both English and Spanish, based on the percentage of residents in the county who speak the languages, Carlson said.

In other news, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich announced the formation of a districtwide sustainability task force.

Members of the task force, which will convene in September, will include Pedisich, Carlson, director of facilities James O’ Hagan, school board trustee Irene Gische, as well as a principal, a teacher and a parent from each of the district’s schools. School-based teams will work with the schools’ PTAs to determine each building’s plans for sustainability, Pedisich said.

A group of parents from Setauket Elementary School prompted the task force. Two parents from the group spoke at the February board meeting, asking that the district forms a committee to introduce more eco-friendly practices, and educate students about reducing waste and being more conscious of their environmental footprint. As a result of their advocacy, Setauket Elementary has become the first school to begin using reusable utensils in its lunchrooms.

Last week, two more Setauket parents discussed the importance of outdoor time and physical exercise for students of all ages. Thali Lapidus, mother of three students in the district, pointed to the “mental health crisis” suffered by upper-grade students, saying they feel pressure because of grades and tests, and don’t have time to be outside or with their friends. She said they, along with younger students, would benefit mentally and physically from time outside in an outdoor classroom, or taking part in yoga, caring for a community garden or even recycling.

“The kids want to be involved,” she said. “They want to make their schools a better place, and they want to connect with the planet.”

Irene Moshkovich, a mother of two, agreed. She added that now secondary students have district-issued Chromebooks, there is “much more engagement with electronics and not enough time spent outside.” She, too, wants the district to find ways to promote more time outside during the school day.

This is an issue that the district has been addressing, Pedisich said. She and Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, have been working with elementary parents who are part of a recess focus group, she said. They have been looking at how to better use the courtyards at the elementary schools so that students have more opportunities to engage in outdoor activities throughout the year, Pedisich said.

“We are excited about working with the community,” the superintendent said about the efforts to expand courtyard use and address sustainability concerns.

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