Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northport Middle School's newly refurbished K-74 classroom. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Students can safely take a deep breath while attending classes in the newly reopened K-Wing of Northport Middle School.

Northport-East Northport school district has reopened the K-Wing of Northport Middle School for student and staff use after environmental testing for volatile organic compounds conducted by consultants J.C. Broderick & Associates Aug. 27 determined it was safe for use. The study and its conclusions were reviewed by officials in New York State’s Department of Health.

“[T]he levels of volatile organic compounds detected at the time of the sampling are well below any levels that have been associated with adverse health effects.”

— Michael Hughes

“Based on the air concentrations and information presented in the report, the levels of volatile organic compounds detected at the time of the sampling are well below any levels that have been associated with adverse health effects,” wrote Michael Hughes, a section chief in the state’s Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment, in a Sept. 4 email. “The NYSDOH therefore concurs with the conclusion in the report that staff and students occupy the K-Wing in the school.”

On Aug. 27, J.C. Broderick & Associates staff conducted volatile organic compound, or VOC, sampling in K-Wing classrooms to determine if extensive summer renovations had resolved indoor air quality concerns. The district had closed off the area for the 2017-18 school year after an earth science teacher reported smelling gasoline fumes and an investigation found the source to be a petroleum-based warehouse beneath the K-wing.

The testing was performed using 26 cannisters, according to J.C. Broderick & Associates — two in each of the classrooms, the hallway and underground warehouse to test for any hazardous airborne chemicals. The samples were then sent to York Analytical Laboratories to be analyzed and compared against five sets of guidelines.

“In the report, there were a couple of VOCs that were detected,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said at the Sept. 6 board of education meeting.

The first chemical, methyl methacrylate, was measured at 1.4 to 5.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air in four classrooms, both hallway samples and the warehouse. These levels exceed New York State Department of Health’s 95th percentile concentration of 1.1 micrograms per cubic meter based on the average found in roughly 100 Albany residential homes . The environmental experts used safety data sheets, which list any potentially chemicals found in various products used, to determine it was coming off floor wax applied to the new flooring surfaces in the K-wing.

“The sampling performed did not identify any hazardous concentrations of VOC parameters in any of the sampled locations when compared with the above referenced health-based values.”

— J.C. Broderick & Associates report

The second chemical, Styrene, was measured at 20 to 27 micrograms per cubic meter of air in the warehouse only, above the 2.3 micrograms per cubic meter of air set as the 95th percentile by the state Department of Health. The data sheets showed it was notably found in the shrink-wrap used to wrap pallet products stored in area.

Once these two chemicals were found to be above the 95th percentage, J.C. Broderick & Associates report compared its findings to four health-based guidelines, the most stringent being the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Reference Dose Concentration. The EPA’s guidelines provide an estimate of the maximum level of a VOC that can be continuously inhaled for a lifetime before adverse effects are seen and contains built in safety factors to protect sensitive groups, such as young children or the elderly.

“The sampling performed did not identify any hazardous concentrations of VOC parameters in any of the sampled locations when compared with the above referenced health-based values,” reads J.C. Broderick & Associates’ Aug. 31 report.

The methyl methacrylate found at 1.4 to 5.1 micrograms is well below the 700 micrograms per cubic meter guideline set by the EPA, as was styrene’s 27 micrograms under the 1,000-microgram limit.

Any concerned parent or staff member can find the full results of the air sampling reports and related correspondence on the district’s website at northport.k12.ny.us/district/bg_northport_ms_information.

Ayla Lerner with her brother, Miles. Photo from Fundrazr

The sister of a Northport High School student-athlete who was hit by a car Tuesday morning has launched an online fundraiser to help her brother on his road to recovery. In less than four days, it has already raised nearly $85,000.

“The response has been tremendous,” said Ayla Lerner, a junior at Northport High School. “Our local community has been absolutely amazing in showing their support.”

Lerner’s 14-year-old brother, Miles, was on his way to cross-country practice Sept. 4 when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound on Laurel Hill Road at 8:06 a.m., according to police. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

“Our local community has been absolutely amazing in showing their support.”

— Ayla Lerner

Lerner launched a FundRazr site titled “Please Help Miles Lerner’s Road to Recovery” to reach out and ask for the Northport-East Northport community’s support for her brother and her family in the aftermath of the accident.

“The media has reported that the driver who hit him is uninsured, which adds an element of financial strain,” she wrote on the website.

Miles was preparing to start his freshman year of high school Sept. 6. He was excited to be a member of Northport’s cross-country running team and Freshman Choir, according to Lerner.

“To give you a sense of his energy level, Miles participated in a three-week bike tour this past summer and biked 55 to 75 miles a day while carrying his belongings on the back of a bike,” she wrote.

After launching the website, she reached out to members of her brother’s cross-country team hoping given their connection to him, they would spread awareness of the cause and help her family. Word of her brother’s accident and her fundraising efforts has spread quickly and further than Lerner said she ever expected.

“I know all parents mock social media, but in this age, the Internet has allowed us to receive support from so many communities — we’ve received support from as far as Indonesia — they are treating us like family,” she said.

In addition to the donations, Lerner said her parents have been completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and well wishes they have been receiving. She said community members have brought her family food, offered to pack her lunch, and even reached out to offer her transportation to events like an upcoming ACT exam.

“I know that he doesn’t know it right now, isolated in his hospital room, but he is really being backed up by all the people he knows and loves.”

— Ayla Lerner

“We are incredibly gratified by the response,” she said.

Continued donations are most appreciated as the family anticipates medical bills for their son’s continued hospital care, according to Lerner. For those anxiously awaiting updates on Miles’ medical condition, the family will be hosting a table at the Northport Cow Harbor Day race Sept. 15 to share information with the community and sell navy bracelets bearing the slogan “Miles4Miles.”

“I know that he doesn’t know it right now, isolated in his hospital room, but he is really being backed up by all the people he knows and loves,” Lerner said.

Northport’s cross-country team will be participating in the Great Cow Harbor 10K race this year to show its support for Miles, according to Lerner, running the miles that he cannot.

His sister said the traumatic accident has changed her view on being an older sibling.

“Everyone has siblings, and sure, sometimes we annoy each other, but when you see your brother lying on a hospital bed in front of you, your perspective changes,” Lerner said. “I want to do everything I can to help him. I miss him.”

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Students in the Middle Country Central School District returned to school Sept. 5, and readers responded to our request for first day of school photos.

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It felt like the middle of summer outside, but Three Village Central School District students were back to hitting the books Sept. 4.

The children had a lot on their minds on the first day of school.

Hannah La Polla, a kindergartner at William Sydney Mount Elementary School, was looking forward to seeing her teacher Dawn McNally and riding the bus, according to her mother, Tara La Polla.

Then there was 10-year-old Jordyn Zezelic a fifth-grader at Nassakeag Elementary School whose eyes were on the future. She said she was looking forward to graduating in June and attending R. C. Murphy Junior High School next year.

Danielle Werner, a fourth-grader at Arrowhead Elementary School, was thinking about science.

“I am excited about making a project for the fourth-grade science fair,” Danielle said.

Courtney DeVerna, a third-grader at Nassakeag Elementary School, was in a musical mood.

“I’m looking forward to playing the viola,” Courtney said.

Her brother, Ethan DeVerna, who was starting kindergarten, was eager for the ride to school.

“I can’t wait to ride the school bus,” Ethan said. “It’s magic.”

Thank you to the Three Village residents who contributed their photos.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Suffolk County police have arrested a Northport-East Northport school district employee who allegedly while driving hit a student on his way to athletic practice at the high school Tuesday morning.

Janet Aliperti. Photo from SCPD

A 14-year-old Northport boy was walking westbound on Laurel Hill Road, when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound at 8:06 a.m. Sept. 4, according to police. The teen was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the student and we will support him and his family in any way needed,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said in message posted on the district’s website. “We will also cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department as they conduct their investigation of the accident.”

The alleged driver of the Honda, Janet Aliperti, 57, of East Norwich, was not injured in the crash. Aliperti is an employee of the Northport school district, and a LinkedIn profile listed under the same name notes her position as a food service worker.

Suffolk police arrested Aliperti and charged her with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, operation while registration is suspended, and having an uninsured vehicle. The car has been impounded for a safety check, according to police.

Northport students’ first day of classes for the 2018-19 school year is Sept 6.

As school begins for our students on Thursday, September 6, the district reminds all residents to please drive carefully as our buses and student-pedestrians will be back on the roads” Banzer wrote. “Keeping our students safe as they travel to/from school and school-related events is a top priority of the district. Let us work together as a community to ensure the safety of all of our students throughout the year ahead.”

The investigation into the crash is ongoing and police are asking anyone with information to contact the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Members of the SCSSA Executive Board met with Suffolk County law enforcement officials and lawmakers to discuss its five-point Blueprint for Action to Enhance School Safety Aug. 27. Photo from SCSSA

Superintendents in Suffolk County are trying to get their schools all on the same page when it comes to safety.

Following the particularly deadly school shooting — though just the latest in a long line of similar occurrences — that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which resulted in 17 casualties, discussions about concrete steps to enhance safety for students and staff in buildings from coast to coast have been seemingly unending. In Suffolk County, school officials have teamed up to release a five-point blueprint of actionable steps, officially recommended by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Aug. 27 to local, state and federal lawmakers.

The superintendents are calling on lawmakers to invest in the School Resource Officer program, providing additional officers in Suffolk County schools; adopt legislation that enhances campus safety, including amending the New York State Criminal Procedure Law dealing with setting bail; make the New York State SAFE Act the law of the land; support the social, emotional and mental health of children through screening programs and education initiatives; and provide institutional support to finance school safety, calling for the state to initiate School Security Aid and to exempt school safety expenditures from the tax levy limitation.

“While school safety has always been a top priority, following the horrific massacre at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, and the tragic events that followed, the importance of a strong working relationship between the police, mental health providers and public-school officials has become more important than ever,” the association said in a press release. “The SCSSA plans to continue to work together with Suffolk County law enforcement and local, state and federal legislators to turn these plans into actions that will improve school safety and the safety and wellness of all students in Suffolk County.”

In August, representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization that was founded by parents from the Connecticut elementary school to carry out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths, held a forum for the association and law enforcement officials. The purpose of the meeting was to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools.

The four strategies, which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk free of charge. Superintendents who were in attendance from several local districts pledged to further examine Sandy Hook Promise’s programs and to take steps toward implementing them.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in July, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said creating countywide standards for school security is a priority for his department.

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Children on their way to Setauket Elementary School in 1956. Photo from Larry Heinz

Larry Heinz sent a throwback photo from 1956 in honor of the first day of school.

Heinz, pictured with cap sitting next to the door, and other students were headed to Setauket Elementary School with bus driver Jess Eikov.

Eikov was the owner and operator of the bus company that serviced the Setauket Union Free School for many years, according to Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler.

 

 

 

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano addresses the Class of 2018 during graduation June 22. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District will be looking for new leadership following the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Paul Casciano announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year, effective July 1, 2019, during an Aug. 29 board of education meeting.

“As we had discussed with the board in the fall of 2016, I was willing to complete the 2016-17 school year and two additional school years as your superintendent,” Casciano wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, which was released publicly by the district in the aftermath of the meeting.

Casciano was hired during the summer of 2016, initially under an interim designation that was removed in Dec. 2016, effectively making him the permanent superintendent. Casciano took over for outgoing Ken Bossert, who transferred to a position leading the Elwood school district.

“Having the opportunity to serve the Port Jefferson School District is truly an honor and privilege of which I am extremely grateful,”Casciano wrote. “We have amazing students who attend our schools and the sky is the limit to what they can and will achieve. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far during my tenure.”

BOE President Kathleen Brennan said the board regretfully accepted Casciano’s resignation.

“I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson,” she said. “I had the opportunity to speak to the staff at the opening of school and shared with them that Dr. Casciano did not come looking for Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson went looking for Dr. Casciano when we were looking for an interim superintendent and he agreed to stay beyond the one-year interim that we had initially discussed. In fact, the board of education, the night he was interviewed, asked when he left the room, ‘Can he stay?’”

Casciano, a Stony Brook resident, had previously served as superintendent in William Floyd school district. He retired from the position about a year prior to starting with Port Jeff on an interim basis.

The board will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps to search for a new superintendent of schools, according to a district press release. Casciano said in his letter he is willing to assist in the transition to a new superintendent’s tenure beyond his set retirement date.

“When Dr. Casciano was interviewed he said, ‘I have two speeds, go and stop, and what you see is what you get — I’m not going to come in and tread water,’” Brennan said. “The board was very happy to hear that and very happy that he didn’t tread water … So on behalf of the board, I would like to thank Dr. Casciano for his service to Port Jefferson.”

Trustee Adam DeWitt resigned from Port Jeff's BOE. File photo by Elana Glowatz

If you were out enjoying the last drop of summer at the beach or on vacation you might have missed it. Port Jefferson’s board of education appointed a new member at an Aug. 29 meeting following the Aug. 1 resignation of Adam DeWitt, who was elected to a third term in May 2017.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of appointing Port Jeff resident Ryan Biedenkapp, one of six candidates who ran to fill three open seats in the May 2018 election and placed fourth. New trustee Ryan Walker was the lone vote in opposition of the appointment. He said he wanted to take more time to discuss other options, like opening up the process to interested applicants to be interviewed and selected from by the board, or holding a special election within 90 days of DeWitt’s resignation. René Tidwell, another newly minted member of the board, abstained citing similar reasons to Walker, with whom she campaigned in May.

“I think we’ve had time to discuss it, to bring up our feelings about it,” BOE President Kathleen Brennan said prior to the Aug. 29 vote, referencing a similar discussion at an Aug. 14 meeting, at which the board’s options to fill the vacancy were laid out. “I don’t think that we are rushing this. I think Mr. DeWitt resigned Aug. 1. It’s now the end of the month.”

The board’s options included leaving the seat vacant until the May 2019 vote, holding a special election at a cost of about $10,000, or appointing someone to fill the seat. Members Brennan, David Keegan, Tracy Zamek and Ellen Boehm voted in support of option three to appoint Biedenkapp based on how previous boards handled surprise vacancies in the past.

2018 BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. File photo by Alex Petroski

“I think we’ve got someone in the community who’s committed to doing it, who’s done the thoughtful work of making the commitment,” Keegan said.

Biedenkapp received nearly 500 votes in May, falling a little more than 100 votes short of Zamek, securing her the third trustee seat.
“I feel like it’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” Zamek said, who had campaigned with Biedenkapp.

The newly appointed trustee could not  immediately be reached  for comment. Although, the board president said she had been in contact with Biedenkapp and he was interested in the position. Brennan said, at the request of the board following the Aug. 14 meeting, she also reached out to trustees who recently stepped down or did not seek re-election to gauge their interest. Both declined.

Tidwell argued the board was in the unique position to appoint someone with qualifications that could be an asset to the board. She supported the idea of doing due diligence to find a new member by conducting interviews and further discussion amongst the BOE.

“I believe our board should also consider all other community members who expressed an interest in serving on the board as well as those who have served previously,” Tidwell said. “I think if this board is going to take the first steps in bridging the divide that has existed in our community, then pursing a transparent and equitable process for filling this vacancy is a first step in the right direction.”

Tidwell’s reference to a community divide was a harkening back to a Dec. 2017 $30 million bond referendum that was overwhelmingly voted down by the community. It sparked a heated community debate based on the items included in the list of proposed projects.

Walker said, in part, he was opposing Biedenkapp’s appointment because the appointee had previously been in favor of adding lights to the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road and it would be a betrayal of  Walker’s campaign message. The elected trustee added he would work with the new member if the majority were in favor, a point Tidwell also reiterated.

DeWitt said he was proud of his time on the board, adding that he learned a lot and appreciated his fellow members’ desire to better the community. He also wished his former colleagues well.

“It became increasingly more challenging to attend the meetings because of my work schedule,” DeWitt said.
He is employed as a school principal at a seventh- and eighth-grade building by Longwood school district.
“I don’t like to do anything if I can’t commit fully, it’s not fair to the community,” DeWitt said. “I wish I could continue to make the commitment.”

Biedenkapp’s appointment will run through May 2019.

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