Education

Two remain in school board race

The two remaining candidates running for one open seat on the Miller Place Board of Education opened up to the community Tuesday night during the district’s meet the candidate night.

Keith Frank photo by Barbara Donlon
Keith Frank photo by Barbara Donlon

Mike Manspeizer, 55, a former board member and Keith Frank, 50, an attorney running for the first time, answered questions from roughly 20 people in the audience during the 45-minute event.

Tom Brischler, a retired high school English teacher, announced he was withdrawing from the race on Tuesday.

Manspeizer, 55, a program manager for Cisco Systems, said board members do a lot and he wants to be there to review sensitive issues, like those discussed in executive session.

“I want to make sure we’re thoughtful about the things that we do so when personnel issues come up, we want to make sure we address that,” he said.

Frank said he is running because he’s seen how well the district has met the needs of his three children and he would like to be part of helping others as well.

“I think the main reason I wanted to run for the board this year is because I live it everyday [with his own children],” Frank said.

Residents at the meeting wanted to know what the two candidates would bring to the board. Both men felt their careers would assist them.

Mike Manspeizer photo by Barbara Donlon
Mike Manspeizer photo by Barbara Donlon

“What I will bring to the board is my 25 years experience working with businesses, working with management, working with unions, working as a labor and employment attorney, working to make everybody work together,” Frank said.

Manspeizer highlighted the contractual work he does with his company and the technology knowledge he could bring to the board. Manspeizer said his business in the tech world has given him a somewhat worldly background.

“I work with people from all over the world, different cultures,” Manspeizer said.

When a question on education reform was asked, things got tense, as Manspeizer stopped mid sentence to address an audience member who may have rolled their eyes.

“Like I said before, things are changing the world is changing. Education may stay the way it is for a while, but forces will break it eventually. So you have to … ,” Manspeizer said with a slight pause. “Yeah I mean you can come up here and you know talk if you want to if you want to roll your eyes that’s fine.”

Manspeizer went on to finish his statement. He said that because the district is a state institution, they must adhere to the law.

Frank expressed similar sentiments.

“What it really does come down to is we are guided by the law, we do have to follow the law,” Frank said. “However parents can feel the way they want to feel [and] parents can do what they feel is necessary for their child.”

In their closing remarks, the candidates thanked the community for coming out to the event and encouraged residents to come out more often.

The school board election and budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 19 at North Country Road Middle School from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Northport High School. File photo

Seven candidates vying for three seats on the Northport-East Northport school board in next week’s election got together to talk about pressing issues and field questions from the PTA Council and district residents in a forum on Tuesday evening.

Hot topics included dealing with declining enrollment, maintaining the district’s facilities and grounds, deciding what kind of relationship should exist between a school board and its superintendent, and determining the level of programs the district should offer.

It was a packed room at the Northport High School library, where the lineup of candidates included incumbents Stephen Waldenburg Jr. and David Badanes; newcomers Peter Mainetti, Josh Muno, David Stein and Michael Brunone; and former school board member Tammie Topel.

Declining enrollment is an issue facing not only Northport-East Northport; districts across Long Island are also facing the trend. Candidates had differing opinions on how to address declining enrollment, particularly when it came to consolidating programs.

Topel said it wouldn’t be necessary to cut any programs that have enough students in them. Waldenburg said the numbers “bode for scary times” and the district may need to consider closing schools. Badanes said he wanted to approach the issue from the mind-set of maintaining instead of cutting and said that the enrollment numbers projecting declines could be wrong. Brunone said the district needs to look at its fixed costs.

Mainetti, Muno and Stein said they were in favor of keeping the current programming level intact. Stein said the district needs to stop cutting its programs.

“We have to make ourselves the most competitive,” he said.

Most candidates said they’d be in favor of floating a bond to pay for maintenance and repairs to the district’s buildings and grounds. Mainetti said he’s not a huge fan of bond issues, but it would be good to involve the community if one goes forward. Topel, however, said she wouldn’t support a bond because she’s “not sure the community would go for it.”

The candidates also weighed in on what to do about pending litigation by the Long Island Power Authority, challenging the value of the Northport power plant. The utility has maintained that it’s grossly over-assessed and pays more than it should in taxes, and if successful in court, Northport-East Northport school district residents could see huge spikes in their taxes.

Candidates were asked how they would plan financially if the school district and Huntington Town lose the lawsuit. Badanes, who said he couldn’t comment in detail about the litigation, said the district’s attorneys are working on the issue, and that a loss of revenue, if it happens, would be planned over time. Brunone offered similar thoughts and said he wouldn’t be surprised if the lawsuit continued for five more years. Topel said there should be a crackdown on illegal accessory apartments in the district, many of which house families with school-aged children who aren’t paying taxes. Muno said he was optimistic about a positive resolution to the litigation.

“I really believe justice will prevail in this situation and we won’t have to resort to that type of thing,” Muno said.

Waldenburg said there’s a chance the plant could be upgraded and repowered, which would increase its value and potentially take the issue off the table.

Candidates were also asked whether it’s better to retain programs to attract people to the district or make some of the district’s programs the best around, even if the district is offering fewer overall. Most candidates said it’s important to offer a variety of programs.

“Variety of programs is what keeps a well-rounded, well-educated individual,” Mainetti said. “It’s not just STEM, it’s not just athletics, it’s not just the arts — it’s balance. We need those programs.”

Brunone said it’s important to keep the taxpayer, or the “shareholder,” in mind.

“Of course I think [we should] offer as much as we can through the budget,” he said.

Next week’s school board election and budget vote is on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Superintendent Ken Bossert explains the difficulties of measuring how iPads affect student achievement in Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson schools will put more money toward using modern technology in the classroom next year.

Following a presentation from the staff technology committee at a board of education meeting Tuesday night, the trustees approved a request to spend about $17,000 on iPad tablets and Chromebook computers to assist instruction.

The district began using iPads in elementary classrooms in the 2013-14 school year on a pilot basis. After receiving a positive response to the tablets, the school board tripled the number of tablets in the current school year, to three carts of iPads for the teachers to rotate among their classrooms. The board’s approval will bring the number of carts next school year up to four, which officials said would be the program’s final expansion — moving forward, money would be spent on replacing iPads, not adding more to the supply.

According to Christine Austen, the district’s K-12 assistant principal and a technology committee member, each teacher could potentially have the iPads for five weeks of instructional use with those four carts.

The additional iPads will mean there will roughly be one for every five students, she said.

In classrooms where teachers are using the tablets, Austen said, students are more engaged and there are more opportunities for the kids to collaborate with one another, among other benefits.

Although the school board supported the iPad expansion, President Kathleen Brennan and Trustee Bob Ramus said they wanted to see more data on the technology’s effect on student performance. Ramus pointed out that the board had requested such information during previous presentations on the iPad program.

But Superintendent Ken Bossert said the matter is not so simple.

“When we talked about what a researcher would do to develop a model to measure that impact, it would be to give a class full-time use of the iPads for all initiatives and deny another class any use and then measure the achievement levels between the two. We weren’t comfortable with that model.”

He said the district would work to get more data on student performance, but there are ways to measure how much a student is learning within different educational applications on the iPads “and we saw student growth within the apps.”

There is also a staff development element — Austen said some teachers still need training to effectively use the tablets in their classrooms, as only about 69 percent of the staff is using them this year.

Another piece of the district technology program is using laptops with older students to access Google applications. Some teachers have incorporated those free applications — which are collectively known as Google Classroom and include functions like word processing, survey, slideshow and spreadsheet tools — into their lessons already.

According to the technology committee’s presentation, the Google system makes it easy to create assignments and grade them, encourages collaboration, organizes students’ class materials and reduces the use of paper. It also “provides students an opportunity to engage in an online learning environment prior to attending college.”

Austen said the district would like to start replacing “aging laptops” with Chromebooks, which run on Google software and have the applications built in. They are also less expensive than other laptops and run faster.

Roughly two-thirds of the cost for the Chromebooks, Bossert said, will be covered by state aid.

Two candidates remain

Tom Brischler. Photo from Brischler

Just one week before the election, a Miller Place school board candidate has withdrawn his petition to run for the one open seat on the board.

Tom Brischler withdrew his petition on Tuesday, according to a district spokeswoman. In a phone interview, Brischler said he pulled out of the race for personal reasons. The news comes just hours before a meet the candidate night at the high school.

According to a press release from the district, petitions to run can still be filed until 5 p.m. on Tuesday and are available at the district office, 7 Memorial Drive, Miller Place.

Last month, Brischler, a retired high school English teacher, said he decided to run for the board because he felt public education was in jeopardy. He said he hoped to bring shared decision making come back to the Miller Place school district.

Two candidates — Michael Manspeizer and Keith J. Frank — remain. Manspeizer, a program manager for Cisco Systems, is a former school board member and 10-year Miller Place resident. Frank is an attorney and is running for the first time

The election and 2015-16 budget vote will take place on May 19 at North Country Road Middle School.

Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown districts’ numbers dip while Huntington reports increase in students last year

Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Enrollment numbers are in flux for western North Shore school districts like Commack, Huntington, Kings Park and Smithtown, but superintendents are planning accordingly for the future.

A Western Suffolk BOCES report released in March pegged an overall 6.9 percent decline in enrollment numbers of elementary and middle school students from 89,532 in 2008 to 83,336 in 2014. Some of the districts suffering the larger numbers of enrollment dips included Commack, Kings Park and Smithtown — the largest district under the Western Suffolk BOCES region — but Huntington’s district, however, was named one of only three districts to see an enrollment increase over the last few years.

Overall regional enrollment is projected to decline by 5,396 students, or 6.5 percent, over the next three years, as elementary and middle school enrollment figures progress through the system, according to the report.

“The number of births in Suffolk County declined from 21,252 in 1990 to 15,521 in 2013 (preliminary data),” the report said. “Smaller kindergarten classes replaced larger exiting twelfth-grade classes each year since 2008. As these smaller cohorts continue to move through the system, losses are projected in elementary, middle and secondary grade enrollment from 2014 to 2017.”

Commack and Kings Park each suffered a little more than 13 percent dips in enrollment between 2008 and 2014, the report said — the greatest losses of any Western Suffolk BOCES district during that time. But Timothy Eagen, superintendent of schools for the Kings Park Central School District, said there was no need for panic.

Eagen said his district hit historical enrollment numbers back in 2006 at 4,192 students and then saw that figure slowly drop over the following years to 3,511 this year. Looking ahead, Kings Park projected 3,391 enrollment by the coming September.

“The reason for the enrollment decline is fairly simple,” Eagen said. “The incoming kindergarten class has been smaller than the graduating twelfth-grade class of the previous year since 2007.”

Eagen said enrollment numbers should stabilize in the not-too-distant future, as the district moves forward with a staff-neutral budget that allows for reductions in class sizes.

“Class sizes are finally moving in a good direction, and I have received some very positive feedback from the community on this,” he said.

The Commack School District, which did not return requests for comment, saw its enrollment figures drop from 7,830 in 2008 to 6,778 in 2014.

Smithtown’s numbers started at 10,844 in 2008 and dropped about 250 students per year to 9,704 by 2014, the report said, and school Superintendent James J. Grossane said the Smithtown Board of Education was working diligently to prepare for the shift. The superintendent said the district is bracing for an ongoing dip through the year 2023, when he projects a total enrollment of 7,316.

The BOCES report said Smithtown saw a 26 percent drop in housing sales between 2007 and 2012 but did note sales went up between 2012 and 2013 by 36.2 percent, showing a generally stabilizing market.

Meanwhile, Smithtown’s BOE convened a housing committee in April 2014 comprised of a broad cross section of school community members as well as members of the Smithtown community at large to analyze the district’s future housing needs in light of a continuous decline in enrollment, Grossane said. That committee made various recommendations to the BOE back in March, including closing one elementary school no sooner than the 2016-17 school year but did not specify which one. It also suggested the BOE considered a potential middle school closure for the 2022-23 school year if enrollment continues to decline at its current rate, pending a study from the BOE’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing.

The Huntington school district, which did not return requests for comment, was one of three districts to record enrollment increases between 2013 and 2014 at 1.8 percent alongside Copiague and Wyandanch, bringing its 2014 number up to 4,446 from 4,384 in 2008.

The same could not be said, however, for its neighboring school district in Northport-East Northport, where numbers declined from 6,410 in 2008 to 5,686 in 2014.

Superintendent Jim Polansky and newly appointed high school principal Brenden Cusack at a school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School. Photo by Jim Hoops

Huntington High School has a new leader at its helm.

The school board promoted Assistant Principal Brenden Cusack on Monday evening to replace longtime Principal Carmela Leonardi, who is retiring this year. Cusack’s appointment is effective July 1.

Cusack, a Babylon resident entering his 20th year in education, has been employed at the district for three years. He was seated in the audience at the school board meeting on Monday night at the Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, and upon his appointment, members of the audience, including his family, cheered and clapped — some offering a standing ovation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cusack said he was eager to continue working on improving academics in the Huntington school district. He also wants to offer more opportunities for students to step up and would like to “try to develop and increased sense of caring” within the community, he said.

“Huntington High School is an amazing school,” Cusack said. “And I think you can see from a distance, [from] the outpouring of help to others, and things like that, and that’s something I want to build on.”

In a statement on the school’s website, Superintendent Jim Polansky lauded Cusack’s appointment.

“Over the past several years, Mr. Cusack has become an integral part of a successful high school team,” he said. “He has earned the respect of his students, staff and colleagues. He brings a wealth of administrative and teaching experience to the position. The achievement and well-being of his students have always been his foremost priorities.”

Cusack is a 1995 graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor’s in education, according to the statement.

Cusack earned a master’s at CUNY-Queens College in 2002 in adolescent education/English 7-12.

He obtained a professional diploma in school administration and supervision at CUNY-Queens College in 2005. He recently participated in school leadership training at Harvard College.

By Lynn Johnson

From its beginnings more than a half-century ago, Stony Brook University has been characterized by innovation, energy and progress, transforming the lives of people who earn degrees, work and make groundbreaking discoveries here. Stony Brook is the largest single-site employer on Long Island, and the diversity of career opportunities available is equaled by the diversity of our employees.

New jobs are being posted daily using innovative software recently implemented on our applicant job site. These enhancements make the process of applying for jobs at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine and Long State Veterans Home quicker and easier than ever before.

Through the university’s new Talent Management System, you can create your own profile electronically on any device and then apply for multiple jobs at Stony Brook with a few quick clicks online, 24/7. At any time during the search-and-selection process, you can update your profile details, monitor your status and receive customized job alerts based on individual preferences — all while conveniently keeping track of everything in one place.

This system allows for easier access to the tremendous job diversity at Stony Brook. Long Island’s premier research university and academic medical center offers outstanding career potential in health care, research, academia, administration, public safety, food service, maintenance, construction and more. It’s an environment in which you can explore a myriad of career opportunities.

As the university expands, more opportunities for employment and career advancement are becoming available. The new Research and Development Park is home to the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology and the Small Business Development Center. The 250,000-square-foot Medical and Research Translation (MART) building, scheduled to open in 2016, will have eight floors devoted to imaging, neurosciences and cancer research. New student housing facilities and a dining center, also slated for 2016, will make Stony Brook the largest campus-housing program in SUNY.

The sheer size of the university makes it seem like a small city in itself, with countless amenities, such as on-campus banking, eateries, childcare and transportation via the LIRR and bus services. Employees are immersed in an active, vibrant campus life. You can see world-class live performances at Staller Center, cheer the Seawolves NCAA Division I athletic teams, work out at the Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center, learn from our renowned faculty or enjoy the tranquility of the Ashley Schiff Nature Preserve.

Stony Brook also offers a rich benefits package with multiple health insurance plans, including retirement health benefits; paid holidays, vacation and sick leave; retirement and college savings plans; flexible spending plans; and employee tuition assistance benefits.

To create an account and start the search for your new career at Stony Brook, visit stonybrook.edu/jobs.

Lynn Johnson is the vice president of human resource services at Stony Brook University.

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The New York State Capitol building in Albany. File photo

By Jim Polansky

As the dust attempts to settle following two weeks of state assessment administration, preceded by months of politically charged debate and activism, I’ll, once again, express my plea that the state powers-that-be reflect on the situation and its root causes and attempt to redirect their decision-making toward what is in the best interests of the children of New York.

I can attest to the fact that the administrators, teachers and staff members in Huntington clearly understand their responsibilities. They continue to develop and refine their crafts but have never lost sight of the individual differences demonstrated by the students in their classrooms or buildings. They comprehend the concept of college and career readiness and recognize their roles within a systemic approach to a child’s education. They have instructionally prepared their students in alignment with the new standards, while continually striving to instill in students a love of learning. They have done everything possible to put aside their anxieties in the face of statewide educational unrest, rapidly moving evaluation targets and mandates that seemingly appear out of nowhere. I imagine all of this is characteristic of the majority of schools and districts throughout the state.

I’d like to think that some learning has been accomplished or perspective gained from recent events. For example, broad-scale changes are likely to meet with failure if necessary preparations are not made or if measures are not put into place to facilitate those changes. (The cliché applies — one cannot build a plane while it is being flown.)  No amount of federal monies is worth the potential outcomes of a rushed and, therefore, flawed change process.

I’ll add that the importance of accountability and evaluation should not be minimized. But an unproven system based on unproven measures will surely contribute to inaccurate outcomes — both false positive and false negative.

Education Law §3012-d has been passed. It requires the state’s Board of Regents to redesign the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process by June 30 and subsequently requires districts to submit a new plan by Sept. 1. The bulk of plan development would be slated for a time when key stakeholders may not be available.

There are numerous education-related issues facing New York at this juncture. These issues must be approached with common sense and, again, with an eye toward what is best for our students. Why not begin such an approach with accepting the recent recommendation and allowing districts until at least September 2016 to build valid and sensible APPR plans?  Give districts the time, resources and capacity to do this right. Provide them with the guidance and support they need.  Leave threats of withholding aid out of the equation.

Education in New York is broken as a result of misguided and rushed initiatives that have left districts to their own devices to address state policy issues and misinformation spread throughout their communities. It is imperative that those in Albany reflect on what has happened and take the critical steps needed to restore transparency, close the wounds and repair what was and could return to being one of the finest educational systems in the country.

Jim Polansky is the superintendent of the Huntington school district and former high school principal.

Projections could mean scaled back tax rate next year

Huntington school board members attend a town board meeting last year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington school district taxpayers could see a little extra cash in their wallets next year, if tentative numbers projecting a greater tax base pan out, the district said this week.

School officials announced on Tuesday that the total value of all its assessed properties is expected to rise in 2015-16 by just under one percent — from about $44.8 million this year to $45.3 million in 2015-16. The district cited figures from an April 30 letter it received from Huntington Town Assessor Roger Ramme.

That projection is also significantly higher than an estimate officials used to craft next year’s proposed $120.3 million budget, which district residents will weigh in on in a vote on May 19. If that budget is approved and the hike in assessed valuation becomes a reality, then taxpayers could see an estimated tax increase of just .83 percent, instead of the 2.27 percent officials estimated.

“The tentative spike in assessed valuation translates into good news for taxpayers,” Superintendent Jim Polansky said in a statement on the district’s website. “It can be attributed to a number of factors, not the least of which is an increase in fully taxed properties within district boundaries. While we expect some downward adjustment between now and the fall board meeting during which the tax rate is set, we anticipate that it will be considerably lower than initially projected.”

The assessed valuation won’t be concluded until the fall, and it’s likely the assessed valuation will slip from now until then, when the tax rate is set, the district noted. But if the assessed valuation is finalized at an amount that’s greater than what was used to develop the 2015-16 budget, the school board, “would be in a position to reduce the earlier projected tax rate increase, appropriate less money from the district’s fund balance or some combination of the two,” according to the statement.

This wouldn’t be the first year Huntington school district enjoyed a greater-than-budgeted assessed valuation.

“Trustees have a long history of returning to residents, through a lower tax rate, any increased revenues the district derives from a late-breaking rise in assessed valuation,” according to the district. “That tradition is
expected to continue in the fall, should the tentative increase hold in
large part.”

Town officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Unger makes a statement regarding pending lawsuit and superintendent's action

Miller Place school board President Mike Unger praised the district’s superintendent and administration for how they handled the situation. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Miller Place school board President Mike Unger broke his silence four weeks after a student announced he would sue the school for allegedly violating his first amendment rights.

At the school board meeting on April 29, Unger took a minute to comment on the situation, which stemmed from the high school’s variety show back in March. During the show, Kyle Vetrano, senior class president, appeared in a skit poking fun at the high school’s bathroom policy, which allows one student at a time to use the facilities in an effort to combat drug use and sales. According to the senior, he improvised the line that later got him into trouble.

“Is this what our superintendent gets paid all that money for? To write bathroom policy,” Vetrano said in the act.

Vetrano was not allowed to participate in the next performance and was banned from school grounds during the second show, as the line was not included in the pre-approved script.

On April 2, the Vetrano family, his lawyer John Ray, of Miller Place-based Ray, Mitev and Associates, students and community members held a rally in support of Vetrano outside the high school and announced their plan to sue. The crowd also marched toward the district office where Ray and his associate served the district with a notice of claim, which must be filed before a municipality or municipal agency — like a school district — can be sued, according to state law.

While Superintendent Marianne Higuera sent out a letter to residents that addressed the incident, the school board has stayed mum.

At the April 29 meeting, Unger described the family as “seekers of 15 minutes of fame” and described Higuera as “the rock of this district.” He said he admired her strength and praised her and the rest of the high school administration for how they handled the situation.

“While I’m not supposed to comment on recent litigious events, I want to state that I support the actions of our high school administration and Dr. Higuera 100 percent,” Unger said to a round of applause from attendees.

The school district has 90 days after receiving the claim to conduct a 50-h hearing, which is similar to a deposition. After 30 days, the complainant has a right to proceed with the lawsuit.

As of Monday, the district had yet to request the hearing Ray said in a phone interview, adding that while he could proceed with the suit, he plans on waiting until the 90-day deadline.

Ray said that while the school can specify a wrong doing on Vetrano’s part all they want, there isn’t one. He said Vetrano is an American citizen and has a right to free speech.

“It’s an arbitrary rule by the district,” Ray said regarding the bathroom policy. “That person [Vetrano] has a duty, a high duty, to take the district to court and right the wrong.”

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