Education

A budget and trustee election will take place at the Northport-East Northport library district on Tuesday, April 14. File photo

Come April 14, residents of the Northport-East Northport library district will be asked to vote on a nearly $10 million budget to fund library operations in 2015-16.

If approved, the spending plan would translate to an approximately $6.80 increase in taxes for an average library district resident with a home assessed at $4,000.

The proposed budget stays within the district’s state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

The Tuesday vote will also give residents the chance to elect two trustees from a pool of three candidates to serve on the board. Candidates include current trustees Robert Little and Georgeanne White, and Northport resident Jacqueline Elsas. All are vying for a five-year term on the board, according to James Olney, the library director.

Next year’s budget proposes increasing funding for adult, teen and children programming by $6,500 due to an increase in program attendance, Olney said on Monday. Program attendance has been up by about 16.7 percent in the last two years, Olney said, and so the additional funds in that line would go towards creating new programming
“We have had such an exciting turnout,” Olney said. “We would like to encourage that trend.”

The proposed budget also includes funding for $140,000 in capital and technological improvements, up from this year’s $50,000 in expenses. It’s also increasing its funding for facilities repairs and improvements, which Olney said was largely due to paying for capital upgrades at the two libraries, which have been aging for about two decades.

Improvements included replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Northport Public Library and improving restrooms and carpeting at various locations in East Northport. Other repairs included replacing new furniture that’s broken over the years and refinishing some tables and countertops “so we can get many more years out of them.”

Professional fees are also up in next year’s budget due to the district having to perform an actuarial study. Retirement and deferred compensations costs are down and total revenues are projected to slide slightly, according to the library’s own budget breakdown.

The district is projecting to increase its tax levy from approximately $9.5 million to $9.6 million, or about a 1.46 percent increase. That stays within the district’s 1.98-percent levy cap, Olney said.

Voting will take place at both the Northport and East Northport libraries. Those who live south of Route 25A would vote at the East Northport Public Library at 185 Larkfield Rd. Those who live north of Route 25A would vote at the Northport Public Library at 151 Laurel Ave.

Joe Rella is planning to continue as Comsewogue’s superintendent for the immediate future, though he says he’s retiring in 2019. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Comsewogue officials have sealed their lips on a proposal not to give state exams to students next month.

Both Facebook and the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association website were buzzing this week, as school board members and residents discussed a proposed resolution saying the board would “seriously consider not administering the New York State standardized [English language arts] and math exams in grades 3-8, and the science exam in grades 4 and 8.” The board of education had encouraged parents to attend its workshop on Thursday night and speak about the state’s testing system.

But just hours before the meeting, the district went silent, and Superintendent Joe Rella and board members said legal counsel had advised them not to discuss the issue.

It is unclear whether the board will bring the resolution to a vote at its next business meeting, on Monday.

According to the resolution, the board takes issue with the state’s current education aid levels and teacher evaluation policies, and with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education reforms, one of which would base half of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores.

The resolution says that the Comsewogue school board would consider not administering the state tests unless Cuomo (D) and state legislators “establish a fair and equitable state aid funding formula … so [schools] can provide for the educational needs of every child” and stop weighing student test scores so heavily in teacher and administrator evaluations.

At the workshop Thursday, a community member said the announcement before the meeting that officials would no longer discuss the matter had surprised her.

“I really can’t tell you why right now,” Rella responded. “We’ve been advised not to comment about it.”

According to state education department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie, the federal government requires the standardized tests.

“If a member of a board of education or school superintendent takes official action by refusing to administer a required state assessment, the responsible party would be at risk of removal from office by the commissioner of education pursuant to Education Law,” Beattie said in an email.

According to Article 7 of the state Education Law, the commissioner may, following a hearing, remove a school officer, including a school board member or a district administrator, if it has been “proved to his satisfaction” that the person willfully disobeyed “any decision, order, rule or regulation of the regents or of the commissioner of education.” The commissioner may also withhold state aid from any district for such actions.

The upcoming budget vote is at the library on Thompson Street. File photo

The average Port Jefferson resident will pay $10.80 more in library taxes next year, if members approve a proposed $4.33 million budget for 2015-16.

Most of the Port Jefferson Free Library’s expense lines would increase or decrease modestly under the spending plan, according to a budget breakdown from the library. One of the larger changes would be in materials and programs — the library would spend $42,500 less on books next year, for a total of $178,000. Spending on programs, meanwhile, would increase almost $15,000.

In personnel expenditures, salary and retirement costs would both decrease next year, while insurance costs would increase.

Library Director Robert Goykin explained that the decrease in the book budget “is largely the result of many of the expensive print items moving to less expensive electronic versions or publications going out of business,” such as encyclopedias.

While Goykin called it “sad” that those publications are no longer being printed, he said that many of them work well in a digital format because “people don’t read them cover to cover as much as consult them for facts.”

Library Director Robert Goykin says a decrease in spending on books can be partially attributed to reference publications going digital. File photo
Library Director Robert Goykin says a decrease in spending on books can be partially attributed to reference publications going digital. File photo

The director said, “In this case the economics work in our favor despite the fact of losing some ‘old friends’ on the shelf.”

The proposed increase in funding for library programs reflects a higher demand, Goykin said, and more programming in science and technology, which can be more expensive than other areas.

In addition to those budget lines, the library would transfer $107,000 into its capital fund for facility improvements.

The library board of trustees has been working on a strategic plan for how the establishment will serve residents in the future, which includes improving the facilities and deciding what to do with a recently purchased residential property that is located next door on Thompson Street.

“With the plan almost concluded,” Goykin said, “the board wanted to set aside some funding to make improvements in the facility.”

All together, the budget would increase less than 0.6 percent next year, and would carry a roughly $3 million tax levy.

If the proposal is approved, for every $100 of assessed value, residents would have to pay an extra quarter to the library next year. The average house in the community is assessed at $4,500.

“The board and the staff have been very mindful of the difficult economic circumstances of the last number of years,” Goykin said. “This is our fifth straight year of minimal budget increases.”

Voting is at the library on Tuesday, April 14, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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College is expensive. Actually, college is ludicrously expensive these days, as 60 percent of graduates from colleges and universities in New York are coming out of school with a debt of more than $26,000, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.

With these numbers in mind, we support Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci’s (R-Huntington Station) push for increasing the maximum amount of financial aid awarded through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

While college costs have increased drastically over the last 10 years, there has been no substantial increase in the maximum TAP award a student can receive. Individuals can currently cash in a minimum grant of $500 and a maximum of $5,165 each year.

Lupinacci said he wants to raise the maximum to $6,470, while also increasing the maximum eligible household income from $80,000 to $100,000. We wholeheartedly support this measure, as the increases would better align with SUNY and CUNY tuition rates for in-state residents and the high cost of living in New York.

For the 2014-15 school year, a typical undergraduate student studying at a SUNY college will pay a little more than $7,500 for tuition and student fees. Add room and board, and that cost becomes about $19,600.

Raising the maximum TAP award would provide many students — who may be supporting themselves and working full-time — an easier pathway to obtaining their degrees. This program could be especially crucial to students who are on their own and may not have someone to co-sign a loan.

We often use the phrase “every penny counts,” and in this case it couldn’t be truer. The purpose of public education is to increase access to an important service. Increasing TAP will help further that goal.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) is calling on Albany to increase the amount of financial aid it awards college students through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

The hike is needed, Lupinacci said, because there’s been no significant increase to the maximum TAP award in more than 10 years. Lupinacci is calling for a 25 percent increase in the maximum grant amount.

TAP funding is a grant that is intended to help cover tuition costs at New York State universities and colleges. The minimum TAP grant awarded per school year is $500 and the maximum is $5,165, according to the program’s website. Lupinacci wants to raise the maximum TAP award to $6,470 and increase the maximum household income for TAP eligibility from $80,000 to $100,000.

“As a college professor, I see every day how important TAP is for thousands of students,” he said in a recent statement. “An increase in funding would give students the relief they need to hit the ground running after graduation.”

TAP is awarded annually to New York State residents who study at full-time colleges within the state. Students who receive the grant must stay in good academic standing and meet the income requirement. According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) website, nearly 400,000 students across the state received a TAP grant in 2013.

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) has signed on as a co-sponsor to Lupinacci’s bill and said an increase in the funding and eligibility is definitely needed for students across the state.

“The price of public education has gone up tremendously in 10 years,” Raia said in a phone interview.

Raia said while $80,000 seems like a lot of money, given the cost of living it is not as much for a family of four living on Long Island when compared to the same family of four living upstate. He said the cost of living is higher here and the increase in a maximum award is greatly needed.

Lupinacci, who currently teaches at Farmingdale State College, said it is important to have this increase in an effort to ease the financial burden on students. He said it would help cover significant portions of tuitions at State University of New York and City University of New York schools, and whatever it could for private schools’ tuitions.

Currently, the bill that was introduced on March 5 is being referred to the Assembly’s Higher Education committee, where Lupinacci is a ranking member. If this bill is approved, Lupinacci hopes the increase kicks in beginning April 1, 2016.

The most recent TAP increase was for $165 back in 2014. Cuomo announced the increase, nearly 15 years after the last one. The bill also has a state Senate sponsor, State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has not seen the bill, said he favors a TAP increase.

“I think it’s a great investment in young people, who are the future of our state,” he said in a phone interview.

Northport-East Northport school board president Julia Binger at a recent school board meeting. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school district residents could be asked to shell out $2.2 million more for next year’s school budget — an increase of 1.62 percent from this year’s property tax levy, interim schools superintendent Thomas Caramore said in a budget presentation on Monday.

That comes down to increasing the tax levy to a total of about $141 million next year, or about 88 percent of next year’s proposed nearly $160 million school budget. This year’s tax levy was about $138.6 million.

“Clearly, Northport [school district] budgets are supported by the taxpayers,” Caramore said.

The remainder would come from state aid, and right now school district officials are estimating 8 percent of the total budget to be supported by state aid, Caramore said, because they don’t yet know what the actual figure will be. He added that 2 percent of the budget will be funded from the district’s reserves and fund balance, and 2 percent miscellaneous income.

To keep the tax levy increase as low as possible next year the district proposes to use about $2.4 million of its assigned fund balance monies, Caramore said. The district applied about $2.8 million of its assigned fund balance to reduce the property tax levy for this year’s budget, he said.

The preliminary budget already includes $1.95 million in capital projects — replacing three boilers, exterior bleachers and the press box at the high school. On Monday, Caramore recommended the board consider approving three additional capital projects: paving the gravel parking lot at the high school, at a cost of $325,000; replacing two boilers at Norwood Avenue Elementary School, at a cost of $750,000; and replacing auditorium theatrical lighting at East Northport Middle School for $100,000. He recommended the projects be funded by the district’s capital reserves.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Kathleen Molander said at the meeting that the district has a total of about $1.2 million in capital reserves, in two capital funds.

Although some district residents spoke at the meeting to thank Caramore for his work on the budget, others questioned the district’s previously-announced plans to consolidate supervision of the high school’s music and visual arts departments. Under that proposal, Julia Lang-Shapiro, district chairperson for the visual arts, would be let go, and Izzet Mergen, director of music education, would supervise both programs. Caramore has said the move, a structure other school districts use, would not compromise the quality of the departments. At this week’s meeting, Caramore said Mergen is looking forward to the dual supervisory role.

Parents who want their children to opt out of state assessment testing need information on how to do that, district resident Kim Nertney told the board, and she asked why the school district doesn’t provide “informational forums” on the matter.

“Well, if we do that, then we’re in effect saying that we’re in favor of opting out, and we’re not doing that,” Caramore responded. He doesn’t want to emulate “renegade superintendents” in giving information on how to opt out, Caramore said, and won’t join those superintendents “in their civil disobedience.” The district will honor requests from individual parents who don’t want their kids to take the exams, Caramore said.

There will be a special school board meeting to finalize the budget on Wednesday, April 1, at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan building.

James Maloney file photo

In response to requests from some district residents, Northport-East Northport school board member James Maloney proposed that the board create a new budget and finance committee.

Maloney suggested three areas the committee could address: making the school lunch program self-sufficient, running the district’s warehouse more efficiently and exploring gas conversion of boilers in school buildings.

The school board agreed to continue taking ideas from the public on forming the new committee, and said they would discuss it further at future meetings.

At its last meeting, the board approved a new committee called the Athletic Facility Advisory Committee, to advise board members on the conditions and potential needs of the district’s fields and athletic facilities.

Superintendent proposes adding assistant principal

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Shifts in staffing will be playing a big role in Huntington school district’s 2015-16 budget, as Superintendent Jim Polansky is recommending funding nearly 19 new positions — including hiring a new assistant principal at the high school.

“I’m just going to warn the board that what I’m about to present to you is what I believe is needed to service the district, K to 12,” Polansky said prior to a budget presentation on staffing on Monday night.

Polansky pitched hiring a new assistant principal at an estimated cost of $143,792, which does not include benefits. The position isn’t included in his proposed approximately $120.1 million working budget, “but I do believe that it’s something worthy of consideration,” he said, noting he’s thought about it for “quite a bit of time.”

The superintendent pointed out that there will be more than 1,400 students at the high school next year and 160 staff members and teachers who require observations and regular reports that can be time consuming for just two administrators.

“To run a building of that size with a principal and an assistant principal as the only two administrators, can it be done?” Polansky said. “Yes. Is it tough to do? Yes.”

Polansky pitched funding 18.7 additional staff positions next ranging from instructional, noninstructional and administrative employees. The greatest increase in instructional staff is in the area of bilingual and ESL teachers, where Polansky suggested hiring 3.6 additional instructors mostly at the high school.

The increase is needed, Polansky said, because of changes in New York State Education Department requirements governing ESL/bilingual education, which is known as Part 154.

“This does not mean there is a tremendous increase in ESL students, but there is an increase in the amount of services we have to provide for them based on Part 154.2 regulations,” Polansky said. “That hits the high school most significantly.”

School board President Emily Rogan added, “This is not necessarily in terms of the number of kids but the way and how we distribute services.”

School board member Bill Dwyer said the additional bilingual/ESL instructors would cost the district around $300,000 and asked if this cost would qualify as an unfunded mandate.

“That is most definitely what we call an unfunded mandate,” Polansky said.

All told, Polansky is recommending funding four new instructional positions at the elementary school, 7.7 instructional positions at the middle and high schools, six noninstructional positions and one assistant principal at the high school.

Susan Tully, a Huntington resident, urged board members to consider the long-term financial impacts of their present-day budget decisions. She noted that due to high taxes and cost of living, the area is becoming too expensive to live in for young people already, and she doesn’t want to see Huntington become just “a community of a bunch of old people.”

So far, the proposed budget includes funding for 12 contingent positions, meaning most of the proposed increase in staff is already accounted for. However, next year’s proposed $120 million spending plan is still about $408,000 above where it needs to be, as per a state-mandated cap on tax levy increases. Polansky expressed his hope that once the state aid figures become clearer, coupled with pending retirements, the gap will be closed.

The district could see a significant reduction in staff through two early retirement incentives it is offering its administrators and teachers. Five employees, including Huntington High School Principal Carmela Leonardi and Carmen Kasper, the district’s director of foreign language, ESL and bilingual programs, have already taken advantage of the incentive.

Dina Stramara addresses the board. Photo by Barbara Donlon

With less than one month until the New York State testing begins in grades three to eight, parents in Kings Park are vocalizing their right to opt out and say they want the board of education to do the same.

At a meeting earlier in the month, several parents asked the board to craft a resolution on standardized testing. Then they started a petition through their group, Kings Park Advocates for Education, to establish a unified voice.

The petition highlighted three items the parents would like the board to support. It said they want support for their right to opt their child out of the high stakes testing, support for alternate activities for their child during the test, and easier options when it comes to opting out.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board opened up as a whole for the first time, as President Tom LoCascio read a statement on the board’s behalf.

“We believe the decision of whether to participate in or to refuse to take a state assessment is a personal decision and ultimately a parent’s choice and in either case a decision that should be afforded mutual respect,” LoCascio said.

The statement went on to say the board believes in public education, that every student in the district deserves an opportunity to succeed and that they believe teachers should be evaluated using multiple forms of assessment.

It also said that as a board, they recognize Gov. Andrew Cuomo and certain interests have politicized many educational issues and that they are concerned how this will impact the district.

“We will continue to work to advance our adopted board goals, prevent the erosion of local control and fight to ensure that educators and those elected by our community have the final decision in how our schools are run,” LoCascio said.

Parents said the statement still did not impress them.

“This community is asking the board of education to step up, pick a strong stand,” parent Shala Pascucci said during the meeting’s public comment forum. “That was a step in the right direction, but if you read the resolution from other neighboring districts, you will know that resolution is not as strong as it could be.”

Pascucci went on to say the board statement is not specific enough, but did acknowledge it’s a step in the right direction. Board member Pam DeFord also acknowledged the statement and said she agreed with parents.

“You’re right, it’s a small step, and we will continue to work on it,” DeFord said.

Parents also said they were upset about the process that will take place in the classroom the morning of the assessment. Parent Dina Stramara quoted from the test refusal question-and-answer section on the board’s website, visibly upset by what her child will go through.

According to the document, children will be seated in assigned seats and a proctor will pass out the documents. They will know ahead of time which students are refusing the assessment, but children must verbally confirm it.

“In the most non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and delicate manner possible, the proctor will verbally confirm with each individual child that he/she is refusing the assessment, those exam materials will be collected, and the child will be permitted to read quietly,” the document said.

Stramara said there is nothing non-judgmental and delicate about putting a child in an awkward position. She said they are not adults and parents should make the decision for them. She also asked why the district would still put the test in front of them if they know they are refusing ahead of time.

“Asking [a young child] to verbalize this is absolutely ludicrous,” Stramara said to the board. “I implore you to please reconsider this procedure. It is not our children’s fault that the state and the district are failing them by making them pawns in this ridiculousness.”

Schools Superintendent Timothy Eagen said this was not a district procedure but one from the New York State Education Department.

“According to the state education department, an activity that is acceptable for students who finish the test early or refuse to take the test is simply to read something,” Eagen said in an interview after the meeting.

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Proposals won't be on this year's May ballot

Rocky Point's plant facilities administrator, Chris Malone, listens to a question regarding the proposed capital improvements. Photo by Erika Karp

Meeting cancellations and a growing list of projects proved too much for Rocky Point school board trustees, who decided on Monday not to propose a capital improvements bond this May as they needed more time to sort through specifics of the proposal.

Chris Malone, the district’s plant facilities administrator, along with Larry Galante, a member of the facilities planning subcommittee and district architect John Grillo returned to the Rocky Point High School auditorium Monday night with an updated list of projects that totaled a little more than $20 million.

In January, the men presented a $17 million project list, which included installing new ceilings, windows and LED lighting; redoing bathrooms; upgrading security; installing turf fields and solar panels at the high school; and improving air-conditioning and heating systems, among other items.

Projects such as wrestling room renovations, redesigning the cafeteria at the Joseph A. Edgar school and new bleachers and sports lights at the lower fields were added into Monday’s presentation.

More than an hour into the presentation, and after numerous questions from the audience, school board President Susan Sullivan broke her silence and said if the board wanted the bond on the May ballot, everything would need to be final by Thursday.

“Quite honestly our heads are spinning and it’s not going to happen,” she said.

Later in the evening, the board tabled a State Environmental Quality Review Act resolution regarding the capital improvements. State law mandates SEQRA and governing bodies must approve the determination 45 days prior to a vote.

A few audience members said they were curious about how officials determined what items to include in the proposal. While they said they agreed updates are needed — original lockers, equipment and tiling exists in the schools — they questioned if some projects fell into more of a “wish” category.

Resident Jennifer Intravaia said she was a “little bit sticker shocked” after seeing the updated list.

“I think we need to seriously look at our priorities,” she said.

In response to Intravaia’s comment, Superintendent Michael Ring said it was a good point, and the school board would be reviewing the items, which were included based on feedback from many different individuals in the district.

Monday night’s presentation was delayed by nearly two months, as the school board’s meetings on Feb. 2, which was then rescheduled to March 3, were both cancelled due to snow.

While the board decided to not pitch the bond in May, it could still move to bring the proposal — or another version of it — to a vote in the future. Under the current plan, the bond would be separated into two different proposals: Priority I and Priority II. The latter would only pass if voters approve Priority I.

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