School Board Elections

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Six people are running for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. Incumbent board president Michael Lewis will face outside challenge from Edward Granshaw, Thomas Sheridan, Meghan Tepfenhardt, William McGrath and Jennifer Kitchen. SWR will host its elections and budget vote May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gym.

Edward Granshaw:

“As a Suffolk County police officer, I can offer a unique perspective when dealing with the safety and security of our children,” the Wading River resident said in a statement. “During my 27 years of law enforcement experience, I’ve participated in several training exercises specifically tailored towards school emergency incidents. When given a task, I have the ability to access the situation from several different viewpoints and make an objective decision, regardless of personal opinions or outside influences.”  

Granshaw said he believes that the most important issue facing the district is the safety and security of its students. He said he can use his law enforcement experience and training to work with the board and committee members to ensure its students will always be safe while on school grounds.  

“I would like to work toward providing all school staff the opportunity to receive training to identify specific signs of a need for mental health services in children and adults,” he said. “Continually evaluating our safety and security procedures to identify the need for changes would be a top priority. Additionally, I would remain focused on evaluating student programs, evaluating spending, and providing additional continuing education for teachers.”

Michael Lewis:

Shoreham resident and current board president Michael Lewis will be seeking re-election for the 2019-20 school year. He has served on the board since 2016 and was its 2017-2018 vice president. Lewis’ priorities are to develop a strategic plan for the district; continue to build strong relationships with teachers, administrators and staff; further secure buildings; provide a healthy environment for students and support fiscally sound budgets while enhancing student experiences.

“[I want to] continue the momentum in maintaining positive relationships between the board, superintendent and leadership units,” Lewis said in a statement. “[As well as] protecting recent facility investments and create a healthy environment for students, incorporating more collaborative and diverse classroom settings while strengthening technology initiatives.”

Thomas Sheridan

“In Shoreham-Wading River, we make this our community, strong and vibrant when we all come together in difficult and good times,” Sheridan said in a statement. “Our schools and children are at the heart of this community. I am running for school board as a parent of two daughters in our schools, as an involved community member and volunteer.”  

The Shoreham resident said he is passionate about pushing for excellence, asking the tough questions and addressing the issues. 

“I got involved attending school board meetings when the district was not at its best. Today, SWR is in a much more positive position,” Sheridan said. “I propose staying focused on enriching our academics, supporting and attracting excellent teachers and administrators to better enable our district to be a beacon, be celebrated and be recognized for our points of pride.”

He looks to approach the trustee position as an advocate for making sure all students get the best start in life. 

Meghan Tepfenhardt: 

“I believe that children’s educational experiences should be of the highest quality with consistent, sound instructional practice,” Tepfenhardt said in a statement. “I am dedicated to ensuring all students have equal access to an exemplary education.” 

The sixth grade educator has lived in Wading River for the past 20 years and has two children who attend the district. She has been involved in education for 18 years. Tepfenhardt is the Wading River PTA president and the past Wading River PTA treasurer.

“I want to make sure that all of our students continue to have the access to a high-quality education,” she said. “I also want to enhance program opportunities in our schools.”

Tepfenhardt stressed the importance of fielding a curriculum that will ready students in the district for the demands of a 21st century workforce. Other points included strongly facilitating responsible budgeting.

“I have the necessary disposition to serve as a trustee. I am a strong communicator, can make difficult decisions, and can effectively prioritize goals. I take pride in my ability to treat all people fairly and I value differing viewpoints as a way to facilitate our children’s educational experiences.”

The Wading River resident said she will strive to support parents, teachers, administrators and most importantly, the children of the district. 

“I would be honored to serve our community as a board of education trustee,” she said. 

William McGrath:

McGrath has lived in the district for the past 30 years and has experience on the board, previously serving a term as board president and trustee. He has been involved in district finances, technology improvements and capital projects. He was on the board from 2008-2017. He worked as a scientist and researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory until 2018, when he decided to retire. 

McGrath said he believes the important job he would have as a trustee is make sure teachers in the district have a good foundation and have the tools to be successful. 

“I’m willing to serve [the community] and ready to give 120 percent,” he said. 

McGrath said he wants to continue to strive for the best values in delivering all they can for student development, infrastructure maintenance and improvement in a fiscally prudent manner as well as always being aware that most of the resources are taxpayer dollars. 

He points to his wealth of experience on the board and his experience on school board committees as an advantage to other candidates. McGrath said he wants to monitor opportunities for educational advancement, especially in the fields of science, technology, arts and math.

“My pledge to you is to be that bridge that ensures all sides of a discussion are heard and treated respectfully, and that level-headed agreements are reached,” the Wading River resident said. “If necessary, I will carry concerns of our residents to the district administration and ensure they are being addressed.” 

Jennifer Kitchen: 

Kitchen has lived in the district for the past 14 years and has two kids in the high school, one in the middle school and one in the elementary. Kitchen has served in various PTA/PTO boards throughout the district for the past 12 years. She has also served as a chairwoman on nine school committees.

One of the motivating factors to run for board this year is her belief that there needs to be more of a presence from the board in the secondary level of schools. 

Despite being involved in various organizations in the community she believes being elected trustee will give her the opportunity to make a bigger impact. 

“I have three children that have benefited from the special education program in the district,” Kitchen said. “We have a strong legacy in providing an excellent special education program — I want to continue that.”

Another area Kitchen would like to improve on is the STEM curriculum being offered. As a member of the district’s curriculum development committee the past two years she has advocated for a better curriculum as well as an improved arts and music curriculum. 

“I want to be an asset to the community, and listen to the needs of all sides,” Kitchen said. “As a parent who has kids in each school, I think I’m a valuable candidate.”  

Huntington High School. File photo.

The Huntington Union Free School District finalized the 2019-20 proposed budget, which totals $133.5 million, an increase of 2.83 percent and $3.6 million over the current year’s spending plan. The new budget would raise the tax levy by an estimated 2.58 percent. The tax levy cap amount would be $110,400,611. A home assessed at the district average of $3,415 would see an increase of $220.27. The tax rate will go from $239.36 to $245.81 per $100 of assessed valuation, an increase of 2.69 percent.

Huntington will be receiving $17.9 million in state aid, which is an increase of over $340,000 from the current year budget. Foundation aid for 2019-20 totals at $9.7 million an increase of $225,573. 

The 2019-20 budget will allocate $372,640 for new text and print resources, $93,000 for new computer software, ww$41,900 for new library resources and $200,000 for new instructional equipment, including computers and tablet devices. The budget would also allow for continued core curricular and digital resources, enhanced social and emotional learning program, expanded library and digital media programs, elementary guidance program extension and facility and technological upgrades.

At the May 21 vote, residents will be able to approve an additional proposition that would fund an estimated $3.9 million worth of projects. According to the district, it will not result in any increase in taxes since the funds exist in a reserve fund established to cover costs with renovation and reconstruction work.

Huntington High School

•Replacement of set of boilers that are more than 60 years old: $1.5 million

•Partial roof replacement: $1 million

•Turf athletic field replacement: $650,000

•Perimeter safety netting system enhancement and replacement at the turf athletic field: $55,000

•Replacement of goal posts at the turf athletic field: $41,000

•Building total: $3.246 million

Finley Middle School

•Replacement of the building’s student lockers that are 54 years old: $600,000

Huntington Union Free School District board of education candidates

Huntington school district board of education candidates: This year there will be three trustee seats open on the ballot. The top two finishers will win election to three-year terms commencing July 1 and running through June 30, 2022. Current two-term trustee Bari Fehrs has chosen not to run for re-election.

Bill Dwyer 

Current board member Dwyer will be seeking re-election for the 2019-20 school year. He has been elected a member previously in 2008 and 2013, which includes a tenure as board president. Dwyer and his wife, Karen have resided in Huntington for the past 21 years and they are the parents of three Huntington High School graduates. 

Michele Kustera

The challenger has lived in the district for the past 16 years and has a daughter in her freshman year at Huntington High School and a daughter who is a sixth grader at Woodhull Intermediate School. Kustera has volunteered and raised money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation Team Fox by running the New York City marathon twice. She has served on the district’s Long-Range Planning Committee, Food Allergy Committee and serves as the PTA council president. 

Joseph Mattio 

Mattio and his wife, Stefania, have resided in Huntington for the past 21 years. They currently have two sons attending district schools; a sixth-grader at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School and a junior at Huntington High School. The Huntington resident has served on the Huntington Booster Club’s board of directors for the past five years and has coordinated field house operations on game days during that time. He has been active in the community, coaching teams in the St. Hugh’s basketball, Huntington Village Lacrosse Club and Huntington Sports League football organizations. 

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Three seats are open, and three candidates are running for the Northport-East Northport Board of Education. All three candidates have a range of experience in the education field. One incumbent, Allison Noonan, who is seeking a second term, is among the people on the ballot.

Larry Licopoli

Larry Licopoli, now retired, was a school superintendent for 22 years and has lived in the Northport community for 17 years. Two of his children graduated from Northport High School in 2011 and 2013, and he has two young grandchildren who currently live in the district. 

Licopoli, according to his published statements, would like to see more transparent and easier to understand budget process and strategic plans. He would also like the board meetings to incorporate a more friendly public comment portion that “ditches the timer.” As a board member, he hopes to better engage the community in the district’s schools. 

“As a professional educator for 47 years, I believe my experiences can further serve the Northport-East Northport community as we grapple with revenue and enrollment issues and, more importantly, what it means to educate the whole child,” Licopoli said. “I will be that board member who will collaborate and work with the whole board focusing on our district mission.”

Thomas Loughran

Thomas Loughran works as a federal litigation paralegal for a law firm that represents the interests of school districts, municipalities and police departments. He is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Fordham University, majoring in organization leadership and political science. He’s been a district resident most of his life. 

Loughran’s published statements on the district’s website explains that one of his goals, if elected, would be for the district to better utilize the committee structure to address issues such as potential declining enrollment. He also would like the board of education to exhaust all options to reduce the tax burden on citizens. 

“I am running for the board of education because I have lived in Northport/East Northport for most of the last 40 years. I love this community,” Loughran said. “I started becoming involved in the school district several years ago, by attending board of education meetings, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the school district is facing some serious obstacles.”

Loughran said that he plans to use his skills and passion for his community to help the school district that he grew up in.

Allison Noonan

Allison Noonan has worked in public education for 25 years and is currently employed as an educator in the Syosset Central School District.  A Northport resident since 2009, She has twin 9th graders in the district. Noonan has previously served as co-president of the district’s PTA council and in 2012 the National PTA Founders recognized her with a life achievement award. Noonan has also been honored in 2014 by the Harvard Club of Long Island as a Distinguished Teacher of the Year. 

Noonan says she is well-versed in the LIPA case. That issue and shrinking enrollment are two matters she considers the most pertinent for the community to address through long-term planning that involves all stakeholders.

The Port Jefferson school board at an April 2019 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr
Comsewogue Union Free School District

Two seats are up for Comsewogue’s school board, and both remain uncontested.

Comsewogue’s budget vote and trustee election will occur May 21 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Comsewogue High School.

Comsewogue board of education member and graduate Rob DeStefano

Robert DeStefano

Current trustee Robert DeStefano is looking forward to continuing along with the board, all the while continuing on without longtime superintendent Joe Rella at the helm of the district.

The trustee said he is “born and raised,” in the Comsewogue school district, and has lived in the district for more than 40 years. He is finishing his ninth year on the board and is looking for his fourth term on the board.

“It’s a special place to be, it’s a special place to grow up, it’s a wonderful place to raise a family, and I’m just proud to serve the community,” he said.

With the outgoing Rella and incoming superintendent Jennifer Quinn, DeStefano said he expects it to be a smooth transition.

“As a student of his, and having worked with him, it’s been a wonderful experience,” he said. “Dr. Quinn’s been in this district for so much of the same time, and her accomplishments in the district speak for themselves.”

DeStefano has two kids enrolled in the district and holds degrees in business marketing and business management from New York University Stern School of Business and holds a master’s of business administration degree from Long Island University. He currently works as a product marketing manager at IT company ivanti.

He said he is looking forward to finally beginning work with the $32 million bond proposal, which was passed by residents in a 2018 vote. This summer the bond will begin to address parking lots in the two elementary schools and will improve athletic fields and address other exterior building infrastructure.

“It will allow us to make investments in the district in a variety of ways, in a very fiscally responsible way in the next several years,” he said. 

He said he sees the new budget as fiscally responsible, with the tax levy rise a full percentage point lower than the cap. He said it is especially important, because as he sees it, the economy will eventually take a turn for the worse, following the cycle of boom and bust.

“You can’t just go to the cap because it’s there, you have to be responsible with the funds we get from our residents,” he said. “My time on the board started as we were just trying to pull out of the last recession. I don’t have a crystal ball to say how bad the next one will be, but I know there is going to be one, you don’t need a crystal ball to tell that.” 

Continuing disagreement with New York State over Common Core, DeStefano said he wished there could be more direct dialogue with leadership in Albany. While he appreciated the efforts of representatives like New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), he said the district will continue to respect parents’ decisions to opt out.

Francisca Alabau-Blatter file photo

Francisca Alabau-Blatter 

Trustee Francisca Alabau-Blatter is running again unopposed for her seat on the school board.

Alabau-Blatter did not respond to requests for comment.

Originally from Spain, she moved to Long Island at 13 years old. She has three kids in Comsewogue and teaches Spanish in the Central Islip school district. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s degree in computer graphics.

Port Jefferson School District

Three seats are currently up for vote in the Port Jefferson School District, with two set for a three-year term commencing July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2022, and one a two-year term making up for the unexpired term of Adam DeWitt, from May 21, 2019 to June 30, 2020.  With two incumbents running again for their positions, two newcomers are also hoping to offer their services to the school board.

The Port Jefferson trustee election and budget vote will occur May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Port Jefferson High School.

Ryan Biedenkapp

Ryan Biedenkapp

Ryan Biedenkapp came onto the board last year after Adam DeWitt, then elected to his third term, resigned in August 2018. The then-board voted 4-1 to bring Biedenkapp onto the board after he ran for it in May that year, and now he is seeking a full term in his current seat.

A nine-year resident of Port Jefferson, the candidate said he has three kids enrolled in the district, a 15-year-old and two 13-year-olds. His son, Parker, has autism.

He currently works in the biotech industry in the sales department for biopharmaceutical company AbbVie. 

With having kids of differing ages and experiences, Biedenkapp said he’s able to keep in mind the many young people in the district, from those on sports teams to those with special needs.

“I think having somebody with a broad range of knowledge of what’s offered — what’s available, what’s good, what’s working, what’s not, what do we have that we’re really proud of that we want to keep, what do we think we need to do a little better with,” he said.

Biedenkapp said he, along with the rest of the board, was active and engaged in this year’s search for a superintendent to replace Paul Casciano, who will now be leaving in October. 

“You have to drop your ego, and you have to look for a compromise,” he said. “If you can come at it with a logical, rational act, always placing quality education for your children as true north, then you can come up with some really good decisions.”

While the trustee pointed to the board’s work on the current budget as fiscally sound, he said that with the downvote of the 2017 bond referendum, there needs to be a significant look into school’s infrastructure.

In the wake of the settlement between the Town of Brookhaven and Long Island Power Authority, which will reduce its tax payments to the district over time by 50 percent, the board has had discussions about consolidating or removing school programs with low enrollment. Biedenkapp said it will be a hard decision process going into the future, there are some classes with low turnout that still require a full state-certified teacher to be present.

“When you look at it down at a micro level, it shows were not doing the best we can for all our students,” he said.

He added it’s important the board show their support toward teachers, especially when it comes to Common Core testing or mandated tests that the board has had discussions of recently.

Ellen Boehm

Ellen Boehm

Ellen Boehm, a 26-year resident of Port Jefferson and graduate of Port Jefferson High School, said she is running again for her seven-year seat to help the district deal with issues such as the outcome of the LIPA settlement.

“In consideration of what’s finally been resolved with the LIPA issue, that we have a glide path, as a district and community we have to identify what we want to keep or strengthen in programs, and what’s really not important to us,” Boehm said. “We have an exceptional education program. As a community we have to decide what we have to spend money on when things get tight, and perhaps they won’t get tight … we have to have some very candid conversations.”

The candidate said she has agreed with the incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan, who said she hopes to resurrect the budget advisory committee, allowing residents to sit down and discuss what will and what won’t be cut in future budgets. She said there are residents who need to be able to talk about the school budget who might be retired or not have students within the school district. She said the district will also need to pay attention to the infrastructure of its schools and grounds and pay attention to what may need to get fixed in the future.

“We all have different interests, and we all need to work together to see that we have a great, stable school,” she said.

Both her daughters are graduates of the school district. 

She said the strengths of the school district are its diverse and in-depth education programs and its wide base of extracurricular activities. 

“We don’t have a lot of wasted spending in the budget,” she said. “The past boards have been pretty fiscally responsible.”

She added the current board works well together, and whenever there is disagreement, it is always handled professionally and openly.

“There’s many times we don’t all come from the same thought process, and the open exchange of ideas and the conversations we have are great,” she said. “It’s not a board that spends time fighting. We all have that common interest to do what’s best for the community.”

Randi DeWitt

Randi DeWitt

Randi DeWitt, 43, said she grew up in Port Jefferson, and while she moved away first for college and later for work, it was its quaint setting that drew her back home, where she has now lived for close to 40 years. She now has two kids in the school district, one in eighth grade, and the other in ninth grade, and she said she felt it was time to run for school board now that her kids are a little more independent.

“It’s a great way to volunteer and to give back to my community,” she said. “I grew up in a family that always encouraged community service.”

The trustee candidate has been a teacher for several years at Mount Sinai Elementary School, teaching first-graders. She has been the designated inclusion teacher in the district for several years and teaches both typical students and students with special needs. 

She said that her education experience, along with having attended schools in Port Jefferson from kindergarten through 12th grade, gives her insight in what needs to be done for the district, especially in terms of the ongoing budget changes the district will experience due to the fallout from the LIPA settlement.

“It gives me some insight and vision for the school district,” she said. “Ultimately I would love to preserve the programs we currently have, while also managing and realizing these fiscal challenges that are going to lie ahead due to LIPA.”

While the district has had discussions about the need to either consolidate or cut programs with low enrollment to stay under budget, DeWitt said while she would love to preserve as many programs as possible, she would like to be there to help determine that important programs don’t get slashed.

“Being a teacher, and having the best interest of Port Jefferson, I would hope any board member running for school board has the needs of the students who attend the schools at heart,” she said. “I would like to be part of that decision-making process.”

Mia Farina

Mia Farina

Mia Farina, a seven-year Port Jeff resident, is throwing her hat in the ring for the second year in a row, saying she could bring a fresh perspective on school security.

Farina has lived in Port Jefferson for seven years, having spent two years in itself trying to find a place to live in the village, saying it was the locally renowned school district that spawned her desire to help raise her now 7-year-old son.

She said her main concern is giving the community a voice on the school board and getting them more involved.

“Everyone talks budget, budget, but my concern is — are the children being lost because we talk about budget every meeting,” she said. 

The candidate has spent 21 years in law enforcement, and currently works as a detective for the New York City Police Department. She said there are several things the district can do to enhance the security of its buildings. While emphasis in Port Jefferson, and many other surrounding districts, has been put on security vestibules and identification card systems, she said she would hope to emphasize teaching kids to notice problem signs and teaching them about warning signs and what to do in an emergency situation. She said it can be taught in a fun and engaging way. 

“Kids are already inside the school, and the vestibule isn’t going to help protect those kids that are already inside the school,” Farina said. “I would like to implement more hands-on with the children, so that they can notice things, without scaring them … It’s being proactive instead of reactive.”

While Farina admitted she is not as adept with finances as other members of the board, she said the effect of LIPA, and the talk about cutting certain classes or programming, has her concerned. If current students enjoy certain classes, she said, it should only be fair that children like her 7-year-old should get that same opportunity down the road.

“My concern is keeping programs or helping keep from cutting programs when things come down to the wire,” she said. “I would like to sit down, you tell me what the budget is, and let us find ways to keep things, combine things together, or get grants or assistance from other school districts you can share … I need to know that there are other things being looked at.”

This post has been amended from when it was originally published in the May 9 edition of the Port Times Record amending the number of seats contested for the Port Jefferson School District.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. File Photo Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai school district swore in a new board member Sept. 26 to replace three-year trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August.

AnneMarie Henninger, a physical therapist and Mount Sinai resident, was unanimously voted in by the six remaining board members several weeks after the seat became open.

The board decided to vote internally on a new board member soon after Riggio announced he was stepping away from his position. Board President Robert Sweeney said the entire board spent two nights for four hours each in September reviewing the 10 applications submitted by district residents.

“We were looking for people who were looking to build consensus, listen, participate and learn,” Sweeney said. “In our process one of the questions we asked was ‘how have you worked for the support of the community and volunteered for the community previously?’”

Henninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The board had three options in choosing a new member to fill the position vacated by Riggio. It could have either held a special election, leave the seat vacant until the scheduled trustee elections in May or request applications from interested community members and then vote on a new board member internally. Sweeney said the board did not want to miss out on having a seventh member and not have a swing vote, and that it did not think it was financially viable to hold a special election so soon after the last community board and budget vote in May.

Candidates for the position needed to be a qualified voter in the district, be a resident of the district for at least one year and could not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai looked for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate. Sweeney said Henninger fit all those qualities, and more.

“It was very interesting to listen to her perspective on how she has often been called into special education committee meetings,” Sweeney said. “We had 10 good community members come forward – all good people with varying degrees of participation in the community, but it was also her knowledge of the district, her participation in the district and its board meetings that made us choose her.”

Riggio was elected to trustee position during the May board elections, though he decided to officially step down Aug. 5 after receiving an offer for a new job in Florida. The job would take too much of his attention from his responsibilities that he didn’t wish to become a detriment to the work of the board, he said.

Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again in May 2019. Three at-large seats will be up for grabs at that time, and the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats.

Trustee Mike Riggio, above on right, is congratulated by current board of ed president Lynn Capobianco after it was announced he won his second term this year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai’s school board is a member short following a surprise resignation.

Three-year member of the Mount Sinai School District board of education Michael Riggio vacated his seat before the start of the new school year saying he had a sudden “golden opportunity” to work in Florida.

“I did not want to leave the Mount Sinai board of education, but It was a very good career opportunity that took my family and I down to Florida,” Riggio said.

Riggio, a 12-year resident of Mount Sinai, ran for his second term unopposed and had just been reelected to another three-year term on the board in May. The retired officer from the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit served as vice president on the board during the 2017-18 school year and was a big proponent of the district’s eventual move to hire armed security guards in the district.

Riggio communicated to the district July 27 he would be resigning from his position effective August 5, according to district clerk Maureen Poerio.

While he said he didn’t wish to disappoint the school, the opportunity came suddenly. The job is in the law enforcement field, but he declined to reveal exact specifics about the job.

“It’s not fair to the board or the community for me to fly in once a month for a meeting,” Riggio said. “I might not be able to make it if work is too crazy, so I couldn’t take the spot.”

The school board will consider persons for appointment to the vacated seat, and the district is seeking letters of interest for anyone in the community who wishes to apply. The board will decide on the candidate at its Sept. 26 board meeting, and that person will serve until May 2019 when they will run for election for the right to finish out the rest of the term vacated by Riggio.

Candidates need only to be a qualified voter of the district, a resident of the district for at least one year and may not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai is looking for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate.

The board currently has six members, one short of its usual seven filled seats.

Interested candidates can send letters addressed to Mount Sinai Board of Education c/o Maureen Poerio, District Clerk, 118 North Country Road Mount Sinai, New York 11766, or emailed to mpoerio@mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Submissions will be accepted through Sept. 14 at 3 p.m.

This post has been amended to reflect actual date of next board meeting.

Trustee incumbents William Connors and Deanna Bavlnka look forward to three more years on the board. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school budget passed with an overwhelming majority May 15.

Of the 1,948 votes cast, 72 percent were in favor of the $209.8 million budget for the 2018-19 school year with 1,412 yes votes and 536 voting no.

Spending will remain within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase and include enhancements to the well-being of students, as well as to the elementary science and music programs.

Three Village superintendent Cheryl Pedisich was appreciative of residents’ support, saying that Tuesday’s result is a reflection of their values.

“I am most proud of our ability to sustain programs and services we value most without reducing any for budgetary needs.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

“I am most proud of our ability to sustain programs and services we value most without reducing any for budgetary needs,” she said.

“It’s a real affirmation and validation,” said board president William Connors.

He acknowledged that residents “pay a lot of taxes” and said he appreciated their confidence in the board and the administration’s fiscal responsibility.

A small increase in state aid, along with shrinking enrollment and retirements, helped pave the way to some budget additions. Those include another high school guidance counselor and district psychologist and an assistant athletic trainer, officials said. The elementary grades will benefit from the addition of a third-grade orchestra program, along with new assistant teachers to help prepare for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, which addresses disciplinary core ideas, scientific and engineering practices and cross-cutting concepts.

The district will restructure and combine some of its administrative positions by introducing a chair of foreign language and English as a New Language for kinder-garten through 12th grade. It will also create two coordinating chairs of physical education and health to oversee elementary and secondary grades.

There will also be change at Ward Melville High School. Principal Alan Baum will become executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources and move to the North Country administration building. William Bernhard, currently principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will step into a new role as principal at Ward Melville.

Board president Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka ran unopposed to retain their board seats for three more years.

“I’m thrilled,” Connors said about starting his third term. “I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Before rejoining the board in 2012, he had served on the Three Village school board from 1994-2006. When he and his wife moved to Three Village 46 years ago, he said, it was because of the quality of the schools.

“It’s a real affirmation and validation.”

— William Connors

After 18 years of board service, it is “fulfilling to have had an impact on the educational programs,” he said.

Bavlnka, who has served on the board since 2011, said she’s excited and particularly pleased with the positive community engagement. With the goal of fostering communication and interaction between parents and Three Village faculty and administrators, Bavlnka has maintained the Facebook page, Three Village Connection, since 2013. She said she is proud to see that it has been a success.

Other district news

Three Village will enter into a new contract with Suffolk Transportation Service Inc., the bus company that currently provides student transportation to and from school, field trips and athletic events. While contracts between school districts and bus companies can be extended at a rate increase equal to the consumer price index, if both parties agree, the CPI has been low, and Suffolk Transportation did not want an extension of the old contract, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services.

After sending out requests for proposals and considering three bus companies, the school district chose to continue with Suffolk Transportation and will pay an increased rate of 16 percent, Carlson said. The district will extend its contract with Acme Bus Corp., which provides mini-bus service, without a rate increase.

Following the resignation of the district’s treasurer, who will be attending graduate school, the administration has decided not to refill the position. Instead, it will assign treasurer duties to another staff member and issue a $10,000 a year stipend. This will save the district $70,000, Carlson said.

Incumbent Tracy Zamek; newcomers René Tidwell, Ryan Walker win PJ BOE seats after heated campaign

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photos

By Alex Petroski

Voters in the greater Port Jefferson area went to the polls in a giving mood May 15.

Port Jefferson School District residents approved the $44.9 million budget with 774 voting in favor and 362 against, while also passing a second proposition permitting the release of capital funds for a long-planned partial roof repair project at the high school.

“I’m really happy that the community came out and endorsed our spending plan for next year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said after the results were announced. “It’s really important. They showed a lot of support for public education in Port Jefferson School District, so we’re really, very happy about that.”

Across town in Comsewogue School District, the $91.9 million budget was also passed by an easy margin; 829 to 263. The district’s approximately $32 million capital bond proposition received 768 votes in support to just 315 against. The 15-year borrowing plan includes about $3 million in interest and will provide funds for upgrades in each of the district’s six buildings. The projects selected were the byproduct of extensive planning on the part of the facilities committee, a group of about 20 professionals from across the community.

Port Jeff’s new board of education members Ryan Walker and René Tidwell with re-elected incumbent Tracy Zamek. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are grateful to our community for its continued support of our schools and our students,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in a statement. “Their approval of the bond and 2018-19 budget will enable us to enhance and enrich health and safety, infrastructure and the three A’s – academics, arts and athletics.”

Port Jeff’s approved budget includes a roughly 2.3 percent tax levy increase compared to the current year, while Comsewogue’s increase will be 2.1 percent.

Tracy Zamek, an incumbent on Port Jeff’s school board, secured one of the three seats up for grabs in a six-way race, securing 604 votes. She’ll be joined on the board by newcomers Ryan Walker, who received 660 votes, and René Tidwell, who got 649. Tidwell and Walker campaigned on a joint ticket, as Zamek did with candidates Jason Kronberg (369 votes) and Ryan Biedenkapp (481 votes).

“I’m honored to be re-elected again,” Zamek said. “I look forward to standing up for the kids in Port Jefferson School District. I look forward to the challenges ahead of being fiscally responsible with the LIPA challenge, as well as keeping Port Jefferson School District intact.”

The discussion surrounding the board of education vote in Port Jeff became contentious at times, especially on social media. Much of the angst can be traced to the possibility of decreasing revenue from property taxes as the district — along with Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village — work toward a likely settlement in a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s assessed property tax value on its Port Jeff power plant, which LIPA contends is over-assessed. The district gets a large chunk of its operating budget revenue as a result of housing the plant.

“I’m thrilled at the turnout,” Tidwell said. “I’m thrilled that the budget was passed, and I’m ready to move forward. Right now, I just want to heal the division in our community and I’ll work together to figure out how we move forward.”

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team.”

— Ryan Walker

Walker expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team,” he said. “I think we’re going to have an amazing board this time and we’re going to accomplish amazing things. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve the people of the Port Jefferson School District.”

Biedenkapp, Farina and Kronberg did not respond to requests for comment sent via email by press time.

Comsewogue’s board of education vote was a foregone conclusion. Board President John Swenning, incumbent Rick Rennard and first-time candidate Corey Prinz ran an uncontested race for three open seats.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve another three years on the board,” Rennard said, adding he was pleased to hear of the budget and bond approvals.

Swenning, a mainstay on the Comsewogue board since 2005, called the district an incredible place to live in a statement.

“As a board trustee I am honored to work with fantastic administrators, teachers and staff and to represent a very involved and appreciative community,” he said.

Prinz, a district resident since 2004 and a commercial banker at Bank United, said he was thrilled to see the support for the budget and bond and is looking forward to working with the district.

New York voters on the North Shore overwhelmingly approved passing all of the proposed budgets and extra propositions, despite low voter turnout May 15. Stock image

The evening of May 15 was a good one for school boards across New York State, as residents cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of district budgets.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, the new state budget delivered a school aid increase of $859 million despite a tight fiscal year. Besides general spending plans and even with some new programs and club offerings, all of our North Shore districts have kept any projected tax levy increases within the state mandated limit. The biggest challenge with budgets this year was meeting most of parents’ and students’ concerns regarding school safety. Some districts had to shift funds around to allocate spending for additional security guards, entrance vestibules and bulletproof glass windows, among other ideas to make sure students and staff are protected and feel safe.

Here’s how school district budget votes on the North Shore of Suffolk County went:

Commack
Voters chose to approve the $193,222,797 proposed Commack budget with 1203 yes votes to 419 no.

Current board of education Vice President Jarrett Behar ran unopposed and received 1,302 votes.

Comsewogue
Comsewogue residents voted 829 yes to 263 no in favor of the proposed $91,947,730 budget. John Swenning, Rick Rennard and Corey Prinz ran unopposed and garnered 901, 818 and 769 votes, respectively. Louise Melious did not seek re-election. A proposition was also approved 768-315 to authorize a $32-million bond proposal for upgrades in all six schools in the district.

Elwood
Elwood’s $61,606,082 budget passed by a vote of 896 to 327. Proposition 2, the establishment of a capital reserve fund, passed by a vote of 854 to 345. Heather Mammolito (918) and James Tomeo (983) were both reelected to the board of education.

“On behalf of the entire administration and board of education, I would like to thank all residents who voted in support of the proposed 2018-19 budget” Elwood Superintendent Ken Bosset said. “Your support will allow the district to continue to enhance our academic program for our students, as well as increase security throughout the district. We are continually grateful to the Elwood community for its support of our district.”

Harborfields
Members of the district voted 966-275 to pass the proposed $86,086,696 budget. Steve Engelmann (862), Joseph Savaglio (744) and Suzie Lustig (949) were all elected to the board of education. Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and Thomas McDonagh did not seek re-election.

“I would like to thank the entire Harborfields community for its support of the 2018-19 budget, as well as the board of education for its commitment to providing the best opportunities possible for district students,” Harborfields Superintendent Francesco Ianni said. “The community’s continued support of the district allows us to provide a ‘world-class’ education to the children of our community. We look forward to implementing several enhancements to the curriculum for next year, including the restructuring of the high school science research program and a new literacy curriculum. In addition, the proposed budget will allow us to enhance security throughout the district. The community’s input was vital to the creation of this budget, so I thank those residents who participated throughout the process and those who took the time to vote.”

Huntington
Huntington’s board of education put forth a proposed $129,812,991 that was passed 1,215 to 314.

Proposition 2, which asked Huntington residents to approve the release of about $7 million from the district’s capital reserves fund for critical infrastructure repairs, was passed with 1,293 yes votes to 209 no.

Proposition 3, which sought to create a new building improvement fund that the district said is necessary in order to transfer money from the district’s existing repair reserve that will be used for turf field replacement, was also passed 1,260-238.

Huntington board of education trustees Christine Biernacki, receiving 1,029 votes, and Thomas DiGiacomo, receiving 898 votes, were re-elected to another term. Lynda D`Anna received 816 and will take over the seat currently held by trustee Emily Rogan July 1, as she did not seek re-election.

Kings Park
The Kings Park community passed its $92,168,700 proposed budget with 1,189 yes votes to 550 no.

This community is very supportive of education and the job that we’ve done here in Kings Park,” Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. “It’s a very supportive budget, and we have some strategic adds and supports in the budget. I’m just really happy that we can go forward with the spending plan that the board of education and I have carefully developed over the last couple of months.”

Incumbents Diane Nally and Kevin Johnston won their board of education trustee seats back, with 1,281 and 1,383 votes, respectively. Challenger Darryl Valinchus tallied 530 votes.

Johnston expressed some disappointment regarding low turnout at board meetings

“We would like to have more input from people in the community,” he said as polls closed. “This is a $92 million budget we’re talking about, and very few people show up for the school board meetings. I think over the last few years with Diane [Nally] we’ve accomplished a great deal providing for the students in Kings Park, but we still have a ways to go.”

Middle Country
Resident overwhelmingly passed the district’s $250,124,601 budget, 1,438-495. In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Kathleen Walsh, Arlene Barresi, Karen Lessler and Daniel Hill won their seats back, with 1,467, 1,408, 1,398 and 1,372 votes, respectively.

Miller Place
Voters in the district passed the $72,685,864, 616-209. Keith Frank ran unopposed, and won his second three-year term with 688 votes.

Mount Sinai
The $60,203,745 budget was passed by residents, 769 to 193 and the library 1,111 to 144. A proposition transferring $5 million from unassigned fund balance to the capital fund passed 787-176, and a proposition to transferring money from fund balances to establish $10 million capital reserve fund passed 761-199.

Trustee Michael Riggio was re-eleccted to serve a second term with 747 votes, and newcomer Stephen Koepper earner 651 votes. Koepper ran unopposed after board President Lynn Capobianco decided not to run again.

Northport-East Northport
Northport-East Northport residents said “yes, yes, yes” to all three propositions.

The $166,810,381 proposed budget passed with 2,287 in favor and 754 against.

Proposition 2, which asked voters to approve the release of $900,000 from the district’s capital reserve funds for infrastructure upgrades and repair, also passed 2,524-555.

Proposition 3, which will establish a new Capital Reserve III Fund that the board says is necessary for several critical infrastructural improvements including roof replacements of its buildings, window replacement, bathroom replacement, masonry and concrete work, floor replacement, wall replacement, classroom renovations, library and multimedia center renovations and gym reconstruction, among other projects, was also met with voter approval, with 2,403 in favor and 696 against.

Incumbent David Stein and challenger Victoria Buscareno were elected to serve for three years, and incumbent David Badanes was elected for two years. This staggering the terms of board members is due to a proposition two years ago that reduced the number of board members from nine to seven. Stein received 2,173 votes, and Buscareno received 2,195, and Badanes earned 1,915 votes. Trustee Tammie Topel chose not to run again. Challenger Thomas Loughran did not receive enough votes.

Port Jefferson
Community members passed the $43,889,812 proposed budget 774–362. A proposition for a partial roof replacement at the high school also passed, 874 – 257. In a six-way race for three board of education seats, Ryan Walker (660), Rene Tidwell (649) and Tracy Zamek (604) won seats. Ryan Biedenkapp, Jason Kronberg and Mia Farina lost, with 481, 369 and 276 votes, respectively.

Rocky Point
Rocky Point residents voted to pass the $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“Voter turnout was a little low,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “Most come out to vote after 5 p.m. Thankfully enough came out.”

Although running uncontested, incumbent Ed Casswell and newcomer Gregory Amendola were elected to the board of education, receiving 551 and 571 votes, respectively.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that [Vice President] Scott Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, who will be serving his second term. “With every budget cycle it’s a challenge to enhance and grow programs yet be very fiscally responsible. With that said we’re always looking for any college and career initiatives that will open up options for our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River
Voters approved the $74,776,072 budget 790 for to 233 against.

It was a very low turnout compared to last year’s more than 2,000 that came out to vote. Current board of education President Robert Rose won his seat back with 772 votes. James Smith ran unopposed and nabbed 767. He will be taking the place of first-year trustee Michael Yannucci, who did not seek re-election.

Smithtown
The community passed the proposed $244,913,464 budget with 1,873 yes votes and 800 no.

Proposition 2 passed 2,090 to 583, which allow the district to use of $13.3 million from the district’s capital reserve, to fund specific projects.

Board newcomer and challenger Mandi Kowalik received 1,618 votes to unseat incumbent board of education trustee Christopher Alcure, who received 935. Incumbent Jeremy Thode was re-elected to his seat with 1,790 votes.

Three Village
Three Village residents voted 1,412 for to 536 against the proposed $209.8 million budget. With no challengers, incumbents William F. Connors Jr. and Deanna Bavlnka won their seats back with 1,553 and 1,482 votes, respectively.

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

By Alex Petroski

Candidates for Port Jefferson School District’s board of education have thrown themselves into the world of public service at a tumultuous time for the district and education more broadly. To better inform voters about the positions of the six candidates vying for three trustee seats prior to heading to the polls May 15, each was asked to provide answers to the same  questions.

Candidate Mia Farina answered the questions during a phone interview while the other five chose to respond via email. Their answers to the questions, or answers in part, are provided below in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

If the district loses revenue as a result of a LIPA settlement, how can the BOE scale down the budget without doing too much harm to existing programs?

There is the possibility of losing property tax revenue as a legal battle plays out between Port Jefferson Village, the school district and Long Island Power Authority, which has a plant in the village. The utility company contends Town of Brookhaven  overassessed and is seeking to reduce the assessment. The district receives about half of the revenue in its budget from taxes paid by LIPA based on the plant’s assessment.

The village and Brookhaven have publicly stated a settlement is on the horizon, the result of which will likely reduce the plant’s assessment, though few details have been shared. The district has publicized a plan for the budget should an official settlement be reached in time to impact the 2018-19 school year, with
proposed cuts to instrument rental availability, textbooks, athletic teams, clubs and overnight field trips, to name a few.

Budget highlights
  • $44,945,812 for total operating budget
  • 3.72 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 2.23 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs
  • Second proposition on ballot to release capital reserves for roof repairs
  • Vote May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Ryan Biedenkapp: “There will need to be a scaling down of nonmandated costs by looking to trim where student participation fails to justify the cost. An increase in taxes combined with increased community participation in seeking alternative funding sources will also be required. Maintaining the academic integrity of Port Jefferson schools should be the guiding principle when deciding where reductions will occur.”

Mia Farina: “There’s actually grants out there — privately — [like] music grants that actually [pay for] musical instruments and pay for the maintenance of those instruments, so that alone would cover that lost revenue. I went to public school, and we did fundraisers. We could sponsor events. We possibly may lose revenue. If we could do anything to bring that back by having the community involved … ”

Jason Kronberg: “Depending on how severe the loss of revenue is, I’d like to hold forums with the community to come up with potential cuts to the budget.”

René Tidwell: “As a member of the BOE, I will work diligently to ensure the high standards the district has set for its instructional programs remain in place. I believe the district needs to form a Citizens Advisory Committee immediately, with the objective to assess the impact of the loss of LIPA revenue under various scenarios (such as 50 percent reduction of revenue, reduction on assessment or reduction on payments, etc.).”

Tracy Zamek: “The board can scale down the budget by looking at budget trends, participation rates, enrollment patterns and non-mandated costs. However, a combination of program adjustments and increased taxes will be necessary in order to absorb the significant loss of revenue. The community will once again be asked to provide input through a values survey and community forum response initiative. Understandably, not everyone is going to agree on every priority, but the most important thing to remember is our students come first.”

Ryan Walker: “Several suggestions that have been successful in other districts come to mind, such as encouraging increased philanthropic contributions, seeking out unused state and federal financial aid
opportunities and grant writing. The first thing to consider is what must the district have in order to maintain the high quality of education that makes families chose to move to Port Jefferson.”

Do you believe security officers and/or educators should be armed on school campuses?

Security in schools is never far from district’s and parent’s minds, though this has been particularly true in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 dead. Neighboring districts have moved to employ armed security personnel, while some participated in the national discourse through walkouts.

Biedenkapp: “I don’t believe in arming teachers, ever. The idea of having an armed security person inside our schools is one that gives me pause. The retention of a single, possibly two, retired officers, who also was/were licensed air marshal that was carrying [a] concealed [weapon] at the front of the school at the vestibule or outside the school on the perimeter is something that I would be inclined to support.”

Farina: “Absolutely not. Their job is to educate, not to have the responsibility of a [carrying] firearms. Security officers, I believe, should be armed if they’re fully capable of being armed, meaning training is a huge priority.”

Kronberg: “Weapons-trained security can be an essential layer of protection for our schools. There is no definitive study on the effectiveness of this form of protection, but in my opinion it is something, with proper training, that can help prevent and deter violence. Arming teachers in schools is an irresponsible idea.”

Tidwell: “I believe the answer to this question is best answered by the community itself, and as a BOE member, I would recommend a town hall meeting to listen to the community’s ideas and concerns regarding security for our facilities.”

Potential cuts pending LIPA settlement
  • Reduction of rental of music instruments for students ($12,000) Reduction in equipment ($18,000)
  • Reduction of textbooks ($15,000)
  • Reduction of 6 budgeted sports teams based upon student interest ($37,000)
  • Reduction of 6 extra curricular clubs based upon student interest ($18,000) Elimination of overnight/long distance field trips (Busing/Chaperons) ($18,000)
  • Reduction in Board of Education organizational dues ($2,000)
  • Reduction in District Community Printing/Mailings (Newsletters/Calendars) ($10,000)

Walker: “I worked in two school districts as a nationally certified School Resource Officer for the New York State Police Department. At first, residents were hesitant to have a police officer in full uniform, which included a gun, in the schools. Resident hesitation swiftly dissipated as I worked to build a positive collaborative relationship with students, families, administration, teachers and staff.”

Zamek: “I absolutely do not support the idea of having teachers armed in schools. Guns do not belong inside our schools. However, I would welcome a village and community discussion about having professional armed security guards on the outside of schools, especially at arrival [and] dismissal and on the perimeter of fields during recess.”

Do you think BOE communication and transparency with taxpayers can be improved, and if so, how would you do it?

The district and board have been criticized by members of the community for a lack of transparency and for their communication methods on issues, like how the district informed parents of a social media threat made by a student in February long after it was received and via email instead of a robocall.

Biedenkapp: “We can absolutely improve communication with all stakeholders, as well as our transparency. With respect to the taxpayers the district Facebook page should be utilized to give a brief synopsis of each BOE meeting, along with the live video of the meeting and quick links to any pertinent web pages. The school’s web page is rather cumbersome, but design of a new website would be fiscally irresponsible at this time. Residents should have an ability to have their phone number added to the school robocall list.”

Farina: “I think there’s always room for improvement in any type of communication whatsoever. I haven’t really had an issue [with] school communication because I’m very active. … I would ask the community for ideas on how they would want to be notified. Who’s not getting information that wants information? How do you get your information?”

Kronberg: “Communication between the board and community, although strong in many ways, can always be improved. I’m excited for the ‘super team’ approach arrived at by the superintendent for this fall [which brings community members from different sectors together to come up with ideas to solve problems]. While the meetings are online and available, it may be a good idea to provide a question and answer email session with board members, where community members can write in and receive answers to specific questions.”

Tidwell: “I believe there are significant gaps in the BOE’s communication process with all the district’s stakeholders. I would establish a telephone communication protocol that includes all district taxpayers — not just the parents of children attending the district’s schools. I would ensure that taxpayers who currently do not utilize the internet or social media are informed of upcoming BOE events in a timely manner. I propose utilizing cellphone alert applications to remind residents of upcoming meetings, important announcements, etc., all of which could have ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ choices for all residents.”

Walker: “The current way of disseminating information is adequate for those with children attending schools in the district. However, everyone else must seek out information by checking the district’s web page on a daily basis to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Printed newsletter mailings to residents are infrequent, costly and not always timely. All residents should have an opportunity to register their email addresses with the school to have the same information sent to them as parents of school children. Board members should make themselves more available to attend public functions, have face-to-face interactions with residents.”

Zamek: “There needs to be a greater emphasis on enrolling every community member on our connect-ed phone, text and email system. I have already started to improve communication between the school and village officials by creating a direct line of communication between the two offices. The school now informs the mayor’s office monthly concerning school board meeting dates and times and provides an agenda.”