School Board Elections

One contested board of education seat has Mandi Kowalik pitted against Christopher Alcure

Smithtown school district's administrative New York Avenue building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

The school year is almost finished, and while students are sitting at the edge of their seats ready for summer, their parents and other Smithtown residents are being asked to vote May 15 on the school budgets and board elections.

The Smithtown Central School District is including new security measures in its proposed 2018-19 budget, which sets aside funding for new security guards for all seven elementary schools.

The school district adopted its budget of $244,913,464, which represents a 2.32 percent increase, or additional $5,546,259 more than this year’s budget.

“The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible,” Superintendent James Grossane said in a statement.

The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible.”
– James Grossane

The school district’s security was one of the larger areas receiving a funding increase under the proposed budget. The suggested security upgrades include vestibules in all school entrances that will be constructed over the summer as well as full-time, unarmed security guards for all elementary schools.

“Full-time security guards began on May 1 in all district elementary schools and will continue as part of the budget moving forward,” Grossane said.

The budget will also maintain all current programs while transitioning to universal elementary school start and end times from 9:20 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. It will allow the district to offer new elective courses at the high school including adding Advanced Placement Capstone Research in addition to the existing AP Capstone program.

If approved, the 2018-19 budget represents a 2.95 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s state tax levy cap. Because the district stayed within the tax levy cap, it only needs a simple 50 percent majority vote to pass the budget.

In addition to security, the district is looking to add one additional school psychologist, social worker and guidance counselor to its staffing.

The ballot will include a proposition for the use of capital reserve funds to complete a number of repairs and renovations in the district. This includes repairs to the tennis courts at Smithtown High School East and West, window replacement in the Accompsett Middle School and roof and skylight repairs at the Smithtown Elementary School.

Smithtown board of education

Two seats on the Smithtown school board have come up for re-election but only one race is contested. Newcomer Mandi Kowalik is competing against incumbent trustee Christopher Alcure for a trustee seat. Incumbent and current board President Jeremy Thode is running again for his seat unopposed.

Christopher Alcure. Photo from Alcure

Alcure is finishing his second term on the board and he is looking for a third.

“I am running for re-election in 2018 as there is still more to be accomplished,” Alcure said.

Alcure is a 15-year Smithtown resident where he currently operates a small business. In addition, he works as project manager at CA Technologies based in Islandia.

Alcure said he has two daughters currently enrolled in Smithtown schools. His experience raising his kids as well as his six years on the board, including three years as board president, has given him plenty of experience to deal with today’s challenges.

“I am battle tested and I have thick skin,” he said. “These are very important qualities for public service. I survived the economic downturn where the board had to make difficult decisions in terms of balancing the budget and making sensible cuts to programs that would not overly impact students.”

Alcure said he wants to focus on investing in additional security options for Smithtown schools, maintaining low class sizes and improving district facilities.

“I’m looking for ways to continue to improve educational opportunities for students, at all levels, on the path toward college and career readiness,” Alcure said.

Mandi Kowalik. Photo from Kowalik

Kowalik is a 14-year resident of Smithtown and a published author of the children’s book titled “Stella, Or Star: Coping with a Loss During Pregnancy.” She has worked as a school teacher for nursery school through sixth grade for 13 years before leaving to raise her three children. She has worked on a number of school committees including as area representative and member of the board for the Teacher Center of the West Hamptons.

Kowalik has one son starting kindergarten this September with two younger daughters she plans to enroll in the district.

“Our school board needs a mom with school-aged children,” Kowalik said in a statement. “My family will be attending Smithtown schools for 16 more years. I am very heavily invested in the welfare of the district.”

Kowalik said she wants to focus on security as well as the mental and physical well-being of students.

“The security of our students and staff are the most important issue that we are currently facing,” she said. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our school safe.”

The board candidate said she believes
students need time to socialize without adults actively interacting and closely monitoring them. While she said the district has explored this at some levels, she would like to continue to explore further avenues for it.

Go vote

The budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Depending on your election district, residents can vote at the Smithtown Elementary School gymnasium, the St. James Elementary School gymnasium, the Nesconset Elementary School gymnasium or the Accompsett Elementary School gymnasium.

Comsewogue School Board President John Swenning speaks during the school’s 2016 graduation ceremony June 23. Photo by Bob Savage

By Alex Petroski

Barring support for an unforeseen write-in candidate, Comsewogue School District taxpayers already know who will be on their board of education next school year. Three candidates are running for three seats, two of whom are familiar faces while one is a newcomer. The terms for board President John Swenning, and Trustees Rick Rennard and Louise Melious are up this year. Swenning and Rennard are running again while Melious is not. She did not respond to a request for comment about her decision. Corey Prinz, a district resident since 2004, is the third candidate and is making his first bid for the board.

Corey Prinz

Prinz, 37, lives in the district with his wife and two kids — a second-grader and a fourth-grader. He has worked for Bank United as a commercial banker for about a decade. Prinz said he enjoys the small-town feeling in Comsewogue and sees it as a good place to raise a family. He was previously involved as a board
member for Comsewogue’s youth lacrosse program and said running for the school board seemed like a natural progression to get more involved.

“I’m excited – this is going to be a lot of fun,” Prinz said. “I go to bed excited about this starting up.”

He said his personal mantra in his position with the youth lacrosse program was to help kids succeed athletically, but more importantly “I want them to be good humans.” Prinz called this day and age in education and beyond very difficult for kids who face pressures based on academics, security concerns and socially, among countless others.

“We’re going through some changes here in the world,” he said.

Prinz said he thinks the current board has done a great job.

“Honestly, it’s about listening right now,” he said of his approach stepping into the position. “I don’t want to imply there’s something broken that I’m coming in to fix. It can always be improved.”

John Swenning

Comsewogue is known to have among the highest opt-out rates for standardized tests on Long Island, a charge led by Superintendent Joe Rella. While Prinz said he doesn’t have a problem with parents electing to have students skip tests, his kids have taken them.

“Eventually kids will have to deal with testing that isn’t pleasant and comfortable. I’m OK with them getting used to that,” he said.

Prinz said his focus will be on helping to create well-rounded offerings, with equal emphasis on education, athletics, music and any other areas important to students and community members.

Swenning, 54, attended Comsewogue schools and has been a board member since 2005. He works as a sales and design consultant in the home improvement industry. He and his wife Andrea have been married for 32 years and have four children, all Comsewogue graduates.

“I have been part of so many good things here and look forward to continuing to see Comsewogue accomplish great things for our students,” he said of why he decided to seek another term.

The district earned the prestigious accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools in 2017.

He said safety and security improvements will be a focus for the board going forward, as well as expanding the district’s project-based learning pilot program, which the district implemented in recent years as an alternative to typical Regents-based classes.

Rick Rennard

Rennard started on the board in 2014. He has lived in the district for 14 years and has a child at each level in the district — an elementary student, middle schooler and a high schooler. He is a teacher at Newfield High School in the Middle Country Central School District, and also serves as Boy Scouts cubmaster and assistant scoutmaster for Troop 354.

“The reason that I decided to run again for the school board is because after serving for four years, I feel very comfortable with the responsibilities and commitments that come along with the position,” he said. “I feel the district is moving in a very positive direction educationally, and I want to continue that movement.”

He also expressed a desire to continue the project-based learning program as a focus moving forward.

To vote on the district’s budget, a $32 million capital bond proposal and BOE candidates, go to Comsewogue High School May 15 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Three Village budget vote is May 21. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

With residents set to vote on the school budget May 15, Three Village officials reviewed pertinent financial details at a public hearing during the May 2 school board meeting.

$209.8 million budget stays within cap

A main point is that the district will stay within the 1.97 percent cap on the tax levy increase without the need to cut programs, Jeff Carlson, the district’s superintendent for business services, said to those gathered for the Wednesday meeting.

School board president William Connors is running unopposed for his seat on the board. File photo by Andrea Paldy

Highlights of the $209.8 million budget include measures to increase student safety and well-being and to support elementary science and music programs.

Cheryl Pedisich, district superintendent, said the district will hire an additional guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, as well as a psychologist to administer tests throughout the district to “free up” school psychologists to offer more counseling and guidance. She said security is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just infrastructure and security staff,” she said. “It’s also clinical staff.”

Three Village will receive $34.4 million — an increase of $833,579 —  in aid from the state, Carlson said.  It does not include building aid, which is tied to capital projects that vary from year to year.

The administrators said that declining enrollment at the elementary level, secondary student course preferences, retirements and administrative restructuring, all serve to ease the path for program enhancements.

A decrease of 120 to 130 elementary-age students could mean a reduction of two full-time equivalent positions in the early grades.  Pedisich said that would enable the district to add three teaching assistants to two from existing staffing as it prepares for the 2020 implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. Lower student numbers also mean that the district can offer third-grade orchestra in the fall.

At the secondary level, changes in course enrollment could lead to a decrease of two to three FTEs, said Pedisich. As a result, the upcoming budget will be able to support an assistant athletic trainer to provide coverage for junior varsity games and seventh- and eighth-grade contact sports, as well as the addition of one full-time equivalent clerical staff member. Each junior high will have its own assistant to support the media specialists with the roll-out of the one-to-one device program that equips seventh through ninth graders with Chromebooks, the superintendent said.

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts.”

— William Connors

Additional positions include one FTE for maintenance and shifting the transition coordinator, who assists special needs students in their move to the next stage after high school, from a contract position to one that is in-house.

Administrative retirements offer the district an opportunity to save funds by combining positions, while also being more “effective in terms of the delivery of curriculum,” Pedisich said.

With the retirement of the high school chair of foreign languages, a new position that oversees foreign language and English as a New Language is being created districtwide for kindergarten through 12th grade. Similarly, the retirement of the assistant director of health and physical education, who oversaw high school programs, will result in a coordinating chair of physical education and health for elementary grades and one for all secondary grades. The district will not replace the administrator retiring from the child nutrition program, Pedisich said.

In other changes, Ward Melville High School principal, Alan Baum, will move to the North Country administrative building to become Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Human Resources. William Bernhard, principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, will become the new high school principal.

Two trustees up for vote

Besides the budget, residents will also vote for school board trustees. School board president William Connors and trustee Deanna Bavlnka are running unopposed to hold their seats.

Connors, the father of three Ward Melville High School graduates, is running for his third term since being elected in 2012. He previously served on the board from 1994-2006 and said during a recent interview that his time on the board has taught him that the community will support a “reasonable” budget, sometimes at “great financial sacrifice.”

Deanna Bavlnka, elected for the first time in 2011, is running unopposed for her seat on the Three Village school board. Photo from candidate

“We have excellent programs and services, and the community has supported us in those efforts,” said Connors, who retired from his position as associate vice president of academic affairs and college dean of faculty at Suffolk Community College in 2011.

He noted that the district offers first-rate programs, catering to all students, at all grade and academic levels, and now that also includes pre-kindergarteners. The next step, he said, is adding more vocational courses to address the needs of students whose next stop may not be college.

Connors said he takes his role as board president seriously.

“I try to present a public voice of the board,” he said. “I try to represent the board of education and what we stand for and advocate for the district.”

Fellow trustee and Ward Melville graduate Bavlnka also is proud of the district’s free prekindergarten program offered at Nassakeag Elementary School.

Director of human resources at P.W. Grosser Consulting, Bavlnka listed among the district’s recent accomplishments the elementary STEM program, establishment of writing and math centers at the secondary schools and the one-to-one device program currently in its first year at the district’s junior highs.

Bavlnka was elected for the first time in 2011, and like Connors, notes the challenge of sustaining quality programs while remaining fiscally responsible.

“As a board trustee, we represent the entire school community,” she said in an email.  Bavlnka added that the board accepts accountability for clearly representing the community “both from an educational and budgetary perspective.”

The vote for the Three Village school budget and board trustees will take place May 15, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Residents zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Setauket Elementary will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, and residents in W.S. Mount Elementary zoning will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High.

The Miller Place board of education incumbent Keith Frank is running unopposed to maintain the position he’s held for the last three years.

The trustee has been a Miller Place resident since 2003, and currently works as a labor and employment attorney for the Silverman Acampora law firm based in Jericho. He moved to Miller Place to raise his kids in what he saw as a good school district and kid-friendly area.

Keith Frank is running for his second term. File photo

Two of his three kids are currently enrolled in the district. His oldest child graduated from last year. While his kids matured he coached North Shore Little League soccer, softball and baseball.

When Frank ran in 2015 he said he wanted to meet the needs of his own children as well as the rest of the students in the district.

“I got a lot of fulfillment and satisfaction working on the board,” Frank said. “I want to continue that with the great team we have here.”

He said he believes that the main focus of the board should be offering programs for all students with different interests.

“We’re trying to balance the needs and the wishes of everyone, whether it’s arts, athletics or music — whatever the kids want to do,” Frank said. “Not all kids have the same interests. For example, with my kids, one’s athletic, one is interested in the arts. It’s about making sure we can properly fund those and support any of those activities.”

Frank said that technology, science and math focused courses should be a staple in the school’s curriculum to deal with a developing world.

“Kids should be able to go out and properly tackle the world,” he said.

Board president Johanna Testa said she was happy to see Frank put in an application for a second term.

“We’re looking forward to the next couple of years with him here,” she said. “What I find with our current board is we may not all agree with each other all the time, but we work well together and we work toward the common good of the district. [Keith Frank] is an attorney and he’s had experience dealing with contract negotiations and things of that nature. That’s been a benefit to us and the district.”

Last March Miller Place School District hired one armed security guard for each of the four school buildings in the district.

Frank would not go into detail on continuing those services or putting more effort and funds in new security upgrades, but he said options will be reviewed again going into the next school year.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Frank said. “We have approved [the security guards] through the end of this year, then we will take up that issue and review it again.”

Board elections will take place with the budget vote Tuesday, May 15 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School gym, at 191 North Country Rd. in Miller Place.

This version was updated to correctly identify at what time and where the budget and trustee vote will take place.

Trustee Michael Yanucci not seeking a second term

Shoreham-Wading River board of education president Robert Rose, on left, and second-time candidate James Smith, are running for two open trustee seats. File photos

By Kyle Barr

Two trustee seats are up for grabs on Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education, and running for them are a veteran and a newcomer.

Current board President Robert Rose is seeking another term and second-time candidate James Smith is  seeking election to the board following the stepping down of current trustee Michael Yannucci.
Both candidates are running unopposed.

Yannucci said he decided to not run for re-election so he can spend more time with his young children.

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings,” Yannucci said. His advice to the rest of the board upon leaving is that they should look to engage and communicate with district residents. “Even if they don’t have kids in school, their taxes are still affected by our decisions.”

Rose is running for his third three-year term on the board.

“I decided to run for re-election because I think I add a lot to the board with my experience,” Rose said. “I also really enjoy giving back to my community.”

“Despite the fact that we have an uncontested board election this year, residents should continue to stay engaged and attend board meetings.”

— Michael Yanucci

The board president said he knows his way around schools with his more-than 20 years of experience as an educator. He’s been the assistant principal at Smithtown High School East for the past 12.

“I would like to continue to play a role in making Shoreham-Wading River an outstanding district by working collaboratively with the administration and teachers to develop policies and programs that support student learning and help our students become career and college ready,” Rose said.

Smith, who ran last year unsuccessfully, has been a Shoreham resident for the past six years and in that time has not hesitated to get involved in the community. The father of four enrolled in the district, joined the PTA and became its vice president. He has worked with kids as a coach through Sound Beach Soccer Club and Father Joe’s Soccer. Smith said he wants to push for greater psychological and emotional resources for students.

“I just wanted to have greater input in the district,” he said. “I think the district has made great strides over the last couple [of] years, but I definitely want to see more resources dedicated, especially now in
today’s environment, toward the mental and physical well-being of our students.”

Shoreham Wading-River is including a provision in its adopted budget for hiring an additional psychologist to help with the current workload. There is presently one at the high school, one at the middle school and three shared between the two elementary school buildings. 

Smith said he believes there need to be even more psychologists and social workers engaged with students in school.

“I definitely feel the district needs to shift more toward emotional intelligence,” Smith said. “We’re stretched very thin. We need this emphasis on mental health, especially with all the school shootings we’ve seen over the past few years.”

Board elections will take place with the budget vote Tuesday, May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Shoreham-Wading River High School auxiliary gym, located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham.

This version corrects how many psychologists there are presently at the elementary schools. 

Rocky Point board of education trustee Ed Caswell, on left, is running for re-election. Newcomer Gregory Amendola, on right, is also running following the step-down of Vice President Scott Reh. File photos

Two candidates are running for two open Rocky Point board of education seats this May.

Following the news of Vice President Scott Reh choosing to step down,incumbent Ed Casswell is choosing to run again, while newcomer Gregory Amendola chose to throw his hat in the ring for the open seat.

Reh, Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming,” Reh said. “I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it. I wish everyone the best of luck.”

Casswell, a 26-year Rocky Point resident, is serving his third year on the board.

“I’m hoping to continue serving to help oversee the operations of the district, specifically our charge to be fiscally responsible, provide opportunities for students — for college and career — and to strengthen safety protocols districtwide,” Casswell said.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming. I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it.”

— Scott Reh

The trustee has been a member of the North Shore Little League for 10 years and is currently the principal of Center Moriches High School.

“I feel it is important to be an active member of a community,” he said. “High levels of altruism and service among citizens help create vibrant communities. This has always been my driving force and calling. I believe in these notions and love serving.”

Gregory Amendola is a 13-year resident who said he’s running to try and get the community more involved and informed on how the school district makes decisions.

“I wanted to be a voice for the kids in the district — I want to make sure every kid in the district is spoken for,” Amendola said. “I’m big on communication, and I still feel like there’s people in the dark who don’t even know we have board meetings. I feel the district for the most part is doing well, but I just want people to be more informed about what’s going on.”

Amendola works as a dental ceramist, making prosthetics like crowns, bridges and other implants. He was vice president for the Long Island Sharks football team board, has previously run St. Anthony’s CYO soccer club and has been parent liaison for the junior varsity and varsity Rocky Point Wrestling teams.

“My grandparents lived in Rocky Point before I moved here with my wife, so I always had a connection to the town,” he said. “It still has that small-town feel.”

Amendola said that he’s excited to be working with the rest of the board.

“I don’t have anything that I want to change right out of the gate,” Amendola said. “I want to get involved, find my place, find my rhythm, then as we go further I want to make my voice heard.”

The trustees vote will take place along with the budget vote May 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Rocky Point High School gym, located at 82 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road in Rocky Point. In July, at the board’s organizational meeting where the elected members from May will assume their trustee positions, the board will elect a president and vice president.

Dr. Jason Kronberg during a meet the candidates event at Port Jefferson High School April 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson School District board of education candidate has agreed to pay a settlement to resolve a legal issue pertaining to his day job.

A pediatrics practice with several Long Island locations, including one in Port Jefferson, and its current and former partner physicians agreed to pay $750,000 to settle claims of improper Medicaid billing practices, according to an April 25 announcement by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. One of the partners of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the practice named in the press release, is Dr. Jason Kronberg, a Port Jefferson resident running for one of the school district’s three board of education seats up for election May 15. The practice operates as a limited liability partnership under the name Freed, Kleinberg, Nussbaum, Festa & Kronberg M.D. The legal action was brought about by a whistleblower, and the case was pursued under the federal False Claims Act and the New York State False Claims Act jointly by federal and state investigators.

“The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point.”

— Jason Kronberg

According to the release, the practice billed the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to millions of Americans including eligible low-income adults, children, people with disabilities and others and is jointly funded by state and federal governments, for services provided by physicians who were not enrolled in the program. Between July 2004 and December 2010, the practice and its partners employed a number of physicians who were not enrolled in the Medicaid program yet still provided care to Medicaid patients, the government’s investigation revealed. The defendants sought reimbursement from Medicaid for services provided by non-Medicaid enrolled physicians and did so by misrepresenting the identities of the individuals actually providing the treatment, the release said.

“The settlement related to billing practices from over eight years ago, a period when, for the most part, I was just an employee of the practice,” Kronberg said in an email, adding that the settlement shouldn’t interfere with his school board candidacy. “The practice corrected the problem on our own in 2011, and we have had no issues since that point. Given the extraordinarily complex nature of Medicaid billing rules, settlements like this are quite common – the government enters into thousands of them every year. We cooperated fully with the government investigation of this matter and we resolved the case with the government amicably.”

According to the complaint by the whistleblower’s attorneys accessed after Kronberg’s initial statement, he was a partner “at all relevant times herein.”

“I was a partner starting July 2009,” Kronberg said. “The complaint was 2005 to 2010. The statement said ‘for the most part’ — which is accurate.”

A request for comment sent to Kronberg’s defense attorney Christopher Fenlon was not returned, nor was a request sent to district Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

— Richard Donoghue

According to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Board’s Association, an organization that provides support for school boards in the state, the settlement will have no impact on Kronberg’s bid for Port Jeff’s board. Worona said anyone qualified to vote is eligible to run for a board of education position in New York, with a felony conviction being the only disqualifier, adding that it will be up to the voters to decide.

“Providers serving Medicaid beneficiaries must be properly credentialed and thoroughly vetted to ensure that proper care is provided and to preserve the integrity of the Medicaid Program, which serves our neediest citizens,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “Today’s settlement reflects this office’s commitment to safeguarding taxpayer programs like Medicaid by vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in False Claims Act cases.”

As part of the settlement, New York’s Medicaid program will receive $450,000 of the $750,000 payment, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office’s press release on the matter.

Kronberg said during a meet the candidates event at the high school April 24 he was seeking a seat on the board to lend his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate and weigh in impartially. He is one of six candidates running to fill three seats.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said in a personal statement. “I believe I will bring to the board a fiscally conservative yet socially liberal viewpoint.”

This post was updated May 1 with information from the complaint filed by the whistleblower and a second comment from Jason Kronberg.

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

Six candidates have come forward to run for three vacant seats on the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education.

The three-year terms of trustees Tracy Zamek, Mark Doyle and Vincent Ruggiero expire this year, though only Zamek is seeking another term. She joined five other community members at the Port Jefferson High School auditorium April 24 for a meet-the-candidates event, hosted by the district’s three parent-teacher associations.

Doyle, who ran a write-in campaign when he was re-elected in 2015, said in an interview he will not seek a fourth term, citing growing professional obligations and a desire to have his seat filled by someone more able to offer up their time. Ruggiero did not respond to a request for comment sent to his school district email.

The candidates were asked six questions about relevant issues to the district — including the potential for lost revenue as Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village hammer out settlements with the Long Island Power Authority over an assessment dispute on its Port Jeff power plant — and education more broadly, and were allowed opening and closing statements. Each candidate also submitted personal bios to the administrators of the event, which were publicly distributed.

Meet the candidates

Tracy Zamek: She was first elected to the board in 2015. Zamek has lived in the district since 1996 and currently has two teens attending local schools. She is currently a fifth-grade teacher in the Hauppauge school district. She cited her desire for fiscal responsibility and to advocate for students as her reasons for running again.

“I believe every single student who attends Port Jefferson schools deserves a premier education,” she said. “Now more than ever, the people in this village and school community need to work together as one, in regards to the LIPA/National Grid gorilla staring us in the face.”

Ryan Walker: He moved to the district in 2010 and also has two children attending Port Jeff schools. Walker spent 10 years as a New York State police sergeant, followed by three years as a security guard in local schools. He was one of New York’s first nationally certified school resource officers in 2002.

He said his experience in law enforcement “will be an asset regarding the safety of the students in our schools.”

“I will work to balance the concerns of the residents with a common sense fiscal management plan to address our overall district funding needs,” he said.

René Tidwell: She has a daughter in sixth grade, and a long work history in banking and financial services. Tidwell currently works as a special education teacher’s aide. She is running because she wants to lend her
expertise in financial planning to help the community plan long term for the possibility of less annual property tax revenue, citing a need for not only student advocacy, but for taxpayers.

“With over 20 years of experience in banking and financial services, I will focus on data-driven research, analysis and long-term planning to develop solutions for our district’s funding requirements,” she said.

Jason Kronberg: Dr. Kronberg is a pediatrician with two children in district schools. He moved to Port Jeff in 2003 from Queens and cited his willingness to listen to all sides of a debate along with being “fiscally conservative,” yet “socially liberal” as assets he’ll bring to the district if elected.

“I was asked to become a member of the school board to serve as a rational and non-biased voice in what has become a contentious environment,” he said.

Mia Farina: She is a NYPD officer with a 6-year-old son in the elementary school. Farina said her philosophy if elected would be “if it’s important to your child it’s important to me.” She said her experience as a police
officer makes her uniquely qualified to address security concerns within schools.

“I would bring all my knowledge and assist the schools in every way to help keep our children stay safe at school and educate them in every possible way I know how,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp: He has a daughter and twin sons, and said an autism diagnosis for one of the twins precipitated their move to Port Jeff from Oceanside. He has experience as an occupational therapist and currently works in pharmaceutical sales.

“I see a need to increase communication among all stakeholders, while staying focused on the needs of all students,” he said about his reasons for running. “By increasing communication among all community stakeholders, building a stronger sense of community among students and staying focused on fiscal responsibilities, Port Jefferson will remain a school district we can all be proud of.”

The budget vote and trustee elections are on Tuesday, May 15.

Incumbents Irene Gische, Jeff Kerman and Inger Germano are running unopposed for their seats back on the Three Village board of education.

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents have overwhelmingly approved the school district’s proposed $204.4 million budget for the coming year.

At the polls Tuesday, 1,708 voted for the budget, while 719 voted against.

Incumbents Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano, who all ran unopposed, will retain their seats.

The 2017-18 budget, a 2.77 percent increase over the previous year, covers academic enhancements, staffing changes and maintenance projects at the district’s buildings. The most notable additions are the free prekindergarten program for four-year-olds, a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families, and a supervisor of technology and information systems to help oversee next year’s initiative to provide all junior high students with notebook computers.

The three board trustees, each going into a third three-year term, acknowledged the challenges of the cap on the tax levy and the controversy over Common Core in the past few years, but look to the future with optimism.

Kerman has said that in the next three years he wants to “continue to have our district advance and to educate all of our students — the entire range, from special education students to Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists.”

“All in all,” Gische said at a previous meeting, “the district is thriving in spite of the tax cap.”

She cited the addition of the free preschool and the drug and alcohol counselor as continued signs of progress, and said she will continue to support the prekindergarten and additional program and curriculum enhancements.

Germano also cited the preschool — as well as the Three Village Academy, which opened in 2013 — as recent district successes and pointed out that the Academy is a source of revenue through tuition from non-district students. She will “continue to ensure that Three Village maintains academic excellence” while staying fiscally responsible and “putting the needs of the children first,” she added in an email.

This year, because of safety concerns, voting took place at the three secondary schools instead of the elementary schools. Though voter turnout was lower than in past years, district officials interpreted it as a sign of residents’ satisfaction. The absence of additional propositions, like last year’s for transportation, and an uncontested school board election, may also have contributed to the lower turnout, they said. 

However, with 70 percent voting in favor of the budget, the message from residents was still clear.

“The community has shown their approval and support and we couldn’t be more pleased,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

Returning board member Michael Yannucci and newcomers Katie Anderson, Erin Hunt and Henry Perez, will replace two incumbents. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River voters may have passed the school budget Tuesday night, but residents made it clear they want change.

Katie Anderson

The district’s $74,842,792 budget for 2017-2018 was supported by residents with 1,112 for and 992 against, as was a second proposition to establish a 10-year, $7.5 million capital reserve fund with 1,282 voters in support and 813 in opposition.

With the capital reserve fund secured, the district will be able to fund complete facility renovations across its four schools, such as Americans with Disabilities Act features, upgrading athletic fields, bleachers, auditoriums, computers, energy management systems and gymnasiums, among other projects.

“It’s a great relief,” Neil Lederer, the district’s interim superintendent, said of the budget and capital reserve fund passing. “I’m very appreciative of the community … mistakes were made in the past, [and] we’ve corrected them for the future with this budget they voted on. The individuals who benefit the most from this are our students — we’ve got some very nice programs put in place next year.”

Henry Perez

It was out with the old and in with the new when it came to the seven candidates who ran for four seats on the board of education.

Two incumbents, board president John Zukowski and trustee Jack Costas, were ousted with 524 and 563 votes, respectively, in favor of three school board newcomers — Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303) and Erin Hunt (1,279) — who will each serve a three-year term.

Michael Yannucci, a former trustee from 2005 to 2008, received the fourth highest number of votes with 1,087, so he will occupy the vacant seat that belonged to longtime trustee Michael Fucito, who resigned in March before his term was up. He will serve a one-year term and was sworn in immediately after the vote.

Candidate James Smith missed the mark with 1,015 votes. Zukowski, who’s served on the board for six years, said he does not intend to run for the board again. Costas, who was up for his fourth term, also won’t run again.

“I did nine years, the community doesn’t want me, that’s it — I’m done,” Costas said. “I get the message. I’m glad the budget passed and I give the best of luck to the new board.”

Smith, however, expressed interest in running for Yannucci’s seat after the one-year term is up next year.

“There’s a very good possibility,” Smith said. “I’m disappointed, but I wish all the candidates well and hope they make the best decisions for the students and district and community.”

The board’s new crop of trustees, who were all smiles after the results came in, said they were excited to help guide the district.

“I’m on a high,” said Perez, a professional engineer. “I’m thankful that people have faith that I can hopefully provide further vision toward taking the school district to the next level. I’m hoping to work collaboratively with everybody.”

Michael Yannucci

Hunt, a former secondary education teacher, echoed Perez’s call for collaboration.

“I think we have a diverse board and I’m thrilled to work with everybody,” Hunt said. “The main thing we can do is change the narrative in the district to a positive one. Shoreham-Wading River is a really great community and I think we can move forward by focusing on building on all the positive we have here. We can also do more to connect our communities.”

Yannucci said there’s a lot of work to be done to be a more transparent district.

“In my run, I think we had a strong message of bringing the community into the process and engaging a lot of people who were not engaged prior to the election,” he said. “There’s been a loss of faith over the last few years and I’m excited to be able to restore the faith and give the community a sense of pride in terms of the decisions and direction of the district.”

Anderson, a mother of two students in the district, is determined to get to work as soon as possible.

“I’m so thankful to the voters for how the vote went,” Anderson said. “I’m ready to serve.”


A student voice

By Kevin Redding

Jack Tressler wanted to try something new at the start of the academic year — so he threw his hat in the ring to be the student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education.

Tressler, a senior, was officially sworn in April 18 to sit in on board meetings and represent the student body by weighing in on district-related matters and discussions.

“I’ve learned a lot about how people conduct themselves and how things at the school are done and how people present their ideas,” Tressler said. “I don’t think a lot of people, especially students, know how these things work and now I have some idea. I’ve been able to present myself in front of professionals and act cordially and it’s helped me out in terms of public speaking, [something] I’ve always been weak with.”

Jack Tressler gets sworn in. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

But at his first board meeting, when a group of engineers proposed their plans to renovate the high school’s parking lot, Tressler was quick to speak up.

“They wanted to renovate the lot and most of their renditions would make for less parking spots, and being a student myself, the parking’s already a bad situation — there aren’t always enough spots.”

With just another month as a board member, Tressler, an AP physics and AP environmental science student, said he’d like to implement some change in regards to the school’s environmental standards, like switching to glass bottles in the district.

“In his role as a student board of education member, Jack has proved to be invaluable,” interim Superintendent of Schools Neil Lederer said. “He has provided the board with a unique student perspective that is important to consider when making decisions. I have also been impressed with Jack’s willingness to contribute and self-confidence.”

Tressler will serve on the board until the end of June, when he’ll pass the torch to a new student representative. In the fall, he will be studying physics and engineering at James Madison University in Virginia.