Times of Huntington-Northport

Twin talks the double win, push to best his brother Isaiah, following in footsteps of twins of years past

Elijah Claiborne celebrates after checking the scoreboard to confirm his first-place finish in the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Elijah Claiborne has always come second, but this time, the state meet was his stage to shine on.

Elijah Claiborne crosses the 1,600-meter finish line with ease. Photo from Northport athletics

The senior has fallen short to his twin brother Isaiah before, and other times, like at the state indoor meet, to Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. The close finishes haven’t deterred the senior from the sport, instead motivating him to work harder. Even though his older brother opted out of the state outdoor championships to attend the Brooks PR meet, spectators were still seeing double. Claiborne placed first in the 800 in 1 minute, 52.33 seconds, and first in the 1,600 in 4:10.01.

“Things went perfectly,” Claiborne said. “After not qualifying last year I really wanted this. [Isaiah] has always been better than me and I’ve closed the gap between me and him. My goal is to beat him or run a faster time than him whenever I get the chance. He’s always my driving factor.”

His other motivator was falling just milliseconds behind Ahmed this past March.

“I changed my race strategy and I started trying a lot harder during practice,” he said following  the photo finish. “I stopped skipping runs and focused more on how I execute race plans and getting myself prepared.”

Elijah Claiborne is congratulated by a fellow runner after the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Jason Strom has seen his runner’s struggles and said what Claiborne did at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9 was the most incredible performance he has seen at states. The senior was also part of the 4×800 relay with senior Dan O’Connor, junior Sean Ryan and sophomore Thomas Fodor clocked in a photo-finish second place to St. Anthony’s (7:45.78), finishing in 7:45.79.

“He’s had a hard time gaining the respect he deserves because his brother has been a notch faster than him — he’s been second-best even in his own house,” the 12-year Northport coach said of Claiborne. “It was nice for him to have his day to shine, have all eyes on him, and realize the top runner in the state that he is. His athletic ability and talent in the sport is through the roof, and he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet.”

Claiborne said he and his brother were always compared to previous Northport twin track stars Jack and Tim McGowan. The sets of twins have a unique relationship, and their connection will grow when the four become teammates at Pennsylvania State University next year.

“They’re the ones that recruited me,” Claiborne said. “Isaiah and I have always been compared to them, and I’ve always tried to beat their times year after year. It’s created some friendly competition.”

He said he also chose Penn State because he immediately felt at home.

Elijah Claiborne stands atop the 800-meter run podium after his first-place finish. Photo from Northport athletics

“The way they treated us we already felt like members of the team,” he said. “They were all very nice, the facility is very nice. I just felt amazing when I visited, and I’ve always wanted to go to a big school like that. I couldn’t be happier.”

Strom said he always saw potential in Claiborne. The runner competed for soccer and wrestling teams as a freshman, and used his time on the track team to stay in shape. 

After seeing his brother quit wrestling to take on track year-round as a sophomore, he followed suit the next year.

“Coach took me in and built me up to be the best I can be,” Claiborne said. “I’ve made my greatest friends through track. Being a Northport Tiger, it’s been a great four years. I’m just grateful for my teammates, and I’m going to miss them next year.”

He admitted his permanent move to the track team was motivated by his brother’s fast rise to stardom.

“I saw how good he got, and I didn’t want my brother to get better than me, so I joined the team full-time,” Claiborne said. “My brother, how good he got, I wanted to be that great too.”

Now, he is.

An aerial map overview of Huntington Station revitalization projects shows the state-owned NY Avenue property highlighted in yellow. Image from Source the Station

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Town officials are looking to state representatives in Albany to push for the transfer of ownership of a state property on New York Avenue to the town by June 20.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) introduced a late resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to send a home rule message urging New York state legislators to approve the transferring of ownership of about 4 acres of land in Huntington Station to the town in order for revitalization efforts to move forward.

“The Town of Huntington, in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns at Huntington Station LLC and the entire Huntington Station community, is engaged in a multi-year community planning and revitalization process to help realize the community’s aspiration for a more walkable, vibrant and transit-friendly environment,” Cergol’s resolution reads.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.”
– Joan Cergol

The land sought is a narrow strip of property adjacent to the western side of New York Avenue/Route 110, bordered to the north by Church Street running along the roadway south to the Long Island Rail Road right of way. It is currently owned by New York State Department of Transportation.

Ryan Porter, president and co-CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, said obtaining ownership of the land is critical for moving forward in the planning and construction of the artist lofts and hotel envisioned as part of the Huntington Station revitalization master plans. In February 2014, the town board approved a special use permit for the hotel along New York Avenue under a C-6 overlay zoning. Since then, the plans have not advanced any further.

Town board members approved the home rule message by a 3-2 vote urging the passage of the land transfer bills that have been sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and state Assemblyman Steve Stern (R-Dix Hills) before the end of state legislature’s session.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since,” Cergol said, noting she also recently sponsored a resolution that allowed the area to be federally designated an Opportunity Zone which provides tax incentives to business owners. “To be in the position I am now to advance progress is very rewarding and to see things happening makes me feel like a rock star.”

Councilmen Gene Cook (R) and Ed Smythe (R) voted against seeking a transfer of the New York Avenue property. Cook said he was originally in favor of the resolution but admitted to having issues with some of the actions taken by Renaissance Downtowns in recent months, including requesting permission to construct two-bedroom apartments in the Gateway Plaza after initial plans were already approved and seeking approval of $2.6 million in tax breaks from Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency on the project.

“It was a good way to set [Renaissance Downtowns] up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”
– Gene Cook

“I wasn’t happy with what happened with Renaissance the past couple of weeks, the nonsense, the changes, going for IDA money,” the councilman said. “It was a good way to set them up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”

Porter said he hasn’t had the opportunity to speak personally with Cook since the developer’s request to add two-bedroom units to Gateway Plaza was withdrawn in mid-May.

“We made an adjustment to alleviate the concerns of the community,” Porter said. “But the truth of the matter is that there was a good portion of the population that was disappointed we removed the two-bedrooms units.”

Renaissance Downtowns is hopeful it will receive the necessary permits to begin demolition of the existing buildings located at 1000 to 1026 New York Avenue this summer to make way for construction of Gateway Plaza, according to Porter. The proposed plans for the plaza call for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and a total of 66 apartments. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

The master developer said there is a June 14 meeting scheduled to hammer out more details and set a more definitive schedule for demolition and construction.

Harborfields' Gavin Buda only athlete to be chosen to play in both Blue Chip prospects baseball (pitcher) and football (wide receiver) games

By Bill Landon

A two-run eighth inning helped Nassau County tie the game and earn the would-be go-ahead run over Suffolk in a 5-4 Blue Chip Prospect Grand Slam Challenge win June 8 at St. Joseph’s College.

With the game tied 3-3, Garden City’s Mike Handal’s RBI gave Nassau the lead, and a Suffolk error brought in the eventual game-winning run in the 14th annual game sponsored by Rawlings, proceeds from which benefit Cohen Children’s Northwell Health Physician Partners Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics center in New Hyde Park.

St. John the Baptist catcher Logan O’Hoppe hit the ball deep to right, which scored Rocky Point pitcher and outfielder Joe Grillo from second, but Locust Valley’s Thomas Eletto forced a groundout with two runners on  to earn the save.

“It was a lot of fun playing tonight with all these kids,” said Ward Melville second baseman Logan Doran, who committed to Division I George Washington University. “I’m excited about competitive baseball. I’m ready to go.”

Doran proved that when he cleanly fielded a ball rocketed in the dirt, and passed it to short stop Kyle Johnson who turned a double play with bases loaded to retire the side and keep Suffolk up 1-0 in the second.

Johnson, who will continue his baseball career with Stony Brook University, said he’s been in awe of all the effort and commitment that goes into putting together the event for senior elites.

“This game’s awesome — Blue Chip; Jim Clark, who put this together years ago — it shows how [talented] Long Island is,” the soon-to-be Newfield grad said. “You’ve seen the guys this year that got drafted and a lot of those guys played in this game, so it’s an honor to be out here.”

Suffolk made it a two-run lead in the top of the third when West Islip outfielder Jake Guercio crossed home plate for the second time. And Suffolk’s hitting didn’t stop there.

Johnson stole second just ahead of a tag with Brentwood’s Justin Aviles in the batter’s box, but Aviles’ grounder toward third was thrown home in time to get Doran for the second out. Grillo smacked the ball deep to right next to load the bases, but Suffolk couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.

Plainview JFK’s Ryan Saltzman hit a sacrifice fly to put Nassau on the board in the bottom of the inning, and Plainedge’s Jason Bottari did the same to make it a new game.

With no outs in the fourth, Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hit into a double play, but Sayville’s Jake Russo raced home from third in time to help Suffolk retake the lead. The team looked to build on its lead in the top of the fifth when Mount Sinai third baseman George Rainer took four consecutive pitches at the plate to draw a walk, but two straight strikeouts ended the inning.

“It’s a great feeling to be playing with the best players on Long Island — I really enjoyed it,” said Rainer, who signed a letter of intent to play at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “It was a great day to end my varsity baseball career. I had a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see what college has in store.”

Harborfields pitcher Gavin Buda, the only athlete chosen to play in both Blue Chip Prospects games — the Grand Slam Challenge and Empire Challenge football game — took over on the mound in the bottom of the fifth and retired the side in order.

“It’s a huge honor to be chosen [for both],” said the Hobart and William Smith Colleges-bound wide receiver. “When you look at a school like Harborfields we’re always underrated and under-the-radar, so to be nominated to play in these games and represent this school is amazing.”

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town officials will seek to borrow $7.3 million to tackle a wide variety of projects in the upcoming year.

The board approved bonding out $4.95 million for town projects and $2.55 million for water district improvements at its June 5 meeting. Councilman Gene Cook (R) voted against taking on debt, as he traditionally does each year, arguing the necessary funding should have been incorporated into the town’s 2018 budget.

“We have to be cautious with our money,” Cook said.

“We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

– Chad Lupinacci

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said seeking bonds for large capital projects and improvements is better for the town’s long-term growth than tapping into its capital reserves.

“There’s certain things you can budget for, but at times there are larger capital projects that will take a longer time and need more money,” Lupinacci said, citing the restricting of the state’s 2 percent property tax levy increase cap. “We need to look for alternative sources of revenue in order to make the town move forward.”

One project that garnered the entire board’s support – including Cook – was bonding for $2.4 million to make roadway improvements throughout the town. These funds will supplement the more than $4.2 million set aside in the town’s 2018 budget for the Highway Department’s contractual services, materials and supplies.

“It has to do with paving the roads and we get a lot of complaints about potholes,” the supervisor said.

The approved funding also includes $1 million for the Greenlawn Water District to purchase and replace old water meters, in addition to $1.55 million for the Dix Hills Water District to make infrastructure improvements at a plant and replace water meters.

The $7.2 million approved for improvements is substantially less than the town had borrowed the last two years. Huntington took on $13.34 million in 2017 and $13.95 million in 2016, under the prior administration.


Projects approved in the $7.3M Bond:
-$75,000 to resurface parking lots
-$100,000 for fencing
-$130,000 for tank and sump improvements
-$175,000 for roof replacement at ice rink
-$175,000 for town building improvements
-$390,000 for drainage equipment
-$750,000 for drainage improvements
-$2.4 million for road improvements
-$560,000 for Huntington Sewer District
– $1 million for Greenlawn Water District
– $1.55 million for Dix Hills Water District

The funding sought by the town could drastically increase if Lupinacci reintroduces a resolution permitting the town to take out $13.5 million in bonds for construction of the James D. Conte Community Center off East 5th Avenue in Huntington Station. The supervisor pulled the measure June 5 before a vote, saying the overall cost of the project had increased and town council members asked for additional time to review the proposed changes.

“I would rather everyone have their questions addressed before it is voted on,” he said.

When plans for the community center were unveiled in November 2017, town officials had estimated renovating the 2,500-square-foot former New York State Armory would come in at approximately $10 million. The town’s 2018 budget already set aside $3.75 million for the project, in addition to a $1.5 million state grant.

Lupinacci said he plans to address funds for the James. D. Conte center at the June 19 town board meeting.

Two resolutions seeking funds for purchase of vehicles and equipment were defeated by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Cook against. This included a new trackless vehicle at an estimated cost of $130,000, which Lupinacci said he believed would have been used for maintenance of town-owned parks and fields.

Northport’s Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne. Photo from Twitter

Northport senior distance runner Elijah Claiborne isn’t showing signs of slowing down. His 4 minute, 11.47 second finish in the 1,600-meter run earned him first place at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Huntington hurdler Jonathan Smith. Photo by Mike Connell

He will compete with other winners in the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9.

Claiborne had come in second in a photo finish in the indoor state track and field finals this past March with Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. The Northport runner’s indoor time had been seconds slower than his outdoor (4:15.548).

The half of Northport’s twin brother power duo also placed first in the 800, clocking in at 1:54.06. Isaiah Claiborne came in second in the 400 dash in 49.71.

Other Tigers took home top spots during the weekend-long meet. Senior Dan O’Connor finished third in 3,200 run in 9:40.92. Junior Sean Ryan placed fourth in the 1,600, crossing the finish line in 4:18.47, and classmate Sydney Rohme placed first in girls pentathlon with a school record-breaking 3,263 points.

Huntington thrower Clay Jamison. Photo by Mike Connell

Huntington also had multiple track and field athletes excel with career days.

Huntington senior Clay Jamison came in second in the shot put with a 51-0.25 toss. The throw ties him for the top spot in the county (across all divisions) with Commack’s Steven Vasile.

Huntington junior Jonathan Smith placed second in the 400 hurdles in 55.17. He caught up to the pack in the final turn and passed Bellport’s Kyler Pizzo and Comsewogue’s Travis Colon down the stretch to claim his first individual county crown.

Smith also placed fourth in the long jump with a 21-2 leap.

Huntington’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams finished third, and junior Keily Rivas came in third in the 1,500 race-walk in 6:52.33.

File photo

Suffolk County police arrested a woman for driving with a suspended and revoked driver’s license after stopping her for traffic violations in Huntington June 6.

Dawn Taddeo. Photo from SCPD

Dawn Taddeo was operating a 1996 Buick Regal on Pulaski Road without a registration sticker displayed on her windshield. A 2nd Precinct patrol officer initiated a traffic stop. A check on Taddeo’s driver’s license showed it had been suspended 89 times. It was also determined that Taddeo’s vehicle was unregistered and was being operated with improper or “switched” license plates.

Taddeo, 49, of Huntington Station, was arrested and charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Taddeo was also issued several summonses for vehicle and traffic law violations.  The vehicle was impounded.

Taddeo is being held overnight at the4th Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned June 7 at First District Court in Central Islip. Additional details on her arraignment was not available

Northport school district residents read and fill out letters to state and federal elected officials. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials are asking their residents to call on elected officials for immediate help finding a resolution to their seven-year legal battle against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district held a call-to-action forum May 30 in which it asked all residents to reach out to their state and federally elected officials to take action in bringing about a solution to the district’s lawsuit against LIPA and National Grid as a June court date looms.

“Our elected officials really need to hear from us,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”

The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”
– Robert Banzer

Hundreds of copies of a form letter addressed to elected officials including New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), and state
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) were distributed for residents to sign and mail in to lawmakers. These letters call on elected officials to take action to help aid the school district stave off LIPA, which seeks a 90 percent reduction in taxes — a difference of approximately $56 million down to $8 million paid to the district — before the state Legislature’s sessions end June 20.

“LIPA must be stopped before it is too late,” reads a letter pre-addressed to Raia. “We are seeking your assistance in calling upon the governor to provide immediate assistance in Albany. Action by the governor’s office can stop the imminent harm to us as taxpayers, to our schools, our students and the community at large.”

As the June 11 court date rapidly approaches, Banzer and the Northport school district are pushing state officials to approve what they are putting forth as two possible solutions.

First, would be the passage of pending legislation of state Senate Bill No. S08235, sponsored by Flanagan with co-sponsor state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and its corresponding state Assembly Bill No. A10496, which is co-sponsored by Raia. These bills would lengthen the time frame over which LIPA is seeking to have its taxes gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. It would also grant those municipal governments and school districts who lost a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program, which provides funding to help offset any potential loss of tax revenue. In addition, the town government and schools would be granted the right to create reserve funds specifically for the purpose of reducing the future burden on their taxpayers.

The Northport power plant. File photo

READ MOREHuntington stays on track in LIPA lawsuit despite cries for help 

“It would provide some mitigation of the impact to us,” Banzer said. This would provide a glide path, it would provide a somewhat softer landing should there be a [change in] assessment.”

Northport school officials are also asking residents to directly call on Cuomo and the state Legislature to intervene by directing that LIPA, as a utility company overseen by a state-appointed board, to offer a “reasonable and equitable” settlement offer.

While previous settlements have been declined, Banzer made clear, “we would never say we wouldn’t sit down and have conversation on how to mitigate this.”

On May 9, Northport school district attorney John Gross presented his argument in Suffolk County Supreme Court as to why he believes LIPA should be held to what school officials are calling the “1997 Promise.” Under this promise, school officials allege, LIPA and National Grid agreed not to challenge the annual taxes paid on the Northport Power Station as long as they were not abusively increased over time by Town of Huntington. A decision has not yet been issued by Judge Elizabeth Emerson, despite the June 11 trial date approaching.

We need to continue to put pressure on [Huntington town officials] to speak for us on behalf of the community.”
– Jennifer Thompson

“I think the community needs to communicate with town leadership,” Northport resident Jennifer Thompson said, citing the years Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) served in the state Assembly. “We need to continue to put pressure on them to speak for us on behalf of the community.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) said he would call for Huntington Town Board to hold a public hearing regarding using eminent domain to acquire the Northport Power Station.

“LIPA has been lying to us,” Cook said.

The councilman claims that LIPA’s assessed value of $193 million for the Northport power plant focuses only on the electricity produced, but does not account for gas lines, cable transmissions or other public utilities that are received from the power station.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said. “I’m going to fight this to the end and I want you to know that.”

Northport taxpayers who are interested in getting in contact with their elected  officials or reading the form letters provided at the May 30 meeting can find them on the district’ website at northport.k12.ny.us/
district/lipa_update.

The Northport power plant. File photo

Huntington town elected officials refused to entertain a request to hire additional legal help in its lawsuit against Long Island PowerAuthority, despite calls from Northport residents for help.

Huntington Councilman Gene Cook (R) offered a resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to hire Manhattan-based law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP as additional legal counsel in the town’s pending tax certiorari case with LIPA and National Grid over the Northport Power Station as the case heads to trial in July.

“I believe this is a very needed law firm to hire at this point,” Cook said. “For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”

For the money that this law firm would [cost], it’s a whole lot less than the hundreds of millions we stand to lose.”
– Gene Cook

A request to hear and vote on a measure was shot down by a 3-2 vote, by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

“There are hundreds of thousands — millions of dollars at stake now in this case,” Lupinacci said. “Huntington has been fighting hard on behalf of the taxpayers. We will continue to use all legal options at our [disposal] to make sure LIPA and National Grid honor their contractual promises.”

LIPA filed a tax certiorari lawsuit against the town assessor’s office in 2010 seeking a 90 percent reduction in the tax assessed valuation of its Northport Power Station, and seeking repayment of all taxes it claims to have overpaid since 2010 — currently amounting to more than $550 million and growing.

Cook said the Manhattan-based law firm is one of the top litigation firms in the nation, although admittedly not specialized in cases related to power plants.

“We are losing a huge opportunity and it will hurt everyone out there by not doing this,” he said.

Several prominent Northport residents had pleaded with the town officials to support Cook’s resolution Tuesday afternoon including Northport school board trustee David Stein, who spoke as a private resident in support of the measure.

The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own.”
– David Stein

“LIPA and National Grid have brought in a veritable army of lawyers, lobbyists and [public relations] attack dogs,” Stein said, painting an image of a David-versus-Goliath fight. “The army of attorneys, lobbyists and PR titans that we are against now requires an outsized army of our own. And so, I urge you to engage the services of the biggest, best, brightest and most well-known in all of these areas now.”

Under Cook’s proposed contract, attorneys from Boies Schiller & Flexner would have been paid an hourly rate of not more than $1,650 an hour to assist the town’s current legal representatives from Lewis & Greer P.C. in determining a strategy and arguments for the upcoming trial. These accumulated attorney fees could not be bonded under state law, according to the town supervisor, but would have required dipping into the town’s capital reserves.

“If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it,” Cuthbertson said. “The law firm Cook would like to hire has absolutely no experience in tax certiorari cases that involve power plants.”

Lupinacci said he was willing to consider looking into other prominent litigation law firms which might be able to serve the town at a lower cost.

“Sometimes when [law firms] look at a municipality, they believe they are looking at deep pockets,” the supervisor said. “We have to do some outside the box thinking and leave no stone unturned.”

If spending $1,650 were a silver bullet that would achieve something here, I would do it.”
– Mark Cuthbertson

Northport Village Deputy Mayor Thomas Kehoe and Northport resident Tammy Topel both urged the Huntington town officials to take more aggressive action in light of additional information that has become public — spoken widely about by Cook — calling the Northport Power Station a hub through which natural gas lines and fiber optic networks for internet pass through.

“I believe these are misguided attempts to incorporate other aspects into the valuation process that just aren’t there,” Cuthbertson said. “It’s a red herring and unfair to the public.”

Cook vehemently disagreed with his fellow councilman in open debate.

The town is moving forward by pursuing help from its state elected officials, according to the supervisor, including scheduling a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to garner his support for a resolution to the case. Lupinacci said the town still remains open to negotiations.

“We are always speaking with the other side to see if there is some kind of resolution, but we are probably not going to achieve a resolution that is going to be beneficial to the taxpayers of Huntington and to our students,” Lupinacci said. “We are prepared to take this case to trial.”

Annual enrollment numbers of 2012-13 school year compared to 2016-17. Graphic by TBR News Media

By Kyle Barr

A shadow hangs above the heads of Long Island’s school districts: The specter of declining enrollment.

“From last year, not a whole lot has changed, enrollment is still declining,” Barbara Graziano, the manager of the Office of School Planning and Research for Western Suffolk BOCES said. “What a lot of districts are seeing is there is a significant displacement between their graduating classes being larger than the following year’s kindergarten classes.”

School enrollment across Suffolk County has been in decline for nearly a decade. In last year’s annual report on enrollment, Western Suffolk BOCES, a regional educational service agency, said there was a 9.1 percent overall decline in enrollment in townships from Huntington to Smithtown from 2010 to 2016.

Students at Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center hop off the school bus. Photo from Middle Country school district

Between the 2006-07 and 2016-17 school years, Long Island saw a 6.2 percent decline in enrollment, according to Robert Lowry, the deputy director for advocacy, research and communications at the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Statewide enrollment declined 4.2 percent in the same period. Nearly every school district on Suffolk County’s North Shore has seen at least some decline, and the trend can have tangible effects on a district’s long- and short-term planning.

“Declining enrollment may push a district toward reconsidering staffing and whether it’s necessary to close a school,” Lowry said.

Smithtown Central School District in the 2012-13 school year had 10,317 students enrolled in the district, and four years later the number dropped more than a thousand to 9,241 in 2016-17. The declining enrollment was cited in 2012, with guidance from the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing, as the rationale behind the closing of Nesconset Elementary School, and again in 2017 when the district closed Brook Branch Elementary School.

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment,” Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane said in an email. “The district
will continue to monitor its enrollment trends to plan for the future.”

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment.”

— James Grossane

Experts cite factors like declining birthrate, aging population and changes in local immigration patterns as potentially having an impact on local enrollment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in May indicating the national birthrate in 2017 hit a 30-year low with 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The national birthrate has been in general decline since the 1960s, but this most recent report is low even compared to 10 years ago when the birthrate was closer to 70 births per 1,000 women. Suffolk County’s population is also skewing older. Census data from the American Community Survey showed from 2010 to 2016 there was an estimated 28,288 less school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in the county. School closings are probably the most severe action districts tend to take to mitigate the effect of declining enrollment, but it is not the only option.

The Three Village Central School District has seen enrollment drop by about 900 students during the last decade. In its recently passed budget the district said it was making several staffing changes, including consolidating the roles of certain staff members. The district cited declining enrollment along with staff retirements and attrition for the changes, but also promised to add a new high school guidance counselor and an additional district psychologist to give attention to individual student’s mental health.

“While our district, like so many others in our area, have recently been experiencing a decline in enrollment, particularly at the elementary level, we have taken this opportunity to create efficiencies using current staff in order to lower class size and support a number of new initiatives, programmatic enhancements and student support services,” Cheryl Pedisich, the superintendent for Three Village schools said in an email.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid.”

— Al Marlin

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said lower enrollment allows for smaller class sizes and for more attention to the mental health of individual students.

“Our students today need a little bit more mental health support than students yesterday,” Eagen said. “Obviously we don’t need as many elementary sections, but we haven’t necessarily decreased our total staffing amount because we’ve been increasing our mental health supports.”

Even with those potential benefits, many districts are still trying to work out the long-term implications of lower enrollment. Al Marlin, a spokesperson for the New York State School Boards Association said enrollment has a large effect on how much state aid a school can procure.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid because New York’s school-aid distribution formula is based, in part, on enrollment numbers,” Marlin said in an email. “Declining enrollment also can make it more difficult for districts to sustain academic courses, including Advanced Placement courses and programs such as sports teams.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district conducted an enrollment study in 2015 that was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to 2,170 as of May. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of the declining enrollment.

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. File photo by Kyle Barr

“It is difficult to predict the exact number, but it is fair to say that the enrollment decline in the district will be continuing in the near future,” SWR superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email.

Superintendents from SWR and Rocky Point school district both said they do not have any plans to close schools, but there is a possibility lower enrollment could affect the districts’ ability to apply for grants.

A few districts are breaking the trend. Huntington Union Free School District has actually seen an increase in school enrollment from 2012 to 2017, but Superintendent James Polansky said in the most recent years that increase has started to level off. Polansky did not want to speculate as to why enrollment in Huntington was not decreasing like other districts, but Graziano said it might be because the district is more diverse and attracts more immigration than nearby districts.

“Every district is different, they have to look at their own schools and communities to see how they deal with enrollment,” Polansky said.

Every year Western Suffolk BOCES releases a report that looks at schools’ current enrollment and compares it to previous years. Graziano, who is working on this year’s report, most likely to be released sometime this month, said the agency expects a continuing decline in school enrollment at least for the next several years. Though eventually, she said, the declining enrollment should level off as entering kindergarten class sizes stabilize. However, there is no telling when that might be. 

“Birthrates do not seem to be increasing, it doesn’t look like, as of right now, that’s going to turn around any time soon,” Graziano said. “But of course, we don’t have a crystal ball.”

Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, demonstrates the unit with her dog. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Travelers are used to parking their car, but few have likely thought about parking their dog.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport will be the first place on Long Island to host a DogSpot, a smart dog house where pet owners can make sure man’s best friend has a comfortable place to rest while they take in the museum’s exhibits.

“I’ve always felt bad turning away people who weren’t aware they couldn’t bring a dog onto the property even though we have 43 acres,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum.

In recent years, Reinheimer said he has seen a growing number of visitors who want to bring their canine companions with them while traveling. Unfortunately, this poses a number of issues for the museum, according to the executive director, due to the delicate nature of its exhibits, the Vanderbilt mansion and the potential issues that could arise between dogs and other guests.

A look inside DogSpot’s smart dog house. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, said her smart dog house was designed to offer businesses an alternative to turning away potential customers, or guests, and their four-legged friends.

“We started this company with the mission of giving people a safe way to lead active lives with their dogs,” she said. “They now have a safe alternative to tying them up, as you see in walkable communities, or leaving them in the car.”

Brownridge said a DogSpot modular dog house is made of veterinarian-grade, nonporous plastic fully ventilated with air conditioning to control the temperature. Pet owners can call the museum in advance to reserve the kennel for up to 90 minutes at a time.

“The summer months are a great time to start doing this, as this time of year it gets more dangerous to leave your dog in the car,” she said.

The housing units also contain an ultraviolet sanitation light, built into the roof, that zaps the unit between uses to eliminate any germs or bacteria, according to Brownridge, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like kennel cough. It is also serviced once per day, cleaned inside and out by hand to remove any muddy paw prints or dog hair.

Reinheimer said the smart dog house will be installed near the museum’s gatehouse, adjacent to the parking lot, as the building is manned round the clock by personnel. That way, if a dog needs help or is in distress,
museum staff will have a way to access the unit and help the animal.

I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”
– Flemming Hansen

Pet owners can download the DogSpot app on their smartphone, allowing them to view their dog through the dog house’s webcam to check in. There is a 24/7 hotline where users can report any problems, such as a malfunctioning air conditioner or a lost key card.

“Each house is internet connected, so we can handle a number of issues remotely including checking the temperature and unlocking it if necessary,” Brownridge said.

There have been 50 DogSpot houses deployed across Brooklyn outside grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops as part of a pilot program for the last two years. The company’s co-founder said it went well, but they have temporarily been pulled as they work with city officials to figure out long-term rules and regulations.

“We are currently expanding on Long Island and other places on private properties,” Brownridge said.

One Northport business owner, Flemming Hansen of Copenhagen Bakery & Café, said he already has an interest in having a unit outside his shop. Hansen said he gets a lot of customers who come by with dogs, that cannot be allowed to enter the bakery.

“A lot of people are very protective of their dogs and treat them like a child, they are part of the family,” he said. “I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”

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