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Board of Education

Mother urges a switch back to elementary school

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

Students in Mount Sinai are expected to grow up a little faster than those in other districts. While a majority of neighboring towns keep their fifth-graders in the elementary school, Mount Sinai, since the early 1990s, moves its 10- and 11-year-olds up to the middle school.

A mother challenged the concept during an Aug. 23 board of education meeting when she asked administrators to consider making fifth grade part of the elementary school again in the future.

The conversation has been ongoing ever since.

Renee Massari, a mother of two elementary school students, proposed the idea last month, saying she didn’t see the academic or social benefit of having fifth-graders learn under the same roof as eighth-graders. In fact, she believed the drastically different environment negatively affected the young students — who occupy their own wing on the second floor of the building.

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel.”

Renee Massari

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel,” Massari said during the meeting. “It’s almost like they feel deflated because it’s difficult for them to handle those responsibilities expected of our fifth-graders. Because [realistically], they aren’t middle schoolers.”

Massari explained to the board that, from her understanding, the fifth-graders’ premature graduation to the middle school was prompted solely by a lack of classroom space in the elementary school. She asked if an administrator could evaluate current classroom space, adding the school has seen a declining enrollment rate over the last few years.

“Ideally, I would love for the fifth-graders in this district to have the same transition that 99 percent of the districts on Long Island have,” Massari said. “We can house them in the elementary school, a building they’re familiar with, and keep the same program where they transition from classroom to classroom and get them exposed to that before going to a whole different building.”

Board Trustee Robert Sweeney agreed with Massari and said the decision decades ago to move the students into the next building had nothing to do with education and everything to do with space and misjudgment. He also urged the board to reevaluate the concept.

“It’s a fallacy to have elementary students up there,” Sweeney said. “I think we have to look at it because there’s no educational benefit [to it].”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, an admittedly “old school guy” who said he would even like to see the sixth grade in the elementary school, told Massari her proposal would be explored — but classroom space, or lack thereof, in the district’s smallest building remains an issue. He said it will take a lot more than one available classroom to bring back the fifth-graders to the elementary school and expansions on the building would be costly.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. The two are in favor of moving fifth-graders back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

“But in the meantime, what we have to do is make sure the nurturing environment continues in the fifth grade,” Brosdal said.

Teachers, he said, know to treat their students with the same level of care and support elementary school students experience. And although the move up offers a completely new setting, with lockers and classroom changes and multiple teachers during the day, Brosdal sees it as a good transition opportunity.

“Plus, they’re kind of isolated and not mixing with the older grades when they don’t have to,” he said. “At the same time, I understand parents feel their kids are not ready to move up because of maturity and a lot of other reasons, and want them to remain in a nurturing environment.”

In the weeks following the meeting, Brosdal reached out to elementary school principal Rob Catlin, and together they projected six classrooms would be needed in the building to accommodate the roughly 175 students in the current fifth-grade class.

One would be hard-pressed to find three available classrooms, according to Catlin, who is currently in the process of meeting with parents about the issue.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it,” Catlin said. “As the year goes on, and if the topic continues, I’m more than happy to keep talking. But it’s in an early stage right now.”

Mount Sinai resident Beth Erdmann, whose children are in seventh and 10th grades, said every parent experiences panic in the midst of the elementary and middle school transition but soon realize it’s not a big deal.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it.”

Rob Catlin

“When it’s your first child, it seems too soon and scary, but they are in their own wing and it’s a nonissue,” Erdmann said. “There were no adverse effects to my children … fifth and sixth grade are still treated as elementary. The location is just in the middle school. I was worried and bothered at the time, [but] my kids were fine.”

Debra Wesolowski agreed, having gone through the transition multiple times with four children.

“Once they were there, I couldn’t imagine them in the elementary school,” Wesolowski said. “Kids are a lot more mature now than years ago … you see how mature and responsible the fourth-graders become as the year goes on [and] by the time they graduate from fourth grade they have outgrown the elementary school and need to advance to the next stage. The middle school does a great job transitioning them.”

But Jennifer Ruger Lazarou, an elementary school teacher, feels the kids are too young.

“I think keeping them in the elementary school one more year is a good idea, and will still make them just as prepared,” Lazarou said. “I teach in a K-through-six building and can’t even imagine the sixth-graders being exposed to middle school any earlier.”

Brosdal said district office and building administrators have begun the exploration of a move.

“It is too early in the process for the board to make a decision one way or another,” Brosdal said. “The expense of such a project would impact the district’s budget and bond proposal.”

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.

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

The Mount Sinai community sent a clear message May 17 — they’re happy with the trajectory of the district. Three incumbents were re-elected to serve on the board of education and the district’s budget passed with 80 percent support.

Although turnout wasn’t quite what the district expected, the voters who did head to the polls overwhelmingly approved the $59,272,525 budget for the 2017-18 school year, with 1,007 for and 251 against.

“I’m very happy that it passed,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “We have great programs here. We can maintain those programs. We made the AP Honor Roll two years in a row, almost every team right now is in the playoffs, our music program is better than ever, so to be able to keep those programs is great, but we’re not resting on that. Now we can get to work on bolstering our elementary reading program, we have a new principal coming in who has high expectations. There are programs we want to put in place that a lot of our kids need in the elementary school.”

He commented on the 200 person drop in voter turnout.

“I’m not happy,” he said. “We have 9,000 eligible voters. I’d like to see 500 to another 1,000 approve it so we have everyone together.”

Incumbents Robert Sweeney (1,013), Edward Law (866) and Peter Van Middelem (860) were all re-elected. Challenger Michael McGuire, who ran last year, nearly doubled his 2016 results, with 597 votes.

“I am honored and humbled that the community decided to re-elect me … to try to do my best for the residents and students,” Law said. “I’m looking to bring back the same stability and fiscal discipline while expanding our programs … to bring students more opportunities.”

For Van Middelem, that’s what it’s all about.

“It’s all for the community,” he said. “First and foremost on all our minds is doing what’s best for the people here.”

Law addressed the challenges the district is facing.

“Whether it’s infrastructure and building repairs, our programs, our class sizes are getting smaller,” he said, noting a shrinking student population. “It’s now about how we maintain or keep on enhancing our programs given our fiscal financial constraints. And that’s what I hope to continue to work on.”

The district will maintain its K-12 programs, including the recently established full-day kindergarten, advanced placement offerings in the high school and its recently established Columbia Writing Program for  2017-18.

The spending plan for next school year includes funds for an academic intervention services teacher in reading, a second security guard, an additional nurse and three new courses — virtual enterprise, college accounting and culinary arts.

Sweeney said he is excited about the new offerings.

“It’s going to be huge,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have neighboring districts who will be interested in sending their students and maybe they have programs we would be interested in.”

He said he’s looking for ways to improve the district.

“We need to start looking at how we can innovate,” he said. “We can’t rely on the state to take care of us.”

He said with teachers and staff who are willing to take on the challenges, he’s proud to see how far the district has come.

“You go back in time, this was a feeder district,” he said. “We had two little schools and we weren’t a big deal. This little district, 2,100 students, leads in AP, in colleges we go to, championships in sports. This district has started to really show how to grow.”

Sweeney said the district is hiring a new elementary school principal with a Columbia Writing Program background, to enhance what already exists, and the Socratic method is used to help students talk through challenges in the high school, and he’s hoping to bring the same system to the middle school level.

“I feel very strongly about this community,” Sweeney said. “I’m very proud and honored to serve. It’s a great school district. It requires real work and smart decisions. The community needs to realize how important it is … this is our town. I live on the other side of the high school and we pick to live here. We didn’t think about this house versus that one, we picked to live here because of this school district. I dare say if you asked many of out community members, that’s what they did.”

The Miller Place and Rocky Point school districts saw community members come out with enormous support for each of the 2017-18 budgets.

In Miller Place, voters passed the $126.2 million spending plan 763 to 162.

“On behalf of the board, we thank the community for supporting our proposed budget with a passing margin of 82 percent for the second year in a row,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “We look forward to partnering with the community to provide relevant and challenging instructional and noninstructional opportunities to our students, while supporting our staff, and maintaining fiscal sustainability.”

With no challengers, Lisa Reitan and Richard Panico were elected with 726 and 709 votes, respectively. Other write-in candidates totaled 23 votes.

“I’m very happy and honored to continue to serve for the next three years,” Reitan said in an email. “This board has worked so well together that now we can continue on without skipping a beat. I look forward to continue working with the administration and staff here to make Miller Place school district better everyday.”

Rocky Point school district will hold a technology meeting Jan. 26 to gain public input on the preliminary Smart Schools Bond Act spending plan and how to spend leftover funds. File photo by Desirée Keegan

In Rocky Point residents approved the $83,286,346 budget with 663 yes votes and 246 no’s. The district also sought voter approval to access $3,385,965 from its capital reserve fund in order to complete facility renovations across the district. For that proposal, 600 voted for and 312 against.

“We are extremely grateful for the community’s support of our proposed budget and capital improvement plan,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “The educational enhancements included in this budget are ones that we believe will further support the needs of Rocky Point students while also providing them with opportunities to succeed at even greater levels, while still maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Incumbent board of education member Sean Callahan and newcomer Joseph Coniglione, who is the principal of Comsewogue High school, were elected with 713 and 641 votes, respectively.

“I’m honored that the people had confidence in me,” Callahan said. “We’re just trying to continue to communicate with the community, continue what we’ve done and have a more open dialogue. It’s not about me, it’s about what we can do for them.”

Coniglione has two kids in the community, and another on the way.

“I just really want to make sure it’s a wonderful district,” he said. “Rocky Point is already wonderful, and I hope to be a great part in continuing that.”

He said juggling two positions won’t be too much of a challenge, especially with support from the Comsewogue school district, and he’s also hoping to keep the communication lines open.

“I work in a district that’s very, very accommodating — they believe in education not just for their kids but for any community,” he said. “I think [this board] will be a nice team. We’ll collaborate to make good, healthy decisions for kids. We want to make sure we have their best interests in mind.”

The evening of May 16 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 average proposed school district tax levy increase in 2017-18 will be 1.48 percent, more than half a percentage point below the acclaimed 2 percent property tax cap. It is the fourth consecutive year the tax cap growth factor will be below 2 percent.

Here’s how school districts on the North Shore of Suffolk County fared:

Commack
According to the Commack school district’s website, the district voted 2,019-555 in favor of the $187,532,818 proposed budget. Carpenter edged out Janine DiGirolamo 1,363 votes to 1,059, and Hender narrowly beat April Pancella Haupt 1,240 to 1,148.

Comsewogue
Comsewogue residents voted 789 in favor and 208 not against the $89,796,337 budget. Incumbents Ali Gordon and Jim Sanchez won back their seats in an uncontested race, with 882 and 846 votes, respectively.

Harborfields
Members of the district voted 1,224 to 249 for the $84.4 million budget. In a tightly-contested race, David Steinberg and Christopher Kelly won the two open seats with 800 and 741 votes, respectively. Sternberg won back his seat, while the third time seemed to be a charm for Kelly. Laura Levenberg finished with 623 votes while Anila Nitekman totaled 467.

Hauppauge
The Hauppauge school district passed its $107,965,857 budget 811-308, and its capital reserve fund proposition 869-248, according to the district’s Facebook page. James Kiley and Lawrence Craft were elected to the board of education, with 803 and 797 votes, respectively.

Huntington
Residents passed the $126.2 million budget and capital reserve proposition, according to the district website. Trustees Jennifer Hebert and Xavier Palacios were re-elected to three-year terms.

Kings Park
The Kings Park community passed its $88.5 million proposed budget with 1,360 yes votes to 533 no. Incumbent Joe Bianco won back his seat with 989 votes, while challengers Katy Cardinale and J.P. Andrade finished with 733 and 110.

“I just feel great,” Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagan said. “The budget passed with 72 percent approval. I’m just happy that the community is very happy with what we have going on here, and it’s just great to have their support. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years. We’ve been 70 percent passing or higher.”

Middle Country
Residents chose to pass the $243,590,487 proposed budget 1,658-418. Runners Dina Phillips (1,523), Ellie Estevez (1,380) and Doreen Felmann (1,512) won their uncontested board of education seat races, with 17 write-in votes.

Miller Place
Voters passed the $126.2 million budget 763-162. With no challengers, Lisa Reitan and Richard Panico were elected with 726 and 709 votes. Other write-in candidates totaled 23 votes.

Mount Sinai
The $59,272,525 budget was overwhelmingly passed by residents, 1,007 to 251 and the library 1,111 to 144. Incumbents Robert Sweeney (1,013), Edward Law (866) and Peter Van Middelem (860) won back their seats, while Michael McGuire almost doubled his total from last year, finishing with 597.

“I’m very happy that it passed,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “We have great programs here. We can maintain those programs. We made the AP Honor Roll two years in a roll. Almost every team right now is in the playoffs, our music program is better than ever, so to keep those programs is great, but we’re not resting on that. Now we can get to work on our elementary reading program, bolstering that, we have a new principal coming in who has high expectations. There are programs we want to put in place that a lot of our kids need in the elementary school.”

He was disappointed with the turnout, though.

“I’m not happy,” he said. “We’re 200 lower than last year. We have 9,000 eligible voters. I’d like to see 500 to another 1,00 approve it so we have everyone together.”

Northport-East Northport
Northport-East Northport residents said “yes, yes, yes.” With 2,074 votes for and 636 against, the $163,306,840 budget passed, while support was also strong for the capital reserve expenditure, with 2,197 votes for and 512 against. This will allow the district to use capital reserves to fund additional projects including resurfacing/replacing two tennis courts and replacing the fence at William J. Brosnan School, installing new operable gymnasium windows at East Northport Middle School, replacing circuit panels at Northport High School, replacing auditorium seating at William J. Brosnan School and replacing classroom ceilings at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School. Donna McNaughton beat out Thomas Loughran for the lone seat up for grabs with 1,750 votes to Loughran’s 769.

Port Jefferson
Community members passed the nearly $43 million proposed budget 338-74. Renovations and upgrades using the capital reserve funds was also passed, 368-43. Incumbents Adam DeWitt and David Keegan were re-elected to serve three-year terms, with 357 and 356 votes, respectively.

Rocky Point
Rocky Point residents voted to pass the $83,286,346 budget with 663 saying yes, while 246 said no. The district also sought voter approval to access $3,385,965 million from its capital reserve fund in order to complete facility renovations across the district. For that proposal, 600 voted for and 312 against.

“We are extremely grateful for the community’s support of our proposed budget and capital improvement plan,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “The educational enhancements included in this budget are ones that we believe will further support the needs of Rocky Point students while also providing them with opportunities to succeed at even greater levels, while still maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Incumbent board of education member Sean Callahan and newcomer Joseph Coniglione, who is principal of Comsewogue High school, were elected with 713 and 641 votes, respectively.

Shoreham-Wading River
Voters approved the $74, 842,792 budget 1,112 for to 992 against, and passed the capital reserve fund with 1,282 yes’ to 813 nos. The people are calling for change, as Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303), Erin Hunt (1,279) and Michaell Yannuci (1,087) won seats, while James Smith (1,015), Jack Costas (563) and John Zukowski (524) missed the mark. Yannucci, who has previously been on the board, will be taking the one-year seat left by Michael Fucito, and both incumbents have been ousted.

Smithtown
The community passed the proposed budget with 2,241 yes votes to 693 no. Incumbents Gledy Waldron and Joanne McEnroy, who were running unopposed, won back their seats with 2,095 and 2,090 votes, respectively.  Matthew Gribbin defeated incumbent Grace Plours with 1,835 votes to Plourde’s 1,155.

Three Village
Three Village residents voted 1,708 for to 719 against the proposed $204.4 million budget. With no challengers, incumbents Jeff Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano won back their seats with 1,805, 1,794 and 1,753 votes, respectively.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Kings Park

The Kings Park school district has only one seat available this year for a board of education candidate, and three residents vying for the opportunity.

Trustee Joe Bianco is looking to continue his work with a second term.

“I believe my experience on the board over the last three years has affirmed that given my background in accounting and law … I have the technical skills and experience to help the [board] address many of the issues it faces today,” he said in his candidate statement.

Bianco has worked as a lawyer since 1995 and has volunteered for different athletic activities  in Kings Park including the Kings Park Youth Athletic Association.

“If re-elected, the board’s first priority is to finalize a new contract with our teachers,” he said in an email. “Sustainable, predictable and equitable revenue streams and contracts are critical to our long-term success as a district and to the long-term security and empowerment of our staff.” He also talked about the importance of continuing the bond project and facility upgrades.

“We must continue to challenge ourselves, our administration leadership, our staff and our students to embrace new ideas and developments in a manner that stays true to the goals and values that are important to our community,” Bianco said.

Katy Cardinale is looking to unseat Bianco, a 10-year Kings Park resident herself.

Cardinale has volunteered for several district committees, including the facilities and legislative committees.

“Positive things are happening and the tone is enthusiastic and collaborative [in the district],” Cardinale said in her candidate statement. “I aim to continue the momentum in that direction.”

But Cardinale said she is concerned about state and federal overreach and its effect on the Kings Park district. She said the current board’s decision to not pass a resolution rejecting Secretary of Education Betsy Devos inspired her to run.

The candidate said she also thinks the board needs to protect school funding more vigorously.

“I feel that our school board needs to be very loud when it comes to protecting every last penny,” she said in her candidate statement.

J.P. Andrade is the third candidate looking to represent the Kings Park community.

Andrade is a Kings Park graduate and recently worked as a diversity advisor and surrogate for then candidate Donald Trump. He has been a television contributor for multiple news stations. He said he also volunteers for various Smithtown groups.

Where Kings Park is concerned, Andrade said his diverse background can be an asset to the board.

“My various work in the government, political field, and the community will be beneficial in serving this community,” he said. “I want to be able to bring some youth, diversity and innovation to Kings Park.”

Andrade said he wants to continue to keep a close eye on common core curriculum, calling the implementation a “disaster,” and wants to bridge the gap between the schools and the community.

“[I want to] ensure that the students are equipped with the best possible educational team, and to make sure they get the top-notch education they deserve,” he said.

Smithtown

In Smithtown three seats are up for election this May, with two of the three uncontested.

Long-time incumbent Gladys Waldron is hoping to continue her service, with no challenger looking to unseat her.

“I’d like to continue with the board, providing a financially responsible budget,” Waldron said in a phone interview. She also said she’s in support of many of the programs being expanded at the district now, including AP Capstone seminars and other educational opportunities for students.

“We’ve also replaced study halls with elective programs which has been a great success, and been able to maintain small elementary class sizes, all without piercing the tax levy cap,” she said.

Incumbent Vice President Joanne McEnroy is also looking to move forward with the district.

“Serving on the Smithtown Board of Education gives me a sense of pride,” she said in an email. “I love the place that I have called home for over five decades and in particular, I love our schools.”

McEnroy, who first ran six years ago, said she is proud of what she has accomplished so far.

“I am very proud to have lived up to the campaign promises … which was to balance fiscal responsibility with quality education,” she said. “We have remained within the tax cap while continuing to restore or build on our already outstanding educational program to make it even better.  The expansion this year of our full-time integrated co-teaching program so that it now encompasses kindergarten thru grade 12, is a source of pride and accomplishment for me as it was just one of the many program improvement goals that I hoped to achieve as a board trustee.”

She is also running unopposed.

Incumbent Grace Plourde is the third incumbent running for re-election; however, she does face a challenger. Newcomer Matthew  Gribbin has thrown his hat into the ring.

Plourde said simply why she’s running again.

“The job is not done yet,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve been on the board six years and we’ve gotten through some tough times.”

Plourde referred to the state-mandated tax levy cap as one of the issues the district has had to work on to create a budget that still benefits the district and the students.

“It’s all about sustainability,” she said. “We have to make sure we go forward and match revenue to expenses to maintain high-quality programs while staying within the cap.”

Gribbin did not return requests for comment.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields

The Harborfields school district has two seats to fill this May and four candidates. The school runs an at large election, meaning the two candidates with the most votes will fill the two seats.

Vice President David Steinberg and Trustee Nicholas Giuilano’s terms are up, however only Steinberg has chosen to run again, with three resident challengers looking for a first term on the board.

Chris Kelly is running for a third-time, hoping to finally secure a seat. Kelly has been working in the market data business for the past 19 years, and said he wants to bring his professional skills to add something “unique” to the board.

“I deal with a lot of changing variables and big budgets, and I need to anticipate what the future is going to hold,” he said in a phone interview. “I see this aligning with the school district perfectly.”

He has volunteered for the Harborfields Get Out the Vote committee and the Parent Teacher Association.

Anila Nitekman said she moved from Manhattan to Greenlawn because of the strong reputation the district had.

She’s the founder of Tiny Bites Food Shears, and has worked for Cablevision, American Express, and the city of New York after 9/11.

“I have worked to develop and cultivate collaborative partnerships,” she said in a phone interview. “And I think I could create a unique opportunity to bring new partnership opportunities to the district.”

She said she wants to partner students with industry leaders to help kids with their future careers.

Steinberg said he is eager to continue the work of the board, which he said has been very successful lately, including the creation of a new technology initiative.

“The district has very strong momentum,” he said in a phone interview. “With a new superintendent and Tech 2.0, there is a lot of great work happening here. Why wouldn’t I want to continue to work with this community?”

He said the support from the community has been great, like the $50,000 recently raised for Tech 2.0 by a Harborfields organization.

Lauri Levenberg has been a district resident for more than 20 years, and said she has the insight to help lead the school in a positive way.

“The most important issue facing Harborfields is how to provide an education for the whole child while remaining fiscally responsible to the community,” Levenberg said in her candidate statement.

She works as a speech therapist in the Three Village school district, and has served on the board of religious organizations including Temple Beth El in Huntington.

Northport-East Northport

With only one seat available at large, this is a unique year for the district, as the board will see a reduction of two members thanks to a petition filed two years ago by United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport to reduce the number of trustees.

The petition was made into a proposition which voters approved during last year’s vote to bring the board from nine members to seven.

Trustees Donna McNaughton, Regina Pisacani and Jennifer Thompson were all at the end of their terms, however due to the petition only one of the three seats can be filled. Pisacani and Thompson have both decided not to seek another term on the board.

Pisacani said the decision was not an easy one.

“I dedicated an enormous amount of time to my board of education duties,” she said in an email. “It was many hours away from my family and many hours away from my own professional development.  My motivation for joining the BOE was to assist in bringing change and stability to this school district.”

Thompson did not return calls for comment.

However McNaughton is still eager to continue serving her community.

“I still have a passion for it,” she said in a phone interview. “We should be taking enthusiastic 5-year-olds and making them into  enthusiastic 18-year-olds.”

She said the district is going in a positive direction, with plans like the recent bond approval which will see infrastructure and athletic facility improvements.

“We’ve had seven one-term board members, there has been a lot of instability and I want to continue to work with the superintendent to help bring his vision to fruition.”

The incumbent said the district will face many challenges in the future, including the ongoing LIPA lawsuit, decreased enrollment and more, and she wants to work to find solutions.

Challenging the current trustee is East Northport resident Thomas Loughran, an attorney who only recently got involved in the district board affairs.

Loughran said he started attending school board meetings in February when the board was able to approve the nearly $40 million bond.

“I’m a paralegal and my firm deals with school districts all the time so this is right in my wheelhouse,” he said in a phone interview. “My voice is beneficial to the board. I know community members and teachers within the district.”

The challenger said he has an extensive background that would lend itself to a positive collaboration with the board. He has dealt in his profession with legal matters, civil rights issues, discrimination issues and more involving school districts.

Huntington

In the Huntington school district things are business as usual, as two incumbents are running unopposed for another term. Vice president Jennifer  Hebert and Trustee Xavier Palacios are both running for third terms.

Hebert and her husband have lived in Huntington for 20 years, and have two boys attending district schools, as well as a third in college.

A Long Island native, Herbert worked as a public school kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts for several years and is currently the director of the pre-school program at St. John’s Nursery School in Huntington village.

She volunteers for the Huntington district in the Parent Teacher Association and has served as  president and treasurer.

Hebert has served on various district committees through the years, including the long range planning committee.

Hebert said in her candidate statement she believes in listening to all sides of every issue. She is particularly passionate about public school education and believes the learning experience offered to Huntington students should be the finest in the nation.

Palacios is an attorney and a Huntington district alumni himself. He and his wife have three children, including a daughter who was a member of Huntington’s Class of 2016.

In 2008, Palacios purchased and renovated a distressed property in Huntington Station where he established a satellite law office along with a community revitalization non-profit organization.

Palacios volunteered in each of the past two years to serve as the high school mock trial team’s legal advisor, training students in the art of courtroom skills and strategies. He has spent hours working behind the scenes with coaches and athletes to help spur participation and promote excellence in the Blue Devil athletic program.

Palacios said in his candidate statement he has strived to be a problem-solver and to use his legal expertise to contribute to solutions regarding pressing issues facing students, teachers and taxpayers.

Voting will take place at Newfield High School May 16. The high school is located at 145 Marshall Drive. File photo

Three — one an incumbent — are vying for three seats on Middle Country’s board of education. Current trustees Debbie Parker and Daniel Hill are not seeking re-election.

Doreen Feldmann

Doreen Feldmann

Doreen P. Feldmann, a 46-year resident, said she strongly believes in the value of community service.

An active member of the PTA, the nine-year board member is also the chairperson of the Selden Centereach Youth Association; serves on the Middle Country Education Foundation; and has served or is continuing to serve on district committees such as the audit, anti-drug coalition, policy, legislative, PPS advisory council, safe schools and school business advisory boards.

She particularly enjoys her work on the business advisory board.

“It allows me to advocate for a clean and safe environment,” she said, through the Green Career Job Fair and e-waste collections.

She and her husband, Bill, who are both graduates of Newfield High School, do work via their solar equipment distribution company. They supply no-cost solar energy equipment to Habitat for Humanity and other not-for-profit groups.

A mother of two, she received formal recognition for her child advocacy work and community service, such as the NYS PTA Jenkins Award and the Distinguished Service Award, but said the best recognition comes when she is allowed to serve on the board of education.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Middle Country,” she said. “I want to continue my work supporting children and the school board.”

Dina Phillips

Dina Phillips

Dina Phillips, a 17-year resident and stay-at-home mother of two, was in the accounting field for 12 years.

Phillips attended Briarcliffe College, obtaining an associate’s degree in graphic design in 2008.

She has been an active member of the PTA for many years, holding the position of treasurer, and is currently vice president at Stagecoach Elementary School and recording secretary at Selden Middle School, which she said gives her the skills needed to serve on the Middle Country board.

Phillips has chaired committees like homecoming, book fair and staff appreciation. She is also a recipient of the NYS PTA Jenkins Award, and is currently serving on the Middle Country legislative/community outreach committee, and has served on the interview committee.

“I have been advocating against high stakes testing for the last four years and want to continue my work on the board of education,” she said.

Ellie Estevez

Eliness Estevez

Eliness “Ellie” Estevez is a three-year resident and a senior at Newfield High School. The president of the mock trial team is also a member of the jazz choir, jazz band, pit orchestra, Tri-M Honor Society and leadership club, and is also a volunteer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

A soon-to-be business major at Stern School of Business, Estevez looks to apply the knowledge she obtains of finance and management, to maintain fiscal responsibility.

“I want to continue to offer students opportunities for success and academic excellence,” she said. “As a Middle Country student, I offer the perspective of the students as the district moves toward greater success in the future.”


Budget breakdown

This year’s proposed budget of $243,590,487 for the Middle Country Central School District is a 1.21 percent increase from last year’s expenditures, with a tax levy increase of 1.929 percent. It would cost homeowners roughly $108.41 and is under the 2 percent cap.

“We look forward to continue offering our district-wide STEM programs — allowing students the opportunity to explore robotics, zSpace labs and 3D printing,” superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “These programs — along with our math literacy initiatives, music, arts and athletics programs — provide students with a well-rounded educational experience.”

There is $63,215,804 in proposed foundation aid. The district will look to expand upon AP and College Tie offerings, add lab space for eighth grade living environment, add math periods for students in sixth through eighth grades, increase K-5 literacy and continue the full-day, pre-K program.

The May 3 board meeting gave Three Village residents another chance to learn about the 2017-2018 school district’s budget before heading to the polls April 16. Along with the budget, they will also vote on three school board trustees; all are incumbents who are running unopposed.

The board trustees on the ballot are Dr. Jeffrey Kerman, current board Vice President Irene Gische and Inger Germano. This will be the third three-year term for each since joining the board in 2011.

Jeff Kerman. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

Kerman, a dentist with practices in Mount Sinai and New York City, is the father of two Ward Melville graduates and served previously as the board’s president, in addition to a six-year term from 1999 to 2005. He currently sits on the board’s audit and facilities committees.

Well known for sewing costumes for the district’s theater productions, Gische is also a parent of Ward Melville graduates and grandmother of current Three Village students. She was head teacher at Stony Brook University’s preschool for 25 years. Prior to her current service on the board, Gische was a board trustee from 1983 to 1995, during which she was president for two years. Gische currently chairs the board’s policy committee.

Germano, the mother of two Three Village students, is president of medical management and billing company Universal Medical Billing, Corp. A Three Village resident since 2005, she also served on the North Shore Montessori School board and owns Global Alliance Realty with her husband. Germano sits on the board’s policy committee.

At the May 3 board meeting, Jeffrey Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, addressed the issue of the $204.4 million budget that stays within the 3.4 percent cap on the allowable tax levy increase.

Carlson announced that the district will receive a $715,000 increase in state aid, up from the governor’s original proposal of $247,000. There will be no cuts to programs or services to stay within the cap, he said. In fact, the new school year will bring new programs.

As residents go to the polls, one of the most discussed additions is the free, district-run preschool for four-year-olds. The prekindergarten will replace the district’s current fee-based preschool, run by Scope Education Services. The district will now offer morning and afternoon sessions that run two and a half hours, five days a week, at Nassakeag Elementary School. 

Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

Some residents have questioned the district’s decision to subsidize a free preschool. Gloria Casano, who said her taxes have increased by $13,000 since purchasing her home in 1994, raised the matter at the meeting.

“I would like to know when you can give taxpayers a break,” she said. “With continuing enrollment decreases, you’re instituting a free pre-K?”    

Board president Bill Connors responded that the preschool and other new programs were not “frills” but lay the foundation for the district’s students. 

“We are very concerned about costs because they affect all of us in our community,” he said, adding, however, that the board is also concerned about maintaining the quality of educational programs.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said the preschool and the additional programs would give students “the opportunity to be successful.” Also, she said, preschool is shown to save money in special services that would be needed later. 

“Early intervention is priceless,” she said.

Carlson said that it is estimated that the cost of the preschool will add about $20 to the average tax bill.

Other new academic offerings will include fourth-grade chorus and daily band and orchestra for ninth-graders, as well as additional secondary level electives, an expansion of the high school writing center and the introduction of math centers at the junior high schools. 

The budget covers small increases in staffing at the elementary level — up to 4.2 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs), Carlson said. The preschool will be staffed by three FTE elementary positions that will be reassigned to the preschool because of declining elementary enrollment. If the preschool reaches its capacity of 200 students, the district will hire two more teachers.  As of last week’s meeting, enrollment was at 111, requiring 3.5 FTEs, Carlson said. 

Irene Gische. Photo by Deanna Bavinka

With more students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 2.2 FTEs will go toward elementary special education, health and physical education. The secondary level will see an increase in staffing of 1.15 FTEs, Carlson said.

Three Village will also hire a drug and alcohol counselor to work with students and their families. Additionally, the district will add a supervisor of technology and information systems to help pilot its one-to-one device program, an initiative to provide junior high students with notebook computers. Two FTEs will be added to the grounds and maintenance staff.

The district’s capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent, will include the installation of generators at the elementary schools and field renovations at Ward Melville High School and P.J. Gelinas Junior High. Also planned are building repairs at Ward Melville and Gelinas, as well as district-wide plumbing and bathroom renovations.

Voting for the budget and trustees will take place on Tuesday, May 16 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Residents zoned to vote at Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Those zoned for Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High and those zoned for Setauket Elementary School will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

In Mount Sinai, four candidates — three incumbents and one newcomer — are vying for three at-large seats on the school board.

Robert Sweeney

President for five of his six overall years on the school board, Sweeney wants to stay on top of the district’s finances and continue to give the community a voice in how their children are educated.

The father of five and lawyer by trade has lived in Mount Sinai for 15 years and serves on the Eastern Suffolk BOCES advisory committee as well as the executive board of the Maritime Explorium children’s museum in Port Jefferson.

Sweeney said he’s running for a second term as a result of his deep commitment to the school district.

“Mount Sinai doesn’t really have a main street, so the community is the three school districts — that’s where my interest is,” Sweeney said. “I want to continue to be community-involved and have a say in where education is directed. I think the state education department in Albany is trying to take away a lot of the local control of school districts that were always meant to be community based.”

Sweeney said he ran for the board six years ago because he was concerned about taxes in the district. Admitting he was still concerned, Sweeney wants to continue to ease the burden on the taxpayers.

“From day one on the board, I’ve advocated for long-term financial planning,” he said. “While I was president, we never pierced the tax cap … I’ve had my own law practice for 30 years and in running a business, you pay attention to money coming in and going out. We have to understand what revenue we receive in the school district and work within our means.”

Edward Law

Law has served the board for the past six years, three of which he served as vice president. A former coach in the district’s intramural youth soccer program, he works as a management consultant who helps organizations transform themselves either by implementing computer systems to be more efficient or cutting costs — which, he said, lines up with what he’s brought to the board.

“My involvement over the past six years has brought a lot of transparency and fiscal discipline for the public,” Law said. “We’ve been able to keep our taxes and costs under control to the best of our ability … although the tax cap puts a lot of pressure on us, we’ve been able to expand in a very fiscally-prudent manner. We’ve added a lot of AP classes, implemented full-day kindergarten and the Columbia writing program. Our music and fine arts program has been growing and sports teams have been extremely successful.”

The father of three said, looking ahead, he and the board want to start vocational training programs, mostly revolving around hospital services and culinary arts, so students don’t have to travel to outside schools for college credit.

“I want to stay part of it,” he added about maintaining his seat. “I’d love to continue to be part of helping improve the district. We’ve been pretty darn effective over the past six years.”

Peter Van Middelem

A product of the Mount Sinai school district, Van Middelem, who serves as commissioner in the fire district and president of the youth lacrosse program, has lived in the community his entire life. He’s seeking a second term on the board because, he said, he “lives and breathes helping people.”

Van Middelem said he’s proud of the work the board’s done in the last three years — implementing full-day kindergarten, adding components to the music program without piercing the cap — and looks forward to making things even better for students in the district.

“Like anything else, you always want to leave something better than you first found it — we’ve identified different areas we need to improve and I want to continue with that,” he said. “You might see me at a school board meeting, might see me on the back of a fire truck, or at a fire district meeting … I’m just trying to make the community a better place.”

After graduating from Dowling College with an accounting degree in 1996, Van Middelem worked as an accountant for many years before becoming a New York City firefighter in 1999 — where he served for 12 years. He has experience auditing neighboring districts and values communication with others. He has three children, two currently in the district, and his mother and brothers still live in the area, too.

“Mount Sinai is home,” he said. “I love the water, love the people, and love helping to create an environment where kids can excel.”

Michael McGuire

The father of two moved to the community three years ago because of the school district’s reputation. The Port Jefferson native serves as an accountant in his family’s CPA firm, is a former Marine, and served as a police officer in New York City from 2001 to 2008. He recently completed his first year of classes at Touro Law Center in Central Islip.

McGuire decided to run for the board because he believes his professional experiences with auditing and examining financial statements for governments and nonprofits within the CPA firm will provide valuable, and what he sees as much-needed insight into solving the district’s financial problems.

“I’ve gone to the meetings and the district is projected to be broke in two years,” said McGuire, whose one-year-old child will become part of the district in three years. “We have a great district … but there’s a lot of wasteful spending. We need to stop blaming the governor or tax cap and everyone else and look internally on how to save money now to prevent cuts in the future.”

McGuire said it’s unacceptable that the board is presenting a budget with a $1.8 million deficit this year, and said there are plenty of ways to generate revenue.

“A lot of schools have BOCES programs they run at schools and other schools pay tuition to be part of it … the school cut BOCES a few years ago and I’d like to bring it back,” he said. “The school could also rent out fields to PAL or flag football leagues to increase revenue. I want to make sure the school can keep being amazing without worrying about having to cut things to keep it running.”

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