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Commack

Hundreds of Commack residents came together to take pride in their community at the first Commack Day celebration in more than 30 years Saturday, Oct. 6, at Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve. 

The event was put together by two childhood friends, Jim Manikas, a Commack resident and local real estate agent, and Commack native Dean Spinato. It featured live musical performance, free food from area businesses, with a variety of vendor booths covering fitness to chocolate. 

“Thank you to everyone who attended and was a part of Commack Day,” read a post-event message on the website. “This event could not have been as successful at it was without your contributions. Your support means the world to us, so thank you.” 

A check of $3,000 from the proceeds of the event was presented as a donation to Commack Fire Department.

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Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

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Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve in Commack. Photo from Facebook

Two childhood friends whose shared tie is a community they love are planning a celebration of what makes Commack unique.

The newly revived and first Commack Day will be held Oct. 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve off New Highway. Everyone’s invited, Commack resident or not, to help revive a tradition and bring it into the modern era.

James Manikas, a Commack resident and local real estate agent, said the idea of hosting a community festival first came up when he was reminiscing over high school memories with his friend, Commack native Dean Spinato.

There’s a Smithtown day, St. James day, a Nesconset day, Huntington fall festival, even Northport Cow Harbor Day, all of the surrounding towns have something like this.”

— James Manikas

“There’s a Smithtown day, St. James day, a Nesconset day, Huntington fall festival, even Northport Cow Harbor Day, all of the surrounding towns have something like this,” Manikas said. “Wouldn’t it be cool to shut down
Commack Road and have a big fair?”

The real estate agent said upon talking to older Commack residents, including his mother, he learned the community did once host an annualget together at Hoyt Nature Preserve, but the event hadn’t been held in close to 30 years.

“I think I may have attended it as a child,” he recalled.

Earlier this year, Manikas started posting videos and photos on Facebook suggesting a community celebration be revived. As his social media posts gained traction, Spinato, who works organizing marketing events, reached out to him offering to help.

I reached out to Jimmy and said, ‘I’m onboard,’” he said. “We’ve been friends since junior high, so let’s do this the right way. Let’s do a donation, give back and get the community involved.

The first idea of shutting down Commack Road to hold a street fair was met with several roadblocks.

“Commack has nothing because it’s split between Huntington and Smithtown,” Spinato said. “We’d have to go to both towns and see which road we would be able to shut down and get permits.”

They sought a special event permit from the Town of Smithtown to use Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, harkening back to the past. A committee of lifelong “Commackians” was formed to begin assembling a lineup of entertainment, food and music.

When you find out someone is from Commack, you simply gravitate to them, it has that strong sense of community.”

— James Manikas

“When you find out someone is from Commack, you simply gravitate to them, it has that strong sense of community,” Manikas said. “I want people to see what a great town it is.”

The event will feature live music from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. including performances by 3 Dudes from Commack, Full Circle Live, Killing Time and 70’s Flashback. Several local and chain restaurants have agreed to donate food for the event, according to Manikas, which will be available for tasting.

“You’re allowed a table there to promote any kind of business,” he said. “We’d prefer it to be a Commack business first.”

A listing of all the businesses that have pledged to be involved can be found on the event’s website at www.commackday.com. Tickets are $10 in advance through eventbrite or $15 cash-only on the day of the event. A portion of the proceeds will be given to the Commack Fire Department.

“These people are here, protecting us and our community, who are strictly volunteer,” Manikas said. “I think the least we can do is give back to them.” 

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Kings Park train station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Tired of delays, cancellations, safety issues and general stress of commuting on the Long Island Rail Road, several thousand Long Islanders have signed a petition asking for refunds and an investigation of the venerable rail system.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the LIRR investigate the rail line’s safety and inefficiency problems as well as institute refunds for canceled service. More are signing the petition every day.

For Commack resident and three-year LIRR commuter Eric Trinagel, 42, who started the petition, it displays just how fed up commuters have become.

People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late.”

— Eric Trinagel

“If they’re working on construction, if they are going to short schedules, at least increase the cars,” he said. “Instead they’re reducing schedules and reducing car lengths from 12 cars to eight. Everybody standing and standing uncomfortably.”

Trinagel, a technical manager for Viacom, said he didn’t expect so many people to join the petition, originally only expecting he and his wife would support it, if that. Within a few hours, he said he watched as more than 1,000 people signed their names to his Change.org petition.

The current total of 2,781 petitioners as of Wednesday is only a drop in the bucket of the LIRR’s 355,000 average weekday ridership, according to the LIRR’s 2016 data. Still, its creator believes these issues of constant delays for riders is coming to a head. He said commuters are sick and tired of delays, especially if it means being late for work.

“People are worried that they’re going to lose jobs because the train makes them late,” Trinagel said. “People are looking for jobs outside of the city because of the LIRR.”

The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return.”

Lorraine Mastronardi

Data on LIRR’s website shows July 2018 had an 88.9 percent on-time performance compared to 93.1 percent in July 2017.

Trinagel also said that the LIRR should look to reimburse at least a small part of commuter’s tickets if there are service delays, especially because of recent fare hikes. In March 2017, fares rose 4 percent across the board for train users, though the increase did not affect New York City subways. Another 4 percent fare hike has been proposed for 2019.

Many who signed the petition decried the amount they pay for their commutes compared to the level of service. People complained of overcrowded cars, rising fares and an overall feeling of being uncared for, especially when the railroad could be the determining factor if they are late for their jobs.

“Chronic lateness to work can jeopardize one’s career stability,” Mount Sinai resident Cynthia French wrote as she signed the petition. “Their traffic and weather reporters rattle off delays with a smile, but commuter stress is real.”

As the country heads into election season, multiple incumbents and candidates have also criticized LIRR’s recent performance. U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and his Republican opponent, Dan DeBono, have both criticized LIRR’s inefficiencies and called for an overhaul of the rail system.

We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other.”

— Eric Trinagel

“The LIRR is taking my hard-earned money and giving me next to nothing in return,” Port Jeff resident Lorraine Mastronardi wrote. “I’ve been riding the LIRR as a commuter since 1988 and it has never been this horrendous.”

This comes as Phil Eng, the newly appointed president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s LIRR, is overseeing several major changes to the rail system, including the Double Track Project, which would add a second track to the Ronkonkoma branch between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma train stations. The LIRR is also dealing with increasing calls for the electrification of the Port Jefferson to Huntington line.

LIRR officials did not response to request for comments by this publication’s press time.

The LIRR has outlined several changes with the intention of increasing customer satisfaction in its March Performance Improvement Plan. It called for an increase in rail inspections, improved rail monitoring systems, increased maintenance, hiring a new chief customer advocate and increased communication between LIRR leadership and customers.

Trinagel said he has spoken to Eng and they talked for approximately 40 minutes. While Trinagel said he respects Eng , he still calls for better communication between the railroad and commuters.

“We can’t be sitting on a train for an hour saying it’s just a signal issue, meanwhile on Facebook there’s a picture of two trains parked face to face a few feet away from each other,” Trinagel said. “We’re smarter than that.”

View the petition at www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-demand-better-safety-practices-and-fare-
refunds-from-the-long-island-railroad.

Setauket Elementary School students were ready for the first day of classes, Sept. 5. 2017. File photo by Rita J. Egan

It’s back to school time, and we want to help you commemorate the occasion. If your child attends one of the following school districts and you’d like to submit a photo of their first day of school attire, them boarding or arriving home on the school bus, or waiting at the bus stop, we may publish it in the Sept. 6 issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Just include their name, district and a photo credit, and send them by 12 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5 with the subject line “Back to school,” and then be sure to check Thursday’s paper.

Email The Village Times Herald and The Times of Middle Country editor Rita J. Egan at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Three Village School District
  • Middle Country School District

Email The Times of Huntington & Northports and The Times of Smithtown editor Sara-Megan Walsh at sara@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Huntington School District
  • Northport-East Northport School District
  • Harborfields School District
  • Elwood School District
  • Smithtown School District
  • Commack School District
  • Kings Park School District

Email The Port Times Record and The Village Beacon Record editor Alex Petroski at alex@tbrnewsmedia.com if your child attends:

  • Port Jefferson School District
  • Comsewogue School District
  • Miller Place School District
  • Mount Sinai School District
  • Shoreham-Wading River School District
  • Rocky Point School District

Happy back to school!

School district releases 80-page report alleging disclosure of confidential information, inappropriate actions

Commack School District's board of education at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Photo from Facebook

A Commack schoolboard  trustee has resigned her seat after the district launched a four-month investigation into her actions.

Pamela Verity submitted a letter of resignation to Commack School District effective July 31, which was unanimously accepted at an Aug. 1 special board of education meeting. She had been the subject of a special investigation for allegedly disclosing confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm.

As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information…”

— Jarrett Behar

“As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information:  confidential information about our children, confidential information about our employees,”  Jarrett Behar, vice president of Commack’s school board, said. “We cannot get to a point where we decide that the ends justify the means. There are rules in place that need to be followed and we have a duty to follow them.”

On April 24, Commack’s board voted 3-to-2 to hire attorney Jeffery Smith to undertake an independent investigation of Verity based on accusations she had disclosed confidential information on multiple occasions and taken actions that were an inappropriate use of her authority.

The school district released Smith’s 80-page report Aug. 2, following Verity’s resignation, that details his interviews with 10 individuals — all board of education members, Superintendent Donald James and four school employees — between May 2 and 18.

“This investigation was spurred by posting of confidential information on Facebook,” reads page 3 of the report.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes.”

— Pamela Verity

In his investigation, Smith said it was alleged that Verity disclosed details of a confidential personnel matter regarding harassment in the workplace on social media. The investigator said the content indicated the board member had been emailing about, texting about it and expressed her opinion in violation of both state law and district policies.

Verity said she admitted to having inadvertently made a public Facebook post on the subject while multitasking but denied it contained detailed information such as specific names.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes,” she said, but denied her actions were intentional or as malicious in intent as she felt was implied.

The report also critically examined conversations Verity had with district employees where alleged confidential information was disclosed or where her actions were considered inappropriate conduct of a trustee, according to the district.

“I wear my board hat all the time, I don’t have any First Amendment rights anymore?” she said. “If it was up to them I would not be allowed to post [on social media], I would not be allowed to support people.”

If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened.”

— Page 19 of investigative report

Verity said as an educational advocate with the Opt Out movement prior to joining the board, she consulted with other school trustees and lawyers for advice on handling situations and how to handle confidential matters. The Commack district, she asserted, has a much stricter definition of what qualifies as confidential information than state law requires or surrounding districts’ policies. 

Commack school officials also said Verity removed documents from Marion Carll Farm without permission. The former board member said she did pack up and take home documents while working on a fundraiser for the site for safekeeping. All were returned to the district, according to Verity. The district admitted to receiving a box of paperwork but says it did not receive a full inventory list of all items removed from the farmhouse as per its request.

“If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened,” Smith wrote on page 19 of the report.

Verity said she doesn’t want to spend her time and energy defending herself from accusations but would rather move forward.

“I thought at first maybe if I speak my truth, this will turn around. It didn’t,” she said. “[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

Community members at the Aug. 1 special meeting questioned how much the four-month investigation had cost the district given the independent investigator was hired at $150 an hour. The total bill was not yet available, according to Behar.

[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

— Pamela Verity

“This procedure and process obviously did come at a cost and we do not take any endeavor where we spend taxpayer money lightly,” he said.

The district has three legal options when it comes to addressing Verity’s seat on the board of education, according to school district attorney Eugene Barnosky. The board’s choices include holding a special election to fill the vacancy within 90 days, appointing an individual to serve or leaving the seat unfilled. Verity was in her second year of a three-year term, due up for re-election in May 2019.

Behar said no decision had been made yet on how best to proceed.

“What happened today is very new,” he said. “We will make a decision, whatever decision we make will be made public. The community is always welcome to give its input.”

Verity said she hopes to continue lobbying for curriculum changes as part of the Opt Out movement against increased state testing and the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The Blanco family stands at the newly dedicated "L. Cpl. Michael E. Blanco" section of Wichard Boulevard in Commack. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

By Kyle Barr

A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.

Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.

“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.

Smithtown Town officials, Suffolk County elected officials and member of the Blanco family at the July 1 ceremony. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.

“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.

“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”

In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979  to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.

Several veterans groups attended the July 1 ceremony in honor of Michael Blanco. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”

Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.

“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“

Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.

“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”

By Karen Forman

More than 550 Commack High School graduates looked to their future Friday night. 

Commack High School held its annual commencement exercises June 22 on the athletic fields.

“Be present in your daily lives,” Commack High School Principal Leslie Boritz told the Class of 2018. “Be here now for yourself and for others. Living in the present is how we can make a difference.”

After the students tossed their caps in the air, Master of Ceremonies and English teacher James Desmond told the graduating seniors, “While the flight of your caps is limited, may your future never be.”

 

Commack Superintendent Donald James. Photo from Brenda Lentsch

Across the Town of Smithtown, voters headed to the polls May 15 to show their overwhelming approval of their school district’s 2018-19 budgets. Many of the districts are planning to use funds to increase their security measures in schools or make critical infrastructure and building repairs.

Yet, threat of hazardous weather and early evening storms made for a light voter turnout, with fewer ballots being cast than in previous years. This disappointed school officials, who rely on their taxpayers’ votes for critical feedback and as a measurement of community involvement.

2018-19 budget 

Commack residents passed the district’s $193,222,797 2018-19 budget by 1,203 votes to 419 votes against. The approved budget contains a $3 million increase to expand college level courses at the high school while also conducting a districtwide security review.


Commack budget results
by the numbers

$193.2M 2018-19 budget: 1,203 Yes votes to 419 No votes

Board of education
Jarrett Behar: 1,302 votes 

The budget will maintain all current programs while expanding upon others. Classes that will be added include the pottery wheel classes for sixth-graders, more college level, project-based courses for high school students and a Movement in the Arts program that will attempt to give elementary students 40 to 60 minutes of physical activity during the school day.

The district’s spending plan also provides funding for replacement vehicles for the security and maintenance departments, updated computers with more antivirus and malware programs and enhancements to Wi-Fi connectivity in the district buildings.

Angela Cicalo, Commack’s PTA council president, expressed her concern about the low turnout of less than 2,000 voters.

“It’s sad that we have about 6,000 students in all of the buildings here in Commack, but only about 2,000 people normally come out and vote,” Cicalo said. “And there will probably be fewer than that this year. Sometimes the voter turnout is low when the incumbent is running unopposed and there aren’t a lot of candidates to choose from.”

Commack board of education

Voters did not have many options when it came to candidates for Commack’s board of education. There was one trustee seat up for vote, and incumbent trustee and current vice president on the board Jarrett Behar ran unopposed receiving 1,302 votes.

“I want to represent our children and our community while looking out for their best interests.”

— Jarrett Behar

Even though Behar was running unopposed, he still made the rounds before going to work: stopping at the high school first — with his two children, Jeffrey, 11, and Mollie, 6, in tow — to shake hands and introduce himself to voters.

“I’m very invested in the district,” he said. “I want to represent our children and our community while looking out for their best interests.”

For his second term, Behar said that he would “love to convince Albany to fix or abandon the Foundation Aid formula and start giving moderate wealth districts like Commack more aid, which would in turn reduce the tax burden on our community members.”

He added that he will continue to advocate “for the curtailment or abolishment of the numerous unfunded mandates that serve to further burden our community.” 

Behar said he would also like to continue the board’s efforts in improving the district’s communication with the community.

“It has definitely gotten better, but we will continue to try to improve,” he said.

Karen Forman contributed reporting. 

2018-19 school budget, board of education trustee vote to be held May 15

Commack Superintendent Donald James. Photo from Brenda Lentsch

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

Budgets saw increases across the board as districts attempt to increase security options and offer up more school programs and courses at nearly every grade level.

The Commack School District adopted its 2018-19 proposed budget with a $3 million increase aimed at expanding college level courses at the high school while also conducting a districtwide security review. The proposed budget of $193,222,797 contains a 1.61 percent increase over this year’s budget.

“We are very proud of our budget, and have again come in lower than our tax cap through our fiscally conservative, multiyear planning process,” Superintendent Donald James said in a statement. “All of our schools’ current academic and extracurricular offerings are included in next year’s budget with no cuts in programs — along with new opportunities for exploration and learning.”

We are very proud of our budget, and have again come in lower than our tax cap through our fiscally conservative, multiyear planning process.”
– Donald James

Board Vice President Jarrett Behar said the planned security review is based on community feedback. The district plans to put in a request for proposal for a districtwide security audit to identify potential security problems in the district and potential improvements.

“We really wanted to shy away from knee-jerk reactions,” Behar said. “These events that happened were horrific, but we wanted to take a considered approach.”

The budget maintains current programs while expanding upon others. If approved, it will expand the pottery wheel classes for sixth-graders and add more college level, project-based courses for high school students, and a Movement in the Arts program that will attempt to give elementary students 40 to 60 minutes of physical activity during the school day.

The proposed budget also provides funding for replacement vehicles for the security and maintenance departments, updated computers with more antivirus and malware programs and enhancements to Wi-Fi connectivity in the district buildings.

If approved, the budget will impose a 2.51 percent tax levy increase, which falls within the state mandated tax levy cap. This budget accounts for an anticipated decrease in state aid, which saw a decrease in the amount of building aid among other financial aids.

Commack board of education

One trustee seat is currently up for vote, and incumbent trustee and current vice president on the board Jarrett Behar is running unopposed. He says the biggest problems that the Commack school district will face in the upcoming years has to do with state financing.

“Largely, it’s funding issues, mostly from the state, and we’re going to continue to fight against unfunded mandates and to get Foundation Aid formula fixed so we get our fair share of state funding,” Behar said. “The foundation aid formula is like the formula for Coke, nobody can really figure out what it is. Whatever it is, I don’t think we’re getting enough as we should.”


By the numbers:
$193.2M proposed 2018-19 school budget
1.61 percent year-to-year increase
2.51 percent tax levy increase

Behar is a 12-year resident of Commack and he has been trustee on the board for the last three years. Before that he worked on the Rolling Hills Primary School PTA and as coach in both girls and boys basketball. He currently works as a partner at Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP in Central Islip. He believes his experience both in the community and as an attorney helps him to work with others on the board.

“The whole board starts with the mentality of what is best for the children and works from there. Couple that with the long-term planning that the board has put in place [and] I think we’ve done a really good job,” Behar said.

Board President Steve Hartman said that Behar’s legal expertise has been very helpful when dealing with any legal issues that come up in meetings.

“Mr. Behar has worked diligently with his fellow BOE members over the past three years to ensure that our children have had as many opportunities as possible throughout their school year,” Hartman said in a statement. “He also wants to ensure that our children go to school in an environment that makes them feel safe and secure. I look forward to continue working with him as we continue to improve our programs districtwide.”

Behar’s son, Jeffrey, is in fifth grade at Sawmill Intermediate School and his daughter, Mollie, is in first grade at Wood Park Primary School.

Go Vote 

Board elections and budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Commack Middle School and Commack High School.

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