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Comsewogue Union Free School District

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Giving back and paying it forward. That is what Comsewogue High School teacher Andrew Harris wants his students to get out of the second annual Joe’s Day of Service. Students and staff participated in this year’s event on May 29 and throughout the day engaged in acts of kindness throughout the community.

Harris said the idea of a full day of community service projects came about last year, when students in his classes made pitches on how the student body could spend the day. 

Two students, Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett, proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones and straightening flags. 

Harris immediately took to the idea, and for the second straight year nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students journeyed to Calverton cemetery. 

Joe’s Day of Service was named after Superintendent Joe Rella, who Harris said showcased a belief that students and community members can improve their lives and the lives of others by working together. 

“I wanted the students to know that what they do can impact and benefit so many people,” he said. “Also, I think it’s important to get involved and step up to the plate.”

While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids throughout the district were doing their part. Middle schoolers participated in a beach clean-up at Cedar Beach, elementary school kids at Norwood Elementary School sang songs to senior citizens and others painted rocks as part of the Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of an emotional boost.

Students and staff honored Dashan Briggs, a member of the National Air Guard 106th from Port Jefferson Station, who died last year in a helicopter crash in Iraq, along with several members of his unit. The high school chorus serenaded Briggs’ wife Rebecca Briggs and his children, Ava and Jayden, who will be attending district schools next year. Comsewogue student Ava Pearl presented the family with a portrait she painted of the late Briggs, which will be placed in the district schools. 

“We wanted them to feel part of our family,” Harris said. 

The students joined the Briggs family and others at the Calverton National Cemetery to visit Dashan’s gravesite. Once there, they gave the family flowers and painted socks with encouraging messages. Also, this year, students straightened and put flags on gravesites throughout the cemetery. Students took the time to escort family members of veterans as well, who were coming from around the New York metro area, to visit the graves of their fallen family member. 

“It is so nice to see how many kids were able to come out and help,” John Quartararo, a senior at Comsewogue High School, said. “For them to give up a day of school to come out and do this just shows how much a community that Comsewogue really is.”

For the high schooler, to be able to honor Dashan Briggs’ memory in front of his wife and children meant a lot to him personally. 

“I lost my father when I was younger, and just knowing that we are making an impact and showing that we are always there for them means a lot,” he said. “The motto for us has always been to help someone out — ‘once a warrior, always a warrior’ and I feel like that resonated on this whole day.” 

Along with the cemetery visit, teachers and students participated in a track walk to fundraise for a fellow student battling leukemia and whose family is having financial distress due to the treatment costs.

Harris praised the students for what they did on this day.

“I just want you guys to know that you have made a huge impact to the community and the Briggs family. You should be proud of yourselves,” he said.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

With the final voters leaving the polling stations at the stroke of 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson School District residents passed the $43,936,166 2019-20 budget with 559 for and 160 against.

In addition to the vote, the second proposition to use $3.6 million in funds from the capital reserve fund for high school roof repairs passed 591 to 125.

Results of the budget are read to board members. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new budget is a 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget, and the tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes, has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials have said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations.

“I have two words, thank you,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. This will be the last budget overseen by the Casciano, as his position will be filled by incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan in October. “The board and administration worked hard to make a budget the public would be receptive to, and apparently we were.”

The district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in the budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

District keeps two incumbents, elects one newcomer

Much less controversial than last year’s election, Port Jefferson residents decided to keep two current members of the board and vote in one newcomer.

Incumbent trustee Ellen Boehm, a seven-year member of the board, was again asked to take her seat securing 521 of the votes. 

“I’m pleased with the positive confidence of the residents in Port Jefferson,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp is sworn in. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ryan Biedenkapp, who had been appointed to the board to replace resigned board member Adam DeWitt, was elected to the board to serve out the rest of DeWitt’s term, ending June 30, 2020. His seat will be up for election come that time. Biedenkapp was sworn in for the first time the night of the election.

“I’m honored the town saw fit to bring me back,” Biedenkapp said. “I look forward to serving the kids, all of the kids.”

Newcomer Randi DeWitt, a teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School, will be taking the post as board member thanks to a vote of 473. 

“I thank the community for their belief in me, and I look forward to working with the rest of the board members,” she said.

Mia Farina was the last candidate standing, securing only 291 votes. She said she plans to run again for the board next year as well.

“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported and voted for me even though I did not make the board this time,” Farina said in a Facebook post. “I have made so many new friends and learned so much through this campaign. So many people have helped and supported me with inspiring words.”

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Comsewogue school district voters resoundingly passed its 2019-20 budget with a vote of 660 to 152.

The district’s second proposition to create a capital reserve fund also passed with high margins, 656 to 150.

The new budget of $93,974,755 is an increase of $2,027,025 from last year and includes a $57,279,755, a 2.2 percent increase from last year and below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

“The budget passed by 81 percent, the highest margin it has ever been at Comsewogue,” Superintendent Joe Rella said. “I just want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart for supporting us.”

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photo

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

District re-elects incumbents

Being uncontested, current trustees Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter maintained their seats.