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Michael Ring

Rocky Point board of ed Trustees Joseph Coniglione and Ed Casswell and President Susan Sullivan discuss the vote results May 15. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite a storm that plowed through Long Island at the same time that many residents were to head out to vote May 15, Rocky Point residents passed the school districts $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“The most important thing for us was to put forward a budget that is fiscally responsible while we continually try to grow options for students at our schools,” Superintendent Michael Ring said.

The largest increases came from teacher benefits and new general education initiatives, like science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, new Advanced Placement courses and special education services.

Ring said he was disappointed with the voter turnout compared to last year, which saw 909 residents come out to vote. Ring partially blamed Tuesday’s storm that came around when the district usually sees most come out to vote.

“Most come out to vote after 5 p.m.,” Ring said. “Thankfully enough came out.”

Two trustee seats were opened on the board. Incumbent Ed Casswell was voted to his second term with 551 votes and newcomer Gregory Amendola was elected to the board with 571 votes. The race was uncontested, with current board Vice President Scott Reh stepping down.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, a 26-year resident who was elected alongside Reh in 2015.

The vice president, who is Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

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

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

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

Amendola, a 13-year resident who is looking to get the community more involved, echoed Casswell’s comments about losing Reh, but said he looks forward to being on the board.

“It’s an exciting time,” Amendola said. “I’m excited to be part of the team and make a difference. As of now I really just want to get in and get my feet wet and help any way I can.”

The board members will assume their trustee positions at the July organizational meeting. There the board will also elect a president and vice president for next year.

Rocky Point students were give one day of in-school suspension for walking out. The students attended the March 19 board of education meeting to debate the decision. File photo by Kevin Reding

They were articulate. They were passionate. And they wanted answers. A week after they walked out and were punished by the district for it, a group of Rocky Point students stood before their administrators and spoke up.

About a dozen of the high schoolers who lined up to address the board of education March 19 were among the more than 30 district students who participated in the national school walkout five days earlier. The students, many of them AP scholars, student council members and star athletes, had each been issued one day of in-school suspension, and were banned from extracurricular activities for three days following their choice to stand behind the front gates of the high school for 17 minutes March 14. Those middle school and high school students joined young people across the country in holding up signs and demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence, one month after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead.

Rocky Point students who both did and didn’t walk out March 14 attended the March 19 board of education meeting supporting those who did. Photo by Kevin Redding

While the students said during the meeting they anticipated and accepted consequences, based on a letter the district sent to parents a week prior to the protest declaring that all participants would be “subject to administrative action,” they told board members they found the ruling of suspension to be “unnecessarily harsh” and a violation of the district’s own code of conduct as well as New York state law.

Many cited Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) March 15 letter defending all students’ rights to peacefully express their views on controversial issues, stating that “any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech.”

“By suspending any student who participated in this peaceful nationwide movement, the administration is effectively discouraging students to have their voices heard in society,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, who helped organized the March 14 gathering. “This is an overreaction, and we need to find a more suitable compromise … Although I believe that students should not be punished for speaking their minds in a peaceful, nondisruptive protest, we would all have happily accepted three days of detention as a consequence for cutting class [as dictated in the code of conduct] … we didn’t walk out to just flout the school’s policies or denounce the administration, but we did this because it’s our lives on the line.”

Sophomore Emily Farrell reminded board members that many schools across the country and on Long Island, including Ward Melville and Mount Sinai, ultimately did not punish students for walking out, even after forbidding students from exiting school buildings.

“So why couldn’t you support us?” Farrell asked. “All that needed to be done was to send out an adult to escort the students and provide them appropriate permission to temporarily walk outside the school building — not leave school grounds, but just go outside. The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights by not supporting the walkout.”

“The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights.”

— Emily Farrell

One student called the district’s handling of the walkout “unpatriotic” and another asked, “At what point does our educational curriculum tell us that peaceful protest is wrong?”

Senior Nicki Tavares, a national honor society member, stepped up to the microphone to address the punishment.

“This is a blatant overextension of power that disregards rules and regulations set forth by the administration themselves,” he said.

Another senior, Jo Herman, urged administrators to remove the suspensions from their school records permanently.

“Our punishment contradicted the code of conduct,” Herman said. “When we got suspended we were informed that as long as there were no further disciplinary actions against us, they wouldn’t go on our records.”

According to the students, nowhere in the district’s code of conduct, which was officially adopted in 2011, does it state any specific way to handle a situation like this, suggesting that administrators “took matters into their own hands” and enforced a rule that didn’t exist. Students called into question why a “peaceful” protest warranted a suspension, which is considered “a severe penalty” in the code — imposed on those who are “insubordinate, disorderly, violent or disruptive, or whose conduct otherwise endangers the safety, morals, health or welfare of others.”

In the code of conduct it is stated under “prohibited student conduct” that “Students may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension from school, when they … engage in any willful act that disrupts the normal operation of the school community” and “The superintendent retains his/her authority to suspend students, but places primary responsibility for the suspension of students with the building principal.”

Pinkenburg said the students had done none of the prohibited actions in the code.

Students like sophomore Emily Farrell addressed the administrator’s mishandling of the event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While the school claims that the walkout endangered the safety of those involved, we have not compromised the safety of other students, not ourselves, and we understood the risk involved,” he said. “We [also] did not disrupt the day at all, as all the students were watching tribute videos in the auditorium and gymnasium.”

According to the code of conduct, a student is to be given “due process” before a suspension is authorized. And, for any short-term suspension, as mandated by New York State Education Department policy section 3214 (3)(b), the school must notify parents in writing within 24 hours of their child’s suspension via “personal delivery, express mail delivery or some other means that is reasonably calculated to assure receipt of the notice within 24 hours of the decision to propose suspension at the last known address for the parents.” An opportunity for an informal conference is also encouraged.

But none of these procedures took place, according to the students and their parents.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here, and in schools across the nation,” said Brian Botticelli, whose daughter in the middle school was issued her unexpected suspension, as well as some hate texts from her peers because of her involvement. “It is my opinion that [Superintendent Michael Ring] overstepped his authority by issuing arbitrary and extreme punishments based on his ideological opinion instead of what is best for the student body … I ask that the board conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations that this was negligently mishandled.”

Botticelli explained that the students who walked out scheduled a meeting with Ring to better understand the penalties of their involvement March 13, which turned out to be a snow day. The parent said the meeting was canceled by Ring and never rescheduled.

In response to this, Ring said, “The students did send an email that evening [Tuesday, March 13], but we didn’t get it until the following morning … I was not available then. But it was my intention for that meeting to take place.”

Nicolette Green, a senior, said while she didn’t participate in the walkout, she still stands for those who did, and encouraged administrators to do the same.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here.”

— Brian Botticelli

“It is our right as students to speak about problems we have — not only within our schools but within our country,” she said. “Fighting against gun violence shouldn’t just be a student cause and, as members of the school, you should stand with us. We are calling for change.”

Green also addressed the district’s “heightened interest of safety and security,” as stated in the letter sent to parents as the main reason the walkout was prohibited and “not a viable option for our schools.” But, she said, that was proven to not be the case last week, referring to a PTA meeting in the school district March 14 in which a man pulled out a closed pocketknife while face-to-face with Pinkenburg, making a point that security is needed in rapidly escalating situations. Green said, although a security guard was present during that meeting, nothing was done to stop the man in an urgent manner. (See story on page A6.)

“This behavior should not be tolerated, and the event should not have happened,” Green said. “This man was told to leave by other parents, but he was not escorted out of the building. How was I or anyone else in that room supposed to blindly trust this guy? I don’t know this man or his background. Something should have been done.”

Ring interjected, assuring Green and the rest of the room that the district has since banned that individual from school property.

But not all speakers were against the district’s handling of the walkout.

“I would like to say that what the school district did with the walkout was appropriate,” eighth-grader Quentin Palifka said. “There was an email that was sent, and it did say that we were allowed to write letters to Congress, Senate and the Parkland victims … if you wanted to be heard, I think that you should’ve written a letter.”

Board Trustee Ed Casswell, who remembered being a history teacher the day the Columbine shootings occurred and how “numb” it left him, thanked all the students for weighing in.

“Someone said you’re all good students … you’re not good students, you’re great students,” Casswell said, turning his attention to parents in the room. “There have been 24 shootings in a K-12 institute since 1999, 10 since Sandy Hook. When is it going to be enough? We’re all united under the umbrella of health and safety for our kids. What I ask is rather than turn on each other, that we move forward locking arms.”

Students walked out of Rocky Point High School, and were given in-school suspension for not obeying district orders when it came to participation in the National School Walkout. File photo by Giselle Barkley

By Kevin Redding

Michelle Salz, the mother of Rocky Point Middle School student Isadora Luce — an eighth-grader who participated in the walkout March 14 — said she and a group of parents are in the process of contacting the American Civil Liberties Union in hopes of fighting their children’s suspensions legally.

According to Salz, in suspending her daughter, who is the president of the student council and National Junior Honor Society, and was one of eight middle schoolers involved, the administration violated its code of conduct by denying her the right to due process, foregoing an informal conference and not issuing a written notification within 24 hours of the authorized suspension.

Michelle Salz is disappointed the district chose to give her daughter in-school suspension for participating in the National School Walkout, and is contemplating taking legal action. Photo from Michelle Salz

Salz said when she requested information regarding consequences in the code of conduct for cutting class, Principal Scott O’Brien said there was nothing listed. It was O’Brien, she said, who ultimately made the decision to issue Isadora a suspension over a detention — a penalty Salz felt should be reserved for “violent or bad kids … not for cutting class.”

“She was surprised and dismayed,” Salz said. “She’s lost respect for her principal, and she also realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event that the kids would’ve never forgotten. They could’ve helped make signs, talked to them about laws, the tradition of protests and civil liberties. Instead, they chose to do this.”

O’Brien and Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring did not return requests for comment.

Isadora herself said, although this was predominantly a high school movement, she was inspired to participate from seeing the Parkland survivors take initiative, and because she said she’s passionate when it comes to gun control.

“I knew there would be punishment, but I’m very disappointed the school didn’t reward us at all for taking leadership,” Isadora said. “I wish they would respect that we’re doing this as a nationwide thing, rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a risk to safety.’ They knew about this way ahead of time.”

A fellow eighth-grader who participated in the walkout with Isadora agreed that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

“I feel like the superintendent used his own opinions to make a quick decision rather than take his time to see what would be best for everyone,” 14-year-old Ella Botticelli said. “I feel that this was wrong on his part and he should admit to that.”

“She realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event.”

— Michelle Salz

Salz said she and a group of parents who met through Facebook are waiting for a response to an email sent to New York Civil Liberties Union-Suffolk Chapter Director Irma Solis last week. Salz has also been in contact with attorneys from the area.

According to the ACLU website, while the law allows school districts to discipline students for missing class, “even if they’re doing so to participate in a protest” or to express themselves, a school can’t “discipline students more harshly because they are walking out to express a political view or because school administrators don’t support the views behind the protest.”

“We hope those schools recognize that even when they are within their right to discipline students for protests, that doesn’t always mean they should,” wrote ACLU member Vera Eidelman in a Feb. 22 article. “[The students’] activism inspires confidence in the future of our democracy and their schools should be proud of them.”

Salz said while she knows lawsuits will be a costly endeavor, she and the fellow parents are currently drumming up ideas on how to go about it.

“I don’t know how we’re going to afford it right now,” the mother said. “But this is the only way this school district is going to be made to change.”

Superintendent states minimal changes will be made

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

The Rocky Point school district isn’t wasting any time getting its future finances in order, kicking off the new year with a workshop meeting on the proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year.

District Superintendent Michael Ring and board of education members met prior to their regular BOE meeting Jan. 8 to evaluate priorities, expectations and projected figures within the budget, which Ring anticipates will be “a very positive one” for the school and community. Although he said it’s too early in the process to present a total budget — a specific total will be presented in March — Ring stated that the 2018-19 budget will be tax cap compliant, as the 2017-18 budget was, and will maintain the growth in tax levy within the cap. The district also plans on keeping existing instructional and cocurricular programs, as well as performing arts and athletic programs, at all levels.   

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring. File photo by Erika Karp

“Nothing’s being lost,” Ring said. “That’s always a concern, particularly among members of the community who have children in the schools. That and sticking within the tax cap are things we strive for. I think those are things people in the community want from us, so hopefully that will result in general positive acceptance of this budget.”

In the 2018-19 school year, the second half of bonding for capital projects totaling $16 million, approved by voters in 2016, will take place. The first half of the bond — roughly $7 million — funded projects completed this past summer, including, but not limited to, districtwide asbestos removal, the installation of air conditioning in the high school auditorium and multiple renovations within the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, from making its bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act to replacing boiler, burners and old piping.

The second half of the capital projects list — costing $9 million —  will fund the installation of energy-efficient ceilings and light-emitting diode lights throughout the district’s schools, bathroom renovations in the high school and Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School, modifications to the heating and ventilation systems and replacement of the public address and clock systems districtwide, among other things. The board plans to begin the improvements after school lets out this June, working throughout the summer for a before-fall completion date.

“It’s a lot of little things that need to be done,” Ring said. “[It happens] when facilities reach 30 to 40 years old.”

Greg Hilton, school business official, explained that, because of the bond, total debt service within the preliminary 2018-19 budget is at a peak $4.28 million, compared to $3 million in 2016-17. It won’t stay that way though, he said.

“This is the top,” he said. “And we’re expiring smaller debt in its place.”

“Nothing’s being lost. That’s always a concern, particularly among members of the community who have children in the schools.”

— Michael Ring

A “special recurring item” in the budget is a proposal to hire a full-time equivalent additional teaching assistant at the middle and high school level to support the classrooms that have a high population of students with disabilities, including first-level foreign language classes in the high school.

Ring said due to scheduling, coursework and graduation requirements, certain noncore courses end up having 50 percent or more of its students needing special education. When the ratio of students with disabilities in a classroom reaches 50 percent, the new hire would be utilized to assist the general teacher, modifying instruction and helping those students.

One-time proposals may include a $34,000 purchase of a van to help the district’s maintenance mechanic transport tools and parts efficiently, rather than forcing him to carry items to a job; an $80,000 renovation of the high school’s weight room; $20,000 for a small turf groomer for interim maintenance on the district’s athletic field while utilizing The LandTek Group for the bigger jobs; and $50,000 for upgrades to the high school auditorium speakers and wiring, prompted by resident complaints over the sound quality in that room.

The next budget workshop will be held Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. at Rocky Point High School.

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.”

Mothers angry over lack of administrative action, response

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing several expletives (which have been removed from the photo), a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Photo from Robin Siefert

By Kevin Redding

A Rocky Point mother took the school district to task at a board meeting last week after, she said, nothing was done about a hateful, anti-Semitic note left on her 9-year-old daughter’s desk last month.

Last month, Robin Siefert’s daughter — who is the only Jewish student in her fourth-grade class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School — sat down at her desk to find her “luck of the Irish” Post-It note had three obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name scribbled on it.

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing hate speech. Photo by Kevin Redding

The original note, handed out to each student in the class, made her daughter feel lucky and happy, her mother said. She told the board her daughter is now a changed kid.

“Where before she was always outgoing and happy, my daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her,” Siefert said. “Why weren’t the students asked to give a handwriting sample? As soon as this happened, an assembly about tolerance should’ve been scheduled. Very little has been done.”

The mother said her daughter felt uncomfortable returning to her class.

“She is now forced every day to sit in the classroom knowing that someone in the room feels animosity toward her while having no idea who that person may be,” she continued telling the board. “And since [the student] has gotten away with this, who knows what they will do next?”

In response, board trustee Sean Callahan, who expressed sympathy and shock, said the administration is not going to turn their backs on this.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern,” Callahan said. “That’s what we need to find out.”

Siefert sent an email to the board April 5 explaining the situation, and nothing has been done to date.

She said the district’s failure to ensure her daughter’s safety and well-being in the aftermath of what she considers a targeted incident forced her to take matters into her own hands — she filed a report to officers at the 7th Precinct, who immediately recognized it as a hate crime.

“My daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her.”

— Robin Siefert

The police told her they would contact the school and instruct administrators that measures should be taken to find the student who wrote the note. According to the mother, requests to take handwriting samples have been refused.

Siefert did commend her daughter’s teacher, however, who sent a letter to parents alerting them of what happened, and asked them to watch a video with their children.

“He should be recognized for his actions,” Siefert said, “but that letter should’ve been written by an administrator and should have gone home to every parent in the district.”

Siefert said during her meeting with Courtney Herbert, the school’s assistant principal, she was told counselors were sent to speak with students in the classroom — but not specifically her daughter.

“This kid is doodling these things at home the way my kid doodles hearts and rainbows,” she said. “They don’t seem to care about what must be going through her mind at school every day.”

Herbert, the mother said, explained that the school actually has no consequence policy in regards to this type of event,

Siefert said despite calling Michael Ring, the superintendent, March 24, she has not received a response.

“I realized [quickly] they don’t know what to do,” Siefert said. “I don’t think it’s a situation where they don’t want to do anything, but I really felt like these people have no clue what they are supposed to do. They were not thinking about my daughter and how this was going to affect her, at all.”

Two mothers are upset over hate crimes against their children that occurred at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, above, and claim administration has done little to address the issue. Photo from Syntax

The Rocky Point mother is not the only one dealing with this sort of situation. According to an Anti-Defamation League report Monday, “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was 86 percent higher than the same period last year” with about 541 attacks and threats between January and March.

Siefert demanded the school be better prepared to handle situations like this in the future — inspiring a fellow mother to speak out about the school’s mishandling of recent incidents of bullying and discrimination among students.

Alana Rodriguez, the mother of a fourth-grader at the school with a Puerto Rican and Italian background, addressed two racial incidents involving her 10-year-old son.

In November, after President Donald Trump (R) was elected, a classmate of her son’s told him: “I can’t wait for your kind to leave this country,” referring to the wall Trump proposed building at the Mexican border. In February, another student called her son the N-word because he was doing well in a game of basketball against other kids.

“With both incidents, I was never notified by the school — and that’s not okay,” said Rodriguez, who heard about the incidents from her other son. “The child is still in recess with my son — nothing happened to him. He even went up to my son after and said, ‘See, you told on me and I didn’t get in trouble.’”

When Rodriguez met with the assistant principal, she said she was told her son didn’t seem upset by what happened.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern. That’s what we need to find out.”

— Sean Callahan

“It’s sad that, at 10, my son can’t count on grown-ups or administration to feel protected,” she said. “There has to be some form of communication from school to home. There should be assemblies throughout the year that teaches kindness and tolerance, and how to treat others.”

In an email response to questions regarding the incidents, Ring made clear the school district doesn’t take matters involving student safety and security lightly.

“[The district] investigates all acts of bullying and harassment immediately upon notification,” Ring wrote. “Any incidents found in violation of our code of conduct or anti-bullying policy are met with proper disciplinary actions and parental involvement when necessary. Additionally, the district’s strong character education program proactively promotes the ideals of acceptance and tolerance of all individuals regardless of their race, gender or religious affiliations … [the administration] remains vigilant in its efforts to keep an open-door communication policy…”

To those like Siefert’s family friend Lisa Malinowski, who joined her when she went to speak with the assistant principal, administration needs to wake up in order to solve problems.

“They have to realize we don’t live in Mayberry,” Malinowski said. “Rocky Point isn’t really the quaint little town they think it is. They really need to wake up and know that the reality of the world today is scary.”

Part of the funds will go toward a new wireless network

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Kevin Redding

More than two years after New York State voters passed the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, Rocky Point school district is moving forward on its preliminary investment plan to fund improvements in educational technology and infrastructure for K-12 students.

At a school board meeting last week, Susan Wilson, executive director for educational services at the district, gave a presentation to the public about how grant money from the state, totaling $2.45 million, will be utilized.

“This is really to provide improved learning and educational opportunities for students in Rocky Point,” Wilson said. “Through the act, every school is getting a different amount of money and the state wants us to develop new and exciting things for school technology.”

If approved by the board of education in a March 20 vote, the district’s preliminary plan will be brought to the state and, from there, funds will kick in for the eventual installation of a high-speed wireless network throughout the school, which would require a full update of the current network.

“It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing.”

— Michael Ring

Of the $2.45 million grant, $525,000 of it will go toward the installation of the networks, while $510,000 will go toward upgrading infrastructure, leaving about $1.4 million left.

Wilson said she and the Technology Committee — the group that’s been working on the preliminary plan for over a year — are considering to use the leftover funds for classroom lab equipment upgrades or tablets or laptops. A technology meeting will be held Jan. 26 in the district office where public input is encouraged.

In fact, the district is offering a 30-day comment period for community members to weigh in on how the extra money should be spent, which started Jan. 9 and will continue through Feb. 9.

“It’s a thorough process that requires a lot of input from various stakeholders,” Wilson said.

Among the major stakeholders are teachers, students, parents, BOE members, higher education and district tech support.

According to Wilson, the turnaround to see the preliminary plan in action is completely dependent on the state and its approvals, but she hopes phase one, the installation of the wireless networks, will happen between September 2017 and September 2018.

The executive director said the initiation of the Smart Schools Bond Act partly served as a jumping-off point toward online testing in the future. New York has indicated that by 2022, all regents and state assessment exams must be taken online.

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said he’s excited for the upgrades and what it could do for the district.

“Once we have Wi-Fi we can go from having a handful of active wireless users who are on hot spots to thousands with access,” Ring said. “It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.”

If you have any questions or comments regarding the preliminary plan, contact Susan Wilson at swilson@rpufsd.org. The technology meeting on Jan. 26 in the district office is open to the public.

Rocky Point High School held it’s Class of 2016 commencement ceremony on the grounds of the football field on Friday, June 24.

After speeches by students and local officials, including Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring, class speaker Daniel Infranco and salutatorian Matthew Brewer, students were awarded various scholastic and athletic awards, as well as scholarships, before listening to valedictorian James Gohn’s speech and lining up to be handed their diplomas.

Once each student had a diploma in hand, they turned their tassels to the side before tossing them into the air in celebration of their hard work and achievements throughout their high school journeys.

 

Rocky Point board of education members voice their opinions of the bond. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After Rocky Point school district’s capital projects proposal didn’t pass last year, it was back to the drawing board.

The district presented its revised capital projects proposal on March 7, showing that while the school district is keeping many projects from its previous proposal last year, the Facilities Sub-Committee cut around $4.4 million worth of projects from the previous bond proposal.

The committee, which handles the school district’s bond proposals and revisions, got rid of extra projects like artificial turf for the varsity baseball and softball fields and outside bathrooms, among other projects. However, adding air conditioning to the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School and Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School cafeterias and installing another means of leaving the Middle School’s nurse’s office, were added to the $16.5 million proposal.

Projects like turf fields and outside bathrooms were removed from the initial bond proposal.
Projects like turf fields and outside bathrooms were removed from the initial bond proposal.

The board of education said the bond is subject to change, as it may add or delete projects before it goes to a vote later this year. The bond will still target repairs and renovations to the district’s facilities, which includes, but isn’t limited to, fixing the ceilings in various areas of the schools, installing light-emitting diode lights, renovating the bathrooms, repaving the asphalt and improving security.

Smaller items like fixing a crack in the Middle School’s masonry were also factored into the bond, but Rocky Point school district Superintendent Michael Ring said this was intentionally added to the capital projects proposal.

“These are unique — unlike other special projects, these could be recipients of state aid because [of] the nature of them,” Ring said. “So if voters are going to consider a bond, it would make sense to put it in there.”

For the past three or four decades, state aid has reimbursed 70.2 percent of the school district’s project costs. This takes some pressure off taxpayers and the school district to fund the project. Ring added that mandatory projects like new security cameras, will go into the school district’s 2016-17 budget if the bond doesn’t pass. If it passes, the average homeowner with an assessed value of $2,600 will pay $74.48 a year in additional taxes over a 15-year period.

According to Rocky Point resident Bruce MacArthur, community involvement is important when it comes to passing a bond.

“We have virtually no participation right now from the community,” MacArthur said during the meeting. “[The] larger issue is how do we get the community more involved to be educated on the projects that are being proposed.”

Around 20 people, including the board of education, attended Monday’s meeting. The board and the sub-committee hope to attract more people for its future bond proposal meetings to get more community input before residents vote in favor or opposition of the bond.

“We all came to a consensus that we have to try to sell it [to residents],” said board of education President Susan Sullivan. “One of the reasons we’re meeting is because we are looking to move on this.”

Superintendent Michael Ring discusses the NYS Comptroller’s report with local residents. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Despite the New York State Comptroller’s audit report, Rocky Point school district is sticking to their guns.

Last week, on Nov. 19, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released completed audits of four school districts, including Rocky Point. In the audit, he claimed that the school district exceeded the four percent statutory limit on its fund balance between July 1, 2013 and March 31 of this year.

According to the audit, during the 2009-10 to 2013-14 fiscal years, the Board at the time had accumulated $13.1 million. However, the district only used $1.2 million, and experienced a surplus in their unrestricted fund balance. Rocky Point’s Superintendent, Michael Ring, said this fund is utilized in emergency situations where the district cannot afford necessary expenditures — this includes funding programs or accommodating a special needs child, among other reasons.

Ring refuted the comptroller’s financial report.

“Bottom line for us is that if we were over the four percent, our external auditors would be required to report that,” Ring said in a phone interview.

But the Superintendent said no such claims were filed. He added that the Comptroller’s odd method of counting the school’s fund balance is unusual, as excess money from one school year is added to the previous year’s closing bonds.

Ring mentioned that the Comptroller acknowledged the district’s fund balance was below four percent within that time period. Now, the district is between 5.4 to 7.8 percent, according to the Comptroller’s report. Taxpayer dollars contribute to the district’s unregistered fund balance. An excess of money in this fund means taxpayer dollars go to waste. Ring assured meeting attendees that is not the case for the district.

For Rocky Point school board members, acquiring funds for the unrestricted fund balance is a guessing game. The school district must base their fund balance amount on possible future expenditures that the school may not be able to afford without this fund balance. Typically, the district budgets its money conservatively. The district’s actual expenditures are within 0.2 percent of what they budgeted.

Some community members weren’t phased by the Comptroller’s report. When asked about it, Rocky Point resident Mary Heely said she was surprised by the news. She stood by the Superintendent’s word that the district didn’t exceed the statutory limit of its unrestricted fund balance. With the failure of the district’s bond, Heely, like some other community members, had other financial issues on her mind.

“According to Mr. Callahan,” said Heely, referring to Rocky Point Board of Education member Sean Callahan, “we may be in serious trouble if there was a major event in this district. I think that’s the bigger concern at this point, as far as the lack of funds that could be necessary in the future.”

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