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Mount Sinai board of education

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. File Photo Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai school district swore in a new board member Sept. 26 to replace three-year trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August.

AnneMarie Henninger, a physical therapist and Mount Sinai resident, was unanimously voted in by the six remaining board members several weeks after the seat became open.

The board decided to vote internally on a new board member soon after Riggio announced he was stepping away from his position. Board President Robert Sweeney said the entire board spent two nights for four hours each in September reviewing the 10 applications submitted by district residents.

“We were looking for people who were looking to build consensus, listen, participate and learn,” Sweeney said. “In our process one of the questions we asked was ‘how have you worked for the support of the community and volunteered for the community previously?’”

Henninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The board had three options in choosing a new member to fill the position vacated by Riggio. It could have either held a special election, leave the seat vacant until the scheduled trustee elections in May or request applications from interested community members and then vote on a new board member internally. Sweeney said the board did not want to miss out on having a seventh member and not have a swing vote, and that it did not think it was financially viable to hold a special election so soon after the last community board and budget vote in May.

Candidates for the position needed to be a qualified voter in the district, be a resident of the district for at least one year and could not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai looked for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate. Sweeney said Henninger fit all those qualities, and more.

“It was very interesting to listen to her perspective on how she has often been called into special education committee meetings,” Sweeney said. “We had 10 good community members come forward – all good people with varying degrees of participation in the community, but it was also her knowledge of the district, her participation in the district and its board meetings that made us choose her.”

Riggio was elected to trustee position during the May board elections, though he decided to officially step down Aug. 5 after receiving an offer for a new job in Florida. The job would take too much of his attention from his responsibilities that he didn’t wish to become a detriment to the work of the board, he said.

Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again in May 2019. Three at-large seats will be up for grabs at that time, and the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Mount Sinai School District is asking the community to pay higher taxes in exchange for upgrades to its buildings.

The district unveiled a capital projects proposal that will require passage of a bond by the community at a board meeting Sept. 26. The list of projects contains a number of renovations and upgrades officials hope will keep MS schools in line with other local districts and prepare its facilities for future generations.

“We’re not looking to do this all for tomorrow – we’re looking for providing for our kids 10 to 15 years from now,” board of education President Robert Sweeney said.

The planned total for the bond currently sits at $24,695,663, which would raise taxes by $235 for a household in the Mount Sinai community with an assessed value of $3,700, or $362 for an assessed value of $5,700, for example. This tax increase will be in addition to whatever tax value will be released for the 2019-20 budget.

Items to be included in the more than $24 million in projects are a large swathe of renovations and repair work to all three of the school buildings on campus, as well as the athletic fields and grounds. The bond proposal seeks to replace the public address and master time clock system across all three buildings. In addition, it asks for money to replace several exterior doors, windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems across all school buildings on the campus.

In line with the district’s push for stronger building security, the bond details a number of security upgrades, including new surveillance cameras and intercom systems, exterior door automatic locking systems and film-lined glass windows to make it more difficult to see in.

The high school is receiving a substantial share of attention, with funds in the bond to finish replacement of the roof, which has long suffered from leaks. It also calls for the construction of new music practice rooms along with renovations to the art room, ceramics room, fashion/tech room, locker rooms and science labs.

In terms of outdoor facilities, the bond proposes two new field surfaces, one a multipurpose turf field at the high school and another a natural surface girls softball field.

The board will hold a special meeting Oct. 10 to discuss the merits of certain projects on the list. Sweeney said he wanted to be careful to only go out to bond for projects the district wouldn’t normally be able to complete with excess fund balance.

“If I can pay for it, why should I put it on credit?” he said.

The board also detailed a number of potential projects not included on the main list to be discussed prior to approving a final menu, like replacing stage lighting at Mount Sinai Elementary School and reconfiguring the library in the middle school. The high school could see the auditorium seating replaced along with additions to the orchestra room and the main office. The biggest extra projects included the construction of a new 6,500-square-foot maintenance storage garage and the creation of two new synthetic turf fields, one for softball and another for baseball.

The total for the additional projects is about $26 million. If the district were to include everything from additional projects and the bond as currently proposed, the total would equal $50,483,500, which would add $480 or $740 per year in additional taxes for homes assessed at $3,700 or $5,700, respectively.

Board Vice President Lynn Jordan said that several months ago the original list of projects provided to the board equaled close to $68 million, and she thought the 20 Mount Sinai residents and school employees on a bond committee formed during the summer did a good job in focusing down on what was most critical.

“They put their hearts and souls into this, and I’m very impressed with how they all handled deliberations,” Jordan said.

Mount Sinai resident Brad Arrington said he hoped the school would be conscientious not to make extensive changes just to keep up with other local school districts.

“It can be easy to feel envious of what other districts have, but we need to focus on what we can afford,” Arrington said. “We need to take a balanced approach, with some of our focus dedicated to sports, some to the arts.”

In May district residents approved a $5 million capital project referendum. The funds have already gone toward finishing refurbishing the school’s football field, and replacing perimeter fencing and fixing a portion of the high school roof is also underway.

Residents are encouraged to attend or send in comments to the board before the Oct. 10 meeting.

Once the board votes to approve the bond, there will be a mandated 45-day period before the bond can be brought to a community vote. The board will determine when a vote will be held after its Oct. 27 board meeting.

Trustee Mike Riggio, above on right, is congratulated by current board of ed president Lynn Capobianco after it was announced he won his second term this year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai’s school board is a member short following a surprise resignation.

Three-year member of the Mount Sinai School District board of education Michael Riggio vacated his seat before the start of the new school year saying he had a sudden “golden opportunity” to work in Florida.

“I did not want to leave the Mount Sinai board of education, but It was a very good career opportunity that took my family and I down to Florida,” Riggio said.

Riggio, a 12-year resident of Mount Sinai, ran for his second term unopposed and had just been reelected to another three-year term on the board in May. The retired officer from the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit served as vice president on the board during the 2017-18 school year and was a big proponent of the district’s eventual move to hire armed security guards in the district.

Riggio communicated to the district July 27 he would be resigning from his position effective August 5, according to district clerk Maureen Poerio.

While he said he didn’t wish to disappoint the school, the opportunity came suddenly. The job is in the law enforcement field, but he declined to reveal exact specifics about the job.

“It’s not fair to the board or the community for me to fly in once a month for a meeting,” Riggio said. “I might not be able to make it if work is too crazy, so I couldn’t take the spot.”

The school board will consider persons for appointment to the vacated seat, and the district is seeking letters of interest for anyone in the community who wishes to apply. The board will decide on the candidate at its Sept. 26 board meeting, and that person will serve until May 2019 when they will run for election for the right to finish out the rest of the term vacated by Riggio.

Candidates need only to be a qualified voter of the district, a resident of the district for at least one year and may not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai is looking for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate.

The board currently has six members, one short of its usual seven filled seats.

Interested candidates can send letters addressed to Mount Sinai Board of Education c/o Maureen Poerio, District Clerk, 118 North Country Road Mount Sinai, New York 11766, or emailed to mpoerio@mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Submissions will be accepted through Sept. 14 at 3 p.m.

This post has been amended to reflect actual date of next board meeting.