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New York State

By Linda Toga

The Facts: My father died last year and I was issued letters testamentary by the Surrogate’s Court. When going through my father’s desk, I found a bank statement dated June, 1999, for a savings account I did not know existed. The balance in the account in 1999 was nearly $5,000. Unfortunately, the bank that held the account no longer exists.

The Question: How can I find out if my father removed the money from the account prior to his death?

The Answer: If the statement you found had been dated within the last five (5) years, you could likely find out which bank took over the assets of your father’s bank and contact them to see if the account still exists. However, in New York State, if a bank account is dormant for an extended period of time, after five years, the bank can hand over all of the money in the account to the State Comptroller’s Office.

In other words, after the requisite waiting period, the account will escheat to the state. While bank accounts escheat to the state after five (5) years, other types of assets and property such as insurance policies escheat after only three (3) years and checks issued by the state escheat after only one (1) year.

If you believe the money in your father’s account was escheated to the state, you can obtain information by calling the New York State Comptroller’s Office, which oversees the New York Office of Unclaimed Funds. You can also go online to www.osc.state.ny.us/ouf/ and search under your father’s name and address for any of his property that may have escheated to the state.

If your father ever lived outside New York, you may also want to search on the sites maintained by the offices of unclaimed funds in other states to be sure you don’t miss anything.

While you are searching for assets belonging to your father that may have escheated to the state, you should also search on your own name and address. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that a rent or utility deposit you forgot you even made or dividends on stocks that you once owned have escheated to the state and are available to you. There is no statute of limitations on unclaimed property, and online searches are free, so you have nothing to lose.

While it is highly unlikely that you will find you are entitled $6.1 million like the largest unclaimed property recipient but, you never know!

If you are lucky enough to find that the balance in your father’s account did, in fact, escheat to the state, you can request that the funds be sent to you. To do so, you must file a claim and provide sufficient information to establish your entitlement to the funds. Since you are the executrix of your father’s estate, you will be asked to provide your letters testamentary as well as documents establishing that your father was, in fact, the person named on the account. Any unclaimed funds that you collect as executrix should be considered as part of your father’s probate estate and distributed in accordance with the provisions in his will.

The process of recouping unclaimed property can be very frustrating because it takes quite some time. It is not unusual to be asked to resubmit paperwork previously provided or to provide documents that were not initially requested. However, being able to get your hands on “found” money is exciting and usually worth the effort.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate administration and planning, real estate and litigation from her East Setauket office.

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Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera and Board of Education President Johanna Testa discuss the proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year during the Feb. 24 meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera presented her proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year. The proposed budget of $70,602,887 would be $596,007 higher than the budget for the current school year. All instructional and non-instructional programs from the current school year would remain intact.

“We expect some things might look a little bit different, but we’re not looking to eliminate any programs,” Higuera said following the presentation, which was made by school business official Colleen Card. “We’re not looking to eliminate any teams, any clubs; and we’re going to be able to maintain all of our programs from this year to next year.”

Though the budget would increase by a small amount, the school board unanimously approved a tax levy decrease of 0.14 percent on Feb. 24. That means that the district will have about $62,000 less revenue from tax dollars in 2016-17 compared to the current school year.

Despite less tax revenue, the proposed budget would be balanced by a $3.5 million fund balance and additional state aid thanks to a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which deducted about $13 million from funding to Miller Place since its inception several years ago. The adjustment deducted money from districts across New York State as a means to eliminate a deficit. Higuera’s proposed budget accounts for about $20.5 million in state aid.

The district will also benefit from a small amount of required retirement payments this year, Higuera said.

Johanna Testa, president of the board of education, heaped praise on the district’s administration after the presentation.

“Keeping all programs and being able to propose a budget that keeps all of our academic programs and increases our capital project funding when we’re in a negative tax levy cap, that’s really amazing,” Testa said.

The school board and administration will convene again on Mar. 2 for a budget workshop meeting at Miller Place High School. Budget adoption will take place on Mar. 30.

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Eleven Royals place in Division II tournament

Port Jefferson's Matteo DeVincenzo competes for a county wrestling title. Photo by Bill Landon

For the fourth time in his varsity career, Matteo DeVincenzo has done it again.

The Port Jefferson wrestler is headed back to states after a 15-0 win over Lajess Sawyer of Center Moriches in the 126-pound final of the Suffolk High School Wrestling Division II championship Saturday night — a win that earned him his fourth county champion title.

Teammates Rick D’Elia and Joe Evangelista also took first at 99 and 120 pounds, respectively. Vin Miceli took second at 113 pounds, falling 3-2 to his Mattituck challenger Jack Bokina, and Dallas Brett was pinned by Babylon’s Bryan Larsen at 145 pounds to put him at second atop the podium.

As a sophomore, DeVincenzo became the first Long Island wrestler ever to capture a D-II state title when he won at 106 pounds. As a junior, he finished third in the state tournament, and this is his last year to try for another state title.

After the disappointing end to his junior season, DeVincenzo is hoping to join Jamie St. John as the only Port Jefferson wrestler to win two state championships in any division.

So far this season, DeVincenzo earned a first-place finish at the David Sorenson Memorial Invitational held at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville, and a week later got a second first-place crown at the Eastern States Classic, held at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. To earn that latter title, DeVincenzo defeated three other state champions from a field of 60 wrestlers, and was voted Champion of Champions by his peers.

DeVincenzo’s winning season continued when he set a school record of 141 career wins during the Armstrong Cup, held in Port Jefferson on Jan. 30.

The graduating senior, who will attend Princeton University in the fall, is now a four-time Armstrong Cup champion, which according to head coach Mike Maletta has never been done before by any wrestler. He surpassed brother Tristin DeVincenzo’s record 137 wins in his first match there.

Also placing in the consolation finals at the county championship were Brendan Rodgers at 99 pounds, who pinned his opponent at 2:59; the 106-pound Robert Williams, who outscored his opponent 6-3; Joe Longo at 132 pounds, who was pinned by his challenger; Alex Frohnen, who was defeated by his opponent 2-1, at 138 pounds; Jack Collins, who lost 7-1 at 160 pounds; and Ryan Walsh, who did not have a challenger at 195 pounds.

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The Port Jefferson Royals celebrate winning the New York State Class C soccer championship for the first time in program history. Photo by Andrew Wakefield

By Desirée Keegan

“Strong alone. Unstoppable together.” — that was the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team’s motto this season and with unfinished business, the Royals rode a perfect season in League VII to their second consecutive Suffolk County and Long Island titles, and brought home the state crown for the first time in program history.

“Our goal was to get back up there,” Port Jefferson head coach Allyson Wolff said of taking another shot at New York, after the Royals fell in the state finals last year. “They just showed how when they play like a team, the goals they can accomplish — they did that this year. They were unstoppable.”

The Royals were looking to avoid another devastating defeat on the state stage when their journey started on Saturday in the semifinals, where Port Jefferson topped Caledonia-Mumford, 4-1.

Junior forward Clare O’Connor and sophomore forward Grace Swords each tallied a goal and junior forward Jillian Colucci added an assist, but most impressive was the team’s new member, junior forward Brittany Fazin, who scored twice.

“She was definitely a great addition,” Wolff said. “The connection she made with the girls was nice to see; the chemistry was there.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Scarda made 10 saves in the win against Caledonia-Mumford.

After coming close to a goal several times against Elmira’s Notre Dame High School in the finals the next day, Colucci assisted the first score of the game when she crossed the ball to O’Connor, who knocked it in from the front left corner of the net to give her team the early advantage.

The two have been playing together since first grade, and the connection showed.

“Because we’ve been playing together for so long, we know where each other is on the field, and we find each other a lot and set each other up the whole season,” O’Connor said. “It’s a bond you can’t find anywhere else.”

Fazin scored next with a shot to the top right corner, and Colucci and O’Connor connected for the final goal of the season, when Colucci headed in O’Connor’s corner kick.

“The atmosphere was a little different because, with our first time up there, we didn’t know what to expect,” O’Connor said. “This year, our fans really brought the energy.”

Notre Dame’s only goal came off a penalty kick after the Royals’ second goal, and Scarda finished with four saves.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Wolff said. “I’m still in awe. You could see the girls’ confidence rise even more from last year to this year.”

This soccer season was a stellar one for the Port Jefferson girls, as they went undefeated in their league for the third time in four years. On the road to the finals, the girls had tasted only victory since early September — when they lost two nonleague matches — and they were not about to let that change.

Most of their victories in the regular season were shutouts, and they scored five or more goals in the majority of those wins. In the three league games in which they allowed their opponents to score, they still won by at least three goals — they were on fire and earned the top seed heading into the postseason.

The Royals had given up only nine goals in the regular season, and kept that number steady in the regional finals, where they earned a 3-0 shutout against Cold Spring’s Haldane High School.

The action in the state soccer semifinals and finals over the weekend brought the number of goals scored against them to 11 — as compared to the 78 goals they scored this season from start to finish.

O’Connor said it was a result of improvements on both sides of the field.

“It started with the defense — we had our friend Katie [Connolly] go to the back, and she kept our team together for a lot of the season and she stopped a lot of goals from going in,” she said. “We also had a new addition to our team, Brittany [Fazin], and she helped us score a lot of goals too, so it was a little of both.”

As was the case for the team all year, the girls were slow to start in both state games, but once they got the ball rolling, it didn’t stop.

“That seemed to be the running theme this year — it created a domino effect that sparked the offense,” Wolff said. “Brianna [Scarda] also had a great season in goal — the way she communicated with the girls and the way they respected her.”

Using its motto, the team showed how strong they were not only alone, but together, and that togetherness helped them get all the way to the top.

“It’s kind of cool to see each season how much a girl has progressed and how it shapes the team,” O’Connor said. “Our motto came from the U.S. women’s soccer team after its run to the World Cup this summer. We thought it was fitting for us, because we wanted this to be our winning season, and it was.”

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Port Jefferson's Clare O'Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson's Clare O'Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Clare O’Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

These Royals continue to rule.

The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team earned the regional crown on Saturday, topping Cold Spring’s Haldane High School, 3-0, to lengthen their undefeated streak and send them to the state stage.

Port Jefferson celebrates Jillian Colucco's goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson celebrates Jillian Colucco’s goal in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

That pivotal match came after a perfect season for the Royals in League VII, their second in a row. With no Class C Suffolk County challengers, the girls were named county champs and were sent to the regional finals, where they played the defending state champ.

“These girls play hard right to the end,” Port Jefferson head coach Allyson Wolff said about the Haldane match. “To come out here tonight and beat the last Class C state champion is huge for us and gives us that confidence to go upstate. I think we can do it this year.”

The regional victory is the Royals’ second consecutive title, and sends them to the state playoffs, where they fell last year.

Junior forward Jillian Colucci got the ball rolling for the Royals with 12:45 remaining in the first half. The co-captain received a pass up the middle from senior midfielder and co-captain Olivia Love, and chipped the ball to the left from 10 yards out. It just passed the Haldane goalkeeper’s outstretched arms, bouncing into the left corner for the 1-0 lead.

“My teammate Olivia Love — we have a chemistry that I can’t really describe, but I just knew she was going to play the ball … and as the ball bounced I told myself just to get a touch on it, since I saw the goalie coming out of the box,” Colucci said. “I think our possession and our communication was really good today, and we’re going upstate because of it.”

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci races downfield with a defender on her hip in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci races downfield with a defender on her hip in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Opening the second half, sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Scarda made a save to maintain her team’s lead, and junior midfielder Brittany Fazin repaid her with another goal. After leading a pack of defenders and squeezing between two to get ahead at the front of the net, she sent her shot into the left corner past a diving Haldane goalkeeper for the 2-0 advantage.

“I was really scared for that moment because I had a similar opportunity earlier and missed it, but I knew going to it that I could do it,” Fazin said. “So I threw myself on the ball and got the goal.”

With 19:32 on the clock, Scarda made another one of her eight saves on the evening to preserve the clean sheet. Several minutes later, Fazin helped set up the next goal when she crossed a pass from the 20-yard line over to the right sideline 10 yards out from the net to Grace Swords, a sophomore forward, who crossed her shot high above the goalkeeper’s head and into the far left corner for the final score of the game.

Despite allowing three goals, Haldane’s goalkeeper, Sara Labriola, put in a lot of work — she made 19 stops on the evening.

Port Jefferson's Brittany Fazin maintains possession in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Brittany Fazin maintains possession in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Leading up to this week we all focused so hard and we practiced as hard as we’ve ever practiced in our lives, and we had the mindset that we could to this,” Fazin said. “I think our speed and our vision helped us a lot. I think we were very good out of the air, too. I’m new to the school and to the team and this feels great. I love these girls.”

Colucci was also proud of her team’s outcome.

“There was so much anticipation going into this game because we had three weeks from our last league game until here, so it feels amazing to have our hard work pay off,” she said. “I think our possession and our communication was really good today.”

Although the game was slow to start, the Royals thrive on forward motion.

“Once that one goal kicked in, it got their momentum going, their fire burning and their confidence boosted,” Wolff said. “I said from the very beginning that they could do it and they prove it when they step on the field. They’re a great group of girls and it’s just a pleasure and an honor coaching this group. They have that drive and desire to win and hopefully we can do it upstate.”

Port Jefferson will take on Caledonia-Mumford on Saturday in the state semifinals at Cortland High School Field 1 at 5 p.m. If the Royals win, they will move on to play in the finals on Sunday, at 9:30 a.m. at SUNY Cortland’s Red Field.

Port Jefferson celebrates after its 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson celebrates after its 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

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A more recent photo of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park shows the love locks have been stripped. Photo by Susan Risoli

By Susan Risoli

To all the couples who attached padlocks to a footbridge in Sunken Meadow State Park: sorry, sweethearts. Your public declarations of love were removed recently by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli
Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli

Lovers worldwide have embraced the tradition of decorating locks with initials and other symbols of partnership, and ceremoniously attaching them to bridges. Fearing that locks would weaken structures and make them unsafe, municipalities have been removing the tokens of love. Twenty-two love locks were recently taken off the footbridge at the end of Sunken Meadow’s parking field 3. The New York City Department of Transportation removed 450 locks from the Brooklyn Bridge in April. And officials in Paris have been prying locks off bridges that span the River Seine.

A recent visit to Sunken Meadow revealed a barren bridge stripped of the locks that adorned it earlier this year. Only one lonely testament to love remained – a heart scratched into the metal railing, bearing the message “LW + GE.”

State Parks spokesman Randy Simons said in an email Tuesday that the Parks Department was concerned that, over time, an increasing number of locks could add unsafe weight to the bridge. Locks can get rusted, and that could also affect the bridge, Simons said.

Those who put a love lock on the bridge and want their memento back, he said, can pick it up at the Sunken Meadow park office.

“We encourage our visitors to express their friendship and love in other ways that do not interfere with others’ enjoyment of the natural setting and park property,” Simons said. Going forward, if park officials see anyone attaching a lock to the bridge, “We would explain to the individual or individuals that this is not permitted and have them remove the locks,” he said. “We do not see locks being placed on any of our bridges in the future.”

Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli
Views of the footbridge at Sunken Meadow State Park, where lovebirds once saw locks representing their permanent affection. Photo by Susan Risoli

The Parks Department hasn’t seen love locks at any other state parks, Simons said.

The New York City Department of Transportation has been taking love locks off the city’s bridges since 2013, said a DOT spokesperson in an email Tuesday. She said the department removed 9,363 locks this year, from January through the end of September.

“Locks pose a safety risk for those using the Brooklyn Bridge and are not allowed,” she said. “We strongly discourage visitors from leaving locks on our bridges as it poses a danger to the infrastructure and the cars traveling below.”

“We ask that all visitors to the Brooklyn Bridge and other bridges across the city help keep our landmarks clean and in a state of good repair.”

File photo

Local politicians and Huntington Town residents have successfully lobbied the state Department of Transportation to halt construction of a rest stop on exit 51 of the Long Island Expressway.

Individuals were up in arms over the proposal, and lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction about the plans. Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said it’s an unacceptable location for a rest stop and said the rest stop itself is unnecessary.

“It backs a residential area,” Stern said in a phone interview. “Unlike other rest stops or centers, where they carry on commercial activity, on the LIE, here all the exits are about a mile apart. There is an ample supply of restaurants, shopping centers and restrooms at every exit, so there is no need for a separate rest stop at this location.”

Stern said the plan calls for featuring the state’s Taste NY program, designed to promote New York’s agriculture vendors. This particular Taste NY would serve as a gateway for Long Island wine country out east, according to Stern.

“This exit is a long way from being a gateway to the East End,” Stern said about why this exit choice doesn’t make sense to promote Taste NY.

According to Stern, Suffolk County has made an offer to work with New York State to create a Taste NY location off exit 67 in Yaphank, which Stern said is a more appropriate location.

Gary Holmes, director of communications for the state’s Department of Transportation, said no work is currently being done at exit 51.

“The commissioner has held several productive meetings with local and state officials on Long Island, and while no decisions have been made about the rest stop at exit 51, we look forward to continued conversations about the health and safety of all users of the LIE,” Holmes said in an email. “LIE motorists deserve a safe place to rest and we’ll keep working on the best way to do that.”

Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) said the rest stop should not be added, and that she started fighting plans for it 15 years ago.

“I led the charge against this rest stop when I was vice president of the House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association,” Berland said in a phone interview. “I have always been opposed to this.”

She also said the Taste NY aspect is inappropriate, and that the state should not be selling alcohol on an expressway: “The last thing you want to do is give people the opportunity to get alcohol there.”

Berland said the rest stop is too close to a residential community, and the construction the state’s done so far was done without permission. She said residents are already being impacted by the sound of the LIE because brush berms have been removed.

Assemblyman Chad A. Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) agreed that the rest stop is disruptive to residential life near exit 51.

“The location is poor because of the noise and the secondary effects it will have to the area and the residents,” Lupinacci said in a phone interview. “I am totally against it.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) agreed with his colleagues that the rest stop should not go up, and that the voices of Huntington are not being heard.

“It doesn’t sound like the Town of Huntington was involved in this decision,” Spencer said in a phone interview. “I always think coordination and communication with the community is key.”

Suffolk and Nassau County fire departments tried to smoke their competition on Saturday, Aug. 15, at New York State’s annual Motorized Drill, at Fireman’s Memorial Park in Ridge.

Fifty drill teams competed to earn the title of state champion at the event, which featured eight challenges including the 3 Man Ladder; the Motor Hook and Ladder class B and C contests; the Motor Hose class B and C contests; Efficiency; Motor Pump and Buckets.

While two teams, the Central Islip Hoboes and the West Sayville Flying Dutchmen, were crowned co-champions, the Miller Place Extinguishers didn’t place in the competition. Other local teams like the Selden Slowpokes competed in the event, but they also didn’t place in the competition. The Rocky Point Rum Raiders didn’t attend the event.

The Extinguishers placed sixth in the 3 Man Ladder challenge, but took the 23rd place in the B Ladder challenge. They then came in 29th place for the B Hose and Efficiency challenge. The team didn’t participate in the C Ladder and C Hose challenges, but they came in 14th for the Motor Pump and 28th for the Buckets portions of the competition.

According to Michael Heller of the New York State Drill Teams organization that helps plan the event, the eight obstacles in the competition are similar to those used to train firefighters. Although the competition is entertaining, Heller and Chief Michael Matteo of the Selden Fire Department said that the event helps with teamwork and relationship building.

“When you join a team — a competition team — everyone has their role to play, so they all work together as a team to accomplish the goal,” Heller said. “Firefighters on a team are used to working well with each other, and understand working with each other. Teamwork is critical when you’re in a fire to understand what a person is doing and what to do next.”

These competitions began in the 1800s, according to Heller and Matteo, but Matteo added that there are few places where 40 or more groups of people in New York State can get together, compete and congratulate their fellow competitors for their participation in the event.

On September 6, 1872 the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York was established in Auburn, which led to more organized competitions among the fire departments.

“They started with only the old fashion where it was all pull carts and steam engines and things like that, and then they moved into the motorized,” Matteo said.

The competition was the biggest event that the Selden Fire Department hosted thus far. They have held smaller events for the fire departments in the past, like the Selden Invitational Firefighter’s Drill.

Matteo also said there were around three teams that came back to compete in the Motorized Drill competition, as participants had been lacking in previous years, and few times there were repeat competitors. Additionally, there were around seven teams that could have taken first place after the Buckets challenge, the last part of the competition, but didn’t have as many points as the co-champions, making for a highly-contested day. According to Matteo, this typically doesn’t happen, but said it was nice to see.

“It’s just a great thing for the fire service,” Matteo said of the competition. “Ninty-five percent of firefighters are volunteers, so we’re giving our time when we’re not working one or two jobs. We’re taking away [time] from our families and we’re going out there.”

A sign at Congressman Lee Zeldin’s press conference in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, speaks against standardized testing. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Congressman Lee Zeldin announced to Comsewogue teachers, parents and students on Sunday that he is working on a way to reduce state testing, amid a renewed local push against the standardized exams.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act, which Zeldin (R-Shirley) is co-sponsoring, has “strong bipartisan support,” he told the crowd at Comsewogue High School. “This legislation would roll back state-mandated testing to pre-No Child Left Behind levels.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Congressman Lee Zeldin talks about a bill that would reduce standardized testing during an event in Comsewogue on Sunday, April 12, as Superintendent Joe Rella looks on. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required states to create assessments for basic skills in select grade levels. Before the controversial No Child Left Behind, New York State students were tested in both English language arts and math in three different grades, for six total tests. Now students take those exams each year in grades three through eight.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act aims to reduce the number of tests to previous levels — so they would be administered once in grades three to five, once in grades six through nine and once in grades 10 through 12 — based on the belief that it would allow for more curriculum flexibility, giving students more time to learn and helping to nurture their creativity.

Gina Rennard, a Comsewogue parent and wife of school board trustee Rick Rennard, has had her children “opt out” of the standardized tests, something many parents have done in opposition to the Common Core Learning Standards and linked state tests.

“These tests are developmentally inappropriate,” Gina Rennard said. “The grades for these tests come out after the students have already gone onto the next education level, therefore the tests have no bearing on their education plan. So why are we torturing them?”

Superintendent Joe Rella hosted the press conference, and said the only goal of testing is “to put public schools out of business and have [charter schools] for profit, because there is nothing about improvement here.”

Rella said he will not stop fighting for change.

The gathering came just a couple of weeks after Rella and Comsewogue school board members considered a proposal to refuse to administer state exams unless the state delivered more education aid and reduced the weight of student test scores on teacher and administrator evaluations. But after the idea created buzz in the community, the officials nixed the proposal on the advice of legal counsel.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella speaks against standardized testing during an event with Congressman Lee Zeldin on Sunday, April 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

State Education Law gives the education commissioner power to remove school officials from office if they willfully disobey rules or regulations, and withhold state aid from schools where such action takes place.

Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Michael Hynes said at the event that the pressure on both students and teachers is far too intense.

“If you look at countries whose education systems are performing well, they are doing the opposite of what we’re doing right now,” Hynes said. The crowd roared in agreement.

Jennifer Jenkins moved her family to Comsewogue because of the schools, but said she is no longer confident in the education her kids are getting.

“To have so much of the curriculum based on the testing forces the teachers to focus on standardized testing as a part of the year’s goal,” she said. “Then the teachers have less of an opportunity to build their own curriculum around what’s best for their individual students.”

Zeldin said he is optimistic about the bill’s future in Congress.

“This is where you hold your elected officials accountable, and we will make sure we are doing everything within our power up in Albany and down in Washington to do it on behalf of these kids.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine file photo

A state assemblywoman from Ithaca is pushing to provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year, residential State University of New York colleges and universities, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is signing onto the cause because of the potential financial relief it could bring to Long Island.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) on March 24, seeks to offset the cost of providing public safety services to state schools, which are currently tax-exempt. The move came shortly after Romaine vowed to work with the New York State Board of Regents to seek a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, which both serve SUNY Stony Brook University.

Lifton, who represents the cities and towns of Ithaca and Cortland — which host SUNY Cortland and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University — called the lack of aid a big issue for her municipalities.

“There is a deficit there that we need to makeup,” she said, noting that the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM funding, has decreased over the years.

The legislation earmarks $12 million in aid for the host municipalities, and establishes a formula to distribute the aid based on the cost of public safety services, how much AIM funding the community already receives and the student population.

Lifton said there are a lot of rental properties in Cortland, so the police and fire departments “provide more than the normal amount of services.” In the City of Cortland, firefighters are paid, but Cortland Town firefighters volunteer their time.

While the legislation currently doesn’t propose aid be rewarded to a fire districts like those in Stony Brook and East Setauket, Romaine still said he was supportive of the idea.

“We think this is a solution,” Romaine said.

Like in Cortland, Brookhaven officials have been dealing with off-campus rental properties, which university students often inhabit. Over the last two years, the town has tried to curtail illegal and overcrowded rentals in the Stony Brook and Setauket area by strengthening its codes, increasing fines and working with the university to educate students about illegal rentals. The town also hired additional investigators to stay on top of the issue.

While Romaine said the legislation would help Brookhaven, he continued to advocate for “some contribution to the fire districts involved so their taxpayers don’t have to bear that burden.”

Romaine also said he hopes Long Island’s state representatives would support the legislation, and that at some point along the line, a PILOT agreement is established.

State Assemblyman Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return requests for comment.

Stony Brook Fire Department Commissioner Paul Degen, who works as a town investigator, said 50 percent of Stony Brook Fire District’s tax base is exempt, which has made things financially difficult at times as the department has spent money retrofitting trucks and adequately training volunteers.

“It is what it is, but it would be nice if 50 percent of our district paid their fair share,” he said.

According to records from Stony Brook University, alarms requiring a fire department unit on the scene have dropped since 2012 when single detector activations, which are investigated by university fire marshals and don’t require fire department presence, were implemented in May 2012.

In 2012, the Stony Brook and/or Setauket departments were on scene for a total of 137 alarms. In 2013, the number drastically dropped to 25.

While there has been progress, Degen said he would like to see more incentives to attract department volunteers, which aren’t easy to come by these days. The department currently has 72 members, and more than half of them are over 50 years old.

One idea, he said, would be to offer some sort of tuition break or benefit to volunteers, which could help attract students to the department.

“All of that needs to be visited,” he said.

Romaine, Lifton and Degen expressed similar sentiments about the universities, saying they play important roles in the host communities, which welcome them, but still shouldn’t burden the taxpayers.

“All I’m asking for is some kind of remuneration,” Romaine said. “The full burden should not fall on the taxpayer. That is just not fair.”