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Northport-East Northport school district

Law enforcement representatives from Suffolk County Police Department and local police departments discuss armed security personnel in schools at a Northport board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Northport-East Northport school district has been taking it slow and steady in considering hiring armed guards for its school buildings. The board of education is in the process of soliciting professional opinions from local police and security advisers to determine the path forward for its schools.

About 70 people filed into a public meeting hosted by the school board Oct. 11, which included members of the Suffolk County Police Department, Northport Police Department, Asharoken Police Department, the school district’s retained attorneys from Ingerman Smith LLP, the district’s insurance provider New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal and the district’s security adviser to answer the board and the community questions about the potential impact of hiring armed security guards.

“There is a lot of interest about this throughout the county,” said Suffolk County Police Department Inspector Michael Romagnoli, the commanding officer of the department. “All are debating this topic at similar levels.”

The board hosted a previous meeting March 1 where the community came out in droves to voice support for the district hiring armed guards, though when asked whether he would want armed guards Leonard Devlin, the district’s security consultant, said he would prefer not to.

It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools.’

— Leonard Devlin

“It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools,” Devlin said. “If we were to have armed security personnel, the officer would only respond if there was an active shooter, not if there was a physical confrontation with a student, teacher or of any nature.”

The district said it has upgraded multiple security measures since the start of the year. Devlin said the district hired 12 new unarmed guards, which now totals 30 guards who patrol campus grounds during the school day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The district also purchased six new security vehicles to complement an existing six, which should arrive in about a month.

Security vestibules are already installed or close to being installed for all schools except Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Ocean Avenue Elementary and Northport Middle School, which the security consultant said would be completed in the future as part of the district’s ongoing $40 million capital bond project. The district said it has installed 30 new cameras this year for a new total of 400 throughout the buildings, though these are monitored sparingly throughout the day and in the late-night hours, Devlin said.

One of the biggest questions raised surrounding the need for armed guards in schools is whether local police response time is fast enough to deal with an armed assailant. Romagnoli said their response time for local cars was four to five minutes, while Northport Police Chief William Ricca said their response time was three to four minutes. The inspector said that a school shooting comes in as a Priority 0, the highest priority, the same as if a call came in that an officer was shot. Romagnoli said since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado cops are trained to enter an active shooter situation immediately upon arriving at the scene.

“Our involvement in the schools has increased tremendously within the last five years, our number of school incidents in the 2nd Precinct has gone up 50 percent, and the officers have more familiarity with the schools just from their daily patrols,” SCPD Deputy Inspector Matthew McCormick said.

Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island.”

— David Stein

Board Vice President David Stein said he was concerned it was not possible for every member of every police department to be intimate with the district’s six separate school facilities.

“Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island,” Stein said.

Romagnoli said the 2nd Precinct has one school resource officer assigned to cover all school districts in the area, not accounting for the other police officers who sometimes take up SRO duties part time on top of their normal police work. The SRO is responsible for being a liaison from the district to the police and for safety and crime prevention in schools.

While some members of the board questioned if guards should be on the premises for longer than regular school hours, to protect kids in after-school activities and sports, but Devlin said it came down to money. He estimated armed guards working at approximately $15 an hour for an eight-hour day would cost the district $208,200, if one guard for each of the district’s nine school campuses were allotted. Though Devlin added if the district wants total coverage for the day, including an hour break for each guard, it would have to hire another three to cover them on their breaks, adding up to just under $400,000.

Police representatives admitted armed guards and police arriving on scene of an emergency could present other problems. There is potential for a “blue on blue” situation, where two armed responders potentially confront each other. Current school security recently changed their uniform to be a bright gold color, but there is no consistency in the uniform between armed presences in other schools. Romagnoli said because of these inconsistencies it’s important the district keep a clear line of communication to the police departments and for dispatch to know of the armed presence inside the school.

We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

— Michael Romagnoli

“Our protocol is the uniformed officer responding is in charge,” Romagnoli said. “We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

Those on the panel representing the district’s liability concerns said insurance would cover the district in most cases should an armed guard be present. John Peppard, the senior vice president of NYSIR, the school’s insurance handler, said the only time the school might have a problem is if the guards, as school employees, went rogue in some way.

Local resident Denise Schwartz said despite assurances from local police departments promising prioritized response, the comments made by the panel members did not instill much optimism, especially considering the presence of just one SCPD SRO and the little time the district monitors the security cameras.

“Several things they said made me feel even less safe,” Swartz said.

For Northport resident Tammie Topel, who said she’s still on the fence about hiring armed guards, the meeting did little to eliminate the catch 22 inherent in the decision.

“I think that it opens up whether you do, or you don’t, you’re either not indemnified, or there’s going to be a lawsuit, or there might be an accidental shooting,” Topel said. “There’s 400 cameras that are not being monitored at all times, so what’s the sense of wasting that money on cameras … they should be monitored if that’s what we’re going to be using them for.”

The district will be hosting another workshop Nov. 1 where it will discuss the emotional and psychological impact of having armed guards in schools. On Nov. 8, the board will discuss whether it will put the item on the agenda for vote at a subsequent meeting.

A Northport-East Northport Community Theater member has been arrested for allegedly masturbating in front of a 15-year-old girl.

Northport police arrested Robert Miller, 35, on charges of first-degree public lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child Oct. 5 at approximately 8:15 p.m., according to police. Miller’s arrest took place during a rehearsal of the Northport-East Northport Community Theater group at the William J. Brosnan Administrative Building of the Northport school district.

Robert Miller. Photo from Northport Police Department

Northport police said Miller, a technical director with the theater group, requested a teenage girl accompany him outside to the parking lot to check on a motor issue with his car.

Once outside, Miller instructed the teen to sit in the car and rev the engine while he looked
under the hood. The girl said she was instructed to take off her socks and shoes, so she could “feel the vibration of the gas pedal” and did so, according to police. Police said the girl said she noticed Miller standing behind her, outside the driver’s side door with his pants unzipped, hand down his pants and was allegedly masturbating. The theater director allegedly told the teenager to look forward and watch the car’s dashboard gauges. Police said the girl reported she looked at Miller again and he was still allegedly masturbating.

Robert Banzer, superintendent of the Northport-East Northport school district, sent a letter out to residents Oct. 6 regarding the incident, which occurred on school grounds.

“The Northport police department notified the district of an alleged inappropriate action that took place on school district property, Friday night after school hours,” Banzer wrote, noting the theater group is not affiliated with the school district. “The district will continue to cooperate with police in their investigation to the fullest extent possible.”

The superintendent noted the schools would also make support services available for students Tuesday, after the Columbus Day break.

Smithtown school district Superintendent James Grossane also sent a letter out to district parents to address Miller’s arrest, as he has worked in that district for 14 years.

“[D]uring the teacher’s 14 years working within the district there have been no incidents reported,” Grossane wrote. “The teacher has been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, and we will continue to assist in the police investigation as needed.”

The Smithtown superintendent said a math teacher would immediately be placed in Miller’s classrooms Tuesday in order to ensure “no disruption to the academic process” and support services would also be made available to students.

The theater group declined to comment on Miller’s arrest.

Northport police said they have reason to believe there may be other people subjected to allegedly lewd behavior by Miller. Anyone who feels they were a victim of Miller in the Northport area is asked to contact Detective Peter Hayes or Detective Peter Howard at 631-261-7500.

Any individual who believes they are a victim of Miller in the Smithtown area is encouraged to contact Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct detective squad at 631-854-8452.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Port Jefferson and Northport-East Northport school districts, as well as the Town of Huntington, were dealt a blow in the legal battle against Long Island Power Authority in August. But, it doesn’t mean they are going down without a fight.

Port Jeff board of education voted unanimously — 6-0 with board President Kathleen Brennan absent — during a Sept. 24 special meeting to file an appeal of New York State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson’s Aug. 16 ruling that LIPA “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciapetta said the municipality formally filed its appeal of Emerson’s decision the following day, Sept. 25.

The judge’s ruling dismissed the third-party lawsuits brought forth by Huntington and the two school districts which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The resolution passed by Port Jeff school board authorized its legal counsel, Ingerman Smith, LLP, to file the appeal.

“We do think her decision was incorrect, and clearly we do recommend that the board consider filing a notice of appeal in this proceeding,” said attorney John Gross of Ingerman Smith, LLP, prior to Port Jeff’s Sept. 24 vote.
Northport-East Northport’s board trustees had previously voted to pursue an appeal at their Sept. 6 meeting.

Gross, who has been hired to represent both Northport and Port Jeff schools, said the districts

will have six months to perfect appeals. During this time, the districts’ legal team will prepare a record including all exhibits, witness depositions, and information gathered from the examination of about 60,000 pages of documents. He said a brief outlining the  legal arguments against Emerson’s decision will be crafted prior to submitting the appeal.
LIPA will be given several months to prepare a reply, according to Gross, prior to oral arguments before a four-judge panel in New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Further appeals are possible following that decision. Gross said the process could take more than a year.

Meanwhile, Huntington Town, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid have agreed to pursue non-binding mediation relating to the case, which begins Sept. 26. Gross said while Port Jeff is not a party to the mediation, it will be monitoring the outcome because the process could establish a pattern of resolution for its case. He also said the district can withdraw its appeal at any time, but once that occurs it cannot rejoin the process.

“Legal actions taken by the Town [of Brookhaven], [Port Jefferson] Village and school district to generate an equitable solution to the LIPA tax assessment challenges are intended to protect its residents and children against exorbitant property tax increases; especially in a very short interval of time,” Port Jeff school district said in a publicly released letter Sept. 12 prior to passing a resolution authorizing the appeal. “Please know, that the district fully understands that the decision about engaging legal counsel is one to be made with great care, as it always carries a financial implication while never guaranteeing a verdict in one’s favor.”

Northport Middle School's newly refurbished K-74 classroom. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Students can safely take a deep breath while attending classes in the newly reopened K-Wing of Northport Middle School.

Northport-East Northport school district has reopened the K-Wing of Northport Middle School for student and staff use after environmental testing for volatile organic compounds conducted by consultants J.C. Broderick & Associates Aug. 27 determined it was safe for use. The study and its conclusions were reviewed by officials in New York State’s Department of Health.

“[T]he levels of volatile organic compounds detected at the time of the sampling are well below any levels that have been associated with adverse health effects.”

— Michael Hughes

“Based on the air concentrations and information presented in the report, the levels of volatile organic compounds detected at the time of the sampling are well below any levels that have been associated with adverse health effects,” wrote Michael Hughes, a section chief in the state’s Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment, in a Sept. 4 email. “The NYSDOH therefore concurs with the conclusion in the report that staff and students occupy the K-Wing in the school.”

On Aug. 27, J.C. Broderick & Associates staff conducted volatile organic compound, or VOC, sampling in K-Wing classrooms to determine if extensive summer renovations had resolved indoor air quality concerns. The district had closed off the area for the 2017-18 school year after an earth science teacher reported smelling gasoline fumes and an investigation found the source to be a petroleum-based warehouse beneath the K-wing.

The testing was performed using 26 cannisters, according to J.C. Broderick & Associates — two in each of the classrooms, the hallway and underground warehouse to test for any hazardous airborne chemicals. The samples were then sent to York Analytical Laboratories to be analyzed and compared against five sets of guidelines.

“In the report, there were a couple of VOCs that were detected,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said at the Sept. 6 board of education meeting.

The first chemical, methyl methacrylate, was measured at 1.4 to 5.1 micrograms per cubic meter of air in four classrooms, both hallway samples and the warehouse. These levels exceed New York State Department of Health’s 95th percentile concentration of 1.1 micrograms per cubic meter based on the average found in roughly 100 Albany residential homes . The environmental experts used safety data sheets, which list any potentially chemicals found in various products used, to determine it was coming off floor wax applied to the new flooring surfaces in the K-wing.

“The sampling performed did not identify any hazardous concentrations of VOC parameters in any of the sampled locations when compared with the above referenced health-based values.”

— J.C. Broderick & Associates report

The second chemical, Styrene, was measured at 20 to 27 micrograms per cubic meter of air in the warehouse only, above the 2.3 micrograms per cubic meter of air set as the 95th percentile by the state Department of Health. The data sheets showed it was notably found in the shrink-wrap used to wrap pallet products stored in area.

Once these two chemicals were found to be above the 95th percentage, J.C. Broderick & Associates report compared its findings to four health-based guidelines, the most stringent being the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Reference Dose Concentration. The EPA’s guidelines provide an estimate of the maximum level of a VOC that can be continuously inhaled for a lifetime before adverse effects are seen and contains built in safety factors to protect sensitive groups, such as young children or the elderly.

“The sampling performed did not identify any hazardous concentrations of VOC parameters in any of the sampled locations when compared with the above referenced health-based values,” reads J.C. Broderick & Associates’ Aug. 31 report.

The methyl methacrylate found at 1.4 to 5.1 micrograms is well below the 700 micrograms per cubic meter guideline set by the EPA, as was styrene’s 27 micrograms under the 1,000-microgram limit.

Any concerned parent or staff member can find the full results of the air sampling reports and related correspondence on the district’s website at northport.k12.ny.us/district/bg_northport_ms_information.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Suffolk County police have arrested a Northport-East Northport school district employee who allegedly while driving hit a student on his way to athletic practice at the high school Tuesday morning.

Janet Aliperti. Photo from SCPD

A 14-year-old Northport boy was walking westbound on Laurel Hill Road, when he was struck by a 2005 Honda sedan traveling eastbound at 8:06 a.m. Sept. 4, according to police. The teen was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the student and we will support him and his family in any way needed,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said in message posted on the district’s website. “We will also cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department as they conduct their investigation of the accident.”

The alleged driver of the Honda, Janet Aliperti, 57, of East Norwich, was not injured in the crash. Aliperti is an employee of the Northport school district, and a LinkedIn profile listed under the same name notes her position as a food service worker.

Suffolk police arrested Aliperti and charged her with third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, operation while registration is suspended, and having an uninsured vehicle. The car has been impounded for a safety check, according to police.

Northport students’ first day of classes for the 2018-19 school year is Sept 6.

As school begins for our students on Thursday, September 6, the district reminds all residents to please drive carefully as our buses and student-pedestrians will be back on the roads” Banzer wrote. “Keeping our students safe as they travel to/from school and school-related events is a top priority of the district. Let us work together as a community to ensure the safety of all of our students throughout the year ahead.”

The investigation into the crash is ongoing and police are asking anyone with information to contact the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

District’s environmental consultants took 26 samples earlier this week; results to be reviewed by New York State Department of Health

Northport-East Northport school officials and parents are awaiting the results of the latest
Middle School K-wing air quality samples prior to the school’s reopening next week.

The district’s environmental consultant firm J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc. took 26 air samples throughout the K-Wing of Northport Middle School earlier this week to see if issues with gasoline fumes have been fully resolved after extensive summer renovations.

“The question I have been asked is are we going to test before we reopen the K-Wing,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The answer is yes.”

The question I have been asked is are we going to test before we reopen the K-Wing. The answer is yes.”

— Robert Banzer

Edward McGuire, of J.C. Broderick & Associates, said the testing consisted of placing two air sampling cannisters in every single classroom and office space, two in the hallway, and two in the warehouse space beneath the wing, which was the previous site of chemical storage, to see what level of volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs or fumes, are present. In addition, two cannisters were placed outside the building to represent the ambient air that is brought into the school building via the ventilation systems.

“It is the créme de la créme of VOC sampling,” the consultants said. “There is no better methodology.”

The cannisters were placed at varying heights 3 to 5 feet off the ground in each location, according to McGuire, meant to replicate the typical breathing zone of a seated or standing person within the space. Each room was independently sealed off before air samples were collected for a continuous eight-hour period while the newly installed rooftop ventilation systems ran, McGuire said, meant to replicate “typical occupancy conditions.”

Brandon Weisberg, project superintendent for district contractors Park East Construction, said the K-Wing classrooms were ripped down to the studs this summer. New plumbing was installed, fire stoppers sealed, and a special heavy-duty vapor barrier applied on the concrete subsurface between the underground warehouse storage and K-Wing to prevent any fumes from penetrating into the air, according to Weisberg. The district also had new rooftop heating, air conditioning and ventilation units installed while also sealing the older ground-level passages with concrete.

The environmental consultants said their staff has worked with the district’s contractors to obtain safety data sheets for each material used in renovating the K-Wing this summer, providing a list of any potentially hazardous chemicals contained in each product. McGuire said this data will be used to help analyze the air samples and potentially used to identify the source of any abnormally high fumes or airborne chemicals found during the sampling.

“The sensitivity of the analysis will always find VOCs in the air,” McGuire said. “Our expectations are also a little higher because we know everything is brand new.”

The sensitivity of the analysis will always find VOCs in the air. Our expectations are also a little higher because we know everything is brand new.”

— Edward McGuire

The consultants were asked to explain during a presentation at an Aug. 23 board of education meeting that any smell in the K-Wing could be similar to the odors detected by new car owners when they sit inside the vehicle.

J.C. Broderick said they will be doing a two-part comparison of the air samples taken. The first part will be a report on the ambient levels of each VOC detected, while the second phase will examine the levels found against healthy safety guidelines established by New York State Department of Health. McGuire said the standards being used will be compared against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s dose concentration guidelines, which consider different levels for sensitive populations, such as young children.

The results of the air quality testing were expected to be received within approximately 72 hours of the end of sample collection, or 48 hours after the cannisters were delivered to the laboratory. The final report will be sent to New York State Department of Health for its review prior to the classrooms being reopened to student and staff use.

The results were not yet available as of noon Aug. 29, according to the superintendent.

Banzer assured residents the district has repurposed the old warehouse space as a dry storage for “paper goods” and other such things.

“There are no chemicals stored down there, all that was eliminated last year,” he said.

Following air quality concerns, Northport school officials said the district plans to reopen the K-wing of Northport Middle School to students for the 2018-19 school year.

Over the summer recess, Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer confirmed the district has undertaken extensive renovations of the K-wing classrooms, including its ventilation systems. The building’s indoor air quality has raised concerns from district residents since the smell of gas fumes was reported in April 2017.

“Prior to the reopening of the school, the district plans to follow [New York State Department of Health’s] recommendation to retest the K-wing to ensure that there are no indoor air quality issues,” Banzer said.

The K-wing’s indoor air quality was last tested in March by the district’s environmental consulting firm, Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates, according to the superintendent. The study’s results, which were shared with district residents in a letter dated March 19, stated the consultants had no concerns about mold growth, volatile organic compounds or carbon monoxide in any of the priority areas it reviewed. The consultants did raise medium, or moderate, concerns that some of the district’s ventilation systems were imbalanced in areas and in need of either repair or replacement.

Banzer said the district will continue to utilize the Tools for School program in the K-wing and throughout the district, which shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to resolve indoor air problems such as volatile organic compounds and mold “at little to no cost using straightforward
activities and in-house staff,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

The district’s issues with indoor air quality in the K-wing first came to light when an earth science teacher reported smelling fumes in the classroom, and an investigation found the source to be a petroleum-based warehouse beneath the K-wing.

An initial July 2017 study by J.C. Broderick & Associates showed no hazardous concentration of chemicals in any of the air samples. However, four chemicals commonly linked to perfumes, natural rubber products, air conditioners and refrigerators, thermoplastics and latex paints were found in high concentrations — above the 95th percentile of allowable levels determined by the state — in the K-wing corridor, rooms 74 and 75. The consultant’s study was reported to the New York State Department of Health.

Facing widespread community concerns, a forum was held in August 2017, where the superintendent said the district officials had decided to close the Northport Middle School wing for the 2017-18 school year. The closure did not affect previously scheduled classes other than changing their locations, as students were readily accommodated by reallocating use of existing classrooms.

Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff school districts lose third-party lawsuits

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. The two districts had legal challenges shot down by a judge Aug. 16 pertaining to property tax assessment claims made by LIPA. File photos

By Sara-Megan Walsh & Alex Petroski

A New York State Supreme Court judge has ruled Long Island Power Authority “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport school district and Port Jefferson School District not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Judge Elizabeth Emerson dismissed the lawsuits brought forth by the Town of Huntington and the two school districts Aug. 16 which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent.

“The court’s decision affirms our customers’ right to pay reasonable taxes on the power plants,” LIPA said in a statement from spokesman Sid Nathan. “We remain committed to reaching a fair settlement for both the local communities and our 1.1 million customers to put an unsustainable situation back on a sustainable path.”

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

The judge’s ruling is a big victory for LIPA as it allows tax certiorari cases to continue to trial, rather than being dismissed, and could have a widespread impact across Long Island for other municipalities with similar disputes against the utility.

“Obviously, we disagree with this decision and plan to appeal,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer wrote in a letter to district residents. “Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

Port Jeff school district also responded to the development.

“While this decision is not the outcome the district was hoping for, we vow to continue to explore our options as we work to protect our school district’s financial future and the needs of our community,” the district said in part in a statement. “The district will work to keep the community apprised of any updates on the matter.”

In her 24-page decision, Emerson denied any notion that chapter 21, section 16 of the 1997 Power Supply Agreement signed by LIPA when it took over Long Island Lighting Company — which has been referred to as the 1997 Promise – was intended to benefit the school districts by preventing LIPA from challenging the tax-assessed value of its power plants.

Rather, she found it was to ensure other parties, including LILCO and GENCO, which owned the plants at the time, could not start initiating tax claims during the takeover process.

She also dismisses all claims that town governments or school districts were intended third-party beneficiaries of the contract.

“The Power Supply Agreement is clear and unambiguous and that it does not bestow any enforceable third-party-beneficiary rights on the plaintiff,” Emerson wrote.

The judge pointed to the PSA saying it “does not expressly name” either the town or school districts as a third-party beneficiaries.

“She applied contract law, not third-party beneficiary law,” said John Gross, the attorney representing Northport-East Northport school district. “That’s what we think she the mistake on.”

Gross said New York State law allows entities, like the school districts, to be recognized as third-party beneficiaries based on third-party conversations, letters, and promises. The school districts have filed thousands of pages of documents with the courts, according to Gross, that include official correspondence and records of conversations former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel had with school administrators and Huntington Town officials allegedly promising not to challenge the tax assessment of its power plants.

The judge ruled these “extra-contractual promises” made largely by Kessel “were gratuitious promises for which there was no consideration.” As such, the former chairman’s words “did not contractually bind LIPA.”

Gross said the school’s status as a third-party beneficiary “was wrongly decided.”

This recent decision could have large and profound impact not only on Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff schools, but for all other municipal government and school districts that are LIPA’s power plants.

On Page 18 of her decision, Emerson wrote not only did the PSA contract not protect the Town of Huntington, Northport or Port Jeff school district taxpayers but “other similar situated school districts and municipalities.”

“This result was to a very large extent expected by the village, and that’s why the mayor and the board of trustees very early, initiated and drove settlement discussions with LIPA to resolve the issue,” Port Jefferson Village Attorney Brian Egan said.

The village board of trustees and Mayor Margot Garant in April passed a resolution approving “settlement concepts,” and the two sides are exchanging details of terms, expected to reach conclusion “at any time,” Egan said.

“When we’re a taxing jurisdiction and we’re going to subject ourselves to the back taxes on a longshot, that is not what we do with taxpayer dollars,” Garant said. “We have an obligation to not gamble, so to speak.”

“Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

— Robert Banzer

Huntington town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town plans to file an appeal of the judge’s decision.

“We believe there’s only one logical and legal way to interpret that provision,” he said. “That provision was there for the benefit of the taxpayers of Huntington.”

The town, Northport and Port Jefferson school districts will have 30 days to file an appeal once the decision is officially entered into court records, according to Ciappetta. He estimated an appeal of the decision could take 18 to 24 months.

“The decision does not affect the pending tax certiorari case between the Town of Huntington and LIPA scheduled for trial in December, nor do we expect it will impact the parties’ willingness to proceed with mediation,” Banzer wrote to the community.

Gross confirmed that Northport school district is still looking forward to sitting down for the first mediation session with the Town of Huntington, LIPA, National Grid  and third-party neutral attorney Marty Scheinman slated for Sept. 26.

Officials in Brookhaven’s Town Attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment, though the town has also said it is nearing a settlement in its case. Egan speculated settlements for municipalities attempting to resolve cases out of court might be held up by mediation in Northport and Huntington Town’s case.

This post was updated Aug. 17 to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District, and to attribute LIPA’s statement to Sid Nathan.

Northport school district residents read and fill out letters to state and federal elected officials. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials are asking their residents to call on elected officials for immediate help finding a resolution to their seven-year legal battle against Long Island Power Authority.

Northport school district held a call-to-action forum May 30 in which it asked all residents to reach out to their state and federally elected officials to take action in bringing about a solution to the district’s lawsuit against LIPA and National Grid as a June court date looms.

“Our elected officials really need to hear from us,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”

The more voluminous, the louder, the more persistent we are the more likely they are to listen.”
– Robert Banzer

Hundreds of copies of a form letter addressed to elected officials including New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), and state
Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) were distributed for residents to sign and mail in to lawmakers. These letters call on elected officials to take action to help aid the school district stave off LIPA, which seeks a 90 percent reduction in taxes — a difference of approximately $56 million down to $8 million paid to the district — before the state Legislature’s sessions end June 20.

“LIPA must be stopped before it is too late,” reads a letter pre-addressed to Raia. “We are seeking your assistance in calling upon the governor to provide immediate assistance in Albany. Action by the governor’s office can stop the imminent harm to us as taxpayers, to our schools, our students and the community at large.”

As the June 11 court date rapidly approaches, Banzer and the Northport school district are pushing state officials to approve what they are putting forth as two possible solutions.

First, would be the passage of pending legislation of state Senate Bill No. S08235, sponsored by Flanagan with co-sponsor state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and its corresponding state Assembly Bill No. A10496, which is co-sponsored by Raia. These bills would lengthen the time frame over which LIPA is seeking to have its taxes gradually reduced from nine years to a proposed 15 years. It would also grant those municipal governments and school districts who lost a tax assessment challenge to LIPA after April 1, 2018, access to the state’s electric generating facility cessation mitigation program, which provides funding to help offset any potential loss of tax revenue. In addition, the town government and schools would be granted the right to create reserve funds specifically for the purpose of reducing the future burden on their taxpayers.

The Northport power plant. File photo

READ MOREHuntington stays on track in LIPA lawsuit despite cries for help 

“It would provide some mitigation of the impact to us,” Banzer said. This would provide a glide path, it would provide a somewhat softer landing should there be a [change in] assessment.”

Northport school officials are also asking residents to directly call on Cuomo and the state Legislature to intervene by directing that LIPA, as a utility company overseen by a state-appointed board, to offer a “reasonable and equitable” settlement offer.

While previous settlements have been declined, Banzer made clear, “we would never say we wouldn’t sit down and have conversation on how to mitigate this.”

On May 9, Northport school district attorney John Gross presented his argument in Suffolk County Supreme Court as to why he believes LIPA should be held to what school officials are calling the “1997 Promise.” Under this promise, school officials allege, LIPA and National Grid agreed not to challenge the annual taxes paid on the Northport Power Station as long as they were not abusively increased over time by Town of Huntington. A decision has not yet been issued by Judge Elizabeth Emerson, despite the June 11 trial date approaching.

We need to continue to put pressure on [Huntington town officials] to speak for us on behalf of the community.”
– Jennifer Thompson

“I think the community needs to communicate with town leadership,” Northport resident Jennifer Thompson said, citing the years Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) served in the state Assembly. “We need to continue to put pressure on them to speak for us on behalf of the community.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) said he would call for Huntington Town Board to hold a public hearing regarding using eminent domain to acquire the Northport Power Station.

“LIPA has been lying to us,” Cook said.

The councilman claims that LIPA’s assessed value of $193 million for the Northport power plant focuses only on the electricity produced, but does not account for gas lines, cable transmissions or other public utilities that are received from the power station.

“I’m going to fight this,” he said. “I’m going to fight this to the end and I want you to know that.”

Northport taxpayers who are interested in getting in contact with their elected  officials or reading the form letters provided at the May 30 meeting can find them on the district’ website at northport.k12.ny.us/
district/lipa_update.

Voters will have two propositions on the ballot regarding capital infrastructure projects

Northport High School. File photo

Northport taxpayers will be casting their ballots three times as they head to the polls on the school district’s $166.8 million proposed 2018-19 budget and two propositions.

Northport-East Northport board of education has proposed a $166,810,381 budget for the upcoming 2018-19 school year, representing a 2.15 percent increase, or $3.5 million more than the current year. In addition, it is asking residents to vote on two propositions regarding capital reserves and improvements to the district’s buildings and facilities.

“I think that not only were we able to maintain our instruction programs and our extracurricular and co-curricular programs,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “We were able to move some other initiatives forward. There’s been a lot of talk this year about making sure we are addressing the needs of our students.”


Northport-East Northport school district

$166.8 million 2018-19 proposed budget
2.15 percent year-to-year increase
2.1 percent tax levy increase
$159 annual tax increase for
average Northport homeowner

Under the proposed budget, Banzer said the district would be able to initiate a new alternative high school program for students struggling with the traditional model and expand the district’s co-teaching model across all grade levels. If approved, the district will move forward with its one-to-one Chromebook initiative by providing personal laptops with Google applications to students entering ninth grade as well as purchasing a new piano for its music department. The district hopes to purchase new athletic equipment for student-athletes including lacrosse helmets, treadmills, ellipticals and additional automated external defibrillators.

If approved by voters, the average Northport homeowner will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $159 per year. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $3,800, in which an
assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

Proposition 2

Proposition 2 will ask residents to approve the release of $900,000 from the district’s capital reserve funds for infrastructure upgrades and repair. The list of districtwide projects includes fencing and gate replacement, door replacements, window replacement and heating and air conditioning unit upgrades and enhancements.

Proposition 3

Under Proposition 3, the district seeks to establish a new Capital Reserve III Fund. The board says that the fund is necessary for several critical infrastructural improvements including roof replacements of its buildings, window replacement, bathroom replacement, masonry and concrete work, floor replacement, wall replacement, classroom renovations, library and multimedia center renovations and gym reconstruction among other projects. The district has put forth that a maximum of $20 million will be placed into this fund along with any investment income the account earns for a term of 10 years. If approved by voters, the district would move no more than $1 million from the remaining 2017-18 budget into the fund to get it started and invest no more than $2 million in each of the following school years.

Go Vote 

The polls will be open May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Dickinson Avenue Elementary, Fifth Avenue Elementary and the district’s William J. Brosnan Building.

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