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Northport-East Northport school district

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The Northport girls lacrosse team flash their bling after winning state championship title.

The Northport High School varsity girls lacrosse team proudly flashed new hardware: their New York state championship rings Sept. 10.

Upon receiving their rings, the student-athletes reminisced with their teammates over a “dominating” season. Having earned second place to Middle Country with a record of 13-1 in the regular Division I season, the team qualified for playoffs in May.

In the opening round, the Tigers beat Commack, 15-5, and advanced to the semifinals where they beat Ward Melville, 13-7, to qualify for the Suffolk County championship.

Northport won, 13-7, against Middle Country to earn the county title and proceeded to beat Farmingdale, 15-4, for the Long Island championship. Hard on the heels of these victories, the team dominated over Pittsford, 13-3, in the New York state semifinals, and defeated Baldwinsville, 10-8, in June to win their first state championship since 2011. The Tigers overall record was 21-1.

“They dominated the competition,” Mark Dantuono, the district’s director of heath, physical education and athletics, said.

Congratulations to the entire team, as well as head coach Carol Rainson-Rose, assistant coach Alton Rose, and volunteer assistant coaches Alexis Curcio and Cortney Fortunato.

With 18 minutes left in the game, Ward Melville’s field hockey team retied the game at 4-all before Northport sophomore Shannon Smith scored the go-ahead goal two minutes later. It would prove to be just enough for the Tigers to edge the Patriots to win the game 5-4 at home in a Div I matchup Sept 11.

Northport’s scoring came from five different players. Along with Smith’s goal, senior Kate McLam rocked the box as did her younger sister, freshman Emma McLam. Sophomores Anna Trizzino and Sophia Bica also helped stretch the net.

Courtney Quinn, a senior, had a pair of goals for the Patriots while Amanda Lee and Isabella Paglia both put one in the back of the box.

The win puts Northport at 3-0 early in the season and the Patriots slip to 2-1.

Ward Melville retakes the field Sept. 13 at home in a non-league contest against Southampton, set to start at 6:30 p.m. The Tigers are back action the following day, Sept. 14 where the travel to Sachem North for a 12 p.m. start.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Northport power plant. File photo

One year ago, the Town of Huntington’s board members considered eminent domain proceedings for the Northport power plant as a potential outcome to LIPA’s tax lawsuit against the Town of Huntington.  

A newly released report on the topic, prepared by the town attorney and several other town departments, now suggests the legal obstacles just may be too great for the town to overcome.

“Let’s take it, let’s take it now.”

— Eugene Cook

The report notes that eminent domain proceedings would render the power  plant property exempt from taxes, a situation that would result in the loss of $55 million in taxes to the Northport-East Northport school district.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) found this aspect of the situation to be unacceptable.

“After reading the thorough report prepared by the town attorney, it is my position that eminent domain of the Northport power plant would not be feasible and would actually harm the Northport-East Northport school district, as well as taxpayers in the Town of Huntington, by making the property tax-exempt,” he said. 

Some board members, however, still support the idea of establishing a municipal utility through eminent domain proceedings.

“Let’s take it, let’s take it now,” Councilman Eugene Cook (I) said in a telephone interview. “We can lower taxes; we can reduce energy costs.” 

Cook estimates that the plant will likely be used for another 20 to 30 years, and he said that it may become a more important part of the state’s energy plan when Indian Point nuclear power plant closes next year. He’s undeterred by the report.

The detailed legal and financial challenges outlined in the report cite a range of laws, legal opinions and case law to support its findings.

“There is no doubt that General Municipal Law Section 360 authorizes municipalities to own and operate a power-generating facility,” the report states. “However, the grant of authority in Section 360 is limited.”

A main sticking point: The town can generate electricity for itself and its residents. But using only a fraction of the energy that it generates — and selling the rest to a public utility — is legally questionable. The report based this conclusion on a 1989 legal opinion of New York State’s attorney general, which reportedly states that a municipality cannot own and operate a power plant for the sole purpose of selling power to a public utility.

Using the current situation as an example, the report indicates the Town of Huntington would use approximately 15 percent of the energy generated by the Northport power plant, leaving a surplus of 85 percent. The courts would need to determine whether or not the arrangement would be legally acceptable, as stated in the report. 

Power of the LIPA statute

Town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town does not need permission to file eminent domain proceedings to acquire the Northport plant, but he added it’s unclear in LIPA’s Power Supply Agreement with National Grid if the town can step into National Grid’s shoes.

Additionally, the LIPA agreement may also prohibit a local municipality from owning, condemning and operating a power plant in any part of the former LILCO’s service area.  

“My focus is on passing legislation that would protect taxpayers across Long Island from LIPA’s nonsensical attempts to destroy communities.”

— Jim Gaughran

“A municipality located within LILCO’s former service area may not establish a public utility service to provide gas or electric power without LIPA’s agreement,” the report states, citing a 1999 attorney general legal opinion.

LIPA spokesman Sid Nathan did not respond to phone calls or questions submitted via email regarding the Northport power plant, but in a May 9, 2018, Times of Huntington-Northport report on the eminent domain proposal, the utility’s spokesperson said that LIPA’s annual $80 million in property taxes for the Northport power plant exceeds its revenue, potentially rendering the decision not in the public’s interest.

If the town board majority remains interested in pursuing the eminent domain option, the next step, as described in the report, would be for the town to hire an accounting firm to analyze the public benefit of operating the power station.  

Financial challenges

The Northport board of education weighed in on the loss and determined that it would have to dramatically reduce staff at all levels, eliminate proposed capital improvements, eliminate extra-curricular and academic offerings and significantly increase class size, among other measures.

“Assuming that the town’s operation of the power plant results in a net profit, there does not appear to be a legal mechanism to make the school district whole,” the report states.

This past spring NY State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) introduced legislation (§4452a)that aims to supplement school districts and government entities impacted by LIPA’s tax suit with additional state funds. The bills, though, still require support from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“I stand fully behind the Town of Huntington in their lawsuit with LIPA and I have led the fight in Albany to protect taxpayers threatened by LIPA’s wreckless lawsuits, introducing and passing bills that would do just that,” Gaughran said. “My focus is on passing legislation that would protect taxpayers across Long Island from LIPA’s nonsensical attempts to destroy communities.”

If Gaughran’s bills pass and the board votes to move forward, the report also notes a majority of town voters would still need to approve a public referendum to acquire the power plant. 

“This would be a tall order as the power plant lies exclusively within the confines of the Northport-East Northport school district and voters outside of that school district might deem such an acquisition too provincial and/or not in their best interests,” the report states.

Paul Darrigo, a Northport resident who has garnered more than 4,500 supporters through a Facebook campaign Concerned Taxpayers Against LIPA, said he is not yet prepared to comment on the complex idea of taking over the power plant through eminent domain. 

The deal, if it gets the green light from board members, the courts and the community, would also be dependent upon the town’s ability to borrow money or issue bonds to finance a municipal utility. If it all worked out, the project would “at a minimum,” reportedly double the town’s outstanding debt.  

The Northport power plant, the largest power generating station on Long Island, is owned by National Grid, a multinational business located in the United Kingdom. The plant and its four generating units and support facilities sit on 275 acres along Long Island’s North Shore. The town estimates the value of the property at $3.4 billion and receives $84 million in taxes. The plant burns both oil and gas and is regarded as a major air polluter. Both the American Lung Association and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have found its ozone emissions, a powerful respiratory irritant, to be a serious public health concern.

Huntington High School. File photo

By David Luces

Northport-East Northport School District

Northport residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget of $171.1 million to a vote of 1,553 to 977. The 2019-20 amount was a $4.2 million and 2.56 percent increase from last year. The district tax levy cap for 2019-20 will be 2.78 percent and the levy amount will increase by over $4 million. 

A $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund will be used for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. 

Three candidates competed for three open seats this year. Allison Noonan, Larry Licopli and Thomas Loughran all ran unopposed and were elected to the board. Noonan received the most votes with 1,864, Licopli followed with 1,796 and Loughran received 1,770.  

Huntington Union Free School District

Huntington residents convincingly passed the $133.5 million budget with a vote of 1,064 to 259. The 2019-20 amount is an increase of 2.83 percent and $3.6 million over the current year’s spending plan. 

A second proposition on the ballot was approved by residents that would fund an estimated $3.9 million worth of projects. 

Three candidates competed for two open board seats this year. Incumbent William Dwyer secured re-election for another term with 804 votes. Michele Kustera received the greatest number of votes with 966 votes and won election to the board. Joesph Mattio fell short with 570 votes. 

Harborfields Central School District

Residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $88 million with a vote 754 to 340. The latest budget amount is an increase of 2.25 percent from 2018-19 and it leads to a tax levy increase of 3.12 percent. Administrative expenditures will cost $9.9 million, programs will cost $64.9 million and capital projects will take up another $13.2 million. 

Hansen Lee and Collen Wolcott won election to the board with 948 and 846 votes, respectively. Lauri Levenberg fell short with 630 votes and Freda Manuel received 248 votes.  

Elwood Union Free School District

In a landslide, residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $62.7 million, 1,223 to 350. The upcoming budget will have a tax levy increase of 2.56 percent. Administrative expenditures took up $7.1 million while programs took $47.1 million; $8.6 million will be used for capital projects. 

Two candidates competed for one 3-year term seat. Incumbent Deborah Weiss won election with 845 votes while Sara Siddiqui fell short with 712.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Residents passed the district’s $70.3 million budget with a vote of 241 to 108. The tax levy for 2019-20 will increase by 2.94 percent. Administrative expenditures will take up $6.2 million; $52.8 million will go to programs; and $11.3 million will be reserved for capital projects. 

Two incumbent candidates ran unopposed. Amelia Brogan secured 282 votes and Julie Starrett received 277.                                                               

Commack Union Free School District

Commack residents passed the district’s $197.1 million budget convincingly 1,797 to 537. The 2019-20 budget will see a 2.95 percent increase in the tax levy. $20.4 million will cover administrative expenditures; $142.3 million will go to district programs; and $29.4 million will be used for future capital projects.  

Four candidates competed for two 3-year term seats: Steve Hartman won election with 1,813 votes as well as Justin Varughese who received 1,543. Pamela Verity fell short with 453 as well as Jennifer Mansi who secured 660. 

Two candidates competed for one 1-year term seat, including Susan Hermer who won election with 1,627 votes while Jennifer Scully only received 565 votes.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Three seats are open, and three candidates are running for the Northport-East Northport Board of Education. All three candidates have a range of experience in the education field. One incumbent, Allison Noonan, who is seeking a second term, is among the people on the ballot.

Larry Licopoli

Larry Licopoli, now retired, was a school superintendent for 22 years and has lived in the Northport community for 17 years. Two of his children graduated from Northport High School in 2011 and 2013, and he has two young grandchildren who currently live in the district. 

Licopoli, according to his published statements, would like to see more transparent and easier to understand budget process and strategic plans. He would also like the board meetings to incorporate a more friendly public comment portion that “ditches the timer.” As a board member, he hopes to better engage the community in the district’s schools. 

“As a professional educator for 47 years, I believe my experiences can further serve the Northport-East Northport community as we grapple with revenue and enrollment issues and, more importantly, what it means to educate the whole child,” Licopoli said. “I will be that board member who will collaborate and work with the whole board focusing on our district mission.”

Thomas Loughran

Thomas Loughran works as a federal litigation paralegal for a law firm that represents the interests of school districts, municipalities and police departments. He is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts degree at Fordham University, majoring in organization leadership and political science. He’s been a district resident most of his life. 

Loughran’s published statements on the district’s website explains that one of his goals, if elected, would be for the district to better utilize the committee structure to address issues such as potential declining enrollment. He also would like the board of education to exhaust all options to reduce the tax burden on citizens. 

“I am running for the board of education because I have lived in Northport/East Northport for most of the last 40 years. I love this community,” Loughran said. “I started becoming involved in the school district several years ago, by attending board of education meetings, and it didn’t take long to figure out that the school district is facing some serious obstacles.”

Loughran said that he plans to use his skills and passion for his community to help the school district that he grew up in.

Allison Noonan

Allison Noonan has worked in public education for 25 years and is currently employed as an educator in the Syosset Central School District.  A Northport resident since 2009, She has twin 9th graders in the district. Noonan has previously served as co-president of the district’s PTA council and in 2012 the National PTA Founders recognized her with a life achievement award. Noonan has also been honored in 2014 by the Harvard Club of Long Island as a Distinguished Teacher of the Year. 

Noonan says she is well-versed in the LIPA case. That issue and shrinking enrollment are two matters she considers the most pertinent for the community to address through long-term planning that involves all stakeholders.

Northport High School. File photo

Northport residents were given an overview of a proposed finalized school district budget for the 2019-20 school year at the April 11 board of education meeting. Plans include important capital projects that the district will look to pursue in the upcoming school year. 

The overall budget figure totals $171,397,668 — an over $4.5 million and 2.75 percent  increase from last year’s amount. The district will see a projected tax levy cap of 2.78 percent and the levy amount would increase by over $4 million. 

“We’ve been on this budget process for about two months,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “We’re at the point when we will be rapping it up.”

The proposed tax levy would result in an increase of property tax rates of $187.918 per $100 of assessed valuation. 

This year’s budget amount will help cover expansion of integrated co-teaching model at elementary and high schools, funds for ongoing security expansion including the implementation of a smart card ID system, funds for extra/co-curricular and athletic programs. Also there will be improvements to instructional technology with more Chromebook laptops in classrooms and there will be a “future study” done that will look at the future demographics and capacity of the school district. 

Debt services increased $1 million compared to last year due in part to two major payments. One is a bond payment, which has gone up close to $770,000. The other is a tax anticipation note that has increased to $300,000.

The district for the upcoming school year will be receiving $16,130,805 in state aid, which is slightly more than they expected to receive in Gov. Cuomo’s first executive budget. 

“This has changed since the last time we spoke,” Banzer said. “We got a little bit more in state aid.”

The district used the funds from state aid to reduce the tax levy amount to the most recent 2.78 percent figure.  

Banzer proposed a general fund budget of $936,750 for capital projects in the upcoming school year. Roof repairs and replacement districtwide total $616,750. Asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs total $320,000. 

The superintendent also proposed to use $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. These projects will need resident’s approval come May. 

“We had to prioritize some projects,” Banzer said. “There remains other work to be done and we understand that.” 

Also discussed at the board meeting was the ongoing LIPA situation. 

“This is really important to understand, there has been a lot of questions,” Banzer said.

The school district has been involved in the third-party beneficiary case regarding LIPA alleged breaking a promise by seeking to reduce its power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The district has also been in mediation with the Town of Huntington, LIPA and a third-party neutral attorney. 

Residents most recently held a public rally against LIPA earlier this month. 

The next Northport school board meeting on May 9 at 7 p.m. will be a public hearing to discuss the finalized budget  at the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The budget vote is slated for May 21. 

Danielle DeSimone

By Donna Deedy

When Samantha Marill stepped up to the microphone at a town hall meeting March 16 in the Northport High School auditorium, the crowd of more than 500 local residents fell silent as she spoke.

“Four of my classmates have been diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “I attended this high school and I’d like to know if emissions from the Northport power plant are a factor.”

Marill said that she and her classmates graduated Northport High School in 2016.

“This is an alarmingly high number,” she said.  “Most schools do not even have one student diagnosed.”

The situation Marill describes is statistically abnormal. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, strikes mostly older adults. Suffolk County, overall, does have a higher leukemia incidence rate for 2011-15 than state averages, according to New York State Department of Health spokesperson Jill Montag. But more than half of the people diagnosed with the disease are in excess of 65 years old. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating.”

— Samantha Marill

The statewide annual average for leukemia diagnoses for ages 20 to 24 totals 18, as reported in New York’s most recent cancer registry, which excludes New York City.

It would be expected that two people between the ages of 20 and 24 would be diagnosed with leukemia, according to the state’s statistics, in a population of 100,000. In the Northport-East Northport School district, where an estimated 36,000 people live, one case would be rare. 

“None of my classmates should be fighting for their lives so soon after graduating,” Marill said. A fifth high school friend, she said, was diagnosed with sarcoma, another rare type of cancer that affects connective tissues.

It’s difficult to know whether or not a specific environmental toxin will cause a particular individual to develop cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2003 report titled “Cancer and the Environment.” 

But Marill was one of two people to raise health concerns about the Northport power plant at that meeting. Christine Ballow said that she drives past the plant’s stacks daily, coming and going from her home on Eaton’s Neck. Her two neighbors, she said, suffer from another rare blood disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis. The disease effects the lungs, throat, sinuses, kidneys and blood vessels. The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic health center, reports on its website that the disease is not contagious or hereditary. Its causes are unknown.

The Times of Huntington has dug into some of the issues and contacted state officials to learn how the public’s health concerns, past and present, are addressed. 

Here’s what we found:

• New York State Department of Health and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services investigated complaints about the Northport power plant in 2009. 

  The 2009 report’s conclusion: “It is unlikely that people who live and utilize facilities around the Northport power plant will come in contact with chemicals originating at the Northport power plant site while touching soil or breathing dust at the [soccer fields], or by drinking groundwater that is outside of the Northport power plant property, and that in these ways operations at the Northport power plant are not expected to harm people’s health.”

• The only public health action recommended in 2009 was that the grass surface on the plant’s public soccer fields be maintained to ensure that the potential for exposure to arsenic and cadmium are minimized.

• That same report stated that contamination concerns date back to the late 1970s, saying: “There have also been many complaints about oil and soot emissions from the plant’s four smokestacks; some exceedances of air guidelines may have occurred, although no data on air emissions was reviewed that could confirm this.”

• Leukemia risk factors, which are listed on the state health department website, include exposures to ionizing radiation, smoking, rare viruses and blood disorders. Long-term exposure to benzene and ethylene oxide, typically in the workplace, are also a known cause of the disease.

• Suffolk County Water Authority reports by email that it tests its wells for benzene, but has never in 25 years identified the chemical’s presence in county waters.

• The Northport power plant is considered a Major Oil Storage Facility, an official term.  The 2009 report confirmed that the facility’s groundwater is subject to regular monitoring and reports that no significant petroleum products and material have contaminated the area. The water authority has confirmed by email that it has no record of significant contamination since 2009.

To address residents’ cancer concerns, New York State created in 1981 the Cancer Surveillance Program. It currently indicates no cancer cluster for leukemia near the Northport power plant, according to Montag. The program data, she said, shows one case of leukemia diagnosed between 2011-15 in the area that contains the plant.

“While the community has not requested an investigation for this area, interested community members are welcome to contact the Department of Health at 518-473-7817 or canmap@health.state.ny.us to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information,” she said.

The American Lung Association doesn’t track cancer or Wegener’s disease, but it does monitor air quality. It reports Suffolk County is repeatedly one of the most polluted counties in the state, and is assigned an “F” rating for its ozone emissions.

“Basically, the plant is required to meet modified emission standards from those applied to plants that are newly built,” said Jennifer Solomon, media person with the American Lung Association. “The power plant can emit thousands of tons of nitrogen oxides, a pollutant that is an essential contributor to ozone smog. Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant and causes breathing problems for children, seniors and for those with chronic lung diseases, sometimes sending people to their doctors or even the emergency room.”

Graph from New York State DEC.

LIPA’s tax lawsuit against the Town of Huntington has pushed the community to a tipping point. 

LIPA spokesperson Sid Nathan directed questions about Northport power plant health concerns to National Grid, which owns the Northport power plant.

National Grid has not responded to phone and email requests for comment.   

“In response to constituents very serious concerns raised during my town hall meeting on LIPA, I am requesting that the state immediately look into these community health concerns,” Gaughran said. “I am requesting a meeting with the relevant state agencies to ensure that the health of our residents is of the utmost concern.”

As for Marill, a junior at SUNY Potsdam, she’s declared a major in environmental science. She wants to study environmental law.

“It’s wild to think that we could shut the plant down but, ideally, I would like to see it closed,” Marill said.  “We need clean sources of energy.”

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Northport sophomore James Connor speaks at the Nov. 8 board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

It has been months since the Northport-East Northport school district hosted a meeting asking for community input for armed guards, now the subject will finally be seeing a vote.

The Northport-East Northport school board voted 5-to-1 at its Nov. 8 meeting to move
forward with the vote for armed guards at its Nov. 28 meeting. Trustee Allison Noonan was the lone dissenter.

“I’m not a fan of taking too many more baby steps on this,” board Vice President David Stein said.

Armed guards are plagued by accidents and dangerous misuse of their weapons.”

— James Connor

The district hosted a public meeting in March, shortly after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the local community largely came out to support hiring armed personnel to protect its students. Since then, the district has hosted two public forums, one on Oct. 11
examining the pros and cons of armed guards that featured members of the Suffolk County Police Department, the Northport Police Department and the Asharoken Police Department. A second Nov. 1 meeting was held to discuss the emotional and psychological impact of armed guards with a panel composed of some of the district’s social workers, principals and health and wellness teachers.

As time has gone on, the uniform opinion of that original March meeting has fractured into the two camps of people who support and those against hiring armed guards. James Connor, a sophomore at Northport High School, spoke at the Nov. 8 meeting where he cited situations such as the recent shootings at both the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, where security personnel and police were shot and killed by an active shooter.

“Armed guards are plagued by accidents and dangerous misuse of their weapons,” Connor said. “Guards aren’t a surefire way to resolve an active shooter scenario … Guns are not the answer.”

At most schools prevention is the trend rather than reaction.” 

— Nicole Raganella

East Northport resident Nicole Raganella, a professional therapist, said that without armed guards, the impetus and responsibility to protect students instead falls on the mental healthprofessionals in the district.

“At most schools prevention is the trend rather than reaction,” Raganella said. “It is your job to provide effective security, and if all these measures fail and a threat is active, are you prepared to tell staff and students that the responsibility is on them to defend themselves?”

School trustees raised questions about the costs associated with armed guards and whether they should wait to receive request for proposalsfrom companies before they move forward to vote. The board asked that Superintendent Robert Banzer and his staff provide the district with additional information on the estimated costs of hiring armed guards as well as the type of guards the district would plan to hire before the Nov. 28 meeting.

“There’s a big difference between us voting on hiring [Smithtown-based Arrow Security] guards, which you might find at any movie theater, and the kind of guard I would envision if I were going to do this here,” Stein said.

“Some would argue having armed guards on campus increases students stress.”

—Allison Noonan

Noonan said the school should not have a conversation about armed guards without citing the social and emotional impact of having those personnel in or near the school.

“Some would argue having armed guards on campus increases students stress,” she said. “I would say you cannot extrapolate one from the other, and you can’t talk about one without the other.”

Noonan requested that the board also vote to discuss creating a committee or public task force that could discuss the emotional impacts of the school’s increasing security measures on students and their overall feeling of safety at the Nov. 28 meeting. When that failed, the board voted to discuss such a proposition at its Dec. 13 board meeting. Noonan was the lone vote against holding the discussion on that date, feeling action was needed soon.

The next board meeting will be held Nov. 28 at the William J. Brosnan Administrative Building on Laurel Avenue. Public session starts at 7 p.m.

All of the Northport-East Northport board of education’s agendas can be found online here starting a few days prior to the meeting. 

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.