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Northport-East Northport school district

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.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials gave residents their first look at the district’s $166.2 million 2018-19 budget draft.

Superintendent Robert Banzer and assistant superintendents presented a $166,165,381 first draft of its budget for next year at the March 1 board of education meeting. It represents a 1.75 percent increase over the current year’s $163.3 million budget, or a $2,858,541 increase.

“We are presenting a budget that supports the mission, vision, core beliefs and priorities of the district,” Banzer said. “While continuing a historically low tax levy increase.”

At the March 1 trustees meeting, the board conducted a line-by-line review of the district’s approximately $11.8 million draft budget for buildings, grounds and transportation.

Some of the budgetary highlights from buildings, grounds and transportation
section include $120,000 for the purchase of a new 66-passenger bus; $69,500 budget for new snow removal equipment; and $50,000 for the purchase of a four-wheel drive vehicle.

A significant portion of the proposed buildings and grounds budget, more than $340,000, has been set aside for new security equipment and services. Leonard Devlin, the district’s
supervisor of security, has proposed installing approximately 30 additional interior cameras and 20 exterior cameras districtwide along with purchasing nine license plate readers, one for each building.

“It allows the principal and myself to identify a vehicle coming on the school property,” Devlin said. “It would give me a clear video of the license plate to prevent vandalism and identify those vehicles that come onto our property at 2, 3, 4 a.m.”

In addition, Devlin has requested the district set aside $28,000 to purchase a new security vehicle to replace an aging vehicle that while having 90,000 miles is spending more time in repair shops than on school grounds, he said.

David Stein, vice president of the board of education, questioned if the district should consider increasing all security lines in the budget by as much as 20 percent.

“There is a lot of work for us to do in this new environment,” he said at the March 1 meeting. “One thing I am certain I heard tonight is there needs to be an increase in substance and value.”

Stein was backed by his fellow trustees in asking Devlin to come up with a wish list of security equipment and personnel for the district in the upcoming weeks. The district will revisit the budgeted lines for security at a future budget presentation, as well as weighing whether the budget allows for additional security personnel.

The next presentation on the proposed budget for instruction, technology, BOCES and special education is March 8 at 7 p.m. at William J. Brosnan School. A preliminary budget hearing for district taxpayers is set for March 22.

Northport-East Northport school parent Mary Gilmore urged school officials to conduct a longitudinal study of air quality in the schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Northport-East Northport board of education called on a specialist last week in an attempt to clear the air with concerned parents over potential health risks from gas fumes detected at Northport Middle School last spring.

At the Sept. 28 meeting, Dr. Lauren Zajac of Mount Sinai Hospital, a pediatrician specially trained in environmental health, fielded questions by the board and residents and encouraged the district to implement an indoor air quality program in all its schools.

“As a pediatrician and a mom myself, I would want to make sure our schools have good air because nobody is doing that right now — let’s become a leader in the state when it comes to indoor air quality,” Zajac said over a Skype call in the cafeteria at William J. Brosnan School.

“I hope we don’t hear 10, 20 or 30 years down the road students are developing illnesses. No level of unnecessary exposure to these chemicals is at all acceptable … ignorance to this is no excuse.”

— Denise Schwartz

She assured the agitated residents in the room that moving forward is the best plan of action.

“We can’t change what happened in the past and I’m sorry it happened, and I know it’s stressful,” Zajac said. “I recommend channeling this passion and energy into making sure a really good program is put in place.”

The board assured Zajac and residents it has begun the process of implementing a Tools for Schools program, which shows school districts 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.

“Today we had a kickoff meeting for that program,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said. “Tools for Schools is comprehensive and deals with anything having to do with air quality.”

Zajac’s appearance before the board followed consistent urging from the community for a longitudinal study of the school district to get to the bottom of four chemicals commonly found in perfumes and latex paints found in high concentrations in classrooms 74 and 75 in the K-wing corridor April 24. After an earth science teacher smelled fumes in the classroom, an investigation found the source to be a petroleum-based warehouse beneath the K-wing.

That discovery six months ago led to the closure of those rooms for the remainder of the school year. It remains off limits today.

The materials were removed and a series of air quality tests have since been conducted, one by a company called EnviroScience Inc. three days after the odor was first found. A second air quality test was performed by J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc. July 22.

Although the tests came up with “nothing that sounded the alarms from a health perspective,” according to Zajac whose team analyzed the data reports, parents have long feared for their children’s health in connection to the fumes.

Zajac pushed for the school and community to forego the longitudinal study as it may not provide the answers everyone is looking for. There are many unknown factors surrounding the possible exposures, and chemical levels in general are apt to change with each day, according to the specialist, resulting in an unreliable study.

“I think I’m going to explode if I hear ‘move forward’ one more time. You have to look back, you have to protect the children and staff that were there.”

— East Northport resident

“It would be very hard to draw conclusions as to whether a student’s visit to the nurse has anything to do with exposure concerns or unrelated illnesses,” she said, steering the conversation back to the future. “It could be done, but it would have so many limitations and I wouldn’t want it to take away effort from the most important thing — reducing the exposures from here on out.”

But some residents in the room weren’t as willing to let go of past problems within the school.

East Northport parent Denise Schwartz, whose three children have gone through the middle school, said she recently uncovered old newspaper articles documenting the school’s history of being a “sick building.” Mold, fungus and gas leading to headaches and fevers is not a recent problem here, Schwartz told Zajac.

“Every time it has come up, there has been some clean up that appeased people and then we move forward,” Schwartz said, implying negligence and incompetence by those in the school district. “I hope we don’t hear 10, 20 or 30 years down the road students are developing illnesses. No level of unnecessary exposure to these chemicals is at all acceptable … ignorance to this is no excuse.”

Mary Gilmore, a mother of two students whose classrooms were in the K-wing, urged for a longitudinal study to be done despite the unknown variables.

“Isn’t that the only way to know if there will be long-term health effects on the kids and staff that were in that building?” Gilmore said.

“My concern is that a study would be intensive and may not lead to any answers,” Zajac responded. “I’d be afraid so much would be put into this study and it wouldn’t be fruitful.”

Another East Northport resident, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed with the others that more focus should be on the past.

“I think I’m going to explode if I hear ‘move forward’ one more time,” she said, pleading for a study. “You have to look back, you have to protect the children and staff that were there.”

This version correctly identifies that Denise Schwartz’s children have already graduated from the middle school.

Chris Kelly and David Steinberg smile after their victory. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields

Budget: $84.2 million

The 2017-18 budget is about $1.6 million more than last year’s total, with a tax levy increase of 1.68 percent. It passed with 1,224 yes votes to 249 no votes.

On the district’s website Superintendent Ianni thanked all the residents who voted to approve the budget.

“Thank you for all the support that you have given throughout this budget process,” the message said. “This would not be possible without your help.”

A household with a $2,000 assessed value will see a tax increase of $85.22. Someone who makes $75,000 or less is eligible for a tax rebate of $314.85, and the rebate is reduced by $84 in each of three higher salary brackets.

With two seats and four candidates at the Harborfields district this year, half of the candidates came out victorious.

Incumbent and Vice President David Steinberg easily maintained his seat on the board with 800 votes cast in his name.

Chris Kelly and David Steinberg smile after their victory. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“It’s a pleasure and honor to be able to serve again,” Steinberg said after the results were announced Tuesday night. “It’s such a great community, we’ve done such great work over the last three years and I look forward to continuing that work over the next three.”

As for newcomer Chris Kelly, it seems the third time was the charm, as the resident has tried the past three years to win a seat. He came in second with a close 741 votes.

“I’m honored and humbled and I can’t wait to get to work,” Kelly said after his victory.

Residents Lauri Levenberg and Anila Nitekman were unable to win a seat for themselves, with 623 votes and 476 votes respectively.

Northport-East Northport

 Budget: $163.5 million

The 2017-18 budget is about $1.6 million more than last year’s total. It passed with 2,074 yes votes and 636 no votes. The estimated increase for a $3,800 assessed value household is $122.

Proposition 2, which involved capital reserve expenditures, also passed with 2,197 yes votes to 512 no votes. This proposition will allow the district to use capital reserves to fund additional projects including resurfacing/replacing two tennis courts and replacing the fence at William J. Brosnan School, installing new operable gymnasium windows at East Northport Middle School, and more.

For Northport residents the message was clear: they’re not interested in change. Incumbent Donna McNaughton was able to beat out challenger Thomas Loughran for another term on the board.

Donna McNaughton will continue to serve Northport-East Northport. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

McNaughton came away with 1,750 votes and Loughran with 769 votes.

“I’m very humbled by the support from the community,” McNaughton said after  it was announced she won. She added she was excited to continue to work for the district.

McNaughton was the only one of three incumbents who ran for re-election this year, as a petition last year passed to reduce the size of the board from nine members to seven.

Huntington

Budget: $126.2 million

The 2017-18 budget has a tax levy  increase of 1.35 percent. It passed with 1,022 yes votes to 148 no votes. A home assessed at the district average of $3,600 would see an increase of $111.24.

A second capital reserve proposition to authorize the creation of a new building improvement fund also passed by a vote of 998 yes votes to 176 no votes.

In the Huntington school district things went according to plan, as the two incumbents running unopposed won another term. Vice president Jennifer  Hebert and Trustee Xavier Palacios will both continue to serve their community, winning 1,037 votes and 978 votes respectively.

Hebert said in her candidate statement she believes in listening to all sides of every issue. She is particularly passionate about public school education and believes the learning experience offered to Huntington students should be the finest in the nation.

Palacios said in his candidate statement he has strived to be a problem-solver and to use his legal expertise to contribute to solutions regarding pressing issues facing students, teachers and taxpayers.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields

The Harborfields school district has two seats to fill this May and four candidates. The school runs an at large election, meaning the two candidates with the most votes will fill the two seats.

Vice President David Steinberg and Trustee Nicholas Giuilano’s terms are up, however only Steinberg has chosen to run again, with three resident challengers looking for a first term on the board.

Chris Kelly is running for a third-time, hoping to finally secure a seat. Kelly has been working in the market data business for the past 19 years, and said he wants to bring his professional skills to add something “unique” to the board.

“I deal with a lot of changing variables and big budgets, and I need to anticipate what the future is going to hold,” he said in a phone interview. “I see this aligning with the school district perfectly.”

He has volunteered for the Harborfields Get Out the Vote committee and the Parent Teacher Association.

Anila Nitekman said she moved from Manhattan to Greenlawn because of the strong reputation the district had.

She’s the founder of Tiny Bites Food Shears, and has worked for Cablevision, American Express, and the city of New York after 9/11.

“I have worked to develop and cultivate collaborative partnerships,” she said in a phone interview. “And I think I could create a unique opportunity to bring new partnership opportunities to the district.”

She said she wants to partner students with industry leaders to help kids with their future careers.

Steinberg said he is eager to continue the work of the board, which he said has been very successful lately, including the creation of a new technology initiative.

“The district has very strong momentum,” he said in a phone interview. “With a new superintendent and Tech 2.0, there is a lot of great work happening here. Why wouldn’t I want to continue to work with this community?”

He said the support from the community has been great, like the $50,000 recently raised for Tech 2.0 by a Harborfields organization.

Lauri Levenberg has been a district resident for more than 20 years, and said she has the insight to help lead the school in a positive way.

“The most important issue facing Harborfields is how to provide an education for the whole child while remaining fiscally responsible to the community,” Levenberg said in her candidate statement.

She works as a speech therapist in the Three Village school district, and has served on the board of religious organizations including Temple Beth El in Huntington.

Northport-East Northport

With only one seat available at large, this is a unique year for the district, as the board will see a reduction of two members thanks to a petition filed two years ago by United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport to reduce the number of trustees.

The petition was made into a proposition which voters approved during last year’s vote to bring the board from nine members to seven.

Trustees Donna McNaughton, Regina Pisacani and Jennifer Thompson were all at the end of their terms, however due to the petition only one of the three seats can be filled. Pisacani and Thompson have both decided not to seek another term on the board.

Pisacani said the decision was not an easy one.

“I dedicated an enormous amount of time to my board of education duties,” she said in an email. “It was many hours away from my family and many hours away from my own professional development.  My motivation for joining the BOE was to assist in bringing change and stability to this school district.”

Thompson did not return calls for comment.

However McNaughton is still eager to continue serving her community.

“I still have a passion for it,” she said in a phone interview. “We should be taking enthusiastic 5-year-olds and making them into  enthusiastic 18-year-olds.”

She said the district is going in a positive direction, with plans like the recent bond approval which will see infrastructure and athletic facility improvements.

“We’ve had seven one-term board members, there has been a lot of instability and I want to continue to work with the superintendent to help bring his vision to fruition.”

The incumbent said the district will face many challenges in the future, including the ongoing LIPA lawsuit, decreased enrollment and more, and she wants to work to find solutions.

Challenging the current trustee is East Northport resident Thomas Loughran, an attorney who only recently got involved in the district board affairs.

Loughran said he started attending school board meetings in February when the board was able to approve the nearly $40 million bond.

“I’m a paralegal and my firm deals with school districts all the time so this is right in my wheelhouse,” he said in a phone interview. “My voice is beneficial to the board. I know community members and teachers within the district.”

The challenger said he has an extensive background that would lend itself to a positive collaboration with the board. He has dealt in his profession with legal matters, civil rights issues, discrimination issues and more involving school districts.

Huntington

In the Huntington school district things are business as usual, as two incumbents are running unopposed for another term. Vice president Jennifer  Hebert and Trustee Xavier Palacios are both running for third terms.

Hebert and her husband have lived in Huntington for 20 years, and have two boys attending district schools, as well as a third in college.

A Long Island native, Herbert worked as a public school kindergarten teacher in Massachusetts for several years and is currently the director of the pre-school program at St. John’s Nursery School in Huntington village.

She volunteers for the Huntington district in the Parent Teacher Association and has served as  president and treasurer.

Hebert has served on various district committees through the years, including the long range planning committee.

Hebert said in her candidate statement she believes in listening to all sides of every issue. She is particularly passionate about public school education and believes the learning experience offered to Huntington students should be the finest in the nation.

Palacios is an attorney and a Huntington district alumni himself. He and his wife have three children, including a daughter who was a member of Huntington’s Class of 2016.

In 2008, Palacios purchased and renovated a distressed property in Huntington Station where he established a satellite law office along with a community revitalization non-profit organization.

Palacios volunteered in each of the past two years to serve as the high school mock trial team’s legal advisor, training students in the art of courtroom skills and strategies. He has spent hours working behind the scenes with coaches and athletes to help spur participation and promote excellence in the Blue Devil athletic program.

Palacios said in his candidate statement he has strived to be a problem-solver and to use his legal expertise to contribute to solutions regarding pressing issues facing students, teachers and taxpayers.

The high school football field, which currently floods easily during games. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The Northport-East Northport school district is set to roll up their sleeves and get to work, as the community recently voted to approve a nearly $40 million bond to improve infrastructure, athletic and physical education needs, classrooms and more.

Residents voted Feb. 28 overwhelmingly to support the bond, with 2,802 yes votes to 1,025 no votes.

Superintendent Robert Banzer was pleased the community was behind the board in this endeavor.

“I thank all community residents who took the time to vote today and for their support of the referendum,” Banzer said. “Through this support, we will be able to make improvements that will enhance our instructional learning, upgrade our physical education and athletic facilities for students and the greater community, and make needed infrastructure improvements that are long overdue. As we move through the process of finalizing plans and submitting them to the State Education Department for approval, we will continue to keep the community updated on our progress.”

One of the boys bathroom stalls with urinals that no longer work. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The $39.9 million bond has been in the works for more than a year, with committees touring school grounds and facilities to see which areas are in dire need of improvements, meeting with officials and administrators from other districts to see how they’ve tackled upgrades and more. The school board voted to approve the scope of the work in December, and then worked to educate the community on the project with building tours and community forums.

Half of the funds — $19.9 million — will be going towards infrastructure improvement. This includes repairing and replacing asphalt pavement, curbing, sidewalks and masonry; renovating bathrooms; upgrading classroom casework; renovating classroom sinks and counters; replacing windows and some ceiling areas at several buildings; and reconfiguring the south entrance of Northport High School.

The other 50 percent of the bond will be divided for classroom and security enhancements and athletic improvements.

Ten million dollars will go towards renovating three outdated science labs at East Northport Middle School, five at Northport Middle School and 10 at Northport High School; constructing a security vestibule at every school building; upgrading stage rigging and lighting at East Northport Middle School and replacing the auditorium stage floor at Northport High School.

For the first two scopes of work, the majority of the ideas came from the Capital Projects Committee, created in 2016 to review district buildings’ conditions.

For the athletic and physical education improvements, the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, formed in 2015, suggested most of the work.

Projects will include replacing the track and reconstructing the baseball and softball fields at East Northport Middle School; replacing the track and tennis courts at Northport Middle School; and renovating and redesigning the athletic fields at Northport High School, as well as installing a synthetic turf field at the high school’s main stadium and reconstructing the track and reconstructing Sweeney Field with synthetic turf.

According to the board, approximately 90 percent of the projects included in the proposed plan are eligible for New York State building aid at a rate of 28 percent, which would reduce the cost impact to local residents. The cost to the average taxpayer in the school district would be approximately $122 per year. To ease the cost to residents, the board has timed the project so a portion of the new debt created by the plan essentially replaces debt that expires in the near future.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school board members approved an almost $40 million bond referendum to improve school facilities and classroom space, infrastructure and athletic facilities during a Dec. 14 meeting.

The bond includes a $2 million plan for a new stadium and track at the high school, as well as a new turf field and the creation of security vestibules at every school in the district.

All schools in the districts will undergo improvements through the bond, with projects like bathroom reconstructions, classroom improvements, sink and countertop replacements, and sidewalk and paving improvements. Northport and East Northport middle schools athletic fields will also receive upgrades including replacing of the tracks, and improving of fields. The most costly improvements are set for Northport High School, where more than $16 million will be spent on athletic upgrades, science lab reconstruction and more.

At the meeting residents expressed concern with the creation of turf fields, citing health issues with the turf infill.

“I believe the board wants to and will get input and discussions on the type of fill. We want the safest choice of course for our students.” —Andrew Rapiejko

“Has there been any considerations for the potential health risks with turf burns, body fluids on the field, and joint injury in young athletes?” Tom Fischer, an East Northport resident asked at the meeting. “There is also an issue of artificial turf fields heating up substantially, and September this year was beastly hot. I really can’t imagine high school football players fully clad in that field-generated heat. That would certainly increase the risk of heat exhaustion.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani, who headed the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, the group which surveyed the school’s athletic fields and made suggestions for upgrades, said there were many debates on turf.

“The committee had a lot of different turf companies come in and we had a couple physical therapists who had concerns about the turf,” she said. “You can find articles for both sides of the coin. You can find articles that say there are significant injuries on turf and natural grass.”

Paul Klimuszko, director of physical education, athletics and health at Northport said students are not allowed to play if it’s too hot outside. Section XI athletics forbids schools from allowing players outside once it reaches 95 on the heat index.

“Once Section XI calls a heat advisory, there’s not playing on any of the fields,” he said. “You know I’ve never seen a heat advisory that says not on the turf but still on the grass. Once it gets to a certain temperature it’s no activities.”

When Northport resident Carl Lick asked for a definite plan from the board on the type of turf the district plans on using, he added, “Asbestos was safe until it wasn’t safe. Smoking was safe until it wasn’t safe. I think we have to err on the side of safety.”

Board President Andrew Rapiejko said the turf fields are a small amount of the whole bond referendum, and the board doesn’t plan on going into the nitty-gritty details of every part of the bond at this point.

“So the details of exactly which fill we are going to use, we’re not going to decide right away because I think there is a lot to that,” he said. “What the board at this point needs to look at is the cost, when it comes time for the decision of what kind of infill we will use. I believe the board wants to and will get input and discussions on the type of fill. We want the safest choice of course for our students.”

The bond had been discussed for several months leading up to last week’s vote, and input was taken from residents, special committees, board members, administrators and more. The scope of work was approved unanimously, and the bond will go to a community vote in February 2017.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

The divisive and inflammatory nature of the 2016 presidential election has raised concerns across the country about Americans’ ability to “come together” now that the dust has begun to settle. One Suffolk County organization was concerned enough to send a letter to school districts with a warning for administrators and teachers.

“We are concerned for the safety and well-being of the students of Suffolk County as we know you are as well,” the letter dated Nov. 10 from leaders of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission and Anti-Bias Task Force read. “We are reaching out to ensure that all school climates are one where students feel safe and supported physically, emotionally and academically.”

The Human Rights Commission has existed in Suffolk County since 1963 and it focuses on investigating claims of bias and discrimination. Rabbi Steven Moss has been the chairman of the organization for more than 20 years. He said they were compelled to write the letter in light of incidents, both local and across the country, that have been reported in the aftermath of Election Day.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people. We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I’m sure [people] realize bullying has occurred before the election and will continue onward,” Moss said in a phone interview. He said most incidents reported to the commission thus far have involved elementary-level students making references to deporting classmates.

Moss said he believes incidents involving younger students can easily be traced back to conversations at home, and because of this the commission plans to send a similar letter to local Parent Teacher Associations in the hopes of spreading the conversation beyond classrooms.

At Northport High School swastikas were drawn in spray paint on the walls of a theater storage room this week, according to Suffolk County Police. Moss said it is important for school administrators to act decisively and harshly with incidents like these, even if they fall short of constituting a crime, and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer is taking the action seriously.

“Our primary objective as a school district is to educate our students in a safe and respectful environment,” Banzer said in an email. He added an investigation is ongoing. “The recent events in our high school have challenged us and make us realize that, although our students participate in many opportunities to build a respectful and safe environment, work remains.  Our high school principal Dan Danbusky is meeting with the student leaders to generate ideas about how best to address not only the recent incident but to help the school community further enhance dignity, respect and acceptance for all.”

Banzer also said the administration plans to meet with local religious leaders to gather their input and insights and assess programs to help the district meet its goals of being a more inclusive school community.

Port Jefferson Village organized a peaceful vigil that was held Nov. 20 at the Village Center designed to show community support for “all segments of society,” according to a press release.

“In response to the fear and hurt felt by so many, Suffolk County needed the opportunity to show everyone our support and commitment to ensuring their freedoms, and to reassure them that they have a safe space here,” Cindy Morris, a Suffolk County resident and co-organizer of the event said in a statement.

Moss said he is hoping much of the inflammatory conversation during the election season, especially from the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump (R), was rhetoric designed to dominate news cycles and spike polling numbers and eventually it will die down.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) shared many of the same concerns as Moss and the Human Rights Commission. He announced several actions Nov. 20 to protect civil rights and combat hate crimes in the state, including the creation of a State Police unit to investigate such crimes. He also plans to advance legislation that would expand protections of the state’s human rights law to all students, and to establish a legal defense fund to ensure immigrants have access to representation regardless of status.

“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are.”

The commission’s letter also called on school districts to share programs they already had in place designed to promote unity and togetherness. Some of those include a Gay/Straight Alliance, the Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate campaign, the No One Sits Alone Campaign and suicide awareness and prevention programs, to name a few.

Banzer indicated Northport has several programs aimed at promoting inclusive school communities through unity and respect, and the district plans to continue that effort going forward.

Those who have experienced incidents of hate or discrimination are encouraged to reach out to the Human Rights Commission by calling 631-853-5480 or emailing humanrights@suffolkcountyny.gov.

Additional reporting contributed by Victoria Espinoza.

New trustee Allison Noonan raises her hand as she is sworn into office in the Northport school board. Photo by Wenhao Ma.

By Wenhao Ma

The Northport-East Northport board of education welcomed change to their meeting last Thursday as Allison Noonan was sworn in after beating out incumbent Julia Binger last May.

Noonan, a social studies teacher in Syosset school district, is involved in the PTA and SEPTA. During the election season, she said she believed her newcomer status was exactly why she is the right choice for the job.

“I am not a part of the board that supported a failed administrator,” Noonan said of former Northport-East Northport Superintendent Marylou McDermott in a previous interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers.

She said under McDermott’s tenure, district facilities, like the athletic fields, bathrooms and classrooms, fell into disrepair, and she would work to fix those problems.

At her swearing-in, Noonan said she was excited to get to work.

“I was thrilled that I was able to go out and support the community.” Noonan said when asked about her reaction after being elected back in May. “It was very sweet. I hope that I can be able to work for [the parents and students] consistently.”

New vice president David Stein raises his hand as he is sworn into office in the Northport school board. Photo by Wenhao Ma.
New vice president David Stein raises his hand as he is sworn into office in the Northport school board. Photo by Wenhao Ma.

Incumbent Andrew Rapiejko was also sworn in at the meeting on July 7, and the board agreed to vote him in for another term as president.

Rapiejko, who has spent more than a half decade working as a board member, is entering his seventh year as a member, and said he is thrilled to continue doing his job.

“Thank you for the honor of being able to serve again as president,” Rapiejko said to other board members, parents and students. He said he is looking forward to a successful 2016-17 school year.

During election season, Badanes said he is proud of his work in the search to find a new leader for the district.

“Hiring the superintendent, who’s done a tremendous job this year, was a big accomplishment,” Rapiejko said in a phone interview. “Being able to sort through the applicants and choose someone who’s the right fit was a challenge.”

Board member David Stein was elected at the meeting as the new vice president, replacing David Badanes. Stein said he is happy to work for the board.

“We got great schools,” he said. “We just work on keeping them that way.”

Lori McCue was the third board member elected in May, but she was absent from the meeting.

On election night, McCue said she looks forward to finishing an energy performance contract with the district that aims to make it more energy-efficient.

I’m very grateful for the people who came out and supported me,” McCue said.

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