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Northport-East Northport school district

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.

Northport students attend the 2016 commencement ceremony. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport High School Class of 2016 graduated from the high school on Saturday, June 25. The bleachers were filled to capacity as U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) congratulated the students and offered some advice.

Principal Daniel Danbusky, as well as other Northport High School staff members and members of the Northport-East Northport school board handed out diplomas and cheered on the students. ValedictorianIan Buitenkant and SalutatorianEmily Labruna gave poignant speeches, and the Northport High School Choir sang “Fields of Gold.”

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields

Sabrina Qi and Trevor Jones are the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Harborfields graduating class of 2016.

Sabrina Qi. Photo from Harborfields central school district.
Sabrina Qi. Photo from Harborfields central school district.

Qi was named a scholar in the 2016 National Merit Scholarship Program, she received the National School Development Council Academic Growth & Student Leadership Award and was presented the Daughters of American Revolution Good Citizenship Award. She is enrolled in six Advanced Placement courses and one college-level language class. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Global Justice Club and Science Research Club. Qi will attend Duke University in the fall with plans of majoring in biomedical engineering and biophysics. “I think Harborfields has truly prepared me for the future with all the classes I have taken,” Qi said. “As long as you take the classes that you are interested in, the teachers will prepare you for what you want to study in college.”

Trevor Jones. Photo from Harborfields central school district.
Trevor Jones. Photo from Harborfields central school district.

Jones is also enrolled in six Advanced Placement courses at Harborfields and is the class president. Among his high school experiences, he interned for U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and North Shore-LIJ to conduct medical research, and he served as the student representative at the board of education meetings. He will attend Boston College on a full scholarship with plans to major in biology or public policy.

“I am going to miss the community,” Jones said. “The classes and teachers are great, but at the end of the day, what I am going to miss most are my peers, my friends and the environment we have here.”

Northport

Ian Buitenkant is this year’s valedictorian at Northport High School, with Emily Labruna following as salutatorian.

Ian Buitenkant. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district.
Ian Buitenkant. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district.

Buitenkant is a National Merit Commended Scholar, and has been the math department’s Student of the Month. He interned at the Academy of Information Technology last summer with SeniorNet, an organization that teaches computer skills to retired and elderly people. The valedictorian enrolled in 10 AP courses throughout his four years and was awarded the AP Scholar with Honors in 2015. He is a member of the high school Mathletes Team, and his junior year had one of the highest cumulative scores among all participants in a multi-week competition sponsored by the Suffolk County Math Teachers Association. Outside of the classroom, he can be found at a chessboard. He was named the Suffolk County High School Chess champion in 2013, and is also the president of the high school Chess Club. Buitenkant was also on the high school varisty tennis team for three years. He plans to attend Stony Brook University’s Honors College, majoring in computer science as a member of the Honors Program, and hopes to become a software developer in the future.

Emily Labruna. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district.
Emily Labruna. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district.

Labruna is an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. She spent two summers at Cornell University and Johns Hopkins University through the Packard Scholars Program, and her participation in these programs led her to want to continue neuroscience research in college. Labruna was a math department Student of the Month and is a National Merit Commended Scholar. She is a member of the Mathletes, the Academic Team, varsity softball, the National Honor Society, and Schools for Schools, where she has helped raise money for the education of children in poverty. The salutatorian also has a third-degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. She will be attending Johns Hopkins University with a major in neuroscience.

Huntington

Huntington High School’s valedictorian and salutatorian are Rachel Carpenter and Olivia Stamatatos, respectively.

Rachel Carpenter. Photo from Huntington school district.
Rachel Carpenter. Photo from Huntington school district.

Carpenter is the president of Huntington’s branch of National Honor Society, and has participated in all eight of the high school’s drama productions. “When I first moved here four years ago, I had no idea I would have been in the position I am in now,” she said. “I have the people of Huntington High to thank for my growth and success.”

Olivia Stamatatos. Photo from Huntington school district.
Olivia Stamatatos. Photo from Huntington school district.

Stamatatos is president of the school’s branch of Italian National Honor Society, a member of the Mathletes, wind esemble, and Tri-M Music National Honor Society. She also takes dance lessons at the Lynch School of Ballet in Huntington.  She plans to pursure a degree in biochemistry “in order to gain a deeper understanding of underlying factors that contribute to the curative properties in natural substances.” She credited the staff at Huntington. “The teachers of Huntington High School have not only provided me with a high quality education, but have also built strong relationships with me and have always made me feel welcome,” she said.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss how to handle the vote that could lead to a decrease in board member size. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Northport residents will officially have a chance to reduce the size of the Northport-East Northport Board of Education this spring.

The board passed a resolution at Thursday night’s meeting that will add a proposition to the budget vote this spring to decrease the membership of the board from nine trustees to seven.

The United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport came to the board with a petition in June saying that nine members have made the board less effective.

In their petition the United Taxpayers stated “statistical and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that school districts operate in a more effective and efficient manner when the composition of the board is limited to no more than seven board members.”

Armand D’Accordo, a member of the group, backed up its sentiment.

“I have gotten the sense at board meetings — both through watching and interacting — that it seems a bit dysfunctional, due to the makeup of how many members and how long they’ve been around,” D’Accordo said in a previous interview.

He also said the organization became interested in this idea after reading a study by Nina Dorata, titled “School District Boards, Audit Committees, and Budget Oversight: Seeking a Formula for Good Governance,” published in the March 2013 issue of the CPA Journal, which exposed the correlation between school district budget increases and tenure of board members.

“I do feel confident in the public,” D’Accordo said of the resolution passing. “There is a general sense I have been getting while collecting signatures for this petition that the public wants a smaller school board.”

Trustees have said they do not think this is a necessary step.

“We have a large and diverse community with a lot of different areas to represent,” Vice President David Badanes said in a previous interview. “The more people that participate gives you more eyes for each issue. The statistics are speculative and so far the arguments do not convince me.”

After the vote, Trustee Jennifer Thompson asked if the district would be held responsible to inform the public on this issue.

“Since this proposition came from the community and not the board or the district, how will the community be informed of the pros and cons of it?” she asked at the meeting. “Who is responsible for disseminating that information?”

Trustee Lori McCue suggested that at one of the upcoming budget meetings, the board give the factual information, and discuss how, if this proposition is successful, the members would be dwindles down from nine to seven.

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

Northport school district’s security greeters are on the verge of receiving health benefits — thanks in large part to the efforts of one of their own.

Diane Smith is in her seventh year as a greeter at Fifth Avenue Elementary School, and said she has never received health benefits, despite numerous pleas.

“Before this position was created, anyone could go to the office and often stroll right down to classrooms, creating a lot of interruptions,” Smith said in an interview after the meeting Thursday night. “We finally have some boundaries.”

Greeter’s duties include monitoring who is coming and going from school buildings, assisting in late arrivals and early releases and helping parents get forgotten items to the students, among other day-to-day tasks that may arise.

According to the district supervisor of security, the position of greeters was created about 10 years ago.

Over that time, the responsibilities of the job have changed, with greater emphasis placed on security in the aftermath of violent school-related incidents like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“We [greeters] know the parents, grandparents and babysitters, as well as most of the personnel that visit our buildings,” Smith said in an email on Friday.

Smith said she has been working a second job to afford health care, while continuously searching for another job that would give her benefits, though she is hesitant to leave the Northport school district because she loves the job.

Smith said she has been expressing her desire for health care for the nine full-time greeters via letters and in person for years, to the school board and to district officials. She showed up on Thursday to take her campaign to the next level.

So far her efforts have been fruitless, but that could soon change.

“[The greeters are] going to get an opportunity for health insurance,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said during the meeting. “It just happened to be so ironic that she showed up today, because we just talked about it and kind of said, ‘Yes let’s go ahead and make it right and make sure they have an opportunity for health insurance.’”

Banzer attributed the delay in providing health insurance to the greeters to a switch from part-time to full-time designation.

Smith was skeptical when she left the meeting Thursday. She said it was more of the same rhetoric she’s been hearing since she began her battle.

However, as of Friday, she is approaching the situation with more optimism after receiving an email from Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Irene McLaughlin that established Jan. 19 as a meeting date for the greeters and members of the district to sit down and discuss health care options.

“I am very guardedly optimistic,” Smith said.

A sketch of Del Vino Vineyards is displayed at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Huntington residents left a recent planning board meeting with a bad taste in their mouths, thanks to a proposal to build a Del Vino Vineyards winery directly next door to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.

Frederick Giachetti, owner of the 10-acre property, said in June that he wanted to grow grapes and open a 94-seat wine tasting room instead of subdividing the land into seven residentially zoned properties, which was the original proposal. Community members and the Northport-East Northport School District said they strongly disapproved of the plans due to safety and health concerns for students at Norwood Elementary during a Huntington Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

Attorney Carrie-Anne Tondo spoke on behalf of the school district and accused the applicant of not being “neighborly” by skipping several parts of the site plan review process typically requested by the planning board. But Attorney Anthony Guardino, who was representing the applicant, said Del Vino Vineyards is not required by the state to even submit a site plan. He said the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets does not recommend site plan approval for farm operations, including wineries.

“However, if a town does not follow that recommendation, and requires site plan approval, the dept. suggests that the site plan review process for farm operations be streamlined and expedited,” Guardino said in an email.

Attorney Carrie-Ann Tondo speaks at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.
Attorney Carrie-Ann Tondo speaks at the Huntington Planning Board meeting on Dec. 2. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Guardino said that the school district was referring to requirements from a different type of classification under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review standards.

“Based on a NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Market’s publication…the application should be classified as a Type II action under SEQRA, which would make it exempt from the SEQRA review process altogether,” Guardino said. This includes a traffic study.

“The fact of the matter is we didn’t have to submit anything,” he said. “We’re here before you because we agreed to do the site review but we don’t have to be.”

Guardino said he suggested that if the planning board really wants these extra studies done, they should take it up with the state. But he said Del Vino Vineyards is “fully complaint with the law.”

The district’s biggest concerns included the winery’s hours of operation, pesticide uses, traffic problems, and student safety.

“The board of education takes very seriously the protection of the 365 students who attend the school,” Tondo said.

She also said a traffic study is currently missing from the vineyards site plan approval, and with a proposal of 60 parking spaces, a traffic study is “clearly warranted.”

According to Tondo, the school has bus traffic patterns on the weekdays, and on weekends, the school is used for many different events including soccer games and various club activities. So additional traffic in this area could have an adverse impact, she said.

Tondo also said the school would have a better understanding of how much traffic would be affected if the vineyard released its hours of operations, but they have yet to do so.

“All we’re asking for is full disclosure and transparency, which shouldn’t be issues if you’re looking to be a good neighbor,” she said. “I don’t know why there can’t be some compromise to alleviate concerns for hours of operations.”

Guardino said that the board does not have any power over the deciding for closing and opening hours.

“Hours are at the discretion of the owner within…this board can’t control that,” he said.

The property on Norwood Avenue where Del Vino VIneyard wants to set up shop. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.
The property on Norwood Avenue where Del Vino VIneyard wants to set up shop is currently vacant. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Student interaction with patrons at the vineyard was another concern, and Tondo asked if the vineyard is exploring security services. To this problem, Guardino said that building plans included a landscape buffer between the vineyard parking lot and the school, as well as a 10-foot deer fence, and he said he saw no instance where students would be able to converse with patrons.

29-Norwood-June-2015_14wTondo also said the district would also like a notification of when Del Vino will be spraying pesticides on their crops because schools themselves are not usually allowed to apply pesticides to their grounds to prevent students from unnecessary exposure.

Guardino said that Giachetti plans to use “state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly pesticide applicators” that recycles whatever pesticides aren’t directly sprayed on a plant and has very little overspray.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he thinks this vineyard could be valuable to the town by providing more open space.

“We need open space and for someone from the outside to pay for it is a gift,” Trotta said. “Is this perfect? I don’t know. But I think that you have an opportunity here to work with this gentleman…and for us to preserve open space because once he sells that and builds houses it’s gone forever.”

Alice Abbate, a 25-year resident of Norwood road, presented a petition with more than 350 signatures against the vineyard. All four of her children walk to school everyday at Norwood Elementary.

“My children shouldn’t be afraid that there are 60 parking spaces they’re passing where people have been coming in and out after they’ve been drinking,” Abbate said. “When we bought our home 25 years ago, as did our neighbors, we bought it because it was in a nice quiet neighborhood on a street with a school. Maybe a winery is a good idea some other place.”

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