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Parent Thali Lapidus discusses the importance of outdoor time and physical exercise at the March 13 board of education meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

As school administrators across the state begin to think about next year’s budget, Three Village Central School District officials announced last week that the district will not have to cut staffing or programs to stay within its 2.53 percent cap on the tax levy increase.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said the 2019-20 district budget will be about a 2.4 percent increase on last year’s $209.8 million budget. Decisions on staffing and programs will be based on enrollment and student need, not on the budget, Carlson said at the March 13 school board meeting.

Though the assistant superintendent is not expecting an increase in aid from the state, he can anticipate the district’s higher expenses, such as health insurance and retirement costs. While retirement costs are decreasing this year, health insurance will rise 2 percent, Carlson said. Because the district is part of a self-insured consortium with a couple of other school districts, the rate is lower than the New York State health insurance plan, he said.

This year, districts in Suffolk County are required to distribute budget documents in both English and Spanish, based on the percentage of residents in the county who speak the languages, Carlson said.

In other news, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich announced the formation of a districtwide sustainability task force.

Members of the task force, which will convene in September, will include Pedisich, Carlson, director of facilities James O’ Hagan, school board trustee Irene Gische, as well as a principal, a teacher and a parent from each of the district’s schools. School-based teams will work with the schools’ PTAs to determine each building’s plans for sustainability, Pedisich said.

A group of parents from Setauket Elementary School prompted the task force. Two parents from the group spoke at the February board meeting, asking that the district forms a committee to introduce more eco-friendly practices, and educate students about reducing waste and being more conscious of their environmental footprint. As a result of their advocacy, Setauket Elementary has become the first school to begin using reusable utensils in its lunchrooms.

Last week, two more Setauket parents discussed the importance of outdoor time and physical exercise for students of all ages. Thali Lapidus, mother of three students in the district, pointed to the “mental health crisis” suffered by upper-grade students, saying they feel pressure because of grades and tests, and don’t have time to be outside or with their friends. She said they, along with younger students, would benefit mentally and physically from time outside in an outdoor classroom, or taking part in yoga, caring for a community garden or even recycling.

“The kids want to be involved,” she said. “They want to make their schools a better place, and they want to connect with the planet.”

Irene Moshkovich, a mother of two, agreed. She added that now secondary students have district-issued Chromebooks, there is “much more engagement with electronics and not enough time spent outside.” She, too, wants the district to find ways to promote more time outside during the school day.

This is an issue that the district has been addressing, Pedisich said. She and Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, have been working with elementary parents who are part of a recess focus group, she said. They have been looking at how to better use the courtyards at the elementary schools so that students have more opportunities to engage in outdoor activities throughout the year, Pedisich said.

“We are excited about working with the community,” the superintendent said about the efforts to expand courtyard use and address sustainability concerns.

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