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Port Jefferson School District

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Vapes, or electronic cigarettes, are becoming more and more popular among young people, despite a lack of research about the health effects. Photo by John Petroski

By Sabrina Petroski

The “vape life” has found its way into the Port Jefferson School District, making it one of many being forced to address the new trend.

On Jan. 10, Earl L. Vandermeulen High School hosted a community forum about the dangers associated with the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping among young people. The forum, led by the Senior Drug Abuse Educator with the Suffolk County Department of Health, Stephanie Sloan, gave parents and teachers a wealth of information on the issue.

The use of e-cigarettes rose exponentially between 2011 and 2015 across the United States within both middle and high schools, according to Sloan, who cited statistics from a 2016 report on the matter by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General. Sloan said e-cigarette use increased from less than 2 percent in high schools to 15 percent, and less than 1 percent in middle schools to 5 percent over that time period. According to Sloan, more young people are using the various devices because they are curious, there are fun flavors, and there is no perception of risk.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth,” Sloan said.

Though there isn’t a lot of conclusive research on e-cigarettes yet, what we do know is the liquid, known as e-juice, is made of a combination of nicotine and propylene glycol, with traces of diacetyl, acetoin, ultrafine particles of metal, and benzene. Sloan pointed out, there is no water in the vapor being inhaled.

The devices come in different shapes and sizes; some as small as an actual cigarette, while others are the size of a cellphone. The smallest, and most popular among young adults is the size and shape of a USB drive, and it leaves no odor, making it easy to hide on school grounds.

“They are not harmless and we have to work together to encourage healthier decisions among adults and youth.”

— Stephanie Sloan

“The problem is, it is very difficult to detect,” said Christine Austen, the high school principal. “Compared to cigarettes there’s no scent, there’s no smoke, and there’s no evidence unless other students report it.”

The trend started in Port Jeff last school year but has become much more frequent since, according to leadership in the district. In an effort to stop students from picking up the habit, the school district has added a section about the dangers of e-cigarettes into the curriculum of every health class.

“We want the kids to know that there are varying amounts of nicotine and other synthetics in these vapes,” said Danielle Turner, the Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics. “Prevention is most important because of what we still don’t know.”

Though there are age restrictions on buying e-cigarettes and vapes, the underage students are still finding ways to obtain them. According to Robert Neidig, Port Jefferson Middle School principal, students say they can access them online with gift cards or through older siblings and friends.

E-cigarettes have recently been added to the Clean Indoor Air Act, making it illegal for them to be used anywhere tobacco products are banned, including on school grounds. Sloan urged administrators to treat the devices the same as cigarettes when punishment is being decided.

According to Superintendent Paul Casciano, punishments for students caught with e-cigarettes on school property are handled on a case by case basis. A parent of both a middle school and a high school student said during the forum he believes there should be a blanket punishment.

“Just a phone call home isn’t enough,” he said. “All of the students should be treated the same in spite of other infractions. The first offense should be a warning, and the second should be a blanket punishment.”

The Port Jeff school district received a grant which will allow it to install vapor detectors in the bathrooms of the school, and going forward the district plan is for the faculty and staff to continue their efforts to keep the community aware and educated.

If you know of or suspect any stores that are selling e-cigarettes or accompanying items to people under the age of 21, you can contact the Department of Health Services Investigation Team by calling 631-853-3162. For more information on the dangers associated with e-cigarettes contact Stephanie Sloan by calling 631-853-8554, or emailing Stephanie.Sloan@SuffolkCountyNY.Gov.

Port Jefferson High School Principal Christine Austen. File photo

Being named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education is an achievement that takes a village, but leaders in Port Jefferson School District attribute the designation to one confident, tough yet compassionate woman.

Christine Austen is in her third year as principal at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. In that short period of time, according to her colleagues, she has imposed her strong will, ideas and work ethic on the school and is the person most responsible for the school being recognized on a national level in September with the Blue Ribbon honor.

“The award acknowledges and validates the hard work of students, educators, families and communities in striving for — and attaining — exemplary achievement,” the education department’s website says regarding qualifications for Blue Ribbon distinction. About 300 public schools nationwide were awarded in 2017.

Teachers Eva Grasso and Jesse Rosen accompany Austen to Washington, D.C., as part of receiving the award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

For helping to earn the prestigious award for Port Jeff and for her tireless efforts to improve the academic, social and emotional well being of all of her students, Times Beacon Record News Media named Austen a 2017 Person of the Year.

“The things that are happening at the high school among the staff, with the students, with the community, you can’t have those things happening without a principal who’s really moving it, is a big part of it, gets involved — she does not look at the clock,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said.

According to Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Austen’s relentless commitment to analyzing the effectiveness of academic programs and initiatives, and examining results with a critical eye have created quantitative improvements in student performance since she became principal.

“She’s always attuned to the data to help push the academic limits forward, and we definitely see those quantitative results,” Schmettan said. The curriculum and instruction director pointed out Austen’s strengths as a principal are far from limited to fostering academic excellence though. “The principals I’ve worked with always demonstrated a clear strength — who was more of a social and emotional leader, who was more of an instructional leader, who focused more on the community. Everybody that I worked with demonstrated a strength in certain areas, where Chris I think embodies all of those things and that’s really unique.”

Austen and her husband Phil are each products of the Port Jefferson School District and community. She got her start working for the district as a librarian, and eventually served as a kindergarten-through-12th grade assistant principal for her first foray into the administration world. Despite competing against at least one other candidate with experience as a principal, Austen wowed the school board at her interview, which led to her earning the position.

“She came in the room, straightened her back, she sat in the chair and just emitted this confidence that, ‘I’m going to nail this, I’m going to give you my best answers,’” board of education President Kathleen Brennan said. Brennan said Austen’s confidence, without arrogance, stood out during her interview and has translated seamlessly into the position.

Many of her colleagues spoke about Austen’s knack for deftly walking the fine line between holding students accountable without being punitive, while always remaining positive and generally warm.

“If you’re working in this field, and she’s no exception, her ‘put the students first’ mentality is definitely a great strength,” Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier said.

Bernier shared a story about an incident that occurred during a pool party at a student’s home in 2016.

Port Jefferson high school Principal Christine Austen, second from right, and others from the school celebrate its National Blue Ribbon School award. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

A student at the party, who frequently had seizures, was the only person in the pool at one point. Bernier said he noticed something was wrong with the student, and realized he might be having a full seizure in the pool at that moment.

“It only took a second,” Bernier recalled. “I said, ‘Is he OK?’ You saw something and he started to go down and before I even blinked my eyes, [Austen] was in the pool. If he went under he was going to take in water right away, and it was literally before I could even blink my eyes she was in the water.”

Bernier noted, Austen is far from an avid swimmer and the student was much taller than her, making the rescue no simple task.

“It took quite a bit of courage to dive into that pool,” said Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Tom Meehan, who also was at the party.

Middle school Principal Robert Neidig, who started the same year as Austen, said he considers her a mentor. He said she’s great at giving one on one advice, but he also loves to hear her speak publicly because she strikes a perfect tone of humility and warmth accompanied with an unquestionable confidence that creates a perfect mixture for a leader.

“I couldn’t imagine doing the job without having her perspective,” he said.

Casciano summed up some firsthand observations he’s had since Austen took over at the high school.

“You’ll see her in the hallway putting her arm around a child,” he said. “She knows them and knows just from expressions on their faces, she could tell whether or not they’re having a good day, bad day. And if things look like they aren’t going well, she’ll engage the student and try to encourage them.”

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Mean test scores for Port Jefferson School District students in 2016 and 2017 on AP exams in 10 major subjects. Graphic by TBR News Media

The results are in, and Port Jefferson School District teachers, administrators and students have plenty to be proud of.

Jessica Schmettan, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, presented data regarding Port Jeff students scores on Advanced Placement tests taken in May 2017 during a Dec. 12 board of education meeting. AP is a program that offers college-level curriculum and exams to high school students, and college credits are available based on performance in the courses. The College Board, a nonprofit formed to expand access to higher education in North America, created the AP program. The exams are scored from 1 to 5, with scores 3 or higher considered proficient and a minimum standard to be able to earn college credit.

Participation in AP courses and performance on exams overall are trending up in Port Jeff. In 2017, Port Jeff students took 354 AP exams, compared to 280 in 2015. Schmettan said the district was proud to see the increase in the number of students taking the exams and expects that number to increase as more AP offerings are made available to students.

PJSD superintendent, board discuss future after bond fails

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District superintendent, Paul Casciano, and board of education president, Kathleen Brennan, each made public comments Dec. 12 regarding the future of capital improvement projects that would have been addressed by a $30 million bond, a proposal that was voted down by a wide margin by district residents Dec. 5.

Casciano: “Our capital bond proposal was defeated [Dec. 5]. Our board of education and administration are in the process of reviewing what implications there are in the results to determine which steps would be in the best interest of our students. Although we’re disappointed by the outcome, we are grateful that so many residents took the time to vote. Our discussions moving forward will be focused on how best to address the problems that we are facing, namely the health, safety and security of our students and staff; compliance with state and federal regulations; our aging infrastructure; and our overcrowded and overtaxed athletic fields. Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll actually get to plan how to transform our instructional settings into a 21st-century learning environment.”

Brennan: “This is our first board meeting since the vote, so clearly we had no time to discuss the outcome among the board members. I can assure you that we hear you, we heard the vote from the public, and we plan to study that and clearly and carefully and slowly move forward. We certainly will include the public in those plans. So I thank you for your comments and your interest in our district.”

“It is gratifying to see the number of our students [taking AP courses] continuing to grow and the offerings in AP,” board of education member Mark Doyle said during the meeting.

The mean score for Port Jeff students increased when comparing 2016 results to 2017 results on exams in 13 subject areas, including chemistry, environmental science, world history and calculus. In each of those particular subjects, more than 90 percent of students taking the test scored a 3 or better. In addition, the mean Port Jeff 2017 scores in 14 subject areas exceeded the New York State means. In environmental science and chemistry, the Port Jeff means were more than a full percentage point better than New York State means. Schmettan said she was impressed to see the 2017 chemistry scores as the district mean was 4.00, compared to 2.90 across the state and 3.13 in 2016 in Port Jeff.

Average scores in English language and composition, English literature and composition, world history, and U.S. history all went up from 2016 to 2017. However, AP calculus scores skyrocketed in 2017, jumping from 2.57 on average last year to 4.15, which represented the largest increase in any subject.

“We saw a very strong comeback in AP calculus, and we’re proud of that,” Schmettan said.

In another area of mathematics, statistics, 2017 test takers struggled compared to last year. The average 2016 score was 3.92, compared to 3.05 this past May.

“We’re hoping that is a similar event as to what happened in AP calculus last year, that perhaps it is an event not a pattern in the data,” she said.

Port Jeff came in below other New York State test takers on average in five subjects: macroeconomics, biology, Spanish language and culture, music theory and computer science. Biology scores have come down from a mean of 3.19 in 2014 to a 2.92 in 2017.

In total 29 students in Port Jeff were named AP Scholars with Distinction, which is granted to test takers who receive scores of at least 3.50 on all exams taken and scores of 3 or better on five or more exams. Six students were named National AP Scholars for earning a 4 or better on all tests taken and at least a 4 on eight or more exams.

“This is something that we should very much be proud of in Port Jefferson,” Schmettan said.

Visit www.portjeffschools.org to see the full results and click on “Curriculum & Instruction” under the “Departments” tab.

An electronic sign in front of Port Jefferson High School alerting residents about the referendum. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

After months of passionate and at times heated debate, the Port Jefferson School District community has spoken.

Residents voted overwhelmingly against a $30 million capital bond proposal that carried an additional $10 million in interest over its 15-year life and included over 20 districtwide repair and upgrade projects. The issue garnered feverish local attention at numerous school board meetings and on social media forums since it was presented to the public by the district and board of education in September, driving more than 1,700 voters to the polls on referendum day Dec. 5. After all was said and done, 1,355 residents voted against the bond, with just 374 voting in favor of it. By comparison, just 412 people voted on the 2018 budget and school board vacancies back in May.

A lawn sign on Barnum Avenue encouraging residents to vote ‘No’ on a $30M PJSD bond proposal. Photo by Alex Petroski

The proposal featured a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school and lights for the Scraggy Hill Road athletic fields, among many more improvements. Some of the fixes — like additional girls locker room space and handicapped parking spaces at the high school track — were included to get the district in compliance with Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act and will likely need to be addressed either using the district’s capital reserves or a reworked bond proposal.

“While I am disappointed in the result, I am encouraged that so many residents took the time to vote,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “The district and our board of education will discuss the matter further at subsequent meetings. The safety, security and compliance concerns that we were attempting to address through the projects in the capital bond still exist and need attention.”

Many of those opposed to the bond pointed to the uncertainty surrounding an ongoing district and Port Jefferson Village lawsuit against Long Island Power Authority, as both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached. LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson Power Station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant. The district and village’s annual operating budgets are funded in large part due to that revenue. Others were also opposed to the “all or nothing” proposal, which included upgrades that were seen as imminently necessary alongside projects that were viewed as extravagant, like the stadium lights at the Scraggy Hill fields and a new synthetic playing surface for the varsity football field.

“I think the result demonstrates that the community is seeking more transparency and fiscal responsibility from the board and the administration,” said Rene Tidwell, a district resident who was vocal in her opposition to the proposal. “We as a community are eager to roll up our sleeves and help identify urgent projects to fix compliance issues and to help prioritize long-term projects.”

Tidwell said she was not previously as engaged in the goings on of the board of education prior to the emergence of the debate over the bond.

“There had been talk in the community about it and when I started looking closely at the information the board provided I ended up having more questions,” she said. “Many in the community felt there wasn’t a consistent resource or outreach to the entire community with respect to contributing input for what went into the bond proposal.”

Depending on the assessed value of a district resident’s home, the bond would have resulted in an increase of between $289 and $1,185 annually in property taxes, according to the district.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant publicly requested that the district hold off on bringing the proposal forward in September until a resolution was reached on the LIPA issue.

“Tonight’s heavy turnout and result reflects the engagement and passion of our community,” Garant said Dec. 5 via email. “They spoke to the board of education with resounding voices of concern over this bond proposal and while doing so, expressed their deep concern for the children in our school district, clearly stating their support for the ‘needs,’ and not the ‘wants’ in the proposal.”

File photo by Elana Glowatz

The fate of Port Jefferson School District’s $30 million bond proposal won’t be known until next week, but if informal assessments are accurate, the Dec. 5 vote is going to be close.

According to a nonscientific poll posted by TBR News Media on a Facebook page comprised of 1,355 users who identify as Port Jefferson Village residents, those sure they will vote to pass the $30 million, 15-year borrowing plan, which also carries a $10 million interest price tag, are equal to those not currently ready to cast a “yes” vote. As of 4 p.m. Nov. 28, of the 46 people who answered the poll, 23 said they planned to vote in favor. Fifteen responders said they planned to vote “no,” while eight said they weren’t yet sure how they would vote.

District administration presented the high-price capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during a board meeting Sept. 12. If passed, the capital plan would feature a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, stadium lights for the elementary school fields, and many other improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million.

Bond proposal highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

•$737K to install new ventilators in two wings of elementary school building

The district also conducted its own informal survey on its website that was up from mid-September to early October to gauge general feelings in the community about the bond, according to Superintendent Paul Casciano. The district’s survey was also considered unscientific, as it did not prohibit users from taking the survey multiple times, or require any verification that the person taking the survey lives in Port Jeff. The assessment was taken 324 times, and of those, 254 said they would describe the current state of the district’s facilities as “good” or “fair.” Of those who took the survey, 256 said they already pay at least $8,000 annually in property taxes.

In an effort to demonstrate roughly how much a homeowner’s tax bill would increase should the referendum pass, the district posted a “property tax calculator” on its website earlier this month, though the district notified residents by email Nov. 27 the function had a flaw that caused the property tax estimates to be lower than they will be in reality.

The service was set up in conjunction with Munistat Services Inc., a contracted company that provides advisement and estimates on school district borrowing and debt management to other districts and organizations.

“At our request, Munistat provided an estimate of state aid for our proposed capital bond project in September, and the district used this figure in bond presentations and the development of the estimated tax calculator for residents,” the district email said.

The email went on to explain that Munistat overestimated the district’s state aid by $400,000 per year, and the calculator had to be adjusted. Original tax increase estimates, which ranged from $198 to $997 per year, were changed to $239 to $1,185 per year.

“Needless to say, the district is disappointed that this inaccuracy occurred, but is thankful that this information became available to share with residents before our scheduled bond vote,” the district email said.

Although the district has held several informational meetings and building tours to show voters the specific projects slated for improvement as part of the bond, some residents have criticized the district for its methods of notifying the public about the vote, as well as the date selected.

“I don’t feel that is a fair criticism,” Casciano said in an email. The district began using the electronic sign in front of the high school to inform residents about the impending vote this week, according to the superintendent, and an automated phone message was made to homes in the district to make them aware of the final bond meeting Nov. 27.

“We have also informed the entire public through a variety of additional means: an information flyer, voter guide, postcards, community facility walkthroughs, public and board of education presentations that were streamed live, the district website, which includes all of the bond information that we have shared with the community, Facebook, and of course, frequent articles  which have been published since the beginning of September in The Port Times Record.”

Sean Leister, deputy superintendent; Fred Koelbel, facilities and operations administrator; and architect John Grillo discuss aspects of the bond with attendees of the walk-through. File photo by Alex Petroski

Those opposed to the early December vote cited the potential absence of a large number of “snowbirds” or Port Jeff homeowners who tend to spend winters in warmer climates, on the date of the vote. The thinking being those residents are likely the same people who no longer have children attending the district, and therefore would be less likely to support the massive spending plan. For these residents, absentee ballots were made available.

Since the district presented the proposal to the public, lengthy and regular back and forth discussions have ensued on the private, 1,355-member Facebook page, with a seemingly down-the-middle split developing amongst posters. Public meetings regarding the bond have not provided much clarity on how residents might vote Dec. 5 either.

Some of the major arguments from those intending to vote “no” have included an aversion to the installation of stadium lights on athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road; the inclusion of what many see as district “wants” mixed in with district “needs” among the more-than 20 line items in the bond; and the looming lawsuit which includes both the district and Port Jefferson Village as plaintiffs against the Long Island Power Authority. Both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached, as LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson power station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant.

Those in favor of passing the bond have cited student safety concerns and the requirement to be completely compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act as the primary reason to vote “yes.”

“Keeping children safe and secure is our primary responsibility,” Casciano said. “This is not a responsibility that can be compromised and we believe the proposed projects will enable our district to continue to meet this mission while still remaining mindful of our commitment to the taxpayers.”

Polls will be open Dec. 5 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

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Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Like Batman responding to the bat signal in Gotham, leaders and volunteers from across the Port Jefferson community showed up to lend a hand to the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson Nov. 12 after the call went out asking for assistance.

Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Twice per year, Rotary clubs dedicated to bringing together leaders from the private sector to benefit those in need joined forces at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches to clean up the camp following fall events to get the facility ready for its primary use. The facility, which was founded nearly 70 years ago, serves as a sleep-away camp during summer months for children and young adults ages 6 to 21 with various disabilities and special needs.

About 65 percent of campers have autism spectrum disorder, though others with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other challenges are also among the annual attendees. The camp serves as both a place for children with special needs to build self-esteem and camaraderie with peers featuring traditional camp activities and also as a respite for dedicated parents who in many cases provide round-the-clock care and support for their children.

Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck is funded through camper fees, fundraisers and donations, so its operation is thanks in large part to the volunteer efforts of Port Jefferson, Rocky Point and Middle Island Rotary clubs, among others. The two cleanups — one in the spring and the other in the fall — are conducted entirely by volunteers, and the second spruce-up job for 2017 took place Nov. 12 following several October fundraising events.

In total, 36 volunteers from Port Jefferson got their hands dirty during the cleanup, including 16 Rotarians and four family members, and 13 Port Jefferson high school Interact Club members. Charles McAteer of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, Port Jeff high school principal Christine Austen, Senior Vice President for Administration at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital Kevin Murray, Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon and Comsewogue Public Library Director Debra Engelhardt were among the volunteers from the Port Jefferson community at the event. Three members of Rocky Point Rotary and 17 Interact Club members from the Rocky Point school district led by Interact adviser Margaret Messinetti also lent a hand. Two members of Middle Island Rotary also pitched in.

“I have been taking the Interact students out to Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for almost 15 years now,” said Deirdre Fillipi, director of the Interact Club at Port Jeff. The club has a similar mission to Rotary clubs and serves as a precursor to eventual Rotary membership after graduation. “It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to see how much they can achieve and the positive impact they can have on their community, especially when they combine their efforts. It’s nice to see how much they can achieve when working together.”

Dennis Brennan, Rotarian and past president, said the fall cleanup took a few hours and included raking the leaves of the camp’s 37-acre grounds, preparing dorms for future occupancy and much more.

“The youth are the most important part of having this whole thing,” Brennan said. “I think it’s important for one generation after another to realize what you have to do in order to prepare to get things ready for kids with special needs.”

Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Brennan said the younger volunteers don’t necessarily know who attends the camp before the cleanup begins, or what, for example, muscular dystrophy is or what it means to have it, but said an appreciation develops in the volunteers during the course of the day. He said the cleanup and volunteerism through the Rotary are a good preview for students interested in a pursuing a career in helping children with special needs and offer important perspective for others who aren’t.

“As they get older they’ll learn these are not people to feel sorry for, these are people who are different and who you can learn from,” he said.

Rotarian Sharon Brennan expressed a similar sentiment.

“When they’re out spending three hours raking or pulling staples out of the wall, hopefully the light bulb goes off that ‘I’m giving back to somebody who, for the summer, this is really important,’” she said.

Engelhardt, who attended the cleanup with her husband John and son Scott, said the event has become a tradition for her family.

“It’s special to work together as a family and to be a part of something bigger, through our local Rotary club, that benefits special needs children and their families from Suffolk County and beyond all summer long,” she said in an email. “It’s something we hope Scott will make a priority throughout his adult life, for his own health and for the health of our community.”

For more information about Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck visit www.camppaquatuck.com.

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Port Jefferson allows parents to track the location of school buses thanks to the implementation of mobile app Here Comes the Bus. File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

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Taken from a drone, the varsity football field is illuminated by Musco Sports Lighting fixtures, the same brand as would be installed in Port Jeff should its $30M bond referendum pass. Photo from Sayville school district

Members of the Port Jefferson School District community headed south for a little enlightening Nov. 1.

If the district’s $30 million bond referendum passes following a Dec. 5 vote, stadium lights will be installed on the athletic fields at Scraggy Hill Road to allow sports teams to spread out practice times. To ease residents concerns about the lighting, the district held a South Shore meeting Nov. 1 at Sayville’s Greeley Avenue football field to show homeowners in the vicinity of the Scraggy Hill fields lights similar to those in the proposal.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

The district selected a brand and model similar to what is used by Sayville Union Free School District. They would be installed for $1.6 million if the full 20-plus item bond passes. Manufactured by Musco Sports Lighting, the football stadium lighting is billed as targeted beams meant to have little glare outside of the area designated for illumination, according to district administrators.

Ryan Walker, a resident near the Scraggy Hill fields and an employee in the district, has been outspoken about this particular line item in the greater bond proposal during meetings and again voiced his concern at the Nov. 1 meeting.

“Based on the shadows I see, I would be on my deck with my deck lit up, and that concerns me,” Walker said, adding his concerns with the inclusion of the lights in the proposal will “absolutely” be the largest deciding factor in how he votes. “I came down here thinking that somehow there’d be a miracle that what they explained would be true, but just being here sort of confirms my suspicions that there will be ambient light coming over, and even more than I thought, especially when the foliage is down.”

Walker said the presence of trees between his property and the fields, which district Assistant Superintendent Sean Leister estimated are between 70 and 100 feet tall, do not put his mind at ease having seen the Sayville field fully illuminated.

“I sit in my kitchen and I watch sports, because most of the tree foliage isn’t dense enough, and then as soon as the tree foliage is down I have a complete view of [the fields],” he said. He said the brightness of the lights concerns him, though he said the financial impact of the bond as a whole and the potential for traffic issues during night hours on the dark streets surrounding Scraggy Hill Road also need to be taken into consideration by voters.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are all about the school, we love the school,” Walker said. “It’s just disheartening to us as a neighborhood because we are residential. [The area that surrounds the Sayville football field] is not a residential place. We are right up to the [Scraggy] fields. We think the school has other solutions that they’re not willing to negotiate with the neighborhood about. It was all or nothing, and they said they’d listen to us, which I’m sure they did, but listening and actually talking and negotiating are two different things.”

District Superintendent Paul Casciano said he is in a unique position, knowing about stadium lighting firsthand because he lives in the vicinity of Stony Brook University’s soccer fields.

“Initially, yeah I had some concerns, but you know what, they’re not an issue and they stay on until 11:30 every night,” he said. “You think it’s going to be a big issue and then you realize … kids cheering — never a big issue for me; 8:30 is not very late.”

Casciano pointed to a policy drafted by the board of education in recent weeks that would be implemented should the bond pass and would prohibit the lights from staying on past 8:30 p.m. as evidence the district is listening to concerns from the community.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

He reiterated the inclusion of the lights in the bond is for safety reasons, because currently, to accommodate varsity, junior varsity and middle school practices for boys and girls teams throughout the district, more practice time options are needed. At previous meetings, Casciano and other administrators have said the district’s current practice logjam has created dangerous situations for teams trying to utilize adjoining fields around the district at the same time.

Sayville’s field is surrounded by a Long Island Rail Road station on its north side, a parking lot and a few homes near its southeastern corner, an education center on its south side and a few homes across Greeley Avenue to the west. Casciano, Leister and district director of facilities Fred Koelbel said they each would be more disturbed by train station-related noise than the lights if they lived near the field. Koelbel added the lights at Sayville are competition-level brightness, and the one’s in Port Jeff would be a duller version because they’d only be needed for practices.

Carl Saieva, a Port Jeff resident who does not live near the Scraggy Hill fields, also attended the Sayville meeting and is leaning toward voting “No.”

When asked how he would feel if he lived in a house overlooking the field’s west side, he said: “I would be pissed.”

The referendum will appear on ballot as a single, all-or-nothing proposition

Port Jefferson high school could look very different in the coming years if a $30M bond proposal is approved by the community. File photo by Elana Glowatz

In Port Jefferson, 2017 will seemingly have a dramatic, down-to-the-wire election day just like it did in 2016, though this year it will be held in December instead of November.

The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education voted unanimously in support of a resolution to establish Dec. 5 as the date for the much-discussed and intensely debated $30 million bond referendum that has seemingly created a two-party system within the community: the Pro-Bond Party and the Anti-Bond Party.

Despite objections from some residents at prior board of education and Port Jefferson Village Board meetings, the date for the vote was set for the first Tuesday in December. The resolution to set the date was removed from the eight other items listed in the board consensus agenda under the category of finance after a motion by board Vice President Mark Doyle, so that the resolution to set the date could be voted on as individual item.

“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings.”

— Renee Tidwell

Those opposed to that date cited the potential absence of a large number of “snowbirds” or Port Jeff homeowners who tend to spend winters in warmer climates, on the date of the vote. The thinking being those residents are likely the same people who no longer have children attending the district, and therefore would be less likely to support the massive spending plan.

“We’ll discuss the best way of getting the word out and try to make the availability [of absentee ballots] a little bit easier than people might otherwise imagine, although it is relatively easy,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the Oct. 10 board meeting, when the date was finalized.

Casciano previously stated during one of the district’s several building walk-throughs, which were scheduled to allow residents the opportunity to tour the facilities slated for upgrades as part of the bond, that the December date was more preferable than attaching the proposition as part of the budget vote in June because the board felt it was important to allow the bond to stand on its own and not be lost as an afterthought to the budget.

Others who have voiced opposition to the bond have expressed concerns with voting on the more than 20 items as an all-or-nothing proposition and urged the board to split it into at least two propositions: one for education and safety upgrades and one for upgrades relating to athletics. The board elected to keep all 23 items and $29,900,000 worth of upgrades and improvements to district facilities intact as a single proposition.

Proposal highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings,” district resident Renee Tidwell said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We want to vote ‘no,’ and we’re very troubled by that.”

Tidwell pointed to the inclusion of a synthetic turf football field and stadium lights at the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road included with health, safety and educational components in one proposition as a reason to vote against it.

“Split the bond into two bonds; one which addresses the urgent and critical capital improvements and infrastructure upgrades, and the other bond which could address less critical initiatives,” Tidwell said, prior to the vote, which eliminated that possibility.

Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister suggested it’s possible the district might have legal ways out of the bond agreement should an extenuating circumstance arise, such as a settlement in the district’s lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority, which could cause the district to lose substantial property tax revenue, prior to borrowing the money. Leister said previously that projects and borrowing would be unlikely to begin prior to 2019.

Based on discussions during several public meetings and conversations taking place on Port Jefferson-related Facebook pages, the community seems to be split down the middle roughly two months away from the vote. Results of a survey that was available on the district’s website are expected in the coming weeks, and Leister has also promised an imminently available property tax calculator so that residents can see about how much the proposal would cost individual households if passed. This tax hike would be unrelated to potential raises as a result of the LIPA lawsuit and/or if next year’s budget were to ask for an increase. Casciano has also promised more walk-throughs, including a virtual tour for those unable to attend in person.

Port Jefferson High School senior Billy Scannell states his case from a student’s perspective on a proposed $30M bond for districtwide repairs and upgrades. Photo by Alex Petroski

Those who attended a meeting at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School in the Port Jefferson school district Oct. 2 seeking clarity on how the public might be leaning regarding a $30 million bond proposal went home empty handed.

About 25 community members of the 100 or so attendees voiced their opinion on the district’s proposal, which administrators presented last month, for upgrades and improvements across the district during the meeting. If the approximately two dozen speakers are a representative sampling of the community, taxpayers seem to be split down the middle two months out from a tentative referendum vote scheduled for Dec. 5.

The proposal has seemingly polarized the community, with those in favor providing student health and safety, as well as maximizing academic and athletic opportunities as evidence to support voting in favor of permitting the district to borrow the money.

“I just thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective on it, you know, like from a kid who’s actually in high school rather than someone who is not,” high school senior Billy Scannell said. “In the high school they offer over 20 [advanced placement] courses and a vast array of clubs, with an award-winning music program … the school has a lot to offer. If you really look at it, it becomes clear why Earl L. Vandermeulen was named one of the five Blue Ribbon Schools on Long Island. With AP courses and the classrooms, it’s growing because the school just gives you so many opportunities to learn new things and explore. So you say the number of kids isn’t growing, but the opportunities are and so many kids just want to be a part of that.”

Those against, including the Port Jefferson Village mayor and board of trustees, have cited uncertainty surrounding a lawsuit, which includes the village and district, against the Long Island Power Authority, that could result in substantial losses in property tax revenue for both entities, as enough evidence to support a “no” vote. No expected resolution timetable exists regarding the lawsuit, which has been pending for several years. Others have said they’re not sure they agree with the district’s assessment that each of the 21 items on the bond wish list are at a stage of requiring immediate remedy. Others have said a district-produced enrollment study projecting the number of students in the district to remain flat over the next several years is a sign that expansion of facilities doesn’t make sense at the current time either.

“How do I authorize the community to spend $30 million before I know if the school district is secure,” said Ted Lucki, a Port Jeff resident, former school board trustee and former mayor of Belle Terre Village. “How do I vote for that? It’s irresponsible. I think timing is everything. There’s a gorilla in the room. What are we, naïve? How do we justify that? It’s inappropriate for me to vote for a bond when we’re on the firing line for much bigger issues.”

District Superintendent Paul Casciano reiterated points he’s made throughout the process of presenting the bond to the public. He said it’s difficult to know when the LIPA issue will be resolved, and in the meantime the buildings still need fixing. He also said the list has been pared down from the original $100 million incarnation from when the process began about three years ago to include only the things the district views as essential.

If passed, the $30 million project would feature a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the Scraggy Hill Road athletic fields, among many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If passed, the bond would cost the average taxpayer between $400 and $1,000 annually during the 15-year life of the payment plan. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister plans to make available a property tax calculator in the coming weeks on the district website that would allow residents to see how the bond would impact their annual bill.

Casciano pledged to schedule more walk-throughs of the buildings and areas slated for upgrades prior to the vote and even left open the possibility to conduct a virtual building tour, which those unable to physically attend a walk-through could view at their own leisure. The board of education is slated to solidify the proposal and vote on establishing Dec. 5 for the referendum during its next public meeting Oct. 10. A survey will remain accessible for members of the public to weigh in on the proposal on the district website until Oct. 9.

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