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Port Jefferson School District

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff school districts lose third-party lawsuits

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. The two districts had legal challenges shot down by a judge Aug. 16 pertaining to property tax assessment claims made by LIPA. File photos

By Sara-Megan Walsh & Alex Petroski

A New York State Supreme Court judge has ruled Long Island Power Authority “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport school district and Port Jefferson School District not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Judge Elizabeth Emerson dismissed the lawsuits brought forth by the Town of Huntington and the two school districts Aug. 16 which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent.

“The court’s decision affirms our customers’ right to pay reasonable taxes on the power plants,” LIPA said in a statement from spokesman Sid Nathan. “We remain committed to reaching a fair settlement for both the local communities and our 1.1 million customers to put an unsustainable situation back on a sustainable path.”

Port Jefferson Power Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

The judge’s ruling is a big victory for LIPA as it allows tax certiorari cases to continue to trial, rather than being dismissed, and could have a widespread impact across Long Island for other municipalities with similar disputes against the utility.

“Obviously, we disagree with this decision and plan to appeal,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer wrote in a letter to district residents. “Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

Port Jeff school district also responded to the development.

“While this decision is not the outcome the district was hoping for, we vow to continue to explore our options as we work to protect our school district’s financial future and the needs of our community,” the district said in part in a statement. “The district will work to keep the community apprised of any updates on the matter.”

In her 24-page decision, Emerson denied any notion that chapter 21, section 16 of the 1997 Power Supply Agreement signed by LIPA when it took over Long Island Lighting Company — which has been referred to as the 1997 Promise – was intended to benefit the school districts by preventing LIPA from challenging the tax-assessed value of its power plants.

Rather, she found it was to ensure other parties, including LILCO and GENCO, which owned the plants at the time, could not start initiating tax claims during the takeover process.

She also dismisses all claims that town governments or school districts were intended third-party beneficiaries of the contract.

“The Power Supply Agreement is clear and unambiguous and that it does not bestow any enforceable third-party-beneficiary rights on the plaintiff,” Emerson wrote.

The judge pointed to the PSA saying it “does not expressly name” either the town or school districts as a third-party beneficiaries.

“She applied contract law, not third-party beneficiary law,” said John Gross, the attorney representing Northport-East Northport school district. “That’s what we think she the mistake on.”

Gross said New York State law allows entities, like the school districts, to be recognized as third-party beneficiaries based on third-party conversations, letters, and promises. The school districts have filed thousands of pages of documents with the courts, according to Gross, that include official correspondence and records of conversations former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel had with school administrators and Huntington Town officials allegedly promising not to challenge the tax assessment of its power plants.

The judge ruled these “extra-contractual promises” made largely by Kessel “were gratuitious promises for which there was no consideration.” As such, the former chairman’s words “did not contractually bind LIPA.”

Gross said the school’s status as a third-party beneficiary “was wrongly decided.”

This recent decision could have large and profound impact not only on Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jeff schools, but for all other municipal government and school districts that are LIPA’s power plants.

On Page 18 of her decision, Emerson wrote not only did the PSA contract not protect the Town of Huntington, Northport or Port Jeff school district taxpayers but “other similar situated school districts and municipalities.”

“This result was to a very large extent expected by the village, and that’s why the mayor and the board of trustees very early, initiated and drove settlement discussions with LIPA to resolve the issue,” Port Jefferson Village Attorney Brian Egan said.

The village board of trustees and Mayor Margot Garant in April passed a resolution approving “settlement concepts,” and the two sides are exchanging details of terms, expected to reach conclusion “at any time,” Egan said.

“When we’re a taxing jurisdiction and we’re going to subject ourselves to the back taxes on a longshot, that is not what we do with taxpayer dollars,” Garant said. “We have an obligation to not gamble, so to speak.”

“Please understand that Justice Emerson’s decision is not the end of our fight in this case.”

— Robert Banzer

Huntington town attorney Nick Ciappetta said the town plans to file an appeal of the judge’s decision.

“We believe there’s only one logical and legal way to interpret that provision,” he said. “That provision was there for the benefit of the taxpayers of Huntington.”

The town, Northport and Port Jefferson school districts will have 30 days to file an appeal once the decision is officially entered into court records, according to Ciappetta. He estimated an appeal of the decision could take 18 to 24 months.

“The decision does not affect the pending tax certiorari case between the Town of Huntington and LIPA scheduled for trial in December, nor do we expect it will impact the parties’ willingness to proceed with mediation,” Banzer wrote to the community.

Gross confirmed that Northport school district is still looking forward to sitting down for the first mediation session with the Town of Huntington, LIPA, National Grid  and third-party neutral attorney Marty Scheinman slated for Sept. 26.

Officials in Brookhaven’s Town Attorney’s office could not be immediately reached for comment, though the town has also said it is nearing a settlement in its case. Egan speculated settlements for municipalities attempting to resolve cases out of court might be held up by mediation in Northport and Huntington Town’s case.

This post was updated Aug. 17 to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District, and to attribute LIPA’s statement to Sid Nathan.

Port Jefferson School District’s new athletic director, Adam Sherrard. Photo from PJSD

Port Jefferson School District’s athletic programs have excelled in recent years, but the Royals faced a new kind of challenge this summer.

Adam Sherrard has been named the replacement for Port Jeff’s outgoing director of health, physical education and athletics, Danielle Turner, who accepted a similar position in the Locust Valley school district in June.

Sherrard, a Farmingville resident, has coaching and teaching experience from previous stops at Huntington and Smithtown school districts, where he taught physical education at all grade levels. Most recently he taught at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet Intermediate School in the Huntington district. He served as Smithtown East High School’s defensive coordinator for the varsity football team and as a middle school lacrosse head coach, in addition to other high school and middle school coaching assignments, according to his LinkedIn page.

“I’m eager to work with the students, staff, nurses, administrators, coaches and parents in the district,” Sherrard said in a statement. “Since I first arrived here, I noticed the commitment to the well-being of students is profound and I look forward to continuing to strengthen the positive environment in the Port Jefferson School District.”

He earned an advanced graduate certificate in educational leadership from Stony Brook University and a Master of Arts in educational leadership and administration from Touro University International, according to a district press release. He holds a Bachelor of Science in physical education from Cortland University.

“The energy and enthusiasm that Mr. Sherrard exudes will serve our district well,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “We look forward to his leadership and progressive ideas in building on the many successes of our athletic program. Mr. Sherrard will continue to move us in the positive direction of our physical education and health education programs. This includes social and emotional growth opportunities to ensure our students have the support systems needed to succeed.”

During Turner’s time with the Royals, the girls varsity basketball and soccer teams each reached New York State championship rounds, with the soccer team bringing home its second straight trophy in 2016. It was the team’s third straight appearance in the finals. The basketball team fell just short in the 2017 state title game, though it was the first time it had won a county crown since 1927. Quarterback Jack Collins broke numerous school records and became the first football player in school history to be named League IV Most Valuable Player. The wrestling team went undefeated and won the League VIII championship during the current school year. Shane DeVincenzo put Port Jeff’s golf program on the map, winning the Suffolk County individual title in 2017.

“Port Jefferson will always have a special little place in my heart, and I could not be more thankful that my career has led me through it,” she said in a June email.

Ibuki Iwasaki, Eli Doyle, Luke Begley, Charles Clark finish atop their classes

By Anthony Petriello

Ibuki Iwasaki. Photo by Alex Petroski

At the conclusion of the 2018 school year at Earl L. Vandermeulen and Comsewogue high schools, four graduates stood at the top of their respective classes. These extraordinarily talented students include valedictorian Ibuki Iwasaki and salutatorian Eli Doyle from Port Jeff and valedictorian Luke Begley and salutatorian Charles Clark from Comsewogue.

At Earl L. Vandermeulen, Iwasaki finished the year at the top of the class with a 101.4 cumulative grade point average. Iwasaki was president of the National Honor Society and a member of the Mathletes team, for which she competed in more than 20 competitions, and won the All-County title for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am self-motivated,” she said of her academic drive. “My mother trusts me to seek out challenges.”

She attributed her success to her natural curiosity.

“I like to learn and try out new things whenever I can,” she said.

Eli Doyle. Photo by Alex Petroski

Iwasaki was also a member of the Science Olympiad team, where she was a first-place and third-place winner in various competitions. The team travels to universities near and far to compete against other high schools in a sports-style science tournament sponsored by organizations like NASA, Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force. Iwasaki had also been a player on the varsity tennis team since eighth grade and was undefeated individually in the league this year. She is a National Merit Scholarship recipient, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and had earned a perfect score for three years at Level IV NYSSMA on the violin. Iwasaki will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall but said she has not declared an official major.

“I want to take advantage of all the opportunities MIT has to offer,” she said.

Eli Doyle finished high school with a 100.9 GPA. Doyle said he is grateful to the high school faculty for allowing him to achieve greatness.

Luke Begley. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I appreciate the opportunity my school has given me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said.

In addition to being an exemplary student, Doyle excelled on the field as well as the stage, having played tennis since ninth grade, earning honors from the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League, and working as part of the stage crew for school plays, musicals and concerts. He also volunteered at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket and spent his time with the residents, earning him the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Like Iwasaki, he was also a member of the Science Olympiad squad, finishing in first place in both optics and astronomy competitions. He was a member and officer of the Student Organization for all four years of his high school career and had the opportunity to participate in the Simmons Summer Research program at Stony Brook University where he studied ferroelectric fluid, which is a type of magnetic fluid that can be used in many applications from computer hard drives to rocket fuel. Doyle will be attending Brown University this fall where he will study engineering physics.

At Comsewogue, Luke Begley was named valedictorian, finishing with a 101.5 GPA. Begley is a music-minded scholar as well as a scholar-athlete. He was a member of the NYSSMA All-State Orchestra on the double bass and played midfield on the Comsewogue varsity soccer team. He attributed his academic success to his parents and his teachers.

Charles Clark. Photo by Alex Petroski

“They always motivated me and created an environment where I could succeed, and my teachers always knew how to keep me interested and engaged,” he said.

Begley was also the president of the French National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team and an AP Scholar with Distinction during his junior year. He credited his drive to succeed to his close friends.

“We keep a good balance of competition and cooperation where we compete to be the best academically but still help each other when it is necessary,” he said.

Begley will be attending Princeton University this fall where he will be double majoring in physics and music.

Comsewogue salutatorian Charles Clark had a 101.3 GPA to wrap up his senior year. He could not be reached for comment.

Months of hard work by volunteers from the Port Jefferson community finally came to fruition June 25. Earl L. Vandermeulen’s annual senior prom, featuring a secret theme selected by the Senior Prom Committee — made up of parents and others who donate their time to pulling together the event — and arrivals to a red carpet in out-of-the-ordinary rides, went off Monday night in front of hundreds from the school and surrounding community.

This year, the high school entrance, first floor hallways, bathrooms and gymnasium were decorated in a Neverland theme, an ode to the Disney classic “Peter Pan.”

Parents of members of the senior class meet throughout the school year to vote and settle on a theme, plan the theme’s implementation, and then spend the frantic weekend between graduation Friday night and prom Monday night constructing the decorations.

“There’s a lot of people, like myself, whose kids graduated quite a while ago, who showed up and worked during the week at night or on the weekend,” said John Poulianos, a member of the committee who has been pitching in to help with the event since 1999. “I think people just feel it’s such a worthwhile event that they’re willing to give their time. It is so unique.”

Though the event was the byproduct of hard work by dozens of individuals, community members were sure to recognize the efforts of Port Jeff graduate Jon Famularo on social media.

“Your dedication makes it possible to accomplish more and deliver rich and theatrical looks for the prom,” Paul Braille wrote on Facebook.

The Port Jefferson community came out to bid farewell to the Class of 2018 at Earl L. Vandermeulen’s 123rd commencement ceremony June 22. The graduating class of 89 was honored by the hundreds who attended and district administration and staff in traditional fashion for Port Jeff, with personal achievements and future post-graduation plans read aloud prior to the distribution of diplomas.

File photo

Preparing for an emergency is at the top of minds in the education world these days. Parents in the Port Jefferson, Comsewogue and Three Village school districts can sleep well, as their kids’ bus company had a unique opportunity to put its preparedness to the test.

Suffolk Transportation Service was among a small group of bus companies in the United States selected by the federal Transportation Security Administration to participate in a training program meant to assess and improve coordination between school bus operators and other agencies in emergency situations. The three local districts are among 16 in Suffolk County that use STS, and about 80 percent of those participated in the training exercise, according to the company’s Vice President of Operations Ray Grimaldi. The day-long training exercise was conducted by representatives from TSA, an agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security, at STS’s training facility in Bay Shore in May. The six-hour exercise featured simulations of actual emergencies, like one in which a bus driver found an explosive device on a school bus and had to decide on courses of action as the intensity of the simulation steadily increased. Grimaldi called the exercise powerful and comprehensive.

“It was actually awesome — it’s so realistic it’s crazy,” Grimaldi said. “It allowed us an opportunity to see how good we are, where we need to improve.”

Grimaldi said the company is still waiting on an official assessment from TSA on its preparedness, but agents conducting the exercise told him it was the best training session the agency has conducted to date. He said part of the reason STS was selected was because about eight years ago, the company volunteered to undergo a voluntary baseline audit by Homeland Security, which Grimaldi said yielded the highest score attainable.

“Our top priority as a school bus operator is student safety,” STS President John Corrado said in a statement. “STS is pleased to be selected to spearhead this training program in Suffolk County, which helped all participants enhance their coordination with other agencies to keep students safe.”

Port Jefferson School District’s Facilities Administrator Fred Koelbel was in attendance for a portion of the exercise.

“It was very interesting, and I think an illuminating exercise,” he said. “It really gave everybody some food for thought. Suffolk Transportation Service is on the cutting edge of so many things. We always say that the students’ day starts when he or she gets on the bus, and they embrace that.”

Local emergency responders including Suffolk County Police Department; the New York State Bus Contractor’s Association; and administrators, security and transportation personnel from the bus company’s districts were on hand to observe and participate in the day’s events.

Grimaldi said STS expects to see the results of the exercise in about two weeks.

Danielle Turner was previously the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place. File photo from Danielle Turner

Athletics in the Port Jefferson School District reached unprecedented heights during the last few school years, and now one of the people who oversaw part of the rise is moving on.

Danielle Turner, the district’s director of physical education, health, athletics and nurses since 2016 will not be returning to the district this fall. She said in an email she had accepted a similar position in the Locust Valley School District.

“I would like to thank the board of education, district staff, students and this great community for taking a chance on me as a new AD,” Turner said. “I am confident that the tools, knowledge, and skillset I’ve acquired here in Port Jefferson will serve me well at my new home in Locust Valley, and throughout my career. Port Jefferson will always have a special little place in my heart, and I could not be more thankful that my career has led me through it.”

During her time with the Royals, the girls varsity basketball and soccer teams each reached New York State championship rounds, with the soccer team bringing home its second straight trophy in 2016. It was the team’s third straight appearance in the finals. The basketball team fell just short in the 2017 title game, though it was the first time it had won a county crown since 1927. Quarterback Jack Collins broke numerous school records and became the first football player in school history to be named League IV Most Valuable Player. The wrestling team went undefeated and won the League VIII championship during the current school year. Shane DeVincenzo put Port Jeff’s golf program on the map, winning the Suffolk County individual title in 2017.

Turner was the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place prior to taking the position in Port Jeff. She received her first teaching and coaching positions at Longwood Middle School, where she was a physical education teacher and varsity volleyball coach from 2008-12, while also coaching lacrosse and basketball at different levels. She later served as assistant principal at Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Premm Learning Center and Sayville Academic Center.

While at Port Jeff, she was known for attending nearly every sporting event, posting updates on social media and serving as a promoter of the district’s athletes.

Superintendent Paul Casciano wished Turner well in her new endeavor in an email.

“We’ll miss her energy and vision,” he said. “We thank her for her contributions to our successes over the past two years.”

The district will conduct a search for a new athletic director.

Incumbent Tracy Zamek; newcomers René Tidwell, Ryan Walker win PJ BOE seats after heated campaign

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photos

By Alex Petroski

Voters in the greater Port Jefferson area went to the polls in a giving mood May 15.

Port Jefferson School District residents approved the $44.9 million budget with 774 voting in favor and 362 against, while also passing a second proposition permitting the release of capital funds for a long-planned partial roof repair project at the high school.

“I’m really happy that the community came out and endorsed our spending plan for next year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said after the results were announced. “It’s really important. They showed a lot of support for public education in Port Jefferson School District, so we’re really, very happy about that.”

Across town in Comsewogue School District, the $91.9 million budget was also passed by an easy margin; 829 to 263. The district’s approximately $32 million capital bond proposition received 768 votes in support to just 315 against. The 15-year borrowing plan includes about $3 million in interest and will provide funds for upgrades in each of the district’s six buildings. The projects selected were the byproduct of extensive planning on the part of the facilities committee, a group of about 20 professionals from across the community.

Port Jeff’s new board of education members Ryan Walker and René Tidwell with re-elected incumbent Tracy Zamek. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are grateful to our community for its continued support of our schools and our students,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in a statement. “Their approval of the bond and 2018-19 budget will enable us to enhance and enrich health and safety, infrastructure and the three A’s – academics, arts and athletics.”

Port Jeff’s approved budget includes a roughly 2.3 percent tax levy increase compared to the current year, while Comsewogue’s increase will be 2.1 percent.

Tracy Zamek, an incumbent on Port Jeff’s school board, secured one of the three seats up for grabs in a six-way race, securing 604 votes. She’ll be joined on the board by newcomers Ryan Walker, who received 660 votes, and René Tidwell, who got 649. Tidwell and Walker campaigned on a joint ticket, as Zamek did with candidates Jason Kronberg (369 votes) and Ryan Biedenkapp (481 votes).

“I’m honored to be re-elected again,” Zamek said. “I look forward to standing up for the kids in Port Jefferson School District. I look forward to the challenges ahead of being fiscally responsible with the LIPA challenge, as well as keeping Port Jefferson School District intact.”

The discussion surrounding the board of education vote in Port Jeff became contentious at times, especially on social media. Much of the angst can be traced to the possibility of decreasing revenue from property taxes as the district — along with Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village — work toward a likely settlement in a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s assessed property tax value on its Port Jeff power plant, which LIPA contends is over-assessed. The district gets a large chunk of its operating budget revenue as a result of housing the plant.

“I’m thrilled at the turnout,” Tidwell said. “I’m thrilled that the budget was passed, and I’m ready to move forward. Right now, I just want to heal the division in our community and I’ll work together to figure out how we move forward.”

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team.”

— Ryan Walker

Walker expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team,” he said. “I think we’re going to have an amazing board this time and we’re going to accomplish amazing things. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve the people of the Port Jefferson School District.”

Biedenkapp, Farina and Kronberg did not respond to requests for comment sent via email by press time.

Comsewogue’s board of education vote was a foregone conclusion. Board President John Swenning, incumbent Rick Rennard and first-time candidate Corey Prinz ran an uncontested race for three open seats.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve another three years on the board,” Rennard said, adding he was pleased to hear of the budget and bond approvals.

Swenning, a mainstay on the Comsewogue board since 2005, called the district an incredible place to live in a statement.

“As a board trustee I am honored to work with fantastic administrators, teachers and staff and to represent a very involved and appreciative community,” he said.

Prinz, a district resident since 2004 and a commercial banker at Bank United, said he was thrilled to see the support for the budget and bond and is looking forward to working with the district.

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