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Port Jefferson Village

Port Jeff Army Navy on Main Street uptown will close at the end of August. Photo by Alex Petroski

Boarding the wrong train in 1939 might have put a damper on Joseph Sabatino’s day, but if he knew the series of events that would play out over the eight decades that followed, what he likely viewed as a
mistake would be more accurately depicted as destiny.

As his daughter Barbara Sabatino told it, her father was a pharmacist who saw a newspaper advertisement that a location of the Whelan’s Drug Store chain was for sale in Port Washington. She joked that her father must have confused his presidents, ending up on a train to Port Jefferson instead.

Barbara and Peter Sabatino, owners of Port Jeff Army Navy. Photo by Alex Petroski

It was his lucky day, because a storefront in the same building that currently houses Port Jeff Army Navy also
happened to have a Whelan’s location up for sale. He started his pharmacy at the site, eventually buying the building in 1958 with his brother Samuel. His children, Barbara and Peter, have owned the location since his death in 1977, operating as Port Jeff Army Navy since 1999, though the store underwent several transformations over its 80-year lifespan in the Sabatino family. Later this year, the location will embark on another transition, as Sabatino’s son and daughter plan to retire and close up shop. Barbara Sabatino, a Port Jeff Village resident, joked she and her brother, who lives in Port Jeff Station, are getting old and are ready for some relaxation and travel time.

“I always used to say, ‘We’re Madonna,’” she said. “You know how Madonna always used to reinvent herself? Well we’re just like Madonna, reinventing ourselves.”

Her father’s 1939 mistake had a lasting impact not only on his business, but also his personal life. Sabatino said her parents met when her mother Frances went on a trip to her family’s property in Coram, and before heading home on the train, as fate would have it, stopped for a soda at Whelan’s.

“If he didn’t come to Port Jefferson by accident, and if my grandfather didn’t own property out in Coram, [my parents] never would have met and we never would have been here,” Sabatino said. “This was a happy mistake.”

“You know how Madonna always used to reinvent herself? Well we’re just like Madonna, reinventing ourselves.”

— Barbara Sabatino

The Sabatino children were faced with a decision in 1999, though it was far from the first time, having transformed the pharmacy into a stationary store in prior years, and even adjusting the spelling of the name in decades past. Whelan’s Drug Store had to change to “Weylan’s” in the 1960s when the company decided to
require franchise owners to license the name for $100 a month, according to Sabatino. Her dad decided instead to flip the “h” in the sign over to a “y” and tweaked the order of the letters, allowing them to keep their vibrant neon signage and avoid the fee.

The opening of a couple of office supply stores nearby decimated the business, and Sabatino said she and her brother settled on becoming an Army Navy store because of a hole left in the market — Mac Snyder’s was a long-standing Army Navy store in downtown Port Jeff that closed a few years earlier. At their store, veterans and military aficionados could purchase ribbons and Army-Navy accessories, recover lost medals, buy uniforms and other items like firearms and camping gear.

“It was a natural draw with Peter being in the Navy for 11 years,” Barbara Sabatino said, adding that she used to shop at Mac Snyder’s and always found it a cool place to be. “Out of all of our incarnations, this was my favorite. It’s fun, and the customers are lovely.”

Both Sabatinos noted how special it was to be able to assist active and former military personnel in getting what they needed in the store, which also allowed them to interact with some of the country’s most upstanding and honorable citizens.

“After Barbara suggested the idea of an Army Navy store it brought back a lot of memories, and I said to her, ‘That’s a good idea, that’ll work,’” he said. “There’s a lot of people from Vietnam that are trying to replace all of the stuff they have, and we’re able to get the items in for them.”

Whelan’s Drug Store became Weylan’s drug store in the 60s when then-owner Joseph Sabatino decided to flip the ‘h’ in the name over rather than pay a licensing fee or remove the store’s iconic neon sign. Photo from Barbara Sabatino

At the public village board meeting in June — Barbara Sabatino is a regular fixture at these meetings — a village resident mentioned the pair’s impending retirement, currently slated for the end of August.

“If Barbara is happy, I’m happy,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said upon hearing the news, adding that she
wished her well.

Their impact on the community will be a lasting one. Sabatino said the store owners not only prospered in business during their time uptown, but also gave back to help those around them by helping neighborhood kids with homework, advocating successfully for a new park on Texaco Avenue in recent years and even supplying transportation to village events for uptown kids who wouldn’t have otherwise had a means to get there.

Sabatino shared a card a longtime customer sent to her and her brother when they heard the news.

“At first I was very upset to hear that you were closing because we’re not only losing the best store around, but also the friendliest and most helpful people out there,” the card said. “Port Jeff Army Navy’s goods, services and friendship will absolutely be missed. I am happy that you are retiring. You deserve to rest and be happy and enjoy your family and friends.”

This post was updated June 13.

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People arriving to this year’s Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire in Port Jefferson June 9 were greeted by robed Jedis from the Long Island Saber Guild flourishing with their lightsabers and a true-to-scale Hulkbuster costume as if straight from the screen of the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” movie. It was just the start to a day filled with the strange and the unique as makers from all across Long Island and beyond showed off their inventions and skills to interested guests.

The annual event, hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium, is a celebration of doers, dabblers or anybody who uses their own sweat, blood and tears to create or build something, even if it’s a little off the wall. New to this year’s fair was the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra, which used hollowed out carrots, gourds, cucumbers to play songs, such as The Beatles’ hit “Hey Jude.”

Several robotics teams from high schools across the county showed off creations, from Lego Mindstorms robots that could stop and reverse if it sensed an obstruction in front of it, to a huge shirt cannon from Smithtown High School’s Mechanical Bulls robotics team that fired t-shirts from the Port Jefferson Village Center all the way into Harborfront Park.

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) presented the explorium with a resolution commending its work in producing the event. At the same time three volunteers who worked with the explorium on the event received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for their work in the explorium’s museum. One of those young men, fourth-grader Greyson West, received the bronze reward for working between 26 and 49 hours at the museum.

“We earned the award by our age group and how many hours we participated in volunteering at the museum,” Greyson said. “It feels pretty good to receive it.”

An organizer of the event commended Greyson’s hard work.

“They work with the children, they worked with the community,” Carole Van-Duyn, the explorium’s museum program director said. “Our volunteers taught and engaged with the kids in several events and Greyson helped make it a great experience.”

 

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson Village taxpayers will have the opportunity to hear from the three candidates seeking seats on the board of trustees Tuesday,  June 12 at 7 p.m. in the Wayfarer room at Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101 East Broadway. The candidates at the event, hosted by The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, will give opening and closing statements and take part in a question-and-answer session.

The election will take place June 19 and will feature incumbents Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller as well as challenger Kathianne Snaden.

Costume maker Tom DePetrillo will return this year as the Marvel Comics Giant Hulkbuster. Photo from Angeline Judex

By Kyle Barr

Creativity, innovation, experimentation and a whole lot of fun are all on the menu as the Village of Port Jefferson gears up for the third annual Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire to be held on June 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Hosted by the nonprofit Long Island Explorium (formerly the Maritime Explorium) and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, the event will take place at the Explorium, all three floors of the Port Jefferson Village Center and spill out onto the adjacent Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park as makers from all over Long Island and beyond will come bringing robots, music, woodworking, metal sculptures and practically anything handmade to celebrate the exciting worlds of science, technology, engineering, music, art and math.

Last year the event drew more than 2,000 visitors who were able to experience everything from 3-D printing to flame belching metal sculptures. 

Ray Rumore with his robot ‘Volt’ at last year’s Mini Maker Faire. Photo from Chris Rumore

Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium in Port Jefferson, said she expects close to 60 “Makers” will be there for this year’s event. “At this event, people are able to explore new concepts and technologies, take [this knowledge] home with them and then dive into their own exploration and engagement to create their own maker experience,” Judex said in an email. “It transforms theory into reality. It excites, inspires and motivates the next generation to embrace STEM as a resource for innovative problem solving.”

New this year will be the Long Island Vegetable Orchestra featuring students from the Waldorf School in Garden City using carrots, squash and gourds as musical instruments and a visit from the Suffolk County Chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which will demonstrate how trades such as blacksmithing, inks and paints and naval shipbuilding technology have evolved over time. 

Returning this year will be costume maker Tom DePetrillo from Rhode Island-based Extreme Costumes who dazzled participants in last year’s Makers Faire with his burly Transformers Bumblebee costume. This year he will be bringing a to-scale HulkBuster Iron Man suit seen in the movies “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“People really enjoy the giant costumes,” said DePetrillo. 

The Hulkbuster costume took 10 months and approximately 1,600 man hours to complete. DePetrillo tours all over the world with his giant designs as a full-time job. It enables him to keep making and creating. “It allows me to have an outlet for my creative energy,” he said. “I do this because I love doing it.”

Father and son team Chris and Ray Rumore have been attending the Mini Maker Faire every year since its inception. Ray Rumore got involved with 3-D printing, crafting and robotics, and created a robot named “Volt,” a companion robot who can follow him around and live stream events with his on-board camera.

“Ray enjoys three main things about Maker Faires — they allow him the opportunity to encourage others to join the fun and become a Maker, the opportunity to meet other Makers and learning about their creations and the food,” the elder Rumore said in an email.

The event is sponsored in part by Stony Brook University, BASF Chemical Company, Capital One, Riverhead Building Supplies and Suffolk County Community College.

The Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire will be held on June 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, at the Maritime Explorium, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson. Tickets, which are $10 per person, are available online at www.easternlongislandmakerfaire.com and at the door. Parking will be available around the Village of Port Jefferson, Off Street Parking, Brookhaven Town Lot as well as Spring Street. The Port Jeff Jitney will be running during the day. For further information, please call 631-331-3277.

Port Jefferson code Chief Wally Tomaszewski. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village fixture for more than 35 years is saying goodbye to his role in the community.

Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski is retiring, according to an announcement by Mayor Margot Garant during a public Village Board meeting June 4.

“Chief Tomaszewski came in and he signed a retirement letter today with us,” Garant said. “He is going to be retiring, receiving his compensation for the month of June, and we will be searching for a new chief of the bureau. There’s a lot of change in the department in terms of technology, things that have to happen, and chief, we wish him well. We want to recognize him and retire him in this community for the public service he has provided for us for 35 years. And we mean that sincerely.”

Garant made the announcement when asked by a resident what was going on, as rumors had begun swirling on social media over the weekend about Tomaszewski’s job status and the story behind the departure.

Tomaszewski did not respond to a request for comment.

Community members packed Village Hall for the June meeting to discuss a host of issues, but the larger than normal turnout was likely largely a reflection on rumors about the chief.

“We spoke about this Friday, we shook hands, he came in today and signed his letter,” Garant said.

Several attendees spoke in support of Tomaszewski and asked the board to reconsider accepting the letter.

“I moved here about 50 years ago, and the reason we did was because this was a personal village,” resident Naomi Solo said. “It was a special village, and I think the person that really epitomizes this, besides yourself, was Wally. The loss of Wally is devastating.”

The chief was known for being on call for residents, be it to address noise complaints in the middle of the night or assist the Suffolk County Police Department in certain cases.

“I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a replacement that’s equivalent to him,” resident Marge McCuen said.

Deputy Code Chief Fred Leute will serve as the acting chief, according to Garant.

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James Marci sits in his completed Eagle Scout project with his mom, Christine Napolitano, at Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson June 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

Like the Iron Throne in Westeros, Port Jefferson Village now has a roughly seven-feet-tall by four-feet-wide seat that will make any visitors at Harborfront Park feel like royalty. James Marci, 16, a Port Jefferson High School student and member of Boy Scout Troop 454, was tasked in approaching his Eagle Scout Service Project with demonstrating leadership of others while completing something to benefit his community. After months of work, planning and coordination, the harborside park now features what Marci is calling #PJBigChair.

Marci said he wanted to build a landmark for Port Jeff, something that would attract both tourists and locals to visit and take photos on and share on social media using the hashtag, which is actually painted on the massive blue seat in white lettering. He said he got the idea from visiting Cape Cod and heard from others who had visited Vermont and seen something similar in public spaces. The big chair — made out of Douglas fir wood discounted by Riverhead Building Supply — was dropped off at the park June 2 and will be officially permanently installed on the gravel path overlooking the harbor behind the Long Island Explorium and near The Shipbuilder’s Monument June 8. Interested sitters won’t need exact coordinates to locate it though.

James Marci, in chair on the right, sits on his completed Eagle Scout project at Harborfront Park, joined by, from left, his mom, Christine Napolitano, Trustee Larry LaPointe, Mayor Margot Garant, Trustee Bruce D’Abramo and Trustee Stan Loucks. Photo by Bethanie Rizzo

“It’s something that brings people together, and even the finished product will bring people together through pictures, that’s something I like to advocate for,” Marci said. “All of the connections you have to make it’s truly a matter of coordination, because that’s what it says for the requirement, you have to plan and execute, and it’s more of the planning than the execution that makes it a great project. If everything runs smoothly that’s what makes it a spectacle to see, just everything came together. Someone who’s going to come from Connecticut or the middle of the Island is going to see this and is going to wonder how it got here. It’s a story.”

Marci’s mom, Christine Napolitano, said she and her son love the area and have fostered a nice relationship with Village Mayor Margot Garant over the years. She said her son interviewed Garant as a first-grader and wrote her a letter as part of a community project.

“To see him use tools was kind of fun for me, because he now knows how to use a lot of things I don’t know how to use,” Napolitano said. “Letting him be in charge of something was very hard because moms always do everything, but he did it all by himself and I’m very proud of him.”

Marci said the primer and stain for the wood were donated by Benjamin Moore in Port Jefferson Station, and a couple of the employees who helped him out were former Scouts. He said his uncle — Napolitano’s brother — and Village Trustee Stan Loucks and the rest of the board helped him in coordinating and completing the project. He also thanked the family of Bethanie Rizzo, Troop 454 Committee Chair, who allowed him to store the chair in her garage while it was being completed and assisted in transporting it to the park.

“The work that it takes to become an Eagle Scout is just remarkable,” Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said. “I think that the Boy Scouts of America are really training some leaders of tomorrow and it’s not easy to get through all of the steps. I’m just so proud of this boy, and I wish him well.”

This post was updated June 12 to correct that Riverhead Building Supply provided a discount and did not donate the wood, and to amend Christine Napolitano’s input.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

Grass is green, water is wet and Port Jefferson Village doesn’t quite have enough parking to accommodate all of the demand.

To try to alleviate one of the village’s longest standing criticisms, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is taking another shot at a valet parking program to make finding a spot easier while patronizing downtown stores and restaurants on the weekends. The program was first instituted in July 2017 on an experimental basis, with cars dropped off in the Meadow parking lot, located south of Roessner Lane, west of Main Street and east of Barnum Avenue, adjacent to Rocketship Park. The increased traffic entering and exiting the parking lot and obstruction of spaces used for visitors of the nearby restaurants were among the complaints resulting from last year’s program that were tweaked for 2018.

Valet parking program
  • $7 per car
  • drop off at Village Hall
  • cars to be parked at Port Jefferson High School
  • service offered Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day

“Last year’s location was less than optimal, in that cars were being staged on a very busy entrance to our busiest parking lot,” said Kevin Wood, parking administrator for the village, who will receive regular reports from BID representatives on the execution of the program throughout the summer. “The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

This year, the drop-off point will be the parking lot behind Village Hall on West Broadway. The building has separate driveways for entering and exiting.

“The location at Village Hall is a very natural setting for staging cars with an entrance and an exit and a semi-circle flow,” he said.

The program will still cost users $7 but will only be offered from 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Last year Sunday hours were also available. As was the arrangement last year, the cars will be driven by valets from the staging area to Port Jefferson High School, where they will be parked.

An agreement between the BID and Port Jefferson School District remains in place, in which the valet company, Advanced Parking Service, will take 75 percent of profits, leaving the remaining 25 percent to be split evenly between the village and school district. The BID supplied an upfront investment to get the program going for 2018. BID President Tom Schafer said the organization determined it would need about 120 cars to use the service daily to cover the cost of five employees for the company, and anything more than 120 would result in the program turning a profit.

“The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

— Kevin Wood

Schafer said he and the BID’s members were glad to hear the program would be given another opportunity with a full season and with what all stakeholders view as a more practical staging area. Port Jeff’s board of trustees approved the use of the Village Hall lot during a meeting May 21. Multiple meetings took place between the end of the program last year and its ultimate renewal between representatives of the BID, Wood and village elected officials to work out some of the issues that arose in 2017.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if not for the fact that we have Kevin Wood as our parking administrator,” Mayor Margot Garant said during a May 7 board meeting.

Schafer also touted Wood’s involvement as an asset this time around.

“Everyone’s ecstatic,” Schafer said of the BID members. “Kevin Wood has been a great help. He understands that there’s just too many cars.”

The village has also approved hiring two parking ambassadors for this summer, who will be tasked with occupying lots to help parkers use meters, the village’s parking specific mobile phone application and to direct them to available spaces.

The continuation of the project will ultimately be determined by the village, which included a provision in its resolution to terminate the program “at any time or for any reason.”

Valet parking will be available in Port Jeff from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Rob Gitto of The Gitto Group, representative from the Long Island Rail Road Ryan Attard, grant writer Nicole Christian, Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, Leg. Kara Hahn, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, village Mayor Margot Garant, village Trustee Larry LaPointe, Trustee Bruce Miller, and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright during a groundbreaking for an upper Port Jefferson revitalization project May 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

After years of planning upper Port’s redevelopment to deal with blighted buildings, traffic and a lack of parking space, Port Jefferson Village officials are finally ready to say, “Don’t believe me, just watch.”

As part of the village’s revitalization efforts — a project dubbed “Uptown Funk” — village, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town officials held a groundbreaking ceremony May 9 for a new parking lot in the space at the corner of Texaco Avenue and Linden Place. The lot should allow for another 74 parking spaces, largely for Long Island Rail Road commuters using the Port Jefferson train station.

“The village is thrilled to partner with the county, Empire State Development and the Long Island Rail Road on improvements in upper Port to enhance pedestrian connectivity and safety, revitalize blighted commercial properties, and promote safe living and economic growth,” Mayor Margot Garant said.

The revitalization of upper Port is part of the Connect LI project of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The plan behind the initiative is to use both existing and new public transportation options to connect people to commercial centers and main streets as in Port Jefferson.

“This is a model of what we need to be doing around the region,” Bellone said. “My administration is committed to providing funding to assist our towns and villages with these revitalization projects. The project we broke ground on today is a major step in continuing our efforts to make Suffolk County a great place to live, work and raise a family.”

Phase one of the project will cost $850,000 to be funded by grants from the county’s Jumpstart program and other financial contributions. Along with the parking lot the first phase of the project will improve sidewalks that lead to the train station from The Hills at Port Jefferson apartment complex.

Phase two of the project will include a renovation of the north, east and south LIRR parking lots with new pavement, lighting and plaza entryway.

Phase three will create “Station Street,” a new one-way road that will provide access to the new renovated parking lots. Garant said the road should also reduce congestion on Main Street and allow for smoother access into the train station parking lots.

Part of the hope for the project is that students coming from Stony Brook University and other commuters will help create interest in the area, which in turn should incentivize businesses to invest in upper Port and remedy the blighted property seen on Main Street, according to Garant.

“We want feet on the street,” Garant said.

Last year Nicole Christian, a consultant at law firm HB Solutions and grant writer for the village, helped apply for several grants for the Uptown Funk project. Last year Port Jefferson Village was awarded $250,000 in Jumpstart money to start plans on the project and the village also applied for a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation, a state entity, for $500,000.

“Empire State Development is excited to support this roadway realignment that will foster this transit-oriented development and revitalize this community to create a true linkage from upper Port Jefferson to the waterfront,” Howard Zemsky, ESD president, said in an email.

Part of the purpose of the new parking lot is also to help facilitate foot traffic from The Hills at Port Jefferson to the train station across the street. “All of the apartments in two separate buildings, which were completed in 2016, have already been rented out and there is already a long wait list to get in,” said Tony Gitto of The Gitto Group, the real estate development company behind development of the apartment complex, during the event.

The Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson Village worked with Gitto and his company to create the two-building complex. To incentivize the creation of the apartment complex, Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, an arm of municipalities dedicated to funding projects to stimulate job creation and economic growth, gave Gitto and his company sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement.

Gitto said that they provided money toward the funding of the new parking lot.

“They hired the contractors and we made a financial contribution,” Gitto said.

This post was updated May 15.

2018 BOE candidates Ryan Biedenkapp, Mia Farina, Jason Kronberg, René Tidwell, Tracy Zamek and Ryan Walker. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Candidates for Port Jefferson School District’s board of education have thrown themselves into the world of public service at a tumultuous time for the district and education more broadly. To better inform voters about the positions of the six candidates vying for three trustee seats prior to heading to the polls May 15, each was asked to provide answers to the same  questions.

Candidate Mia Farina answered the questions during a phone interview while the other five chose to respond via email. Their answers to the questions, or answers in part, are provided below in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

If the district loses revenue as a result of a LIPA settlement, how can the BOE scale down the budget without doing too much harm to existing programs?

There is the possibility of losing property tax revenue as a legal battle plays out between Port Jefferson Village, the school district and Long Island Power Authority, which has a plant in the village. The utility company contends Town of Brookhaven  overassessed and is seeking to reduce the assessment. The district receives about half of the revenue in its budget from taxes paid by LIPA based on the plant’s assessment.

The village and Brookhaven have publicly stated a settlement is on the horizon, the result of which will likely reduce the plant’s assessment, though few details have been shared. The district has publicized a plan for the budget should an official settlement be reached in time to impact the 2018-19 school year, with
proposed cuts to instrument rental availability, textbooks, athletic teams, clubs and overnight field trips, to name a few.

Budget highlights
  • $44,945,812 for total operating budget
  • 3.72 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 2.23 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs
  • Second proposition on ballot to release capital reserves for roof repairs
  • Vote May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Ryan Biedenkapp: “There will need to be a scaling down of nonmandated costs by looking to trim where student participation fails to justify the cost. An increase in taxes combined with increased community participation in seeking alternative funding sources will also be required. Maintaining the academic integrity of Port Jefferson schools should be the guiding principle when deciding where reductions will occur.”

Mia Farina: “There’s actually grants out there — privately — [like] music grants that actually [pay for] musical instruments and pay for the maintenance of those instruments, so that alone would cover that lost revenue. I went to public school, and we did fundraisers. We could sponsor events. We possibly may lose revenue. If we could do anything to bring that back by having the community involved … ”

Jason Kronberg: “Depending on how severe the loss of revenue is, I’d like to hold forums with the community to come up with potential cuts to the budget.”

René Tidwell: “As a member of the BOE, I will work diligently to ensure the high standards the district has set for its instructional programs remain in place. I believe the district needs to form a Citizens Advisory Committee immediately, with the objective to assess the impact of the loss of LIPA revenue under various scenarios (such as 50 percent reduction of revenue, reduction on assessment or reduction on payments, etc.).”

Tracy Zamek: “The board can scale down the budget by looking at budget trends, participation rates, enrollment patterns and non-mandated costs. However, a combination of program adjustments and increased taxes will be necessary in order to absorb the significant loss of revenue. The community will once again be asked to provide input through a values survey and community forum response initiative. Understandably, not everyone is going to agree on every priority, but the most important thing to remember is our students come first.”

Ryan Walker: “Several suggestions that have been successful in other districts come to mind, such as encouraging increased philanthropic contributions, seeking out unused state and federal financial aid
opportunities and grant writing. The first thing to consider is what must the district have in order to maintain the high quality of education that makes families chose to move to Port Jefferson.”

Do you believe security officers and/or educators should be armed on school campuses?

Security in schools is never far from district’s and parent’s minds, though this has been particularly true in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, which left 17 dead. Neighboring districts have moved to employ armed security personnel, while some participated in the national discourse through walkouts.

Biedenkapp: “I don’t believe in arming teachers, ever. The idea of having an armed security person inside our schools is one that gives me pause. The retention of a single, possibly two, retired officers, who also was/were licensed air marshal that was carrying [a] concealed [weapon] at the front of the school at the vestibule or outside the school on the perimeter is something that I would be inclined to support.”

Farina: “Absolutely not. Their job is to educate, not to have the responsibility of a [carrying] firearms. Security officers, I believe, should be armed if they’re fully capable of being armed, meaning training is a huge priority.”

Kronberg: “Weapons-trained security can be an essential layer of protection for our schools. There is no definitive study on the effectiveness of this form of protection, but in my opinion it is something, with proper training, that can help prevent and deter violence. Arming teachers in schools is an irresponsible idea.”

Tidwell: “I believe the answer to this question is best answered by the community itself, and as a BOE member, I would recommend a town hall meeting to listen to the community’s ideas and concerns regarding security for our facilities.”

Potential cuts pending LIPA settlement
  • Reduction of rental of music instruments for students ($12,000) Reduction in equipment ($18,000)
  • Reduction of textbooks ($15,000)
  • Reduction of 6 budgeted sports teams based upon student interest ($37,000)
  • Reduction of 6 extra curricular clubs based upon student interest ($18,000) Elimination of overnight/long distance field trips (Busing/Chaperons) ($18,000)
  • Reduction in Board of Education organizational dues ($2,000)
  • Reduction in District Community Printing/Mailings (Newsletters/Calendars) ($10,000)

Walker: “I worked in two school districts as a nationally certified School Resource Officer for the New York State Police Department. At first, residents were hesitant to have a police officer in full uniform, which included a gun, in the schools. Resident hesitation swiftly dissipated as I worked to build a positive collaborative relationship with students, families, administration, teachers and staff.”

Zamek: “I absolutely do not support the idea of having teachers armed in schools. Guns do not belong inside our schools. However, I would welcome a village and community discussion about having professional armed security guards on the outside of schools, especially at arrival [and] dismissal and on the perimeter of fields during recess.”

Do you think BOE communication and transparency with taxpayers can be improved, and if so, how would you do it?

The district and board have been criticized by members of the community for a lack of transparency and for their communication methods on issues, like how the district informed parents of a social media threat made by a student in February long after it was received and via email instead of a robocall.

Biedenkapp: “We can absolutely improve communication with all stakeholders, as well as our transparency. With respect to the taxpayers the district Facebook page should be utilized to give a brief synopsis of each BOE meeting, along with the live video of the meeting and quick links to any pertinent web pages. The school’s web page is rather cumbersome, but design of a new website would be fiscally irresponsible at this time. Residents should have an ability to have their phone number added to the school robocall list.”

Farina: “I think there’s always room for improvement in any type of communication whatsoever. I haven’t really had an issue [with] school communication because I’m very active. … I would ask the community for ideas on how they would want to be notified. Who’s not getting information that wants information? How do you get your information?”

Kronberg: “Communication between the board and community, although strong in many ways, can always be improved. I’m excited for the ‘super team’ approach arrived at by the superintendent for this fall [which brings community members from different sectors together to come up with ideas to solve problems]. While the meetings are online and available, it may be a good idea to provide a question and answer email session with board members, where community members can write in and receive answers to specific questions.”

Tidwell: “I believe there are significant gaps in the BOE’s communication process with all the district’s stakeholders. I would establish a telephone communication protocol that includes all district taxpayers — not just the parents of children attending the district’s schools. I would ensure that taxpayers who currently do not utilize the internet or social media are informed of upcoming BOE events in a timely manner. I propose utilizing cellphone alert applications to remind residents of upcoming meetings, important announcements, etc., all of which could have ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ choices for all residents.”

Walker: “The current way of disseminating information is adequate for those with children attending schools in the district. However, everyone else must seek out information by checking the district’s web page on a daily basis to make sure they didn’t miss anything important. Printed newsletter mailings to residents are infrequent, costly and not always timely. All residents should have an opportunity to register their email addresses with the school to have the same information sent to them as parents of school children. Board members should make themselves more available to attend public functions, have face-to-face interactions with residents.”

Zamek: “There needs to be a greater emphasis on enrolling every community member on our connect-ed phone, text and email system. I have already started to improve communication between the school and village officials by creating a direct line of communication between the two offices. The school now informs the mayor’s office monthly concerning school board meeting dates and times and provides an agenda.”

By Alex Petroski

Who knew walking could do so much good.

The Fortunato Breast Health Center, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson’s arm dedicated to treatment of breast cancer, played host to Families Walk for Hope, a fundraising event May 5 featuring a five-mile walk through Port Jefferson and Belle Terre villages. The event raised more than $81,000 for the center as of midday May 7. To donate to the center, visit familieswalkforhope.kintera.org.

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