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Survey

Superintendent Gerard Poole speaks to residents about the survey results. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is trying to gauge its long-term future with community, teacher and student feedback.

The district has surveyed district residents to help determine which school functions are doing well and which need to be improved. This data was especially important, Wading River Elementary School Principal Lou Parrinello said, because of expectations over declining enrollment.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment,” Parrinello said. “This shows what we want to hold dear, what we want to expand and what we want to let go. We don’t want to make those decisions in isolation.”

That loss of students could then mean a loss of revenue for the school over a period of several years, along with shrinking class sizes and potentially less specialized electives available. Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district has already hosted forums with teachers and students of all grade levels.

“They’re putting it out there because the district is shrinking in enrollment.”

— Lou Parrinello

In a special focus group meeting Feb. 26, the district asked residents to present their own ideas for where the district should head in the next five years.

In the survey, close to 1,000 residents rated where the strongest and weakest elements of the district were. On the negative end, 47 percent of those surveyed said the cafeteria programs needed improvement. While the high school cafeteria remains as it is, the district has used funds from a bond passed in 2015 to create a new kitchen and cafeteria spaces in both the Wading River Elementary School and Albert G. Prodell Middle School. The district plans to renovate the cafeteria with the ongoing bond funds this summer.

A number of teachers, parents and even some students were present to speak about the issues they see with the school, with some noting a lack of proper communication with parents and students, especially over social media.

Karla Roberts, a fourth-grade teacher in the district, said the schools need to look toward standing out among the flock of other districts on Long Island. She was especially disappointed to learn how some seniors in the high school, because they were already at the mandated amount of class credits they needed to graduate, were coming in late during the school day and leaving early.

“It’s making sure all students have something, and [the school] should be tracking if students are in sports, clubs electives, or not,” Roberts said.

High school senior Katie Loscalzo said there is a disconnect between the guidance counselors and the students, especially in guaranteeing there is interest for students in varying classes. She noted she is currently in an Advanced Placement course with only seven students and is taking an elective with only four enrolled.

“We don’t have those guidance relationships,” the senior said.

The district conducted an enrollment study in 2015, which was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to its current enrollment of 2,264. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district has in the past pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of its ebbing enrollment figures. 

“We don’t have those guidance relationships.”

— Katie Loscalzo

This fact brings a call for strategic developments of new school budgets. At its Feb. 26 meeting, the district revealed a preliminary proposed budget of $75,952,416, approximately a million more than the current year’s budget of $74,776,072 and below the current year’s tax cap of 2.96 percent.

Also represented in the budget is a 3.69 percent drop in state aid funding, based on projections of the New York State budget proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

In the continuing work of the 2015 bond, the district outlined a number of projects for the upcoming summer, including renovating the high school theater lighting and dimming system, a full reconstruction of the main parking lot, a renovation and expansion of the existing kitchen and serving line and a reconfiguration of the office spaces within the center corridor. The board awarded bids to a number of contractors for that work at the Feb. 26 meeting.

A screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's website as it appeared Jan. 8.

By David Luces

Town of Smithtown officials are looking for input from the community on what they would like to see in a remodeled town website.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the redesign of the town’s website is long overdue.

“Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing,” Wehrheim said. “We hope this survey will give those who have suggestions or ideas the chance to share them with our web design team and later the community.”

Smithtown’s website was last updated eight years ago, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing.” 

— Ed Wehrheim

“One of the primary things I’ve wanted to see get done was the remodeling of the town’s website,” she said. “I spoke with our IT director and he agreed with the plans to update the website.”

When it came to decide how the town would update the website, Garguilo said the town board considered a few options, including WordPress and other web-design services. However, it decided to stay with CivicPlus, a web development business that specializes in building city and county e-government communication systems that currently maintains the website.

“We have worked with them for quite some time,” she said. “They offered to upgrade our current web page and we thought it would be more efficient.”

As part of the remodeling, the town has put out a survey for residents to complete by Jan. 11.

Kenneth Burke, the town’s IT director,   said the main goal of the survey is to see what residents like and don’t like in a new website.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website,” Burke said.

The community survey consists of 10 questions that ask respondents to answer how frequently they visit the town’s website, the ease of finding information, what pages they visit the most often and what features they would like to see included in the redesign. There is also a section where residents can give written answers to any special needs they have regarding webpage browsing and suggested changes.

He estimated the redesign would be approximately a six-month project and hopes to roll out the new website in June.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website.”

—Kenneth Burke

The town has also reached out to local online groups, such as Smithtown Moms, to get their opinions on a new website. Once the final results of the survey come in, town employees will start data mining and compiling content for the new website.

Garguilo said the content creation side of the new website should take about four to five months to be completed because of back-end organizing, which includes record transfers and archival data. The new interface should take less time to be completed.

“We are working on a 30-second teaser video for the Town of Smithtown,” the town spokesperson said. “It will be like an about us video right off the bat when you get on the website.”

Garguilo said that the video will include  important facts and pictures of landmarks to showcase the town.

Another plan the town has is the creation of an app that can work in conjunction with the new website.

“Lets just say a resident wanted to report something — they can go to the app and fill out a form — and that’ll be sent right to our system,” Garguilo said. “This will lead to faster results and hopefully residents are happier.”

To participate, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/SmithtownWebsiteRedesign through Jan. 11.

Citizen's Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, on left, shows the decrease in single-use plastic bags (in blue) from a survey done in December 2017 to one done in April 2018. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though there are still people in Suffolk County who regularly kick themselves for forgetting to bring their reusable bags into stores, a newly-released survey says the law that enforces a five-cent per bag fee has so far been effective.

Legislature to vote on statewide ban of plastic bags

By Desirée Keegan

At the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a bill to ban single-use plastic bags across the state April 23, which would begin in January 2019 if passed. The three-page bill, introduced by the governor a day after Earth Day, comes a little more than a year after he blocked a 5-cent surcharge that New York City had sought to place on plastic bags.

Cuomo described the measure as an effort to counteract the “blight of plastic bags” that is taking “a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources,” he said in a statement.

Seeking re-election for a third term in the fall, Cuomo then quoted an adage: “We did not inherit the Earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children.”

If the bill were to pass, New York would join California, which approved a statewide ban of plastic bags in 2016. Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags; all of its counties have instituted bans.

But the measure faces an uncertain path in the Legislature, where leaders of the Assembly and the Senate had opposed the city’s bill. The measure would very likely face a stiffer challenge in the Republican-majority Senate.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, a variety of bags would be exempt from the ban, including those that contain raw meat, fish or poultry; bags sold in bulk; those used in bulk packages of fruit and dried goods; those used for deli products; newspaper bags; trash, food storage and garment bags; and takeout food bags. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation would also be allowed to exempt certain bags through regulations.

The news comes after advocates from across the state gathered the same day in Albany to hold Cuomo accountable for meeting his climate and clean energy commitments.

“Today, New Yorkers delivered a message to Governor Cuomo: Walk the talk on climate action; follow through on your words, because lasting change only happens through action and putting goals into law,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “New York has a remarkable opportunity to be an international leader on climate if, and only if, we embrace a future powered by renewables. The people of the state will continue to remind Governor Cuomo of this opportunity until he takes advantage of it.”

“And this is only in three months since the law passed,” Executive Director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito said to the Suffolk County Legislature’s Health Committee April 19. “This is a great success. Public behavior is changing.”

In November and December of last year, her environmental advocacy group conducted a study that showed 70 percent  of 20,000 Suffolk County shoppers surveyed left a store with a plastic, non-reusable bag in tow. Only 6 percent of customers surveyed used a reusable bag.

After a new survey of 6,000 people this month in 20 grocery stores throughout the county, just 30 percent of those surveyed bought plastic bags and 43 percent were now carrying reusable. Twenty-one percent of people shopping in those grocery stores decided not to take a bag.

“As we celebrate Earth Day it’s great to have news that the bag fee is effective, said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). “I know that there were concerns with adopting the bag law, but to see real, tangible results in such a short period of time, I think it’s very exciting.”

Ocean plastics have become a real concern to a number of environmental scientists and advocacy groups, and Esposito said the next goal is to see if there’s a way to reduce the use of other sources of plastic, like straws and utensil.

“Plastic is becoming a real threat to the environment,” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood schools research scientist and teacher, surveyed Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field in October 2017 and said the amount of plastics found in the water was extremely troubling.

“What we found at the Flax Pond in one square meter [was] 17 grams of microplastics, which are plastics under 5 millimeters [large],” Grella said. “In the entire shoreline of Flax Pond — over a mile of shoreline — we extrapolated there is about 400 pounds of plastic.”

The microplastics are from larger pieces that have eroded along the sea floor until they are smaller in size. They are often ingested by sea life, which not only endangers aquatic creatures but any creature who eat them, including people.

Spencer said that while a total ban on bags would have been more efficient, there was no way to get it passed by the Legislature.

“I think in order to get to this point after years of negotiation, the nickel offered a successful compromise,” Spencer said. “I think the law has worked so well because people don’t want their nickels going to the store.”

“By charging people 5 cents there seems to be a lot of people getting angry and agitated,” Grella said. “In all actuality, it isn’t as easy to put a 5-cent fee on paper or plastic.”

Despite the success, Esposito admitted there is a chance to eventually see an increase in purchased bag use as more people get used to the law.

“We do get concerned about people getting used to the nickel and just paying it,” she said. “So that’s why we need to keep up public education.”

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment is planning to conduct another survey in November and December to gather a much larger sample size, and survey more than just grocery stores.

June 19 date set for public referendum to sell Lake Avenue firehouse to fire department

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents have the opportunity to give their two cents on the effectiveness of their local fire rescue services.

The commissioners of St. James Fire District have launched an online survey asking for residents, taxpayers and business operators in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide their opinions on the fire rescue services’ strengths, weaknesses and what needs improvement. All responses are due by April 30.

Edward Springer Sr., chairman of the board, said the survey is part of an independent study being conducted by RFG Fire Rescue Consulting on the St. James Fire District. The study will take a statistical look at the fire district’s response to emergency calls, starting from when a call comes in, who responds, how long it takes units to arrive at the scene and the effectiveness of the response. Firefighters, emergency responders and staff for the fire district have been given a separate survey to complete to offer their insight.

“There were questions raised by the Village of the Head of the Harbor, who we contract with, and some community associations that has brought us to getting more details,” Springer said. “That way we can continue going forward with facts, rather than going forward with mistruths that have been posted on Facebook.”

It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?”
— Bill Kearney

At a Jan. 22 civic meeting, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the fire district’s proposed consolidation plan to operate all trucks out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters, saying it would significantly increase response times for his residents, possibly placing them at increased risk. The village has a three-year contract for fire and ambulance services with St. James Fire District that expires Dec. 31.

Bill Kearney, vice chairman of the board, said the St. James fire commissioners are looking at consolidation in hopes of improving emergency response times. Kearney said delays are often caused by a lack of available personnel, who are sometimes split between the two firehouses, and the commissioners believe consolidation could fix the issue.

The St. James Fire Department — the 501(c)(3) organization that represents volunteers in the fire and EMS services — currently has approximately 100 members, according to Springer. This is down from a record high of 125 members, and yet they are answering more calls for help than ever. In 2017, the St. James Fire District — made up of elected officials who are responsible for raising taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment that volunteers use — answered 1,423 emergency calls.

Kearney said the board hopes the study the consulting firm produces can provide insight on the operational value of the Route 25A firehouse. The district anticipates a preliminary draft of the study will be available for review mid-May.

“It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?” he asked.

The vice chairman estimated it costs the fire district approximately $80,000 a year for the Route 25A firehouse to cover utilities, maintenance and other basic costs.

It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters.”
—Marty Thompson

The future of the white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A, built in 1922, has been an ongoing issue of concern. The commissioners first announced their plans to sell off the building in August 2017. The St. James Fire Department was guaranteed first opportunity to purchase it back, based on its initial contract of sale with the fire district.

“It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters,” said Marty Thompson, president of the St. James Fire Department. “I would never want to see that building get knocked down. I honestly feel the best hope for that building is that the firefighters get it back.”

A tentative date of June 19 is set for the public referendum in which St. James taxpayers will be asked to approve the sale of the Route 25A firehouse from the fire district back to the fire department.

The department’s volunteer firefighters have already voted in favor of purchasing the building, according to Thompson, to maintain it as a landmark and for the community’s use. He assured the nonprofit organization can provide proper funding to provide for its upkeep.

If the referendum vote fails, he said the fire district could potentially close and shutter the firehouse entirely, give it to the county or state as excess property for their use, or sell it to the highest bidder.

“There are other interests out there who I am sure would like to rent or buy the building, maybe keep it the way it is,” Thompson said. “But I’ve seen that building there for so long. I don’t want to see anything else there.”

The online community survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CommunitySurveySJFD9JLKR6N. All responses are confidential, according to the fire district.

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AIMHighNY, the state’s survey for receiving public feedback on the Common Core Learning Standards, seems to be coming up short.

Board of education members from Huntington Union Free School District expressed frustration with the review system, which was felt across the North Shore this week, and said the survey did not give parents and educators enough space or time to voice their Common Core concerns.

Trustees said the review is specific and tedious, and that the section to submit opinions is “restrictive.”

Upon exploring the site, many of those claims don’t seem far-fetched.

There are more than 24 subsections of the review. At one point, the continual division of a topic into a smaller topic seems endless, and a user may need to go through more than five sections before they can write in their own comments. If a participant wanted to fill out the entire assessment, it would be no small feat — and that’s if time is on your side.

But that is not the case for AIMHighNY. The survey, which opened in October, ends in about two weeks. Schools have even said they are having multiple teachers work on one survey just to submit something.

With the amount of protesting against Common Core we’ve seen throughout New York State over the last few years, should there even be a deadline?

Perhaps like rolling admissions in college, rolling submissions in Common Core may work. Of course reviews need to be evaluated, but with the current public opinion of Common Core, it may be a good idea to continually check parents’ and educators’ suggestions and not limit their time to a four-week period.