Authors Posts by Barbara Donlon

Barbara Donlon


A 16-year-old Miller Place resident was killed after being struck by a car on Route 25A on Tuesday night.

John Luke, a junior at Miller Place High School, was crossing the four-lane highway at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road when he was hit by a 2015 Chevrolet SUV. The driver, a 35-year-old Farmingville man, was traveling westbound on Route 25A at 11:30 p.m. when the accident occurred.

Luke was transported to John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, where he was pronounced dead. The driver was transported to St. Charles Hospital, also in Port Jefferson, where he was treated for trauma and released.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check and Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct detectives continue to investigate the incident. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

On Wednesday morning, district Superintendent Marianne Higuera, released a statement.

“We are deeply saddened over the loss of a student member of the Miller Place High School Junior Class in a tragic accident Tuesday evening,” she said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the student’s family and friends during this heartbreaking time for the Miller Place community.”

The district also said it is providing resources including grief counselors and support groups for students and staff.

A member of Luke’s family could not be reached for comment.

Sunken Meadow State Park Director Jeffrey J. Mason meets Smithtown West High School's Rachel Gladstone to review plans for the Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids. Photo from Allison Gayne

A Smithtown West High School junior is going the extra mile and hosting a recycling project in the form of a 5-kilometer race at Sunken Meadow State Park in June to promote a greener mindset across Long Island.

Rachel Gladstone, 17, has arranged the first ever Sunken Meadow Recycling Project 5K Race and 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at Sunken Meadow State Park as her community project for the Girl Scout Gold Award she is working toward.

“I wanted to do something for the community at Sunken Meadow [State Park],” Gladstone said in a phone interview. “I really wanted to do something big and worthwhile.”

The cross-country runner said the idea came to her while passing through the park and seeing just how many recyclables were being thrown into the trash. She coupled that knowledge with knowing the park hosts several races, and let the two notions work together to form her own unique project.

“Every time I go there, I see trash cans always full to the top with bottles,” Gladstone said.

Gladstone said one of her biggest goals is to take the money raised at the run and buy recycling bins to place at various locations throughout the 1288-acre park and to also help promote recycling behavior by taking extra measures to make the bins visible to the public.

The teen said she is very big into environmental science and recycling, and she hopes to study it at the college level once she graduates form high school. Her mom, Ellyn Gladstone, said her daughter has been interested in recycling since an early age and she is happy to see her putting this project together.

The Gold Award that Gladstone is working so hard toward is the highest achievement in girl scouting, she said. It is a seven-step project that challenges the scout to change the world, and requires a minimum 80 hours of work — something Gladstone is sure to surpass as she continues to organize and promote the race.

According to one of Gladstone’s troop leaders, Paula Rybacki, the high school student has achieved all the major awards since becoming a girl scout in elementary school and the project she is working on is one of the biggest she has seen.

“This project is very different,” Rybacki said. “I’m really proud of her.”

Jeffrey Mason, the park director at Sunken Meadow State Park, said he was approached by Gladstone, who was hoping to make a difference, and he quickly got on board with the idea as he understands the six bins the park has now is not enough.

“We’re going to put them out in key locations and find the best fit where they get utilized,” Mason said. “We are going to start out small, the more people see, the more education.”

The event will kick off on June 13 with its 1/2 Mile Fun Run for Kids at 9:15 a.m. followed by the 5-kilometer run at 10 a.m. An award ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. to recognize top overall males and females in various age groups.

Race participants can take advantage of an early bird special entry fee of $20 until May 1. After that the fee is $25 until the day before the race. On the day of the race, runners will pay $30 to participate.

Smithtown has been doing its part to increase the frequency and accessibility of recycling, recently inking a deal with several neighboring municipalities to bring single-stream recycling to residents across the Island.

The various deals help Smithtown team up with other communities to share resources, making it easier for residents to recycle in one bin and have the items transferred at a minimal cost.

The town has already linked up with Brookhaven, the incorporated villages of Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken, to name a few.

And as the race approaches, Gladstone said she hopes this is just the beginning of a greater shift in recycling across the Island. She said she would like to hold a similar event annually at parks across Long Island to help promote recycling.

“I realize I’m not too young to make a difference,” Gladstone said. “This is just the beginning.”

Michele Martines smiles with her son Christian, 21, prior his heart transplant at Westchester Medical Center on Saturday. Photo from Michele Martines

A call at 11:47 p.m. last Friday changed the life of a 21-year-old Greenlawn man and his family for the better. On the other end of the line was a heart.

With tears of joy streaming down her face, Michele Martines gracefully accepted the heart on behalf of her son, Christian Siems, who was in desperate need of a transplant after suffering from congestive heart failure as a result of a genetic disease.

“We packed everything; we were running around scared trying to call people,” Martines said describing the moments after finding out her son would be getting a new heart.

Martines said she was overwhelmed with emotion as the moment she had been waiting for happened. She was happy and scared for her son, but she said he was ready.

“He was ready to go, ready to go, ready to go,” Martines said. “He wanted the heart.”

The quest for a new heart began on June 28, 2012, when Siems tried to donate blood at school. A nurse noticed he had an irregular heartbeat and suggested he see a doctor. His mom took him to the pediatrician, who suggested he see a cardiologist.

After having an echocardiogram, a test used to see how the heart is beating and pumping blood, he had to undergo an immediate test that showed his heart was functioning at less than 20 percent capacity. Doctors had to install a defibrillator, which delivers a dose of electrical energy to the heart, because Siems was at risk of cardiac arrest.

The condition was manageable with medication until last September, when Martines noticed something wasn’t right with her son.

“His heart started to fail,” Martines said.

Doctors found 80 pounds of fluid in his body as a result of congestive heart failure. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital and then airlifted to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where he went into severe cardiac arrest.

“He was dying,” his mom said.

Siems underwent surgery and was living because a machine and a mechanical device helped his heart beat, Martines said.

Finally, in November, he was well enough to come home and his mom stepped in to tend to him as they patiently waited for a heart. While he was a priority on the donor list, some people can wait as long as 20 years, according to Siems’ doctor Alan Gass, the family’s cardiologist.

Gass said Siems was in need of a transplant and was lucky his wait was just months instead of years. Another factor helping the young man with his condition was his age, the doctor said.

“Young people can compensate well, even though they are getting worse quicker,” Gass said.

But while Siems was able to compensate, young people fall apart quickly, and his heart was deteriorating even though he was being treated for his condition. The need for a heart was vital.

On Saturday, just 12 hours after appearing at a press conference with County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in an effort to promote organ donation, Siems received the call that a heart was ready for him.

The family got into the car to drive to the hospital in Valhalla and anxiously waited for the surgery. At 7 a.m., the family said their goodbyes as Siems was wheeled off to get the heart he had been desperately waiting for.

While her son was getting prepped for the surgery, Martines was pacing back and forth, and ultimately she came in contact with the doctors who had her son’s new heart in a cooler. The small amount of doubt she had disappeared, as she said she knew her son was going to be just fine.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It made it real that it was really happening.”

After a few minor complications and 14 hours in surgery, Siems’ new heart was in his chest and ready to go. And while he was unable to speak following his surgery, he used a pen and paper to let his loved ones and doctor know he was doing just fine.

“The best I felt in five years,” the white piece of paper read. The family teared up at the note. Siems’ dad, Gerald “Gerry” Siems, who was also a heart transplant recipient, died in 2013.

The young man is expected to stay in the hospital for roughly two weeks, according to Gass. In a few weeks, he will be able to return to a normal life, which entails playing sports and doing what he loves.

While Siems’ story ended well, the wait for organ donations may be far too long for some people. According to LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organ donor network, roughly 10,000 New Yorkers are waiting for various organ donations at any given time. On average, 18 people die every day while waiting for organ transplants in the U.S., according to the group’s website.

One donor can save and improve the lives of 58 people through organ and tissue donation. To learn more about organ donation, visit

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

This year’s race for the Harborfields school board will be a contest.

Chris Kelly is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate
Chris Kelly is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate

With three openings, five people — including two incumbents — are hoping to snag a seat on the board come May 19.

Candidates Chris Kelly, Colleen Rappa, and Suzie Lustig are vying for one of the two seats. Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and board President Dr. Thomas McDonaugh are seeking re-election. Maggie Boba, a former school board member, resigned last year, leaving a vacant seat on the board.

Each term is for three years.

Chris Kelly
The father of three has lived in the area his entire life and has decided to make a run for one of the empty seats.

“I’m basically running because I want to help maximize Harborfields students’ entire experience, start to finish,” Kelly said. “I want to make sure we provide all the support parents and teachers need.”

If elected, Kelly said one of his biggest goals is to bring full-day kindergarten to the district, feeling that the district is in desperate need of a full-day program.

Colleen Rappa is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate
Colleen Rappa is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate

“I want to create the best education our children can get while being fiscally responsible,” Kelly said.

Colleen Rappa
The 18-year resident and mother of five sons decided to run for the board after observing what has been going on in education. She said she feels people are buying into the commercialization of education, and they don’t understand the real issues at heart. She also feels local control of education has been taken away from districts.

“People drink the Kool-Aid and think one size fits all,” Rappa said. “I want to change the way people think about education.”

The former attorney said she has an understanding of educational law and would bring that to the table if elected. She would also like to restore vocational programs and add classes relating to media to help students prepare for the future.

“I can connect the dots and I understand the stakeholders and I can come up with the methodology needed,” she said.

Donald Mastroianni is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate
Donald Mastroianni is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate

Donald Mastroianni
Mastroianni, a nine-year incumbent is seeking a fourth term in an effort to finish many of the things started while serving the community.

“I’m not running on any specific agenda,” Mastroianni said. “I believe in volunteerism.”

The father of three said he would like to finish what he started. He said he would like to see the issue of full-day kindergarten through and wants to help with the capital improvement bond referendum the community will be voting on in the fall, which, if approved, would allow the district to make
capital improvements and upgrades. He wants to continue to work on getting the full Gap Elimination Adjustment money — school aid money taken by the state in order to fill the state’s revenue gap — restored for the district.

“I’m very proud to be a member of this community,” Mastroianni said.

Dr. Thomas McDonagh

Dr. Thomas McDonagh is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate
Dr. Thomas McDonagh is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate

McDonagh is finishing up his second term and is currently the board’s president. The father of four announced he would be seeking re-election, as there are ongoing projects he’d like to see through.

“The board has done a good job at providing the educational experience that the district children deserve while recognizing the financial constraints,” McDonagh said.

Two projects McDonagh would like to continue to work on is the capital improvement bond referendum project and the full-day kindergarten evaluation study that the district will start working on next school year.

If re-elected, McDonagh said he would like to continue to find ways to enhance the experience of the children in the district.

Suzie Lustig
A mother of three and 22-year district resident has decided to make a run for the board after many years volunteering within the community.

Suzie Lustig is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate
Suzie Lustig is running for the Harborfields school board. Photo from the candidate

“I’ve seen the highs and struggles with the district over the last 15 years and I want to make sure our district stays as strong as possible,” Lustig said on why she is running.

If elected, Lustig said she would like to create a three- to five-year plan that will help the district stay on task if there are funding cuts in the future. She would also like to create an education committee to share ideas on curriculum, events and more and analyze what is going on in the district and community. She said she would also research ways to bring the district more revenue.

Cleanup project is next step in building transformation

The New York State Armory is slated to become the James D. Conte Community Center. File photo

Huntington’s town board took the next step needed to transform the New York State Armory in Huntington Station into the James D. Conte Community Center, approving a measure at a town board meeting last week to spend $437,000 to clean up large amounts of hazardous materials inside the building.

The board also voted on a resolution approving the conditions it must meet for a $1.5 million state grant that will be used to continue the building’s transformation into the center, named after the late state Assemblyman James Conte. The site is slated to become a multipurpose venue offering programs and services for both youth and adults.

When the town took over the building located on East 5th Street in Huntington Station, officials found asbestos and other unsafe material inside, town spokesperson A.J. Carter said in a phone interview this week.

“Before anything further can be done, the hazardous material has to be removed,”  he said.

Town board members approved a resolution authorizing Unitech Service Group, a Bay Shore business, for the remediation of hazardous material and other work needed done in order to move on to the next step of the transformation. The town’s director of purchasing received sealed bids and Unitech was chosen as the lowest responsible bidder for the project.

The work will include asbestos removal, waste disposal, temporary lighting, removal and recycling of mercury wall thermostats, installation of temporary waterproofing and more.

The center will serve as a collaborative venue for not-for-profits and other agencies to interact with town initiatives and agencies, such as the Huntington Business Incubator, Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, among others, to uplift the area and improve the lives of residents, according to a previous press release from the town.

A date for the project has not been set, as the town has not drawn up any contractual agreements, according to Carter. However, it is expected to begin later this year.

Police say incident is not criminal

A man in a New York Police Department jacket and two others in suits observe the brush next to North Country Road Middle School after a body was discovered there Monday morning. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Suffolk County police responded to a report of a dead body found in Miller Place within feet of the North Country Road Middle School early Monday morning.

Police did not provide any information on the body, which was found close to the building on Lower Rocky Point Road. Police described the incident as “noncriminal” in nature.

Cops received a call this morning reporting the discovery. The caller told police that the body was found just north of the school.

At 2:30 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a New York City Police Department jacket with a police patch was observed browsing the brush next to the school, flanked by other men dressed in suits.

No marked police vehicles were visible at the scene.

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Tom Brischler. Photo from Brischler

The Miller Place Board of Education has one seat open as incumbent Mike Unger decided he would not seek re-election. Three hopefuls, including former trustee Michael Manspeizer, who wasn’t re-elected to his seat last year, and newcomers Tom Brischler and Keith J. Frank,  are vying for the position. The election, as well as 2015-16 school year budget vote, will take place on May 19.

Unger, a six-year school board veteran, said in an email that he feels the board is in great shape and it’s a good time to hand it off.

Unger reflected on a number of achievements during his tenure, including construction of the administration building, addition of a full-day kindergarten program, adoption of long-term budgeting practices and naming Marianne Higuera as the district’s superintendent.

“I thank the residents, my board members and the staff of Miller Place for trusting me with their educational, administrative and financial issues,” Unger wrote. “I have truly enjoyed these last six years and will maintain a high level of interest in all things Miller Place. Go Panthers.”

Tom Brischler
The retired Sachem North High School English teacher is making a run for the board, as he hopes to become a facilitator between the board, the teachers and the community.
Brischler, 63, said he loved teaching and called it a way of life instead of a job. He feels education is in jeopardy, which is why he decided to make the run.
“I don’t want to see teaching and learning fall apart,” Brischler said.
He feels the relationship between local schools and the state of New York is at an all time low and he hopes that by gaining a seat on the board he can fix that.
If elected, Brischler said he would work on being a facilitator and making sure teacher’s jobs are manageable, as the Common Core Learning Standards and aligned standardized testing continues.
“I would like to see shared decision making come back to Miller Place,” Brischler said.
Brischler said is he is against Common Core and teacher evaluations being tied to the state tests.
Brischler and his wife, Janine, who is a teacher in the district, have lived in Miller Place for 10 years. He has two grown children.

Keith J. Frank is running for the Miller Place school board. Photo from the candidate
Keith J. Frank is running for the Miller Place school board. Photo from the candidate

Keith J. Frank
The father of three students in the district decided he would like to run in an effort to continue the great experience his children in the district have.
Frank, 50, said his children have had a tremendously positive experience in the district and he wants to get on the board to make sure the district continues that.
“My goals are to make sure [the] schools continue to run as well as they have with the proper balance to maintain programs for kids,” Frank said.
Frank is a partner at the Uniondale-based law firm, Forchelli, Curto, Deegan,
Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana, LLP, where he practices labor, employment and business law. He said he feels he has a lot to bring to the board with his skill set, especially as he has litigation experience.
“I think I bring a good perspective of understanding how a large organization runs,” Frank said. “I try to see both sides of all issues.”
Frank has lived in the district for 12 years with his wife, Kristina, a stay-at-home mom.

Michael Manspeizer is running for the Miller Place school board. Photo from the candidate
Michael Manspeizer is running for the Miller Place school board. Photo from the candidate

Michael Manspeizer
Manspeizer isn’t letting last year’s loss get him down, and the Cisco Systems program manager is running again.
“I really want to have a second chance to get a full term and have an impact on the community,” Manspeizer, 55, said.
The 10-year Miller Place resident was first elected to the board to finish a retiring member’s term in the spring of 2013.  He said he is running again because there are a lot of issues that need to be fixed.
“We face a lot of issues, a lot of issues that require thoughtful contemplation,” Manspeizer said.
With everything going on in the education world, Manspeizer said he hopes to help manage the change by being respectful to students, teachers and the taxpayers. He also wants to see more discussion among board members when making important decisions.
If elected, he would continue to comb through the budget to find better and more efficient ways to spend money, encourage more science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — programs in the district and work to enhance athletic programs.
Manspeizer, and his wife Doreen, a stay at home mom, have two daughters, one in college and one in high school.

School board trustees James Macomber and Doreen Feldmann at the board meeting on April 22. Photo by Barbara Donlon

The Middle Country school board unanimously adopted a nearly $236 million budget for the 2015-16 school year on April 22. The proposed budget will now head to a public vote this May.

“This is the first time in 10 years that we’re looking at stabilizing the district,” board President Karen Lessler said prior to the vote. “Ten years we’ve been through a reduction of funding by the state of New York.”

The president called the budget “solid,” as it keeps current programs intact, no excessing of staff will happen and it includes a continuation of the popular science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – know as STEM – program that has been a hit in the district. The spending plan is also tax levy increase cap compliant.

At the district’s budget presentation on April 1, Lessler announced the district would receive back roughly 60 percent of the Gap Elimination Adjustment money. The deduction in aid district is currently looking at a loss of $3.3 million, which is less than year’s past.

“I want to be clear that this is not extra money that we’re getting,” Lessler said at an April 1 meeting. “This is money that we’re entitled to have. It has been earmarked in our budget and there has been a reduction in this funding and finally this year we’re seeing some restoration of these funds.”

Under the plan, residents with an average home assessed at $2,200 will pay an extra $93.19 in taxes next year.

Like many other districts across the state, Middle Country is adding staff in order to comply with a state-mandated English as a second language initiative, which aims to help students whose first language is not English. The district will add two to three teachers to meet the mandate.

In regards to new programs, officials said the budget allocates funds for a science research program at the high school.

In an earlier presentation, Lessler said if the budget is voted down, sports, clubs, full-day kindergarten and the pre-kindergarten program are among items that could be negatively impacted.

A public hearing on the budget will be held on May 6 at the Newfield High School library. The budget vote and school board election will take place on May 19.

The school board race in Cold Spring Harbor looks to be a quiet one this year, as two incumbents will be running unopposed for the two open seats on the board.

The terms of board president Anthony Paolano and board member Ingrid Wright are up this year, and Paolano is most likely making his final run for re-election, the 15-year veteran said in a phone interview Tuesday. Wright was appointed to fill the term of school board member James Robins, who died earlier this year after losing a battle with cancer.

Anthony Paolano and Ingrid Wright. File photo by Karen Spehler
Anthony Paolano and Ingrid Wright. File photo by Karen Spehler

Anthony Paolano
The father of three, who has two kids that graduated from the district and one in high school, Paolano held the position of president three times during his tenure. He said this would most likely be his last run, as he is hoping to give other people in the community a chance to join the board.
Paolano said he decided to run again because he believes the district will see transitions in the administration and the board over the next few years. Before retiring, he would like to pass down his experience to many of the new board members still in their first terms.
“I believe with my experience I can help the other board members understand what we did in the past,” Paolano said.  “I want to give a little bit of my experience so as I move on, they understand the background.”
During his next three-year term, Paolano hopes to maintain smaller class sizes. He also hopes to resolve the ongoing negotiations with the teachers’ contract and keep the building infrastructure up to standards.

Ingrid Wright
The mother of three joined the board in February as Robins’ replacement.
The incumbent said she has always been an active parent and she thought she would be a good fit on the board, which is why she chose to take on the position. She is now running unopposed for her first full, three-year term.
“It’s an important role in the community and school district,” Wright said. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”
Wright plans on tackling many issues over the next three years, including managing funds and keeping the school budget within the tax levy increase cap, integrating technology, and promoting programs that help students become career-ready after graduation.
She feels her background in banking and finance is a great asset she brings to the board with regard to financial matters.

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Park View Elementary School. File photo

Kings Park Board of Education incumbents Charlie Leo and Diane Nally said they will seek another term on the board, while newcomer Kevin Johnston threw his hat into the race with hopes of snagging a seat after the May 19 election.

Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Charlie Leo
Leo, who serves on the board as vice president, said he was seeking another term because of a pleasant experience with the district, and to make time to tackle several different issues in another term.
One of his goals is to bring tablets into the school, which he said would reduce costs by going paperless. He also would like to work on reducing class size throughout the district, he said.
“I am running for re-election because I see that it matters,” Leo said. “Local government is very important and there is still work to be done.”
One of the heated issues that has been brought up at board meetings over the last few weeks has been the voice parents feel the board is lacking when it comes to standardized testing.
Leo said he fully supports the district parents’ right to opt their children out of the English Language Arts, science and math standardized tests that come from the state Education Department.
“It’s a parent’s choice to opt out,” Leo said.

Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Diane Nally
Nally has held the position of trustee for three years and is seeking re-election to take on some unfinished business, she said.
“I am seeking re-election because it has been a pleasure serving the Kings Park community as a trustee,” Nally said. “We have a great district and community.”
The trustee has been very vocal about the need for a librarian at the district’s two elementary schools. Currently, there is no librarian at Park View and Fort Salonga elementary schools and that is something Nally would like to change.
“There are many issues that still need to be resolved,” Nally said. “I would like to be a part of that. I have a lot to offer.”
Nally said there are many issues with public education and she would like to be an advocate for the district if re-elected. She also said she would like to tackle lowering class size on the elementary and secondary levels.

Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Kevin Johnston
Johnston is currently a teacher at Kings Park High School and is hoping to gain a seat on the board this summer.
The English teacher is retiring in June and said he is hoping to take his newfound time and put it toward helping the community by serving on the board.
“I still want to put out the best education while recognizing the ability of the community to fund this education,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he has inside experience that he can bring to the board as he not only lives in the community but also taught within the district for 34 years.
If elected, he said he would like to work on technology improvements and lowering class size. He also said he would look for other sources of funding including an alumni committee and grant funding.
“I understand the need to raise the high bar in education for college readiness,” Johnston said. “As a board member I feel I can have a stronger voice in promoting Kings Park education.”
The father of two Kings Park High School graduates said the district does a very good job educating students but he believes “we can do a better job if I’m on the school board.”