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Erika Karp

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Residents living in the Three Village community celebrate this Christian Avenue home as historic and charming. Photo by Phil Corso

Christian Avenue’s Sleight House is the newest historic landmark in Brookhaven Town.

The Town Board approved the late 19th-century home’s designation on March 26 after a public hearing on the matter.

The Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook and the Three Village Community Trust supported the decision.

“This circa 1880 home is a fine example of the architecture of the time and exemplifies the simple charm that attracts many of our Three Villages community,” civic President Shawn Nuzzo said in his letter to the board.

According to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, the home belonged to Charles Sleight, a North Carolina native and carpenter. The home remains occupied today.

“It’s just wonderful that the homeowners are so proud of this house,” Russell said.

Rocky Point school board trustee, John Lessler, middle, said he wanted to further review the financial effects of the exemption. File photo by Erika Karp

Green buildings in Rocky Point are no longer eligible for a school tax exemption.

Just three months after the Rocky Point school board granted a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — commonly known as LEED  — buildings tax exemption, the board voted to withdraw it.

Trustee Melissa Brown made the motion, which passed 4-1, shortly after 11 p.m. at the school board meeting on March 23. Trustee Scott Reh, who voted for the exemption in December, cast the single dissenting vote.

Brown said she made the motion in light of the “uncertainty of our financial future.”

It was the second time a motion was made to rescind the exemption.

The first time was in January, when Trustee John Lessler wanted to further review the financial ramifications the exemption would have on other taxpayers.

Lessler’s motion failed, 3-2, with him and Trustee Sean Callahan voting in the minority. The two trustees had originally voted against the tax break.

At the time, Lessler said he believed it was a property owner’s private decision to build to LEED standards and not one that should be subsidized by the school district.

The exemption applies to residential and commercial buildings.

“It’s a heavy implication in the future if more and more of these homes do it,” he said.

Depending on the level of LEED certification, property owners could have avoided paying school taxes for a certain number of years. New buildings with the highest level of LEED certification would have been exempt for the first six years, then would have received reduced taxes in the following four years.

The state enacted the LEED exemption program in 2012, authorizing local municipalities and school districts to grant the exemption. In 2013, Brookhaven Town crafted its own tax break based on the state initiative. The town has yet to receive any applications for the exemption, according to Jim Ryan, Brookhaven’s tax assessor.

Rocky Point would have been the first area school district to offer the exemption. Neighboring districts such as Miller Place, Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Middle Country have not filed to offer the exemption, according to The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Rocky Point resident Danny Andersen brought the program to the district’s attention last year and urged the board to adopt it. Andersen could not be reached for comment regarding the board’s decision.

Board President Susan Sullivan, who voted to adopt the exemption and to rescind it, said the board could revisit the matter in the future once it receives more information. The school district has granted tax exemptions in the past, including last year’s veterans tax exemption. Under that program, veterans get a certain reduction in their school taxes and other taxpayers make up the difference.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has feuded with the federal government about getting resources to New York during the coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Erika Karp

Just a few hours before the New York State Legislature approved the state’s 2015-16 budget, which includes a number of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform initiatives, school districts across the North Shore finally got to know how much aid they’ll receive next year.

The state aid runs showed districts getting more than they expected, since many budgeted around a 1.7 percent increase. Earlier this year, Cuomo (D) announced state aid would only increase by $377 million — a 1.7 percent increase from this year — if his state education reforms didn’t pass the Legislature.

And while not all of the initiatives passed, a few did, so the aid increased by about $1.4 billion statewide.

“This is a plan that keeps spending under 2 percent, reforms New York’s education bureaucracy, implements the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive disclosure laws for public officials and makes the largest investment in the upstate economy in a generation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

But not all were convinced the education initiatives would reform public schools.

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 amends the teacher evaluation system, changes the time to gain tenure from three to four years and creates two designations for failing schools. The hot-button item, though, was the teacher evaluation system.

Under the act, the State Education Department will develop a new teacher evaluation system by June 30, which school districts will then have to locally negotiate and enact by Nov. 15 in order to receive their allotted aid. The system also includes a component based on students’ performance on the state’s common core-aligned tests. The evaluation system was last changed in 2013.

In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Middle Country Central School District Superintendent Roberta Gerold, who is also president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said she believed the change to the system was misguided, and wished elected officials would have learned that “rushing into a system that doesn’t have details attached” — as was the case in 2013 — doesn’t work.

Some Assembly members said they shared Gerold’s concerns.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) voted against the Education, Labor and Family Assistance State budget bill, which Cuomo issued on Tuesday with a message of necessity. When asked about the reforms, Englebright immediately interjected, “they are not reforms,” he said.

He said he voted against the measure because it was unclear as to how it would impact students.

“[It] doesn’t mean we can’t make improvements, but those improvements need to make sense,” he said.

Englebright strayed from his fellow party members by voting against the bill, which he said was a difficult decision.

“The people who sent me [to Albany] are the ones who I finally had to vote in accordance with,” he said.

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said in a press release the education measure “takes away local control and is downright insulting to principals, administrators and teachers.”

While most North Shore Assembly officials voted down the education component, Mike Fitzpatrick (R- St. James) voted yes. In a phone interview Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said he stood by his decision.

He said he believed the reforms would bring more accountability to the system, which needed to be reformed. Fitzpatrick also said the amendments take away some of the New York State United Teachers union’s power. The union referred to the changes as a disgrace and the evaluation system as a sham.

“Good teachers, and they know who they are, they don’t have anything to worry about,” Fitzpatrick said.

Rohma Abbas contributed reporting.

The 2015 Women's Recognition Awards honorees. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Brookhaven Town celebrated some of its most dedicated women at the town’s 29th Annual Women’s Recognition Night on March 19. Twelve women were honored at the reception for their commitment and excellence in their respective endeavors.

Every year, Brookhaven residents nominate women who either live or work in the town to receive the award. Members of the town’s Women’s Advisory Board then select the honorees based on resumes and letters of recommendation. Winners are selected in a variety of areas and professional fields including business, community service and health care. Below are the 2015 honorees.

Business: Lorice Belmonte, Patchogue, The Colony Shop owner
Community Service Professional: Linda Bily, Selden, Stony Brook Cancer Center director of patient advocacy
Community Service Volunteer: Michelle L. Benincasa, Patchogue, South Country Ambulance Co. emergency medical technician
Education: Deborah A. Lang, Middle Island, Longwood Central School District educator
Government: Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, Stony Brook, Middle Country Public Library director
Health Care Provider: Pamela Koch, Yaphank, Stony Brook University Hospital certified nurse midwife and clinical instructor
Law: Karen M. Wilutis, Miller Place, Suffolk County District Court judge
Law Enforcement: Gail P. D’Ambrosio, Port Jefferson Station, Suffolk County senior probation officer
Medicine: Dr. Alice J. Kolasa, Mount Sinai, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital director of palliative medicine
Religion: Grace G. LoGrande, Selden, St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church volunteer
Science: Dr. Nancy C. Marshall, Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University professor
Visual and Performing Arts: Judith Levy, Stony Brook, Gallery North director

Bellone signs Anker's legislation into law

Sarah Anker introduced the legislation to require the warning signs last year. File photo by Erika Karp
Suffolk County retailers who sell liquid nicotine will now have to display a sign warning customers of the possible dangers associated with the product.

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law, which officials say is the first of its kind in the nation. The bill was sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and seeks to educate consumers about liquid nicotine — an ultra-concentrated nicotine substance used in e-cigarettes. The product could be poisonous if swallowed, inhaled or if it comes in contact with skin. Anker pitched the legislation in December following the death of a Fort Plain, N.Y., one-year-old who ingested the product.

“This potent and possibly toxic product requires regulation, and without leadership from the federal Food and Drug Administration, Suffolk County must move forward to protect our residents with the required warning sign,” Anker said in a press release.

Calls to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine poisoning have increased throughout the last few years, according to the press release. In 2012, there were fewer than 100 cases of nonlethal liquid nicotine poisoning; in 2013, the number rose to 1,300; and in 2014, the number jumped to 4,000.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will enforce the law and provide the downloadable warning signs. The law will take effect 90 days from filling with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Businesses in violation of the law could receive an up to $250 fine for a first offense. Fines increase to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a violation thereafter.

Last year, the county prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 years old.

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Proposals won't be on this year's May ballot

Rocky Point's plant facilities administrator, Chris Malone, listens to a question regarding the proposed capital improvements. Photo by Erika Karp

Meeting cancellations and a growing list of projects proved too much for Rocky Point school board trustees, who decided on Monday not to propose a capital improvements bond this May as they needed more time to sort through specifics of the proposal.

Chris Malone, the district’s plant facilities administrator, along with Larry Galante, a member of the facilities planning subcommittee and district architect John Grillo returned to the Rocky Point High School auditorium Monday night with an updated list of projects that totaled a little more than $20 million.

In January, the men presented a $17 million project list, which included installing new ceilings, windows and LED lighting; redoing bathrooms; upgrading security; installing turf fields and solar panels at the high school; and improving air-conditioning and heating systems, among other items.

Projects such as wrestling room renovations, redesigning the cafeteria at the Joseph A. Edgar school and new bleachers and sports lights at the lower fields were added into Monday’s presentation.

More than an hour into the presentation, and after numerous questions from the audience, school board President Susan Sullivan broke her silence and said if the board wanted the bond on the May ballot, everything would need to be final by Thursday.

“Quite honestly our heads are spinning and it’s not going to happen,” she said.

Later in the evening, the board tabled a State Environmental Quality Review Act resolution regarding the capital improvements. State law mandates SEQRA and governing bodies must approve the determination 45 days prior to a vote.

A few audience members said they were curious about how officials determined what items to include in the proposal. While they said they agreed updates are needed — original lockers, equipment and tiling exists in the schools — they questioned if some projects fell into more of a “wish” category.

Resident Jennifer Intravaia said she was a “little bit sticker shocked” after seeing the updated list.

“I think we need to seriously look at our priorities,” she said.

In response to Intravaia’s comment, Superintendent Michael Ring said it was a good point, and the school board would be reviewing the items, which were included based on feedback from many different individuals in the district.

Monday night’s presentation was delayed by nearly two months, as the school board’s meetings on Feb. 2, which was then rescheduled to March 3, were both cancelled due to snow.

While the board decided to not pitch the bond in May, it could still move to bring the proposal — or another version of it — to a vote in the future. Under the current plan, the bond would be separated into two different proposals: Priority I and Priority II. The latter would only pass if voters approve Priority I.

Board approves zone change for Heatherwood housing community

Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association President Ed Garboski speaks against the housing proposal on Tuesday, as Shawn Nuzzo, Three Village’s civic leader, looks on. Photo by Erika Karp

Despite numerous objections from residents, local civic associations and the community’s own councilwoman, the Town of Brookhaven has paved the way for a 200-unit retirement community at the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) sponsored the resolution for a zone change from A Residence 5 to Planned Retirement Community for the property, which is located at Arrowhead Lane and Route 347 and falls in both the Comsewogue and Three Village school districts. The town board approved it in a 4-3 vote, with Councilwomen Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island) and Supervisor Ed Romaine dissenting.

The planning board still must approve the project’s site plan before the project can move forward.

According to the site plan application, about 25 acres of the property would be developed into the 55-and-over community, while about 45 acres would remain open, leaving a nine-hole golf course.

Since the property would be developed at an increased density, owner Doug Partrick in exchange would donate a 40-acre lot he owns in the Manorville Farm Protection Area — in Panico’s district — for open space.

While the zone change public hearing was held on Tuesday, the project had been discussed for months at Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meetings, and that group, along with the neighboring Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, came out strongly against it.

However, the Town of Brookhaven Planning Department supported the project — Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli said the proposal is compatible with existing development in the area and fits in with the town’s smart growth efforts, as it is located along a commercial corridor.

Residents and civic leaders who attended the public hearing expressed concerns about traffic and losing open space in their community. In addition, many were displeased to see the development proposed for the golf course, as the community is preparing to redevelop and revitalize the Route 112 corridor, on another side of town.

“[It’s] dismaying to see a town planning commissioner come before you and say this is a location that meets all criteria,” Bob de Zafra, of the Setaukets and Stony Brook civic, said at the public hearing. “It does not.”

He also criticized Panico for bringing forth the resolution.

De Zafra asked Panico and new Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) to recuse themselves from the vote, as the officials received campaign contributions from a company under the umbrella of Partrick’s Heatherwood Communities, the retirement community developer.

According to campaign financial disclosure records, Friends of Dan Panico received a $500 contribution from Heatherwood House at Coram LLC in September 2013, while Friends of Neil Foley received a $1,000 contribution in October 2014.

“There’s nothing illegal in that,” de Zafra said. “There’s nothing dishonest in that and I certainly don’t mean to imply that, nor am I due a lecture about it.”

Panico, who said he brought forth the zone change resolution because it was in the best interest of the whole town, interjected during de Zafra’s comments and said, “Why would you bring it up?”

Frank Gibbons, a board member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, said he was concerned about the development’s impact on traffic.

“There are good arguments on both sides of this question, but I think that when we look at the best thing for the entire township, Mr. Panico, … how about taking care of Terryville, Port Jefferson Station and South Setauket,” Gibbons said.

The town board placed conditions on its zone change approval, including that Partrick must make the land donation, remove a billboard at the golf course, construct a sidewalk on the east side of Arrowhead Lane and complete a new traffic study for the Terryville site.

Heatherwood’s attorney, David Sloane, of Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP, spoke about the positives of the project, including a decrease in the use of pesticides and more property taxes to the school districts without an influx of students.

“This proposal is the least intensive use that could be developed on this site,” he said.

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From left, Daniel Henshall as Caleb Brewster, Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull, Heather Lind as Anna Strong and Seth Numrich as Benjamin Tallmadge. Photo from AMC Networks

The history of the Culper Spy Ring is nothing new to Setauket and North Shore of Long Island residents. This Sunday, April 6, thanks to the new AMC show “Turn,” Setauket and some of its most legendary residents will become household names throughout the country.

Based on Alexander Rose’s 2006 book, “Washington’s Spies,” the show stars Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull, the Setauket farmer turned spy for Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Enlisted in 1778 by Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), Woodhull along with Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and Anna Strong (Heather Lind), among others, worked together to send messages — often in code — about the British troops to Washington.

In a telephone interview, show runner and executive producer, Craig Silverstein — responsible for The CW Television Network series, “Nikita” — said he had heard about the Culper ring before, but didn’t know exactly what they had done until fellow executive producer, Barry Josephson, introduced him to Rose’s book in 2008 while they were working together on Fox’s “Bones.” He thought it would make a great show. “They were very good at what they did,” Silverstein said of the spy ring.

Silverstein, who admitted to not being much of a history buff prior to working on the show, described the show as “a spy thriller,” with a great international cast. He said one of the most surprising things to learn about was how intimately connected the characters were to George Washington.

“There weren’t a ton of layers,” Silverstein said. “[That] brought him more down to earth.”

Interestingly enough, Bev Tyler, the historian for the Three Village Historical Society who runs the SPIES! exhibit at the society’s headquarters, agreed often times films and shows based on the American Revolution make Washington the opposite of what Silverstein described. “They can’t do it without deifying him, without making him larger than life,” Tyler said.

Silverstein said he found it interesting how few American Revolution-based films and television shows exist. He said much of what is out there is “very ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’” referring to children’s-type programming. “The real truth is much more complicated,” he added.

While maintaining historical accuracy was important, Silverstein said writers could take some creative license because a lot of what the spies did is still unknown.

However, in an effort to get the facts right, Rose is working as a consultant on the show. Silverstein said some the crew visited Setauket; Tyler, who said he would definitely be watching on Sunday, took one of the show’s writers on a society walking tour.

Silverstein said he thinks everyone, even those who aren’t history buffs, will enjoy the series as it is an exciting depiction of the American Revolution. “It’s only a world that you thought you knew,” he said.

“Turn” premiers with a special 90-minute episode on Sunday on AMC Networks, Optimum channel 43, at 9 pm.

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Maria Rivas washes windows at Buffalo Wild Wings as part of a work-study program. Photo by Erika Karp

By Erika Karp

Tyler Butler, a 16-year-old special needs student at Centereach High School, has a plan. He wants to go to Suffolk County Community College, get married and have a family, but he knows he needs a job first. Butler has taken a step in the right direction though, thanks to the life skills’ work-study program at Centereach High School.

Jacob Robinson learns work skills at Buffalo Wild Wings in Centereach. Photo by Erika Karp
Jacob Robinson learns work skills at Buffalo Wild Wings in Centereach. Photo by Erika Karp

On a Thursday morning, hours before Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar in Centereach is crowded with customers, Butler, along with three of his peers, is diligently getting the restaurant ready for business. Butler is laying down mats, while Maria Rivas, 18, washes windows; Anthony Miglino, 20, sets up chairs; and Jacob Robinson, 16, fills Wetnap caddies.

While the students’ disabilities vary, all of them are learning skills to help them become more independent as they enter adulthood.

“They need to experience real-life situations [and] real-life jobs,” said Debbie O’Neill, a 26-year special education teacher in the Middle Country Central School District.

O’Neill, along with Peggy Dominguez, who has been teaching in the district for 27 years, advocated for and initiated the work-study program three years ago.

In the beginning, O’Neill and Dominguez were surprised by how many businesses didn’t want help and that some people felt the students were being taken advantage of. Today, students rotate between different local businesses five days a week visiting places like Old Navy, The Home Depot, Holiday Inn Express and St. Charles Hospital.

Dominguez said that many of the skills people take for granted are ones their students don’t have, but by immersing them in a real job situation, they’re able to work on social skills and become more independent. The program has also grown tremendously this year to more than 50 students, as many who in the past sat for the Regents competency tests have transitioned into the life skills program.

Centereach High School Principal Tom Bell said in a phone interview that the program is beneficial for all students, as the life skills students are more immersed in everyday school life. “They feel more part of the school,” he said.

In addition to the off-campus work-study, younger students, along with those who aren’t ready to work off campus, are working on campus. This year, the students are helping district staff with clerical and custodial tasks, in addition to running a campus store and a café. Students who run the café bake items, take orders, deliver goods and keep inventory.

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Anthony Miglino is part of a work study program at Centereach High School. Photo by Erika Karp

According to special seducation teacher Darla Randazzo who runs the café, the work-study program has helped build the students’ confidence. Randazzo said that by the time a student leaves school, they will have a resume or portfolio that showcases all of their skills.

“When they leave school, they’ll have more skills to bring to the job,” she said.
Superintendent Roberta Gerold said the program is still growing as more students are now opting to participate in work-study instead of attending BOCES programs.
Gerold said it is a wonderful thing that the students are learning to be as independent as possible.

Rivas, who has been participating in the off-campus work-study program for three years and has attended BOCES in the past, said she enjoys the program because she can learn about everything. While she has a part-time job on the weekends, she is hoping she could get another one at Buffalo Wild Wings.

So far, two students have been offered jobs, and while this seems like a small number, Dominguez said it is a major accomplishment. Often times, the small achievements are the best kind.

A few days ago, while working at The Home Depot, Butler correctly directed a customer to the outdoor lighting fixtures. As the students were walking back to the bus, they saw the customer leaving the store with what he was looking for.

“Sometimes the successes are small,” Dominguez said. “But it makes such a difference.”

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District wants more emphasis on science, math

The Middle Country school district is moving forward with plans to redesign science and math offerings in the middle schools to provide students with an enhanced education in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The three-year plan, which would begin in the 2014-15 school year, includes offering an additional math period every other day for seventh- and eighth-graders who are not taking living environment, and extended math offerings during the sixth-graders’ flex period.

“I think there will be a lot of support for it,” Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Francine McMahon said at a school board workshop on July 31. “There is more time for something we all feel is important.”

In order to make the change, band and orchestra will be offered every other day instead of daily, while health and home and careers classes, which are both required for middle school students, would be moved to sixth grade.

McMahon said the changes mark a major paradigm shift within the district, but it was important for class offerings like music to be maintained.

The change is suggested “not to destroy the music program, but yet to be able to maintain a quality program and at the same time increase the offerings that our youngsters would have in other areas so we end up with well-rounded students that perform well,” McMahon said.

According to McMahon, the program’s first year is projected to cost $598,000, as about nine additional staff members are needed, but the following school year, the district would save $104,000, as health classes will no longer be offered to seventh-graders as they would have already satisfied their health requirements.

By 2016-17 school year, McMahon said the district would be able to offer a science research lab, as declining enrollment at the elementary school-level would offset associated costs. Staff needed for the lab class would relocate to the middle school from the elementary school.

“We now have the ability because of the way we have reallocated and watched our funds to have a science research lab to be offered to all seventh- and eighth-grade and non-living environment students in grade eight for the first time,” McMahon said.

In addition to positively helping students, McMahon said the plan also acts as a professional development tool as seventh- and eighth-grade teachers will step in to assist sixth-grade teachers during flex periods when they aren’t teaching a double period of math to the seventh- and eighth-graders.

Superintendent Roberta Gerold said the plan would also help the district reach its long-term goal of requiring graduating seniors to complete a research project “that capitalizes on their interests, but uses the STEM underpinnings,” she said referring to science, technology, engineering and math courses.

While some board members raised concerns over the amount of available science lab space in the middle schools, Gerold said that because of declining enrollment, more space could become available.

“We didn’t want to stop the planning because we didn’t have the traditional lab space,” Gerold said.

Board of Education President Karen Lessler said she wouldn’t want the plans to be delayed either, but also asked her fellow board members to keep in mind of the need for lab space.

“We want to move to move through the obstacles,” she said.