Authors Posts by Mallie Jane Kim

Mallie Jane Kim


Some parents had advocated to make the pandemic-era reprieve permanent

Public domain photo

Regents exam scores will account for 10% of student grades this year in Three Village Central School District, despite calls to extend a COVID-19 pandemic-era policy that only includes the scores when they improve student course grades.

The decision, which came after robust discussion and disagreement among board members at their Nov. 29 meeting, goes along with the recommendation of a district committee to include the scores at 10% of the final grade — down from the 12% that was policy before the pandemic reprieve.

Freshman board members Karen Roughley and David McKinnon spoke openly against including scores in all student grades, particularly because New York State does not mandate doing so for all districts, and they said it could disadvantage Three Village students who struggle with test anxiety, have special needs or experience a personal catastrophe before the test date.

“Using the Regents scores would decrease a student’s GPA and put them at a disadvantage against all the other students in the state who do not have it included, in applying for colleges and scholarships,” Roughley said.

The State Education Department’s website states it “does not require nor recommend the inclusion of Regents exam scores in the computation of final course averages,” and rather leaves it up to each district to decide.

McKinnon called this approach a failure of leadership. “The state doesn’t stand behind their test,” he said. “The state makes the test, they pass it out, they grade it, but then they have no effective policy on what we should do with that test.”

After parents — especially those of children with special needs — spoke out last spring, the previous board voted to extend the so-called Do No Harm policy through the end of the 2022-2023 school year with the caveat that a permanent decision should come this fall.

In recommending inclusion of Regents scores at 10%, the committee suggested students may not take the exams as seriously if the scores don’t count toward a course grade.

Trustee Vincent Vizzo, a former teacher and administrator who has a long affiliation with Three Village and said he was part of writing Regents exams in the past, admitted he was not a fan of the state tests and understands they can hurt students who do not do well. “I have very mixed opinions right now,” he said. “But if a committee of educators are saying that they want to keep the percentage, then I don’t think the board should micromanage and decide against what the committee is saying.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig also expressed mixed feelings, saying she believes Do No Harm makes philosophical sense, but that there can be valuable information garnered from all students “meaningfully engaging in the assessments.”

When the remaining board members echoed Vizzo’s desire to defer to the committee of professional educators, Rosenzweig attempted to broker a compromise by suggesting the board include the scores at 5% instead of 10%, which she said was her “comfort level,” but only trustee Jeffrey Kerman expressed interest in changing the percentage, saying he would vote for either 5% or 10%.

Seeing no appetite for middle ground, Rosensweig cast the deciding vote with an audible sigh. “Because I guess it’s not going to go any other way,” she said.

Volunteers help break ground for the project made possible by $10K PSEGLI grant

The Living Lands design team at Three Village Historical Society. From left, Mike Dondero, Alex Getches and Logan Kjep. Photo by Kimberly Phyfe/TVHS

Three Village Historical Society broke ground last week on a project to install a series of gardens surrounding its main building on North Country Road, courtesy of a $10,000 outdoor commerce and beautification grant from PSEG Long Island.

The gardens will include a pollinator pathway, colonial kitchen garden, indigenous medical garden and sensory garden, all with native plants, according to Kimberly Phyfe, development coordinator for TVHS. She added that the plan also includes garden paths, educational signage and some additional trees.

“This is going to be a teachable educational space,” she said. “You’re going to be able to walk through a timeline of history.”

A series of gardens will surround Three Village Historical Society’s main building after the society received a $10,000 grant from PSEG Long Island. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

At a Friday, Nov. 10, “garden party,” an estimated 20 community volunteers, including some members of the Three Village Garden Club and the historical society’s grounds committee, participated in clearing most of the ground cover, invasive species and weeds to prepare for the project, which is headed up by Living Lands, a North-Shore based garden design and installation company that specializes in native habitats and ecological restoration, primarily on a residential level.

Living Lands co-owners Logan Kjep and Alexandra Getches said they feel honored to be part of such a community-facing project to highlight the beauty and usefulness of native plants.

“Getting to find out the history of the plants and the way they were used in the past has been really interesting because we focus more on their role in ecology,” Getches said. “Investigating how the indigenous people used them, how the colonists used them was really fascinating.”

The PSEGLI grant is typically for downtowns or business districts. Phyfe said when the representative originally stopped by last spring on a Monday at 10 a.m., all was quiet on the stretch of North Country Road where the society sits.

She said she urged him to return on a Friday afternoon during the farmers market so he could “see this town taken over by small businesses, locally owned; food trucks, music, education, entertainment — everybody is here on a Friday night. I think that’s what really did it.”

Phyfe added that the market brings business to neighboring establishments and acts as the start of historic Setauket. “Welcome to Culper country — this is the home of historic American Revolution stories right here in Three Village,” she said.

Phyfe called the gardens an “outdoor classroom and teaching garden space” that will be available even when the museum and visitor center is closed, and will expand on the education provided by the Culper Spy and Chicken Hill exhibits, which can host only small groups at a time during student or Scout visits.

She said the sensory garden will be particularly friendly to students with sensory processing disorder. “I want to make learning and field trips accessible to learners of all ages, and particularly learners with disabilities and special needs,” she said.

Phyfe indicated the garden project should be completed by Thanksgiving.

Three Village school board discusses cell phones, including Regents exams in course grades

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District parents should not expect more information about the surprise reassignment and investigation of Ward Melville High School’s principal, according to Three Village Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.

Due to federal and state privacy laws, district representatives can’t discuss personnel matters  — and they won’t be able to even after the issue is resolved.

The board had an emergency meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, after announcing the personnel change, with a public portion that lasted only a couple of minutes, time enough for the board to confirm the interim principal — Paul Gold, previously an assistant principal — and his compensation, as well as to vote to engage the services of Investigative Management Group.

District parent Qin Wu at the Nov. 15 board meeting spoke out in support of former principal William Bernhard and indicated parents were concerned for high school seniors.

“As a parent, I hope the investigation will be fair and transparent, and maybe even as soon as possible to resolve the issue and have everything come back to normal,” Wu said.

Scanlon told TBR News Media after the meeting that even though such transparency is not possible, Wu and other parents have nothing to worry about regarding their children’s education or the district’s reputation.

“I think the school is in good hands, and the acting administration is doing a wonderful job,” he said. “The educational system is still intact. Classes will remain, students will still go to college. No one’s going to be harmed that way,” adding, “If that is the fear that is being propagated, that’s wrong.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig, a district parent herself, also spoke against percolating speculation and hearsay on social media. “Don’t buy in,” she advised. “Let due process take its place. It’s tough, I know.”

Regents exams as part of final grade

During the meeting, the board tabled any decision regarding the so-called “Do No Harm” rule, the policy of including Regents scores as part of a student’s final grade only if that score improves the grade.

The policy, which proponents say supports students who don’t test well, was instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic and temporarily extended last year after a group of parents petitioned the district.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Biscari shared the consensus recommendation that came after “tremendous discourse” by the district’s grading committee to include the exams at 10% — down from the 12% that has been the policy outside the reprieve of the last few years.

Biscari also took issue with the label “Do No Harm” since it implies acting in any other way will inflict harm on students, when part of the concern was that students may not take exams seriously if they don’t count toward final grades.

“It was a very student-centered conversation,” he said. “Never was the conversation about what the district is going to look like or how we’re going to present data. It was all in relation to students.”

But for freshman board member Karen Roughley, a long-time supporter of the policy, a 2% decrease is not enough. “There are many different ways to gauge a child’s understanding of the concepts than just sitting for one single test that means so much,” she said.

Biscari noted that some form of testing is required by the state, and removing any pressure from the Regents exam could backfire for students who need to take licensure exams or other higher-stakes tests in the future.

“We, as a district, would want to arm kids in how to address that anxiety and deal with it so they can effectively take tests, rather than eliminating that stress,” he said. “It’s almost an avoidance in some cases that we’re not teaching kids these skills that they are going to need in their lives.”

The board opted to wait on voting about the issue until it could hear forthcoming data from the state to see whether exam scores changed when students knew low scores would not be included in their final grade, and to learn more about how comparable Long Island districts are using Regents scores for classroom grades.

Cell phone policy

Scanlon also updated the board on the ongoing cell phone policy committee’s work, laying out the current thinking for parameters around student cell phone use in schools.

Currently the committee is ironing out how to best enforce the proposed new policy, though Scanlon emphasized that any consequences will be decided by building principals or the district, and will not be a one-size-fits-all consequence determined by a planning committee.

The board engaged the committee to look into changes after it became apparent that issues of use during instructional time, inconsistent enforcement across classes and cyberbullying were popping up at the secondary schools.

“It’s fully recognized by the teaching staff and the administration that cell phones are an issue, and then we heard loud and clear from the student representatives on the committee that yes, they agree, cell phones are an issue,” Scanlon said. “Everyone seemed to agree: We’ve got a problem.”

He said the final committee recommendations should be available for the Nov. 29 board meeting.

Caretaker informed minutes before animals due to be taken away

Locals confront Preservation Long Island on Wednesday, Nov. 8, during the nonprofit’s attempted removal of the animals at Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

Local residents rallied outside Sherwood-Jayne Farm in East Setauket Wednesday, Nov. 8, when representatives from Preservation Long Island — the nonprofit that owns the farm and its animals — made an unexpected attempt to remove the elderly pony and four sheep that live there.

The impromptu protest was confrontational and tense, with caretaker Susanna Gatz visibly distressed, and PLI executive director Alexandra Wolfe expressing frustration. Suffolk County police officers who cleared the 20 or so people out of the pasture area as requested by Wolfe also worked to maintain a calm atmosphere where possible.

In the end, the sheep and pony were spooked amid the tension, so the Save-A-Pet representative engaged to move the animals wouldn’t do so while they were agitated, and left the scene.

PLI has long planned to rehome its animals, but paused for review in August after significant community outcry. Gatz has lived on the property and cared for the sheep and pony for more than eight years. She and other local residents have been hoping the sheep and pony could live out the rest of their lives there.

On Nov. 8, Wolfe told Gatz the animals would leave just minutes before a Save-A-Pet van arrived to transport them.

Gatz said she felt blindsided. “To show up here today with a 15-minute notice to start moving the animals is not fair.”

Suffolk County Legislator-elect Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) attempted to help mediate and said he had a productive start to a conversation with Wolfe. He explained that the animals are an important educational and cultural resource for the community, but that he also understands PLI is essentially a collection of small museums and not in the business of caring for live creatures.

“She’s unhappy because the ownership that they have of these animals is not part of their mission,” he said, but added, “There has to be a solution other than removing the animals.”

Englebright said Wolfe expressed willingness for the idea of a separate organization owning and taking charge of animals on the property — though as police cleared people out of the pasture area and the protest grew heated with sobs, yelling and even a bit of shoving, Wolfe told the crowd she did not want the current animals to be part of any discussion.

Gatz’s sister, Sharon Philbrick, pulled three of her children out of school so they could come say goodbye to the animals, but police were no longer allowing people to go near the barn by the time they arrived. The kids were crying, and one ran past police officers to get close. “They’ve been around these animals their whole lives.” Philbrick said, adding that they’d held the sheep when they were little lambs. “The animals know them.”

PLI explained in a fact sheet provided to TBR News Media that the sheep are slated to get a private enclosure at Berkshire Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit farm in Massachusetts that rescues and rehabilitates “abused and neglected companion and farm animals,” according to its website.

Snowball, the old white pony, PLI’s fact sheet indicated, would move to a private farm “a short distance away from the Sherwood-Jayne Farm,” and would have access to another elderly pony and 24-hour veterinary care. 

PLI provided a statement Thursday suggesting it still planned to move the animals, without indicating when.

“Regrettably, the emotions of our property custodian and some protesters disrupted the attempt to gently move the animals yesterday, and that effort had to be paused. We continue to believe that Berkshire Farm Sanctuary will provide the humane and caring environment we seek for the grazing animals,” the statement read.

Compliance issues for Sherwood-Jayne

In an additional layer of complication for PLI, a Sept. 8 letter from the county procured by TBR News Media informed them the property is out of compliance with the Farmland Preservation Development Rights Program. Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven purchased development rights to the 10.6-acre farm parcel in 2003, requiring Sherwood-Jayne to maintain a working commercial farm. The county also owns the 36 acres directly north of the property.

A county statute about the program stipulates “no owner shall leave agricultural land uncultivated and not engage in agricultural production … for more than two consecutive years.”

The letter also informed PLI it needs to apply for special-use permits to host events like the recent Baseball on the Farm, and the nonprofit also needs to discontinue the practice of allowing nearby schools and camps to use the field for overflow parking.

According to PLI’s fact sheet, the organization met with Mikael Kerr, the county’s farmland and open space supervisor, Sept. 30 to talk through options of bringing the property into compliance with the program.

PLI has not provided details about those options, but it will need to create a plan to put forward for approval by the county’s farmland committee.

Though there was no indication the current animals staying at the farm would hinder that process, the effort to move the animals last Wednesday made clear the organization is so far not interested in rethinking the decision.

“We have made arrangements to rehome our animals to a private sanctuary, where they will peacefully live out the rest of their days in a beautiful, park-like environment,” PLI said in a statement.

But some area residents think the animals should stay. One protester, Judy Wilson, who has helped feed the animals during times Gatz needed coverage, twisted a lock of the pony’s coarse white tail she found in the grass as she watched the situation unfold.

“What has happened today is atrocious,” she said. “The animals don’t need rescuing.”

Herb Mones, land use chair of the Three Village Civic Association, also came to the farm to show support. He took issue with the way the nonprofit handled a delicate situation, because the last the community heard, the plan to move the animals was on pause.

“We are quite shocked that something like this would happen by any organization that depends upon Long Island communities’ support,” said Mones, who is also president of the Three Village Community Trust, another organization that acquires and preserves local properties of historical importance. “These are really actions that go beyond anything that’s reasonable. It just amazes me.”

Gatz said she was touched that so many neighbors and friends stopped by — some who noticed the commotion while driving by and others who got calls to support the effort to keep the animals at the farm.

“People love this place, and they care about these animals,” she said. “I want them to stay here. This is their home, and I don’t know why [PLI] doesn’t understand that.”

Stony Brook University: Entrance sign

By Mallie Jane Kim 

Stony Brook University is studying traffic and pedestrian safety, thanks to a $1 million grant from the New York State Department of Transportation. The study will assess road safety on and around university properties to prevent pedestrian and cyclist traffic deaths, according to Heather Banoub, SBU’s new assistant vice president of community relations, and may include a pedestrian overpass at the intersection of Nicolls Road and state Route 347 with more sidewalks.

Banoub, who shared a range of university updates at the Three Village Civic Association’s Nov. 6 meeting, said she anticipates results from the study around 2025.

“It will determine what would be the best way to help our campus be safer — as well as our larger community — as people come into and out of campus,” she said.

In serving to introduce herself to the community, Banoub said she was previously at New York University, where she served as assistant director of communications since 2014.

Carl Mills, SBU’s assistant vice president for government relations, added that area traffic flow will also be part of the study but that efforts at improving traffic need to be a cooperative effort between the university, state, county and town.

He emphasized that the funding is for information collection, and no actual structural changes are in the works yet. “If we were even to go forward with the overpass, we would still have to apply for additional funding to get it,” Mills noted.

He added that since SBU was earmarked by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) as a flagship university of the state university system, there are efforts to increase capacity for “cutting edge” research, and he expects the student body and faculty to grow. The university is currently assessing needs for additional housing and buildings, but any development will involve increasing sewage capacity.

Banoub also told attendees that a new radar survey of the area around a gravesite on campus near Dogwood Drive found four additional gravesites, in addition to the four sets of remains previously discovered. Banoub said the university is hoping to engage a genealogist to attempt to discover who was buried there and whether they have any living relatives.

Banoub said the site will be part of a beautification plan “that will include appropriate markers designating the historic importance of this site and turning it into a place where people go and pay their respects.”

Civic association leaders expressed gratitude that three representatives from SBU joined the meeting — Erika Karp, community relations representative for Stony Brook Medicine/SBU, was also in attendance. Civic member George Hoffman welcomed this closer connection between university officials and the community. “I get a real sense we’ve turned a corner in our relationship,” he said. “It would be so incredible for the community to be working in partnership with this great institution, and I think you’ve got the right team in place to make that happen.”

New police advisory board

Also at the civic meeting, Felix Adeyeye, Suffolk County Police Department’s director of community engagement, encouraged residents to apply for the new Precinct Level Advisory Board, a group of eight to 12 people in each precinct who will have direct access to their precinct inspector to inform SCPD about areas of community concern as well as to learn about safety issues facing the county.”

Adeyeye said this initiative stemmed from a summer ruling against the department in a lawsuit over racial discrimination in traffic stops, brought by civil rights group LatinoJustice.

“There’s a mandate under the police reform that stipulates that the department must engage in an overabundance of community engagement effort,” he said, adding that this engagement must be at the administrative level and not just on the streets. ”I want to implore you to get very active in not only this civic association but also in your police department.”

The department’s website about the boards indicated the application deadline was Oct. 15, but at the meeting Adeyeye said the police department is still accepting applications and will begin the review process in December. 

Adeyeye said the community is fortunate to have these advisory boards, particularly since a community ambassadors program instituted by outgoing Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison is currently in limbo after the commissioner resigned last week, just months after his department’s widely celebrated accomplishment of making an arrest in connection with the Gilgo Beach serial killings, though an alleged party is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

The community ambassadors program is the prerogative of the sitting commissioner, and under Harrison allowed a handful of residents from each community access to the county’s top cop. Adeyeye said the newly-elected county executive when in office will appoint a replacement police commissioner, and there should not be a delay in the county Legislature approval process.

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Ward Melville High School. File photo
School board hears statistics of drug and alcohol use — and perceptions

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village students generally report drug use at or below state norms, except for alcohol, according to results of a 2022 student survey by New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports.

“Alcohol is the primary drug of choice above any other substance for adolescents in our district,” explained Alison Herrschaft, the district’s lead social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, as she presented the data at an Oct. 25 school board meeting. “It’s also the only category in our district where we exceeded the state level.”

Among the Class of 2022 seniors, 20% reported having at least one drink within the past 30 days, and about 18% reported binge drinking, or having five or more drinks at a time. That’s compared to 19% and 11% respectively, statewide.

Vaping was another area of concern, with 10% of seniors reporting having vaped within the past 30 days, compared to 13% across New York, and 12% reported using marijuana in any form, compared to 15% statewide.

Herrschaft also shared data related to student attitudes toward drug and alcohol use from the survey, which 1,750 seventh-through-12th-grade students completed 18 months ago, during physical education class. She warned that legalization and broader cultural acceptance of marijuana could lead to increased use among students.

“We’re always stressing to students that just because a substance is legal does not mean that it’s healthy for a developing brain,” she said.

There was no reported use of methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine within the district or statewide. But Herrschaft said that since the opioid epidemic is still affecting the 18-25 age group in New York state, “it’s critical that we ask these questions anyway, and continue to educate students on the risk of use.”

She added that this education includes making students aware that deadly fentanyl is cut into many illicit substances.

Erin Connolly, head of pupil personnel services, said the data collected was anonymous and should be helpful to the district in knowing where to focus future efforts of student and parent engagement. “The hope was that the results provided to us by the state would help to improve our community’s understanding of our students’ strengths and risk factors,” Connolly said.

Families are integral to efforts to combat substance abuse, according to the survey, as more than 70% of secondary students reported “family attachment” as a protective factor against drug use, and more than 60% reported “family rewards for prosocial involvement” as protective.

“Parent involvement is crucial to healthy decision-making,” Herrschaft said. “We know that in our district, parents are very involved in their students’ education and well-being.”

The district’s chair of secondary health and physical education, Christina Driscoll, shared current efforts in drug and alcohol abuse prevention, including a recent sixth-grade-wide presentation about the dangers of vaping at Ward Melville High School and a “sticker shock” campaign last spring, during which high school students submitted designs for anti-vaping or anti-underaged drinking stickers. Students applied stickers with the winning designs to products at Setauket Pastaria, Setauket Beer & Beverage and the 7-Eleven on Old Town Road, in conjunction with the business owners.

While the survey has historically been done every 10 years, the presenters indicated there are plans to conduct it again in spring 2024 for better comparative data.

Residents can watch the full survey presentation on the Three Village Central School District YouTube page, under live videos. The PowerPoint presentation with the highlighted statistics is available on the district’s BoardDocs website, linked within the agenda of the Oct. 25 meeting under OASAS.

Norma Watson and Steve Englebright shake hands as Johanna Watson, John Cunniffe and Three Village Community Trust board member Robert Reuter look on. Photo by Herb Mones

Abraham Woodhull’s ancestral property to be preserved, showcased to the community

By Mallie Jane Kim

Several blue-and-yellow historical markers dot Setauket streets, and the hamlet can truly boast “George Washington slept here.”

But none of these signs feels more out of the way than the one on the road to Strong’s Neck, in a peaceful corner of town overlooking Little Bay. And yet this sign marks the ancestral property of an important player in the Revolutionary War: Abraham Woodhull, “chief of Long Island spies under Gen. Washington,” the sign reads. In coming years, the marker won’t be the only way history buffs can enjoy this important piece of the past, which was at the heart of the historic Culper Spy Ring.

Three Village Community Trust is in the process of purchasing this property, with plans to preserve and eventually use it as a setting for community historical events. In a press release about the purchase, TVCT President Herb Mones wrote that he wants to “have children walk in the very steps of the founders of our country.”

Woodhull, code name Samuel Culper Sr., was one of the primary members of the group that tracked British troops and provided key information to Gen. George Washington and the American forces during the Revolutionary War, using espionage tradecraft like secret codes, invisible ink and dead drop secure communications. An article on the Central Intelligence Agency’s website identifies the Culper ring among “the founding fathers” of intelligence gathering by Americans.

“It’s a tremendous win for the community to be able to protect it and preserve it going forward,” Mones added. 

The trust, a community organization focused on preserving local natural resources and historical properties, owns several Three Village spots with Revolutionary War-era significance, including Patriots Rock Historical Site and the Smith/de Zafra House, home of Timothy Smith who, according to the TVCT website, mounted a broken musket over his fireplace to divert attention of suspicious British soldiers from his real cache of weapons hidden nearby.

“We’ve had a collection of properties that represented the foundations of the American experience,” Mones said. Thanks in part to “Turn,” the AMC television series about the spy ring popularizing Setauket’s history, the Woodhull property has the potential to draw even more interest in local history. “It’s important — it’s a feather in the cap,” the trust president said.

TVCT confirmed in a press release that the sales contract has been signed. The trust is in the process of submitting other required documentation to the state to finalize the purchase, which was made possible by a $825,000 grant secured in 2022 by then-New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

Norma Watson, who currently owns and lives on the property, will have a life tenancy, according to Mones. Watson herself has a history of advocating for natural and historical preservation, and she was involved with the trust at its inception.

According to Mones, the Woodhull property currently houses a pond and a barn — with a history of its own — that was reclaimed and converted around the 1950s into the home where Watson now resides. Woodhull’s original 1660 house burned down in 1931.

Ward Melville High School. File photo

By Mallie Jane Kim

Three Village Central School District may need to borrow money for building improvements, according to Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson, who discussed the rationale for a potential bond referendum with the school board at an Oct. 11 business meeting.

The district has about 1.5 million square feet across its nine buildings, according to Carlson, and the newest building was completed more than 50 years ago. “There’s always a lot of work that needs to be done, just like our homes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s annual upkeep,” like minor repairs or even major repairs. “And sometimes it’s — OK, we need to do a lot of work,” he said.

Capital projects are typically covered each year in the budget process, but sometimes urgent needs — such this year’s surprise roof replacement over Setauket Elementary’s auditorium — eat up funds intended for planned improvements. Also, with aging buildings, projects begin to stack up. Approving a bond would allow the district to borrow money to pay for a lot of projects all at once.

New York State currently reimburses 66% of approved renovations in Three Village district, according to Carlson, paid out through state aid over a period of 15 years. Local taxpayers are responsible for the remaining 34%, regardless of whether taxpayers fund projects upfront through the budget or over time through a bond.

Carlson called the bond method more “fair” than funding big projects through the annual budget because taxpayers in the district paying for a project in one year’s budget may not be around to benefit from those state aid repayments paid over 15 years. 

He added that the district could keep tax assessments somewhat stable for residents by timing the bond to ramp up as other debts are paid off, avoiding sudden tax increases. He compared it to finishing a lease on a car and replacing it with another car. “The lease is up, you stop paying that and you get another car. It’s not that you’re not paying for the new car, but it’s not an increase. It’s the same payments you were making.”

Freshman board member David McKinnon questioned whether building up a buffer of capital funds over time through the annual budget and paying for projects as they come up, might be better. “I think what a lot of people would like to see is more stability,” said McKinnon, who has previously voiced support for building strong rainy-day fund reserves in the district.

Carlson clarified that since funds earmarked for capital projects are outside the tax cap — arranged that way so districts never have to decide between academic programs and infrastructure, he said — they can be used for capital projects only, rather than for any urgent “rainy day” need, like keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board expects to vote at their next meeting on whether to move forward and form a bond committee, made up of various stakeholders, which would assess each building for appropriate projects.

The last bond in Three Village for $56.1 million over 15 years in 2014 went toward projects like installing more efficient windows, replacing asbestos floor tiles and updating unit ventilators. Based on district estimates at the time, that bond increased taxpayer contributions on average $119 per year.

Carlson said that if a new bond gains board approval, it could go to a public vote around October 2024.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

Internet controversy over a novel taught to Ward Melville High School juniors spilled over into the public comment section of a board of education meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, when two concerned parents stood up to support the book and caution against efforts to ban it.

The book in question, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie and a multi-award winner, is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young Native American growing up on an Indian reservation who leaves his underfunded reservation school in favor of a majority-white public school in a neighboring town. The problem expressed by some parents is that in this coming-of-age story about a teenage boy struggling to discover his identity, there are a few passages where the speaker discusses his sexual self-discovery.

The administration has received calls in favor of and against the novel, but there have been no official requests from parents of students actually studying the book, according to Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Brian Biscari. “It’s a bigger online issue than an actual issue,” Biscari said.

The controversy started when a parent shared a passage mentioning self-pleasure in a screenshot on a local Facebook group, Three Village Moms, where it was both attacked and supported in a series of nearly 500 comments. Some commenters expressed concern over sexualizing children too early, or that the passages may be too explicit for required reading in a Regents course.

Others asked their peers to consider the passage in context of the entire book, or worried the rhetoric might foment into a movement to ban the book, in light of efforts to censor literature at school districts nationwide.

The American Library Association has noted a “record surge” in requests to remove books from libraries and public schools during the first eight months of 2023, and primarily books “by or about a person of color of a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,” according to a Sept. 19 statement.

At the board meeting, district parent Ian Farber said exposure to an unfamiliar point of view is one of this book’s strengths. “This book provides a valuable perspective of a Native American who grew up on a reservation, a perspective that would be foreign to many of us without books like this one,” said Farber, who has also been a part of the district’s budget advisory committee.

Farber shrugged off the concerns over the passages about an aspect of human sexuality that, he said, most students know about by 11th grade. Instead, he praised the “robust and diverse” curriculum in Three Village school district and emphasized that the passages causing outrage are not even a main point of the book.

“He had a teacher that inspired him to do more with his life than previous generations — we should all want our children to achieve more than we have. This is a key part of the American Dream, and as such this book is patriotic in the best sense of the word.”

Anne Chimelis, a retired teacher and parent in the district, agreed in her public comment. “If we start banning books due to a single word that makes some people uncomfortable, we’re going down a very slippery slope,” she said.

Biscari noted that the district is happy to provide a list of novels taught in Three Village schools to parents who ask, and there is a clear process for parents to request for a materials review for novels in their child’s grade level if they have a concern. If that process does not go the way parents hope, he added, each parent is also welcome to opt a child out of a particular book.

On Alexie’s book, though, Biscari said most of the calls he’s gotten are from parents “who love the fact that there’s a book their kids can read and relate to.”

Democratic Party lawn signs posted along Route 25A in Setauket. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

A Three Village Civic Association Meet the Candidates event Monday, Oct. 2, hosted nine hopefuls (with one absentee) for local government positions — namely Suffolk County executive, Brookhaven Town supervisor, Brookhaven supervisor of highways, county legislator and town council — asking them questions through moderator Herb Mones relevant to current issues in the community.

Brookhaven Town Council: 1st District

Incumbent Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) is facing special education teacher Gary Bodenburg (R) in his bid to keep the seat he won in a special election in March 2021.

Kornreich, who previously served on the Three Village school board and as civic president, said he has a deep understanding of the main issues facing Brookhaven today — land use and planning, including an undersupply of affordable housing and an oversupply of vacant retail and commercial properties.

“One of my most important goals is to help guide the redevelopment of those properties in a way that doesn’t tax our already overburdened infrastructure,” he said, referring to the current system of dealing with sewage primarily through cesspools and its impact on the town’s sole drinking water source, as well as traffic.

Bodenburg acknowledged land use is a major function of the town, but added that assuring quality of life is equally important, pointing to how the many expenses of living on Long Island are straining for families.

“Sometimes we need an outsider, somebody with a fresh set of eyes to look at the issues that we face and create solutions that are somewhat creative, but are keeping our main focus of our families and our children in mind,” he said.

Both candidates said they wanted to ensure community members have the same level of access to government as land developers, as well as increased transparency in the process of member selection for planning and zoning boards.

Kornreich expressed particular concern about overdevelopment of areas like Three Village, as well as frustration about the current notification process of proposed zoning changes to nearby residents. He called the required notification letter “arcane” and confusing, and said he sends his own letter with a map and narrative explanation to residents explaining what is proposed for their neighborhood.

He said he’s working with the town’s legal department to require more robust and transparent communication. “That type of notification and that type of process makes a big difference,” he said.

Bodenburg promised to take on long wait times for things like permits. He said he planned to ensure different departments are sharing information and working cohesively to improve the efficiency of government services.

“We can do that very easily by surveying each department and finding out from the people that are serving our community: How can we help you? What makes your job easier? How can we make your job easier, so we can get our residents to get what they need faster,” Bodenburg said.

Brookhaven superintendent of highways

Newcomer Michael Kaplan (D) is challenging current Highway Supervisor Daniel Losquadro (R), who has served in that position for a decade.

Kaplan, a veteran who spent time in the Middle East with the U.S. Army, is trying to capitalize on his 30 years of experience with highway departments, from a laborer to a road inspector to working for the superintendent of highways in Huntington.

“The highway department should be run by someone who possesses the skill, someone who actually filled potholes, ran a street sweeper, plowed in many snowstorms, cleaned up things like Hurricane Sandy,” he said, adding that he also knows well the administrative side, and what needs improvement. “I want to get rid of pay-to-play. I want to get rid of basically politics in highways — people will be promoted with their merit and not by, per se, writing a check to their political party. That needs to end.”

Losquadro highlighted his accomplishments at the department, including conversion from analog to digital since his election 10 years ago. “We were a department that was hand-writing notes on work orders,” he said. “All my foremen now have iPads with a simple graphic user interface. They’re able to take photos, they’re able to upload that information instantaneously.”

That digital revolution, he added, “not only allows me to track how those work orders are being done, but it gives me a measurable metric by which I can gauge the performance of my employees.”

Both candidates shared their desire to improve safety for bikers and pedestrians, but also acknowledged the challenge of retrofitting modern infrastructure into one of the oldest parts of Long Island.

Another area of agreement was the frustration of unfunded mandates from the state and county — particularly for road and sidewalk maintenance. “I don’t know why the Department of Transportation even bothers to call themselves the state Department of Transportation anymore, because they seem to want to abdicate the responsibility for state roads almost entirely,” Losquadro said, adding that repairing sidewalks along state roads that were installed by the state has not traditionally been part of the town’s budget, and he would like to push back and request funding from the state for this work.

Kaplan suggested a more forceful response. “You need a more fierce attitude dealing with Suffolk DOT and state DOT,” he said. “I think we need fresh eyes — someone that’s really going to go up against the state government and the county government and say, ‘No, we’re not doing this anymore, and if you want us to do it, give us some money for it.”

Suffolk County executive

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has thrown his hat in the ring to lead Suffolk County after 11 years at the helm of the town. He said he’s proud of his accomplishments in Brookhaven and hopes to make the same kind of changes at the county level.

“When I came into Brookhaven, we had a lot of financial trouble and we had a divided board that was very argumentative — that ended within a few months,” he said. “My colleagues on the board right up to the present day will tell you, we work together. We have unity on the board. We have a focus to go forward.”

He said he also helped repair the town’s financial distress, pointing to the fact that the town currently has a AAA credit rating, and the New York State Comptroller’s Office just gave the town a perfect “0” score for fiscal and environmental stress indicators. He said he would also work to invite wind energy into the area, noting he’d like to move the county away from fossil fuels.

Challenging Romaine, businessman Dave Calone (D) is a Three Village resident and former federal prosecutor who sought accountability for international economic crimes, particularly in oil and gas, and for terrorism after the September 11 terrorist attacks. He later participated in assisting start-ups on Long Island and around the country.

He said he is passionate about protecting the environment and, while serving as chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, helped streamline and expedite the permitting process for residential solar panels, something that became a model for other counties and states. He said he even spoke at a conference on the topic in Chicago. 

“I think I’m the only person ever who has gone from Long Island to somewhere else to teach them how to cut red tape,” he said.

Calone also pledged to reintroduce a bill that would allow residents to vote on whether to raise sales tax by 1/8 of a cent to establish a water quality protection fund, which would help add sewers and update septic systems, in light of a summer that saw several days of beach closings due to poor water quality.

Marine scientists and other water experts have said prolific outdated cesspool systems in Suffolk are harming area waterways and the aquifer. The county Legislature blocked a referendum on the wastewater fund in July.

“For me, it’s about focusing on safety, opportunity, affordability and, obviously, environmental protection,” Calone said.

Both candidates agreed the county has significant areas to improve, especially in cybersecurity as well as in increased staffing for Child Protective Services, 911 operations and the police. Both blamed traffic fatalities on insufficient enforcement.

Calone said he would seek funding to create more “complete streets,” that is, roads friendly and safe for multiple uses: pedestrians, bikers and motorists.

Romaine called out the current county executive, Steve Bellone (D), saying there are essential positions left “deliberately” vacant, leaving police officers, 911 operators and CPS caseworkers overloaded and unable to keep up with demand for services. 

“I’m supervisor of a town,” Romaine said. “If I put a job in the budget, it gets filled. If it becomes vacant, it gets filled. That is not true in the county of Suffolk,” calling the practice dishonest. “If we fill those jobs, it’s not that you’d have to pay more because you’re already getting taxed for that.”

County legislator: 5th District

Anthony Figliola (R-East Setauket), a Three Village resident with experience in economic development and government relations, and former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) are vying to replace the vacant seat left by Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who would have been term limited in any event.

A geologist by trade with a long association with Stony Brook University, Englebright served in the Suffolk County Legislature from 1983 to 1992, before his long term in the state Assembly until the end of 2022. He said he was particularly inspired to reenter the county’s political sphere when he heard the Legislature in July rejected the opportunity to let people vote on the clean water bill. He said the move took away a chance for public education on how aging septic infrastructure affects the county’s sole-source aquifer and local harbors.

“The reason I’m running for the county Legislature is the work that I began there to protect clean water and protect us environmentally, and in order to encourage the growth of renewable energy — those issues are still very, very much in need, I believe, of some of the attention that I can give to them,” he said. “Let the people vote for clean water.”

Figliola, who indicated he was also disappointed the Legislature did not allow the clean water referendum, said he wants to bring to Suffolk his experience helping small businesses grow and assisting municipalities seeking federal funds for infrastructure.

“I care about this community, which is why I want to bring a private-sector mindset to the county Legislature because we have fiscal problems,” Figliola said. He also said he’d like to help small businesses succeed in order to decrease the number of vacant storefronts in the area.

Both candidates agreed red-light cameras should be used in a more thoughtful and disciplined way — for public safety and not as a revenue stream. “People feel that it is a cash grab, and I want to make sure their pockets are not being picked,” Figliola said.

Brookhaven Town supervisor

In the race to replace Romaine as town supervisor, Lillian Clayman (D), a SUNY Old Westbury adjunct professor and former mayor of Hamden, Connecticut, is facing off against Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville).

Clayman, who also worked as an organizer for a health care union and chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee, was unable to make the event, but said previously her priorities include bringing “good government” to Brookhaven, and solving issues of waste management in light of the planned closure of Brookhaven’s landfill.

At the event, Panico detailed his long service in public office, including 13 years at his current post as councilman for the 6th District. He said Brookhaven is “light-years” from the “sordid history that unfolded from decades ago,” thanks in part to anti-nepotism and ethics laws he was part of passing.

He said a key to his collaborative style is to represent all constituents and work collaboratively with others, no matter their political leaning. He also does not talk about national politics.

“I find it to be extremely divisive,” he said. “A lot of times when elected officials are so willing to jump into the fray of national politics and culture wars, it’s because they’re not necessarily spending that time that they should be doing the job they were elected to do.”

Panico pledged to do his best to protect open spaces from overdevelopment, an issue of particular interest to area residents, and something he has had success doing. “Land use zoning and planning is my expertise,” he said, adding that the area where he grew up — Mastic Beach — was a victim of “haphazard” development, which is difficult and expensive to redevelop. He said he would like to avoid that issue in places with historical properties and such a sense of place. “You have something special here in the Three Village area,” he said.

He also said he would address issues of illegal student housing in local neighborhoods by working with Stony Brook University to find solutions — especially in light of record donations to the school that could enable additional appropriate student housing. He said he has experience in cracking down on illegal housing situations and pledged to do the same in the Three Village area. “It’s like cancer,” he said. “If you, as a government representative, do not address the issue, and the people don’t believe their government is listening and doing something, what happens? The ‘for sale’ sign goes up, especially in this market, and it spreads down the block.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.