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TBR Staff

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TBR News Media covers everything happening on the North Shore of Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

During a public meeting on Monday, Feb. 6, Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant announced her retirement from public service. Her 14 years of uninterrupted tenure presiding over the village government will come to its conclusion this June.

“We’re going to give the community back to the residents,” Garant told a group of supporters the night of her first election win in 2009.

Six successful races later, Garant has been at the seat of power longer than any other in the village’s nearly 60-year history. And during that window, the village has undergone considerable change.

Garant’s mother, Jeanne, served three terms as mayor starting in 1999 through 2005. Unlike her mother, who had previously sat on the village Board of Trustees, Margot Garant was a first-time elected official upon entering the mayor’s office.

For over eight years, Garant’s administration engaged in a widely publicized legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the assessed valuation and property tax bill on the Port Jefferson Power Station. The tax grievance case was settled in 2018. 

Colloquially known as the glide path, the village and LIPA agreed to an eight-year phasing out of the public utility’s local tax contribution, with a 50% reduction in revenue by 2027.

Known for her ambitious building philosophy, Garant facilitated the construction of numerous projects, including large-scale developments along Port Jeff Harbor and near the train station. 

The development of Upper Port has been a core tenet of her administration. The seven-term incumbent also advanced the envisioned Six Acre Park along Highlands Boulevard, with plans in place to preserve that last remaining tract of undeveloped land as open space.

Garant’s boards have been forced to confront the crippling effects of coastal erosion at East Beach, which presently endangers the Port Jefferson Country Club’s catering facility at the edge of the bluff. 

Construction is currently ongoing for a toe wall at the base of the cliff. Most recently, Garant announced the injection of federal funding to subsidize the upland phase of the bluff stabilization initiative. Controversially, village residents have not had input on these investments through voter referendum.

Outlining why she will not seek reelection, she told the group assembled at Village Hall that her decision to step down was motivated by a desire to let others into the political process. Leaving public life, she reiterated her message delivered 14 years ago.

“It’s not about me, it’s about this community,” she told the audience. “This community is yours, and it’s always been in your hands. I couldn’t have done my job without you.”

The race to fill Garant’s seat is now underway, with candidate announcements expected in the days and weeks ahead. Village elections will take place Tuesday, June 20.

Comsewogue students recently worked at the local Chick-fil-A in Port Jeff Station as part of their Life Skills curriculum. Photo courtesy Andrew Harris
By Camila Perez Solis

Comsewogue High School’s Life Skills class students were given the opportunity to work at the local Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson Station, putting their learning into practice. 

This weekly event was made possible by several donations from companies across the Comsewogue community and support from administration and staff.

Michael Mosca, CHS principal, reacted to the unique educational endeavor. “This incredible work experience is a product of the incredible vision of our Life Skills teacher, Katy Dornicik, and our School to Career Partnership that is spearheaded by Mr. Ketterer, Mr. Joudeh and the rest of the business department,” he said.

Mosca added, “Stan, from our local Chick-fil-A, has been a tremendous supporter of our Work Based Learning initiative.”

The principal also mentioned that this initiative is just the beginning, with plans in the works to build upon this experience and develop the program even further. “Each year, we plan to add more opportunities for all of our students through our growing community partnerships,” Mosca said.

During these visits, students put together salad kits, cleaned tables and windows, and restocked shelves. They are excited to implement the skills that they have learned in Dornicik’s classroom into the real world.

Camila Perez Solis is a foreign-exchange student from Ecuador and a junior at Comsewogue High School.

The Huntington girls basketball team took on the Smithtown West Bulls Jan. 31 at a home game held at Huntington High School. The Devils emerged the winners of the Division 1 matchup, 49-38.

Huntington now stands 5-11 in the league, 6-12 overall. Smithtown West is 7-8 in Division 1 and 8-9 overall.

The Devils will take on North Babylon in an away game on Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. On the same day, the Bulls will host Northport.

METRO photo

To our readers: We appreciate your weekly letters to the editor. Writing a letter enables vital communication and contributes to a meaningful community dialogue. It is also a safety valve for expressing different, equally passionately held opinions in a civil fashion.

Letter writing can be powerful as the writer broadcasts opinions to the wider public. Here at TBR News Media, our editorial staff shoulders responsibility in channeling that message appropriately.

We hope writers and readers can regard our letters page as a community forum, a place to express themselves and potentially influence their peers and neighbors. But by necessity, this forum must be moderated to function. When a writer expresses a thought as a fact, we do our best to confirm the information is accurate. If we cannot find the information on our own, we go back to the writer and ask for a source. As journalists, we have an obligation to ensure that the facts cited are verified, that we are not allowing someone to use our letters page to spread misinformation or vitriol.

Often we are asked why our letters do not focus squarely on local matters. It’s simple — we don’t receive as many localized letters as we would like. 

Our editors aim to choose letters that represent a mix of local, county, state and national topics. We also look for a mix of opinions from conservative, liberal and moderate points of view. Letters serve as a form of public debate, and people from various sides of the political spectrum should be heard.

Moderating our letters page, we view ourselves as mediators for the various interests and opinions of the community. By sharing diverse perspectives on a range of topics, we arm our readers with the information and give them the freedom to make up their own minds.

We are asked why certain writers appear regularly on the opinion page. It’s because they write to us often and thoughtfully, and contribute to the public dialogue. We welcome and encourage letters from readers, and we hope to continue seeing new names each week.

Sometimes, we don’t receive a substantial number of letters to choose from each week that gives both sides of an issue.

If readers feel something is missing from our paper — whether from the news or editorial sections — we urge that they write us. We welcome readers’ thoughts — including criticism — regarding our content. Please feel free to react to a recent article or reflect upon life in our hometown. You can comment on an entertaining festival or even chronicle a delightful day spent at the park. The opportunities for letter writing are endless, so don’t be shy. Let your thoughts be heard.

We edit letters not to censor, but to catch grammatical mistakes, for consistency and to protect the media outlet and letter writers from libel suits. We edit for A.P. style, which is the standard in most U.S.-based news publications. We also edit for length and good taste. If a letter runs longer, we may print it as a perspective piece along with the writer’s photo.

As for good taste, our letters page is not the place to bash a neighbor or a fellow writer. There are plenty of instances when one writer will reference another person and their letter, addressing specific ideas in the other’s writings, and that’s acceptable. However, name-calling or denigration are not helpful.

In the past, we have received letters using derogatory nicknames for presidents and other officials and political figures. We do our best to edit out uncivil language.

The letters page is not a place for one to spew animosity or insults. If blanket, hateful statements are made about a group of people based on the color of their skin, ethnicity or religion, they will not be published. Our letters page is designed to add to, not detract from, a healthy public discourse.

So, please send us a letter — see address and formal policy statement to the right of this editorial. We are always interested in your thoughts, especially regarding what goes on in our coverage area.

Howard Otto Wunderlich Jr. Photo courtesy Harry Katz
Prepared by Dawn Jerry & Harry Katz

Howard Otto Wunderlich Jr., of Port Jefferson Station, passed away on Jan. 6 from cardiac arrest at the age of 74. 

Howard was the beloved and eldest son of Adeline and Dr. Howard Wunderlich, a noted radiologist affiliated with Mather and St. Charles hospitals for many years. 

Howard was a cherished brother of Dawn Rose, Karen Adeline, Alan Martin and Karl Andrew. He joins his parents and younger brother, Paul Peter, in eternal rest. 

He was an adored uncle known as “Uncle Howie” to 10 nieces and nephews. Howard was also a beloved resident of the Echo Arms Adult Home in Port Jefferson Station where he served as president of the resident community council for over a decade. 

Howard graduated from Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson and Wagner College in Staten Island, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Following college, he moved to Italy, studied medicine and gained perfect fluency in the Italian language. 

He pursued various vocations and hobbies, and was a phenomenal chef and a lifelong intellectual with endless curiosity. Above all, he was kind and generous, and his mother always said that “he has a heart of gold.”  

In his retirement, he resided at Echo Arms and, while there, organized many events and worked toward the betterment of the residents for whom he continually advocated. Among his many contributions was organizing special events, such as ice cream socials, dinners and catered events. With the former administrator, Harry Katz, he brought in Mister Softee, which the residents looked forward to and enjoyed on hot summer days.  

He was a major contributing force to special fried chicken dinners and catered meals from various delis in the community. Also, he accompanied the administrator on trips to Uncle Giuseppe’s, where they picked specific items for dinner that Howard knew would delight the residents.  

Howard lobbied successfully for many upgrades at Echo Arms. Through the community council, he helped implement new air conditioning and heating units. During his tenure, universal free cable television became a reality for the residents. With input from residents, he successfully advocated for better outdoor lighting and security upgrades around the property. 

Howard was always available to the residents of Echo Arms, offering measured and sage advice when necessary. He had a knack for steering others on the right path when they needed redirecting and counsel. He was a true gentleman, respected by all, with a presence and manner that was universally loved.  

He was a fabulous oral historian who drew on his wealth of memories of Port Jefferson from the 1950s up to the present time. 

His presence is already sorely missed at Echo Arms. His family intends to hold a memorial for him this summer, complete with a catered event for the residents and staff of Echo Arms, which was Howard’s wish. 

His life, his kindness and his love will be remembered always.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow. Photo from Port Jefferson Village website
By Lauren Sheprow

Lauren Sheprow is a Port Jefferson Village trustee.

The past two bonds put forth by the Port Jefferson School District were defeated by the taxpaying residents of Port Jefferson. The $30 million bond put forward in 2017 had significant public opposition. The vocal majority was virtually ignored, but the vote ensured their voice was heard. Fast forward to 2022 and a new $25 million bond proposal. Lesson learned? Partially.

The 2022 bond was somewhat more palatable. Those who put it forward did the right thing by separating the athletic field turf project ($1.9 million) from the HVAC projects, classroom relocations and locker room/team room facility upgrades ($23.1 million). Neither proposition passed but the administration returned to the drawing board Jan. 24 to come up with a new bond, and will once again ask Port Jefferson taxpayers to pay for capital projects that have been ignored for far too long.

I, like many in the village, am torn at the enormity of the cost estimates for these projects (and like many in the community I have spoken with, I am interested in understanding more about how the architect of record comes up with these cost proposals but that’s a conversation for another day). I wonder if we shouldn’t look at more creative, cost-effective mitigation than what was proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond. I am also curious as to which projects might be able to be completed using capital reserves that the district has on hand from its annual budget process. The good news is, as we learned at the Jan. 10, 2022, Board of Education meeting, the administration was able to identify general fund balance monies to build an ADA compliant bathroom at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School (which was in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond proposal).

Putting that debate aside, I wanted to clarify something reported in the Jan. 19 edition of The Port Times Record – that at a recent meeting of the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees I cited a Newsday report indicating that approximately 80% of the $14 billion federal COVID-19 relief funds have yet to be spent by public schools statewide, which is accurate. What was misunderstood was that I suggested the heating and ventilation systems upgrade proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond may qualify under existing COVID relief conditions. I want to clarify that I fully understand that the existing COVID relief funds for which the school district is eligible has reached its limit at $375,000 and that Port Jeff doesn’t qualify for additional relief funds due to student count, free or reduced price lunch ratio and combined wealth ratio. 

My point in this conversation was to think beyond the bond/tax increase model. As I see it, we have three tools in the toolbox that we haven’t fully investigated:

1. Explore a more strategic conversation with our state and federal elected representatives to understand if or how the funding criteria can be reevaluated so unspent funds don’t languish.

2. Resident participation: By attending BOE meetings, committee meetings — especially the finance committee and bond planning meetings — our residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions in real time and become more engaged in the BOE’s selfless and tireless efforts to make our school district the best it can be.

3. Fundraising: We need an official alumni association for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. The purpose of such an association is to foster a spirit of loyalty and to promote the general welfare of the district. Alumni associations exist to support the parent organization’s goals, and to strengthen the ties between alumni, the community and the parent organization. It works for higher education. It can work for our alma mater. 

Our alumni infrastructure, although not organized, is very strong. Passionate residents, including Port Jeff alumni, started the still active Royal Educational Foundation in 1991 when a need was identified to fund unfunded teacher programs. Port Jeff has a hall of fame, hosts an annual homecoming parade and event, and for more than 60 years parents of graduating seniors have been raising funds for the iconic Port Jeff Senior Prom experience. And for nearly nine decades, tens of thousands of Port Jeff grads have been coming back to Port Jeff for high school reunions because of their strong connection to their alma mater.

Consider the possibilities. If we create a capital campaign for a specific project and reach out to alumni who may have a deep connection to said project, with naming rights and all bells and whistles, who knows what can be accomplished? A new instruction area for the music program? New locker room and team room facilities for our student athletes? An annual hall of fame recognition dinner?

Port Jeff alumni are some of the most talented, accomplished people in the world. Let’s engage them with their alma mater and ask for their help. Let’s find a way to support the Port Jeff School District, its students, faculty and staff by connecting the tens of thousands of alumni living among us and away from us to their alma mater through an official PJ alumni association. It will require a great deal of organization, establishing a 501(c)(3), and infrastructural support including digital assets and content curation.

Interested? Contact me at [email protected] 

Let’s do this.

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By Mallie Jane Kim

Setting secondary school start times later is a priority, but the initiative faces budget barriers, according to Three Village school district Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.

Scanlon shared his strong support for a time change at a strategic planning subcommittee Monday night, Jan. 23, where he and Deputy Superintendent Jeffrey Carlson introduced proposed alternative schedules for Three Village schools. Each alternative requires additional buses, and with New York’s 2% property tax increase cap in place, that money has to come from somewhere else in the budget, Carlson said at the meeting. “Anything that goes in, something else has to come out.”

Currently, junior high students in the district start the day at 7:40 a.m., and high school students begin at 7:05. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for adolescents, citing a body of research indicating too early a start time is a prime culprit in teen sleep deprivation, which negatively affects physical and mental health — and, crucially, school performance.

“We all get the idea that the start time is too early,” Scanlon said, adding later that in his 31 years working in education, “I’ve witnessed the impact of health issues on children, [including] drugs and alcohol. This is one of them, and this is something we need to address.”

But getting secondary start times past the 8 a.m. mark is complicated due to tiered busing. Currently, the district’s fleet of 47 buses transports students in four waves, starting with the first high school pickup at 6:10 a.m., and ending with the last drop-offs at Arrowhead, Setauket and Mount elementary schools, which start at 9:25 a.m. Carlson told the subcommittee he would welcome additional schedule configuration proposals but clarified that Ward Melville High School can’t simply switch start times with the late elementary schools because its Section XI sports league requires participating schools to end by 3 p.m. And starting all schools closer to the same time would require additional buses.

The other issues currently facing the school board — proposals to reconfigure elementary schools, move ninth grade to high school and move sixth grade up to form middle schools — could make some room in the budget, as could an idea to convert an existing school into a tuition-based school of the arts.

District parents making public comment at the meeting were passionate in their dislike of the early secondary start times, with one parent calling the start time “vile,” and another comparing it to a dangerous substance, saying if the district knew a substance in the schools was causing anxiety, depression, increased sports injuries and lower test scores, “we wouldn’t balk at spending this money to do something about it, without question.”

Others suggested that the elementary school students who currently start school at 9:25 a.m. could benefit from an earlier start time since younger children tend to wake up earlier, and some families have to arrange day care before school to accommodate work schedules.

District parent Barbara Rosati, who is a Stony Brook University research physiologist and founder of an advocacy group on this issue, expressed gratitude at the meeting that the new board leadership is taking the start times seriously, but is frustrated that changes have not been prioritized in the budget up until this point.

“What we are seeing here are costs necessary to keep our kids healthy,” Rosati told the subcommittee. “Whatever we don’t do, our kids’ health is going to keep suffering.” 

Scanlon, who took the helm of Three Village district last summer, emphasized that any changes the board approves would be, at the earliest, for the 2024-25 school year.

METRO photo

County officials are currently engaged in a contentious debate over the Suffolk County School Bus Safety Program. 

Proponents say the program bolsters traffic safety around school buses. Detractors argue the program represents little more than a convenient revenue generator to plug holes in the county budget.

Promoting safety on public roads remains a priority regardless of where one stands on the program itself.

New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law is a worthy undertaking to protect school children. Whether cameras remain strapped to school buses, drivers should always be vigilant near a school bus with flashing yellow lights. 

Under no circumstances should one ever pass a school bus while the stop arm is extended.

But roadway safety is not isolated to school buses. The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes in 2021. That’s a 10.5% increase from the previous year.

NHTSA reports collected from 2016 to 2020 indicate that nearly 1,000 vehicular fatalities occurred on Long Island, more than half of which were in Suffolk County.

Statistics aside, we read almost weekly reports of individuals involved in significant motor vehicle accidents within our coverage area. Many times, they include serious bodily injury to the victims. At other times, they can be fatal.

Long Island is unique in its autocentric character. Development of our Island happened nearly a century ago, and the suburbanization of Long Island happened almost simultaneously with the growth of the American automobile industry.

Planners, notably Robert Moses, saw the car as offering individual autonomy. They viewed the Long Island Dream as an expression of that individualistic promise. 

Unfortunately, they failed to provide sufficient mass transit infrastructure, twisting a dream into our difficult reality.

Today, Long Islanders are glued to their cars. For most of us, getting to work requires a car. Having success in our professional and social lives requires a car. For those who do not live within walking distance of a train station, accessing the rail requires a car. 

All of this highlights the need to drive responsibly.

When we operate a moving vehicle, we harness the power to unleash great bodily injury — even death — upon ourselves and others. At the same time, we can monitor our decisions and protect our fellows on the roads.

We can make our roads safer by following the speed limits, driving sober and taking extra precautions when we get behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, we Long Islanders are stuck in our cars for the foreseeable future. But we are stuck together. 

Let us be mindful of our neighbors. Let us regard the lives of other drivers as we would our family members or friends. 

We can help make these roads safer for all through our positive choices today.

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By Neil Mehta

Over 75 local businesses and organizations engaged with students in grades seven through 12 at Ward Melville High School’s 5th annual career fair Jan. 18. The event, organized by the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, was attended by more than 550 individuals.

Ilene Littman, WMHS business teacher and 3V-IAB coordinator, said the event was held to provide students with “real-world connections, networking opportunities with businesses, and a period to talk to businesses and find out what careers would be most appropriate for them.”

Kevin Scanlon, Three Village Central School District superintendent, said that the goal of the program was to “expose students to some of these opportunities now, before they go off to college.”

Before the event, students completed a personality assessment to determine their Holland code, a system that connects an individual’s personality traits to compatible career paths, Littman said. Businesses were located in the gymnasium at color-coded tables corresponding to each of the six Holland codes, allowing students to find employers from compatible industries.

Several business and organization representatives at the fair noted that they were impressed with the quality of conversation and preparation by student attendees.

Lisa Owens, program manager at regional food bank Long Island Cares, attended the fair to introduce high schoolers to careers in the nonprofit sector

“A lot of students aren’t familiar with nonprofit agencies in general,” she said. “Most of them want to go into corporate careers.”

Vinny Constantino, cardiovascular technologist at Mather Hospital, said he attended the fair to expand student awareness of medical careers beyond work as a doctor or nurse.

“I didn’t know about this career path in high school,” Constantino said. “I never knew there was such a thing as a technologist or what that job entails. I thought it would be nice to let people know that this is an avenue you can pursue.”

According to Scanlon, the school district is in the process of developing its business education program through curricular and experiential learning opportunities.

Previously, the district was home to eight business teachers at Ward Melville High school, a figure that decreased to only two, Scanlon said. Now, the school has increased again to three teachers and plans to continue expanding.

Outside of the classroom, the district offers a work-based learning program and hosts 3V-IAB, which brings together students, parents, community members, administration and staff together to plan events such as the career fair.

Michael Ardolino, 3V-IAB chair and owner/broker at Realty Connect USA, said that in addition to hosting programs, the advisory board improves engagement between students and employers by gathering businesses’ feedback regarding students’ preparation for the workforce.

Littman and Scanlon both emphasized that students should keep open minds as they continue navigating potential career paths, with Littman noting that “approximately 65% of jobs that kids in sixth grade will have aren’t even established yet.”

“Kids are going to change their jobs multiple times before they retire,” Scanlon added. “They need to be open to that and be flexible to those opportunities.”

(Left to right) Social worker Taylor Cohen; social worker Alexia Bellini; and student-writer Sophia Gregorio. Photo courtesy Andrew Harris
By Sophia Gregorio

For the second straight year, the Lake Grove-based Trek Bicycle Store has donated two bicycles to Comsewogue School District. 

The bike store generously gave the bicycles to help those needing something for the holidays. 

“Trek Lake Grove is happy to help families in the Port Jefferson Station community this year,” said store manager Catie Gregorio.

Comsewogue School District would like to thank Trek Lake Grove and anyone who donated to the needy during the holiday season. 

Comsewogue High School principal, Michael Mosca, commented on the value such donations add to the greater community. 

“This is what makes our community special,” he said. “Everyone is willing to go above and beyond to help one another. We are very grateful for our community partners and all they do for our students and our schools.”

Sophia Gregorio is a sophomore at Comsewogue High School.