Budget

Stock photo

As votes were being counted in the Three Village Central School District for budget approval and board of education trustees on the night of May 17, the budget race was a close one.

At the end of the night, the 2022-23 budget of $224 million passed by 66 votes, 2,584-2,518. The new budget is $3.8 million more than last year’s contingency budget of $220.2 million, reflecting a 1.72% increase. The proposed tax levy is $165 million.

Last year, although 57.7% of taxpayers voted in favor of a $222.6 million budget — 2,286-1,677 — it failed to pass. The proposed 2021-22 budget pierced the 1.37% cap on the tax levy increase, necessitating a supermajority approval, or 60% of the vote.

TBR News Media asked readers how they voted on May 17 regarding the 2022-23 TVCSD budget.

Those who approved

Ian Farber, of East Setauket, and a member of the district’s budget advisory committee that was formed earlier this year, said he voted “yes.” He said he believes the district “made a good faith effort to increase the efficiency and efficacy of how our tax dollars are utilized.” He added he believed the committee helped facilitate that.

“While there is more work to be done, voting ‘no’ would not yield any positive outcomes,” he said. “Some in our community think that we operated this past year on contingency with no impact to the students and the instructional staff. While we fared better than other districts on contingency, some classes couldn’t be expanded and teachers that were previously dedicated to a specific school had to float between multiple buildings. The district was also prevented from paying back money into the reserves, putting us all at an increased fiscal risk.”

Farber said he felt if the district operated on a contingency budget for years in a row, it would erode the district’s educational institution.

Shoshana Hershkowitz, of South Setauket, also voted “yes,” saying that “the difference in taxes between the proposed budget and the contingency budget is minimal, and I think our schools have done an excellent job through several challenging years.”

She said addressing rising costs and making other changes is beyond the district level.

“If we want to address rising costs on Long Island, the way to do it is by looking at issues including the lack of affordable housing, health care benefits being tied to employment, and the fact that Long Island has over 120 school districts, which increases both cost and segregation,” she said. “Defunding our public schools, as some have advocated for, isn’t the way to reduce the cost of living in our region.”

She added that passing the New York Health Act would mean public sector benefits would no longer be part of school budgets.

Anne Chimelis, of Setauket, said this year as well as last she encouraged people to vote “yes.” She said having taught and lived in other school districts, she has witnessed when budgets are voted down, and she feels it doesn’t help the students. Voting a budget down is shortsighted, Chimelis said, and there are other ways to address it.

“The reality is your tax bill doesn’t really change that much when you vote down a budget, and things only get worse for your kids, for the district as a whole,” she said. “So, that’s not really the way to effect change in my opinion. There are many other ways to effect change.”

She applauded the formation of the budget advisory committee this year.

“I think having administrators, teachers, other people from the school community be part of that next year is a great idea, and I’m sure that in working together they can continue to find ways to spend money more efficiently without just summarily voting down a budget,” she said.

Chimelis said she wasn’t pleased that 4.5 nursing positions were being eliminated with the 2022-23 budget. The district’s decision was stated that the nurses were no longer needed due to the wake of declining COVID-19 infection rates. However, she said she wouldn’t vote down the budget for one issue.

For Farber, he would like the STEM program to be brought back to the elementary schools and expanded into STEAM to incorporate the arts.

“No budget is perfect, and 3V still has room to improve,” Farber said, despite his “yes” vote.

He added, “Continuing and expanding upon collaboration is how we improve.”

A ‘no’ vote

David McKinnon, who ran for school board in 2020 and 2021, was also a member of the budget advisory committee, which he said he believes made the process more transparent to the community but was not set up to constrain costs.

The East Setauket resident said he was disturbed that the teachers union, New York State United Teachers, injects themselves into local school district elections. According to NYSUT’s website, the “statewide union has a political fund-raising arm called VOTE-COPE.” The nonpartisan fund was established to coordinate “the voluntary contributions of members and supports NYSUT-endorsed candidates and campaign committees that are pro-public-education and pro-labor.”

McKinnon said, while he supports teachers and other workers, the campaign means more money is spent on advocating for residents to vote “yes” than “no.” NYSUT did not return requests for the amount of funds invested in the TVCSD election.

He said he believes “most people in the district want accountability on education and on spending” and that it would be best for residents’ decisions to be unaffected by a lobbyist group.

“Ideally decisions surrounding the schools would be made by the local community without external interference,” he said.

McKinnon added he believes with NYSUT getting involved that teachers may have a louder voice, when “there are multiple stakeholders,” students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff. He added he believes that the opinions of students and parents should be heard and balanced with the needs of teachers and administrators.

“Our school district is currently funded at close to the highest level in the nation on a cost per pupil basis, taking account of economies of scale related to school size,” he said. “Given this already very high level of funding, the fiscally responsible position is to keep the cost per pupil reasonably flat in terms of real dollars.”

McKinnon said with declining enrollment over more than a decade in the district there should be a zero budget increase.

“Instead, the budget has increased substantially over the last decade, except for last year,” he said.

Barbara Rosati, represents parents and educators through the group Three Village Parents Alliance, which has a Facebook page, a mailing list of nearly 200 residents and a website. She is also married to McKinnon. She said she voted “no,” and believes that just because she and others did so, it doesn’t mean they are unsupportive of the district or education.

Rosati said she and others believe the district’s core academic programs, especially at the elementary level, can be updated and improved. While she knows parents who have supplemented their children’s education through out-of-school tutoring or enrichment programs, she said it can be expensive and, for children, cumbersome.

She and other parents have also started a conversation with the district about “excessively early school start times,” and the TVPA group members are also concerned with growing property taxes, which they feel are due to excessive administrative costs.

“Yet, none of the tax increase on this year’s budget is aimed at addressing them,” she said. “After advocating for these issues, and closely following the district’s financial decisions, it would seem that this does not reflect a lack of funds but rather a lack of political will.”

She added, “Last year’s 0% tax increase budget could support all the existing programs, COVID-required extra instructional and noninstructional personnel, and also the addition of a few narrow interest programs.”

Marlo Dombroff, of East Setauket, also voted “no,” and she said she felt recommendations that the budget advisory committee made were not followed.

“When I evaluated the reasons for why the budget was to increase again, I couldn’t find a clear explanation of how the additional funds would directly benefit the students,” she said. “The budget continues to increase each year and it is almost imperceptible where those monies are going. As a parent, I don’t see any improvements in education. I had a child graduate last year who went through K-12, and I have a child now who is in 10th grade, who has been here also since kindergarten.”

As someone who has attended all board of education meetings, she feels changes and improvements suggested by parents have not been “put into place, regardless of heavy parent lobbying.” Dombroff said examples of needed improvements are to the elementary math classes and starting foreign language teaching in the elementary schools.

District’s statement

TVCSD Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said in a statement the district was “thankful to the community for its participation in this year’s annual budget vote.”

“We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with all our stakeholders to ensure that the district maintains the robust and supportive educational program it provides for all students,” she said. “In recent years, specifically during the past few years of the pandemic, we were able to sustain and build upon our practices to meet this goal.”

Pedisich listed the district bringing students back to school full time and in person during the 2020-21 academic year and implementing “initiatives designed to support learners across all levels — from the youngest to our seniors — all while reducing costs through the consolidation of administrative positions and other operational efficiencies” among the district’s accomplishments in meeting its goals.

Port Jefferson School District

Budget passed ($46.1 million) 

Yes: 642

No:  165

Proposition 2 passed

Yes: 673

No:  130

School board election:

Randi DeWitt:  563*

Ellen Boehm:   550*

Paul Ryan:      267

(reelected *)

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Budget passed ($102.1 million)

Yes: 998

No:  427

School board election:

Robert DeStefano:            921*

Francisca Alabau-Blatter: 655*

Joseph Borruso:               457

Gary Bodenburg:              344

Meghan Puleo:                 258

(reelected *) 

Pixabay photo

Along the North Shore of the Town of Huntington, the majority of residents who turned out to vote May 17 in school elections approved their district’s budgets. They also voted incumbents back in to retain their seats on the boards of education, except in Cold Spring Harbor.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Cold Spring Harbor school district residents passed a $73,420,423 budget, 817 to 276. The budget reflects a $1,403,005 increase from the 2021-22 budget of $72,017,418 and reflects a 1.64% tax levy which is below the cap.

Incumbent and current president Amelia Walsh Brogan lost her seat with 496 votes. Incumbent Julie Starrett did not seek reelection.

Alex Whelehan, 888 votes, and Bruce Sullivan, 648, will be joining the board as new trustees.

Commack Union Free School District

The $ 214,645,326 budget for 2022-23 was passed with 2,392 votes. There were 815 who voted “no.” Proposition 2 to decrease transportation limits in grades three through five from 1/2 mile to a 1/4 mile was also passed, 2,376 to 814.

The budget for next academic year is an increase of 4.64% over last year. This will result in a tax levy increase of 1.95%, under the tax cap of 3.82%. This includes a state aid package of $43 million.

Incumbents Steven Hartman and Justin Varughese retained their seats with 2,277 and 2,247 votes, respectively. Newcomers Pauline Fidalgo received 877 and Christopher Jurkovic 893.

Elwood Union Free School District

The $69,181,071 budget for the new academic year was passed in Elwood, 804 to 396. The dollar amount reflects a $2,267,492 increase and 3.39% increase over the previous budget of $66,913,579. The budget represents a tax levy increase of 2.9% which is under the district’s allowable tax levy of 3.4%.

Incumbent Deborah Weiss retains her seat with 965 votes. Local student Sean Camas received 183 votes

Harborfields Central School District

In Harborfields, residents approved the $92,895,995 budget, 1,655-353. The budget is $2,579,731 more than the 2021-22 budget of $90,316,264, which comes to a 2.86% increase. The budget is within the district’s allowed tax levy increase of 2.28%.

Incumbents Hansen Lee and Colleen Wolcott retained their seats with 1,490 and 1,530 votes, respectively. Challenger David Balistreri received 603 votes.

Huntington Union Free School District

The $142,968,343 Huntington school district budget passed with 834 “yes” votes and 150 voters saying “no.” The approved budget will be an increase of 2.62% over the current spending plan. However, it does not raise the tax levy. According to the district’s website, the lack of an increase to the tax levy is due to a $4,087,007 increase in state aid to $26,253,748, low debt and the district lessening expenditures.

Two capital reserve propositions passed, 860-117 and 854-124.

Incumbents Bill Dwyer and Michele Kustera ran unopposed with 823 and 838 votes, respectively.

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

Residents approved the $177,856,084 Northport-East Northport budget, 2,285-1,674. They also passed proposition 2, by 2,983-958, to authorize $5,694,660 to be used for building projects including HVAC renovations, asbestos abatement and replacement of bleachers at Northport High School.

The approved budget represents a budget-to-budget increase of 1.81%. The tax levy increase is 0.61%, which involves an additional sum to average taxpayers of $49.79. 

Incumbents Larry Licopoli, Allison Noonan and Thomas Loughran retained their seats on the board with 2,528, 2,676 and 2,729 votes, respectively. Challenger Frank Labate received 1,754.

Town of Smithtown residents who turned out to vote in school elections May 17 approved their district’s budgets. They also voted incumbents back in to retain their seats on the boards of education.

Commack Union Free School District

The $ 214,645,326 budget for 2022-23 was passed with 2,392 votes. There were 815 who voted “no.” Proposition 2 to decrease transportation limits in grades three through five from 1/2 mile to a 1/4 mile was also passed, 2,376 to 814.

The budget for next academic year is an increase of 4.64% over last year. This will result in a tax levy increase of 1.95%, under the tax cap of 3.82%. This includes a state aid package of $43 million.

Incumbents Steven Hartman and Justin Varughese retained their seats with 2,277 and 2,247 votes, respectively. Newcomers Pauline Fidalgo received 877 and Christopher Jurkovic 893.

Hauppauge Union Free School District

Hauppauge residents passed the $123,913,904 budget, 639-300. The budget reflects a 3.29% increase over last year and a 1.22% tax levy increase.

Three candidates ran for three seats, incumbent and board vice president Rob Scarito, 617; Michael Buscarino, 651; and incumbent and current board president David Barshay, 624.

Kings Park Central School District

The Kings Park $102.24 million budget was approved by voters, 2,229 to 1,125. The budget is an increase of 1.94% over last year. This will result in a 2.99% tax levy increase, or $23.39 more per year for the average taxpayer.

Trustees Pam DeFord and Dan Tew did not seek reelection, leaving two seats up for election. Patrick Hanley, 1,879 votes, and Shala Pascucci, 1,737, will be the new board trustees beginning July 1. They defeated Jaime Lelle, 1,529, and Douglas Cerrato, 1,490.

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown school district residents approved the $267,786,882 budget, 5,250 to 2,241. The 2022-23 budget reflects a dollar change of $5,467,217 from last year’s budget of $262,319,665. The tax levy is 1.2% and is below the district’s allowable tax levy.

Proposition 2, establishing a capital reserve, passed 5,249 to 2,241. 

Michael Catalanotto and Michael Saidens won back their seats, with 4,582 and 4,590 votes, respectively. This will be the second term for Catalanotto and the third for Saidens.

Charles Fisher, who challenged Catalanotto for his seat received 3,201 votes, and Angela Kouvel, who challenged Saidens, received 3,157.

In a joint statement sent May 18, Catalanotto and Saidens thanked Smithtown voters “for putting your confidence and trust in us.”

“We are honored to be reelected with nearly 60% of the vote,” they said. “The parents and residents had a choice to make, and voted to keep Smithtown schools great, support all of our students and protect our property values. People were fed up with our children being used as political footballs, and roundly rejected efforts to destabilize our schools. We couldn’t be prouder of the hard work our teachers, administrators and staff do, each and every day, in running a world-class school district and they will continue to have our strong support.”

File photo by Greg Catalano

After turning down last year’s budget, Three Village Central School District residents said “yes” to the 2022-23 budget of $224,060,618.

The votes were close with 2,584 approving the budget and 2,518 voting “no.”

The new budget is $3,798,183 more than last year’s contingency budget of $220,262,435, reflecting a 1.72% increase. The proposed tax levy is $164,954,877.

Four candidates vied for two seats in this year’s race. Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) did not run for reelection after serving on the board since 2008.

Incumbent Vincent Vizzo and his running mate Jennifer Solomon won with 2,715 and 2,650 votes, respectively. Reanna Fulton received 2,283 of the votes and Evan Proios 2,122.

For Vizzo, a 34-year veteran of the school district, it will be his second term on the board. He has been both a teacher and administrator in Three Village and a few years ago retired as principal of R.C. Murphy Jr. High School. As someone who has worked, lived in the district and also raised children in Three Village, he said he decided to run again because the community is “his life.”

In a May 18 email, Vizzo thanked community members for their support.

“I want their children to have the same excellent education that our children had in Three Village schools,” he said. “Once again ‘thank you,’ and I will work my hardest over the next three years.”

Jennifer Solomon

He added, “I am excited to be working with my dear former student and good friend Jen. She will be an asset to our board of education. A special thanks to Reanna and Evan for running for the board.” 

Solomon, a former graduate of Three Village schools, who is raising four children in the district, ran for the first time. She has worked as a bilingual speech language pathologist in the Riverhead Central School District and is now an administrator in the Riverhead district.

Solomon said she was relieved when she heard she won.

“Last night a majority of voters, not only in Three Village, but across Long Island, affirmed that our public schools belong to all of us,” she said. “Still, there is a lot of work to be done to demonstrate how equitable and inclusive practices support students’ learning outcomes and add value to our school district. I’m looking forward to serving the community, and I am ready to do the work.”

Trustee terms begin July 1 and are for three years.

North Shore residents stopped by their local polling places throughout the day May 17 to vote on school budgets and for board of education members.

Winning candidates are in bold.

This story will be updated as more results come in. Last updated May 18 at 11:33 a.m.

Commack Union Free School District

$ 214,645,326 budget passed

Yes – 2,392

No – 815

Proposition 2 to decrease transportation limits in grades 3 through 5 from ½ mile to a ¼ mile, passed

Yes – 2,376

No – 814

Candidates, two seats 

Steven Hartman – 2,277

Pauline Fidalgo – 877

Justin Varughese – 2,247

Christopher Jurkovic – 893

Comsewogue Union Free School District

The budget passed.

Yes – 998

No – 427

Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter both elected for three-year terms. 

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

$73,420,423 budget passed

Yes – 817

No – 276

Candidates, two seats

Amelia Walsh Brogan – 496

Alex Whelehan – 888

Bruce Sullivan – 648

Elwood Union Free School District

$69,181,071 budget passed

Yes – 804

No – 396

Candidates, one seat

Deborah Weiss – 965

Sean Camas – 183

Harborfields Central School District

$92,895,995 budget passed

Yes – 1,655

No – 353

Candidates, two seats

Hansen Lee – 1,490 votes

Colleen Wolcott – 1,530

David Balistreri – 603

Hauppauge Union Free School District

$123,913,904 budget passed

Yes – 639

No – 300

Candidates, three candidates

Rob Scarito – 624

Michael Buscarino -651

David Barshay- 617

Huntington Union Free School District

$142,968,343 budget passed

Yes – 834

No – 150

Candidates, two seats, incumbents unopposed

Bill Dwyer- 823

Michele Kustera- 838

Kings Park Central School District

$102.24 million budget passed

Yes – 2,229

No – 1,125

Candidates, two seats

Patrick Hanley – 1,879

Shala Pascucci – 1,737

Jaime Lelle – 1,529

Douglas Cerrato- 1,490.

Middle Country Central School District

The budget passed.

Yes – 2,036

No – 946

Robert Hallock – 1,500
Kristopher Oliva (Incumbent) – 1,452
Denise Haggerty (Incumbent) – 1,518
Leah Fitzpatrick – 1,440
Robert Feeney (Incumbent) – 1,513
Tifanny Lorusso – 1,434
Dawn Sharrock (Incumbent) – 1,481
Kimberly Crawford-Arbocus – 1,471

Miller Place School District

The budget passed. 

Yes – 1,394

No – 503

Proposition 2 (library budget) passed.

Yes – 1,590

No – 310

CORRECTION: It was originally misreported that Andrea Spaniolas received 628 votes. Spaniolas actually received 924 votes. 

Keith Frank – 830

Johanna Testa – 990

Andrea Spaniolas – 924

Jennifer Andersen-Oldenskov – 616

Kenneth Conway – 743

John Galligan – 625

Jenna Stingo – 782

Mount Sinai School District

 

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

$177,856,084, budget passed

Yes – 2,285

 No- 1,674

 Proposition #2: Capital Expenditures: Passed

Candidates, three seats

Larry Licopoli – 2,528

Allison Noonan – 2,676

Thomas Loughran – 2,729

Frank Labate – 1,754

Port Jefferson School District

Budget passed: Yes – 642; No – 165
Proposition #2: Yes 673; No 130

Ellen Boehm – 550
Randi DeWitt – 563

Paul Ryan – 267

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Budget passed.

Yes – 1,017
No – 322

Proposition 2 – Capital Reserve
– 1,063 Yes
– 267 No

Susan Sullivan – 595 –  3yr term
Erin Walsh – 515 –  1yr term
Nick Contes – 514
Nicole Kelly – 485
Jason Ford – 221
Susan Wilson – 258

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Budget passed. 

Yes – 625

No – 167

Proposition #2

Yes – 652

No – 139

Tom Sheridan – 659

Meghan Tepfenhardt – 638

14 Write-in candidates received less than five votes each

Smithtown Central School District

$267,786,882 budget passed

Yes – 5,250

No – 2,241

Candidates, two seats

Michael Catalanotto – 4,582

Michael Saidens – 4,590

Charles Fisher – 3,201 votes

Angela Kouvel – 3,157.

Three Village Central School District

$224,060,618 budget passed

Yes – 2,584

No – 2,518

Candidates, two seats

Vincent Vizzo – 2,715

Jennifer Solomon – 2,650  

Reanna Fulton – 2,283

Evan Proios –2,122

 

Newfield High School, above, will serve as one of the polling sites for this year’s school budget and board of education elections. File photo

Tomorrow, residents of the Middle Country Central School District will have the opportunity to weigh in on the future of their local schools.

On Tuesday, May 17, the district will hold its school budget vote and trustee election in the new gymnasiums at both Centereach and Newfield high schools from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The district’s proposed budget of $274,944,707 is up $5,863,749 from the previous year. According to the district’s planning presentation, the stated objective of this year’s budget is to “preserve the pre-K through grade 12 comprehensive program that is currently in place to ensure that students have the opportunities, resources and supports to successfully involve themselves in schooling and extracurricular activities so that they meet the expectations described in the Middle Country mission statement, and to do so by staying within the allowable tax levy cap.”

Centereach High School will serve as the other polling location. File photo

In the process of preparing this year’s annual budget, the district encountered a number of challenges related to increasing costs, decreasing state aid and declining district reserve balances. Homeowners will see an estimated tax levy increase of 3.10%, which approximates to a $177 increase per household. 

Voters will be asked to elect four trustees. Incumbent Robert Feeney is being challenged by Tiffany Lorusso; incumbent Kristopher Oliva by Robert Hallock; incumbent Dawn Sharrock by Kimberly Crawford-Arbocus; and incumbent Denise Haggerty by Leah Fitzpatrick for a remaining two-year term.

North Country Road Middle School will serve as the polling site for this year budget and school board elections. File photo

Miller Place school district will be holding its budget vote and board of education elections this Tuesday.

The proposed budget for 2022-23 is $77,670,225, a 1.5% increase.  

Incumbents Johanna Testa, BOE president, and trustee Keith Frank are being challenged by Jennifer Andersen-Oldenskov, Kenneth Conway, John Galligan, Jennifer Keller, Andrea Spaniolas and Jenna Stingo.

In this at-large vote,  the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be elected to serve on the board of education, according to the school district. 

Voting

The budget vote and trustee elections will be held Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at North Country Road Middle School, 191 N. Country Road, Miller Place.

Voters on the North Shore of the Town of Huntington will have the opportunity to vote for school budgets and board of education candidates Tuesday, May 17.

Below is a summary of the budgets and BOE races in the Huntington, Harborfields, Elwood and Cold Spring Harbor school districts.

For information on the Commack school district, see page A4. For the Northport school district, see the May 5 edition of The Times of Huntington & Northport or visit tbrnewsmedia.com and search for the article “Northport BOE budget vote, trustee elections set for May 17.”

Huntington Union Free School District

Budget

Those in the Huntington school district will be voting on a school budget that includes no increase in the tax levy.

The proposed budget of $142,968,343 will be an increase of 2.62% over the current spending plan. However, it will not raise the tax levy if approved by residents. According to the district’s website, the lack of an increase to the tax levy is due to a $4,087,007 increase in state aid to $26,253,748, low debt and the district lessening expenditures.

Residents will also be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on a proposition to authorize the expenditure of $6.6 million from building improvement capital reserves. The district aims to complete various projects, including electrical work at two primary schools as well as three gas/carbon monoxide detectors at three primary schools. Funds would also be used to renovate the parking lot and replace tiles at Finley Middle School. A second field is also planned for the high school to be used for sports such as soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football, and it would also be used for physical education classes and marching band rehearsals.

Candidate information

Trustees Bill Dwyer and Michele Kustera will be running again for three-year terms and will run unopposed.

An account executive for an educational technology company, Dwyer works with school districts throughout the Northeast. He was elected to the board of ed for the first time in 2008. After his first term, he left the board for two years, and then was reelected in 2013, 2016 and 2019.

Kustera is running for her second term. She has been involved in the district on the long-range planning and food allergy committees and as a member of the district’s PTA organizations. 

Voting information

Residents of Huntington school district can vote from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 17 at Huntington High School lobby.

Harborfields Central School District

Budget

Residents in the Harborfields school district will vote on a $92,895,995 proposed budget for the 2022-23 school year. The amount is $2,579,731 more than the 2021-22 budget of $90,316,264, which comes to a 2.86% increase. The budget is within the district’s allowed tax levy increase of 2.28%.

Candidate information

Current trustees Hansen Lee and Colleen Wolcott and newcomer David Balistreri will be vying for two at-large seats.

Lee has spent nine years on the board and is a director at Enzo Biochem where he oversees laboratory operations. On his profile in the district’s meet the candidates page, Lee listed “creating an inclusive and welcoming community” as being important to him.

“I currently serve on the Town of Huntington’s Asian American Task Force and was also fortunate enough to be a part of the recognition of the two Muslim holy days as official school holidays, the first district in Suffolk County to do so,” he said.

Wolcott has been a board member since 2016, and she is a case manager with the not-for–profit Angela’s House and owner/graphic designer at Gold Coast Impressions, Centerport.

Wolcott’s past experiences include working as a special education teacher with a dual certification in early education and special education up to age 21. In her candidate profile, she said, “Today’s students need more.”

“Success is no longer solely defined by strong academic achievement, but by life skills learned in a well-rounded, diverse atmosphere with a focus on mental wellness, enriched academics, the arts, elective and athletic opportunities,” she said. “It’s not enough to keep Harborfields among the best academic school districts on Long Island. We must prepare all of our children for life after school and in our competitive world.”

Balistreri works in the financial industry, in his candidate profile he said he is a concerned father who is running for various reasons. He is looking for more fiscal responsibility in the district.

He aims to “improve communication between the board and stakeholders.” Balistreri also listed working “with other school boards to stand up against Albany’s unconstitutional and nonsensical edicts.” In his profile, he said “parents are the best advocates for their children.”

Voting information

Voting will be held at Oldfield Middle School on May 17 from 2 to 9 p.m.

Elwood Union Free School District

Budget

Elwood school district’s proposed budget is $69,181,071. The dollar amount reflects a $2,267,492 increase and 3.39% increase over the previous budget of $66,913,579.

The proposed budget represents a tax levy increase of 2.9% which is under the district’s allowable tax levy of 3.4%.

Candidate information

Incumbent Deborah Weiss is being challenged for her seat by Sean Camas. There is only one three-year term up for grabs.

In his profile for the Elwood Septa meet the candidates event, Camas is listed as a local student “who wishes to bring a new youthful dynamic” to the board. The lifelong resident of Elwood served as a student council vice president when he was in middle school. He has worked part-time as a dishwasher while maintaining a 3.8 GPA and achieving cum laude honors for three years in a row. In the fall, he will attend SUNY Old Westbury and major in political science.

Weiss has served on the board of ed since 2016. In her candidate profile, she said in order to ensure educational equity for all students “while being fiscally accountable” to taxpayers the board must “streamline expenses whenever possible.”

“The last place cuts should be made and felt is in the classroom,” she wrote. “We must continue to provide an exceptional education while pursuing real legislative relief to address the state’s unfunded mandates and restrictions on district finances. I will work hard to ensure that all our budget decisions remain student focused and fiscally responsible.”

 Voting information

Voting will take place May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Elwood Middle School cafeteria.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Budget

Cold Spring Harbor school district is asking residents to vote on a $73,420,423 proposed budget for the 2022-23 academic year. This is a $1,403,005 change from the 2021-22 budget of $72,017,418. The proposed budget reflects a 1.64% tax levy which is below the cap.

Candidate information

Voters will choose among three candidates, incumbent and current president Amelia Walsh Brogan, Alex Whelehan and Bruce Sullivan, for two at-large board of education positions. Incumbent Julie Starrett is not seeking reelection.

Voting information

Voting will take place May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Ralph Whitney Field House of Cold Spring Harbor Jr./Sr. High School.

Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

By Amanda Olsen

Commack Union Free School District residents will vote on the 2022-23 budget and select two school board trustees when they head to the polls Tuesday, May 17.

The budget for next year is nearly $215 million, an increase of 4.64% over last year. This will result in a tax levy increase of 1.95%, under the tax cap of 3.82%. This includes a state aid package of $43 million.

With the adoption of this budget, the average class size will remain the same or lower at all levels. Phonological, fine motor and writing skills support will be available for all kindergarten students. The new International Baccalaureate career-related program provides relevant learning opportunities for the students’ chosen college or career path. Select music groups will now begin at the intermediate level and continue through the middle and high school levels. It includes enhanced robotic and computer programming enrichment classes at Commack Middle School, opportunities at various clubs, lunch and learn, arts-in-education programs, intramurals, music, honor societies and athletics. There will be an increase in college-level courses with college credit-earning opportunities in all subjects. It also provides for districtwide infrastructure, including additional cyber-security reviews and improvements.

Voters will also vote on a second proposition which would allow the board of ed to decrease the current transportation limits in grades 3-5 from 1/2 mile to 1/4 mile. If approved, the proposition would not increase the transportation budget. 

Candidates

Steven Hartman provided written answers, and Pauline Fidalgo said she was not doing interviews. All other candidates did not respond to requests to be interviewed. Therefore, the majority of candidate information and quotes have been taken from the district’s website.

Pauline Fidalgo

Fidalgo has been a Commack resident for 21 years. She has one child currently attending in the district and another who recently graduated. She is currently a legal assistant. 

According to her candidate profile, she wants to join the school board to support parents and bring unity to the community.

“A member of the board of education’s role is to provide support and leadership for the parents and students in the community, ensure that we are fiscally responsible, and provide programs that will allow students to be successful adults,” Fidalgo said.

She was directly involved in her children’s classrooms and has been attending school board meetings both in person and virtually.

“I think my strengths are that I am open to listening to other points of view and respectful of others,” she said.

If elected, Fidalgo is eager to get started. She plans “to learn as much as I can about how things are currently being done so I can support in the areas where the district is successful. Hopefully, I can bring a fresh perspective and work with the other board members to see where things can be improved.” 

She intends to increase transparency in the classroom with regard to lessons and required texts: “My suggestion would be for teachers in the secondary level to provide a syllabus at the start of each course and all teachers provide a list of books that will be read in the classroom each year. This will allow for transparency between the classroom and parents.”

Steven Hartman

Steven Hartman has been a Commack resident for 25 years and has two children who recently graduated from the district. He is the engagement director of a medical device design firm. 

Hartman has been on the board of the Commack school district for nine years and has been president of the board for the past seven years. He has been on the PTA for 18 years, and is president of the board of trustees for the Commack Public Library where he has served for 17 years.

According to his candidate profile, Hartman brings a commitment to advocacy and fiscal responsibility to the board. “I do not represent any one community-based group as I represent the entire community,” he said. “I have a great understanding as a board member of the roles and responsibilities of a board member including fiscal governance of the district, which is one of the key foundations of a board member. … I want to continue to explore new ways to grow and enhance all our programs so that every student benefits. I have been an advocate for education and will continue to do so. We need to work with our elected officials to continually let them know what makes Commack such an outstanding district and how they can help ensure that we maintain this level of growth.”     

If reelected, Hartman plans to continue supporting the board’s stated goals: “I will continue reviewing and providing feedback to the administration on multi-year financial plan that focuses on fiscal stability.” In addition, “I will work with my board for the continuation of increased growth of new programs for levels K-12. … We want to ensure that all students get a valued education that will make them ready for a career or college after they leave our district.”

When reached for comment, Hartman emphasized the success the board has had in improving the overall outcomes for students. In particular, he pointed out some of the recent accolades the district has been awarded, including the Blue Ribbon award, which recognizes outstanding schools nationally.

“We achieved the Blue Ribbon distinction award this year in the high school,” he said. “This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our students and everyone who has supported and contributed to Commack schools over the years. Our program focuses on high-level, project-based academics, creativity, communication, movement, music, art, business, mathematics, humanities, science, engineering, and technical and trade opportunities. This initiative has resulted in unmatched 98% of all graduates taking at least one college level class and an astounding 85% taking three.”

His plan going forward is a renewed commitment to improving communication with the community.

“We have enhanced our communication with the ‘Be in the Know’ weekly update,” he said. “We are providing the community with valuable information from the board about our schools and all the great exciting programs that are ongoing in our district.   We launched a Facebook site as well to provide happenings in our schools.”

Chris Jurkovic

A 10-year Commack resident, Chris Jurkovic has a 6-year-old son in the school system and a 2-year-old daughter. He has worked as a contractor in the HVAC industry for the last 19 years.

Jurkovic is seeking a position on the board in order to unite the community, parents and teachers, and he said to do what is best for the children.

“I offer a unique opportunity to diversify the board’s perspective, as well as represent many parents with young kids and community members who share my blue-collar background,” he said. 

Enhancing communication is high on Jurkovic’s list of priorities: “The board should always seek new ways to get parents and the community involved as they are the taxpayers who fund the great programs Commack schools offer. For example, we could look to bring back the parent committees at the elementary school level.” 

He also plans to encourage the schools to explore alternate post-school training opportunities. “Commack schools have had great success in preparing our students for prestigious universities,” he said. “I would like to broaden this focus to include more emphasis on the wonderful skill-specific training programs we have to offer such as trade schools and other alternative higher education opportunities. Parents and students should be more aware of the high-paying careers available to them at a smaller financial burden and be able to work with the schools in conducting a cost-benefit analysis before making a life-changing decision.”

Justin Varughese

Justin Varughese has lived in Commack for 16 years and has two children in the district. He is a founding partner and senior trial attorney at his firm, Leitner Varughese Warywoda. He has served as a board trustee for two years and board vice president for one year and was involved with PTAs at North Ridge Primary, Burr Intermediate and Commack Middle schools.

Varughese said he has a strong commitment to his community and schools.

“Though times are seemingly more divisive than ever, I believe we serve our children well when we model this ability to learn from one another and grow together, even if we don’t always agree perfectly,” he said. “As a business owner, I also have the skills to cultivate budgetary accountability and effective contract negotiations in the best interests of the district and community.”

His plans for the district include supporting students to find their strengths. “We want to develop world changers who are thriving in their strengths and passions, so we must help students discover their path with intentionality and focus,” he said.

He also hopes to help them acclimate to a postpandemic academic environment. “We now have an opportunity … to foster a uniquely healthy school environment that surpasses what it had been in years past,” he said. “It will come about through increased student engagement, professional development and an array of other purposeful approaches. The intended result will be a student body marked by confidence, engagement and social/emotional health.”

It is also important to Varughese to help students relate to those who are different from them. “I hope to continue to work with administrators and teachers to explore how we can increase students’ exposure to diverse perspectives so as to produce generous, gracious attitudes toward others,” he said.

Voting information

Residents of the district can cast their votes May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Commack Middle School and Commack High School.