Education

Port Jefferson School District hosts two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The members of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2020 received their diplomas in two separate, well-orchestrated ceremonies that signified the school’s 126th commencement exercises on Aug. 1.

The Pledge of Allegiance, led by Student Organization vice president Hana Ali, was followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Rachel Park. Both high school principal Eric Haruthunian and Student Organization president Dylan Dugourd welcomed everyone to the two morning events.

Congratulatory remarks and words of praise and inspiration were presented by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan and parent Richard Righi, father of graduating senior Katelynne Righi. Senior Class President James Marci presented the class gift fit for the current time and to honor the community: a donation to both Mather Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, noting that many of the students who grew up in the community were born at St. Charles.

The top two students, valedictorian Christine Iasso and salutatorian Kyle Onghai also addressed their fellow classmates, sharing memories, reflections on their primary education, grateful words to teachers and family members, and words of advice for their fellow graduates.

“We all have the power to make the changes needed to create the brightest future our generation can enjoy,” said Iasso, who encouraged her peers to appreciate the planet and one another as they will have the opportunity to affect the lives of all the people they will interact with in the future. The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis and Onghai will attend UCLA to major in mathematics.

Haruthunian then presented the Class of 2020 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before he called each student to the podium and, as is tradition, highlighted their high school careers and future plans. As they walked to the podium, they were handed their diplomas by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier. The Class of 2020 then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

Text by the Port Jefferson School District and verified by reporter.

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Comsewogue’s reopening plans include students at Clinton Avenue Elementary School will be taught in alternating classes of Blue and Gold, with teachers rotating between classrooms. File photo

Following survey responses from parents and community members, the Comsewogue School District released its kindergarten through sixth-grade reopening plan, ahead of the state’s July 31 deadline. More details of the reopoening plans are available on the district’s website at  www.comsewogue.k12.ny.us.

During two public forums with parents on July 27 and 28, the district outlined the reopening plan and answered questions.

“I’m glad we were able to develop a safe plan to bring our elementary students back,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. 

To deal with the time it would take to implement temperature checks/COVID screening for students and staff, the district will be adjusting the arrival time as well as shortening the school days from eight periods to seven periods. 

“In order to make up for that time we will be doing a districtwide character education program that will be run remotely,” the superintendent said. 

The maximum class size will consist of 15 students socially distanced. A typical class of 25-30 students will be divided into two groups, Blue and Gold. Each of those groups will be placed in a classroom for the entire day. Teachers will rotate three periods in each class, the remaining periods will be handled by other staff members. Aides will monitor hallways/rooms between transitions. Lunch will take place in the classroom. 

Quinn said they will combine reading teachers, librarians and math/Academic Intervention Services teachers to help fill in the remaining periods. 

“We are not just putting in substitute teachers for half the day; they’ll be with certified teachers and in small groups,” Quinn said. 

Transporting students to and from schools will no doubt be a challenge. The district is encouraging parents to drop off their children at school each day, and if they live close enough, consider walking them to school.  

For those coming to school by bus, students will be required to pass a COVID-19 screening and undergo a temperature check at their respective bus stop. There will be monitors at each bus stop.

Once all students are cleared, they will board from the back of the bus and will sit socially distanced and are required to wear a mask. Students will leave from the front of the bus. Disinfecting the buses will occur between school routes. Parents who drop off their children will also be required to undergo a COVID screening and temperature check from their car. Drop-off locations will be separate from the school buses, according to Susan Casali, associate superintendent. 

Parents were concerned of what would happen to their child if they were deemed sick or had COVID-19 symptoms. Quinn said that students would be able to resume class work online and would need a doctor’s note to return to school after having had quarantined. 

In addition, the district will have HVAC systems upgraded with recommended filters, install more custodial staff at each building, use electrostatic sprayers used to disinfect quickly, there will be hand wipes in each classroom as well as hand sanitizers around the building, nurse’s office used for healthy people and an isolation room used for sick people. 

Before and aftercare will be provided at each elementary school. 

“We will be keeping [before and aftercare] in the gymnasium because it is our largest area that won’t be used,” Casali said. “They will be arriving wearing masks and will be six-feet apart.”

All pickups of children will be done in a designated area, parents will not be allowed to enter the building. The gym area will be sanitized each day. In the event students are not able to go outside for recess they will be able to use that space. 

Special education programs will continue. The district is asking all parents to complete a mandatory form to let them know if their child will be attending school in-person or virtually to begin the school year. The decision will be in effect from the first day of school through Dec. 31. The district said it has purchased enough Chromebooks for all students. 

Comsewogue plans to host future meetings to talk specifically about grades 7-12 plan.

More school districts will be releasing their reopening plans in the coming days. Check back at www.tbrnewsmedia.com for the latest on reopening plans.

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SWR Superintendent Gerard Poole says new reopening plans mandate taking from the school’s rainy day funds. Photo from SWRCSD video

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District came out of the gate this week with the ambitious goal to bring every kid back in school every day safely while still meeting state health standards. 

The New York State Education Department has released reopening guidelines for schools, while the state Department of Health issued guidance on July 13. The district has released two videos on its website and Facebook page explaining new plans in greater detail. 

“I think the opportunity is there for us and, having students in school every day is the best possible option for our students academically and for their social and emotional well-being,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole.  

One of the big reveals of SWR’s special meeting July 23 discussing reopening was the district’s plans to reopen the former Briarcliff Elementary School for kindergarten. The district had been in the process of selling the building for the past year. The district said without using Briarcliff, Miller Avenue elementary school would be at or near max occupancy for social distancing and would lack an isolation room for symptomatic students. 

However, reopening the old building in Shoreham, along with reconfiguring existing buildings for all students to come in, could come with a hefty price tag of $1,439,000. Reopening Briarcliff for one year could cost approximately $992,000. It will also require clerical, health, administrative and other staff to move over to the old kindergarten building. 

To pay these costs, the school board would have to vote to authorize nearly half of the district’s unassigned fund balance, which currently has $3,086,000 in its coffers.

These plans to keep kids socially distanced at 6 feet and still learning would also mandate the district use all available space for instruction, including gyms, libraries, all-purpose rooms and cafeterias. School officials said this was calculated by measuring the space within different rooms compared with square footage that supported 6-foot separation. 

Officials were adamant that utilizing every inch of space would allow all students to be in school to learn Monday through Friday, though each room’s class size would be significantly smaller. A regular sized room in Miller Avenue could have around 12 students or 14 in Wading River. The district also said it could have an average of 11 students in the middle school or around 15 on average in the high school, though using both those buildings would mandate removing walls to create larger rooms. Many of the walls in both the middle and high schools are paneled that can be taken down.

“In order to do this well, Briarcliff would be a part of those plans,” Poole said. “I am going to repeat it is possible with Briarcliff and the use of multiple-instructional spaces, it is possible to have all our students sit in classrooms, at a desk, learning spaced out by 6 feet of separation inside of school every day.”

Students will return to school Sept. 3 for an “orientation day.” Though students will be back during the day, some extracurriculars will look different than before. Those taking band will need to be spaced 12 feet apart for all practices and will require multiple periods. Theater will be postponed or potentially adapted in a virtual way.

Otherwise, students are expected to wear masks in common areas such as entryways and hallways. Masks will be provided to those who don’t have them. The school will put visual aids down on floors to illustrate traffic flow in hallways and promote social distancing. Otherwise, shared equipment will be limited and visitors are limited in all school buildings. 

“One can imagine when the school year starts we will have to take some time, make sure everyone knows how to move around the building,” Poole said. “That can happen within a smaller class size.” 

Transportation may be the most difficult aspect schools are dealing with, but Poole said SWR plans to have buses disinfected daily and only siblings are allowed to sit together. Parents are encouraged to drop and pick up students themselves.

Considering there still could be a drop in state aid sometime later in the year, the district said there are contingent salary funds for things like elementary tutors or teaching coaches can be redirected for health and custodial aids. 

“We will be maximizing the use of contingent salary funds,” Poole said. 

Videos of the latest board meetings and more details about reopening plans can be found on the district’s Facebook page.

More school districts will be releasing their reopening plans in the coming days. Check back at tbrnewsmedia.com for the latest reopening plans.

Camille Abruscato was honored for Excellence in Teaching.

Twenty-seven of Stony Brook University’s esteemed faculty and staff members have received the 2019-2020 State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. These awards acknowledge the dedication and accomplishments of instructional faculty, librarians, and professional staff across SUNY campuses and encourage the ongoing pursuit of excellence. The awards are presented annually in seven categories including Librarianship, Scholarship and Creative Activities, Professional Service, Faculty Service, and Teaching.

“The SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence are an important acknowledgement of the tremendous talent I am honored to be surrounded by at Stony Brook University,” says University President Maurie McInnis. “I add my personal congratulations and note of appreciation to all of our 27 outstanding recipients for the 2019-20 Awards and look forward to significant accomplishments ahead.”

Michael Bernstein, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, adds, “The tremendous contributions of these 27 staff and faculty members are a testament to the excellence of our Stony Brook community. I extend my hearty congratulations to this year’s recipients on this well-deserved honor.”

The following are the honorees from SBU:

Excellence in Scholarship and

Creative Activities

• Dr. Carlos Simmerling, Professor, Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology

• Dr. Jacobus Verbaarschot, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Excellence in Adjunct Teaching

• Zachary Dowdy, Lecturer, School of Journalism

• Jeffrey EcklundLe, Lecturer, Undergraduate Biology

Excellence in Classified Service

• Lorraine Carroll, Office Assistant, Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching

• LaShawne Jones, Administrative Assistant, Student Health Services/Infirmary

• John Lomando, Recycling Specialist, Recycling and Resource Management/Facilities Operations

Excellence in Faculty Service

• Dr. Mary Jo Bona, Professor, Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies

• Dr. M. Ete Chan-Lo, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering

• Dr. Marie Huffman, Ph.D, Department of Linguistics

• Dr. Hoi-Chung Leung, Professor, Department of Psychology

• Dr. Marcia Simon, Professor, Department of Oral Biology and Pathology

Excellence in Librarianship

• Yuet Clara Tran, Associate Librarian, Science Engineering Library

Excellence in Professional Service

• Charles Beier, Student University Assistant Director, Department of Activities and Facility

• Joan D. Dickinson, Senior Staff Associate, Department of Government Relations

• Diane Englot, Instructional Support Technician, Department of General Library Public Service

• Jennifer L. Green, Senior Staff Assistant, Department of Integration of Research, Education and Professional Development

• Laura S. Hawryluk, Staff Associate, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

• Jessica L. Klare, Staff Associate, Department of Honors College

• Jeremy D. Marchese, Staff Associate, Department of University Scholars

• Elizabeth-Anne Tolson, Senior Staff Assistant, Department of European Languages

• Donna Tumminello, Assistant Director, Department of Research Administration

Excellence in Teaching

• Camille Abbruscato, Lecturer, College of Business

• Dr. Michelle Ballan, Professor, School of Social Welfare

• Dr. Steven Glynn, Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry

• Dr. Sohl Lee, Assistant Professor, Art Department

• Dr. Marci Lobel, Professor, Department of Psychology

Miller Place School District Hosted five separate graduation ceremonies throughout the day July 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Waiting to see if New York would eventually change its restrictions on graduations, of a max 150 people per event, Miller Place School District finally held its commencement ceremonies July 24 at the high school football field, its scorebord emblazoned with 20:20. 

Five separate ceremonies were conducted throughout the day, and though rain drizzled on and off in the morning hours, students sat through hour long ceremonies while spaced across the field. The 9 a.m. group of graduate listen to inspiring words by salutatorian Larry Davis and valedictorian Joseph Bisiani before each individually walked up to receive their diplomas. 

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Scenes from the Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire in Port Jefferson Village June 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

Talking to the conductor once the STEM engine comes to a halt, it’s clear that for nonprofits pushing for education among young people, the track ahead is still uncertain.

Like many nonprofits, the Long Island Explorium in Port Jeff, a small haven for interactive learning on the North Shore, has been hit hard by the pandemic, but since so much of its revenue depends on schools’ field trips, the onus has shifted to a virtual approach. That, however, is something difficult for a learning center that has long emphasized interactivity.

Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium, said that once COVID-19 hit Long Island, her space along East Broadway was closed, while her museum employees were furloughed and her volunteers sent home. It would take until the end of April before she finally received her Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government, and she was able to rehire several people to help with administrative tasks. Their PPP loans will likely be exhausted by the end of July, Judex said. 

Meanwhile, all their teaching apparatus was transported online, specifically to video conferencing app Zoom. Keeping some of their regulars who often came to the explorium, they were able to transform one planned field trip into an online field trip, but the vast majority of booked school trips were canceled once the pandemic hit. 

Judex said the situation has made the explorium learn to innovate in new ways. So far they have conducted more than 80 live STEM workshops including a virtual science fair, impacting approximately 120 families and 400 students over the past few months. She said general reaction to the programming has been positive from parents and teachers alike.

“The Explorium will continue to scale up and expand on their virtual offerings over summer and beyond to ensure that students of all means, abilities and needs have access to high quality STEM programming,” she said.

One of the benefits of the last few years is that the explorium has started to diversify its revenue streams, from grants, school districts as well as individual donors. The explorium remains financially solvent, she said, despite the obvious hits from the pandemic. Much of their revenue normally came from their work with local school districts, so depending on how well districts are in the fall, which also depends on whether New York State will slash school aid, could leave the nonprofit without 30 to 40 percent of its normal revenue stream.  

“We’re hoping schools have this one year to get back to normal, and by hopefully next year things will get better again,” Judex said. 

The explorium is tentatively planning to open the museum location in August, though it will only be for private sessions, and how they do will determine if the place remains open for the rest of the fall. If not, then the museum has plans to open again in spring of 2021. Currently, she said the nonprofit has enough funds in the coffers to survive until then.  

“As a children’s museum, it’s supposed to be a high touch environment, but if they’re not allowed to touch anything, what are they going to do?” the executive director said. “That’s a huge challenge for museums everywhere, not only mine.”

After several months of hosting learning online, the challenges of keeping students’ attention became apparent. At first, Judex found their online programs became very popular, then when schools started to catch up with computer-based schoolwork, demand dropped. By April and May, she said students were tired of completing schoolwork on a computer and listening to teachers online. Judex said she’s finding the same challenge with her own children doing schoolwork from home. 

“I think I’m Zoomed out,” Judex said. “Meeting in person, there’s so much more warmth to it, whereas on a screen you have to make due. Several months of making due in virtual meetings, it was just too much.”

The explorium has three virtual summer camps coming up in the next few months, with the first one including 14 kids. The next, Judex estimated, will likely contain just 10 children.

She said her team found hosting a single Zoom call with 30 students to be nearly impossible, and they are loath to sacrifice the quality of their learning apparatus in order to facilitate more kids per group. 

“We’re not compromising on the quality of the experience,” she said.

Still, Judex said the online programs were well-received.

“The pandemic allowed us to focus even more on our mission of meeting the needs of all students regardless of means, abilities and needs as well as advance our strategic plan to explore distance learning,” she said.

Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said multiple nonprofits in the village have struggled to maintain during the worst months of the pandemic. The building the Long Island Explorium occupies right next to the Village Center is in year 12 of a 20-year lease and they are up to date with their rent at $750 a month. 

The explorium requested some kind of rent relief, and at its July 20 meeting, the village board unanimously voted to reduce the nonprofit’s rent by $250 so as to cover utilities. 

“It’s real tangible support, that every little bit counts,” Judex said.

Towards the end of summer, the explorium is crafting its Reimagining the Future strategic plan with steering committees set up with members of the community. This would outline how our explorium will move forward in the next stage of the pandemic.

One of the most well-known activities for the explorium is the annual Maker Faire in Port Jeff. This year’s event got pushed back from June to September, but this week it was announced that all of maker faires in New York State were combining forces to host the online Empire State Maker Faire Oct. 16 and 17, including demonstrations of art, crafts, technology and robotics. The event is free and open to the public. 

People can offer support to the explorium at: longislandexplorium.org/support-us/ or visit the website for a full list of programs at www.longislandexplorium.org.

This article was updated to include info about the Explorium’s future strategic plans.

This article was updated July 30 to add extra info about the explorium’s online learning live streams.

METRO photo

School districts and their students have taken the lead when it comes to a new normal, and perhaps it’s incumbent upon us to follow their lead in our regular lives.

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, it became apparent to high schools and colleges that the end of the year wasn’t going to be the same for graduates. While institutes of higher learning accepted the fact that an in-person commencement was not going to be possible at the end of May, many school districts held on to the hope that maybe it would happen at the end of June for their students.

But then the pandemic wouldn’t let go.

So high school administrators stepped up to the plate to create alternative events to celebrate the Class of 2020. There were car parades and virtual ceremonies, and when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would allow 150 people at commencements starting June 26, expectations increased.

Many schools had hoped that if they waited until mid or late July, commencement would resemble what it did in the past with all the graduates in attendance with their family members, just socially distanced and with attendees wearing masks.

However, it wasn’t to be. The guideline for the maximum number for graduations hasn’t increased. Schools quickly made the decision to stick with in-person graduation but split the Class of 2020 into several sections and held the events over the course of multiple days, allowing graduates to bring two guests each. Many schools had sets of three seats spaced out across football fields and lawns, and when it came time for the teens to get their diplomas, they would walk the stage 6-feet apart.

Students may not have been able to celebrate the day with all of their friends, families may not have been able to interact as usual — sharing memories or flashing a smile to each other — and the energy may have been more subdued, but at these events there was at least some sense of normalcy.

School administrators, valedictorians, salutatorians and class presidents presented their speeches at each event. There were still the laughs, the tears and the pride. There were hellos and even extremely quick photo ops, before attendees were ushered off the field to disinfect the chairs before the next group arrived.

The graduation ceremonies being held across the state are just a small step toward normalcy — however, they are significant. Just like the former high school students are taking baby steps toward their futures, the commencements show that we don’t have to live in fear in our homes if we put some thought in our moves like school districts have and proceed with caution.

As our children fearlessly move toward their futures — a new normal — let’s follow their lead. Just like theirs, our future may not look the same. We now need to reimagine social events and interactions with our family and friends, just like districts did across the state, but they have shown it can be done.

Look how considerate and thoughtful our school districts and students have been and compare that to the mass number of people who refuse to socially distance and do the simple favor of wearing masks when out on the town. We can remain disappointed that our lives have continued to be hampered by rules, but the other option is shown in the many other states that are seeing a staggering rise of cases.

We have learned a lot these past few months, and we still have more to comprehend, but we can take steps toward the future and a new normal. One day we’ll look back and realize how much we have learned and grown with safety at the forefront.

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One of the hardest questions for district officials is how will students use the bus alongside social distancing. Stock photo

New York State has asked school districts to come up with plans to reopen their schools, but based on state guidelines, reopening may be in a form some parents may disagree with, based on districts’ own surveys.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione and Superintendent Jennifer Quinn look at the sprouts of sunflowers in Jackie’s Garden. Photo by Andrew Harris

New York is requiring school districts submit reopening plans to the state by July 31. The state Education Department released new guidelines July 16 for school districts to help guide that decision making, though many such districts have already had committees established to help guide those plans. 

The Education Department said schools will have to perform COVID screenings of staff and students, maximize social distancing and create methods for isolating sick students before being sent home. It suggests districts use additional space, whether that’s underutilized real estate or gymnasiums, as places for teaching.

Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said students can come back for in-person learning if their region remains in Phase 4 of reopening with an infection rate below 5 percent on a 14-day average. Schools will close again if the region breaks a 9 percent infection rate after Aug. 1. 

Though many school districts have sent surveys to parents asking what their plans for their children are, few have released their results so far. Those that have show some majority of parents want their kids back in the classroom come fall. Superintendent of the Hauppauge School District Dennis O’Hara said during a Newsday-hosted forum last week that among 2,300 respondents, 90 percent said they would like to see their children back in school. 

The Comsewogue School District is one of the few to have publicly released the results of that survey, which show the majority of parents say they will be sending their kids back into school this fall. 

The Comsewogue School District, which includes over 3,700 students, received 1,187 responses to its survey. The district reported almost 60 percent of respondents, or 699, would send their children to school; 181 said they would not; while 307 were still undecided. 

In that survey, 361 parents said they would need childcare provided by the district.

“I think we have to get a plan in place that is comfortable for parents, but what is right for one family might not be right for another family,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. “We’re going to give parents the opportunity to make the decision that’s best for them.”

Quinn added the district expects 80 percent of its students to come back for the fall semester. Finalized plans will reveal what can be done for the 20 percent whose parents decide not to send them back.

Comsewogue’s reopening committees were formed earlier in the spring and have met with the teachers unions and administrators. Those suggestions will circle back, and tentative plans will be presented to teachers at each building and then later to the community.

The district plans to host two Q&A sessions for parents of kids in grades K-6 July 27 at 7:30 p.m. and July 28 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. Information on joining these meetings can be found on the district’s website at www.comsewoguek12.ny.us. Comsewogue plans to host future meetings for grades 7-12. The district will announce when its final plan has been approved and finalized on the district’s website and social media before the end of the month.

“We’re trying to bring back as many kids as we can, as often as we can,” Quinn said. 

What that will look like is still to be determined. The district can confirm that all special education and English-language leaner students will be back in school every day in the school week. Quinn said the district hopes they can bring elementary students back full time, though that is more circumspect for the higher grade levels. If the committee determines they cannot safely have all kids back in school full time, they will be put on an alternating A-day, B-day schedule.

“I don’t think it’s ideal, but we’re going to have to do the best we can,” the superintendent said. 

For students who may have to continue learning online, at home, Quinn said there are renewed efforts to further develop distance learning, particularly with a heavier emphasis on interaction with fellow classmates and teachers.

Perhaps the most challenging conundrum is transportation. In the survey, a plurality of 42 percent of respondents said their children would take the bus, while 24 percent said they would take personal transportation, while 33 percent were still undecided.

Yet how a district can possibly work out a bus fleet that can maintain social distancing and get all kids to school on time will still be a major challenge. The district hopes that many more parents will personally transport their children.

“We really want our kids back for the first day of school,” Quinn said. “There’s an emotional component to this and the pandemic, with kids not being in school and not being with their friends and teachers … we’re confident if we can bring them back in small groups, we can meet their needs.”

District Lawyer Defends Agreement, Outlines Cost for Taxpayers

Northport power plant. File photo

After a webinar where a lawyer for the Northport-East Northport school district discussed the LIPA tax case and proposed settlement, the school board voted to accept an agreement that would reduce Long Island Power Authority’s annual tax bill on the Northport power plant at a July 20 board meeting.

In a 6-1 vote, with board president David Badanes being the only “no,” board members reiterated that they wanted to avoid the possibility of losing the tax case and be stuck having to pay years of back taxes.

The approved deal would reduce LIPA’s annual tax bill on the Northport power plant from $86 million to $46 million by 2027.

During a July 15 webinar, Northport parents and community members were provided figures and a detailed overview of the agreement.

John Gross, a lawyer for the school district, defended the proposal while fielding questions from both the public and trustee members. He detailed the tax impact on residents.

“Now we get to the difficult part,” the lawyer said. “I don’t want to mince words. There will be an impact on how much taxes are paid. The efforts of the school board through this attempted settlement is to minimize that as much as possible.”

Gross said owners of a $500,000 house paying $10,861 in taxes would see their tax bill increase to $13,741 in the seventh year of the agreement. Annual increases for residents would go from an additional $288 a year in the first year to $556 a year by year seven. Those increases don’t include LIPA’s payments to the school district, totaling $14.5 million, nor any reduction to the school district’s costs and programs which would reduce taxpayers annual payments.

Gross discussed the implications if the district were to lose the current tax reduction case.

“If there is no settlement and LIPA is successful and able to achieve 75 percent reduction in assessed evaluation, that taxpayer [of a $500,000 home] would immediately have to pay $3,723, in addition to the refund liability that could range from $12,000 to $13,000,” the lawyer said. “[A reduction of] 90 percent would be utterly horrendous.”

The district and LIPA could extend its agreement for an additional five years beyond 2027-28, when its contract with the Northport plant ends. If there is no extension, the payments would cease, according to Gross.

Critics of the deal have called for more transparency, public input and a delay to the approval of the settlement.

Huntington Town Councilman Eugene Cook (R) at a news conference earlier in the day July 15 called for a public forum to allow residents to voice their opinions. He plans to offer a resolution that would set a public meeting Sept. 16 — which would be more than a month after the Aug 11 deadline set by LIPA to approve the deal.

Cook was joined in support by fellow Councilman Ed Smyth (R) and Tom Kehoe, Northport Village trustee. Both Cook and Smyth detailed a previously promoted plan for the town to condemn the plant and take it over through eminent domain.

“We don’t need your permission to take it, we’ll pay you 154 million pounds and take it,” Smyth said, alluding to British-based energy company, National Grid.

Kehoe reiterated the need for a public meeting and said the Northport plant has been “a burden on the people of this district for many, many years.”

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has recently stated that “LIPA’s latest settlement proposal is, by far, the best offer presented to the town to date.”

A ruling on the tax case is expected to come from the state Supreme Court in Riverhead sometime this summer.

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Ward Melville High School held 11 separate socially distanced graduation ceremonies July 18 and July 19 to comply with New York State guidelines.

During the last few months,  like many districts across the state, school administrators discussed several ideas about what to do for graduation. In a letter to Ward Melville seniors and families earlier in July, administrators announced that the school was developing a plan to host in-person commencements over the course of two days.

In June the school had hoped to hold a ceremony with all the students after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the state would allow 150 attendees at graduations, hoping the number would increase. However, when the maximum capacity was not raised, Ward Melville opted for multiple ceremonies where seniors were allowed to bring two guests each and were spread out on the high school’s front lawn.

Each ceremony began with a recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance” followed by an in-person performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by graduating senior Jordan Amato. Class of 2020 valedictorian William Sun and salutatorian Matthew Fiorella delivered commencement speeches during each of the 11 ceremonies.

Class of 2020 Student Government President Sarah Thornton also announced that this year’s class gift would be a new tree, bench and rock inscribed with a quote at the front part of the school lawn.