School Board Elections

By Andrea Paldy

Despite the upheaval to daily life, the Three Village community is doing what it can to stay informed and exercise democracy.

In anticipation of the Three Village Central School District budget vote and school board election by absentee ballot June 9, more than 250 people registered for last week’s virtual Meet the Candidates night, hosted by the Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against newcomers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten for three seats on the Three Village school board.

Before the candidates discussed their platforms and answered questions, Jeff Carlson, the district’s deputy superintendent for business services, discussed the proposed 2020-21 budget. The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to say we’re not adding any new programs for next year,” Carlson said, alluding to uncertainty about state aid and the possibility of further cuts to aid during the school year.

The district has prepared for multiple scenarios, and the budget reflects reductions in equipment, supplies, conferences and some field trips, the deputy superintendent said. There are also some cuts to personnel, such as clerical, custodial and administrative staff — areas that Carlson said would have “as little impact on educational programs as possible.”

The district did see some savings from the early school closure this year, when the Acme Bus Corp., which provided the district’s minibuses, went out of business. The money saved from not paying Acme offset the loss of the monthly over $100,000 in childcare revenue and over $200,000 in monthly revenue from food service sales and federal and state reimbursements, Carlson said. The district has continued to pay a reduced fee to Suffolk Transportation Service, which provides big buses, to keep the contract intact. Bids for a new minibus company were due last week, Carlson said.

At a May school board meeting, Carlson mentioned the possibility of drawing from district reserves should there be drastic cuts in aid. The district’s reserves are divided into those that are restricted to specific uses, such as retirement contributions and workers’ compensation, and those that are unrestricted and can be targeted to “a rainy day,” Carlson said during a phone interview. Reserves are built up over time from unspent funds at the end of a fiscal year. The district currently has approximately $15 million in restricted reserves and about $6.5 million in unrestricted reserves, Carlson said.

A budget item that has caught the attention of some residents addresses the salaries of the superintendents, which appear to increase in next year’s budget. Since the superintendents have year-to-year contracts that do not have salary increases built in, their salary increases are not reflected in the adopted budget, Carlson said. He added that their raises are determined by the board of education after the adopted budget is passed and are reflected in the adjusted budget.

While the amount of money allocated to the budget remains the same, any changes to the distribution among line items are noted in the adjusted budget. Carlson said the superintendents’ salaries listed for the 2020-21 school year reflect the increases granted last July for this school year’s budget. This means the salaries budgeted for next year are the same amount as this school year.

In the 2020-21 adopted budget, the salary of Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is shown at $325,000, a $25,500 or 8.51 percent increase.

If the budget does not pass, Carlson said it is not clear whether there would be a date for a revote. If there is no revote or a new budget does not pass, the district would have to move to a contingent budget, he said. This means the tax levy would not increase and the district would have to cut $3.1 million. At that point, capital projects would be cut, and the administration would have to decide where to make additional reductions.

“Of course, we would do whatever we could to have as little impact upon the educational program,” Carlson said.

He addressed the process for counting votes. To ensure ballot secrecy, the board appointed 23 election inspectors to count the votes. After 5 p.m. June 9, the ballots will be removed and separated from the sealed envelopes — which have residents’ names and signatures — before they are counted. There will be live streaming of the process, Carlson said.

All ballots must be received at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Carlson’s presentation, along with those of the Three Village board of education candidates, can be seen at the civic association website, www.threevillagecivics.org. Also visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for candidate profiles.

Current school boards of Port Jefferson, top, and Comsewogue, bottom. Photos from school districts

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Port Times Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets

Comsewogue 

With two seats up on the Comsewogue School District board of education, two incumbents were the only ones to throw their names in the race. 

Alexandra Gordon

Alexandra Gordon was first elected in 2011 and has served three terms on the board. A caseworker for the Suffolk County Office for the Aging, she said her knowledge of issues facing the elderly helps frame board decisions in a wider community lens. She currently serves as the boards vice president.

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for a long time,” she said. “I anticipate significant challenges in state funding, which will result in the need for creative planning and perhaps difficult decisions.”

With three children having already graduated from the district, and one rising senior at Comsewogue High School, she said despite having to create distance learning programs on the fly, the district has seen a 90 percent participation rate, “which I believe speaks volumes,” she added. 

“Nothing can ever replace the connection between teachers and students in person — but our teachers are trying very hard to stay connected,” Gordon said.

The board VP said she anticipates significant challenges with state funding, with which the district will need to plan creatively and perhaps make difficult decisions. With New York potentially slashing funding by 20 percent across the board, she said it would be “devastating” to Comsewogue. The governor also has the ability to modify funding at different points throughout the school year. 

“This poses its own challenge — we plan a budget based on funding the state tells us we will receive,” Gordon said. “Changes to that number mid-year could present problems.”

She said she is working as the chair of the Legislative Advocacy Committee to contact federal legislators about giving aid to the state in its time of need. She added the district will need to vociferously advocate for funding at the state level from state legislators.

“We cannot be passive when faced with these challenges,” Gordon said. 

James Sanchez

A 27-year resident of the district, James Sanchez is running again for his seat on the board. He was first elected in 2011 and works as a dockmaster for the Port Jefferson ferry.

Sanchez did not respond to requests to answer a set of emailed questions by press time.

Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson has two seats open, with one incumbent and one newcomer running for the open spots. Current trustee Ryan Biedenkapp will not be running again to retain his seat.

David Keegan

Two-term trustee David Keegan is again running for school board, having originally been elected to the position in 2017.

Keegan’s day job is as a vice president of sales for Presidio Networked Solutions, a technology services and consulting firm. He said he decided to run again because, “I believe public education is critical and fundamental to enabling the success of our people and our nation.” “Port Jefferson has a rich history of success and it is gratifying to help continue and enhance that, particularly in these times, with both the unprecedented virus and the implications of the LIPA settlement.”

Both those issues are weighing heavily on board members and administrators’ minds. The current budget has had to account with the loss of property tax revenue from the LIPA-owned Port Jefferson Power Station, as well as potential significant reductions in state aid. 

Keegan said the pandemic has forced the district to reconsider everything about how Port Jefferson delivers services.  

“We will continue to be creative, leverage the myriad resources and examples that exist from our peers, and we remain focused on delivering the high-quality education that we expect and deserve for our children,” he said. “I am confident we can do that, but there remains much to do as things evolve.”

Depsite the consistent and expected drops in LIPA revenue, he said the district “could not likely be better positioned to weather this process at this time.” With the question of state aid losses hanging over every New York school, Port Jefferson is in a better position than most, Keegan said. Still, it could mean having to evaluate potential scenarios and seek community engagement if and when alterations to our programs become necessary.

In terms of distance learning, the trustee said there is always room for improvement. 

“Children are clearly being robbed of some special milestone experiences, and a less than optimal educational experience today,” he said. “But we have no choice but to adapt, and I am proud to be able to help this community do so in a way that best serves our students.”

Ravi Singh

Ravi Singh, a 10-year resident of the district from the Belle Terre area, is coming onto the board at a very interesting and anxiety-filled time, yet he said he feels it’s his time to give back “to the place that’s helped raise my children.”

Singh, a gastroenterologist who works in the Patchogue area, has two children in the district, both at the high school level. Though he’s new to much of the financial happenings within the district, he said he’s ready to get in there and start processing it. He understands the potential loss in state aid revenue could have a major impact on programming. 

“We have to look at some innovative ways to deal with it, and what are our options on the revenue side,” he said. “That will be one of the first I look at when I get in.”

In terms of distance learning, he has watched his two sons make the transition, and said he thought the district has done “a decent job, considering how it fell into their laps,” though there is easily room for improvement. He appreciates the fact the program has some structure beyond having students simply complete coursework on their own time, but he said the district should look to making the program more interactive with both their work and with teachers. 

“I’m looking forward to getting started,” he said. 

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Village Beacon Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets.

Shoreham-Wading River

Three incumbents are looking to return to their seats at the SWR school board, and no challengers have presented themselves to contest those positions this year. Each seat is for a three-year term. 

Michael Lewis

Current board president Michael Lewis has been on the board for four years, and with two children in the district, he said that while the position is stressful, “It is very rewarding to see the board’s impact when students attend our meetings and display their accolades, achievements and success.”

Lewis, a senior project manager for an architectural firm on Long Island, said the biggest concerns for the future are the potential for state aid cuts and for what he called “unfunded mandates” caused by new physical distancing regulations.

What may help the district into the future is what Lewis called their “very healthy” capital reserves, which may allow for more flexibility in uncertain and potentially lean times. 

“Having a very supportive community which has consistently approved our annual budget, a four-year average growth of only 1.52%, is a huge advantage as well.” he said.

Lewis said he is hopeful for full student attendance of buildings come the start of fall, but still the district has purchased Chromebooks for all elementary students, with secondary school students already having them. 

“Our administrators have offered multiple professional development opportunities which a majority of our teaching staff has taken advantage of,” he said. ”There is always room for improvement in everything we do as a district.”

Katie Andersen

Katie Andersen, who is finishing her first term as trustee on the SWR BOE, said difficulties the district will face in the coming years will be issues of mental health and gaps in student knowledge from distance learning.

Andersen, who is vice president of the board, said she has several children in the district, including a seventh-grader, fourth-grader, first-grader, and a brother who is a junior in high school. She is a member of several committees and is involved with the PTA and SEPTA. Outside of work on the board, she is a marketing consultant.

“I’m deeply committed to serving our community in this role,” she said. “In spite of the challenges and extensive donation of time, I do enjoy it.”

Though she said the most significant issue is students’ emotional well-being, she added the district will also be facing issues from complying with new unfunded state mandates, such as having to provide distance learning on the fly, that will be a challenge “while becoming increasingly creative at stretching every dollar so that we can continue to enhance our programming and move forward with the maintenance projects for our buildings,” she added.

While Andersen said the district will continue to improve upon lessons taught by rolling out distance learning, she felt the district did everything it could with what it had.

“The resources provided to students and parents, the ongoing professional development provided to teachers, and the tireless efforts of our administration and staff has been nothing less than remarkable,” she said. “Our district will continue to provide for the needs of our students, staff and families as creatively as possible under these less than ideal circumstances … A growth mindset isn’t just something we teach our children — it’s at the heart of everything we do here in SWR.”

Henry Perez

With his third year on the board under his belt, Henry Perez, a mechanical engineer for a national architectural/engineering firm and near 20-year Shoreham resident, said the district is trying to be fiscally responsible despite the current hardships.

“The current pandemic will impact New York State’s financial ability to support local education,” Perez said. “I expect reduced funding from Albany in the next few years.”

He added the pandemic will likely change how students are taught in the future, and with the fear of additional unfunded mandates, it will mean a greater challenge to the district as it attempts to continue its current levels of education. 

“Shoreham-Wading River is already positioned to continue providing this level of education,” he said. “However, going forward requires careful planning to navigate these changing times. Listening to the community and receiving timely feedback in this time of social distancing is extremely important.”

Perez, who has two children in the district, said distance learning remains a complicated topic. The biggest issue is despite current efforts that he and others in the district are proud of, “it requires months of planning and feedback to develop and fine-tune a distance learning platform.”

However, the district has made major strides with its virtual classroom through its Chromebook initiative. Rolling out the distance learning structure in “a matter of days” showed the district’s quick response time, and feedback helped fine-tune the services. 

“I am confident we will only see improvements,” he said. “It seems in this day and age many expect things to be perfect from day one, myself included. However, it’s this expectation that results in change. It is change that brings opportunity.”

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District has three candidates running for two at-large seats for the 2020-21 school year. Each seat is for a three-year term. This year two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for the public’s nod.

Sean Callahan

Sean Callahan, the current board vice president, has sat on the BOE for six years. Himself a labor lawyer specializing in education and school issues, he said he and the board have spent the past years “transforming” the district by hiring people in central office and in principal positions, adding the board has worked to maintain balanced budgets and improve communication between the board, administration, staff and community.

“I am running once again to continue the transformation into the next generation,” he said.

Callahan, a Rocky Point resident since 1975 and father of three sons, two graduates and one in middle school, said he has experience in school auditing districts. He added he is also a certified school business official. On the local side, he has been a member of the Rocky Point civic, PTA and was a 10-year member of the North Shore Little League board of trustees.

As for upcoming issues due to the pandemic, the longtime resident said the board has already worked, even prior to schools closing, to tighten the belt. This year with a tax levy cap set at 0.08 percent and having prepaid part of their bonds of over a million dollars, which meant little had to be changed due to the pandemic with no loss of educational programming. While there is a chance state aid can be cut down the line, he said his day job offers him insight others may not have. 

“During this pandemic through my employment I am privy to many internal discussions from the governor’s office as well as having access to many other school districts,” he said. “This enables our district to learn from others’ mistakes and borrow their ideas.”

Jessica Ward

Trustee Jessica Ward has been on the board for one year, having run last year to finish the term of another trustee who had resigned.

She works at the William Floyd School District as an office assistant at William Floyd High School, which she said gives her insight into the ground-level view of what districts are having to do during this unfortunate time. She has four children who attend Rocky Point schools at every level from elementary to high school.

She sees the issues that districts all across the island will face in the near future as maintaining programming despite potential drastic cuts in state aid, following the guidelines for and ensuring the health and safety of staff and students in the aid of social distancing and trying to create a balanced budget to facilitate all that. Districts also face the challenge of ensuring equal access to technology for all students in the event that distance learning becomes more cemented in the future.

“We need to make sure that we are using our resources wisely, examining existing contracts to ensure fiscal responsibility, thinking outside the box in terms of schedules and extra-curricular activities, researching grant opportunities for technology needs, and partnering with other districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES for staff training and curriculum needs,” Ward said.

With that, she added she feels Rocky Point has done an “excellent job” in rolling out distance learning. The district identified students in need of electronic devices in their homes, and the English as a Second Language department “ensured non-English-speaking students received the help and support they needed.

Some teachers in the district have been presenting audio and video lessons, and the guidance department, she said, has been reaching out to students who need additional assistance.

“There is always room for improvement though, and in the future, I would like to see every student at Rocky Point receive a Chromebook or device to assist in distance learning should we need to continue this in the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “I would also like to see all of our teachers doing some form of live interaction with our students via Google Meet or another platform in the future.”

Kellyann Imeidopf

A 10 and a quarter-year resident in the Rocky Point school district, Kellyann Imeidopf said her two main jobs are as a real estate salesperson and as a mother. She has four students in the district, with one in kindergarten, with the others in first, eighth and 10th grade. She said she decided to run because, “I ultimately have the children’s interest at heart. I want to be part of the team that shapes how our children get ready to become productive and active community members themselves. I want to create a shared vision for the future of education.”

She said the main challenges the district will face in the coming years will be regarding the mental health of both children and staff, and how they will “maintain social distance, but not emotional distance.” 

She said there will be setbacks from online learning, adding there needs to be a look at how to adapt the physical classroom to a virtual environment that can both engage children without leaning on parents. She said she has other ideas for how to prepare seniors heading off for college, even though seniors don’t have the same access to guidance departments they had when students were in school buildings.

In terms of distance learning, she said the district is working with the resources it had on hand, and both teachers and parents are “all dealing with this transition in not only professional ways, but personal, social-emotional and economic ways. I believe every staff member has our children’s best intentions at heart.”

She added the district can come together as a team to develop ways to ease the burdens on parents.

Miller Place 

The Miller Place School District has two seats up for election, and two incumbents are looking to fill them. Trustees Richard Panico and Lisa Reitan are the only candidates asked to be put on the ballot.

Both could not be reached before press time. The two candidates will be included in a follow up article if they respond before the June 4 issue of the Village Beacon Record.

Mount Sinai

This year, Mount Sinai voters will be asked to cast ballots for three at-large board seats with a total of four candidates running. Three incumbents and one newcomer are looking to fill the at-large seats for the next three years.

Edward Law

Ed Law, also a nine-year member of the Mount Sinai BOE, said he has decided to run again because with the district facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the district will need to navigate the pandemic and continue offering the same level of education. That, he said, will need experienced hands. 

“During my time on the board of education, we’ve been able to improve on the objective metrics of success for our district as well as providing for the specific needs of students who have developmental delays and disabilities,” he said. “Our track record of success of our students earning admission to competitive colleges and universities has been improving year over year while our district has expanded choices and options for those who choose career over college. We need to continue to improve on these.”

Law, who works full time as a management consultant, said the biggest challenge for the district will be in potential loss in state aid. The ongoing crisis might also result in other unfunded mandates, but he called those “nothing new.”

He added that the district has crafted its 2020-21 budget with consideration toward potential state aid cuts, while still keeping the tax levy increase minimal.

“As a district, we have evaluated every line item of our operating budget to ensure that we can provide continuity of our program,” he said. “This current scenario has been reflected in our proposed budget.”

In terms of the future of education at Mount Sinai, Law, who has one child in the middle school and two recent graduates, said that the district has tried to address concerns with how the district is doing distance learning. Though it’s hard to tell what may be in the future, the district must plan for everything.

“We have had a few issues raised by parents and we have it addressed directly by the teacher and principal,” he said. “Since we don’t know yet whether in person instruction will be able to be provided in the fall as per Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] guidelines and the governor’s directives, we need to continue to improve on how instruction is being provided, and have a plan for remote/distance learning in the new school year, whether through existing technology solutions or alternate technology platforms.”

Peter Van Middelem 

With six years already on the job, trustee Peter Van Middlem said the district must try to maintain its high standards of academics and other programming while facing potential financial challenges from the pandemic.

Van Middelem is a retired New York City Fire Department member and current financial auditor in various Suffolk school districts. Among his three children, his son, Jacob, is a junior at the high school.

“As a lifelong resident who attended Mount Sinai Schools and a 35-year volunteer of the Mount Sinai Fire Department, service to this community is my guiding force,” he said. 

He cited the district’s efforts already with hiring a teacher for the school’s robotics program, a new special education director and the new elementary school principal he described as a “literacy expert,” along with the implementation of Columbia Teacher College Reading and Writing programs for middle and elementary schools. He cited his and other members ability to deal with crises, including new security efforts such as armed guards and perimeter fencing.

However, now with the ongoing pandemic, he said the district’s efforts to generate savings through the district’s retirement incentive program and use of the capital plan to make improvements to facilities are important. 

He said the district must also be there to support community members facing financial hardships in this time.

“Our students and their families potentially will experience financial difficulties and we will be there to help any way we can to support them,” he said.  

In terms of the future of learning at Mount Sinai, he said the district has done well with limited New York State guidance, and will continue to improve on distance learning.

“With basic at best guidance from New York State, our teachers and admin have had to create a new learning environment,” he said. “The vast majority of our staff have done a great job considering the circumstances. We can always do better and will strive for that goal.”

Karen Pitka

Karen Pitka, a Mount Sinai resident since 2011, works as a fourth-grade teacher and said she can bring that experience in education matters, especially at the youngest grade levels, to help Mount Sinai in these difficult times. 

Pitka said she has taught second and fifth grade as well. While she has considered running for school board before, she said the pandemic has made the choice all the more clear.

“My extensive experience in education allows me to be well versed in what our children need,” she said. “Our youngest children will suffer greatly from the closure of schools during this unprecedented time and I feel I will be an asset to the community and will be able to offer the proper guidance being that I am an elementary school teacher and mother of young children.” 

Having the proper protocol for distance learning is one of the most important issues districts will face. Pitka said districts need a “proper plan” for distance learning should students not return to school buildings in September. Plans, she said, need to adhere to the Free Appropriate Public Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which needs to take into account the type of technology students have at home or have at their disposal so all can have access. 

However, she said the district has done everything it could with the time it had to create a distance learning experience. Still, now that the district has had time to collect its bearings, she said Mount Sinai should look at programs that can offer a similar experience to all users.

“Moving forward, now that we know we need to be prepared for circumstances such as these, I feel it would behoove the district to look at their plan for 1:1 student devices and ensure that a developmentally appropriate online learning platform is put into place for distance learning,” she said.

She added the district will face the challenge of an academic gap caused by school closures, and Mount Sinai should look into a specific mental health program to assist students with coping with the “new normal.”

“More pull-out remediation services may need to be offered and class sizes will need to be smaller in order to provide direct remediation from the classroom teacher,” she said.

In terms of finances, Pitka said if state aid changes the district should look at “every single line in the budget and decide which areas are absolutely critical to the development of all Mount Sinai students from the elementary level through the high school level.”

Robert Sweeney

Robert Sweeney, the current BOE president, has been on the board for nine years. Himself the managing partner of a law firm, he said he has the longtime and intimate experience of the school district, from both the administration side and from the student’s perspective.

Sweeney, who currently has two children in the district plus one who’s graduated, said this year’s budget was modified in response to the pandemic. He said he advocated for the lower tax levy increase of just over 1 percent, a full percentage point below the tax cap, especially since many residents will be hard pressed financially in the coming months. He added that the board has helped negotiate teacher retirement plans that can reduce the budget in the future without making cuts. Knowing when people will be retiring and enrollment numbers, he said, allows them to know how to staff going from year to year.

“There’s a balancing act of keeping the programs and keeping teachers in place,” he said. “We really tried to focus on a point where it makes sense for the district but some people may have jobs lost, lost a second income or have seen payroll reductions …  We can’t just keep going on as if nothing’s happened.” 

He also cited use of the capital reserves to work on projects like refinishing the high school roof as another example of the district trying to maintain its infrastructure without laying the burden on taxpayers.

With the potential for state aid cuts looming somewhere later into the year, the board president said the budget was designed for some amount of flexibility. He added the district is dedicated to long-term strategic planning to think several years ahead.

“I don’t know of any school district that could survive, as is, with a 20 percent drop in state aid — that could be huge,” he said. “We’ve drawn a bit more out of fund balance — that’s what it’s there for — and that will take us to a position next year.”

Sweeney called the term distance learning “a misnomer,” adding that programs looked different mid-March into April and then into May. Schools will have to remain flexible, he said, in case months down the road they will have students in schools, then have to reduce attendance in schools should the state require it. Most importantly, though, is to regain the social and emotional interaction between students and teachers.  

“It is providing support to the students, I do not think of it as distance learning,” he said. “The classroom teacher is important not just because of the material and the textbook, but because of the social and important interaction that the teacher has with the students. We have to make sure that we have classroom teaching in some form. Going forward every building and grade will be different.” 

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As if times are not challenging enough, districts across the state must create budgets without knowing when, or by how much, state aid will be cut.

Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, has removed $1 million from next year’s budget in anticipation of cuts beyond the $300,000 decrease in aid already projected by the state in March.

The current 2020-21 budget falls within the cap on the tax levy increase of 1.96 percent, for a total budget of $218.84 million. This is a 1.75 percent increase over the 2019-20 budget.

The district has begun to make contingency plans with alternate budgets, being referred to as Phase 2, which would mean a further $2 million reduction and Phase 3, which would require a deeper cut of $3 million. Cuomo has said school aid could drop by as much as 20 percent and cuts could take place as late as December, Carlson said.

If cuts go deeper than Phase 3, they will definitely affect services and student programs, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said at the district’s May 6 school board meeting. The board would have to decide whether to make deeper cuts to the budget or use district reserves, she said.

One thing officials do know is that they do not want to make cuts once the school year has begun and would not make cuts to instructional staff.

Pedisich said the district would have to look to reserves, because “any kind of midyear cuts in terms of services would be incredibly disruptive … and this year has been disruptive itself, so we don’t want to add to it and exacerbate the situation.”

The district held a hearing on the budget May 27. Carlson will also give a budget presentation June 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs virtual Meet the Candidates night on Zoom. This program will allow residents to hear from the six candidates running for three seats on the school board.

Also, the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Chamber of Commerce will jointly host an online Meet the Candidates event Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. via Zoom conferencing. For information about how to be part of the online meeting, go to the websites of either the civic association, www.threevillagecivics.org, or the chamber of commerce, www.3vchamber.com, for links to the Zoom meeting.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten.

All 34,025 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the 2020-21 budget and board trustees. Ballots must be returned to the office of the district clerk at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for profiles on each of the candidates.

Huntington High School. File photo.

Since schools officially closed in March due to the coronavirus, many school districts were forced to revisit tentative budget proposals for the 2020-21 academic year. With the anticipation of reductions in state aid and other areas, districts like Huntington and many others are left in a tough spot.

Budget

At a May 11 board of education meeting, the school district detailed changes to the budget. School officials expect a 15 percent reduction in state aid from the previously enacted state budget. The district would stand to lose close to $3 million in aid going from receiving $18.6 million to 16 million.

The district’s current proposal would see an overall budget total of $135,938,167 with a 1.77 percent increase. Its tax levy amount comes out to 112,350,000.

Included in the budget vote is a second proposition that would approve the release of monies for state-approved projects which will total to over $3.6 million.

Southdown Primary School: $340,000 would be used for rooftop solar panels.

Huntington High School: Partial roof replacement costing $1 million.

Finley Middle School: Science/prep rooms reconstruction and boiler replacements would cost $2 million.

Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School: New auditorium seating and flooring would cost $300,000.

Costs of repairs of Finley M.S lockers will also be included in the total.

The next budget meeting will be held May 18 where the district expects to adopt its revised budget. A public budget hearing has been set for June 1, and the budget vote and trustee elections will be June 9. Absentee ballots must be received by 5 p.m.

Trustee Election 

Residents will elect two individuals to the BOE to a three-year term commencing July 1 and expiring June 30, 2023. Board president Jennifer Hebert will be vying for reelection. She has served on the board for the past nine years.

Long time trustee member Xavier Palacios will be seeking reelection as well and looks to secure a fourth three-year term on the board.

Huntington High School. File photo

By David Luces

Northport-East Northport School District

Northport residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget of $171.1 million to a vote of 1,553 to 977. The 2019-20 amount was a $4.2 million and 2.56 percent increase from last year. The district tax levy cap for 2019-20 will be 2.78 percent and the levy amount will increase by over $4 million. 

A $1.8 million from the capital reserve fund will be used for additional asphalt, concrete and drainage repairs as well as traffic reconfiguration at the entrance of Northport High School. 

Three candidates competed for three open seats this year. Allison Noonan, Larry Licopli and Thomas Loughran all ran unopposed and were elected to the board. Noonan received the most votes with 1,864, Licopli followed with 1,796 and Loughran received 1,770.  

Huntington Union Free School District

Huntington residents convincingly passed the $133.5 million budget with a vote of 1,064 to 259. The 2019-20 amount is an increase of 2.83 percent and $3.6 million over the current year’s spending plan. 

A second proposition on the ballot was approved by residents that would fund an estimated $3.9 million worth of projects. 

Three candidates competed for two open board seats this year. Incumbent William Dwyer secured re-election for another term with 804 votes. Michele Kustera received the greatest number of votes with 966 votes and won election to the board. Joesph Mattio fell short with 570 votes. 

Harborfields Central School District

Residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $88 million with a vote 754 to 340. The latest budget amount is an increase of 2.25 percent from 2018-19 and it leads to a tax levy increase of 3.12 percent. Administrative expenditures will cost $9.9 million, programs will cost $64.9 million and capital projects will take up another $13.2 million. 

Hansen Lee and Collen Wolcott won election to the board with 948 and 846 votes, respectively. Lauri Levenberg fell short with 630 votes and Freda Manuel received 248 votes.  

Elwood Union Free School District

In a landslide, residents passed the 2019-20 budget of $62.7 million, 1,223 to 350. The upcoming budget will have a tax levy increase of 2.56 percent. Administrative expenditures took up $7.1 million while programs took $47.1 million; $8.6 million will be used for capital projects. 

Two candidates competed for one 3-year term seat. Incumbent Deborah Weiss won election with 845 votes while Sara Siddiqui fell short with 712.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Residents passed the district’s $70.3 million budget with a vote of 241 to 108. The tax levy for 2019-20 will increase by 2.94 percent. Administrative expenditures will take up $6.2 million; $52.8 million will go to programs; and $11.3 million will be reserved for capital projects. 

Two incumbent candidates ran unopposed. Amelia Brogan secured 282 votes and Julie Starrett received 277.                                                               

Commack Union Free School District

Commack residents passed the district’s $197.1 million budget convincingly 1,797 to 537. The 2019-20 budget will see a 2.95 percent increase in the tax levy. $20.4 million will cover administrative expenditures; $142.3 million will go to district programs; and $29.4 million will be used for future capital projects.  

Four candidates competed for two 3-year term seats: Steve Hartman won election with 1,813 votes as well as Justin Varughese who received 1,543. Pamela Verity fell short with 453 as well as Jennifer Mansi who secured 660. 

Two candidates competed for one 1-year term seat, including Susan Hermer who won election with 1,627 votes while Jennifer Scully only received 565 votes.

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Chiappino and Rita Egan

Smithtown residents voted on school budgets and board of education candidates May 21.

Smithtown Central School District

The Smithtown school district community passed the 2019-20 budget, 1,995 to 781.

Superintendent James Grossane applauded the passage of the budget.

“We worked very hard with the board of education to create a budget that supports programming for our students and makes sure we can give them the best education possible,” he said. “To have the community support for that is just a wonderful thing.”

Regarding voter turnout, Grossane stated that while he was pleased with the margin of victory, “we always hope that more and more folks come out.” He also said that the district is looking toward better supporting students emotionally by hiring support staff such as full-time social workers in elementary schools, continuing to add guidance counselors to the middle school and expanding psychological services.

In the election for BOE trustees, Michael Catalanotto defeated Peter Tufo in the race for resigning member Daniel Lynch’s seat, 1,853 to 836. Catalanotto said his three children and the his wife being a teacher inspired him to run. His central initiative is mental health and social media. He sees increasing parental involvement as a way to combat issues concerning social media usage among students, particularly middle-schoolers. He said that this along with looking at the statistics concerning mental health and social media and ways to limit access to it could be keys to solving its problems, and he looks forward to working on it. His three-year-term begins July 1. For a one-year term effective immediately, Jerry Martusciello defeated Ralph Michele 1,511 to 891 after the resignation of Joanne McElroy.

Kings Park School District

Kings Park residents passed the $93,880,803 budget, Proposition 1, on the ballot, 985 to 376. They also had the opportunity to vote on the creation of a new capital reserve account, Proposition 2, which was approved, 987-363.

Incumbents Pam DeFord and Dan Tew regained their seats on the board, 1,106 and 1,046, respectively. Challenger JP Andrade received 264 votes.

Tew said he looks forward to working with the board as far as bond work and moving the district forward technology-wise, including making Chromebooks accessible to students to go paperless.

Pam DeFord thanked the community for their support and passing the budget.

“Looking at the numbers, they speak for themselves, they show that the community is happy with what we’re doing so we’ll continue doing what we’re doing, and I look forward to serving the community for the next three years,” DeFord said.

Hauppauge School District

Hauppauge residents passed the $116,054,674 budget, 754-340. Proposition 2 also passed, 833-258, to allow spending from capital reserves for roof replacement at Pines Elementary School and districtwide bathroom reconstruction. BOE incumbents David Barshay, 735 votes, Gary Fortmeyer, 771, and Rob Scarito, 757, retained their seats.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

Three Village residents said “yes” to the proposed $215 million budget for the 2019-20 school year Tuesday.

The usually sparsely attended meeting to certify the budget vote drew a number of parents, students and community members who wanted to voice concerns about a possible staffing change in health and athletics.

As expected, incumbent Jonathan Kornreich and newcomer Vinny Vizzo, who ran uncontested for two school board seats, were elected for three-year terms. 

Of the 2,087 votes cast, 1,559 voted in favor of the budget and 528 voted against it. 

Next year’s budget stays within the 2.53 percent cap on the maximum allowable tax levy increase and requires no cuts to programs or staffing for budgetary reasons, district officials have said.

Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, discusses the proposed 2019-20 school district budget at the April meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The $158.9 million tax levy makes up the bulk of the district’s revenue. Funding from the state, which includes building aid, is $46.6 million. State aid, not including money for capital improvements, increased by $287,729. Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, said this is consistent with the 0.8 percent average increase in aid since 2009. 

The district will earn about $6.2 million in revenue from other sources such as tuition from school districts whose students attend Three Village schools, school-age child care and other district-run programs and enrichment. A sum of $3 million from the district’s fund balance account has also been budgeted as revenue.  

A new source of revenue in the coming year will be Patriots Plus, a tuition-based, half-day enrichment program to extend the day for students who attend the district’s free prekindergarten — also half-day. With a fee of $500 a month, the program will be self-sustaining, Carlson said.  

The prekindergarten curriculum, currently offered at Nassakeag Elementary, will expand to all five of the district’s elementary schools in the fall, at no additional cost to the district.

Next year, Three Village will also add a sixth-grade guidance counselor to circulate among the five elementary schools, and the high school will offer a new musical theater class.

Potential changes to staffing are the result of enrollment and student requests, Carlson said. Even so, changes would be small — possibly a reduction of two full-time equivalents at the elementary level and two to three FTEs at the secondary level, he said.

School board

Kornreich, chair of the school board’s audit committee, has been a trustee since 2008. “I’m appreciative to have the opportunity to represent the community and am looking forward to working with a board that puts the needs of children first,” he said Tuesday night. 

Earlier this year Vizzo, after 34 years as a teacher and administrator in the district, retired from his position as principal of R.C. Murphy Junior High School. When he officially begins his term on the board this July, he will assume the seat vacated by Angelique Ragolia. 

“In my new role as board trustee, I look forward to working with my board colleagues to sustain the excellence of our district and will continue to advocate for all students,” he said in an email.

Administration

While attendees of Tuesday’s meeting awaited the election results, parents, coaches, students and alumni gathered to speak on behalf of Peter Melore, executive director health, physical education, recreation & athletics for the district. They expressed concern that he may not be returning to his position next year. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said in a statement, “We certainly value and respect the feedback of our community. However, we are unable to comment on personnel issues.”

In other news, Karen Mizell was named the principal of Setauket Elementary School, and Deana Rinaldi Spanos was appointed as assistant principal of the school.

Mount Sinai School District

With a vote of 1059 to 322, the Mount Sinai School district convincingly passed its $61,009,770 budget, a 1.34 percent increase from last year.

In addition to the budget, the public voted 1,141 to 228 to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

“I feel much better that the turnout [this year] beats the 960 from last year,” Brosdal said. “You can’t assume [the budget] is always going to pass, I was concerned about the bond.”

Brosdal said he is hopeful that the voter turnout is on the upswing. 

“We got over 1,300 voters this year, maybe we’ll get 1,400 or more next year,” he said. 

With five candidates running for three open trustee seats, board member Anne Marie Henninger, who replaced trustee Michael Riggio, secured re-election to the board with the highest vote tally of 790. Challengers Lisa Pfeffer and Robert Pignatello claimed the other two available seats with 713 and 662 votes, respectively. The race for the last seat was a close one with challenger Chris Quartarone coming up short with 655 votes. Longtime board member Lynn Jordan failed to secure re-election this year with 628 votes. 

“I’m very humbled,” Henninger said. “I had a lot of people pulling for me and I’m excited to get back to work, we have a lot to do.”

Pignatello said he was happy with the voter turnout this year for the budget. 

“I’m looking forward to working together with the board and do what’s best for the children and the community,” he said. 

Pfeffer said she is looking forward to serving on the board and doing what’s best for
the community. 

“I’m excited to be working with this group on the board and I’m just going to hit the ground running,” she said. 

Miller Place School District

With the Miller Place School District proposing a $73,958,607 budget, an increase of more than $1.2 million from the current year’s amount, residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget 610 to 173.

This year’s total tax levy amount is $46,928,588, an increase of $638,534 from last year and sticking directly to a 1.38 percent tax levy cap. 

“On behalf of the board of education and district administration, I would like to thank the entire Miller Place-Sound Beach community for their support of the 2019-2020 school budget,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. 

Two seats were open for this year’s Miller Place school board election, and two incumbents ran unopposed. Both seats will be up for three-year terms starting July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.  Incumbents Johanna Testa, who this year served as the board president, and Noelle Dunlop secured their seats with 657 and 636 votes, respectively.

Testa said she was pleased that this year’s budget passed by 78 percent. 

“I feel really excited and I’m looking forward to a third term and continuing to advocate for the community and district,” she said.

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Rocky Point residents passed the school district’s $86,743,446 with a vote of 703 to 213. The new budget is a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount but a $1.3 million increase in the tax levy.

“The district is once again extremely grateful to the community for its overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “This plan is one that will enable Rocky Point to continue to provide enriching academic opportunities for all students and a co-curricular program geared toward supporting student interests.”

Debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which will most likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Rocky Point had two open trustee seats this year. Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, decided not to run for re-election. Veteran board member Susan Sullivan nailed down a three-year term with 618 votes. Challenger Jessica Ward secured the one-year term seat with 551 votes. Michael Lisa came up short with 410 votes. 

“I’m very excited to be on the board and I’m looking forward to working closely with our new superintendent,” Ward said.  

Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River school district residents resoundingly decided to pass this year’s $75,952,416 budget with a 1,129 to 329. The new budget is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure.

The district said the new budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse and new electives for high schoolers.

“I am very grateful to the Shoreham-Wading River community for their ongoing support of our students and school district,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Our students have a longstanding tradition of achieving academic, artistic and athletic success. This approved budget will allow us to continue to build upon that legacy while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Six people ran for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. 

Incumbent board president Michael Lewis was re-elected to a one-year term with 652 votes, while challenger Meghan Tepfenhardt received the highest votes with 744 and secured a three-year term. Thomas Sheridan also secured a three-year trustee seat with 691. Challengers who did not win election were Edward Granshaw who received 471 votes, Jennifer Kitchen with 568 and Bill McGarth with 603.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

With the final voters leaving the polling stations at the stroke of 9 p.m., the Port Jefferson School District residents passed the $43,936,166 2019-20 budget with 559 for and 160 against.

In addition to the vote, the second proposition to use $3.6 million in funds from the capital reserve fund for high school roof repairs passed 591 to 125.

Results of the budget are read to board members. Photo by Kyle Barr

The new budget is a 0.11 percent increase from last year’s budget, and the tax levy, the amount of funds the district raises from taxes, has also gone up to $36,898,824, a $464,354 and 1.27 percent increase from last year, staying directly at the 1.27 percent tax cap. Officials have said they had a lower tax cap this year due to a reduction in capital projects funded by general appropriations.

“I have two words, thank you,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. This will be the last budget overseen by the Casciano, as his position will be filled by incoming superintendent Jessica Schmettan in October. “The board and administration worked hard to make a budget the public would be receptive to, and apparently we were.”

The district has slashed and consolidated a number of items, including professional development for staff, private transportation allocation and a $142,000 reduction through scheduling and enrollment efficiencies for staff. The district has also cut the teacher’s retirement system by $25,000 and staff retirement system by $60,000. The biggest increases in the budget came from health insurance for staff, increasing by approximately $555,580, and benefits, which increased by $408,480.

The district also plans to use $400,000 in the general fund budget to relocate the middle school office into an existing upstairs science classroom for what district officials said was security reasons.

District keeps two incumbents, elects one newcomer

Much less controversial than last year’s election, Port Jefferson residents decided to keep two current members of the board and vote in one newcomer.

Incumbent trustee Ellen Boehm, a seven-year member of the board, was again asked to take her seat securing 521 of the votes. 

“I’m pleased with the positive confidence of the residents in Port Jefferson,” she said.

Ryan Biedenkapp is sworn in. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ryan Biedenkapp, who had been appointed to the board to replace resigned board member Adam DeWitt, was elected to the board to serve out the rest of DeWitt’s term, ending June 30, 2020. His seat will be up for election come that time. Biedenkapp was sworn in for the first time the night of the election.

“I’m honored the town saw fit to bring me back,” Biedenkapp said. “I look forward to serving the kids, all of the kids.”

Newcomer Randi DeWitt, a teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School, will be taking the post as board member thanks to a vote of 473. 

“I thank the community for their belief in me, and I look forward to working with the rest of the board members,” she said.

Mia Farina was the last candidate standing, securing only 291 votes. She said she plans to run again for the board next year as well.

“I just wanted to thank everyone who supported and voted for me even though I did not make the board this time,” Farina said in a Facebook post. “I have made so many new friends and learned so much through this campaign. So many people have helped and supported me with inspiring words.”

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Comsewogue school district voters resoundingly passed its 2019-20 budget with a vote of 660 to 152.

The district’s second proposition to create a capital reserve fund also passed with high margins, 656 to 150.

The new budget of $93,974,755 is an increase of $2,027,025 from last year and includes a $57,279,755, a 2.2 percent increase from last year and below this year’s tax levy cap of 3 percent.

“The budget passed by 81 percent, the highest margin it has ever been at Comsewogue,” Superintendent Joe Rella said. “I just want to thank the community from the bottom of my heart for supporting us.”

One increase came in the form of pupil personnel services from $3,322,061 to $3,678,447. PPL aids students with special needs. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photo

While the district experienced a total enrollment decline of 40 students, the number of students with special needs has increased, according to the assistant superintendent, and each of those young people is more expensive overall than a typical student. In addition, the district is hiring one additional social worker and a new social worker teacher’s assistant.

Other major increases include a 27 percent and $696,209 increase in debt services, but this is offset slightly by a $570,000 or 33 percent decrease in interfund transfers.

Meanwhile, the district is going ahead with the first phase of its bond project; bids were scheduled to go out to companies in April. District voters approved the $32 million bond last year, which the district said would go up in several phases. The first phase, costing about $5.8 million, will complete work on the parking lots at the Boyle Road Elementary School and the Terryville Elementary School, along with the creation of security vestibules in all school buildings and adding new locks to doors throughout the high school building.

District re-elects incumbents

Being uncontested, current trustees Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter maintained their seats.