Editorials

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File photo

From unfunded mandates to grounds maintenance, school districts are burdened with many costs, but high energy bills don’t have to be one of them.

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) recently introduced legislation that would strengthen the state’s support of alternative energy systems in school districts. All types of alternative energy systems — whether solar, wind and/or geothermal  — would be eligible for state building aid. The legislation would also remove a requirement that has the systems meet an 18-year payback window in order to receive aid. These changes make sense, as they’ll empower school districts to go green while also saving taxpayers money.

A few school districts on the North Shore have discussed installing solar panels on their building roofs, while two — Miller Place and Three Village — are moving forward with plans to install the panels. In Miller Place, the panels are expected to save the district more than half its utility budget. In Three Village, by the time the project is paid off, the district could be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While we encourage other school districts to investigate how alternative energy systems could help their districts reduce costs, we also hope they’ll continue searching for ways to reduce their energy consumption. Replacing an energy source with a clean alternative is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t do anything to address a greater energy consumption problem that pervades our communities, including in our schools.

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An anti-Common Core rally in Smithtown. File photo

Opting students out of state standardized tests has become a hot topic, and it’s a decision that should rest in the hands of parents, not school leaders.

Recently, Comsewogue School District officials had threatened to consider not administering the tests altogether if Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state education department did not acquiesce on a list of demands, one of which was to stop weighing student test scores so heavily in teacher and administrator evaluations. But the district clammed up on the measure after its attorney intervened. In addition, the NYSUT union, which represents teachers across the state, has called for a mass opt-out.

State law comes down hard on actions like this: Any school-board members or other officials like superintendents who willfully violate state education regulations — such as by refusing to administer a required assessment — risk being removed from office by the education commissioner, and state aid could be withheld from the district.

At the heart of the matter is a battle over local control of our school districts. While local officials should be consulted when it comes to shaping state education regulations and standards, there must be some degree of state standardization in education to ensure that our programs sufficiently educate kids. It’s wrong for administrators and school officials to politicize a high-emotion situation — the opt-out movement — in a way that could be detrimental to students.

In a school-sponsored, massive opt-out, the ones who face the greatest risk are the students — officials may put their jobs at stake, but the kids’ entire futures could hang in the balance if the state pulls education aid from a district that heavily relies upon it, or if otherwise competent school board members and administrators are kicked out of office.

Let us also pause to think about how adult behavior affects our kids. This paper has previously editorialized about how the commotion over the Common Core and state testing has negatively affected children — students see and hear their parents’ and teachers’ reactions, and many mimic that fear and anxiety when they otherwise would not have had such emotional reactions to tests and classes. At some point, we have to ask ourselves if this is the kind of behavior we want to teach our kids.

Calling for change is one thing, but screaming for it is another. Let’s not play politics. Above all, let’s keep cool.

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As a community newspaper, we value reader feedback and welcome any and all letters to the editor on the stories that compel our neighbors. But we received one letter in particular this past week that we felt warranted a larger editorial response.

Last week, we ran a story on Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spearheading a new law that aims to more aggressively address domestic violence by empowering victims — connecting them with agencies and offering up a self-assessment questionnaire — and analyzing offenders. The bill was approved without a single “nay” in the Legislature, showing the county’s commitment to the issue.

On Monday, we opened up an anonymous letter addressed to the publisher of this newspaper, responding to our domestic violence reporting.

“Women can be opportunists,” the letter started. “If a man just pushes his girlfriend or paramour or even his wife, the next thing you know, she comes to court with a brace on her neck and bandages and a story that complains how she was pushed down a flight of stairs and strangled.”

Our initial reaction to this argument was scoffs and rolling eyes. (And why is this man pushing his partner to begin with?) While some people may have valid concerns over the consequences of tighter domestic violence laws, our anonymous reader’s remarks underscored the very same symptomatic problem, which affects both women and men, that Hahn’s legislation is looking to end in Suffolk County.

“No wonder guys go off the deep end and murder their so-called girlfriends. If I could not see my children, I would be mad as well. Enough to murder — possibly,” the secret letter writer said about custody battles. “Women are so thick-headed, unreasonable and vindictive, especially where money is concerned, that the greed of a woman scorned cannot be fathomed and we, the dads, husbands, boyfriends, are left out in the cold with no recourse.”

The writer asked that this newspaper “do something about these issues.” That is why we chose to dedicate this week’s editorial to his letter — to do something when we are confronted with a disgusting diatribe that condones violence against a group of people.

We hope the county law, still in its infancy, helps shift the train of thought of those like this reader.

Thank you for the letter.

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College is expensive. Actually, college is ludicrously expensive these days, as 60 percent of graduates from colleges and universities in New York are coming out of school with a debt of more than $26,000, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success.

With these numbers in mind, we support Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci’s (R-Huntington Station) push for increasing the maximum amount of financial aid awarded through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.

While college costs have increased drastically over the last 10 years, there has been no substantial increase in the maximum TAP award a student can receive. Individuals can currently cash in a minimum grant of $500 and a maximum of $5,165 each year.

Lupinacci said he wants to raise the maximum to $6,470, while also increasing the maximum eligible household income from $80,000 to $100,000. We wholeheartedly support this measure, as the increases would better align with SUNY and CUNY tuition rates for in-state residents and the high cost of living in New York.

For the 2014-15 school year, a typical undergraduate student studying at a SUNY college will pay a little more than $7,500 for tuition and student fees. Add room and board, and that cost becomes about $19,600.

Raising the maximum TAP award would provide many students — who may be supporting themselves and working full-time — an easier pathway to obtaining their degrees. This program could be especially crucial to students who are on their own and may not have someone to co-sign a loan.

We often use the phrase “every penny counts,” and in this case it couldn’t be truer. The purpose of public education is to increase access to an important service. Increasing TAP will help further that goal.

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New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales hit Hauppauge last week to outline Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to increase the state minimum wage from $8.75 to $10.50.

In his pitch, Perales projected a rippling economic impact that could potentially give 150,000 workers a pay raise and bring $382.3 million in value to Long Island. While this newspaper supports the notion of empowering our low-income earners with higher minimum wages, we still only see it as a one-dimensional, short-term fix that does not address the bigger issues of affordability.

Raising the minimum wage is a risky move that could end up hurting us in the long run if not done in conjunction with other means to address inflation and making New York — and Long Island — more affordable and livable. Long Island has already been struggling to prevent its young people from relocating because of its lack of affordable living options, and raising wages could consequently end up bringing the cost of living even higher for those still hanging on.

It’s already hard enough to live on Long Island as rents continue to skyrocket and costs continue to increase. That’s why we need a multi-pronged approach to coincide with the established proposal to raise the state minimum wage, which has increased a total $4.50 since 1991.

There are plenty of pros to raising the minimum wage, and Perales outlined key points during his Hauppauge visit — he said the number of workers on Long Island earning minimum wage would jump from the current 85,264 to 202,248.

But the state must not ignore the cons that come with such a move, including the potential layoffs at Long Island’s small businesses lining the main streets of our communities.

Our leaders too often put short-term patches on long-term wounds. Those immediate fixes serve a purpose, but we should be looking at the bigger picture.