By Chris Mellides
Ahead of the May 17 budget vote and board of education election, Northport-East Northport school district’s current trustees, along with a new contender, see a promising future for their community.
There are three open seats on the Northport-East Northport school board that will be filled later this month. Incumbents — current president Larry Licopoli, Allison Noonan and Thomas Loughran — have competition from Nassau County police officer Frank Labate.
Several issues are at play in the district from the Long Island Power Authority glide path woes, to declining student enrollment and unfinished learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the candidates said they are resolute in their student-centric focus.
“While one answer is to protect our fiscal ability to preserve our programs by balancing the LIPA glide path, declining enrollment, anticipated increases in state aid and potential expense side reductions, the essential answer for a board and community is to always keep our eyes on the prize — our students,” Licopoli said.
The proposed 2022-23 budget is $177,856,084, which represents a budget-to-budget increase of 1.81%. The tax levy increase is 0.61%, which involves an additional sum to average taxpayers of $49.79.
There have been no tax levy increases for the last two successive fiscal years, according to Licopoli.
“This year’s 0.61% increase on the [proposed] levy includes very modest reductions relative to overall staffing and shifts resources focusing on student needs,” he said. “We accomplished this through a revised educational planning and budget protocol, adding more detail and transparency for the board and community to consider.”
A significant portion of the funds have been allocated to the maintenance of the district’s aging buildings. There is also a large emphasis being placed on educational and extracurricular opportunities, the continuity of World Languages from grade five into grade six, along with increased physical education staffing in the elementary schools.
Additionally, there will be an increased access to the district’s alternative high school Program of Resilient Teens Academy and a focus on students’ mental health through a partnership with Northwell Health. Educational and extracurricular opportunities are also being championed by the district.
The budget also includes monies for continued instructional technology upgrades including interactive display panels in classrooms.
TBR conducted interviews with the four BOE candidates
Trustee Noonan said that she has had a very positive experience over the past year and is “excited to continue working on the board’s goals.” She, like the other board members, knows the importance of mental health when it comes to the district’s students and claims that a huge challenge facing the district is the students’ emotional well-being.
“It will be imperative for us to offer a multilevel, interdisciplinary support system that includes an emphasis on educational and emotional wellness for all of our students for the foreseeable future,” Noonan said.
Trustee Loughran believes in the effectiveness of the board and said that from “day one” — when he was sworn in — he “hit the ground running at 100 mph.”
He also expressed the difficulties that he had to contend with when he became a board member, during which time he helped deal with a failing roof system at one of the district’s elementary schools, which resulted in the “complete reconstruction and relocation of two grade levels.”
Loughran said he didn’t believe there were any problems with the budget.
“This budget is the right budget for our community,” he said. “It further enhances opportunities for students and provides resources to help bridge the gap left in so many students’ social-emotional development because of disruptions over the past two-and-a-half years.”
Labate said he is running because he wants to see changes made to his district. The 30-year-old police officer is a current East Northport resident and is a father of two. He said that the main reason for running in the BOE election is because he was asked by local residents to do so.
Northport parents didn’t think that their views were being represented in the district., so the young candidate has taken the initiative. “I believe in my values, and I believe that they are worth fighting for right now,” he said.
Labate, who if elected will be the youngest trustee to ever serve on the board, recalled a recent BOE meeting where Licopoli sided with the New York State mask mandate for all students. Labate chose to “disagree with that moral choice.”
“Never again should children suffer because our local leaders didn’t stand up for what was right,” Labate said. “I will deliver a devotion to our children as our highest moral standard, and the values of this community will guide me in that pursuit.”
As a law enforcement officer, Labate said that he deals with New York State law every day and firmly understands policy and how it shapes the community.
“We learn in the police academy that if you find yourself in a fight, you never give up,” he said. “I will never give up when it comes to protecting our children and affording them the educational experience that they deserve.”
Still, Noonan reflected all the candidates’ agreement that Northport school district is well placed when she said, “I think the future for Northport is going to be with the new families moving to our community because of the school district’s opportunities and our willingness to embrace everyone in our community and schools — by creating a culture of care and dignity for all.”
Voting will be held on Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at three different polling locations. For details see district website.