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2021-22 school budget

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The Three Village Central School District Board of Education will put its rejected budget up for a second vote. At its May 25 meeting, the board elected to resubmit the failed budget unaltered for taxpayers’ approval. 

“Since this is what the majority supported, this is what we should put forward,” said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during a phone interview last week. 

Although 57.7% of taxpayers voted in favor of the $222.6 million budget — 2,286-1,677 — it failed to pass. That was because the proposed budget pierced the 1.37% cap on the tax levy increase, necessitating a supermajority approval, or 60% of the vote, to pass.

The failed budget has a tax levy increase of 1.85%, which officials say would bring in an additional $777,000 in revenue and represents a tax levy difference of $58 per year for the average taxpayer.   

“We want to get back on track” and position the district for long-term financial stability, Carlson said of the decision to pierce the cap.  

After spending close to $7 million from district reserves to enable a full reopening last September, the district needs to start paying itself back. It has budgeted about $800,000 to do so in the coming year.

Carlson added that the district needs to have flexibility in its budget in case there is a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall. After a year of having schools open to all students every day, “we don’t want to go backward,” he said.   

The district is receiving $1.85 million in federal aid, which is earmarked for COVID-related expenses. While some districts received much larger allocations and must spread out their spending, Three Village does not have such restrictions, Carlson said. District officials would like to use the money over the next two years. Carlson explained that a one-time use would create a gap in the budget that would then need to be filled in the following year.

If the budget fails again, there will be no increase to the tax levy. That would mean a shortfall of about $3 million and that major construction or improvements to district property would not take place. Carlson said during the interview that it would not be disastrous, and the district would “make it as painless as possible for the kids.” He also said the district would then use all of the federal money for the coming year. 

Cuts would likely be made to some electives, and class sizes might increase on a district level, Carlson said. He added that funds budgeted for capital projects, which under a passed budget could only be used for building repairs and other maintenance and improvements, could be shifted to other areas of the budget. 

“Our buildings are in good shape,” he said, and it would be better to put capital projects on hold for a year rather than adversely impact academic programs.

The budget hearing was due to be held Wednesday, June 2. The revote will take place, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 15, at Ward Melville High School located at 380 Old Town Road. The vote will take place in one location to make it easier for community members to know  where to go, Carlson said.

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Commack Union Free School District

Commack school district residents passed the $205,126,576 budget, 1,981-620.

Challenger Gustave Hueber beat incumbent Jarrett Behar. Hueber received 1,465 votes, while Behar garnered 1,085.

Comsewogue School District

Comsewogue residents passed the $98,479,289 budget, 643-203.

Margaret Mitchell (699), Richard Rennard (695) and Corey Prinz (670) ran unopposed.

Elwood Union Free School District

Elwood school district residents passed the 2021-22 budget of $66,913,579.

Yes – 1,294

No – 481

Incumbents James Tomeo and Heather Mammolito won back their seats on the board with 1,056 votes and 940, respectively. Bryan Johnson received 709 and Amy Kern 758.

Harborfields Central School District

The 2021-22 Harborfields school district budget of $90,316,264 passed.

Yes – 1,422

No – 346

Susan Broderick with 1,012 votes, incumbent Suzie Lustig with 1,019 and Eve Meltzer Krief with 963, won seats on the board of ed. Incumbent Joseph Savaglio received 601 votes, Freda Manuel had 342 and incumbent Steven Engelmann 812.

Hauppauge Union Free School District

The $119,963,719 Hauppauge school district 2021-22 budget was approved.

Yes – 1,154

No – 415

A resolution to repair the Forest Brook Elementary School roof at a cost of $675,000 was adopted, 1,291-270.

Gemma Salvia and Colleen Capece won the two seats on the board, with 767 and 883 votes, respectively. Incumbent Michael Buscarino received 735 and Megan Asseng 585.

Huntington Union Free School District

The $139,315,854 2021-22 school budget in the Huntington school district passed, 993-250.

Residents reelected Christine Biernacki to the board of ed with 914 votes and newcomers Theresa Sullivan and Thomas Galvin received 856 and 786 votes, respectively, to win seats on the board. Incumbent Lynda Tiné-D’Anna lost her seat with 721 votes.

Kings Park Central School District

The Kings Park school district budget of $98,054,941 passed.

Yes – 1,458

No – 642

Incumbents Kevin Johnston and Diane Nally retained their seats with 1,169 and 1,102 votes, respectively. Challengers Cynthia Grimley and Clayton Cobb received 962 and 826, respectively.

Johnston in an email said he was pleased that he and Nally were reelected, “especially after a contentious campaign.”

“Most important was the passing of the budget,” he said. “Diane and I are proud of the accomplishments Kings Park Central School District has made, over the past six years, including lowering class sizes to more manageable levels; adding school psychologists and social workers; having a graduation rate of 99%, with 94% of students opting for post-graduation education; and the return of students, during the COVID pandemic, in a safe and responsible manner. Together, Diane Nally and I look forward to overcoming the financial and educational challenges in the next three years. Finally, we are cognizant of the community’s ability to finance the students’ education, as we kept the [tax cap levy] below 2%.”

Middle Country Central School District

Middle Country residents passed the $269,080,958 budget 1,758-643.

“On behalf of the Middle Country Central School District Board of Education, administration, teachers and staff, I would like to thank our community for their passage of our 2021-2022 school district budget,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools. “The community’s continued support reinforces our students’ efforts and is a direct reflection of the community’s confidence in the quality of education in our district and the programs and services we provide that ensure the needs of all our students and families are met and exceeded.”

Karen J. Lessler (1,914) and Arlene Barresi (1,893) ran unopposed. John DeBenedetto (1,197) defeated Robert Hallock (779) and Mario Nicoletto (290); Deborah Mann-Rodriguez (929) defeated William Ferraro (879) and Sandro Fernandes (498) for the two-year term remaining on the seat of Dina Phillips, who resigned in the fall and was replaced by Ferraro.

Miller Place Union Free School District

Miller Place residents passed the $76,520,451 budget, 903-257.

Bryan Makarius (609) defeated Desiree O’Neil (490).

Mount Sinai School District

Mount Sinai residents passed the $62,581,830 budget, 656-191.

Karen Pitka (678) and Paul Staudt (665) ran unopposed.

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

The Northport-East Northport school district 2021-22 budget of $174,704,748 did not pass.

Yes – 1,902

No – 2,069

Incumbent Victoria Buscareno, 2,126 votes, retained her seat on the board and Carol Taylor won the second open seat with 2,079 votes. Warner Frey received 1,356 votes and Tammie Topel garnered 1,534.

Port Jefferson School District

Port Jefferson residents passed the $45,009,729 budget, 579-120.

“The district is extremely grateful to our Port Jefferson community for their continued support of our schools,” said Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools. “With the approval of last night’s budget vote, we are poised to further our tradition of academic excellence and ensure our students are prepared for future success.”

Tracy Zamek (473), Ryan Walker (456) and Rene Tidwell (408) defeated Shannon Handley (384).

Rocky Point Union Free School District 

Rocky Point residents passed the $85,692,726 budget, 477-124.

Ed Casswell (472) and Michael Lisa (463) ran unopposed.

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Shoreham-Wading River residents passed the $80,687,584 budget, 669-215.

“We are again pleased that we are part of a community that wholeheartedly supports our students and school district,” said Gerard Poole, superintendent of schools. “Our longstanding tradition of students’ academic, artistic and athletic success is reflected in our community’s expectations and moving forward with this approved budget enables us to continue with Shoreham-Wading River’s mission and goals while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Incumbents Robert Rose (689) and James Smith (670) ran unopposed.

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown school district residents approved the budget of $262,319,665.

Yes – 5,180

No – 3,245

The incumbents Jeremy Thode, Charles Rollins and Mandy Kowalik were voted off the board as residents chose challengers John Savoretti, Karen Wontrobski-Rollins and Stacy Murphy for the three seats up for grab.

Seat of Charles Rollins:

Charles Rollins – 3,868 votes

John Savoretti – 4,645 votes

Seat of Jeremy Thode:

Jeremy Thode – 4,000 votes

Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi – 4,504 votes

Seat of Mandi Kowalik:

Mandi Kowalik – 3,854 votes

Stacy Murphy – 4,651 votes

The 2020-21 school year began with a tumultuous start for the Smithtown school district when local parents rallied in front of the administration building before various board of education meetings demanding schools to be opened five days a week for in-person learning during the pandemic. The charge was led by the Facebook group Smithtown Parents Watchdog Group, which was founded by Murphy, a guidance counselor in the Amityville school district.

In an email Thode said the “community support of the budget” was the number one priority.

“This was a highly contested election that sparked a great deal of dialogue,” Thode said. “Conversation is good. Community engagement is good. I hope they both continue.”

Thode said he believes he made positive contributions during his two terms on the board.

“I have learned that we have great students, staff and families,” he added. “The district is in great hands. We have excellent schools and a passionate community. I congratulate the new BOE members and wish them well. Ultimately, the community wants what is best for children. I am sure this new BOE will unite in that goal. I look forward to watching our children thrive.”

Savoretti, Wontrobski-Ricciardi and Murphy emailed a joint statement the day after their victory.

“We stepped up to the challenge to run for Smithtown Board of Education to make a positive change for our kids and their parents, many who have felt voiceless, unhappy with the current situation in our schools and frustrated with the lack of response to our concerns,” the winners said. “In addition, we firmly believe that our children and youth should be provided a quality education where they are only taught how to think, as opposed to what to think.”

The three acknowledged stumbling blocks along the way despite the support they received from parents in the district. Their campaign page on Facebook had nearly 900 followers.

“Although this campaign was a very positive movement, we were faced with divisive and hurtful tactics by many who disagreed with or assumed we stood for something very different,” they said. “Many false stories spread about us related to ideologies we did not embrace.”

Savoretti, Wontrobski-Ricciardi and Murphy added, “Moving forward, we choose to be leaders in healing this community. We look forward to working with the existing board members and extending our hands to find common ground, prioritizing the needs of every student. At the end of the day, that’s why we got involved … for the children of this community and future generations to come.”

Three Village Central School District

In Three Village school district, the $222.6 million budget did not pass as 60% approval was needed to approve the budget that pierced the 1.37% cap with a proposed tax levy increase of 1.85%.

Yes – 2,286 (57.68%)

No – 1,677

Deanna Bavlnka retained her seat on the board with 2,076 votes, while Sue Rosenzweig and Shaorui Li won the other two open seats with 2,202 and 2,326 votes respectively.

David McKinnon received 1,917 votes and Karen Roughly 1,754.

Bavlnka, Li and Rosenzweig campaigned together. Bavlnka is a corporate director of human resources. Shaorui Li is a principal engineer and research group manager at a national laboratory as well as an adjunct faculty member at Stony Brook University, while Rosenzweig is a former anchor at News 12.

Li ran last year unsuccessfully.

“I’m very proud of our Three Village community with so many people dedicated to supporting high-quality public education,” Li said. “Together we will assist our young generation toward a brighter future.”

Additional reporting by Julianne Mosher

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For the 10th straight year, the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District budget is under the tax levy.

According to the district’s newsletter, the 2021-22 budget will increase by 1.13 percent and has a tax levy increase of 0.75%. The savings is due to school reorganizations, which includes the Aug. 31 closings of Bellerose Avenue and Dickinson Avenue elementary schools.

Residents will also vote on two propositions. Proposition 2 is to establish a capital reserve fund not to exceed $20 million over a 10-year period. If the proposition is approved, there will be no tax implications. Proposition 3 will be to vote on altering the transportation boundaries. If approved, students in grades 6-8 will be able to take the bus if they live within a 0.75-mile limit as opposed to the current 1-mile limit. The boundary limits for grades 9-12 will change from the current 1.5-mile limit to a new 1.0-mile limit.

In the race for two open trustee seats on the board of ed, four candidates are running. The candidates shared information in biographies in the district newsletter that is also found on its website.

Victoria Buscareno

Victoria Buscareno

Incumbent and Syosset school district special education teacher, Buscareno has lived in the district for 46 years and has four children, three in college who graduated from the high school and one child in Northport Middle School.

In addition to attending board meetings regularly, she also attends PTA evening meetings and the Drug and Alcohol Task Force meetings. She also is a member of the Ocean Avenue, NMS, NHS PTA and SEPTA and sat on the NMS subcommittee and is currently the co-chair of the Audit Committee.

Buscareno said being a board member for the past three years and being an educator is an asset.

“The greatest asset an individual can bring as a board member is compassion, kindness and the ability to work with others to come to a consensus on the best possible decision,” she said. “Listening to different perspectives and allowing movement and growth is what allows a board to work together to make important decisions for all of our community.”

Regarding school closings, she lists them among the most pertinent issues facing the Northport-East Northport School District. She also wants to maintain strong dialogue with the community.

“We are looking to maximize our buildings’ usage while providing enhancements for our students in a cost-effective way,” she said. “Maintaining our buildings and making sure every space is well taken care of and safe for all children will always be a priority. School safety is essential. We must be prepared and well trained for any emergency situation.”

Buscareno said the district like many others is revisiting policies to ensure they are inclusive to all students.

Warner Frey

Warner Frey

A 50-year resident, Frey has three children in district schools. He was a coach with the Northport Youth Center Soccer from 2013-17 and a den leader with BSA Pack 400 East Northport from 2015-22. He’s also a team manager for Northport Cow Harbor United and from 2011-21 has served as a member of Dickinson Avenue PTA.

The retired NYPD captain believes his work experience will be an asset to the board.

“I served 23 years in the NYPD which taught me the value of critical thinking, diversity and problem-solving unforeseen challenges,” he said. “As a captain, I led people and formed relationships with community leaders and elected officials to achieve goals.”

If elected, Frey said he aims to create “policy that strives to maximize the talents of all students through inclusion.” He also aims to work on budgets that will enhance current district programs while being affordable to taxpayers.

The candidate said it may not be necessary to have as many brick-and-mortar assets currently and it’s important to reinvent building usage.

“The current review of building usage is an important undertaking,” he said. “As this community evolves, we must assess ways to achieve cost savings while continuing to enhance our student programs. We must be open to new ideas and solutions to achieve cost savings while growing our curriculum.”

Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor

A resident in the district for approximately 20 years, Taylor is planning to retire as a Northport-East Northport teacher next month. Her two daughters are graduates. She was a volunteer for the district’s Steering Committee and has served on several instructional committees. In addition, she has been in leadership with the United Teachers of Northport, a New York State United Teachers delegate and a New York State Teachers Retirement System delegate.

“I’m a problem-solver with an open mind,” she said. “I take little at face value. Rather, I listen and then research. I’m candid and put the needs of my students and their families first. I am unafraid of discourse and will continue to work tirelessly for our families as I have done for the 20 years I’ve worked for our wonderful district.”

In addition to the two elementary schools closing, Taylor said another issue the district faces is “the reality of the LIPA lawsuit with a settlement.” She would also like to see the district hold “councils” instead of having committees. Taylor said she feels that while committees have selfless volunteers, in the end, the decisions still rely on administration.

“Perhaps a policy could be crafted to return to the prior practice to promote earnest collaboration,” Taylor said. “It is becoming increasingly challenging to provide the quality of education that the Northport community expects, given increasing costs and the 2% tax cap limiting the ability to raise local revenue.”

She also said there should be a pause in excess spending with homeowners struggling to make ends meet, and with the LIPA and COVID-19 economic fallout.

Tammie Topel

Tammie Topel

A nearly 30-year resident of the Northport-East Northport area, Topel is a special education advocate and founder/director of K.I.D.S. Plus, which provides sports programs and therapeutic recreation programs for children and young adults with developmental disabilities. Both of her children have attended schools in the district, even though her son with autism did receive a high school education outside of the district.

Topel has been outspoken about the closing of the two elementary schools and she said she’s not afraid to speak up.

“My beliefs are my own which I develop after listening to all sides, especially the community that placed me on the board,” she said. “I do not waiver in the face of bullying, smearing and grandstanding.”

Topel has also been a Northport Rotary Club member and in 2010 was honored in the Times of Northport and East Northport as Women of the Year. She is involved in various community organizations including Drug and Alcohol Task Force member, founder/administrator of Just For Kicks Soccer Club, chairperson for the Northport Youth Soccer League, past PTA president of Norwood Avenue Elementary School, past special education chairperson for Suffolk Region PTA and past SEPTA president.

Topel lists the closings of the elementary schools and the raising of the budget among the top of her concerns as well as transparency from the superintendent and BOE. She also seeks for community communications to be made part of the public record.

“The board and the superintendent could be more transparent and should effectively communicate with the community, before, during and after meetings,” she said. “During public participation at a board meeting, board members should answer questions asked of them by the community.”

Voting information

The budget vote and board of education trustees election will take place Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are three voting locations in the Northport school district. Those living south of the centerline of Pulaski Road vote at Fifth Avenue Elementary School; residents living north of the centerline of Pulaski Road and south of the centerline of Route 25A vote at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School; and voters who live north of the center of Route 25A vote at William J. Brosnan School.

Huntington High School. File photo

Residents in the Huntington school district will be able to choose from four candidates for three seats on the board of education.

Incumbents Christine Biernacki and Lynda Tine-D’Anna will go up against newcomers Thomas Galvin and Theresa Sullivan, according to the district’s website.

Christine Biernacki

Biernacki is completing her second three-year term on the board and was elected by her fellow trustees to serve as board president for the 2020-21 school year. She and her husband live in Halesite with their two children who are in high school.

A partner in a New York City law firm, in addition to her duties with the BOE, she is president of the district’s PTA council and has served on the Safety and Shared Decision Making committees and on the Special Education Committee.

She has served as president of both the Town of Huntington’s Youth Bureau board and of the Huntington Sanctuary Project’s advisory board and has offered her house as a host home for the project’s runaway youth.

Lynda Tine-D’Anna

Lynda Tine-D’Anna

A lifelong resident of Huntington, Tine-D’Anna is completing her first term on the school board.

She and her husband have two children who attend district schools, and two daughters attending college.

The candidate is a world language teacher in the Syosset school district and is a member of the high school steering committee for the National Blue Ribbon schools of excellence application process, chair of the district’s Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation and evaluation committee and is a founding member of the high school’s professional development program.

She has also been a board member and volunteer of the Huntington school district Special Education PTA, and is the founding member and former president of a local nonprofit focused on advocacy and education.

Thomas Galvin

Thomas Galvin

Galvin and his wife, who graduated from Huntington High School, moved from New York City to Huntington nearly 20 years ago. They have two children attending school in the district.

The candidate is New Hyde Park Memorial High School’s social studies chairperson and a representative on his district’s diversity task force. He also has coached soccer at the YMCA and the Cold Spring Harbor-Huntington Soccer Club and helped create the high school’s Model U.N. program. In his free time, he performs in a band.



Theresa Sullivan

Theresa Sullivan

A 1992 graduate of Huntington High School, Sullivan works at her family’s Huntington village salon and was recently appointed to the town’s small business task force. She and her husband have two daughters in the district.

She created Huntington Hospital Meals during the pandemic, and her work was recognized by town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in the TBR News Media May 2020 article, “Who local leaders are thankful for helping during pandemic.” The initiative helped deliver thousands of meals for medical professionals and staff at the hospital during the initial weeks of the pandemic and also raised more than $150,000.

Budget and voting information

According to the Huntington school district’s website, the estimated tax levy increase for the 2021-22 budget is 0.33 percent, with a budget increase of 2.48% to $139,315,854.  The district will receive state aid of $22,166,741, according to the district’s projections.

Residents will also have the opportunity to vote on a capital reserve proposition. If the proposition receives approval, it will permit funding for an estimated $3.525 million in projects and will have no effect on taxes.

Projects include partial roofing replacement at Huntington High School, parking lot renovations at J. Taylor Finley Middle School and the replacement of two original building boilers at Jefferson Primary School.

The budget vote and BOE elections will take place May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Huntington High School located at 188 Oakwood Road.

Families rallied in August asking the Smithtown Central School District to consider five days of in-person schooling for all of the district’s students. Photo by Lina Weingarten
Stacy Murphy

The 2020-21 school year began with a tumultuous start for the Smithtown Central School District when local parents rallied in front of the administration building before various board of education meetings demanding schools to be opened five days a week for in-person learning during the pandemic. The charge was led by the Facebook group Smithtown Parents Watchdog Group, which was founded by Stacy Murphy, a guidance counselor in the Amityville school district.

Now Murphy along with educator Karen Ricciardi and real estate agent John Savoretti will go head-to-head with BOE incumbents Jeremy Thode, Mandi Kowalik and Charles Rollins. Voters on May 18 will have the opportunity to vote for Murphy or Kowalik, Savoretti or Rollins and Ricciardi or Thode.

The challengers

Savoretti, Murphy and Ricciardi did not return requests to schedule interviews but created a Facebook page where they share their common goals via posts and a video.

Karen Ricciardi

Murphy said in the video she enjoys helping others.

“I love helping kids, and I love being a voice for their families and helping them navigate a very confusing educational system if you don’t have any role in it,” she said. “And, I want that for this community.”

According to the candidates, they want to raise the bar of the education received in the district and “to ensure that the education our K-12 kids are receiving is void of any one group’s agenda, affiliation, belief system or persuasion; and to encourage and provide every student with the tools to be bold enough to exhibit qualities of compassion, kindness and good citizenship to all.”

In the video, Ricciardi said looking out for students was important.

“What’s that old expression?” she said. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Well, this is what’s going on in Smithtown. They’re wasting these amazing resources with these kids.”

The candidates also have stated on their page that being fiscally responsible is a priority and that the needs of the students are part of every budget decision.

“Ensuring the community that every vote in favor of a budget item is an investment in our children by building a trust with the community that we will be board members who do not put our own agendas, beliefs and needs — or the agendas, needs or beliefs of any other organization — above that of the needs of the Smithtown student body.”

John Savoretti

The three newcomers are also looking for more dialogue between the board and the community.

“Our goal is that we will have a school board of seven members who have absolutely no obligation or indebtedness to any group(s) that could jeopardize their ability to unequivocally put the needs of the students at the utmost forefront of each and every decision,” the candidates wrote.

In the video, Savoretti explained why the three decided to run together.

“Having one person change is a start, but when you have all three of us change, that’s a running start,” he said. “And what you’re doing is you’re sending a serious message to the other candidates who are in there, who are going to be coming up for election next year and the years after, that if you don’t wake up and start doing right by the kids and what’s right for the community, you’re not going to be there again.”

The incumbents:

Mandi Kowalik

Mandi Kowalik

Kowalik is seeking her second term. A mother of three, she is a former elementary school teacher, author and community volunteer. In an email, she said she enjoys the challenging work of being a BOE trustee.

“I am extremely passionate, dedicated, professional and hardworking,” she said. “There was a definite learning curve during my first term, and I now feel even more equipped to address the needs of the Smithtown community. I would like to assess the needs of the community and the wants of the students regarding the time that was lost during the pandemic, and then work to ensure that we make up for what children and families feel like they missed out on.”

She said she felt the board made the right decision by not opening up all schools in the district right away for five days of in-person learning, saying they followed state guidance for the safety and health of “our students, their families, our staff and the community.”

Kowalik added that the Smithtown school district was one of a few that were back to full-time, in-person learning.

Jeremy Thode

Jeremy Thode

Thode, an associate high school principal, director of health, physical education, business, fine and applied arts and athletics in Center Moriches, is completing his second term as trustee. He agreed that the board did the right thing regarding opening schools in phases. He said the board has more work to do, especially with getting back to normal after the shutdowns. He added having experience with working through the pandemic is a benefit.

He said there were a myriad of reasons regarding school reopenings, and he agreed the board did the right thing following a hybrid model considering state guidelines and also followed the research that was available about the coronavirus.

“We chose to stay on the conservative side, and ensure that our kids were safe,” he said. “The number one priority was keeping the students safe, and the community as safe as possible.”

Among other concerns in the district, Thode said once school returns to normal it would be beneficial to look at the empty buildings in the district, which he said could potentially be utilized by local businesses or nonprofits and lead to students getting internships.

“It would be nice to use them as a hub for resources for the community that our kids might be able to get intertwined with,” he said.

Charles Rollins

Rollins, was appointed by the board and replaced Frank James, who stepped down in January. Rollins’ three children graduated from Smithtown schools, and he is a retired senior executive. He or Savoretti will complete the last two years of James’ term.

Charles Rollins

Involved in the community, he has served as president of the Smithtown Booster Club in the past and is currently its treasurer. He most recently served as senior vice president of operations for First Industrial Realty Trust until his retirement a few years ago.

With a background in business, he feels he has something to offer the board, and he has been working on a capital improvement plan with administration, which is considering taking out a bond in the next few months. Rollins said now is a good time with low interest rates.

“We will be communicating with our constituency to let them know what the plans are,” he said.

Rollins added that the $120 million capital improvement plan will include infrastructure as well as cosmetic improvements, which will include ventilation system work to respond to COVID concerns. 

While he wasn’t part of the original plan to reopen schools, he believes the board and administration did the right thing by opening schools up slowly and said he has high praise for his colleagues, adding they made decisions based on “the science and the numbers, and the direction and guidance from health providers.”

Rollins said he is the president of the homeowners association where he has a house in Florida for vacations. He said he had to make similar decisions to help keep residents safe. The candidate said while some of those decisions weren’t popular, he had to put everyone’s health first. When he heard the Smithtown board was being criticized, he knew what they were going through.

“In my heart, I knew they were doing the right thing,” he said.

Recently the district received criticism for its inclusion, diversity and equity education. In a district letter to parents, the administration said such work has been deemed a priority for many educational organizations.

Rollins said the goal of making sure every student feels welcomed and comfortable is an important one. He added he has heard many passionate speeches from community members at board meetings, and he feels the goal can be achieved with conversations between parents and the board and administration.

Budget and vote

According to the district’s website, the 2021-22 budget of $262,319,665 is an increase of 2.79% over last year’s budget, which is a 1.75% tax levy increase.

Budget voting and board of ed trustees elections will be held Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information on voting locations for the four election districts, visit the SCSD website at www.smithtown.k12.ny.us.

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File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

Though much is still uncertain about the coming school year, Three Village plans to build on the success of this year’s full September reopening.

To achieve this, the administration has forecast a 2021-22 budget that will pierce the 1.37 percent cap on the tax levy increase. At last week’s school board meeting, Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, outlined a proposed budget of about $222.6 million, based on a tax levy increase of 1.85 percent.

The deputy superintendent said that in opening schools to all students five days a week last September, Three Village managed something that “almost no school district anywhere — not just on Long Island or in New York” has been able to do. “And it wasn’t that we just happened to get lucky.”

Pointing to the work of staff, students and parents, he added, “It was a real team effort, and it also cost a lot of money.”

That led the district to spend $6.5 million in COVID-related expenses this school year. About $4 million covered additional instructional staff for smaller classes, allowing students to keep six-foot distancing within classrooms, Carlson said. It also meant that over time, entire classes did not have to quarantine when someone was diagnosed with the coronavirus and that the district did not have to close down any buildings. The school district also increased spending for cleaning supplies, additional custodial staff, desk shields, Chromebooks and personal protection equipment, Carlson said.

The district also offered fully remote instruction for students who weren’t ready to return to in-person learning this year. The administration plans to offer “some sort of” remote program at least at the beginning of the upcoming school year, Carlson said.

Though the state aid package to the district decreased this year, state legislation allowed school districts and local governments to borrow from their reserves to pay for pandemic-related expenses. However, this same legislation also requires that the funds be repaid within five years. So next year’s budget also includes funds to pay back about $800,000 to the district’s reserves, Carlson said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) preliminary budget for next year proposes another reduction in state aid to Three Village. District officials hope, however, to receive an allocation of funds from the federal stimulus. Even so, the school board and administration are planning beyond the stimulus money, Carlson said. In the past, federal money has been temporary, he said, citing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. What followed from 2010 to 2016 was New York State’s Gap Elimination Adjustment, which took money out of school aid to help plug the hole in the New York State budget. Carlson said Three Village lost $32.4 million in state aid over those years and had to make a number of costly cuts to staffing and programs.

Carlson also explained that because the school board wanted to cover the costs of a full reopening and prepare for the future, it was willing to go above the cap as long as the increase remained below 2 percent.

The cap on the tax levy increase has often been called the “2 percent cap,” because the law was meant to cap tax increases at two percent, or the consumer price index — whichever was lower. However, the cap varies year-to-year and district-to-district, because it is based on a formula that also takes into account other criteria such as a district’s tax base growth factor and allows for certain exclusions that can push the increase above 2 percent.

While a budget within the tax cap would cost the average taxpayer an additional $164 a year, the proposed budget would add about $222 — $58 more — to the average tax bill, Carlson said.

Because the budget is above the cap, it must receive a supermajority, or 60 percent approval, to pass. The budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 18.


Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

In other news, the board updated a number of policies in compliance with the state. Among them, said Alan Baum, executive director of human resources and secondary curriculum, is a policy making all public single-occupancy bathrooms gender neutral, as well as one that shifts learning standards to the Next Generation Standards and includes provisions for equity, inclusion and diversity. The new policies also provide guidelines for selecting textbooks — which now include resources that are not physical — that fairly represent the many ethnic, cultural and religious traditions that contribute to American heritage, Baum said.

Also adopted is an updated policy for safety plans to ensure continuity of instruction in case of events like a pandemic, as well as a new policy for pandemic planning. Professional development will shift toward “professional learning.” The policy also includes a provision for “culturally responsive professional learning” for staff.

Board president Inger Germano will resign at the end of the month to take the position of Three Village school district clerk. She is replacing Kathleen Sampogna, who is retiring.

Germano first ran for the board in 2011 and was pro tempore district clerk for nine years. In a statement she read to the board, Germano said it has been a great privilege to serve and that she looks forward to continuing to serve the community and the district in another role.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was preparing to release its recommendations for the nation’s schools to safely reopen, the focus of the Three Village school board meeting Feb. 10 was on sustaining its in-person learning. Seating was limited in accordance with current distancing guidelines.

Even as parents and students expressed gratitude for the district’s September in-person reopening, there was general acknowledgment of the emotional and financial challenges associated with opening schools every day in the middle of a pandemic.

“It costs a lot of money but the message we had gotten going back to last summer was, ‘Do what you need to do to get our kids back to school and do it safely.’ And we’ve done that,” said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services.

But there is a continuing cost. Carlson prepared residents for a 2021-22 budget that would pierce the cap on the tax levy increase. He said Three Village spent about $6.5 million in COVID-related expenses to support last fall’s reopening to all students who wanted to return in-person every day. The school district also provided fully remote instruction to students whose families requested it.

More than $4 million went to hiring more teachers to decrease class sizes so that classrooms would be less crowded, and students could maintain a distance of 6 feet, the deputy superintendent said. The attention to social distancing also meant that as the school year progressed, the New York State Department of Health did not require entire classes to quarantine when someone contracted the virus.

Funds also went toward paying for masks, janitorial staff, cleaning supplies, Chromebooks and desk barriers, Carlson said.

Next year’s budget anticipates similar costs to keep the same protections in place. Though the increase to the budget would be below 2 percent — 1.85 percent — it would exceed the district’s tax cap of 1.37 percent, Carlson said.

The deputy superintendent said the district was able to cover the expenses this year, in part, because Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill allowing school districts and local governments to transfer money from their reserve funds to their operating budgets to pay for pandemic-related expenses. He added that Three Village will have spent between $4 million and $5 million from its reserves, and in compliance with the bill will need to pay back the funds within five years.

In the coming year, the governor’s preliminary budget shows a small decrease in aid to the district.  Additionally, Three Village will begin repaying about $800,000 to its reserves. Carlson said that these pandemic-related expenses, along with the usual increases in health insurance and employee retirement funds, also contractual increases, will make it impossible to put together a budget that stays within the cap.

Since the budget will be above the tax cap, it will need a supermajority — a vote of 60 percent in favor — to pass. The last time the district exceeded the cap was in 2012, the first year such caps were put in place. At that time, $1.95 million in cuts had to be made, because the budget was not approved by a supermajority.

“It’s a different time,” Carlson said of the upcoming budget. “We want to keep schools open. If not for COVID, we wouldn’t even be talking about this.”

Student life

At the same time that parents and students thanked the district for a full reopening, they also voiced frustration about some of the losses in the past year.

Speaking to the board about allowing spectators at sporting events, one parent noted that too much has already been taken away from students.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich assured parents that they have the support of the school district, which has registered a vote with Section XI in favor of allowing spectators at sporting events.

And while “school in person was a huge win,” said Jesse Behar, a Ward Melville senior and student representative to the school board, seniors are looking at lost milestones such as homecoming and Senior Day. They are also concerned about whether there will be a prom or “any modified in-person events,” as well as celebrations for students moving up from the sixth and ninth grades, Behar said.

“I feel positive you will make graduation happen, because last year, when many districts threw their hands up, you guys made graduation happen,” he said.

Pedisich responded to these concerns by saying, “We know that those are significant milestones for our seniors and also our ninth-graders moving up, as well as our sixth-graders. We are not giving up hope.”

She added that the governor’s pending approval in March of weddings of 150 people is a good sign and reason for optimism.

“We are looking at options that will make this as special as it can be for our seniors,” Pedisich said.