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Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has feuded with the federal government about getting resources to New York during the coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Erika Karp

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) briefed residents last week with his plans and proposals for the coming year in his State of the State address.

One of the more than 30 proposals focused entirely on the needs of Long Island’s infrastructure, with an investment of $160 million slated for transformative projects, including $120 million for the Long Island Rail Road, and $40 million to build sewers.

“These major, transformative investments in Long Island’s core infrastructure invest in the future resiliency and strength of the region,” Cuomo said. “Enhanced LIRR stations will connect further than they ever have before, and these vital water infrastructure projects will support environmental sustainability and bolster economic growth. With these projects, we equip Long Island with the tools and resources to drive commercial activity, create jobs and build a stronger Long Island for generations to come.”

Funds for the LIRR would go toward “state-of-the-art” enhancements at certain stations, improving system connectivity and establishing a new stop at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. According to the governor’s office, the MTA will cover $35 million of the investment. Stops on the North Shore that would receive upgrades include Northport, Stony Brook, Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma.

A sum of $80 million will be invested in major enhancements at 16 stations to improve the customer experience — coming in at $5 million each, including new facilities, Wi-Fi, charging stations for electronics, public art, new platform waiting areas, general station renovations and improved signage. The enhancements will be customized to the needs of each station and constructed with minimal disruption. Creating a stop on the LIRR Ronkonkoma Branch to Brookhaven National Laboratory would cost $20 million.

David Manning, director of stakeholder relations for BNL, said the station would be a great asset to both the lab and the community.

“It’s really important for the future of young scientists and attracting new talent,” he said in a phone interview. “It allows us to expand our programs and would help with easier access to the lab from New York City. We are a user facility with a large employee base, so greater public transportation access to the lab would be very helpful.”

Cuomo also pledged $40 million to build sewers to support economic growth and environmental sustainability in Smithtown and Kings Park. Both areas are in the process of improving their downtown districts.

“These major, transformative investments in Long Island’s core infrastructure invest in the future resiliency and strength of the region.”
— Andrew Cuomo

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said the money is greatly needed to help bring positive change.

“It’s a great thing,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve been asking the county for the last three years for sewers in Kings Park and Smithtown.”

The $20 million Smithtown Business District Sewer Improvement Area project would install sanitary infrastructure and a $20 million Kings Park wastewater treatment facility would be installed in the 100-acre, 140-lot central business district adjacent to the Kings Park railroad station.

Another proposal has been on the national radar for more than a year, thanks to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cuomo said he intends to bring free college tuition to New Yorkers with the Excelsior Scholarship, a program that would make college tuition-free for New York’s middle-class families at all SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges.

“A college education is not a luxury — it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Cuomo said.

It’s no secret New Yorkers are struggling with college debt. According to the state comptrollers office, student loan debt more than doubled during the last decade, growing to $82 billion, an increase of 112 percent. The number of student loan borrowers also rose sharply in New York in the last 10 years with an increase of more than 41 percent, to 2.8 million.

The program would be available for more than 940,000 middle-class families or individuals that make up to $125,000 annually and who are enrolled in a SUNY or CUNY university. According to the governor’s office, 80 percent of households in the state make $125,000 or less. Based on enrollment projections, the plan will cost approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in. The new initiative would take about three years to kick in, beginning for New Yorkers making no more than $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018 and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

Funding for the initiative would come from various aid programs. Eligible students would receive federal grants and additional state funds would cover the remaining tuition costs for incoming or existing students who qualify.

Cuomo announced the initiative at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City alongside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who has been a longtime supporter and advocate for free public college tuition.

“If the United States is to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce in the world,” he said. “With exploding technology, and with most of the good paying jobs requiring more and more education, we need to make certain that every New Yorker, every Vermonter and every American gets all the education they need regardless of family income.”

“With exploding technology, and with most of the good paying jobs requiring more and more education, we need to make certain that every New Yorker gets all the education they need regardless of family income.”
—Bernie Sanders

A third proposal would attempt to tackle heroin and opioid addiction —a growing issue throughout Suffolk County, New York and the country.

The proposal aims to eliminate insurance barriers and further expand access to effective treatment, curb overprescribing, and get fentanyl and other synthetic opioids off the streets.

“This multipronged plan addresses each component of heroin and opioid addiction — prevention, treatment and recovery — in order to help break this cycle of misery and save lives,” Cuomo said.

The governor created a six-point plan, which focuses on eliminating prior authorization requirements to make substance use disorder treatment available to all; adding fentanyl analogs to the controlled substances schedule to subject emerging synthetic drugs to criminal drug penalties; increasing access to lifesaving buprenorphine treatment by recruiting health care providers to become prescribers; establishing 24/7 crisis treatment centers to ensure access to critical support services; requiring emergency department prescribers to consult the Prescription Monitoring Program registry to combat doctor shopping; and creating New York’s first recovery high schools to help young people in recovery finish school.

A synthetic opioid more potent than heroin and resistant to the effects of Narcan, fentanyl encounters more than doubled in the U.S. from 5,343 in 2014 to 13,882 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The governor’s office said overdose deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl have increased by 135 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Cuomo said he intends to subject criminal drug penalties for possession of fentanyl, as well as add it to the state’s controlled substance schedule to help law enforcement curb the growing trend. He also wants to improve resources for kids and young adults struggling with drug abuse and addiction with recovery schools, where students in recovery learn in a substance-free environment to help them stay healthy and on track to graduate. Cuomo said he intends to propose legislation to create recovery high schools in regions of New York where abuse is at critical levels.

Boards of Cooperative Educational Services will submit proposals to establish the first schools, one upstate and one downstate, in partnership with local social service agencies. The board will operate the new schools, which are funded by sponsoring school districts. Enrollment will be open to all high school students with a diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder and a commitment to recovery.

Some of the governor’s other proposals included various improvements to John F. Kennedy Airport, an enhanced middle-class child care tax credit to make child care more affordable for the middle class, and promoting the use of electric vehicles with more charging stations statewide.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner speaks at the Organ Donor Enrollment Day kickoff event at Stony Brook University Hospital Oct. 6. Photo from Bonner’s office

By Rebecca Anzel

Registered organ donors are hard to come by in New York state compared to the rest of the United States, and for one elected official in Brookhaven, that’s not going to cut it.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) did not hesitate when her friend Tom D’Antonio said he needed a kidney. She decided right then, at the Huntington Lighthouse Music Festival in Huntington Harbor in September 2015, that she would share her spare.

She underwent comprehensive medical testing at the end of the next month to determine if she would be a viable donor — a blood test, chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, CT scan, MRI, psychological evaluation and cancer screening, to name a few.

“It’s the ultimate physical you’re ever going to have, and by the blood test alone several people were disqualified,” Bonner said. “For once in my life, it turned out that I was No. 1. And it worked out really, really well.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and her friend Tom D’Antonio after their surgeries to transplant her kidney into his body in April. Photo from Jane Bonner
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and her friend Tom D’Antonio after their surgeries to transplant her kidney into his body in April. Photo from Jane Bonner

The surgery was April 26, a Tuesday, at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Bonnor was home that Friday and missed only eight days of work. She said she just had her six-month checkup and she is in good health.

“Jane didn’t just save my life, she saved my family’s life,” D’Antonio said. “Donating an organ doesn’t just affect the person getting the organ — although certainly it affects them the most — it affects everyone’s life.”

Bonner said she takes every opportunity to share her story to bring awareness about the importance of being an organ donor.

“I want to be a living example to show that it can be done because it’s life changing for the recipient and only a little inconvenient for the donor,” she said.

There is a large need for organs in New York. More than 9,700 people are on the organ waiting list, and someone dies every 18 hours waiting for one, according to LiveOnNY, a federally designated organ procurement organization.

New York ranks last among the 50 states in percent of residents registered as organ donors, despite surveys showing 92 percent of New Yorkers support organ donation. Only 27 percent of New Yorkers are enrolled in the state registry, versus the average of 50 percent registered across the rest of the country.

Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook University hosted the Organ Donor Enrollment Day event Oct. 6, including Bonner, in a statewide effort to boost the number of registered organ donors.

“Our residents need to be reminded about the importance of organ donation,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement. “Along with stressing how one organ and tissue donor can save multiple lives, understanding and debunking the social and religious myths about organ donation are also critical to turning the tides in New York as we currently rank last in registered organ donors in the nation.”

Dawn Francisquini, transplant senior specialist for the hospital, said volunteers enrolled 571 people.

“New York has a very large population, so it’s going to take a lot to get us up to where the other states are,” she said. “But we’re making progress.”

There are two ways to become an organ donor. One is to be a living donor, like Bonner. A potential donor does not have to know someone in need of an organ to donate a kidney, lobe of liver, lung or part of a lung, part of the pancreas or part of an intestine.

“I’ve been able to accomplish really amazing things, but this is a step above that. Satisfying is not even the word to describe it.”

— Jane Bonner

“Living donation is so important because not only are you giving an organ to someone, so you’ve saved that life, but you’ve also made room on the list,” Francisquini said. “So you’ve saved two lives by donating one organ.”

The most common way is by registering when filling out a driver’s license registration or renewal form to be considered as a candidate upon death. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, though, only about three in 1,000 deceased people are suitable for organ donations.

Doctors determine whether organs like kidneys, livers, bones, skin and intestines are medically viable for a waiting recipient and they typically go to patients in the same state as the donor.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation Aug. 18 allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to register as organ donors. If they die before turning 18, parents or guardians are able to reverse the decision.

“By authorizing 16 and 17-year-olds to make the selfless decision to become an organ donor, we take another significant step to grow the state’s Donate Life registry and create opportunities to save lives,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Francisquini said she thinks this new law will make a big difference. Previously, because those under-18 were not allowed to express their wishes when filling out a driver’s license form, many would not register as donors until years later when renewing their license.

Since her surgery, Bonner has shared her story in speeches, panel discussions and on social media using the hashtag #ShareTheSpare.

“I really feel like this is much better than anything I could accomplish in my professional career,” she said. “Through the support of the people that keep electing me, I’ve been able to accomplish really amazing things, but this is a step above that. Satisfying is not even the word to describe it.”

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Parents at a rally protest Common Core. File photo by Erika Karp

By Andrea Paldy

After six years of controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of Common Core and standardized tests associated with it, the New York State Education Department released a new draft of learning standards Sept. 21.

The proposed changes come as the department attempts to respond to ongoing criticism, while maintaining its stated goal of rigor and higher standards for students. The result could mean significant change to both English language arts (ELA) and math learning standards and a greater emphasis on communication with parents, students and educators.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services for Three Village said it’s too early to tell whether any of the changes will be fully implemented.

“So far it just seems to be cosmetic pieces,” Scanlon said at the meeting. “However, we need to delve a little further into it to see what potential impact it may have.”

He also said Three Village is providing feedback on the possible changes and will continue to work with the SED.

In a press release announcing the proposed adjustments, the state’s education department said its aim is to ensure that the new standards and their implementation are age-appropriate, particularly in primary grades. The new guidelines also propose additional teacher resources, guidance and professional development.

“These changes reflect what I have heard from parents, teachers and administrators over the past year in my travels across the state,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a prepared statement.

The draft committees, made up of more than 130 teachers, administrators, parents and college educators, volunteered from all regions of the state. They represent the “Big Five” districts — New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers — as well as urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, Elia said. These committees are suggesting that glossaries be used to explain the value and expectations of the education department’s learning standards to all stakeholders.

The ELA draft includes a preface and introduction describing the learning standard’s role within a curriculum. The committee, which worked with a child development expert, proposes more emphasis on the importance of play-based learning in the primary grades. The ELA draft revisions also seek to streamline literary and nonfiction texts across grades, while reorganizing writing standards.

According to the draft document, math standards will be revised to clarify expectations “without limiting instructional flexibility.” Math committees also recommended clarifications to “better understand the goals of the learning standards, Elia said. The revisions seek to “define the progression of skills,” so that there is continuity and a connection from grade to grade. Other changes include creating a balance between skill comprehension, application and performance.

The recommendations of committee members — described by Elia as “dedicated” — are built, in part, on those of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Common Core Task Force Report published in December, a public survey and feedback from discussions the commissioner had with parents and educators across the state.

The committees also worked with special education and English language teachers to address criticisms that the standards are not suitable for students in those areas.

Parents and others can comment on the draft standards on the department’s website — www.nysed.gov/aimhighny — through Nov. 4.

Scott Martella served on the Smithtown Board of Education in 2009. File photo

By Victoria Espinoza

Northport resident and Communications Director for Suffolk County, Scott Martella, died over the weekend as a result of a three-car crash on the Long Island Expressway in Manorville.

Colleagues remembered the 29-year-old man as a devoted public servant with a continuing desire to make his community better.

Martella, 29, had worked for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) since last June, after working as an aide for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office.

Bellone said he remembers his communications director as a leader who was always willing to help others.

“Scott Martella dedicated his all too brief life to public service and to helping others,” he said in a statement. “The hundreds of people Scott has worked with over the years and the thousands of people whose lives he has positively impacted would describe him as nothing short of an amazing person.”

“Long Island is a better place today because of his service and dedication to the community.”
— Andrew Cuomo

Bellone said he asked Martella to join his team because of his intelligence and love of community.

“I will miss Scott’s smile, his advice, his laugh, his sense of humor, his dedication and his drive,” he said.

Cuomo shared a similar sentiment regarding the Northport resident.

“Scott was a dedicated, beloved public servant who worked day in and day out to improve the lives of his fellow New Yorkers,” he said about Martella’s time working as an aide for New York. “Scott was always full of big ideas to help solve the toughest challenges of the day, and he was deeply respected for his strong work ethic, candor and fighting spirit. Long Island is a better place today because of his service and dedication to the community.”

Martella had a history of serving his community far earlier than working for Cuomo’s office. He was elected in 2009 as the youngest board member, at 22, for the Smithtown Central School District, and even served as vice president.

Theresa Knox served on the board with Martella in 2009, and said it was clear even then how successful he would be in life. She said despite his age, he was able to take his job very seriously — without taking himself too seriously.

“He could recently remember what it was like to be a student, so he understood just how these decisions would affect them,” she said. “He was always interested in learning, and he cared about the district so much. He was young, but he was really well suited [for being a member of the board].”

Scott Martella served as communications director for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo from Facebook
Scott Martella served as communications director for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo from Facebook

Knox said despite his maturity, there were still moments when he served where she saw him as another one of her kids — adding he was actually younger than her two oldest children.

“There were times when I could hear my own kids saying what he was saying,” she said. “But he was so mature, and you could tell he was going to have a fine career ahead of him.”

She said when he got the offer to work for Cuomo’s office, he saw it as an opportunity to be a clear advocate for the Smithtown community.

“He understood that this job was more than sitting behind a desk,” Knox said.

The Northport resident was named one of the winners of the 30 Under 30 Young Professionals award by the Huntington Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

In an Instagram post, the chamber said he was a “dedicated leader in various roles.”

Martella was driving a 2014 Honda with his fiancée Shelbi Thurau, 29, another Northport resident, when they were hit by a gray Subaru Outback while traveling west on the LIE towards Exit 68 at about 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21.

Carmelo Pinales, the driver of the Subaru, lost control of the vehicle, which crossed over the grassy median, went airborne and struck two vehicles, according to police. He was driving with Winnifer Garcia, 21, of Hempstead, his sister Patricia Pinales, his 10-year-old son Cristopher Pinales, and his sister’s 3-year-old daughter.

Aside from Martella’s car, Pinales also hit a BMW. Inside, were driver Marvin Tenzer, 73, and his three passengers, Sandra Tenzer, 69; Helen Adelson, 69; and Isidore Adelson, 81.

Pinales was pronounced dead at the scene, along with his sister and Martella. Thurau, Garcia and the Tenzers were transported to local hospitals and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Cristopher Pinales was pronounced dead at Stony Brook University Hospital after succumbing to his injuries later that day, police said, as well as Adelson. His wife Helen Adelson was pronounced dead on Monday at Stony Brook University Hospital.

This version correctly spells the first name of Carmelo Pinales’ 10-year-old son.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, helped to establish the United States Climate Alliance in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Lawmakers signed a bill protecting the Long Island Sound last year. File photo from Cuomo’s office

By Donna Newman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is threatening to sue.

State lawmakers have joined forces across the aisle to issue a demand to both the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the dumping of dredged sludge in the Long Island Sound at two existing sites.

At Sunken Meadow State Park Aug. 4, New York office-holders from multiple levels of government presented a united front. Gov. Cuomo (D) warned U.S. President Barack Obama (D) and the EPA that a plan to create a third disposal site poses a “major” threat to the ecologically vital habitat and blocks progress to end open-water dumping in Long Island’s waters. He and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) wrote letters to Obama, EPA Administrator Regina McCarthy and EPA Regional Administrator H. Curtis Spalding about their opposition.

The dredging of Connecticut harbors and rivers, meant to deepen waterways to allow ships clear passage, produces sludge that is being open dumped in the Long Island Sound, according to Englebright’s office.

Local environmentalists are also concerned with the practice being used long-term.

“We are grateful for the strong support of Governor Cuomo and our local state legislators in opposing this ill-conceived plan and putting the federal government on notice that the Long Island Sound is off limits for the dumping of dredge spoils,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, a North Shore group that works for clean water in Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors, said in a statement.

Should the federal agency continue its plan to allow dumping of dredge spoils in eastern Long Island Sound, New York State will pursue legal action against the EPA, Cuomo said.

In 2005, the EPA struck an accord with the governors of New York and Connecticut to reduce or limit the disposal of dredged material in the Sound by examining alternative placement practices. Two sites— Western Long Island Sound and Central Long Island Sound — were designated on Long Island to be used for that purpose.

On April 27, the EPA proposed the designation of a dredged material disposal site in the Eastern region of Long Island Sound, a third dumping location that would continue open-water dumping of dredge waste in the Eastern Long Island Sound for as long as 30 years. The two sites open now are set to close Dec. 23.

Englebright doesn’t see the latest proposal as a step in the right direction — according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, approximately 22.6 million cubic yards of dredging will be done over the next 30 years.

“The draft appears to be the same open water dredge-dumping plan we have seen before,” he said. “Federal, state and local governments have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to clean up the Long Island Sound and significant progress has been made … continued dredge dumping will make the task of cleaning up the sound so much more difficult.”

The EPA has maintained that dredging is a necessary part of keeping the sound passable for ships.

“Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the sound,” EPA spokesman John Martin said in an email. “The EPA has not made a final decision, but we believe the proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound.”

He referred to the Sound as a nationally significant estuary that has seen the return of dolphins and humpback whales during the past year, thanks to cleanup efforts.

New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) agreed that the state has made significant investments to repair decades of damage.

“Real progress is being made, which makes the EPA’s recent proposal to expand the number of dredged material sites in the sound even more difficult to comprehend,” he said. “I fully support using whatever resources the state has at its disposal to fight the EPA’s plan and protect the long-term health of the sound so that it will continue to be an environmental and economic asset for future generations of Long Islanders.”

In his letter to the agency and the White House, Cuomo stressed his intentions to take action to protect Long Island’s waters if the EPA fails to comply with lawmakers’ requests.

“If the EPA ignores New York’s objections and finalizes its rule to permanently designate an open water disposal site in eastern Long Island Sound,” Cuomo said, “ I will take all necessary steps to challenge the rule and stop it from being implemented.”

Victoria Espinoza, Desirée Keegan and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.

Protestors gather at the Huntington train station on Monday afternoon. Photo from Michael Pauker

Protestors are no longer minding the gap when it comes to the state’s minimum wage.

Protestors flocked to the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station during the evening rush hour on Monday in support of an increase in the state minimum wage.

The group also hit several other North Shore train stations in areas where state senators have not yet committed to supporting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal for a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

“This state thrives when every New Yorker has the opportunity and the ability to succeed,” Cuomo said in a statement in support of his minimum wage hike from $9 per hour. “Yet the truth is that today’s minimum wage still leaves far too many people behind — unacceptably condemning them to a life of poverty even while they work full-time. This year, we are going to change that. We are going to raise the minimum wage to bring economic opportunity back to millions of hardworking New Yorkers and lead the nation in the fight for fair pay.”

A protestor raises a sign on the platform. Photo from Michael Pauker
A protestor raises a sign on the platform. Photo from Michael Pauker

Members of the group Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, organized the protests with hopes of putting pressure on North Shore lawmakers.

“We’re making a splash during rush hour today to remind our state senators that the economic security of millions of New Yorkers is in their hands,” Rachel Ackoff, senior national organizer at Bend the Arc, said in an email. “Our state and country are facing an economic inequality crisis and raising the minimum wage is essential to help countless families get by and strengthen our economy.”

As for why the group chose to protest at train stations, Ackoff said it is a common ground for all walks of life.

“LIRR stations are the central meeting grounds of thousands of workers heading to and from their jobs each day,” she said. “We appreciated the cheers and thumbs up of the folks we encountered.”

Ackoff said many New York workers who are not making the minimum wage are struggling to support families.

“We’re so outraged by the fact that so many parents in our state, who are working full times jobs on the current minimum wage, aren’t even paid enough to provide for their families’ basic needs,” she said. ““It’s time for our state leaders to take action.”

She zeroed in on specific North Shore lawmakers, including state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), and Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa).

A protestor speaks to a passenger at the Huntington train station. Photo from Michael Pauker
A protestor speaks to a passenger at the Huntington train station. Photo from Michael Pauker

Marcellino, who presides over parts of Huntington, did not return a call for a comment.

Bend the Arc has several chapters across the country, and this year, they launched #JewsFor15 a campaign to support the fight for $15, by mobilizing Jewish communities across the country to support local and state campaigns to increase the minimum wage. They said they feel not supporting the $15-per-hour minimum wage is a violation of fundamental values as both Jews and Americans.

“By speaking up for the ‘Fight for $15 movement,’ we are honoring the legacy of our Jewish ancestors, many of whom immigrated to the U.S. at the turn of the century, worked in factories, and fought for higher wages and union rights,” Ackoff said.

Eric Schulmiller, of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Manhasset, echoed the sentiment while speaking at the Hicksville train station.

“I’m here today because striving for social justice is a core part of my identity as a faith leader and a core part of Jewish communal traditions,” he said. “Jews have been engaged in America’s social justice movements for generations and we’re not about stand on the sidelines now, when countless American families are struggling to make ends meet and economic inequality is growing more and more severe.”

From left, Olivia Santoro, Daphne Marsh, Victoria Daza, Aaron Watkins-Lopez and Blanca Villanueva, representing advocacy groups for education funding delivered a petition to Sen. John Flanagan’s Smithtown office Wednesday. Photo by Alex Petroski

A small group of people carried the voices of thousands of New Yorkers standing up for the students across the state.

Activists representing four New York State and Long Island groups in support of education funding — especially for low income districts — dropped off a petition with more than 9,000 signatures from across New York to state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office in Smithtown Wednesday. Those in support of the petition pledged their support for state Assemblymen Carl Heastie’s (D-Bronx) “millionaire tax bill,” which was introduced in February and proposed an increase in taxes to those who earn upwards of $1 million annually.

The petition was also in support of a full phase-in of the money still owed to pay off the Campaign for Fiscal Equity resolution, which ensured that $5.5 billion would be committed to mostly high-need districts in 2007, and was supposed to take effect over the course of four years. This was a result of a lawsuit started in 1993, which eventually reached the New York State Court of Appeals, which ruled that high-need districts were being neglected. About $781-million of that money is still owed to Long Island schools, according to advocates of the resolution.

The groups represented at Flanagan’s office included New York Communities For Change, Jobs With Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition and Alliance for Quality Education as well as community members from across Long Island. Flanagan was not in his office, and a legal aide who took the petition declined to comment.

“We need to address the emotional, physical, social, needs of the child and the Senate has shown that they are not caring right now with the budget they have proposed,” said Blanca Villanueva, an organizer from Alliance for Quality Education. “We need them to represent us because they represent all of Long Island and all of New York State.”

The petition was also delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office, Villanueva said.

Flanagan has said in the past that he is against the millionaire tax bill. He did not respond to a request for comment regarding the petition.

“As a constituent of Sen. Flanagan’s, I am calling on him to support the millionaire’s tax,” said Olivia Santoro, a member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “I valued my public school education and I want the same opportunity for students growing up in his district and across Long Island. That means that we need to fully fund our schools.”

On March 21, a group of about 40 wealthy New Yorkers in conjunction with the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Responsible Wealth Project sent an open letter to Cuomo in support of Heastie’s millionaire tax bill. Those in support included Steven C. Rockefeller and Abigail Disney, among others.

Flanagan’s proposed 2016-17 budget would eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has cost districts across the state millions of dollars over the past several years in an effort to close a deficit. It also included almost $600 million for education, though Villanueva said at Flanagan’s office that it was not enough.

“We’ve got this Campaign for Fiscal Equity that we’ve been working very hard to support and we hope that [Sen. Flanagan] can stand with the students in making sure that they receive a quality education and the funding that’s necessary in order to deliver that,” Melissa Figueroa of New York Communities For Change said Wednesday. “We need this support, and I hope that he gets down with us.”

Figueroa is also running for a school board seat in Hempstead School District.

Signs held by those in support of the petition read, “Stand up 4 kids, NOT billionaires,” “Sen. Flanagan, who do you represent?” and “Millionaires Tax: Raise taxes on the 1% by 1% to raise billions for public school education.” The petition was launched on ColorOfChange.org, an organization dedicated to fighting institutional racism.

Left to right, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. John Flanagan discuss the plan. Photo from Cuomo’s office

Keeping the state’s drinking water clean and safe is a subject anyone can get behind, and New York lawmakers across both major parties did just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a series of aggressive water quality initiatives last week in the company of elected officials representing the North Shore in an attempt to better protect public health and the environment. His proposals received great praise from both Democrats and Republicans as a common-sense way to keep New York’s water clean.

“Every New Yorker has a fundamental right to clean and safe drinking water,” Cuomo said. “Water is a priceless resource that requires the highest levels of protection, and I am proud to continue this administration’s legacy of standing up for the environment. We are taking aggressive and proactive steps to ensure clean and healthy communities throughout the state — both for current residents and for generations to come.”

Joining Cuomo at a Stony Brook University discussion on the state’s newest water initiatives were Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and more. At that discussion, Cuomo pitched his statewide water quality rapid response team, which he said would work to identify and develop plans to address critical drinking water contamination concerns as well as groundwater and surface water contamination problems.

“It’s imperative that we all work together at the local, state and federal levels to protect the public health,” Bellone said. “The actions that Governor Cuomo has announced today are demonstrating unequivocally that New York is taking proactive measures to not just meet that standard, but to really raise the bar on the protection of water quality.”

Cuomo said the rapid response team would be working to develop a comprehensive action plan to immediately address water quality issues raised by municipalities and concerned citizens, taking on matters ranging from currently regulated contaminants like lead, to emerging contaminants, like perfluorooctanoic acid. It was a plan that his fellow lawmakers said was easy to get behind.

“We are blessed in New York State and on Long Island to have the availability of high-quality drinking water, but we also have a responsibility to protect it,” Flanagan said. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important to New Yorkers and their families than the air they breathe and the water they drink.”

The team will also review and incorporate the best available science and may include new review standards for currently unregulated contaminants, enhanced testing and oversight of drinking water systems, including private wells, and state-of-the-art drinking water treatment options.

“Creating an agenda to safeguard the quality of Long Island’s water source is great news — not only for the health of New Yorkers — but for the environment as well,” Englebright said. “Governor Cuomo’s work to ensure that every New Yorker has access to safe, clean drinking water is a testament to his commitment to statewide public health. The implementation of a water quality rapid response team is a proactive way to protect the environment from harmful water contamination and keep New Yorkers’ drinking water clean and safe.”

The discussion over drinking water came in the weeks following a horrific drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where officials have been scrambling to combat unsafe and potentially life-threatening water contaminations.

The governor also proposed regulations to be imposed on mulch-processing facilities to safeguard natural resources. Cuomo said the Department of Environmental Conservation would propose for public comment draft regulations for mulch facilities to increase oversight and provide enhanced safeguards. The proposed regulations would require facilities to establish water runoff management plans to protect groundwater and place restrictions on pile size and storage to reduce the risk of fires, odor and dust.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss the district's letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport Board of Education is seeking a moratorium on state-run teacher evaluations for the current time.

In an open letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Superintendent Robert Banzer criticized the fact that

public schools are still required to administer state assessments to measure student progress, despite the fact that these tests have been put on a temporary freeze.

“The district cannot use the state assessments for teacher evaluation, so it must use a form of Student Learning Objectives and report those scores for teachers even though they will not be used to determine teacher effectiveness,” Banzer said in the letter.

Student Learning Objections, first implemented in 2012,is a teacher evaluation tool used when state assessments are not in effect.

“As a result, we are burdened with setting aside time for both state assessments and SLOs, which will increase the amount of time preparing, administering and scoring assessments,” Banzer’s letter said.

In the letter, Banzer proposed that the moratorium be extended to eliminate Student Learning Objections to comply with the recommendation of the state task force, to reduce the amount of time spent on state assessments.

“Needless to say, the poor implementation of the state assessments and their use as an instrument to measure teacher effectiveness over the past few years undoubtedly minimized their effectiveness as an instructional tool,” Banzer said. “Instead, it has turned into a political debate and created a fracture between and among parents, educators, board members and political leaders that needs repair.”

Trustees applauded Banzer’s letter at the board meeting on Thursday, and discussed other concerns with the current state of Common Core.

“I think it’s really important that we engage the community,” Trustee Donna McNaughton said at the meeting. “I know that the knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘this was done so poorly … I’m not doing anything else until we change what these things are.’ But we don’t want to have four years go by and the tests haven’t changed.”

The board plans to set a date in February to meet with the community and explain where the district is now, with the changes to Common Core and teacher evaluations, along with what a student’s day will look like if they choose not to participate in the state assessments this spring.

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Superintendent Ken Bossert. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

Port Jefferson’s school board took a firm stance Tuesday night against the direction in which New York State is moving public education.

In a statement approved at its meeting this week, the board highlighted three of the most controversial pieces of the educational reform agenda: the Common Core Learning Standards, standardized state tests linked to the new curriculum and teacher evaluations that rely on student performance on the former two. They join a growing mass of politicians, teachers and parents who, with a new school year winding up, are renewing a call for the Common Core to be revised or removed.

While the board called the Common Core “a significant step forward in providing a sound curriculum for our students,” the members spoke against what they perceived as a poor job by the state in implementing the more stringent standards, which were launched in New York classrooms a few years ago.

The backbone of the program is a series of standardized tests that track student progress. That data is then used as a component in teachers’ and principals’ annual evaluations. For those reasons, parents and educators have referred to the exams as “high-stakes” tests.

According to the board, it “forces teachers to spend the greatest percentage of instruction time on tested areas” while neglecting other important topics. For example, Common Core emphasizes English and math learning and as a result, the board said, teachers have spent less time on subjects like social studies and science.

The tests have also faced criticism because many parents and educators say they are not properly aligned to the curriculum, and thus include material students would not have learned.

The opposition to the tests has launched an anti-testing movement over the last two years in which parents have declined the tests for their kids, calling it “opting out.” In the last state testing cycle, Port Jefferson saw half of its third- through eighth-graders opt out of the standardized English and math exams.

This hasn’t been lost on state officials.

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he would assemble a group of experts, parents and educators to review the Common Core program, saying that he believes the system contains problems.

“The current Common Core program in New York is not working and must be fixed,” he said in a press release.

Cuomo said he will call upon the group to “provide recommendations in time for my State of the State Address in January.”