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Board of Education

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At the July 5 Smithtown BOE meeting, new president Stacy Murphy was sworn into office. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Leah Chiappino

The Smithtown Central School District Board of Education held its reorganization meeting Wednesday, July 5, with shake ups in board leadership and committee assignments. 

Trustee Stacy Murphy was elected board president, and trustee Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi was elected vice president.

Former BOE president Matthew Gribbin and trustee John Savoretti were sworn into their new terms on the board, both having won re-election. Trustee Kevin Craine, who was elected to replace outgoing trustee Jerry Martusciello, was also sworn in.

The leadership changes mark a shift in the board’s dynamic. 

Board members expressed their preferences for committee assignments and the appointments were discussed. The final appointments are listed on the school’s website.

NYSSBA resolutions

The board voted on whether to support six propositions to be brought forward to the New York State School Board Association to consider implementing at its October convention.   

Wontrobski-Ricciardi said Smithtown and other districts showing their support for the  propositions would “carry more weight” in NYSSBA deciding to implement them.

The first proposition would have NYSSBA  “oppose any legislation or budget initiatives that would allow New York State to overrule local zoning ordinances.” The rationale is in opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) housing  plan to build 800,000 new homes in the next decade.  

Catalanotto said the resolution itself would “never pass,” as it is too vague, and he can’t support it.

“We can’t dictate when the government decides to step into local zoning regulations on certain occasions, so to make it that broad and say ‘never’ doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Savoretti, a realtor, said  he supported the resolution to “tell the government where
we stand.” 

“We can’t tell the government what to do and what not to do but they’re up in Albany, they’re not down here on Long Island,” he said. “Suffolk County is Suffolk County. It’s not a big Metropolis. … That’s why we have the town supervisor and Town Board to make those decisions for what is locally best for our community.”

Gribbin said he supported the “intent” of the resolution, but the language was too vague, and in the past they have been more expansive. Murphy said NYSSBA will develop more expansive resolutions and send them to districts to vote on based on the resolutions districts vote to support.

“It’s more about getting the rationale out there to let the state know where we as Smithtown stand on certain issues,” Wontrobski-Ricciardi said.

Crane said he would support it due to “the increased pressures of increased enrollment on budgets,” and after Catalanotto reiterated the resolution was too vague, suggested the board tweak the language. 

“All seven of us are comfortable with this sentiment, but just want to clean up the language to make it stronger,” Saidens added.

The board agreed to change the language to include, “For the last two years the governor has attempted to enact policies that would give the state control over local towns and village zoning, to force construction of high-density housing plans or to allow accessory dwelling units. Forcing rapid expansion of housing would have a detrimental effect on schools, leading to overcrowding, increased class sizes and increased taxes to our residents,” and passed the resolution unanimously.

The next resolution was for NYSSBA to advocate for the reinstatement of the religious exemption to immunization. The board passed this 6-1, wth Craine voting against the measure. The third resolution stated that NYSSBA will advocate for the “adoption of Parental Rights Legislation.”

“Parents have the right to determine the upbringing of their children, which includes but is not limited to matters of education, medical care and character education,” the rationale of the  resolution reads. “The legislation must protect the parents’ right to make decisions for their children in addition to opt their children out of any non-academic instruction that they morally or religiously object to.”

Saidens said he was uncomfortable with the broadness of the resolution. “It specifically targets character education, so if you’re talking about being empathetic, if you’re talking about teaching children to share, if you’re talking about if somebody is bothering somebody … there’s so many variables,” he said. 

Murphy said she believed the resolution is intended so that parents could opt their children out of this kind of instruction.

Catalanotto said the resolution is unrealistic, bringing parent involvement too far into the fray.

“You’re cutting the legs out of every teacher, off of every teacher in the district,” he said. “You’re talking about group lessons, when kids get together in groups and an opportunity to teach kids how to cooperate and work together.” 

He added, “When you’re dealing with kids who are arguing in class and you’re essentially saying each parent gets to choose for their child whether that’s acceptable for the teacher. It’s impossible and it would destroy a school district. You can’t operate like that.”

An educator and administrator, Saidens agreed that the resolution is not practical. 

Craine, who is an elementary school teacher, also said the resolution is unrealistic. “It’s something that would be hard for an educator   to teach with, especially in an elementary classroom with respect to honesty, kindness and empathy,” he said. 

Craine, Gribbin and Saidens voted against the resolution while Murphy, Savoretti and Wontrobski-Ricciardi voted for it. Catalanotto, who was joining remotely, had his connection cut out.

The next resolution was to oppose “any mandates from the New York State Education Department regarding matters not pertaining to academic standards/subjects (i.e. math, science, reading, writing, social studies) that have not been approved by an up/down vote of the NYS Legislature.”

Saidens said NYSED are the experts, not elected officials, and they should be determining curriculum. Murphy said elected officials are accountable to the people, and the Department of Education officials do not have that same accountability.

The board did not pass the resolution. 

The fifth resolution states that NYSSBA would advocate for “Local Control by School Boards and/or County Executives.” It passed unanimously.

The final resolution was to “oppose any legislation or NYSED regulation mandating comprehensive K-12 gender and sexuality education.” Saidens said these decisions should be left to experts.

“I think there’s conversations that are appropriate based upon age levels, and I think that if we put a room of 100 people we may have a hundred different opinions of what that may be,” he said. “The health curriculum is developed by experts in health.”

Murphy said the resolution had nothing to do with gender identity and politics but was about local control. The resolution did not pass, with Craine, Saidens and Gribbin voting against it.

If anyone is interested in getting more detailed information on what was discussed at the meeting, there is a video of the meeting on the school’s website.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village Central School District will codify a plan for pivoting to remote instruction in case of future emergencies that cause school shutdowns, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. 

Jack Blaum, the district’s security and safety coordinator, introduced the new framework at the annual organizational meeting of the Board of Education on Wednesday, July 5, as an addition to this year’s District-wide School Emergency Plan. 

The plan already includes language to handle the health risks of a contagious disease pandemic, but it now offers guidelines for administrators, teachers, staff, students and families in case a need for remote learning arises again. It also lays out a framework for technological readiness. 

These protocols bring the district in line with new state regulations requiring these plans to account for emergency remote instruction. 

“This plan serves as a framework to ensure that learning can continue seamlessly for our students,” the plan reads, adding that due to the dynamic nature of public health emergencies, it “is designed to be flexible.”

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon pointed out that readiness for remote instruction in case of emergency shutdowns would not replace snow days.

The safety plan as a whole covers emergency drills, response plans and security protocols, as well as bullying prevention and a plan to recognize changes in behavior or mental health of students.

Blaum said that it is “a 10,000-foot view of what we do,” explaining that more detailed procedures for each building, such as rendezvous points, are kept confidential. “We don’t want to make that public,” he added.

Blaum indicated the District-wide School Emergency Plan is available on the district’s website for public review and comment for at least 30 days before it can be formally approved during the August BOE meeting. He said he would answer suggestions and questions sent to the email address [email protected].

The meeting marked the official start of the 2023-2024 school year for the BOE. Re-elected trustee Jeffrey Kerman was sworn in, as were newly elected trustees Karen Roughley and David McKinnon.

Huntington High School. File photo

On Tuesday, May 16, residents will vote on the proposed Huntington Union Free School District budget as well as two open seats on the Board of Education.

Kelly Donavan

The proposed budget for the 2023‒-24 year is $146,347,091, up $3,378,748 (2.36%) from the previous year’s budget. The property tax levy will increase from $112,718,438 the previous year to $113,711,800, up $993,362, a 0.88% increase. A brochure from the HUFSD states that in the two prior years the tax levy increased 0.00% and 0.33%.

Board of Education President Christine Biernacki wrote in a letter in the brochure: “We have carefully reviewed all expenses and made adjustments where necessary to ensure that funding is used most efficiently and effectively. We are wholly dedicated to serving as good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.”

Additionally, there is a proposition that the brochure states will “expend monies that exist in Building Improvement Funds for a variety of projects in district buildings.”

Passage of this proposition will not result in a tax increase, the district said.  This proposition would approve the use of up to $5,935,000 from Capital Reserve Funds for a variety of different projects and repairs in district buildings.

Amaru Jones

These include “installation of new boilers at Flower Hill and Southdown Primary Schools, updates to the electrical service at Southdown Primary School, updates to the electrical service and solar panel installation at Washington Primary School, roof replacement and pressure boost system installation at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, reconstruction of two science labs at Finley Middle School, and installation of lighting for the new turf field at Huntington High School.”

There are two open Board of Education seats that will be voted on. Incumbents Kelly Donavan and Xavier Palacios are seeking reelection. Amaru Jones is challenging.

A profile from the brochure states that “Donavan has established strong bonds with local parents and community members, and has a deep appreciation for the Huntington School District and its rich academic, extracurricular and cultural offerings.” She wishes to “help maximize the educational experience for all Huntington students, while balancing nuanced community demands.”

Xavier Palacios

Palacios, the other incumbent, encourages parents to get involved in the education of their children. He has been “recognized for his work in the community and for his efforts to strengthen opportunities for young people.”

Jones is a graduate of Huntington High School’s class of 2016. The brochure states that Jones would focus on “‘educating the whole child’ in the context of providing as many resources as possible to ensure student access in the classroom and in their future pursuits.”

The voting will take place at the Huntington High School on Tuesday, May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Mallie Jane Kim

New York Regents exam scores won’t hurt high schoolers’ classroom grades this year in Three Village Central School District, after the Board of Education extended the policy nicknamed “do no harm,” under which the scores are only factored into classroom grades if they improve the grades. 

The extension of this COVID-19-era policy went against the recommendation  of the district’s grading committee, which had taken up the discussion after a groundswell of concern from parents who preferred the policy, asserting it unfairly hurts students who don’t test well or face anxiety over a one-day test that can hurt a grade they’ve worked for all year. 

The board will still need to decide whether or not to change district policy permanently.

Regents scores already appear on student transcripts, per state regulations. Before “do no harm,” these scores also counted for 12% of a student’s grade in classes where a state exam is required. “It truly is double jeopardy,” said BOE president Susan Rosenzweig during the board’s lively discussion at an April 26 meeting. She suggested students who work hard and succeed in class all year long shouldn’t be affected so badly by a one-day test. “Twelve percent is a lot — it’s a lot,” she said.

Last year, the district announced the end of the pandemic-era policy, and teachers have been planning grades accordingly. According to Brian Biscari, assistant superintendent for educational services, the district’s grading committee — made up of administrators, teachers and guidance counselors — concluded after “extensive discussion” that the policy should end as planned, primarily because students weren’t taking exams as seriously, he said, and scores were slipping.

BOE trustee Deanna Bavlnka strongly disagreed with the grading committee’s recommendation, especially the idea that most students shrug off the test scores, as they do still appear on transcripts. The majority of Three Village students, she said, “want to do well — they don’t want to screw up, they don’t want bad [scores] on their transcripts.” She added that inevitably there will be students who don’t care and don’t take the exams or their grades seriously. “Like anything else, there’s outliers.” 

Bavlnka and other board members also raised concerns about issues with Regents in general, including past state tests they said have not matched curriculum well, or are graded on a steep curve, like chemistry.

“As a teacher, what would you rather have as your tool?” Rosenzweig said. “Do you want a tool that was created by the state, or do you want a tool that was created closer to home and perhaps — I would hope — more reflective of what you’re doing in the classroom?”

Board member Jennifer Solomon suggested the pandemic isn’t fully over. “We’re no longer wearing masks, no more social distancing,” she said. “But we know the social and emotional well-being of our students is still impacted by COVID. I think that extending [the policy] is appropriate.”

Research into restructuring plan approved

The board also voted to authorize district administration and staff to analyze and report on the logistics of a restructuring plan preferred by the community — that is, to move up sixth and ninth grades to middle and high school, respectively — alongside moving secondary school start times later. 

The board voted at an April 12 meeting to table the restructuring plan pending more information on cost and logistics and in order to greater prioritize the start time change.

The body of logistics research described by Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon is in line with what he has previously said would have been the next step anyway.

Graphic from PJSD website

During a Port Jefferson School District Board of Education public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, the board put two ballot measures out for a public vote on Monday, Dec. 12.

The measures deal with infrastructure improvements and upgrades in elementary, middle and high schools. Proposition 1 is an estimated $23.1 million proposal focused on critical infrastructure improvements and updated facilities. 

Proposition 2 is an estimated $1.88 million proposal that would replace the existing grass field at the high school with turf. (For a detailed description of both propositions, see The Port Times Record’s Sept. 8 story, “PJSD administrators present proposed capital bond projects and cost estimates.”)

Before putting these proposals out for a public referendum, the board first conducted a state-mandated environmental review and then a vote to put the propositions on the bond referendum. 

With BOE president Ellen Boehm absent, both SEQRA reviews passed the board unanimously. Proposition 1 was also unanimously approved. Though Proposition 2 passed, trustees Rene Tidwell and Ryan Walker voted “no.”

The decision to approve these propositions did not come without public opposition. District resident Drew Biondo objected to Proposition 2 because a turf field will require continual costs for refurbishment.

“In the course of paying for a $1.8 million field, even before we’re fully paid for it, we’re paying nearly the same price again just to refurbish it,” Biondo said.

Biondo addressed the impending loss of LIPA subsidies in the coming years, commonly referred to as the glide path. While some believe the agreement with LIPA is settled, Biondo contends that the issue remains ongoing and that much uncertainty remains.

“In 2027, the power service agreement expires,” he said. “[Then] what happens? If the power is not needed, then the plant goes dark. And if the plant goes dark, what will National Grid do? They will close the plant and likely demolish it.”

Biondo believes the looming prospects of demolishing the power plant may foreshadow a significant loss of revenue from LIPA. He advised the board to be mindful of these factors and their impact on taxpayers. 

Biondo concluded his remarks by stating that small class sizes and the ability for students to get to know their teachers are an asset to the district. “I think you have to go to your strength, and our small size is a strength, and our low taxes are a strength,” he said. 

District voters will get the final word on the matter this December. In the meantime, the district will hold a series of tours and information sessions to educate residents on the issues at stake in this upcoming referendum. 

File photo by Giselle Barkley

During a public meeting of the Rocky Point school district board of education on Monday, Aug. 29, Sound Beach resident Bea Ruberto confronted the board over its decision to reverse a longstanding practice regarding book donations.

In June, district parent Allison Villafane donated several books related to Pride Month. In mid-July, the board sparked controversy from the public for its decision to no longer accept book donations from parents. 

During a special meeting on July 28, members of the board justified their decision on the grounds that they lack expertise in children’s literature. For more on this story, “Rocky Point BOE reverses practice on book donations, causes controversy,” see TBR News Media Aug. 11 print and online editions. 

During her remarks, Ruberto contended that the board used shoddy reasoning to arrive at its decision. By reversing its book donation practice, Ruberto suggested that the BOE inadvertently took decision-making authority out of the hands of librarians.

“I remain disappointed with your decision to no longer accept book donations,” Ruberto said. “None of you are experts in deciding which book donations to accept, you said, but there are experts who can do this — the librarians.”

Another point of contention for Ruberto was an argument made on July 28 during the public comments that there are more pressing matters for the board to consider than book donations. 

Pushing back against these charges, Ruberto suggested that access to reading materials lies at the core of any institution of learning.

“Yes, there are many important issues related to our children’s education, but the idea that the books made available to them isn’t one of them is ludicrous,” she said, adding, “As long as a book is age appropriate, I can’t imagine any book that young people should not have access to it.”

While Ruberto acknowledged that parents remain the ultimate arbiters for their children’s reading materials, she added that librarians also perform a vital function. According to her, school libraries are ideally inclusive spaces that should reflect the entire community’s values.

“Some parents may be troubled by what they see in the library, and then they may — and certainly should — monitor what their children are reading,” she said. “But school libraries aren’t just for them. They’re for everyone in the community.”

Jessica Ward, president of the board of education, responded to Ruberto’s public comments. The BOE president argued that the decision empowers the district’s librarians, offering these experts the freedom to stock the libraries with books of their choosing and without sway from the board.

“Our decision, as we explained last time, was made in consensus,” Ward said. “As you said, we’re not the experts on books. We want our librarians to pick the books in their libraries.”

Before the meeting adjourned, Ward and Ruberto debated whether the change of practice on book donations constituted a policy change. In attempting to settle this matter, Ward advised that she and the board would consult with their attorney and get back to Ruberto with a more detailed explanation.

The next meeting of the Rocky Point board of education is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19.

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School board president William Connors is running unopposed for his seat on the board. File photo by Andrea Paldy

William F. Connors Jr., 77, of East Setauket passed away on July 21.

Bill Connors

He was born March 31, 1945, in Brooklyn and was the son of the late William and Ethel Connors. He spent the past 50 years married to the love of his life, Susan Connors (Edwards), and together they raised four children: Terence, Corinne Keane (Edward), Kristin Mangini (Ken) and their daughter Jessica Connors who predeceased Bill in December 2021.

One of Bill’s favorite roles was proud Papa to four adoring grandsons: Conor Mangini (17), Gavin Mangini (14), Caden Mangini (11) and Braeden Keane (7). 

Bill enjoyed a life filled with a very large extended family that spent significant time together and is extremely close knit. His family and loved ones were fortunate to always know how loved and adored they were as Bill “wore his heart on his sleeve” and never passed up the opportunity to let the people he loved know how much he cared about them.

Bill received a bachelor’s degree in history from Saint Anselm College, a Master of Education in counseling psychology from Springfield College, and a Master of Public Administration in management from Long Island University. He retired from Suffolk County Community College in 2011 after holding a variety of faculty and senior administrative positions spanning 44 years. These included associate vice president for academic affairs/college dean of faculty, executive dean/CEO of the Ammerman and Eastern campuses, associate vice president for student affairs, and dean of faculty at the Ammerman and Grant campuses. 

Always looking to contribute to his community, Bill was involved in numerous service activities. He served as a member/vice president of the board of trustees of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket between 1984-92. He was on the Three Village Central School District board of education for a total of 21 years. He served on the board between 1994-2006 and served as vice president between 1995-96 and president between 1996-2006. After a six-year hiatus, he was reelected to the board of education in 2012 and served through 2021. He served as vice president 2013-14 and president between 2014-20.

Bill was also a member of the Saints Philip and James R.C. Church in St. James since 1973. Over the years he has been involved in numerous aspects of parish life and has served as an Eucharistic minister, member of SSPJ school board, and was a member of the pre-baptismal preparation program which he conducted along with his wife.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. Calling hours were held Monday, July 25, and the funeral Mass was held at Saints Philip and James R.C. Church the next day. Interment was private. Visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that people consider making a donation to The Jessica Connors Memorial Scholarship as Bill was immensely proud of this scholarship created in his youngest daughter’s memory. This annual scholarship is awarded to a graduating Ward Melville High School student who has a connection to or has made contributions to students with learning differences or special needs. It would mean the world to him to know that friends and loved ones continued to support this effort to memorialize her in his name. Donations to the scholarship can be made by visiting gofundme.com/f/the-jessica-connors-memorial-scholarship or by mail to The Jessica Connors Memorial Scholarship c/o Corinne Keane, P.O. Box 750, East Setauket, NY 11733.

Connors remembered

In an email, Three Village Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon informed district residents of Connors’ passing. Scanlon described him as “a symbol of strength, dignity and reason for decades in Three Village. He epitomized the phrase ‘a gentleman and a scholar.’”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich said in an email, “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend and colleague, Bill Connors. I served with Bill on the Three Village board of education for a number of years and grew to appreciate first and foremost his deep and abiding love for his family; his commitment to serve our community; and his wisdom and experience in the field of education. He was tremendously decent and compassionate, with a gentle temperament and a kind word for all, and I will miss him very much.”

Anthony Parlatore, a member of the Emma Clark library board of trustees for more than 30 years, said his tenure on the library board overlapped that of Connors for about a year or so.

“We were very close when he was on the board,” Parlatore said. “He was just a quality human being. He was very positive on the board, always maintained a smile and you can just tell he enjoyed being on the board.”

While the board has always functioned well, Parlatore said, Connors added to the high-quality operation, making “his presence known in a very quiet, dignified manner.”

“He listened to everybody politely, and he was a consummate gentleman, expressed his opinion and was never argumentative,” Parlatore said “All the qualities you’d expect. It was a pleasure serving with him.”

Port Jeff village trustee on his role in tackling the big projects

Trustee Bruce Miller (right) being sworn into office. Photo courtesy of Miller

By Raymond Janis

Village of Port Jefferson trustee Bruce Miller has taken on several big projects throughout his time in office. 

TBR News Media had an opportunity this week to catch up with him for an exclusive interview. In this interview, Miller addresses his background in education, the East Beach bluff, his preference for architecture and more. 

What is your background and why did you get involved in local government?

I was always a believer in public service. I got that from my parents, who also felt the value of contributing. I was drafted into the Army in ’66 and left as a sergeant with honorable discharge. I am a 2nd vice commander of the American Legion post in Port Jefferson Station. 

I got an excellent education from Stony Brook University. From there, I became a public school teacher in special education. While I was doing this, I also volunteered at my daughter’s school. I was on the [Port Jefferson] school board for 12 years, a president, vice president, and a budget and technology chairperson. 

I was a teacher that understood board politics and the requirements of training teachers. I was the driving force in moving the district from what I would consider mediocre in this region to a nationally ranked school district. We achieved a level of 34th in the nation, according to a Washington Post survey, and this drove up our real estate values. We were number one for several years in New York state with real estate appreciation and one year we were near 10th in the nation. And this is not me saying this, but The New York Times saying this. I had a very successful run during my 12 years on the school board.

I have been working for about 30 years on the conservation and advisory committee. I was for a while the trustee liaison to that committee. It used to be a board and I would like to see that happen again.

There’s a lot more, but maybe I can speak to them through some specific questions. 

Miller receives a regional Scope award for educational excellence during his tenure as a school board member.
Photo courtesy of Miller

How has your background as an educator shaped your approach as village trustee?

There are two aspects to my educational background: my teaching background and my school board background. As a teacher, I was a public servant and of course the village board is a public office. In teaching, you know there are budgets to deal with and priorities to be set. As a school board member, again you’re dealing with budgets. I dealt a lot with technology, doing what I thought was forward looking and I found that I could better express myself in bringing excellent technology to the school district in Port Jefferson.

Because of my educational background, and by working hard in this effort, we brought really excellent education and technology to the district. Budgets are another aspect. You have to be able to fund these things, and in a public forum you need to be able to get support from the public. You need to be able to persuade people that you have a vision, whether it’s in the school district or the village.

What are the most critical issues facing the village?

Critical has a number of meanings, one of which is that something is happening now and you have to do something about it. In that context, something is happening now: Our [East Beach] bluff is eroding and we have to do something about it. 

We can either let the country club slide into the Long Island Sound or we can take measures to remediate. You have the country club above and the beach below. I voted for a rock wall that would preserve the beach and access to the beach. There is another, larger plan that we are still looking at that involves driving steel sheeting in front of the country club. We’re within literally a couple of feet of losing the tennis courts and they are going. New plans have to be made for them. 

The question is do you go for the steel sheeting or do you let nature take its course? I’m not decided on that at this point. One of the things I respect about the village is that we have a lot of intelligent people who bring a lot of knowledge and background. In the few discussions we’ve had over Zoom, there were suggestions that were very positive that were an alternative to the steel sheeting suggestion. 

I have been emailing the board for a very long time regarding the fact that a) we should have a public hearing on this, which is not going to happen; and b) that we should be permitting the residents to vote on a bond. We’re talking about $10 million total on this project and they should decide what they want and we should be listening to all the viewpoints. We should be more open and transparent in terms of solutions and alternatives. 

We’re also losing revenue on the power plant. Over a number of years, we’re going to lose 47% of the revenue and we’re more than halfway through that process. Obviously, the businesspeople are going to see more in taxes because we’re receiving less from an alternate source. In my opinion, we need to rebuild with quality, so that you have a magnet for Port Jefferson, for the business community. 

A lot of people come to Port Jefferson because it’s different. It’s a real village with a history and people like that. We should be emphasizing that history. We also need to focus on green energy. We need to do as much as we can. By doing this, bring more revenue into the village, the school district, the fire department, the library, etc. 

How would you like to preserve what you call the New England heritage within the village?

Miller at Village Hall in Port Jefferson. File photo

We’re already doing some of that. We have what we call the Roe House, which is on Barnum Avenue. This is from the Roe family. It’s an authentic, prerevolutionary, colonial structure. We have a number of exhibits within the Roe House that point to our history. 

We often call it the Setauket Spy Ring, but Port Jefferson was also part of this history, the Roes are a part of this history. We have this heritage, it’s important, and we are emphasizing it. We’re going to see an upgrade in the status of the building. It now has a historic designation and we’re going to see more of that. 

How has the village changed from the time you took office and what measures have you taken to guide those changes?

There’s been an awful lot of change in regards to uptown development. When I first came into office, this was in the project stage. Now we’re seeing stuff rising above the ground and a number of properties that are either approved or well along in the approval process. There’s a former fish restaurant [PJ Lobster House] on North Country Road and 25A. The restaurant has moved downtown and they’re beginning the demolition phase. 

We’ve seen a project on Texaco Avenue that has been completed, two other projects at the foot of Main and Broadway completed. Another project where a former carpet store, Cappy’s Carpets, used to be has been completed and occupied.

There are a lot of problems with flooding in Port Jefferson, a lot of hills. Everything runs down into the lower Port area. I’ve been talking about mixed surfaces, not just hard pavement, which contribute to the velocity of the water. We’re making some progress with that by having water gardens. 

We have developed our parks, which I think are very attractive. We have a Dickens Festival that draws people into the village, which of course the merchants love. It’s really an excellent festival, voted best festival on Long Island several times. Every year it gets a little better. 

When I was in the school district, the motto was: “Excellent at getting better.” I want to achieve that and live up to that. When I’m in the village, I want to see excellence. I have had battles over architecture. I want it to be excellent, to improve the village, and to attract more people to the village. 

When I was in the school district, the motto was: “Excellent at getting better.” I want to achieve that and live up to that. — Bruce Miller

You have an upcoming meeting with representatives of the Long Island Rail Road. Could you preview that meeting?

It’s about a vision, about looking at a need, seeing an alternative to the present situation, and advocating for that. 

A lot of this is about developing networks and relationships. I’ve met with Phil Eng, the former LIRR chairperson, under the context of a better ride. It’s a long ride to Manhattan for a lot of people who commute. Out of necessity, it requires a transfer either at Huntington or Hicksville because you cannot take a diesel engine into Manhattan. The future is a better ride into Penn Station, but also a better ride into Grand Central Station, which will be a possibility in the future.

This requires electric energy and how do you get that? Obviously a third rail is a possible solution, a very expensive solution. My comments to Mr. Eng and his associates have been, “By the way, we pay taxes too.” There was a time when the Ronkonkoma line, which has a decent ride, was diesel, but they electrified it. So is it our turn? This is what I’ve been advocating for. 

We want to get our foot on the ladder. We’re kind of standing at the bottom of the ladder watching everybody else go by. We want to get on the ladder and then move upward. On [May 31], we will be meeting with the Long Island Rail Road planning people to discuss the future and the possibilities. We will be discussing the schedule, we will be discussing a second track, we will be discussing a third rail, battery electric, and moving the LIRR station in Port Jefferson. Basically they would move the station and the rail yards west and eliminate the crossing in Upper Port, which would do a lot for traffic. 

I work on big projects and these are not accomplished in six months or a year. It takes several terms, but if you achieve these goals, they are very positive for the residents of the village. 

Trustee Bruce Miller delivers a speech regarding National Grid. File photo

In your opinion, how can residents play a more active role in decision-making?

I had mentioned the country club and participation on the part of the residents in terms of a public hearing and being able to vote on major issues that affect them. I believe we should have more participation in this area. 

During COVID, we had board meetings on Zoom. Now we have public meetings where the public attends, but we’re not having meetings on Zoom. Some of the people I know in the village who are infirm or who have particular medical issues that prevent them from attending public meetings are kind of shut out of the process. I am pressing, and will continue to press, for public meetings upstairs in the Village Hall, but also a component on Zoom where people can not only look in but participate as we had done during the COVID era. 

I think that would be a very important step forward. I have just learned that Riverhead is going to be doing this and there are a number of other communities on Long Island that do this. In the past, people who are not comfortable going into public places were shut out, unable to participate. Now they are shut out again and I believe we should be supporting them.

Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

As I said, I’m a person that works on big projects. I like to be a team member, but there are also certain times when you have to go against the grain. My belief is that I am an independent trustee. I’ve worked hard for the village and the school district. Also, in between my village and school district experience, I co-founded a grassroots committee to repower Port Jefferson. 

I’ve worked with legislative leaders at all levels — town, village, county, state and congressional people as well. I believe that I have a vision. I have demonstrated in the past that I have executed on that vision and I want to continue to serve. I believe in service, I believe in giving back. I’m not wealthy, but I’m comfortable. I have time and I would like to contribute.

Green energy is very important to me. Making the village affordable is a very high priority for me. Transportation has become a high priority. I believe I have the vision and the energy and the diligence to work on this. I think the village needs a voice that will stand up and say, “No, this is not right.” 

I am a very positive person, a very optimistic person, and I believe I take this optimism and enthusiasm to the work that I do. 

Port Jefferson School District

Budget passed ($46.1 million) 

Yes: 642

No:  165

Proposition 2 passed

Yes: 673

No:  130

School board election:

Randi DeWitt:  563*

Ellen Boehm:   550*

Paul Ryan:      267

(reelected *)

Comsewogue Union Free School District

Budget passed ($102.1 million)

Yes: 998

No:  427

School board election:

Robert DeStefano:            921*

Francisca Alabau-Blatter: 655*

Joseph Borruso:               457

Gary Bodenburg:              344

Meghan Puleo:                 258

(reelected *) 

Newfield High School, above, will serve as one of the polling sites for this year’s school budget and board of education elections. File photo

Tomorrow, residents of the Middle Country Central School District will have the opportunity to weigh in on the future of their local schools.

On Tuesday, May 17, the district will hold its school budget vote and trustee election in the new gymnasiums at both Centereach and Newfield high schools from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The district’s proposed budget of $274,944,707 is up $5,863,749 from the previous year. According to the district’s planning presentation, the stated objective of this year’s budget is to “preserve the pre-K through grade 12 comprehensive program that is currently in place to ensure that students have the opportunities, resources and supports to successfully involve themselves in schooling and extracurricular activities so that they meet the expectations described in the Middle Country mission statement, and to do so by staying within the allowable tax levy cap.”

Centereach High School will serve as the other polling location. File photo

In the process of preparing this year’s annual budget, the district encountered a number of challenges related to increasing costs, decreasing state aid and declining district reserve balances. Homeowners will see an estimated tax levy increase of 3.10%, which approximates to a $177 increase per household. 

Voters will be asked to elect four trustees. Incumbent Robert Feeney is being challenged by Tiffany Lorusso; incumbent Kristopher Oliva by Robert Hallock; incumbent Dawn Sharrock by Kimberly Crawford-Arbocus; and incumbent Denise Haggerty by Leah Fitzpatrick for a remaining two-year term.