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David Badanes

Students and parents address the board during a standing-room only board meeting Nov. 7, after air quality issues have resurfaced at Northport Middle School. Photos by David Luces

A day that began with over 60 parents and children participating in a “sickout” protest in front of Northport Middle School ended with a public meeting later that night, where the seven-member board of education unanimously voted to begin soil testing at the school. 

A packed crowd at the boarding meeting Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

A crowd of concerned parents and community members packed into the standing room only public meeting at the William Brosnan School. Many parents voiced dissatisfaction about how the school district has been handling recent incidents with foul odors at the middle school, saying that soil and groundwater testing are long overdue.

Many people blamed illnesses, such as cancer, headaches, nosebleeds, mold infections and other serious diseases, on the school’s long history of air quality issues. 

Board President David Badanes and Superintendent Robert Banzer both reiterated to the crowd that according to experts, the middle school is safe for operations.

“Since 2017, we have made major capital and personnel improvements to the school and have corrected issues found in a 65-year-old building, as well conducted environmental testing and engaged experts from the Department of Health, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center of Long Island and the Icahn School of Medicine,” Banzer said. “In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

“In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

– Robert Banzer

The district expects that soil testing and the creation of a subcommittee will quell any remaining concerns and help bring a divided community back together. 

The subcommittee will be made up of 10 members, which will include board trustees, parents, district staff and professional experts. Together they will work on an analysis and come up with parameters of the soil testing. 

The timetable for the subcommittee’s actions has already been established. On Dec. 12, recommendations will be given to the board identifying experts that will conduct soil testing and additional analysis. December through January, soil testing begins. January-February, assessment of soil testing results. By March, the district expects a final report, which will include recommendations given to the board.  

Parent Lauren Handler called on the board to stop utilizing the services of Hauppauge-based firm J.C. Broderick, which has come under scrutiny for some of its previous reports and findings at the middle school. 

She also asked for a comprehensive review of all previous testing done at the school, additional groundwater testing, cesspool testing, and investigating the environmental impact of the VA Hospital and Covanta among other things. 

“If any part of this testing cannot be completed, or if testing is completed and the source of the result cannot be identified and remediated, than this building should be closed,” Handler said. “If this request cannot be met, I’m asking the superintendent and board members to step down.”

 A number of speakers called on the board to consider appointing an independent broker to select the consultant and experts that will be on the committee. 

Tammie Topel, a former board member who served for six years, said she previously brought up health concerns to the board.

A Northport Middle School student addresses the board Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

“I am a former board member and when I was on the board two years ago, I requested for soil testing more than once,” she said. “Especially during one of my final board meetings, when I learned two former students had developed aplastic anemia.”

Topel, a nurse by profession, said proposals to approve soil testing at the middle school were voted down twice during her tenure. 

“Why didn’t we do this two years ago?” she asked. 

A number of parents also accused the board of not being up front with information about student illnesses at the school.

“I’m alarmed and disgusted by some of these things I just learned recently,” Michael Figeroura, an emergency medical technician for the New York City Fire Department and parent, said. “I find it disgusting when kids are complaining that they have headaches or smelling metallic things, they go to the nurse and all that gets done is that they check their temperature.”   In addition, Figeroura criticized Timothy Hoss, Northport Middle School Principal, for his handling of the situation.

“Who tells them [the students] after he comes into the room that there’s nothing there … But miraculously 30 minutes later there’s an email, a text message and a phone call — that yes there was some type of smell in the air and that they are working on the ventilation systems,” he said. “I want something to be done, we absolutely need more testing now and later.”

He also called for better trained medical staff in the schools. 

“For a nurse to check the temperature of a child after they complained about metallic smells, it is unacceptable,” Figeroura said. 

Timothy Heck, an accountant and community member, was one of a number of individuals that proposed the idea of moving the middle school students to another building in the district, arguing that the district has the available space due to declining enrollment. 

“I did a rough estimate myself and I figured from the administrative and operation costs, it costs around $2.5 to $5 million to keep one of the schools open,” he said. “What makes sense to me is that you could close one of the schools down and move the kids to this building or one of the grade schools.”

Heck cited a 2015 demographic study done by the district, where they projected that about 502 students were expected to be enrolled in the middle school in 2024 compared to 2007 when it had a peak of 908 students. 

Similarly, at a board of education budget meeting in January, the district projected that the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

It’s unclear if board members are considering that option. 

Three board of education trustees have been appointed to the committee: Vicky Buscareno, Larry Licopoli and Tom Loughran. If you are interested in being considered for the subcommittee please send an email to: boe@northport.k12.ny.us.

 

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss how to handle the vote that could lead to a decrease in board member size. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Northport residents will officially have a chance to reduce the size of the Northport-East Northport Board of Education this spring.

The board passed a resolution at Thursday night’s meeting that will add a proposition to the budget vote this spring to decrease the membership of the board from nine trustees to seven.

The United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport came to the board with a petition in June saying that nine members have made the board less effective.

In their petition the United Taxpayers stated “statistical and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that school districts operate in a more effective and efficient manner when the composition of the board is limited to no more than seven board members.”

Armand D’Accordo, a member of the group, backed up its sentiment.

“I have gotten the sense at board meetings — both through watching and interacting — that it seems a bit dysfunctional, due to the makeup of how many members and how long they’ve been around,” D’Accordo said in a previous interview.

He also said the organization became interested in this idea after reading a study by Nina Dorata, titled “School District Boards, Audit Committees, and Budget Oversight: Seeking a Formula for Good Governance,” published in the March 2013 issue of the CPA Journal, which exposed the correlation between school district budget increases and tenure of board members.

“I do feel confident in the public,” D’Accordo said of the resolution passing. “There is a general sense I have been getting while collecting signatures for this petition that the public wants a smaller school board.”

Trustees have said they do not think this is a necessary step.

“We have a large and diverse community with a lot of different areas to represent,” Vice President David Badanes said in a previous interview. “The more people that participate gives you more eyes for each issue. The statistics are speculative and so far the arguments do not convince me.”

After the vote, Trustee Jennifer Thompson asked if the district would be held responsible to inform the public on this issue.

“Since this proposition came from the community and not the board or the district, how will the community be informed of the pros and cons of it?” she asked at the meeting. “Who is responsible for disseminating that information?”

Trustee Lori McCue suggested that at one of the upcoming budget meetings, the board give the factual information, and discuss how, if this proposition is successful, the members would be dwindles down from nine to seven.

New Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer is sworn in on July 1. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by departing president, Julia Binger, and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

David Badanes take oaths of office. Photo by Rohma Abbas
David Badanes take oaths of office. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

Tammie Topel is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Tammie Topel is sworn in. Photo by Rohma Abbas

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully,” he said.

Change is in the air at Northport-East Northport schools.

School board Trustee Andrew Rapiejko, a five-year incumbent who served as vice president, was sworn in as the board’s president at its reorganizational meeting on Wednesday, following a nomination by President Julia Binger and an 8-1 vote. Trustee Regina Pisacani was the lone vote against the appointment.

Newly re-elected Trustee David Badanes was nominated and voted vice president of the board — but not without an unsuccessful attempt by Pisacani to nominate newcomer Trustee David Stein to the slot. Her motion to do so failed to gain support, and Badanes was unanimously appointed.

The July 1 meeting was the district’s first with new Superintendent Robert Banzer at the helm. Banzer, along with Stein, recently re-elected Trustee Tammie Topel, Badanes, District Clerk Beth Nystrom and new audit committee member Edward Kevorkian were all officially sworn in.

In his remarks to the community, Rapiejko called it a “critical year” for the district, and pointedly addressed what he called a divide on the board.

“The elephant in the room is this split on the board,” he said

While the board typically votes unanimously on most items, Rapiejko said in a Thursday phone interview that the community perceives a divide on the school board. Those differences among board members have given rise to tensions that began under the administration of former Superintendent Marylou McDermott, he said.

“The former superintendent is out of the equation now,” he said in his speech on Wednesday. “And I’m looking forward and to move on. I think we have to move forward and it’s critical we do that.”

He urged the school community to respect each other and said it is the board’s responsibility to set that tone of respect. In a phone interview, he said he was heartened that his appointment earned almost unanimous support, which hasn’t been the norm at reorganizational meetings in recent years past.

“We can disagree, we can have very strong opinions, but there’s a way to do it and a way to do it respectfully.”

Northport High School. File photo

Seven candidates vying for three seats on the Northport-East Northport school board in next week’s election got together to talk about pressing issues and field questions from the PTA Council and district residents in a forum on Tuesday evening.

Hot topics included dealing with declining enrollment, maintaining the district’s facilities and grounds, deciding what kind of relationship should exist between a school board and its superintendent, and determining the level of programs the district should offer.

It was a packed room at the Northport High School library, where the lineup of candidates included incumbents Stephen Waldenburg Jr. and David Badanes; newcomers Peter Mainetti, Josh Muno, David Stein and Michael Brunone; and former school board member Tammie Topel.

Declining enrollment is an issue facing not only Northport-East Northport; districts across Long Island are also facing the trend. Candidates had differing opinions on how to address declining enrollment, particularly when it came to consolidating programs.

Topel said it wouldn’t be necessary to cut any programs that have enough students in them. Waldenburg said the numbers “bode for scary times” and the district may need to consider closing schools. Badanes said he wanted to approach the issue from the mind-set of maintaining instead of cutting and said that the enrollment numbers projecting declines could be wrong. Brunone said the district needs to look at its fixed costs.

Mainetti, Muno and Stein said they were in favor of keeping the current programming level intact. Stein said the district needs to stop cutting its programs.

“We have to make ourselves the most competitive,” he said.

Most candidates said they’d be in favor of floating a bond to pay for maintenance and repairs to the district’s buildings and grounds. Mainetti said he’s not a huge fan of bond issues, but it would be good to involve the community if one goes forward. Topel, however, said she wouldn’t support a bond because she’s “not sure the community would go for it.”

The candidates also weighed in on what to do about pending litigation by the Long Island Power Authority, challenging the value of the Northport power plant. The utility has maintained that it’s grossly over-assessed and pays more than it should in taxes, and if successful in court, Northport-East Northport school district residents could see huge spikes in their taxes.

Candidates were asked how they would plan financially if the school district and Huntington Town lose the lawsuit. Badanes, who said he couldn’t comment in detail about the litigation, said the district’s attorneys are working on the issue, and that a loss of revenue, if it happens, would be planned over time. Brunone offered similar thoughts and said he wouldn’t be surprised if the lawsuit continued for five more years. Topel said there should be a crackdown on illegal accessory apartments in the district, many of which house families with school-aged children who aren’t paying taxes. Muno said he was optimistic about a positive resolution to the litigation.

“I really believe justice will prevail in this situation and we won’t have to resort to that type of thing,” Muno said.

Waldenburg said there’s a chance the plant could be upgraded and repowered, which would increase its value and potentially take the issue off the table.

Candidates were also asked whether it’s better to retain programs to attract people to the district or make some of the district’s programs the best around, even if the district is offering fewer overall. Most candidates said it’s important to offer a variety of programs.

“Variety of programs is what keeps a well-rounded, well-educated individual,” Mainetti said. “It’s not just STEM, it’s not just athletics, it’s not just the arts — it’s balance. We need those programs.”

Brunone said it’s important to keep the taxpayer, or the “shareholder,” in mind.

“Of course I think [we should] offer as much as we can through the budget,” he said.

Next week’s school board election and budget vote is on Tuesday, May 19, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.