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Full-day Kindergarten

Superintendent Diana Todaro and Assistant Superintendent Francesco Ianni were both delighted the budget passed. File photo

Tuesday night was a success for school districts in the Huntington area, with all budgets approved, including Harborfields’ cap-piercing $82.8 million budget.

Throughout budget season, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources Franceso Ianni had presented the board with several options for the 2016-17 budget. Some stayed within the 0.37 percent state–mandated tax levy cap, but did not offer programs the community had been asking for, like full-day kindergarten. Others included such programs but went above and beyond the cap. After much debate, the board adopted a nearly $83 million budget with a cap-busting 1.52 percent increase to the tax levy.

Among the costs in the budget are $600,000 for full-day kindergarten, $70,000 for a BOCES cultural arts program, $52,000 for a third-grade orchestra program and $120,000 for an additional special education teacher and two teaching assistants.

Harborfields residents have been vocal about wanting full-day kindergarten on the budget and one group, Fair Start: Harborfields Residents for Full-Day Kindergarten, traveled to Albany to seek help from state legislators on making it possible.

Rachael Risinger, a member of Fair Start, said she and the organization are elated to see a budget pass with full-day kindergarten on the menu.

“We are extremely thankful the Harborfields community came together to pass this year’s school budget,” she said in an email. “Kindergarten orientation was this week and we’ve heard from so many parents how excited their young kids are to go to full-day kindergarten starting in September. Now they will have the same fair start as every kindergarten student on Long Island.”

The district needed a 60 percent supermajority to override the cap in its budget, and with 2,099 votes in favor and 1,017 votes against, the supermajority was achieved.

Superintendent Diana Todaro said she is pleased with the outcome.

“It’s a budget that supports and meets the needs of all of our children, from kindergarten through the high school,” she said. “We just want to thank our community, parents, staff members and especially the board of education who supported us throughout this entire process.”

Ianni, who will be taking over for Todaro in 2017 as superintendent, said he is excited to work with the programs in this budget next year. “I’m very exited and pleased for the students and the community, [for] all the programs that we’re going to have,” he said. “I’m really excited [to go] into the new school year as the new superintendent in January, [with] these kinds of programs in place.”

Incumbent Hansen Lee and newcomer Colleen Wolcott were also voted in as school board members for the upcoming year, with 1,569 and 1,301 votes, respectively.

“I am extremely excited about the passing of this historic budget, and how the community came together for all of our kids,” Lee said. “[And] I am excited about my second term and [am] looking forward to more exciting things to come at Harborfields.”

Wolcott said she is eager to get started.

“I’m very excited to serve my community more than I have already been doing,” she said. “It is my honor. I’m excited to have a voice on the board of education and to work collaboratively with the district to make it better than it already is.”

Challengers Chris Kelly (1,001 votes), Marge Acosta (992 votes) and Joseph Savaglio (571 votes) fell short in their own bids.

Diana Todaro speaks during the budget presentation at the board of education meeting on Wednesday night. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Budget season has come to the Harborfields Central School District, and residents could be in for a budget that pierces the tax levy cap.

At a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources Francesco Ianni presented options the district has to choose from for the 2016-2017 budget, calling it an “evolving process.” Harborfields was given a small tax levy cap increase from the state, which means that the district may have to consider piercing the cap if they want to provide any new programs, or face a budget with no additions to stay within the cap.

“Approximately 17 percent of the annual budget that is coming from state aid, but that number is fluctuating everyday,” Ianni said at the meeting. “Reserve funds will account for about 7 percent, and 76 percent of the budget is coming from the community.”

The main concern with this year’s budget, Ianni said, is the .37 percent tax levy increase cap, which is limiting the district’s ability to even rollover last year’s budget. A rollover budget is the same budget as the year before.

The 2015-2016 budget was roughly $80 million, and if a rollover budget were used this year, the total would be approximately $81 million, with an increase of $1,159,907.

If the rollover budget passed, there would need to be a tax levy increase of .84 percent, according to the district, which is .47 percent more than what the state is mandating. If the district abides by the state tax levy increase cap, they will be $287,408 short of the rollover budget total.

Those variables leave the district with some options, Ianni said.

A budget within the tax levy would be $81,346,454, the district said. This would require the district to not only refuse any new mandates or potential additions like full-day kindergarten, but also to cut costs.

But if the district decided to pierce the tax cap, Ianni presented several different budgetary routes the district could take. One is what he described as the simple rollover budget, which would require less than .5 percent of an increase in the tax cap and bring the total budget to $81,633,862.

“But, what if we add some mandates?” Ianni asked during the presentation.

The district presented a potential budget that included mandates like an additional librarian, AIS teacher and an English as a New Language teacher, which would bring the budget to $81,833,862 and a tax levy increase of 1.17 percent.

Ianni said the third possible scenario is the most costly because of additions like $600,000 for full-day kindergarten, $20,000 for a teacher’s assistant testing room and anywhere from $100,000 to $150,00 for a BOCES cultural arts program. The total here brings the budget to about $82.6 million, and would bring the tax levy cap to 2.57 percent.

Ianni said the district has not made any decisions yet as to which budget they would pursue, and would continue to discuss options at various workshops and community forums over the coming weeks.

The next upcoming budget meeting was scheduled for March 5 at 9 a.m.

A full-day kindergarten class at Mount Sinai Elementary school has rug time during class. Photo by Giselle Barkley

With the Mount Sinai Elementary School’s new full-day kindergarten program, most students don’t want to miss school, even if they’re sick.

Since classes began six weeks ago, the school district’s kindergarten classes have learned to read, construct simple sentences, understand patterns and count when doing math. Six weeks ago, the majority of these students didn’t even know how to spell or identify “the” or “and” in a sentence.

Faculty and staff members, like Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and teacher Debra Santoro, who started teaching 10 years ago, said they thought the students would take longer to grasp the concepts the school teaches in the full-day program, but the shift from half-day to full-day Kindergarten has been successful, according to the school’s employees.

With the help of teachers like Santoro and the school’s new writing program, “Think, Draw, Write,” the kids aren’t only gaining confidence in their writing abilities, but are also using their creativity and applying what they learn to events in their life. During class, the kids have rug time, which is when the teacher devotes a certain amount of time teaching a lesson related to English language arts or math, among other subjects, at the front of the class. Students can then return to their desks and expand upon what they learned on the rug. Now, lessons are hands-on, allowing the kids to have a more positive outlook on learning.

“I think, in the past, we didn’t have it structured with mini lesson that’s presented in a few minutes to really grab their attention [and] convince [students] that they’re capable, and to build confidence,” Santoro said.

With the half-day kindergarten program, teachers only had 90 to 100 minutes of instruction time, as opposed to the scheduled 120 — walking from the bus to the classroom and taking off warmer clothing during the winter months took time out of the lesson. The new program gives students and teachers more time to learn and teach a lesson, Brosdal said.

“You don’t want to do it just because [the] parents both work and might need child care,” Brosdal said. “The reality is … when you look at the demands of the curriculum of ELA and math, you have to have time to learn it. When you’re rushing, it’s easy for some [children] to get left behind.”

The program also allows kids to get out of the classroom for special classes, like music, art and physical education, and learn the layout of the school and how to stay attentive despite the additional hours.

Initially, first grade teachers at the school spent the first four to six weeks teaching the kids how to get around the building as well as how to sit for a longer period of time — first grade used to be the first time former kindergarten students stayed in school for a full day.

According to Santoro, the key to preventing these students from fading as the day progresses is to keep them engaged.

Brosdal added that school officials intend to follow the progress of this group of kindergartners, especially when they enter third grade and complete their assessments for Common Core. Thus far, faculty, staff and students alike are excited about the program and the kids’ progress. Brosdal admitted he thought the change from half-day to full-day would be more difficult, but said that teachers sacrificing parts of their summer to prepare for the program by scheduling meetings with superintendents from school districts with full-day kindergarten, like Miller Place, was helpful.

“[With] new programs, sometimes you find that ‘oh you should have planned that or did that,’” Brosdal said. “[School] opened like we had [full-day kindergarten] for years.”

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Mike Riggio, center, speaks to his new fellow school board trustees following Tuesday’s election. Photo by Erika Karp

Full-day kindergarten is officially coming to the Mount Sinai Union Free School District, as residents approved a $56.7 million budget for the 2015-16 school year.

Under the spending plan, the district will expand its current half-day kindergarten program to full — a move backed by many parents as well as the teachers’ union. The budget also maintains class sizes, offerings and extracurricular activities, and brings the Columbia University’s Teachers College Writing Project — which provides writing curriculum and professional development for teachers — to grades kindergarten through fifth.

The budget passed with 1,241 yes votes to 316 votes against.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, who joined the district last summer, called the support “outstanding,” and expressed satisfaction that Mount Sinai would no longer be one of the few districts on Long Island left without full day kindergarten.

“To have that margin means to me the community supported the budget,” he said on Tuesday after the vote.
A resident with an average assessed home value of $3,500 will see an annual tax increase of $156.

Throughout the past few months, school board trustees and officials have urged residents to show up and vote. The district has had a relatively low voter turnout over the years, and Brosdal previously stated that elected officials do take notice. Compared to last year, 40 more residents cast a ballot in the budget vote.

“I think, to a degree, voters did hear our plea and came out,” Trustee Ed Law said.

The budget wasn’t the only item residents voted on. They also approved a proposition for library services at either the Comsewogue Public Library or Port Jefferson Free Library, and re-elected incumbent board trustee, Lynn Capobianco, to a second term, and newcomer Mike Riggio with 678 votes and 993 votes, respectively.

Candidates John DeBlasio and Joanne Rentz missed election.

Despite his loss on Tuesday, DeBlasio, a 54-year-old attorney, said he was happy the budget passed. Rentz, a 51-year-old brand manager, was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday. In a Facebook post Tuesday night, she thanked her supporters and said she hopes for great things in Mount Sinai.

Riggio, a 42-year-old retired New York City Police Department commander in the department’s counterterrorism unit, touted his security background and budgeting experience during his campaign. He said on Tuesday evening that he wanted to thank everyone who voted and that win or lose, the experience was “cool.”

“I think people like how I was honest,” he said.

Capobianco, a 65-year-old retired Mount Sinai school librarian, said she was grateful for the community’s support and excitement about full-kindergarten, now a reality.

“I am thrilled that our program is now a full k-12 program,” she said. “… It has been a long time coming.

Committee established to look into 2016-’17 implementation

Harborfields Superintendent Diana Todaro. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Harborfields school board has green-lighted the creation of a committee that will explore the possibility of implementing full-day kindergarten in the district — a program residents say is key to early childhood education.

An online petition spearheaded by parent Jennifer Rogdakis sometime last month calls on the district to create a full-day kindergarten program, as parents feel the current half-day program is not enough for students. Roughly 400 parents have signed onto the petition.

Rogdakis, a parent of a 4-year-old and 6-month-old, said full-day kindergarten is crucial for successfully implementing the Common Core Learning Standards. She also said she feels the standards are designed with full-day kindergarten in mind.

“Half-day is not enough anymore,” Rogdakis said. “I don’t want my son to feel he has to catch up in two years.”

Harborfields school district residents aren’t alone in their desire to see full-day kindergarten at their district. Local districts have made strides towards full-day kindergarten. The Northport-East Northport school board just approved a proposed budget that would include full-day kindergarten and the Huntington school district brought the program back last year. The change.org petition claims Harborfields is in the minority of districts statewide without full-day kindergarten.

“It is incumbent upon the district and board to give our children the same opportunity for quality education as children in 97 percent of New York State school districts,” the petition reads.

Following the launch of the petition, the school board announced at its March 7 meeting the new committee that would explore full-day kindergarten in the 2016-17 school year.

According to a letter from Superintendent Diana Todarao, the district is currently accepting applications from residents who are interested serving on committee. The application can be found on the district’s website. Rogdakis said she has handed in her application and wants to be on this committee. She praised the district and said it could suffer without full-day kindergarten.

Centerport resident Marge Acosta said she feels students are done a disservice with a half-day kindergarten program. She criticized the two-and-a-half hour school day and said it isn’t enough time for students to learn. Acosta said it’s as difficult for teachers as it is for students, because teachers are forced to squeeze in what they can during the roughly two-hour day.

“This is the time when their brains are developing and their skills are developing,” Acosta said. “This is the time to put money into their education.”

The school board said it and the district greatly value the community’s input on the matter and are appreciative of their feedback.

“In an effort to fully investigate the need for full-day kindergarten, we thought it was necessary to involve our community in the process from the very beginning,” according to the statement. “This committee, which will be comprised of a variety of community residents, will present their findings to the board in the early fall.”