Tags Posts tagged with "Jessica Schmettan"

Jessica Schmettan

Photo by Raymond Janis

Rallying against unjust state aid cuts

As many community members have already heard, Gov. Kathy Hochul [D] has proposed drastic cuts in state aid to many school districts across Long Island. Based on the governor’s proposed state aid allocations, Port Jefferson School District stands to face a total 28% cut to our state aid package, which amounts to almost $1.2 million. This is one of the largest percentage cuts for any school district on Long Island.

The governor’s proposed reductions in state aid are very concerning to us. The reduction would put a significant strain on our district. The excellence of our faculty, combined with the careful management of the district budget, has allowed us to continually deliver a high-quality education to our students. However, this proposed cut in state aid would place a significant burden on our staff and community to maintain that level of educational excellence. The governor’s proposal is patently unfair and places our district in an untenable position. It is a gross injustice to the students and taxpayers in our district and we are determined to fight back. We are calling on our state legislators to advocate and work with the governor’s office to restore our Foundation Aid to its full level.

We are asking that the community join us in this advocacy. Our website provides template letters for residents to sign and forward to the governor and our state representatives. Together, we can send a powerful message to Gov. Hochul and our local elected officials to ensure adequate and equitable funding. The Port Jefferson School District relies on these funds to support our students and maintain the integrity of our educational system.

Jessica Schmettan

Superintendent of Schools

Port Jefferson School District

Upholding the promise of public education

Every child,  regardless of their ZIP code, deserves a high quality public education. Our public schools are an investment that benefits our communities and families. It is crucial that our elected leaders do not play politics with the well-being and future of our children.

It is unfortunate to see elected officials of both parties playing politics with public education funding. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s [D] “hold harmless” budget proposal is problematic for many school districts, as it falls short of the expected aid for the coming fiscal year. The state Legislature must correct this in their one house budgets and negotiations with the executive branch in determining the upcoming fiscal year budget.

However, it must be pointed out that in 2023, every Suffolk County Republican in the New York State Legislature voted against education funding. This was a year where there was record funding for public education, after a decades long fight for full Foundation Aid. To watch these same elected officials weaponize the current moment for political gain reeks of hypocrisy. The same is true at the federal level, where U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota [R-NY1] just voted against expanding the child tax credit that would lift half a million of America’s children out of poverty, a bill that passed the House with broad bipartisan support.

We need leaders who will prioritize caring for our youngest New Yorkers, not elected officials who use them as political pawns. New York is a wealthy state, and we do not need to cut funding for education or any human service or public good. We have the resources to provide these services, but, unfortunately, we don’t have enough elected officials who place the well-being of our children over their own political grandstanding. 

The New York State Legislature must restore these cuts in their one house budgets. And Suffolk County’s Republican elected officials should put the money where their mouths are, and vote for fully funding public education this year. Their votes are a reflection of our region’s values, and political grandstanding is inadequate at this moment for our communities. We, the voters, will be watching.

                                                  Shoshana Hershkowitz, South Setauket; Ian Farber, Setauket; Christine Latham, Stony Brook; Anne Chimelis, Setauket; Jeanne Brunson, South Setauket

A critical analysis of immigration rhetoric

Two letter writers use your Cold Spring Harbor Lab article [Jan. 11] as the slim local hook to propagate the fearmongering on would-be Latin American immigrants that former President Donald Trump [R] thinks he can ride into the White House: Paul Mannix (“The illegal immigrant issue,” Jan. 25) and George Altemose (Jan. 18, who also lavishes praise on a Nazi war criminal). 

Mannix claims you are “hurting your credibility” by decrying toxic talk on immigrants when the issue is “illegal immigration,” disregarding Altemose’s inflammatory talk of “invasion” of our southern border by hordes of “illegal aliens”, not to mention their hero Trump’s “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” and “poisoning the blood” of America.

Immigrants have always come here because U.S. employers were looking for workers. Pew Research Center tells us that since 2005 about 10 million unauthorized immigrants — their term — live in the U.S. and about 8 million work for willing employers. 

What makes these mostly brown immigrants “illegal,” whereas the ancestors of the white residents of Long Island were “legal”? Until 1808, southern landowners found their agricultural labor force in “legally” imported, kidnapped and enslaved Black Africans. Until 1882 immigration into the U.S. was totally unrestricted. Chinese came in great numbers to help build the transcontinental railroads and when they were no longer needed, the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) made them illegal. Until 1924, white Europeans entered simply by showing up with no signs of infectious disease. They needed no documents of any kind, neither a passport nor visas, and in their millions headed for the mills, mines, railroads or sweatshops whose owners were hungry for workers. In 1924 a xenophobic immigration law was passed that limited all but immigration from northern Europe to a trickle, since modified for some political categories such as anti-Castro Cubans and Nazis with useful talents. Employers still welcomed “illegal” workers for jobs citizens wouldn’t take, as we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic: farmworkers, meat and poultry processors, health and service workers of all kinds.

The U.S. has made life difficult for Latin Americans for 200 years. Today, refugees are fleeing gangs and chaos, even death squads. Many are legal asylum seekers, whom Trump refused to recognize. 

Mannix, lastly, slanders diversity, equity and inclusion — practices that rather minimally try to mitigate centuries of legal and de facto discrimination — as “racist and sexist,” a classic Trumpist projection of placing their own failings onto their opponents.

Arnold Wishnia

Setauket

Unmasking the myth

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

George Altemose insists Wernher von Braun was a “great American” even considering his participation in Nazi crimes [Letters, Feb. 1]. In his eagerness to whitewash von Braun’s career as a Nazi, he distorts a number of facts, and omits others. Von Braun was not “forced” to join the Nazi Party in 1937, nor was he forced to join the SS in 1940. During his career in the SS he was promoted three times by Heinrich Himmler, the organizer of the systematic mass murder of Jews and others deemed by the Nazis unworthy of life.

 Like so many Nazis after the war, von Braun retrospectively downplayed his own participation in the holocaust. But by his own admission he was quite aware that his V-2 rockets were being built by concentration camp slave laborers living in appalling conditions and being routinely worked to death. 

As for his 1944 arrest for having a defeatist attitude, that’s not quite the whole story. He was arrested after having drunkenly — and correctly — remarked that Germany was losing the war. Also because he regularly piloted a government-provided plane he potentially could use to escape to Britain. During his brief detention he was pressured to speed up the development of the V-2 — so much the worse for the slave laborers — and to pledge not to defect. He was released on the direct order of Hitler, who called him “indispensable” for the Nazi war effort. He was a willing participant in, not a victim of, the crimes of the Nazis.

Although von Braun could not have single handedly stopped the V-2 program and its use of slave labor, he could have refused to participate. That’s the key. To state, as Altemose does, that for this he would have been killed is a well-worn fallacy. There were cases of Germans who refused to participate in Nazi atrocities. No one in the Third Reich was executed for mere refusal. This has been thoroughly documented by numerous works such as “Ordinary Men” by Christopher Browning. At worst, if von Braun refused to participate in Nazi crimes, he would have stalled his career. Many were faced with the same choice in Nazi Germany. Not everyone made the same choice as he did.

It really doesn’t matter what rockets von Braun developed for America. He was a man without morals, a willing participant in the Nazi enterprise. To tout him as a “great American” is a travesty and an insult to our country.

David Friedman

St James

Farewell to a sweet tradition

I was very disappointed to learn about the closing of Stony Brook Chocolate. I loved taking my grandchildren there to choose from the large assortment of candies filling an entire wall. The wonderful chocolates and truffles were my go-to holiday gifts, and they were always well received. I will also miss the friendly and helpful salespeople. Stony Brook Chocolate was a terrific asset to our quaint village. So sad to see it go.

Susan Mcbride

Setauket

 

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Lynn Hallarman

The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held a public work session on Tuesday, Oct. 24, to discuss re-bid proposals for replacement bleachers at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School.

Concerns about the price of the bleachers voiced by some members of the public prompted the school board to call for additional bids with the hopes of receiving a “fiscally responsible plan to replace the bleachers,” board member Randi DeWitt said at the October 10 meeting.

The board also weighed the cost of pool repairs at the elementary school, discussed updates in the plans for the retaining wall project at the middle school and funding options for upgrading the HVAC system at the high school.

Present at the meeting to answer questions by the board were project leads — Facilities Director Robert Minarik, Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister and Architect John Grillo.

District voters approved $561,000 for replacement bleachers and $553,612 for pool repairs in May of 2022 as part of the 2022-23 budget.

The decades-old bleachers, while structurally sound, do not meet current safety codes or Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, according to Leister. However, initial bids for the bleacher project last spring estimated nearly double the cost, at $1 million for reduced seating of 650 from the current capacity of 750 seats.

This cost includes a new press box, a concrete base — the bleachers currently sit on bare ground — removal and disposal of the existing bleachers, press box removal and disposal, labor costs set by New York State and architect fees.

Board members reviewed six bids for the bleacher project at various price points and configurations. Proposal options included 450 seats versus 650 seats, and remodeling the existing press box versus installing a new one.

“We are using a new way to approach projects bids,” using a base price and add-ons if deemed affordable, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said.

The board has the discretion to move funds between the bleacher replacement project and pool repairs as they are part of the same line item on the budget. To meet the price tag for several of the six bleacher bids would require shifting money away from the pool repairs, according to Schmettan.

“My reservation is taking away from something that is an instructional space, like the pool, and putting it toward something that is a noninstructional space, like the bleachers,” school board trustee Ryan Walker said.

He added, “The pool is part of the curriculum, and the bleachers are not.”

Other board members expressed discomfort with not addressing the safety concerns of current bleachers cited by the school’s insurance carrier (NYSIR).

Mr. Grillo proposed a plan that stays within budget while preserving the pool repairs. He suggested a 450-seat bleacher with room for expansion with an open-air press platform as a temporary solution, keeping the possibility of a new press box in the future.

The board made no final decisions.

The meeting ended with an announcement about launching a new way the public can track projects on the district’s website “to increase the transparency of the district’s capital projects,” Schmettan indicated.

The next board meeting will be held on Nov. 14 at the Elementary School.

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. Photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Lynn Hallarman

The price tag for replacement bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School has prompted scrutiny from Port Jefferson Civic Association, which is seeking a full accounting of the project’s costs from the Port Jefferson School District.

District voters approved several capital projects in May 2022 as part of the 2022-23 budget, earmarking $561,000 for replacement bleachers.

During the Aug. 29 special meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said the bids for the bleacher replacement project came in at nearly double what the budget had allotted — $1 million for downsized seating of 650 from the current capacity of 750 seats.

“This [cost] includes a new press box, erosion control, removal and disposal of the existing bleachers, press box removal and disposal of the concrete slab, cut-and-fill leaching pools, an asphalt walkway, reinforcement of the concrete bleacher plant and the bleacher rows, press box power and topsoil,” according to Schmettan.

The school district’s media liaison forwarded an email stating that the district “is in the process of re-bidding the proposed bleacher replacement project through a series of six different configurations, each at various price points,” noting that “no decision has been finalized.”

At the Sept. 13 meeting of the civic association, several members advocated for finding an alternative to the proposed bleacher replacement project with greater clarity over the school board’s vetting process for incoming bids.

“We are not against the safety of our students and fulfilling [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements,” civic board members said in an email to the superintendent. But, “this significant increase in expenditure has raised great concern among our members,” adding that PJCA members “still have more questions than answers.”

Civic president Ana Hozyainova said attention to district expenditures is linked to other worries among village residents, such as rising taxes amid an aging population.

The downtrend in student enrollment in Port Jefferson — a 25% loss between 2011 and 2021, according to a 2022 district report — is not isolated to Port Jeff but part of a nationwide phenomenon, with persons over 65 years of age predicted to outnumber children by 2030, according to the Census Bureau.

Retrofitting the existing 60-year-old bleachers was also discussed as a possible alternative during the August BOE meeting, though it is unlikely to save costs, according to Schmettan.

“While structurally sound, [the bleachers] present a liability risk because of gaps between the benches and must be brought to current code, including ADA compliance, if any modifications are made,” the superintendent said.

The BOE proposed that funds approved by the voters in May 2022 for pool deck repairs be put off until the next budget cycle and instead use current funds to cover the additional costs of replacement bleachers.

“The pool deck repairs won’t be able to be done this budget cycle anyway because the [Suffolk] County Board of Health hasn’t approved it,” Schmettan said.

Some civic members objected to this approach to cover the bleacher replacement’s additional costs.

“We live on an island, surrounded by water in a harbor, and a lot of kids go swimming and fishing,” PJCA member Gail Sternberg said at the August meeting. “I don’t think [the pool repairs] should be less of a priority than the bleachers.”

PJCA has formally requested through the state Freedom of Information Law to examine the complete, itemized bids received by the district for the bleacher replacement project to better inform its members about the potential costs.

Graphic from PJSD website
By Aidan Johnson

The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, July 11, at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School.

During the “old business” section, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan discussed several capital projects the voters approved in May 2022.

During the school year, the board has to get its plans approved by the New York State Education Department. Once approved, the projects can go out to bid.

A small section of the high school’s roof needs to be renovated and was awarded to a responsible bidder.

Elementary school pool

For the elementary school pool, even though NYSED approved it, the Suffolk County Board of Health still needs to approve it, asking for several redesigns of certain items, including where drainage sites are to be located. 

Therefore, the project could not go out to bid, and as of this meeting, the pool will likely not be getting done this summer.

The school budgeted $561,000 for bleachers, but the price is coming in at just under $1 million, with some of the bids being for a smaller-scale bleacher than the downsized 650 seats (there are currently around 1100 seats) that the school would prefer.

Continuing supply chain issues are also getting in the way, and the bleachers may take anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks for production.

The pool is still open for student use.

Middle school drainage/BOCES

The retaining wall and drainage for the middle school have yet to have a bid come in under the $2.3 million allocated from the capital reserves. 

Because of this, the board does not expect the retaining wall to be done this summer. The school architect is looking at redesigning the wall with poured concrete faced with stone instead of using pricier cinder blocks.

During the public comment section of the meeting, the parents of a child who will be attending the elementary school in the upcoming year expressed their concerns about the BOCES program that has been brought into the building.

‘Our primary concern is to keep things safe for all students.’ ­

— Ellen Boehm

Currently, BOCES is renting five classrooms as integrated for this summer and then four classrooms when September starts, Schmettan said in an interview.

“Those students will be integrated for recess, and then they will have gym, art and music with our teachers, but by themselves,” she said. “It adds revenue to the district and some differently abled children.”

The father of the child shared his worries about letting non-PJSD employees, along with the new students, have “unfettered access to this building,” he said.

“These are students that we don’t know, whose IEPs and potential issues we are not allowed to know by law,” the father said.

“We, as Port Jefferson, have no control over these particular students, and these are employees that are hired by BOCES, not Port Jefferson,” he added.

In response, BOE president Ellen Boehm said that over the past week, the school has been operational with the BOCES students, and there has not been a situation.

“Our primary concern is to keep things safe for all students,” she said. “At this time, there are no red flags.”

The Port Jefferson father responded that Boehm’s judgment was based on only one week in the summer when the Port Jeff students were not in attendance.

He also asserted that the BOCES agreement would not bring the district the financial benefit previously stated in the May meeting.

“Not including your potential chargebacks, Port Jeff will only see an average of $43,000 per year throughout the three-year lease, not the $105,000 that was estimated and listed in the budget proposals back in January as leases for Spring Street with no mention of Scraggy Hill,” he said.

However, Schmettan clarified why the board’s estimate is correct in her interview after the meeting, saying, “There’s a lease agreement for the actual space, which is what [he] was referring to, and then there are chargebacks for the teachers, so it does still estimate to about $100,000.”

“He is just estimating the cost of the actual physical space, but there’s also the cost of the employees associated that our teachers are providing instruction for,” the superintendent further explained.

Newly-graduated Royals display their diplomas. Photo courtesy PJSD

The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Class of 2023 received their diplomas during the 129th commencement exercises on Friday, June 23. 

Principal John Ruggero welcomed those in attendance while Student Organization President Lola Idir led the Pledge of Allegiance. The string orchestra then performed the National Anthem, followed by congratulatory words from Student Organization President Amy Whitman. 

Members of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2023 during the school’s 129th Commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy PJSD

Dr. Frank Andriani, father of student Frank Andriani, gave a heartfelt address acknowledging the district for providing opportunities to students and preparing them for the world once they graduate.

Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan then addressed the Class of 2023. Class President Alexa Ayotte presented the traditional class gift, and Valedictorian Olivia Schlegel shared kind words with her fellow graduates.

Ruggero then presented the Class of 2023 to Superintendent Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm. Each student walked to the podium for their diploma while Ruggero highlighted their personal achievements and postgraduation plans. 

The newly-graduated students then stood and tossed their caps in the air, marking a successful conclusion to their high school years.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, above. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Residents of the Port Jefferson School District narrowly rejected yet another proposed capital bond during the Tuesday, May 16, school elections. Just 34 votes decided the outcome as the community voted down the district’s proposed $15.9 million capital bond by a 708 to 674 margin. 

The “no” vote comes just over six months after the community rejected a pair of capital bonds totaling nearly $25 million. The deferred investments in school infrastructure now raise questions about the school district’s long-term future.

“It’s disappointing that a small bond with critical updates failed by a small margin,” PJSD Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said in a statement. “Our community is clearly divided on how to move forward.”

Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant has been an ardent supporter of these proposed school infrastructure improvements. In an exclusive interview, she expressed her displeasure with the outcome.

“I would have hoped that the members of the community would have a little bit more vision and understanding of the consequences of not investing in our district and our facilities,” she said. “Nevertheless, the schools remain a major selling point in this community.”

The mayor added, “We want to remain positive, support our district and all the programs, making sure the facilities remain safe for our kids. I’m sure the Board of Ed will continue to do that, although they are working with less and less resources every year.”

In preparing this year’s capital bond proposal, the school board had scaled down its financial request to the voters by about a third, eliminating the proposed artificial turf field at the high school that was part of the December proposal. 

Given the challenges of getting these bond projects approved, Garant expressed uncertainty about how the voters can ultimately pass these infrastructure projects.

“I’m not real sure,” she said. “Maybe they put it up with each budget in the years to come, one small bond initiative at a time. But then you’re not doing a long-term project plan.” 

She added, “I’m not really sure if it’s the messaging or just the community’s misunderstanding of the impacts. People [are] making large, generic statements instead of looking at this very carefully.”

The bond’s rejection resurrects long-standing questions over declining student enrollment and public revenue, with some community members beginning to advocate for a possible merger with a neighboring school district.

Garant rejected this thinking, noting the substantial costs associated with such a plan. “I think that would be this community’s gravest mistake,” the mayor said. “Their school tax dollars would immediately almost double.”

She added that there are other unsettled questions over a potential merge, including what to do with the PJSD’s existing properties and whether a neighboring district would even accept its students. “It’s a very long process, and it’s not a solution when you have the opportunity to make a long-term investment to making things better.”

Despite the outcome, Garant said the community should closely assess its priorities and begin to chart a path forward. 

“I think the [school] board is resilient, and the community is resilient,” she concluded. “We’re going to encourage them because they were very, very close, and we just have to keep trying.”

Graphic from PJSD website
By Mallie Jane Kim

Port Jefferson School District residents will have another chance to vote on a capital bond to fund school improvement projects, this time for $15.9 million. 

This vote — scheduled for Tuesday, May 16 — comes just after the community rejected a pair of proposed bonds totaling $24.9 million last December. The district’s Board of Education approved putting the bond up for community approval at a meeting Tuesday, March 14, with the support of all six members present — trustee Ravi Singh was absent.

If the current proposal passes, taxpayers will pay for the bond in installments over several years. The vote will take place alongside the vote to approve next year’s annual district budget.

School officials suggest the proposal is more modest than the pair of bonds voted down in December, making no mention of replacing the high school’s grass sports field with artificial turf, a point of contention last time. 

This bond would fund improvements to, for example, locker rooms, heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and alterations to some interior spaces. The details of this plan are on file for public review in the district clerk’s office, and the district will post more information about the new bond under the “Bond Project” tab of its website.

The board also plans to allocate more money toward capital improvement projects in the annual budget, according to Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister, which would help to pay for some facility update priorities and better plan for future needs. 

“Seeing how difficult it is to go out for a bond and how hard times are, we were talking about gradually increasing the allocation,” he said while presenting the second draft of the district’s 2023-24 budget to the board. He added that he hoped this plan would mitigate the need for additional capital bonds in the foreseeable future.

Leister explained that updates to school infrastructure, health and safety — including security — and instructional classrooms would all be considered in school budgets moving forward. 

“We thought by trying to incorporate those three things in future budgets, we can help bring up the level of our areas and the learning of our students,” he said.

Immediate plans for these funds include creating an ADA-compliant bathroom at the elementary school, installing a stop-arm security booth at car entrances to the middle school and high school, beginning a window replacement plan at the high school and refitting some classrooms. 

Leister also noted science and computer labs would be due for remodeling, adding that “all the different areas that are functional but are maybe [from] the ‘70s or ‘80s and need to be brought up to current levels.” 

Furthermore, Leister said stop-arm security booths are necessary because some GPS mapping apps list school driveways as regular roads and the administration wants to limit cut-through traffic.

The current draft version of next year’s school budget has a shortfall of $222,547. Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan said this would be filled by staffing reductions to be decided before Leister presents the final budget to the board in April. 

The board plans to increase the tax levy by 1.98%, just under the 1.99% cap set for the district by state regulations

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School head custodian Paul Scalcione visited first graders. Photo courtesy PJSD

First graders in Laura Kelly’s and Paige Lohmann’s class at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School have been learning all about communities in their social studies unit.

Students were exposed to different texts and activities to help build on the concepts of community roles and responsibilities. They were introduced to maps and discussed important places that make up their community. 

Part of the unit included first graders interviewing community members in and around the school. Students could ask questions of the classroom visitors to help foster their learning through direct interaction. 

Visitors included music teacher and local firefighter Christian Neubert, school nurse Joan Tucci, building head custodian Paul Scalcione and Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. They learned how each member contributes to their community and the role that each plays.  

“It was an excellent learning experience for them,” Lohmann said.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

In a public referendum held Monday, Dec. 12, Port Jefferson School District residents voted down two ballot measures totaling $25 million in school infrastructure improvements.

With nearly 1,000 district residents turning out in wintry weather, just 24 votes would separate the yeas and nays on Proposition 1, a $23.1 million infrastructure package that targeted various facilities throughout the school district. The measure failed by a narrow margin of 498-474. Proposition 2, a $1.9 million proposed artificial turf field at the high school, was defeated 734-239, a roughly 3-1 ratio against the measure.

In an email statement, district superintendent of schools, Jessica Schmettan, offered her commentary on the outcome.

“While the district is disappointed in the results of the Dec. 12 bond vote, we thank all who participated,” she said. “The small margin of defeat of Proposition 1 was particularly upsetting, as the challenges that exist with our aging building infrastructure remain a top concern for the district and, as such, will require further discussion for how best to proceed.”

‘I think it’s very shortsighted by this community.’

— Margot Garant

Mayor Margot Garant, a PJSD alum, publicly supported both measures leading up to the referendum. In an interview, she also expressed disappointment at Monday’s results.

“I don’t think that’s the Port Jeff way to let things get so deteriorated,” she said. “I think [the Board of Education] came up with a doable plan, and it was the time to do it because the community is still being subsidized by the LIPA power plant.”

The mayor added, “The schools are so important to this community. It’s what people look for when they come to live in Port Jeff. It’s one of the pillars that makes this place so special. … Just because you don’t have a child in the district doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in this community.”

Leading up to the election, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), whose district encompasses Port Jefferson, supported the infrastructure upgrades within Proposition 1. In a phone interview, he referred to Monday’s school election outcome as part of a regional electoral trend and a “reflection of the post-pandemic moment.”

“The escalating cost of food and fuel have put a lot of people on edge,” he said. “I would guess that what we’re seeing is a reflection of the general anxieties about inflation.”

Though Englebright was sorry to learn that the voters defeated the facilities improvements, he was less amenable to the artificial turf proposal. He regarded the potential risks associated with synthetic turf as an unsettled science, with crumb rubber possibly having “some contamination issues,” along with added costs for maintenance and replacement. “It’s a very expensive proposition for those reasons,” he said.

Englebright was not alone in his reservations about the turf proposal. Paul Ryan, a former BOE candidate, was a vocal opponent of Proposition 2 in the months leading up to the vote. In an email statement, Ryan said Proposition 2 likely impacted the outcome of Proposition 1.

“I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that Prop 1 failed to garner enough community support,” he said. “I believe it failed because of the inclusion of Prop 2,” adding, “I suspected that enough of the residents would be upset by the turf that they [would] vote down the whole bond.”

Monday’s negative vote has prompted questions about the long-term prospects of the school district. For Garant, residents have an active stake in maintaining school facilities, which she said closely correspond to property values.

“Your home values are in direct correlation and are so connected to the value of the schools,” she said, adding, “I think it’s very shortsighted by this community. I’m disappointed, and I want to encourage the school board to continue their efforts, go back to the grind and maybe come back again.”

Some have advocated for PJSD to merge with a neighboring district due to its declining student enrollment in recent years. Garant regarded this idea as misguided, maintaining that support for the school district is in the village’s long-term interest.

“The miscommunication that’s going out there is that we can just merge with another district,” she said. “If we did that, our taxes would double immediately. I think that’s what people don’t really understand.”

Englebright noted the important place public schools occupy within the greater community. However, he suggested residents may need to take time for the broader economic trends to settle before taking on additional expenses.

“That school district has a long and distinguished history of service,” the assemblyman said. “People in Port Jefferson are rightly proud of their schools,” but adding, “I think that we have to give it a little time.”

Ryan again took on a different tone, insisting that future referenda within the district will require closer coordination with those supporting these projects financially.

“The administration and BOE need to demonstrate that they are able to hear the residents’ concerns, prioritize only essential infrastructure and take a fiscally responsible approach to spending,” he said. “If they do not, they may find annual budget votes contentious.”

The Village of Port Jefferson reignited a time-honored tradition last weekend during its 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Hundreds of community members, visitors, business groups and local organizations participated in the festivities from Friday, Dec. 2, to Sunday, Dec. 4. 

The show went on despite hard rains and gusting winds throughout the morning and early afternoon Saturday. Mayor Margot Garant, decked out in traditional Dickensian garb, commented on the turnout in the face of these conditions. 

“To me, it just shows how important this festival is to not just this community but kids coming from St. James and beyond who are coming to see Santa,” she said. “It’s just magic, and rain or shine we’re going to be doing Dickens.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden concurred with this positive outlook, regarding the festival as another means for community-building. “It’s heartwarming to see everybody still supporting this festival,” she said. 

Trustee Stan Loucks commented on the uniqueness of the opportunities afforded through the festival and the steady growth of the events over its nearly three decades in existence.

“It’s grown every single year, and it’s just the most festive time of the year,” he said, adding, “I love the whole atmosphere, the village center. It’s a very special place, and I look forward to this every year.”

The program across all three days was loaded with special events featuring the various elements that formulate this distinct village’s character. The heart of Port Jeff was on full display, from its downtown business sector to its local history, public institutions and more.

At the Bayles Boat Shop, local shipbuilders showcased their ongoing work to construct a 25-foot whaleboat honoring the village’s Revolutionary War heritage. 

John Janicek, treasurer of the boat shop’s nonprofit arm, the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, detailed how the whaleboat ties together various threads of Port Jeff’s historical roots.

“It not only ties in the historical aspect that Caleb Brewster performed here during the Revolutionary War and [the role] Port Jefferson played, but it also ties in our shipbuilding aspect, too,” Janicek said. “We’re getting a lot of support from the village on this. They see this as something the whole village can get their arms around and embrace, similar to the Dickens Festival.”

Over at the Drowned Meadow Cottage on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum, local historians greeted visitors with guided tours detailing Port Jefferson’s strategic position during the Revolutionary War. They shared stories of local patriots whose involvement in the Culper Spy Ring helped advance the cause of American independence.

Village historian Chris Ryon discussed how the Dickens Festival offers a platform to promote local history to residents and visitors alike.

“We take the people from Dickens and tell them how Port Jefferson was involved in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “It’s another group of people that we can bring in.”

Mark Sternberg, Culper Spy Ring historian at the Drowned Meadow Cottage, offered a unique take on Dickens. He remarked upon the intersection of the Dickensian and Revolutionary periods and how people today can relive tradition and rehear the lore of the past.

He said, referring to the American spies, “A lot of these people survived into the 1800s, and the stories of the American Revolution were told during the 1800s. For us to tell stories about the American Revolution as part of the Dickens Festival, it’s what they would have done.”

The historian added, “It’s keeping with the tradition of telling a story about the founding of our nation, even in later periods. Now Charles Dickens may not have talked about it because he was British, but here in America during the Victorian era, we would have.”

Along with stories of the past, the village exhibited the musical talents of local students. At the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School chamber orchestra delivered moving string performances, filling the library with festive tunes.

Their music teacher, Christian Neubert, summarized this Dickens custom. “For a number of years now, we’ve been coming to perform here at the library during the Dickens Festival,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get our students out for a performance and to get the community involved with our music program.”

Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools for Port Jefferson School District, was among the dozens of audience members at the library. She expressed pride in seeing the students perform before their fellow community members.

“It’s just amazing that our students can be performing in the village in which they live,” she said, adding that the festival “gives them a different avenue to perform in, not just the auditorium or the classroom but in front of a real audience.”

At Suffolk Lodge No. 60 on Main Street, the oldest Masonic lodge on Long Island, brothers treated guests to magic shows and a dance festival. Downstairs, they served freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate.

Chris Connolly, master of the lodge, said the lodge dates back to the late 18th century. He expressed delight at seeing this historic organization maintain an active community presence through Dickens.

“Being a part of the community is a big part of who we are and helping others,” Connolly said.

Jason Intardonato, senior deacon of Suffolk Lodge No. 60, discussed Dickens as a means of strengthening local connections and a time for selflessness.

“The Dickens Festival provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to interact with our neighbors here and with the community in Port Jefferson and to allow them into our space, entertain them for a while during the holidays, and give back,” he said.

Farther along Main, Jeffrey Sanzel’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Three is an active reminder of the historical background to the Dickens Festival.

The festival also provided a platform for some to communicate their message on a larger stage. For the second month in a row, protesters from the farmworkers union Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW gathered outside the Pindar wine shop in yet another call of action to negotiate a contract. The dispute is part of more than a year of negotiations between the union and Pindar Vineyards, the wine store’s parent company. 

John Durso, president of Local 338, joined the picketers on Main Street during the festival. “We knew that today was the Dickens Festival,” he said. “We knew that there would be a lot more people around, so we decided to … bring attention to the fact that these workers, like everybody else, are entitled to the same dignity and respect that all workers should have.”

Coordinating the annual festival is a monumental task for the village and the various stakeholders involved in its planning. Kevin Wood, the village’s director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head, thanked the sponsors who supported the festival and commented on the event’s success despite the inclement weather conditions.

“Because this has been [going on for] 26 years, people understand that this is one of the most unique events on Long Island, so they’re going to fight the rain to be here,” Wood said. “To support the production and the infrastructure, there are so many volunteers but there are also so many people staffing to make it work.”

Snaden concluded by offering how the Dickens Festival advances some of the village’s highest aims. She said the community uncovers its sense of place through an event such as this.

“It really goes to the sense of community that we all have,” she said. “All the work that goes into this festival and how everybody comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”