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Northport-East Norhtport school district

Concerns about students with health problems prompted the temporary closing of Northport Middle School in 2020 and was one of the reasons the state Department of Health conducted a study of cancer cases in the district. File photo by Lina Weingarten

Residents of the Northport-East Northport school district have waited anxiously for the recent report by the New York State Department
of Health.

According to a NYSDOH study, the investigation of cancer incidents in the school district between 1999 and 2018 was initiated by the department “in response to an inquiry from members of the community who shared information about leukemias and other cancers diagnosed among members of the Northport High School graduating class of 2016 since their graduation and among other children and young adults in the Northport area.” The report also mentioned health concerns cited about Northport Middle School students.

In January 2020, the district decided to close the middle school for a few months after the consulting firm hired by the district, P.W. Grosser Consulting, tested the soil on the grounds and found elevated levels of benzene in two separate septic systems on site. Before a cleanup, three science classrooms in the middle school’s G-wing were closed out of an abundance of caution. During the investigation, it was found science rooms had sinks that drain into the leaching pool, where the mercury and silver were found. While odorless fumes could have potentially migrated through the piping into classrooms, the drain systems rely on P traps that prevent that from occurring, according to the district at the time. Air quality results in the G-wing classrooms were later found to be normal.

The DOH’s primary source of data was the New York State Cancer Registry. For the years after 2018, registry data was not official at the time of analyses, according to the DOH report. 

“We identified 4,593 cases of cancer among district residents, compared with 4,454 that would be expected,” the report read. “This 3% excess was statistically significant, meaning it was unlikely to occur by chance.”

An increase in pancreatic cancer, malignant melanoma of the skin, uterine (corpus) cancer and prostate cancer made up the excess. The report went on to say, “There were significantly fewer than expected numbers of cases of stomach cancer and lung cancer. Numbers of cases of leukemia, other blood cancers (Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas and multiple myeloma), and 13 other types of cancer examined separately were not significantly different from expected.”

While the community around East Northport Middle School had about the expected cases, the area around Northport Middle School had 7% higher-than-expected levels of cancer.

Regarding the number of 2016 high school graduates who came down with leukemia, the study concluded, “It is possible that the elevated occurrence of leukemia among 2016 graduates could be related to factors not possible to uncover, including environmental exposures.” 

Robert Banzer, district superintendent of schools, sent out a letter June 23 to community members to notify them that the study was completed. In the letter, he said, “The district fully cooperated with the NYSDOH during this process.”

After summarizing the findings in the letter, he said, “We appreciate the hard work of the NYSDOH in this endeavor and look forward to continuing to provide our students and staff with a safe learning environment.”

Lawsuits and disappointment in health study

Attorney Lilia Factor, of Melville-based Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, said her law firm has filed three lawsuits for nine plaintiffs so far against the Northport-East Northport school district. One of them is a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of all Northport Middle School students. The others are on behalf of individuals who have become sick. She is aware of at least five other lawsuits in total as other law firms have filed lawsuits against the district in the Suffolk County Supreme Court.

On July 12, according to Factor, the court consolidated lawsuits for the purposes of exchanging documents and depositions. A most recently filed case from Napoli Shkolnik was not included as a judge has not been assigned yet.

Tara Mackey is one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. She said her daughter suffered from migraine headaches while studying at Northport Middle School and developed asthma. When Mackey brought her daughter to the doctor for her headaches, carbon monoxide was found in her blood.

“She had to get blood tests every four to six weeks for the remainder of time that she was in the school, and it just showed a pattern of when they would test her blood after, say, five days a week of school, she would have very high levels of carbon monoxide in her blood and then when they tested it during holidays or summer break, it was perfectly normal,” Mackey said.

Factor said while Mackey’s daughter was fortunate not to get cancer, she and other students are at a higher risk of developing illness later in life due to latency periods, a fact she said the NYSDOH report acknowledges. If the class-action suit is successful, anyone who becomes sick in later years would be covered. In cases such as this, a fund is established where people can be tested or a protocol would be distributed to local doctors to know what to look for if a patient attended Northport Middle School 

“We want there to be a medical monitoring program established for everyone so that they can screen people and watch them, and if they develop any symptoms of a serious illness that’s associated with these contaminants to try to catch it early,” Factor said.

Mackey said the health issues can weigh heavily on families, and many of them faced criticism in Northport when they brought the problems to the district. She and her family moved to South Carolina after they were harassed by community members creating uncomfortable situations.

“We endured a lot of harassment, along with a lot of other parents, from people in the community that didn’t want bad press about any potential environmental issues that could lead to health problems for people in the school and the community, because people feared for their property values,” she said. “It just made a very uncomfortable situation for many of us, and we moved because we couldn’t keep our kids safe.”

She added, coincidentally, two other families, who she didn’t know while living in Northport, moved near her.

Factor said while it is good that the DOH conducted the report, the study didn’t look at other factors such as families who have moved away and may have been diagnosed with an illness.

“They would not be part of those statistics, which were in themselves pretty disturbing,” Factor said.

She added the DOH didn’t talk to or survey community members and medical providers.

“It’s good that they did something, but it really needs to be a lot more comprehensive if they really want to understand cancer incidence in this community.” Factor said.

The attorney and Mackey added there have been other illnesses that have surfaced such as scleroderma and aplastic anemia. Mackey said that she was also disappointed that the study was cut off at the year 2018 as she has heard of more cases of cancer that have been diagnosed recently and therefore not counted.

“I just think all of the families and the parents, children themselves, they at least deserve the facts and the full facts,” the mother said. “Nothing can change at this point. We can’t change what happened to our children, but at least we can take charge and be observant and try to keep them in the best health possible and at least know what to look for.”

File photo

By Chris Mellides

Ahead of the May 17 budget vote and board of education election, Northport-East Northport school district’s current trustees, along with a new contender, see a promising future for their community. 

Larry Licopoli

There are three open seats on the Northport-East Northport school board that will be filled later this month. Incumbents — current president Larry Licopoli, Allison Noonan and Thomas Loughran — have competition from Nassau County police officer Frank Labate. 

 Several issues are at play in the district from the Long Island Power Authority glide path woes, to declining student enrollment and unfinished learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the candidates said they are resolute in their student-centric focus.

“While one answer is to protect our fiscal ability to preserve our programs by balancing the LIPA glide path, declining enrollment, anticipated increases in state aid and potential expense side reductions, the essential answer for a board and community is to always keep our eyes on the prize — our students,” Licopoli said. 

The proposed 2022-23 budget is $177,856,084, which represents a budget-to-budget increase of 1.81%. The tax levy increase is 0.61%, which involves an additional sum to average taxpayers of $49.79. 

There have been no tax levy increases for the last two successive fiscal years, according to Licopoli. 

“This year’s 0.61% increase on the [proposed] levy includes very modest reductions relative to overall staffing and shifts resources focusing on student needs,” he said. “We accomplished this through a revised educational planning and budget protocol, adding more detail and transparency for the board and community to consider.”

A significant portion of the funds have been allocated to the maintenance of the district’s aging buildings. There is also a large emphasis being placed on educational and extracurricular opportunities, the continuity of World Languages from grade five into grade six, along with increased physical education staffing in the elementary schools.

Allison Noonan

Additionally, there will be an increased access to the district’s alternative high school Program of Resilient Teens Academy and a focus on students’ mental health through a partnership with Northwell Health. Educational and extracurricular opportunities are also being championed by the district. 

The budget also includes monies for continued instructional technology upgrades including interactive display panels in classrooms.

TBR conducted interviews with the four BOE candidates

Trustee Noonan said that she has had a very positive experience over the past year and is “excited to continue working on the board’s goals.” She, like the other board members, knows the importance of mental health when it comes to the district’s students and claims that a huge challenge facing the district is the students’ emotional well-being. 

“It will be imperative for us to offer a multilevel, interdisciplinary support system that includes an emphasis on educational and emotional wellness for all of our students for the foreseeable future,” Noonan said.    

Trustee Loughran believes in the effectiveness of the board and said that from “day one” — when he was sworn in — he “hit the ground running at 100 mph.” 

He also expressed the difficulties that he had to contend with when he became a board member, during which time he helped deal with a failing roof system at one of the district’s elementary schools, which resulted in the “complete reconstruction and relocation of two grade levels.”

Thomas Loughran

Loughran said he didn’t believe there were any problems with the budget.

“This budget is the right budget for our community,” he said. “It further enhances opportunities for students and provides resources to help bridge the gap left in so many students’ social-emotional development because of disruptions over the past two-and-a-half years.”

Labate said he is running because he wants to see changes made to his district. The 30-year-old police officer is a current East Northport resident and is a father of two. He said that the main reason for running in the BOE election is because he was asked by local residents to do so.

Northport parents didn’t think that their views were being represented in the district., so the young candidate has taken the initiative. “I believe in my values, and I believe that they are worth fighting for right now,” he said. 

Labate, who if elected will be the youngest trustee to ever serve on the board, recalled a recent BOE meeting where Licopoli sided with the New York State mask mandate for all students. Labate chose to “disagree with that moral choice.”

“Never again should children suffer because our local leaders didn’t stand up for what was right,” Labate said. “I will deliver a devotion to our children as our highest moral standard, and the values of this community will guide me in that pursuit.”

Frank Labate

As a law enforcement officer, Labate said that he deals with New York State law every day and firmly understands policy and how it shapes the community. 

“We learn in the police academy that if you find yourself in a fight, you never give up,” he said. “I will never give up when it comes to protecting our children and affording them the educational experience that they deserve.”

Still, Noonan reflected all the candidates’ agreement that Northport school district is well placed when she said, “I think the future for Northport is going to be with the new families moving to our community because of the school district’s opportunities and our willingness to embrace everyone in our community and schools — by creating a culture of care and dignity for all.”

Voting information

Voting will be held on Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at three different polling locations. For details see district website.

Stock photo

For the 10th straight year, the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District budget is under the tax levy.

According to the district’s newsletter, the 2021-22 budget will increase by 1.13 percent and has a tax levy increase of 0.75%. The savings is due to school reorganizations, which includes the Aug. 31 closings of Bellerose Avenue and Dickinson Avenue elementary schools.

Residents will also vote on two propositions. Proposition 2 is to establish a capital reserve fund not to exceed $20 million over a 10-year period. If the proposition is approved, there will be no tax implications. Proposition 3 will be to vote on altering the transportation boundaries. If approved, students in grades 6-8 will be able to take the bus if they live within a 0.75-mile limit as opposed to the current 1-mile limit. The boundary limits for grades 9-12 will change from the current 1.5-mile limit to a new 1.0-mile limit.

In the race for two open trustee seats on the board of ed, four candidates are running. The candidates shared information in biographies in the district newsletter that is also found on its website.

Victoria Buscareno

Victoria Buscareno

Incumbent and Syosset school district special education teacher, Buscareno has lived in the district for 46 years and has four children, three in college who graduated from the high school and one child in Northport Middle School.

In addition to attending board meetings regularly, she also attends PTA evening meetings and the Drug and Alcohol Task Force meetings. She also is a member of the Ocean Avenue, NMS, NHS PTA and SEPTA and sat on the NMS subcommittee and is currently the co-chair of the Audit Committee.

Buscareno said being a board member for the past three years and being an educator is an asset.

“The greatest asset an individual can bring as a board member is compassion, kindness and the ability to work with others to come to a consensus on the best possible decision,” she said. “Listening to different perspectives and allowing movement and growth is what allows a board to work together to make important decisions for all of our community.”

Regarding school closings, she lists them among the most pertinent issues facing the Northport-East Northport School District. She also wants to maintain strong dialogue with the community.

“We are looking to maximize our buildings’ usage while providing enhancements for our students in a cost-effective way,” she said. “Maintaining our buildings and making sure every space is well taken care of and safe for all children will always be a priority. School safety is essential. We must be prepared and well trained for any emergency situation.”

Buscareno said the district like many others is revisiting policies to ensure they are inclusive to all students.

Warner Frey

Warner Frey

A 50-year resident, Frey has three children in district schools. He was a coach with the Northport Youth Center Soccer from 2013-17 and a den leader with BSA Pack 400 East Northport from 2015-22. He’s also a team manager for Northport Cow Harbor United and from 2011-21 has served as a member of Dickinson Avenue PTA.

The retired NYPD captain believes his work experience will be an asset to the board.

“I served 23 years in the NYPD which taught me the value of critical thinking, diversity and problem-solving unforeseen challenges,” he said. “As a captain, I led people and formed relationships with community leaders and elected officials to achieve goals.”

If elected, Frey said he aims to create “policy that strives to maximize the talents of all students through inclusion.” He also aims to work on budgets that will enhance current district programs while being affordable to taxpayers.

The candidate said it may not be necessary to have as many brick-and-mortar assets currently and it’s important to reinvent building usage.

“The current review of building usage is an important undertaking,” he said. “As this community evolves, we must assess ways to achieve cost savings while continuing to enhance our student programs. We must be open to new ideas and solutions to achieve cost savings while growing our curriculum.”

Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor

A resident in the district for approximately 20 years, Taylor is planning to retire as a Northport-East Northport teacher next month. Her two daughters are graduates. She was a volunteer for the district’s Steering Committee and has served on several instructional committees. In addition, she has been in leadership with the United Teachers of Northport, a New York State United Teachers delegate and a New York State Teachers Retirement System delegate.

“I’m a problem-solver with an open mind,” she said. “I take little at face value. Rather, I listen and then research. I’m candid and put the needs of my students and their families first. I am unafraid of discourse and will continue to work tirelessly for our families as I have done for the 20 years I’ve worked for our wonderful district.”

In addition to the two elementary schools closing, Taylor said another issue the district faces is “the reality of the LIPA lawsuit with a settlement.” She would also like to see the district hold “councils” instead of having committees. Taylor said she feels that while committees have selfless volunteers, in the end, the decisions still rely on administration.

“Perhaps a policy could be crafted to return to the prior practice to promote earnest collaboration,” Taylor said. “It is becoming increasingly challenging to provide the quality of education that the Northport community expects, given increasing costs and the 2% tax cap limiting the ability to raise local revenue.”

She also said there should be a pause in excess spending with homeowners struggling to make ends meet, and with the LIPA and COVID-19 economic fallout.

Tammie Topel

Tammie Topel

A nearly 30-year resident of the Northport-East Northport area, Topel is a special education advocate and founder/director of K.I.D.S. Plus, which provides sports programs and therapeutic recreation programs for children and young adults with developmental disabilities. Both of her children have attended schools in the district, even though her son with autism did receive a high school education outside of the district.

Topel has been outspoken about the closing of the two elementary schools and she said she’s not afraid to speak up.

“My beliefs are my own which I develop after listening to all sides, especially the community that placed me on the board,” she said. “I do not waiver in the face of bullying, smearing and grandstanding.”

Topel has also been a Northport Rotary Club member and in 2010 was honored in the Times of Northport and East Northport as Women of the Year. She is involved in various community organizations including Drug and Alcohol Task Force member, founder/administrator of Just For Kicks Soccer Club, chairperson for the Northport Youth Soccer League, past PTA president of Norwood Avenue Elementary School, past special education chairperson for Suffolk Region PTA and past SEPTA president.

Topel lists the closings of the elementary schools and the raising of the budget among the top of her concerns as well as transparency from the superintendent and BOE. She also seeks for community communications to be made part of the public record.

“The board and the superintendent could be more transparent and should effectively communicate with the community, before, during and after meetings,” she said. “During public participation at a board meeting, board members should answer questions asked of them by the community.”

Voting information

The budget vote and board of education trustees election will take place Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There are three voting locations in the Northport school district. Those living south of the centerline of Pulaski Road vote at Fifth Avenue Elementary School; residents living north of the centerline of Pulaski Road and south of the centerline of Route 25A vote at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School; and voters who live north of the center of Route 25A vote at William J. Brosnan School.

Northport power plant. File photo

After an Aug. 10 Town of Huntington public forum held at Heckscher Park, Long Island Power Authority agreed to extend the deadline for the town to accept the latest settlement proposal on the Northport Power Station tax certiorari litigation to Sept. 3.

“After receiving assurances from LIPA that the Aug. 11 deadline to accept the latest settlement proposal on the Northport power plant tax certiorari litigation would be extended to Sept. 3, the Town Board rescheduled both the second public forum on the LIPA proposal and the special Town Board meeting where they will vote on the offer for Thursday, Sept. 3,” a statement from the town read.

The second public forum on the proposal was originally scheduled for Sept. 16, and the Town Board meeting to vote was Sept. 29. Back in July, town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said he had hoped scheduling the two public forums and vote, despite being after the original deadline, would show LIPA “that they know all parties involved are serious and we are vetting this agreement out.” In turn, the goal was for LIPA to extend the settlement proposal deadline. While LIPA officials said in a statement they believe their offer is fair, they agreed it made sense to work with the town.

“LIPA’s settlement is a fair compromise, and it is the only option that will continue low taxes for the Northport community, protect Huntington residents from over $800 million of potential tax refunds, and begin the transition to a sustainable tax base and clean energy future for all Long Island residents,” a statement from LIPA read. “We believe the Huntington Town Board made a good faith effort with their decision to provide a second public forum, along with a vote on the Northport Power Station settlement agreement on Sept. 3. Because of this, LIPA has agreed to extend the terms of our settlement offer through the board’s Sept. 3 meeting.”

The proposed deal, which was approved by the Northport-East Northport school board last month, would reduce LIPA’s annual tax bill on the Northport power plant from $86 million to $46 million by 2027. The tax impact on residents would be lessened compared to the implications of a court verdict in LIPA’s favor, though several local state officials and candidates have decried what they see as LIPA’s attempts to reduce their own tax burden at the expense of homeowners.

Lupinacci said in an email statement Aug. 20 that a ruling against the town would not only devastate the school district but the whole town.

“Our residents and businesses cannot afford that type of financial loss, especially with how we have been hit by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “We requested litigation be paused during the pandemic and LIPA rejected that request; now time is running out for us to make a decision. I came into office in 2018 and promised to fight for a better deal than was on the table; we achieved that and then some, including terms no other municipality has ever received from LIPA in a tax certiorari litigation, thanks to the vigorous advocacy of our legal team on behalf of our residents. This deal protects us against tax challenges during the entire seven-year term of the deal, which could be extended to protect us for 12 years, and LIPA has agreed to pay $14.5 million directly to the Northport-East Northport School District, which is an unprecedented offer of funding that could be used to help preserve educational programs while the district plans for its future and offset potential tax increases to residents.”

The Sept. 3 public forum will begin at 6 p.m. and will occur entirely online using a Zoom video conferencing platform. Public comments can be submitted ahead of the forum at huntingtonny.gov/lipa-forum. The Aug. 11 forum video can be viewed on the town’s website, huntingtonny.gov.



Huntington High School. File Photo

School districts in Huntington canvassed ballots June 16 for hours before reporting results.

Elwood Union Free School District

The district passed its 2020-21 budget, 2,921 to 1,064. Its budget is set at $64,443,174, a 2.73 percent increase from last year’s figure. The district will see a tax levy increase of 2.89 percent, which is below its allowable tax levy cap of 7.22 percent.

The proposed increase of 2.89 percent is less than what is needed to fully cover the increase to capital debt, so as a result the district has planned targeted reductions. Those will include elimination of one full-time administrative position, reduction in staffing due to attrition, reduction to athletics for materials and supplies, reduction to certain co-curricular activities with minimal student enrollment and reduction in security hours to eliminate redundancy in buildings.

Voters elected two candidates to the board of education. Newcomer Sara Siddiqui secured the most votes of 2,489 and will be elected to fill the balance of an unexpired term from June 9, 2020, through June 30, 2020, to be followed by a full three-year term. Challenger Thomas Scarola, who received the second highest number of votes with 2,281, will serve a full three-year term beginning in July. Incumbent Becky Marcus failed to secure reelection with 1,775, as did George Neofitos with 755 votes.

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget 5,241 to 1,545. Its budget is set at $172,752,759, a $1.6 million increase from last year’s total. The budget package supports  K-12 instructional programs, funds the purchase of 1,500 Chromebooks to complete the final phase of the 1:1 computing initiative so that all students K-12 have their own device, preserves the district’s art, music and athletic programs, maintains class sizes within district guidelines, preserves staffing and programming to support the social-emotional needs of students and supports the district’s professional development initiatives for staff.

In the event of future foundation aid reductions, the district will look to defer a number of expenditures. The total would come out to over $1.8 million. In a worst-case scenario, the district could eliminate late bus runs, eliminate/reduce school trips, reduce athletic opportunities (games, teams), and reduce full-time equivalent employee hours, among other things.

Board president David Badanes secured reelection with 5,119 votes. Incumbent Donna McNaughton was reelected with 4,463 votes. Challenger Victoria Bento fell short in her bid with 2,762 votes.

Harborfields Central School District

The 2020-21 budget passed by an overwhelming 3,609 to 1,472. Its total budget figure will be $88,843,177. The district will see a tax levy increase of 2.80 percent. The tax levy amount is $68,465,006 compared to last year’s amount of $66,600,280. State aid is down from $16,466,214 to $14,526,584, which is an over $1.9 million decrease.

Incumbents Christopher Kelly and David Steinberg were reelected to the board. Kelly received 3,477 votes, while Steinberg garnered 2,855 votes. Challenger Freda Manuel came up short with 2,174 votes.

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget 944 to 373. Its budget is set at $71,092,749, which is an $817,932 increase from its 2019-20 figure. The district’s tax levy amount will be $66,819,125. The overall budget is about $1 million under the tax levy limit.

District officials are expecting further aid reductions from the state. However, the current budget maintains all programs. The district will continue its Chromebook initiative for all students at the middle and high school, extensive professional development for teachers, continue the partnership with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and DNA Learning Center, fund arts programming, including a partnership with the Huntington Arts Council and Lincoln Center Education.

In addition, the budget will facilitate the approval for new three-year transportation contracts, appropriates $900,000 in capital construction funds for the following projects: Field House locker room reconstruction, grounds storage building construction at the middle and high school, performing arts center house lighting replacement.

Proposition 2 was passed by voters, 911 to 451. It would transfer an amount not to exceed $750,000 from the district’s unassigned fund balance to replace existing faucets and the upper synthetic turf field at Cold Spring Harbor Jr./Sr. High School.

Proposition 3 was also passed by voters, 916 to 448. It will authorize the creation of a capital reserve with a limit of $15,000,000 in deposits plus applicable interest over a 15-year term to complete future capital construction projects.

Four candidates ran for three seats with three-year terms, beginning July 1, 2020. Incumbents Janice Elkin and Mark Freidberg secured reelection while challenger Tara Belfi was elected to her first term.

Huntington Union Free School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget, 3,696 to 1249. Its budget is set at $135,938,167 with a 1.77 percent increase. Its tax levy amount comes out to $112,350,000.

Its second proposition also passed 3,976 to 924. It will approve the release of monies for state-approved projects that will total over $3.6 million. Southdown Primary School: $340,000 would be used for rooftop solar panels; Huntington High School: Partial roof replacement costing $1 million; Finley Middle School: Science/prep rooms reconstruction and boiler replacements would cost $2 million; and Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School: New auditorium seating and flooring would cost $300,000. Costs of repairs of Finley Middle School lockers will also be included in the total.

Residents elected two individuals to the BOE to a three-year term commencing July 1, 2020, and expiring June 30, 2023. Longtime trustee member Xavier Palacios secured reelection with 2,494 votes, challenger Kelly Donovan was elected to her first term with 3,061 votes. Board president Jennifer Hebert decided to not run for reelection this year.

Commack School District

Commack School District’s 2020-21 budget of $199,759,525 was approved by residents, 5,332 to 2,128.

Trustee Susan Hermer retained her seat with 3,401 votes. Her challenger Mike Weisberg garnered 3,021. Incumbent William Hender ran unopposed and received 5,157 votes.

The 2020-2021 school budget has a tax cap levy increase of 1.99 percent with a budget-to-budget increase of 1.37 percent.

As part of the relocation plan, eight-graders were sent to Northport High School. File photo

Following the closure of Northport Middle School after elevated levels of benzene were found in two separate septic systems near the building, district officials and the community are adjusting to the relocation of more than 600 middle school students into three different schools.

The plan called for eight-graders to relocate to Northport High School, for seventh-graders to go to East Northport Middle School, and for sixth-graders to settle in at Norwood Avenue Elementary School beginning Jan. 24. 

Superintendent Robert Banzer said the first several days in their new buildings have gone well for NMS students. 

“I was happy to hear of how welcoming each school was to the NMS students on their first days, and I anticipate that their efforts to ensure a caring environment will continue,” he said. “As we move through this transition our families have been extremely patient and flexible.”

Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent who has a daughter in the seventh grade, said the first week of the transition has gone as good as it could have.

“To be able to pull off what they did [in a short amount of time] is a monumental task,” he said. “I commend the district for doing this, and I hope going forward we can find a workable [permanent] solution.”

The transition is still a work in progress, Rowehl said. Parents expressed concerns about crowded lunchrooms and lack of lockers at the board of education meeting that night. Sixth-graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School don’t have access to lockers. Seventh-graders were moved into a larger cafeteria at ENMS due to the size of the class. The superintendent acknowledged that they are still ironing out some logistical issues.

Rowehl stressed that this is still an ongoing process and there’s a lot that needs to come out. 

“The firm is still conducting tests [at NMS],” he said. “We have to wait to see what else it finds. Then is it safe to return or does the school need to permanently close? We know they found mercury/benzene but what else is there?”

The Northport resident said the committee and district need to continue to be transparent on what the firm finds and strive to find a permanent solution that will make everyone happy. 

Ideas from community members and parents have been floated around. Due to decreasing enrollment in the district, one of the elementary schools could be repurposed as a new middle school, or possibly the William J. Brosnan administrative building could be reopened as a school. Banzer said there has been no discussion of a permanent plan outside of the closure of the building for the remainder of this school year, adding that PW Grosser Consulting will continue its testing and review all data prior to finalizing the report to the district.

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

At its Nov. 7 school board meeting, parents of Northport Middle School students asked school board members and school district officials, if the district did in fact have a bus depot stationed next to the school building, where 600 children attend classes. Many parents knew about the refueling station and were appalled, but many residents did not. 

“This is just alarming to me,” said Jamie Marcantonio, who said she had three children go through the school system. “We’re talking about toxicity.  How is it even possible that an affluent community like Northport is saying its okay to have a fuel station where our kids go to school.”

“This is just alarming to me.” 

Jamie Marcantonio

In response to ongoing air quality and health concerns among parents and former teachers at the Northport Middle School, and questions about the bus depot, the Times of Huntington-Northport has obtained copies of the most recent Petroleum Bulk Storage inspection for the Northport Middle School site. 

The Feb. 20, 2019 report indicates that the district is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage.

During the announced inspection, though no evidence of spillage or release to environment were found, health officials were unable to confirm that the tanks’ leak detection, corrosion prevention and overfill protection systems were operating properly,  largely because the district has failed to maintain required self-inspection records for at least the last three years. 

One 4,000-gallon tank stores gasoline, another 4,000-gallon tank stores diesel fuel and a third fiberglass tank holds up to 15,000 gallons of #2 fuel oil, which is typically used for heating in furnaces and boilers.

The law essentially requires that metal tanks, piping, dispenser sumps and containment systems for petroleum storage utilize a technique to slow or stop corrosion called cathodic protection. The inspector noted in the report that operators were unaware of the requirement for cathodic protection and testing for the two 4,000-gallon metal tank dispenser sumps. 

To comply with Suffolk County Sanitary Code, the record-keeping and testing of cathodic protection must be rectified, health officials stated in a Nov. 13 email. 

The same report notes that one of the probes in the tank’s alarm system for leak detection was defective. Facility staff provided documentation to the inspector showing that they already had a work order in place to have the item repaired. 

The county requires prompt correction to violations and had provided a phone number to call to arrange for reinspection in its report to the district. But the county health department’s Office of Pollution Control states that no reinspection has been requested, despite the fact that the department followed up and sent a warning letter to the district in April. 

District officials did not return phone calls and board members did not respond to requests for interviews through email. 

In a Nov. 7 meeting, the school voted to test the soil on the site sometime this winter  to address concerns of ongoing complaints of odors and reports of diseases among students and former teachers. It’s unclear if the testing will include areas where tanks are located. 

In an email, Superintendent Robert Banzer stated that the district is in the process of forming a 13-member subcommittee. He advises all community members to visit the messaging center on its website for updates. Relocating the bus depot is an issue that the pending board of education subcommittee may decide to do,  according to Banzer.

Suffolk County Health Code states that violations are subject to fines not to exceed $2,000 for a single violation. The health department said that the matter has not gone beyond the warning letter stage. A proposed fine has not been calculated. 

Violations to the New York State Petroleum Bulk Storage regulations are subject to civil, administrative and/or criminal penalties up to $37,500 per violation per day. It’s unclear which entity enforces this law. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation directs all regulatory compliance issues for diesel fuel storage tanks to Suffolk County.  

The February 2019 inspection report also noted that the district could not prove that it had a current statement of insurance coverage to remediate spills if one would occur. The county said that most single station owners need to demonstrate $1.5 to $2 million in coverage. 

The county stated that it only reports the issue and does not enforce it.

In a last minute response to questions raised in this report, the district states that it has insurance coverage of $1 million for each occurrence for spills for the period July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020. The coverage is also reportedly retroactive to July 1999 for the 15,000-gallon heating oil tank and to Feb. 18, 1994, for two 4,000-gallon diesel and gasoline tanks, the district stated.

Banzer stated that the district is unaware that it is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage. 

The district provided a copy of its permit to operate a toxic or hazardous material storage site issued on July 1, 2019. The permit states that it is subject to compliance with provision of the Articles 12 & 18 of Suffolk County Code and 6 NYCRR Part 613.

 The Suffolk County Health Department said that it will conduct another inspection in December 2019. 


Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

On the sidewalk in front of the Northport Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 7, protesters held up signs as the morning traffic passed by.

“Answers Required,” their posters and T-shirts read.

As people shared their personal stories with reporters, it became evident that something is awry with many community members clearly lacking a peace of mind. 

As the district attempts to address all of the concerns, it’s still unclear who or what government agencies or which experts will give them all the answers to all the questions that they are looking for. The district, town, county and state all have different areas of expertise and have also contacted outside authorities.

“My son was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 20,” said Lawrence Belk. “Within 18 months of his diagnosis in 2009, we learned that two other students were also diagnosed with the disease.”

Belk also said that he has coached soccer and “half of the kids use nebulizers.”

The district reports that the school’s air quality tests normal.

Several parents during the sickout said that their child has been diagnosed with carboxyhemoglobin, an ailment caused by carbon monoxide exposure from auto exhaust and cigarette smoke exposure. 

Small amounts of carbon monoxide exposure can dramatically reduce the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Common conditions induced by carbon monoxide exposure include headaches, nausea, rapid breathing, weakness, exhaustion and confusion. 

The district uses the site as its bus depot and stores bus fuel in two underground 4,000-gallon diesel tanks, according to former board member Tammie Topel. Inspection information on the tanks are the responsibility of Suffolk County, according the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation press officer.

The county’s report on the tanks were unavailable before press time. The district did not say if the building is constantly monitored for carbon monoxide.

Several parents with children with carboxyhemoglobin said that their requests to be relocated for health reasons were denied because the districts air tests did not detect unsafe carbon monoxide levels.

 “Brown water came out of the water fountain,” said student Lucas Yule. 

The district said the discoloration was caused by an iron buildup. Yule’s mother Tracy Muno said that the school sent home a letter explaining that it was flushing out its drinking water pipes.

Yule also attended classes in the K wing, where foul odors were most recently reported. 

“It smelled like puke,” he said.

Other people complained that the building smells like mold the minute you walk in the front door. The hallways in the school are known to flood. 

A letter dated Aug. 17, 2018, from New York State to the district superintendent has identified the chemical pesticide chlordane, which was banned 30 years ago, around the buildings perimeter. The state concluded, based on information from 2000, that it did not adversely impact air quality inside the school. Though two dust samples on windowsills in classrooms detected it in “low levels,” subsequent cleanings eliminated the chemical found on the windowsill. 

As previously reported [“Northport Families Plan ‘Sickout’ in Protest,” The Times of Huntington, Nov. 7], parents have identified 18 children diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia in the last 10 years. Former teachers have surveyed former staff and found 33 with cancer. 

A state public health assessment on the Northport Middle School was requested by Assemblyman Raia.  State health officials could only confirm that a study requested in spring of 2019, is being conducted on recent Northport High School graduates. The health department also stated in an email that community members are welcome to contact the Department at 518-473-7817, or via email at [email protected] to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information.

The district said that it understands how issues surrounding environmental matters are unsettling. Since all testing has indicated that the building is safe, the district said in a letter to parents that its subcommittee will address the more important task of bringing people together. 

The district did not return phone calls and email inquiries about hallways flooding and the relocation of the districts bus depot.


Lisa Cooper embraces her son Dante Lombardo at a recent reunion. Photo from Lisa Cooper

Mental health, particularly among service members, often seems to be a forgotten topic. One man and his Northport High School friends want to change that by riding bicycles this June from New York to California to raise awareness about mental health concerns among those who have served our nation’s military. 

Dante Lombardo in uniform. Photo from Lombardo

Dante Lombardo is a former U.S. Marine who was medically discharged due to his mental health. The East Northport resident,  who graduated from Northport High School in 2015, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve from 2015 to 2019. He was trained as a digital wideband transmission equipment operator and as a field radio operator. 

Throughout Lombardo’s time in the Marine Reserves, he struggled with depression and anxiety, and like many others in a similar position, tried to “tough it out,” because that’s what he said the current military culture dictates. “Nearly anybody who has served can tell you that it is highly frowned upon to seek out mental health care,” he explained.

These issues came to a head in April of last year for Lombardo, when he attempted to take his own life. Thankfully, he was connected with a local behavioral health service, giving access to the counseling and the psychiatric care he needed. 

“Had it not been for these services, I do not believe I would have ever begun the path to wellness that I am on today,” said Lombardo.

Unfortunately, many service members suffer from similar mental health issues but do not seek out the help provided by the military, Lombardo said, in fear of being separated from duty due to their issues.

The statistics are staggering.

“We see 20 veterans each day take their own lives,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist who created in 2005 a national network of professionals who provide free services to U.S. troops, veterans, their loved ones and their community. “People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.” 

‘People think that because the war is over, so are the challenges, but that’s not the case.’

— Barbara Van Dahlen

As for Lombardo, he may no longer wear his Marine uniform, but he and his bike team are committed to fighting for their fellow service members. 

Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin, all Northport High School graduates,  just earned their college degrees. Lombardo graduated from Clinton College, Fabian from SUNY Plattsburgh last weekend and Rubin from SUNY Buffalo. Now, they’re raising money in a GoFundMe campaign to pay for expenses that occur throughout the trip. Proceeds remaining will be donated to Give an Hour, which earns exceptional ratings as a charity on Guidestar. 

Give an Hour was chosen, the bike team stated, because it is an organization that is not affiliated with the Department of Defense and can provide mental health services to those in need, without running the risk of negative consequences from the service members chain of command. Lombardo said that the charity could provide service members the opportunity to get help and start healing before their issues become a crisis that demands the official attention of their command, or one that brings harm to themselves or others, while simultaneously defending them from the stigma of needing mental health care while serving.

“The need is huge,” Van Dahlen said in a phone interview. She is honored and grateful for Lombardo’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit. 

Van Dahlen emphasizes the need for collaborative approach to address the issues. “We really can take care of the understandable mental health needs of those who serve and their families,” Van Dahlen said. “If we work together and coordinate services — we in the government, nonprofit and private sectors — our country can hopefully step up to serve those who have given so much.”

Northport residents Dante Lombardo, Brian Fabian and Anthony Rubin are riding bicycles cross-country to raise awareness about military mental health issues. Photo from Coast to Coast for Mental Health, Dante Lombardo’s supporters.

It’s a concept that Lombardo and his bike team understand. “This fight is not one person’s burden to bear, but instead one we face together.”

During the team’s travels cross-country, they plan to volunteer in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, elderly care homes and other places that offer opportunities to give back. Their journey aims to seek out and hear the testimonies of veterans nationwide so their stories may be heard. 

The bike team has created a Facebook group page, Coast-to-Coast for Mental Health, which will be updated to post stories and experiences of the team, as well as testimonies of those who have suffered. This trip is a humanitarian interactive wellness journey as seen through three young Long Island men who are raising awareness for those who suffer with mental health issues all too often in silence. 

Lombardo encourages people to share the funding page, the Facebook page, as well as sharing their own stories. His message to the public, “We’ll be seeing you on the trail.”

The Times of Huntington will provide updates of the team’s journey in upcoming issues.

The GoFundMe page, Give an Hour website and an overview of the charity from Charity Navigator  can be found at: 

GoFundMe: www.gofundme.com/tmt6z-coast-to-coast-for-mental-health

Give an Hour: www.giveanhour.org

Charity Navigator: www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=17415

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By David Luces

Northport school administrators gave taxpayers their first glimpse at what potential issues the district will face as it starts to draft its 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave his first overview of the Northport-East Northport school district’s preliminary budget for 2019-20 at the Jan. 24 board of education meeting. The highlights includes two large expenses to the district are expected to decrease based on his initial calculations, but the schools have a different challenge to contend with.

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less. Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge,”

— Robert Banzer

The superintendent said the district’s state-mandated employer contribution to the Teacher Retirement System is anticipated to drop from 10.62 down to somewhere between 9.5 and 8.5 percent, and health care insurance premiums are projected to decrease. 

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less,” he said. “Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge.”

For 2019-20, Banzer explained the district will be permitted to raise taxes by up to 3.22 percent and remain with the state-mandated tax cap. The number can raise above the often cited 2 percent for numerous reasons including tax-base growth and rollover from prior years.

The superintendent said the district’s officials will be mindful of trying to draft a budget that comes in at or below the cap.

“Potentially it will be 3.22 percent, but I hope that it is less and we save taxpayers some money,” trustee David Badanes said.

The district’s budget for the current year is $166,810,381. According to the superintendent, the budget amount has increased by around 1.5 percent each year since the 2013-14 school year. Over half the budget is attributed to personnel’s salaries, about a quarter of it is attributed to employee benefits, according to Banzer. 

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000. About 10 percent of the district’s revenue comes in the form of state aid, the district is currently projected to receive more than $16 million based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2019 Executive Budget. Banzer noted that it is only a projected number, and one he hopes could be higher once the actual budget is passed.

There’s work to be done in between. There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

— Robert Banzer

One challenge the school district must face is how to deal with the continued declining enrollment. The superintendent projected the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

“That’s pretty significant, a lot of it has been in the elementary level,” Banzer said. “Things are starting to level off there but now it seems like it is coming to the secondary level.”

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000.

The next Northport school board meeting dedicated to the 2019-20 budget overview will be March 7 at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The district has approximately four months to refine the budget before the vote slated for May 21.

“There’s work to be done in between,” the superintendent said. “There’s going to be opportunities for input.”