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Port Jefferson School District

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Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Like Batman responding to the bat signal in Gotham, leaders and volunteers from across the Port Jefferson community showed up to lend a hand to the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson Nov. 12 after the call went out asking for assistance.

Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Twice per year, Rotary clubs dedicated to bringing together leaders from the private sector to benefit those in need joined forces at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches to clean up the camp following fall events to get the facility ready for its primary use. The facility, which was founded nearly 70 years ago, serves as a sleep-away camp during summer months for children and young adults ages 6 to 21 with various disabilities and special needs.

About 65 percent of campers have autism spectrum disorder, though others with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other challenges are also among the annual attendees. The camp serves as both a place for children with special needs to build self-esteem and camaraderie with peers featuring traditional camp activities and also as a respite for dedicated parents who in many cases provide round-the-clock care and support for their children.

Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck is funded through camper fees, fundraisers and donations, so its operation is thanks in large part to the volunteer efforts of Port Jefferson, Rocky Point and Middle Island Rotary clubs, among others. The two cleanups — one in the spring and the other in the fall — are conducted entirely by volunteers, and the second spruce-up job for 2017 took place Nov. 12 following several October fundraising events.

In total, 36 volunteers from Port Jefferson got their hands dirty during the cleanup, including 16 Rotarians and four family members, and 13 Port Jefferson high school Interact Club members. Charles McAteer of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, Port Jeff high school principal Christine Austen, Senior Vice President for Administration at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital Kevin Murray, Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon and Comsewogue Public Library Director Debra Engelhardt were among the volunteers from the Port Jefferson community at the event. Three members of Rocky Point Rotary and 17 Interact Club members from the Rocky Point school district led by Interact adviser Margaret Messinetti also lent a hand. Two members of Middle Island Rotary also pitched in.

“I have been taking the Interact students out to Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for almost 15 years now,” said Deirdre Fillipi, director of the Interact Club at Port Jeff. The club has a similar mission to Rotary clubs and serves as a precursor to eventual Rotary membership after graduation. “It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to see how much they can achieve and the positive impact they can have on their community, especially when they combine their efforts. It’s nice to see how much they can achieve when working together.”

Dennis Brennan, Rotarian and past president, said the fall cleanup took a few hours and included raking the leaves of the camp’s 37-acre grounds, preparing dorms for future occupancy and much more.

“The youth are the most important part of having this whole thing,” Brennan said. “I think it’s important for one generation after another to realize what you have to do in order to prepare to get things ready for kids with special needs.”

Volunteers from the Port Jeff and Rocky Point school districts, among others, prepare Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for next summer during a fall cleanup event. Photo by Yvette Hohler

Brennan said the younger volunteers don’t necessarily know who attends the camp before the cleanup begins, or what, for example, muscular dystrophy is or what it means to have it, but said an appreciation develops in the volunteers during the course of the day. He said the cleanup and volunteerism through the Rotary are a good preview for students interested in a pursuing a career in helping children with special needs and offer important perspective for others who aren’t.

“As they get older they’ll learn these are not people to feel sorry for, these are people who are different and who you can learn from,” he said.

Rotarian Sharon Brennan expressed a similar sentiment.

“When they’re out spending three hours raking or pulling staples out of the wall, hopefully the light bulb goes off that ‘I’m giving back to somebody who, for the summer, this is really important,’” she said.

Engelhardt, who attended the cleanup with her husband John and son Scott, said the event has become a tradition for her family.

“It’s special to work together as a family and to be a part of something bigger, through our local Rotary club, that benefits special needs children and their families from Suffolk County and beyond all summer long,” she said in an email. “It’s something we hope Scott will make a priority throughout his adult life, for his own health and for the health of our community.”

For more information about Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck visit www.camppaquatuck.com.

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File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

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Taken from a drone, the varsity football field is illuminated by Musco Sports Lighting fixtures, the same brand as would be installed in Port Jeff should its $30M bond referendum pass. Photo from Sayville school district

Members of the Port Jefferson School District community headed south for a little enlightening Nov. 1.

If the district’s $30 million bond referendum passes following a Dec. 5 vote, stadium lights will be installed on the athletic fields at Scraggy Hill Road to allow sports teams to spread out practice times. To ease residents concerns about the lighting, the district held a South Shore meeting Nov. 1 at Sayville’s Greeley Avenue football field to show homeowners in the vicinity of the Scraggy Hill fields lights similar to those in the proposal.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

The district selected a brand and model similar to what is used by Sayville Union Free School District. They would be installed for $1.6 million if the full 20-plus item bond passes. Manufactured by Musco Sports Lighting, the football stadium lighting is billed as targeted beams meant to have little glare outside of the area designated for illumination, according to district administrators.

Ryan Walker, a resident near the Scraggy Hill fields and an employee in the district, has been outspoken about this particular line item in the greater bond proposal during meetings and again voiced his concern at the Nov. 1 meeting.

“Based on the shadows I see, I would be on my deck with my deck lit up, and that concerns me,” Walker said, adding his concerns with the inclusion of the lights in the proposal will “absolutely” be the largest deciding factor in how he votes. “I came down here thinking that somehow there’d be a miracle that what they explained would be true, but just being here sort of confirms my suspicions that there will be ambient light coming over, and even more than I thought, especially when the foliage is down.”

Walker said the presence of trees between his property and the fields, which district Assistant Superintendent Sean Leister estimated are between 70 and 100 feet tall, do not put his mind at ease having seen the Sayville field fully illuminated.

“I sit in my kitchen and I watch sports, because most of the tree foliage isn’t dense enough, and then as soon as the tree foliage is down I have a complete view of [the fields],” he said. He said the brightness of the lights concerns him, though he said the financial impact of the bond as a whole and the potential for traffic issues during night hours on the dark streets surrounding Scraggy Hill Road also need to be taken into consideration by voters.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are all about the school, we love the school,” Walker said. “It’s just disheartening to us as a neighborhood because we are residential. [The area that surrounds the Sayville football field] is not a residential place. We are right up to the [Scraggy] fields. We think the school has other solutions that they’re not willing to negotiate with the neighborhood about. It was all or nothing, and they said they’d listen to us, which I’m sure they did, but listening and actually talking and negotiating are two different things.”

District Superintendent Paul Casciano said he is in a unique position, knowing about stadium lighting firsthand because he lives in the vicinity of Stony Brook University’s soccer fields.

“Initially, yeah I had some concerns, but you know what, they’re not an issue and they stay on until 11:30 every night,” he said. “You think it’s going to be a big issue and then you realize … kids cheering — never a big issue for me; 8:30 is not very late.”

Casciano pointed to a policy drafted by the board of education in recent weeks that would be implemented should the bond pass and would prohibit the lights from staying on past 8:30 p.m. as evidence the district is listening to concerns from the community.

A view of the lights on the football field and the surrounding area in the Sayville school district in the early evening Nov. 1. Photo by Alex Petroski

He reiterated the inclusion of the lights in the bond is for safety reasons, because currently, to accommodate varsity, junior varsity and middle school practices for boys and girls teams throughout the district, more practice time options are needed. At previous meetings, Casciano and other administrators have said the district’s current practice logjam has created dangerous situations for teams trying to utilize adjoining fields around the district at the same time.

Sayville’s field is surrounded by a Long Island Rail Road station on its north side, a parking lot and a few homes near its southeastern corner, an education center on its south side and a few homes across Greeley Avenue to the west. Casciano, Leister and district director of facilities Fred Koelbel said they each would be more disturbed by train station-related noise than the lights if they lived near the field. Koelbel added the lights at Sayville are competition-level brightness, and the one’s in Port Jeff would be a duller version because they’d only be needed for practices.

Carl Saieva, a Port Jeff resident who does not live near the Scraggy Hill fields, also attended the Sayville meeting and is leaning toward voting “No.”

When asked how he would feel if he lived in a house overlooking the field’s west side, he said: “I would be pissed.”

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The referendum will appear on ballot as a single, all-or-nothing proposition

File photo by Elana Glowatz

In Port Jefferson, 2017 will seemingly have a dramatic, down-to-the-wire election day just like it did in 2016, though this year it will be held in December instead of November.

The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education voted unanimously in support of a resolution to establish Dec. 5 as the date for the much-discussed and intensely debated $30 million bond referendum that has seemingly created a two-party system within the community: the Pro-Bond Party and the Anti-Bond Party.

Despite objections from some residents at prior board of education and Port Jefferson Village Board meetings, the date for the vote was set for the first Tuesday in December. The resolution to set the date was removed from the eight other items listed in the board consensus agenda under the category of finance after a motion by board Vice President Mark Doyle, so that the resolution to set the date could be voted on as individual item.

“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings.”

— Renee Tidwell

Those opposed to that date cited the potential absence of a large number of “snowbirds” or Port Jeff homeowners who tend to spend winters in warmer climates, on the date of the vote. The thinking being those residents are likely the same people who no longer have children attending the district, and therefore would be less likely to support the massive spending plan.

“We’ll discuss the best way of getting the word out and try to make the availability [of absentee ballots] a little bit easier than people might otherwise imagine, although it is relatively easy,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the Oct. 10 board meeting, when the date was finalized.

Casciano previously stated during one of the district’s several building walk-throughs, which were scheduled to allow residents the opportunity to tour the facilities slated for upgrades as part of the bond, that the December date was more preferable than attaching the proposition as part of the budget vote in June because the board felt it was important to allow the bond to stand on its own and not be lost as an afterthought to the budget.

Others who have voiced opposition to the bond have expressed concerns with voting on the more than 20 items as an all-or-nothing proposition and urged the board to split it into at least two propositions: one for education and safety upgrades and one for upgrades relating to athletics. The board elected to keep all 23 items and $29,900,000 worth of upgrades and improvements to district facilities intact as a single proposition.

Proposal highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

“At this moment in time both my husband and I are strongly inclined to vote ‘no’ on this bond, even though it’s great for the kids and the buildings,” district resident Renee Tidwell said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We want to vote ‘no,’ and we’re very troubled by that.”

Tidwell pointed to the inclusion of a synthetic turf football field and stadium lights at the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road included with health, safety and educational components in one proposition as a reason to vote against it.

“Split the bond into two bonds; one which addresses the urgent and critical capital improvements and infrastructure upgrades, and the other bond which could address less critical initiatives,” Tidwell said, prior to the vote, which eliminated that possibility.

Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister suggested it’s possible the district might have legal ways out of the bond agreement should an extenuating circumstance arise, such as a settlement in the district’s lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority, which could cause the district to lose substantial property tax revenue, prior to borrowing the money. Leister said previously that projects and borrowing would be unlikely to begin prior to 2019.

Based on discussions during several public meetings and conversations taking place on Port Jefferson-related Facebook pages, the community seems to be split down the middle roughly two months away from the vote. Results of a survey that was available on the district’s website are expected in the coming weeks, and Leister has also promised an imminently available property tax calculator so that residents can see about how much the proposal would cost individual households if passed. This tax hike would be unrelated to potential raises as a result of the LIPA lawsuit and/or if next year’s budget were to ask for an increase. Casciano has also promised more walk-throughs, including a virtual tour for those unable to attend in person.

Port Jefferson High School senior Billy Scannell states his case from a student’s perspective on a proposed $30M bond for districtwide repairs and upgrades. Photo by Alex Petroski

Those who attended a meeting at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School in the Port Jefferson school district Oct. 2 seeking clarity on how the public might be leaning regarding a $30 million bond proposal went home empty handed.

About 25 community members of the 100 or so attendees voiced their opinion on the district’s proposal, which administrators presented last month, for upgrades and improvements across the district during the meeting. If the approximately two dozen speakers are a representative sampling of the community, taxpayers seem to be split down the middle two months out from a tentative referendum vote scheduled for Dec. 5.

The proposal has seemingly polarized the community, with those in favor providing student health and safety, as well as maximizing academic and athletic opportunities as evidence to support voting in favor of permitting the district to borrow the money.

“I just thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective on it, you know, like from a kid who’s actually in high school rather than someone who is not,” high school senior Billy Scannell said. “In the high school they offer over 20 [advanced placement] courses and a vast array of clubs, with an award-winning music program … the school has a lot to offer. If you really look at it, it becomes clear why Earl L. Vandermeulen was named one of the five Blue Ribbon Schools on Long Island. With AP courses and the classrooms, it’s growing because the school just gives you so many opportunities to learn new things and explore. So you say the number of kids isn’t growing, but the opportunities are and so many kids just want to be a part of that.”

Those against, including the Port Jefferson Village mayor and board of trustees, have cited uncertainty surrounding a lawsuit, which includes the village and district, against the Long Island Power Authority, that could result in substantial losses in property tax revenue for both entities, as enough evidence to support a “no” vote. No expected resolution timetable exists regarding the lawsuit, which has been pending for several years. Others have said they’re not sure they agree with the district’s assessment that each of the 21 items on the bond wish list are at a stage of requiring immediate remedy. Others have said a district-produced enrollment study projecting the number of students in the district to remain flat over the next several years is a sign that expansion of facilities doesn’t make sense at the current time either.

“How do I authorize the community to spend $30 million before I know if the school district is secure,” said Ted Lucki, a Port Jeff resident, former school board trustee and former mayor of Belle Terre Village. “How do I vote for that? It’s irresponsible. I think timing is everything. There’s a gorilla in the room. What are we, naïve? How do we justify that? It’s inappropriate for me to vote for a bond when we’re on the firing line for much bigger issues.”

District Superintendent Paul Casciano reiterated points he’s made throughout the process of presenting the bond to the public. He said it’s difficult to know when the LIPA issue will be resolved, and in the meantime the buildings still need fixing. He also said the list has been pared down from the original $100 million incarnation from when the process began about three years ago to include only the things the district views as essential.

If passed, the $30 million project would feature a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the Scraggy Hill Road athletic fields, among many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If passed, the bond would cost the average taxpayer between $400 and $1,000 annually during the 15-year life of the payment plan. Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister plans to make available a property tax calculator in the coming weeks on the district website that would allow residents to see how the bond would impact their annual bill.

Casciano pledged to schedule more walk-throughs of the buildings and areas slated for upgrades prior to the vote and even left open the possibility to conduct a virtual building tour, which those unable to physically attend a walk-through could view at their own leisure. The board of education is slated to solidify the proposal and vote on establishing Dec. 5 for the referendum during its next public meeting Oct. 10. A survey will remain accessible for members of the public to weigh in on the proposal on the district website until Oct. 9.

Sean Leister, deputy superintendent; Fred Koelbel, facilities and operations administrator; and architect John Grillo discuss aspects of the bond with attendees of the walk-through. Photo by Alex Petroski

They say seeing is believing, and administrators from the Port Jefferson School District are hoping that rings true for homeowners in the district.

Paul Casciano, superintendent, Sean Leister, deputy superintendent, Danielle Turner, athletic director, principals from the three schools, architect John Grillo and other administrators took interested community members on two guided tours over the past week to examine the classrooms, hallways, buildings, grounds and athletic fields slated for renovations and repairs should a $30 million bond proposal pass a vote scheduled for Dec. 5.

Several residents have expressed concerns with committing to the 15-year payment plan with the looming possibility of a substantial loss of revenue from the Long Island Power Authority, with litigation pending against the energy provider. At least one resident who attended the high school tour said the LIPA specter might impact her vote.

“I for one, as a citizen, am concerned about what [the LIPA situation] means for our taxes, and really that’s the only reason I would say ‘no’ to this,” the resident said.

Other residents raised questions about why certain aspects of the bond, for the most part referring to upgrades associated with athletics, can’t be done during regular annual budget appropriations.

“We try and do the smaller items — when I say smaller I mean around $200,000 — through the budget process,” Leister said in response. “But for a capital project you’re talking millions, and that’s much harder to add to the budget. It would cause a big spike in the tax rate.”

Casciano further explained the thinking behind presenting the bond, which administrators have been working on since 2015, to residents this year at the end of the high school tour.

“We have a responsibility to give [the residents] an opportunity to decide what they want to do given their budget, given their beliefs, and everything else,” he said. “If they’re not supportive of it, we get that, but if we don’t give them the opportunity then I wonder if we’re fulfilling our responsibility to do what we’re supposed to do.”

A tour of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School and the adjacent district offices was held Sept. 20. Around seven Port Jeff residents attended the first walk-through, according to social media posts by at least one attendee on a private Facebook group comprised of a few thousand villagers.

Following the Sept. 20 tour and public comments made by the Port Jefferson Village Board in opposition of pursuing permission to borrow the money, members both in favor and against the bond referendum have taken to the group page to publicly state their case. Perhaps as a result of the warming debate over virtual avenues, about 30 people attended the physical tour of the high school and middle school Sept. 25.

A common refrain from district administration since the topic was introduced in depth during a Sept. 12 board of education meeting is that the projects designated in the bond proposal are too urgent and too expensive to address within standard annual budget appropriations or with an unappropriated reserve fund. The district currently has about $1.5 million in unappropriated surplus, according to Leister. State law allows districts to keep up to 4 percent of its total budget in reserves to be used on unforeseen expenses.

About $5.9 million of the proposed project would go toward upgrades associated with athletics, with the largest sticker price belonging to the replacement of the grass varsity football field with a turf surface.

“We’re a small school but we run a very full athletic program,” Turner said. Overuse of the grass high school football field has resulted in the football and lacrosse teams needing to relocate for practices, on occasion, and even for some games during the last calendar year. A turf field and lights at the athletic fields on Scraggy Hill Road would alleviate crowding issues with sports practices, according to Turner.

Upgrades at the adjoining high school and middle school building would cost $13.6 million and $2.2 million, respectively. The construction of a three-story addition to the high school building would add up to six brand new classrooms at a cost exceeding $7 million.

“We want to make sure that the kids have every opportunity to expand programs, to expand course offerings and space is something that we need,” said Christine Austen, the high school principal. She added she understands the decision is ultimately up to the community.

Fixes at the elementary school would total nearly $4 million, and the adjoining district office portable building would be demolished and relocated to the grounds of the high school at a total cost of $4.3 million.   

The elementary school elements of the proposal include fresh air ventilators for 12 classrooms in the building’s 200 and 300 wings. It would also include the construction of two new classrooms to be used by the guidance department and resource room teachers, who currently are periodically educating some students in a hallway, according to Tom Meehan, elementary school principal.

“With these improvements everyone would have a home — we wouldn’t be juggling,” Meehan said.

Casciano said there is a possibility the board of education will decide to split the referendum into multiple propositions, rather than an “all or nothing” vote, though it would not be more than two propositions. If passed, the upgrades would cost a taxpayer who pays $8,000 annually in school taxes to pay an additional $396 annually.

A public meeting regarding the bond is scheduled for Oct. 2 at the elementary school in the board of education meeting room at 7 p.m.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson School District has been asking the community to weigh in on a $30 million bond proposal to complete a litany of districtwide projects, and Monday night village leadership spoke out.

The Port Jefferson Village Board, which includes several members who previously served on the Port Jeff board of education, collectively took the position during a meeting Sept. 18 that now is not the time for the district to be asking taxpayers for permission to borrow millions for upgrades and repairs. Village Mayor Margot Garant and other board trustees cited the unclear financial future of the village and district due to pending litigation against the Long Island Power Authority.

Proposal Highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

“I’m going to strongly encourage the board of education, respectfully, to postpone this until a resolution is reached with LIPA,” Garant said in a phone interview after the meeting. “I want to commend them for looking at investing in the school system to improve the quality of education. We really want to resolve this issue so this community can stop putting off the plans to invest in our facilities and education.”

The village has no official jurisdiction over the district, though a vast majority of the village’s taxpayers also pay school taxes to the Port Jefferson School District. Both entities stand to potentially lose substantial tax revenue in the coming years should a settlement or decision in the LIPA case be reached, as LIPA has contended it pays too much in property taxes to operate the Port Jefferson Power Station, now that sweeping energy-efficiency upgrades have drastically reduced the regular need for the plant.

“We have deep respect for our mayor’s viewpoints as well as the various opinions of our residents,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan said in a joint statement via email in response to the village’s position. “Our board of education and district administration have been conducting public meetings and seeking feedback through multiple venues. Our goal is to develop a final proposal for our residents’ consideration that meets our responsibility to educate our community’s children in a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment.”

Garant suggested the village board is in a uniquely qualified position to comment on the district’s proposal given each of the individual members backgrounds prior to serving the village. Trustees Bruce Miller and Larry LaPointe were previously on the board of education, Trustee Stan Loucks is a former school district athletic director and Trustee Bruce D’Abramo is a former school district facilities manager.

Village Mayor Margot Garant agreed Sept. 18 they’d like to see the school district wait on a $30M bond project. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“I think if they’re going to ask for these things they ought to ask the public to vote on them in discrete segments so that the public has the chance to say, ‘Yes, we want this but we don’t want that,’” LaPointe said during the meeting. “I hesitate to criticize another board, I know they’re trying to do what’s best for everybody. It’s just an awfully big nut.”

LaPointe’s position was similar to several community members, who during a Sept. 12 board of education meeting suggested voting on the bond proposal as an all-or-nothing referendum, rather than in smaller pieces, would make it less palatable for many taxpayers.

“I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all-or-nothing,” resident Drew Biondo said during the board of education meeting. “If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”

District administration presented the $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during the Sept. 12 meeting, featuring a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school, lights for the elementary school field and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million. If approved by the community with a vote tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5, construction would begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The district would accrue nearly $10 million in interest over the life of the 15-year payment plan.

“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we need to take care of the schools,” Casciano said during the last board of education meeting.

The village has reached out to set up a meeting to discuss the proposal with the district in the coming weeks. A survey soliciting public input on the proposal will remain accessible on the district website until Oct. 9.

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File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson School District has its sights set on a massive face-lift that would impact all of its buildings, but it will come at a substantial cost.

District administration presented a $30 million capital bond proposal to the board of education and the public during a board meeting Sept. 12 which would feature a three-story addition to a wing of the high school, additional classrooms at the high school and elementary school, a turf football field at the high school and lights for the elementary school field, and many more improvements. The district’s total budget for the 2017-18 school year is about $43 million total.

Proposal highlights

•$7.6M to construct a three-story addition at PJHS

•$2.3M to construct new music room and instrumental practice room at PJHS

•$2.2M to build addition to PJHS cafeteria and renovate kitchen space

•$1.2M to replace windows at PJHS

•$2.5M to construct two additional classrooms at elementary school

•$1.7M for locker room renovations at PJHS

•$1.6M for installation of stadium lighting at Scraggy Hill fields

•$1.4M for a new synthetic turf football field at PJHS

•$3.7M to convert tech ed building to new central administration headquarters

•$1.6M to install drainage walls at north side of middle school building

The district will need community approval on a referendum currently slated for a vote Dec. 5 to be able to proceed with obtaining the bond and ultimately beginning construction. If approved the construction would tentatively begin in 2019 and payments would be made annually beginning at about $1.5 million and concluding with a final $2.5 million installment in the 2033-34 fiscal year. The project would result in a homeowner who pays $4,000 annually in school taxes being asked to contribute an additional $200 per year. The district plans to post a “school tax calculator” tool on its website in the coming weeks to allow residents to check how much their tax bill would increase with the additional $30 million burden, on an individual basis. The ask comes at a time of financial uncertainty for the district, which along with several other municipalities on Long Island could potentially lose a substantial amount of property tax revenue pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the Long Island Power Authority.

“Regardless of what happens with LIPA, we to need to take care of the schools,” District Superintendent Paul Casciano said during the meeting. “The best investment you can make, and I know I’m a public school educator so you expect me to say stuff like this, but the best investment you can make is in your schools, and it affects your property values. To neglect the schools is not really a wise move in terms of investment.”

Port Jefferson resident Drew Biondo was one of several community members in attendance who expressed concerns about an “all or nothing” referendum, as he said he viewed some of the components of the proposal as vital and others as less urgent. Casciano and Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister both said during the meeting the district hadn’t yet decided how the referendum would appear on the ballot, be it broken up into more than one component to be voted on or a straight, “yes” or “no” vote on the proposal in its entirety.

“I’d have to think hard about a turf field and lights,” Biondo said. “I understand the need, but when we’re facing possible closure of a power plant … I haven’t made a decision, but one of the things that will probably sway me is if this is an all or nothing. If it’s all or nothing, I don’t know which way I’ll go.”

The district is seeking more community input on the proposal through a survey on its website which was originally going to close Sept. 15, though Casciano said it may be left open for longer. Public tours will be held Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the elementary school and Sept. 25 at 6 p.m. at the high school for those interested in seeing the areas designated for upgrades.

UPDATE: The district has extended the window for community members to complete the bond proposal survey on its website through Oct. 9.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

With the conclusion of a trial valet parking program in Port Jefferson Village, which along the way included input from members of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, village government, the Port Jefferson Fire Department, residents, the Port Jefferson School District and restaurant owners, a resonating theme has emerged: It was a good idea that needs work if it will be brought back in 2018.

Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and PJBID president, said in a phone interview the program fell short of reaching its break-even point for  PJBID’s initial investment with the valet company. He said about 150 people used the service on average each weekend at a rate of $7 per car. When the program began Schafer said if the service drew 100 users nightly it would be a profitable venture.

“It was some sort of step towards a solution,” he said. “The upside of it is everyone who used it thought it was the best thing ever. We got praise for trying an idea like this. Hopefully next year we can go back to the table with a better plan.”

John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a big project,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a lot of people working on it and any time you have any sort of new projects or new activities … nobody has the foresight to get it totally right the first time.”

He added the plan will be to look at ways to streamline the service in the lead up to the summer of 2018 with an eye toward improvement — not disbanding the program.

The route valets took to park cars during the summer of 2017. Image by TBR News Media

Restaurant owners who were involved in the planning of the program this past summer and others who were not said they were glad valet parking was tried as a fix to an age-old problem in Port Jeff. The service began in July after a group of business owners announced their intentions to pursue the program to the village board once PJBID reached an agreement with the private valet company and the Port Jeff school district, which allowed cars to be parked in the vacant high school lot during the summer. It concluded after Labor Day weekend.

Logistical issues occurred along the way, including complaints from residents about the route drivers would take upon exiting the municipal lot off Maple Place behind Ruvo East restaurant where customers were staged before their cars were taken to the high school; a lack of signage at the entrance of the lot off Maple Place which historically had been a two-way entrance and was repurposed as a one-way, exit only during the program’s hours of operation; traffic on the street, which is also the site of the fire department; not enough promotion of the program to make visitors aware of it; and a disruption of the regular uses of the lot behind Ruvo East, among others.

Sound Beach resident Arthur Rasmussen was critical of the program in an August letter to the editor after he was instructed to use the valet service to visit Ruvo East when he complained the staging area was blocking handicapped parking for the restaurant.

“We were so incensed by this ‘shakedown’ that we called the restaurant and cancelled our reservation and drove to a restaurant in Mount Sinai,” he said. “My wife is on a walker and that particular handicapped spot gives her easier access to the restaurant. I thought that the valet parking program was voluntary and not designed to cause hardship on handicapped seniors.”

Initially the village was not going to be involved in the operation of the program, but because the staging area is a village lot its approval was required. Restaurant owners and director of operations of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Barbara Ransome said the program would likely benefit with more village input.

“I would like to see it continue, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “They have to have better [public relations], better advertising and for God’s sake more signage. There aren’t many options out there. I think this is one that could work, it’s just got to be looked at.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant and deputy mayor and trustee, Larry LaPointe, could not be reached for comment regarding the village’s involvement with the project going forward.

The program was set up to be cost neutral for the village. Had revenue exceeded the initial investment, 25 percent of profits would have gone to the valet company and the remaining 75 percent would have been split between the school district and village.

Bobby Farenga, Alex DiCarlo, John DiCarlo and Joseph Cangemi in front of the White House during their trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in an investment game. Photo from Bobby Farenga

By Kyle Barr

Do the math. Thousands of grade schoolers across the United States participated in the nonprofit Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Foundation’s annual Stock Market Game, in which students  invest an imaginary $100,000 in real businesses to see who can earn the largest returns. Out of nearly 4,000 teams who compete, SIFMA specifically recognizes the top 10 and brings them to Washington, D.C.

A team from Port Jefferson School District’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School beat the odds. Brothers Alex and John DiCarlo along with their friend Joseph Cangemi took the initial investment and turned it into $127,961 earning them fifth place in the competition.

While they have more knowledge about how stocks work than most adults, they still can’t help seeming nonchalant.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Alex DiCarlo said in an interview about the success he achieved with his older brother and friend.

The SIFMA foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to educate about financial markets, with a particular aim toward young people, and its Stock Market Game has been an annual competition since 1977. The team said they worked on their investments for 14 weeks.

The odds were long for the Port Jeff team that eventually went to D.C. Four teams from within the school’s investment club  participated in the competition. This was their first time entering the national event.

“Did we expect to win? No, not at all,” the younger DiCarlo said.

The club’s advisor and Spanish teacher  Bobby Farenga said he had a different attitude going into the large competition.

“You should try to win,” he said, despite the seemingly long odds. “You have to go in planning on winning, otherwise it just won’t happen.”

The team hit the ground running despite being brand new to the contest.

“What I told them was there’s two different strategies when you invest,” Farenga said. “You have a long term perspective, which you should have if you’re at a younger age. But for this particular competition since this was short term you had to do some things a little more aggressively to stay competitive, and that’s what they did.”

The team took the approach of going for some long term investments early on, then they took a percentage of what they had and looked for more “highly volatile stocks” to invest in the short term. A lot of their investments were in gold and silver markets.

The students were checking the SIFMA phone application for updates on the standings every two days, but that turned into checking it every day as the clock wound down toward the end. Two weeks before the end, the team had the option to either liquidate their assets, to sit on their cash or to maintain and see if they could eek out a bit more.

“Mr. Farenga was telling us to liquidate it! Liquidate it!” the younger DiCarlo said. “But I said ‘I don’t know about that.’ So I took it aside and I ended up losing a lot of money, like $5,000 in the last two weeks. But in the last week we ended up making back a ton of money.”

That last push allowed the team to travel to Washington, D.C., where they met with U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and staff from U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-New York) office. They also visited some of the Washington landmarks and interacted with other D.C. insiders.

The team said they agreed that doing the competition as a group made them learn how to interact in a group setting. They had to play to each other’s strengths and trust each other’s judgement to succeed.

“We also learned to work as a team, we could collaborate and bounce ideas off each other,” the older DiCarlo said.

Cangemi reiterated that sentiment.

“We really learned to work together and share our ideas,” he said. “I was friends with Alex before, but doing this competition made that a lot stronger.”

Alex DiCarlo and Cangemi are both headed into their junior year. John DiCarlo graduated in the spring and is heading to Stony Brook University in the fall to study computer science. While he can see himself perhaps doing some future investing in the stock market he said he doesn’t want to make a career out of it. For the time being, he said he’s more worried about his math placement exams.

The returning juniors said they expect to participate in next year’s Stock Market Game as well as a number of other local and state investing competitions.

Though they finished within shouting distance of the top spot, and the group said it’s a goal for next year to come in first, but for the younger DiCarlo, that jump is more complicated than a few steps up a ladder — it means a higher return on investment.

“It’s a tough task,” he said. “That’s four more places with 70 percent more return.”