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From left, Rebecca Kassay, Sen. Anthony Palumbo, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, Sen. Mario Mattera, Assemblyman Ed Flood and high school students rally against proposed education cuts. Photo by Samantha Rutt

Elected officials from across Long Island joined forces in a rally Feb. 1 held on the front lawn of Ward Melville High School. A diverse crowd of educators, students, parents, concerned citizens and community figures gathered for the event, lining Old Town Road with signage reading “$ave Our School$,” as officials vehemently spoke in opposition to the proposed cuts to education funding outlined in the latest state budget proposal. 

The proposed cuts, part of a broader state budget plan aiming to address fiscal challenges, have sparked widespread concern among education advocates and community members. Long Island officials, representing various districts and political affiliations, united in their stance against these reductions, emphasizing the detrimental impact they would have on the region’s schools and students.

New York State Sens. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Mario Mattera (R-St. James), along with state Assemblymembers Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) and Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay (D) all stood before the podium expressing their respective concerns.

“Governor Hochul’s proposed budget is a choice to underfund our schools, and it’s shameful,” Palumbo said. “We’re here to bring attention to that. This is critical. This is absolutely important.”

Palumbo, who represents New York Senate District 1, spanning from Stony Brook to Montauk, opened the rally addressing the financial consequences of the proposal on his district. 

“The governor’s proposed budget cuts state aid by $168 million, affecting 337 school districts statewide,” Palumbo said. “My district, Senate District 1, around 330,000 people, stands to lose $20,025,000 if the governor’s budget is adopted. And where we’re standing here in Three Village, they stand to lose $8.9 million in funding.” 

Three Village Central School District is among the many school districts to be affected by the budget proposal, experiencing the highest values lost in aid. Among the other districts to be affected are Port Jefferson School District standing the potential to be hit by the largest percentage of funding loss on Long Island at over 28%. Mount Sinai, Cold Spring Harbor, Smithtown and Kings Park school districts also stand to be negatively affected by the proposal.

Concerns for education quality and job loss

The rally highlighted the importance of adequate funding for schools in ensuring the quality of education and opportunities for all students. Flood spoke to his concerns for the quality of education students would receive suggesting programs, extracurricular activities and staff would have to be cut as a consequence of the proposed cuts to education funding.

“It’s disgraceful that we’re talking about having to cut budgets, in terms of cutting buildings, cutting programs, cutting staff and faculty,” Flood said. “We as people, teachers and school employees have our own families and right now to play politics with the lives of our students and our workforce is just shameful.” 

Cuts to education funding can have a multifaceted impact that can undermine the quality of education by diminishing resources, increasing class sizes, reducing extracurricular opportunities and straining the workforce, ultimately impeding students’ academic success and holistic development.

Echoing Flood’s sentiments, Mattera highlighted the direct consequences of reduced funding on classroom resources and student support services. “All the workers that are inside, our custodians, everybody, our security officers have a chance of losing their jobs. Does anybody want to lose their jobs? No,” Mattera emphasized. “You know what, our governor is making sure that this is going to happen.”

The rally also featured testimonials from parents who shared personal stories illustrating the impact of education funding on their lives. Kristen Gironda, a member of the Three Village PTA Council board, spoke about the challenges students may face and the critical role of adequate funding in addressing those obstacles. “We rely heavily on Foundation Aid for the success of our current and future students,” Gironda said. “Cutting this money from the current budget would be detrimental to the future of our students, their education and the opportunity that we can continue to provide them with.”

Students were also present at the rally, donning signs and standing alongside the officials as cars driving past honked their horns in reaction to the public event.

After all other officials spoke, Kassay concluded, “We must work together as a full district to make sure that as changes need to be made and that they’re made with the voices of the people standing here, the voices of the school behind us, and all the schools in the area to make sure that the changes are incremental, not straining taxpayers and not sacrificing jobs.” 

As the rally came to a close, elected officials pledged to continue advocating for increased education funding and urged community members to join them in their efforts urging everyone to “Get vocal with Governor Hochul!”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

A new, broader homework policy drafted by the Shoreham-Wading River board of education opened up a dialogue last month between parents and administrators over the best approach to after school assignments throughout the district.

Varying consequences for students who don’t do their homework and an overabundance of assignments over school holidays were main topics of discussion during Shoreham’s Oct. 24 board meeting, in which community members weighed in on a planned revision to the district’s current policy.

In response to a curriculum survey sent out by the district over the summer, parents requested that its guidelines for homework be expanded. While the original policy is merely two sentences on the educational validity of homework, the new two-page proposal aims to better accommodate for individual students and incorporates recognized best practices in the development of assignments.

New homework guidelines could include stricter
penalties, less work on vacations. Stock photo

“The process has certainly put a lens on homework,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Feedback from parents in the survey was a little mixed — the underlying theme was that homework is important but there should be consistencies across grade levels and considerations for home life. We tried to craft something that empowered the buildings to make practices come to life that make sense for students and families.” 

The newly drafted guidelines, titled Policy 8440, encourage teachers to consider students’ time constraints when assigning homework, which should be “appropriate to students’ age” and shouldn’t “take away too much time away from other home activities.”

“Homework should foster positive attitudes toward school and self, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as in school,” the draft policy states.

While it addresses that students should be accountable for all assignments, there are no strict consequences in place for when homework isn’t done, which prompted some parents to voice their concerns.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children,” said Jeannine Smith, a Shoreham parent with children in Wading River School and Miller Avenue School.

As an educator in an outside district, Smith supported the concept of taking recess away from students in the elementary and middle school who consistently don’t hand homework in.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s the teacher’s job to make sure children are prepared in the future and if homework’s not important in the classroom, children get the message that there is no consequence,” she said.

Shoreham resident Erin Saunders-Morano agreed, saying she believes homework is ultimately the student’s responsibility and shouldn’t be seen as something that falls on the parents.

“As we get older, if you don’t do your job, there are consequences,” Morano said. “I think we should be raising the bar for our students, not lowering it. If students want recess, they should make sure they do their homework.”

But Alisa McMorris, a member of the district’s PTA council, protested the idea, saying students who are working hard all day deserve a break. She also pointed out that difficult and time-consuming projects should not be assigned over vacations.

“I can’t tell you how many times my kids have had projects due the day we get back from Christmas break and it makes me crazy,” McMorris said. “Our Christmas breaks now are doing these projects. Vacation is vacation.”

Michelle Gallucci, a Wading River resident and an English teacher at Smithtown High School East, commended the board for drafting a policy that gives teachers academic freedom based on the students they have in the classroom. She equated the importance of homework to sports practice.

“You can’t take a math class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and not do it again until 9 a.m. the next day,” she said. “You have to practice those skills and get better because your brain is a muscle. Just as students practice for hours after school to get ready for games, students also need intellectual practice.”

There’s a part of us that wants to shed the limitations of civilization. What difference do all those arbitrary lines in society make anyway?

Say, for example, we’re standing in a grocery store and the line isn’t moving quickly enough. Then again, what line could possibly move at a speed we’d find acceptable? We look at our phones to distract us. We can watch movies we’ve seen a hundred times, check our voicemail, email, messaging service and telepathic connections, if we’ve got the right app.

The phone doesn’t offer much relief, as our boss has sent us an instant message that reads, “If you don’t bring those cupcakes back within three minutes, you will be on cupcake duty for the next six months.”

It’s our fault. We saw that lane six was probably longer than lane seven, but we picked six because we saw a headline in a magazine about Julia Roberts and we wanted to read the other headlines in a magazine that was out of stock in lane seven.

Lane six is at a complete stop as the cashier waits for the override.

“Come on!” we want to scream. “We gotta deliver these cupcakes before we lose our job!”

But we don’t scream any curse words, despite an impulse that is working its way up our spinal column. Another urge hits us. We want to jump on the conveyor belt and dance to “Cotton Eye Joe,” while kicking away the other groceries. But we don’t do that, either.

We hold back because everyone has a camera, and we don’t want to be the supermarket dancer on YouTube forever.

We consider convincing ourselves that our venting might become a way to contribute to society. Maybe other people waiting in line somewhere can laugh at us, as we act out their frustration fantasies.

But, no, we’d have a hard time going to PTA meetings or running for office if our opponent could show we didn’t have the temperament to be a leader.

We keep our composure. It’s just cupcakes, right? Then again, we still have to do our work and this means we’ll be home later than we wanted and we won’t get a parking spot near the gym tonight, which means we might have to walk an extra quarter of a mile before we run 6 miles. It’s so unfair!

Curses are echoing around our brain. We grind our teeth, tap our feet, shake our head slowly and blow our bangs off our overheated and thickly lined forehead.

We hear the words, “Come on, come on, come on,” in our head, but no one else seems to care about our agony. Oh, great, now we have to go to the bathroom, which will be difficult because as soon as we get back to the office we are serving the cupcakes at the party.

Don’t think about the need for the toilet. Oh, right, sure, that’s worked so well in the past. Why hadn’t we thought about that around, say, tax season? Sure, if you don’t think about it, taxes will just go away.

Then the curse words slipped out. We shouted them. We look around, wondering if we’ve damaged our reputation. This can be the smallest town on the planet. No one is holding a cellphone in our direction. No one seems to be waiting for us to do it again. Everyone does, however, take a step back from us.

We breathe a sigh of relief until it hits us: Two rows away is an overheated mother with three children holding onto her shopping cart. One of them — he looks like he’s about 6 years old — is staring at us without blinking. Maybe crossing that line was a mistake, as shame has replaced anger.

Longtime Rocky Point resident Betty Loughran, opened a store inside the Rocky Point Middle School cafeteria, to help raise money for students and local families in need. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

What was intended to be a one-time act of kindness by a Rocky Point PTA member has blossomed into a venture that relentlessly helps community members in need.

Rocky Point resident Betty Loughran, who graduated from the district, had been a member of the PTA for over five years before the day Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien mentioned to her a family that uprooted from Florida had moved into the area with almost nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was wintertime, and the family couldn’t afford clothes. So as O’Brien was telling Loughran teachers were scrambling to figure out a way to help, she decided to take matters into her own handsHer family was used to giving clothes away, so she gave her needy new neighbors clothes, and then came up with the idea to start something like a closet at the middle school. That’s how Betty’s Closet was formed.

“Every time a student is in need of something, like pants, sweatpants, a sweatshirt or jacket, they go up to my closet and take whatever they need,” she said. “And then I just replenish it the best I can.”

Some of the items sold inside the Rocky Point Middle School Store. Photo by Desirée Keegan

She found that there were so many families and students in need coming to the closet she went a step further in 2014 and created the Rocky Point Middle School store, where she sells discounted products like toys and clothes to kids during lunch. A portion of the proceeds goes toward replenishing the items sold at the store, while the rest goes toward helping families in need.

Loughran has made a huge impact in the community around the holidays, but she’s helping all year long. She once purchased dress pants and shoes so a Rocky Point freshman of a single father could get a job at McDonald’s. She has given sneakers to a student whose only pair had holes in them, and a pair of tennis shoes to another who would’ve failed gym class without them. She purchased socks for a student who came to school crying because his were wet every day. Last year, another family moved into the neighborhood with very little furniture. The mother was sleeping on the floor, so Loughran decided to go out and buy her a bed.

“I told myself, ‘I’m doing this to help people,’” she said. “It’s the little things that go a long way.”

Before she gets to work as a kindergarten teacher at St. Anthony’s Small Friars preschool in Rocky Point, Loughran stops at the shop to stock the shelves, then leaves it in the hands of parent volunteers like Samantha Netburn.

“I feel good that we’re helping so many people in the community,” Netburn said. “You just don’t even realize. A family next door could be suffering. You give to receive, and I have the time. It’s nice to know we stick together as a community.”

Loughran researches the newest things for kids, and tries to buy items every kid can afford. Local business owners help Loughran in her efforts, like Port Jeff Sports owner Bob LoNigro, who gives whatever he can, including shirts and sweatshirts to stock the store. Loughran’s friend of more than 15 years said no one does more than she does for the community.

“She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without.”

— Denice Shaughnessy

“She’s an absolute machine,” LoNigro said. “She takes it to another level. She blows me away. She is someone who does so much for so many, and whatever I can do to help her, I’m more than happy to do it.”

Ed Darcey, owner of Personal Fitness Club Inc. in Rocky Point, said Loughran works tirelessly so that families can have some sense of normalcy.

“She goes all day,” he said. “It’s incredible what she does. First we did toy drives, then food drives, and she works all year round. So many families need assistance, and she always puts herself out there if anyone needs it. We need more people like her. She’s someone you’d want in every school. She’s an angel on Earth. She’s selfless. Her goal is just to help others.”

An employee at the district said she wished more people were so dedicated to helping others like Loughran.

“Without her work, this community would have nothing, because nobody else does it,” Rocky Point Middle School secretary Denice Shaughnessy said. “She supplies for so many kids. Betty Loughran has a heart of gold and loves the community that she grew up in. She is a wonderful person that we could not live without. Whether it’s giving something big or small, she’s always giving of herself and her time to see that others are taken care of.”

Loughran isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

“I think it’s important to understand that giving to your neighbors is a good thing,” she said. “It’s amazing how big this has grown in such a short time, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. That one family that you meet that you make really happy — you put a smile on their face — that’s why I do it. In the end, you’re giving to someone that really, really needs it. That’s what it’s all about.”

To donate to Loughran’s cause, visit her public group on Facebook Betty’s Closet/Middle School Store, or contact Rocky Point Middle School at 631-744-1603.