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Part of the funds will go toward a new wireless network

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Kevin Redding

More than two years after New York State voters passed the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, Rocky Point school district is moving forward on its preliminary investment plan to fund improvements in educational technology and infrastructure for K-12 students.

At a school board meeting last week, Susan Wilson, executive director for educational services at the district, gave a presentation to the public about how grant money from the state, totaling $2.45 million, will be utilized.

“This is really to provide improved learning and educational opportunities for students in Rocky Point,” Wilson said. “Through the act, every school is getting a different amount of money and the state wants us to develop new and exciting things for school technology.”

If approved by the board of education in a March 20 vote, the district’s preliminary plan will be brought to the state and, from there, funds will kick in for the eventual installation of a high-speed wireless network throughout the school, which would require a full update of the current network.

“It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing.”

— Michael Ring

Of the $2.45 million grant, $525,000 of it will go toward the installation of the networks, while $510,000 will go toward upgrading infrastructure, leaving about $1.4 million left.

Wilson said she and the Technology Committee — the group that’s been working on the preliminary plan for over a year — are considering to use the leftover funds for classroom lab equipment upgrades or tablets or laptops. A technology meeting will be held Jan. 26 in the district office where public input is encouraged.

In fact, the district is offering a 30-day comment period for community members to weigh in on how the extra money should be spent, which started Jan. 9 and will continue through Feb. 9.

“It’s a thorough process that requires a lot of input from various stakeholders,” Wilson said.

Among the major stakeholders are teachers, students, parents, BOE members, higher education and district tech support.

According to Wilson, the turnaround to see the preliminary plan in action is completely dependent on the state and its approvals, but she hopes phase one, the installation of the wireless networks, will happen between September 2017 and September 2018.

The executive director said the initiation of the Smart Schools Bond Act partly served as a jumping-off point toward online testing in the future. New York has indicated that by 2022, all regents and state assessment exams must be taken online.

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said he’s excited for the upgrades and what it could do for the district.

“Once we have Wi-Fi we can go from having a handful of active wireless users who are on hot spots to thousands with access,” Ring said. “It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.”

If you have any questions or comments regarding the preliminary plan, contact Susan Wilson at [email protected] The technology meeting on Jan. 26 in the district office is open to the public.

Councilmembers discuss the public hearing time slot change. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Brookhaven Town is tweaking its board meetings for the sake of efficiency.

Effective the first meeting of May, on May 12, town officials passed a resolution on Feb. 25 that moves the public hearing time to 6 p.m., from its previous 6:30 p.m. time slot. Public hearings used to follow a half-hour board adjournment, but now Brookhaven officials will no longer adjourn prior to the public hearing.

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said moving the public hearing will not only help the meetings run smoothly, but also prevent attendees from waiting for the hearing to start. Shifting the time will also help the town save money, as it won’t need to pay Brookhaven employees, excluding management personnel, overtime.

“We don’t want to waste money,” Panico said. “Budgets are tight and we want the Town Board meetings to flow continuously like every governmental meeting should.”

But Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and residents alike said the time shift will limit community participation during public hearings.

The councilwoman was the only board member who voted against the proposal. She said in her three years in office, she’s witnessed residents running into town hall five minutes after public hearings begin.

“Public hearings are extremely important and we want as many people as possible to come in and be able to voice their opinions,” Cartright said. “Our public hearings here at the Town of Brookhaven are based on either zone changes [or projects based on specific properties], which will affect people in the immediate community.”

On many occasions, there are more Brookhaven employees in attendance in comparison to residents. Many residents also leave the meeting when the town takes a brief adjournment.

According to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto, zone changes and projects in a particular area or land use plans are brought before the respective civic association before reaching the town. While residents have three minutes to comment on the board’s resolution agenda during public comment, they have five minutes to comment on zone changes and similar issues pertaining to specific properties during public hearing.

Public hearings were initially scheduled for 6:30 p.m. during former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John LaValle’s five years in office. The civic associations requested the time slot to accommodate people’s schedules, Eaderesto said.

Recently, the town has received numerous complaints from senior citizens saying that they’d prefer earlier meetings because they don’t like to travel in the evening. But Mastic Beach resident Jim Gleason said seniors usually attend public hearings, or town board meetings in general, for certain hot-topic issues.

That’s not the case for all residents.

“There have been hearings that I’ve been involved in where people have said, ‘I just can’t get there. It’s too early,’” Gleason said of public hearings. “So if there are people who have trouble getting here at 6:30 p.m., they’re obviously more people who have trouble getting here at 6 p.m.”

But Panico said the town will see what works best and adjust accordingly.

“I think it’s a reasonable move [to change the public hearing time],” Panico said. “And if there’s a need to tweak the time in the future, everyone on [the] board is very reasonable.”

Port Jefferson Village Treasurer Don Pearce, above, worked with the board of trustees on Monday night at Village Hall to reduce the budget for 2015-16. File photo

Port Jefferson officials are whittling down the village’s budget proposal for 2015-16.

During a budget workshop at Village Hall on Monday afternoon, the board of trustees slashed almost $300,000 from department funding requests, to get the preliminary spending plan down to about $10.34 million.

One of the pricier items the trustees removed was a generator for the Department of Public Works — something that had also been an issue during last year’s budget process. On Monday, the trustees agreed that the generator, being a one-time capital expense, would better belong in the capital budget, rather than the operating budget. The board was also looking at the generator as part of a larger capital project: its proposed emergency operations center.

Due to safety concerns and power complications during storms like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Winter Storm Nemo in 2013, officials have set up shop at the Mount Sinai headquarters of the Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Company during weather emergencies. But the village is seeking to build an emergency operations center, which would include a generator, at the village government building on North Country Road that houses both the public works and building and planning departments. That operations center could receive state aid to be built.

The draft $10.34 million budget for next year — as compared to the current $10 million budget — would increase the tax rate by a little more than $1.50 for every $100 of assessed value.

However, the trustees are still reviewing both the revenue and spending sides of the budget, including items like trustee salaries and the number of code enforcement work hours.

The board will hold a public hearing on possibly piercing through the state-imposed cap on tax levy increases in Village Hall on April 6, and then will hold a public hearing on a finalized budget proposal on April 15.