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Rocky Point

Brookhaven finalized repairs on Lower Rocky Point Road this past week. Photo from TOB

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) announced the complete resurfacing of Lower Rocky Point Road from Woodhull Landing Road to Rocky Point Landing Road, as well as Hagerman Landing Road.

Residents have noticed the repaving of the thoroughfare over the past few weeks, which included some need for cars to take detours to avoid construction. Officials said in a press release that the paving project included the milling of nearly 38,000 square yards of roadway, before 4,400 tons of asphalt were put down on the roadway. The total cost for this paving project was approximately $448,300, a portion of which, $138,643, was funded by a Community Development Block Grant.

Losquadro called the road “a very busy, main thoroughfare,” adding, “I am glad we were able to include it, along with Hagerman Landing Road, in our 2020 paving season.”

Bonner said Lower Rocky Point Road is one of the most traveled in her council district.

“This road and Hagerman Landing Road are much safer for drivers, bike riders and pedestrians,” she said.

The Pew Research Center released a report last year saying more than half of U.S. adults, 55 percent, at least some of the time get their news through social media. Photo art

While there were times when people would meet at the post office or corner store to discuss local happenings or gossip, much of that has been transferred online, specifically, for many communities, onto Facebook.

Facebook, which was originally designed for college students to judge the attractiveness of coeds, has since morphed into a social media giant. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is worth over $54 billion. In that time the site has gained that popularity; the population of the over 2.3 million Facebook users has also skewed older as now the average user is between the age of 25 and 34.

In a 2017 report by Pew Research Center and Elon University, experts in the technology world generally said they believe online discourse will be shaped even more by trolls and other bad actors. Anonymity, experts said, is a leading cause of the general negativity seen with online communication.

“The most you can do with a forum is provide guidelines of what’s appropriate and what’s not and try and induce some level of civility.”

— Rob DeStefano

But what should happen if that negative communication is with the person living down the street, or with a mother or father in the same grade as your own child?

It’s hard to estimate just how much work goes into maintaining these community pages, and even more so, keeping individuals’ posts from spilling over into name calling, anger or worse. Community group admins, some of whom asked not to be named in this article due to the sensitivity of their jobs or their work with the community, spoke with TBR News Media about the difficulty of keeping topics online from spiraling out of control, especially those that deal with politics. It is something many admins of pages who wish to keep talk civil deal with on a daily basis.

Karen Sobel Lojeski, a professor in the College of Engineering at Stony Brook University, has talked about the impact social media has made on the professional world, but she also coined the name, The Threshold Generation, or effectively the last generation of people, aged in their 20s and upward, who knew what it was like to live both with and without these connective technologies.

Many of those who run these community groups are a part of that so-called threshold generation, and have noticed what has happened to the general discourse over time. Rob DeStefano, a member of the Comsewogue school board and lifetime member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community, created and has run the Comsewogue Community Facebook page since 2010. What started as a group of just a few hundred members looking to talk about what was working or not working in the school district and local community has become 5,400 members posting about everything from local happenings to medical advice to politics, though one’s mileage may vary on the last one. 

“It’s certainly gotten harder because of the different ways social media is used compared to how it was then, but you just try and hold true to what the intent of the page is,” DeStefano said. “The goal is to make sure everyone in the community knows of things that are happening locally or beyond.”

The “beyond” is where things get complicated. Every year the community is notified of the Terryville Fire Department’s carnival or route for Santa during Christmastime, but when neighbors start discussions on topics, for example, about recent police protests and rallies, the dialogue becomes rough, to say the least.

“Your heart hurts hearing the way some people talk to each other on social media because you know it’s very different than how they behave in person,” he said. “The most you can do with a forum is provide guidelines of what’s appropriate and what’s not and try and induce some level of civility.”

Worse, is when these groups where admins try to stay nonpartisan deal with rumors, or worse, conspiracy theories. In early May, a video called “Plandemic” made its rounds on social media. In a video that called itself a trailer for a larger documentary, former chronic disease syndrome researcher Judy Mikovits talked about a large organized effort of global elites to profit off infectious diseases, despite there being no tangible evidence of this widespread conspiracy.  

“Then, even walking down the street or watching my kids games with other parents you could feel the hatred and tension.”

— Brenda Eimers Batter

The Pew Research Center released a report June 29 with a survey of 9,654 U.S. adults about how many people see conspiracy theories in COVID-19 news. The report said one in five of those who often rely on social media for coronavirus news say they watched at least part of the “Plandemic” video, while a comparative 10 percent of respondents who said they don’t get COVID news through social media saw it. Among those who have heard of this conspiracy, a reported 36 percent said they think it is either definitely or probably true.

“Plandemic” spread to multiple Facebook groups in the local area, and though many admins delete posts sharing the video, it wasn’t before likely hundreds of members saw it. 

Usually, the most volatile discussions revolve around politics, but sometimes, even cases of a local school district issue can devolve into vitriol. What’s worse is when that animosity leaps the screen and starts impacting normal life. Brenda Eimers Batter, who admins the nearly 2,500-member Facebook group UNOFFICIAL INFORMATIONAL Port Jeff Villagers, said she has seen how online dialogue can have a real impact on normal life. In 2017, with the Port Jefferson School District asking residents to vote on a $30 million bond, Eimers Batter said things got “really ugly.” 

“Then, even walking down the street or watching my kids games with other parents you could feel the hatred and tension,” she said. “That’s when I stepped in and tried to clean it up.”

That specific Facebook group, the most popular of a village with a real-world population of just over 8,100 residents, has seen changes over time, including a recent name change to add the word “Informational.” Smaller splinter groups in the village have broken off from the most popular page specifically for politics or for more hot button issues. It still does not stop some from regularly posting about such issues anyway.

For DeStefano, the objective is never to silence community residents, though he has felt he has had to delete posts when they seem incendiary. He says he tries to remind people that despite the digital divide, they remain neighbors.

“You wouldn’t talk to each other like this if you were standing on line next to a person in your local supermarket — so why do it here?” the Comsewogue school board trustee said. “People tend to isolate their behavior on social media as being separate from their identity, but it’s not.”

Regina Bornello, center, surrounded by her husband and children. Photo from Gofundme page

A Gofundme for the family of a woman who died in a Riverhead motorcycle crash Monday has already raised over $70,000 from more than 600 people as of Thursday.

Riverhead police announced July 14 that Regina Bornello, 45, of Rocky Point, was involved in a motorcycle crash the day before on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. Police said in a release that Bornello’s 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle was travelling westbound on Sound Avenue when it entered the eastbound lane and struck a 2003 Honda Civic driven by an unidentified 50-year-old man. The Civic turned over and the Riverhead Fire Department had to extricate the owner who was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, according to police. Bornello succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the crash, police said.

According to the Gofundme, Bornello is survived by her husband Dennis and three children. 

“Heaven has opened its gates to a loving mother, a loving wife and a beautiful person to all that know her,” wrote John Brush, of Oakdale, on the Gofundme page he created.

Left, the Broadway Beach ramp was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; right, the newly recostructed stairs and drainage system installed by Brookhaven town in 2020. Photos from Town of Brookhaven

Last week, the Town of Brookhaven highway department announced it had completed the $1.165 million stormwater treatment and shoreline stabilization project at the northern end of Broadway in Rocky Point, finishing a slate of over $6 million projects since Hurricane Sandy ravaged Long Island’s coastline eight years ago.

Town officials said the Broadway Beach sustained extensive damage including substantial sand, beach grass and vegetation erosion, as well as the destruction of the gabion-basket wall system, the beach access stairway and the concrete walkway after Sandy in 2012. 

At the end of last year, the town voted to enter into an agreement with the North Shore Beach Property Owners Association to start the project, which was set to start in early 2020 and finish by Memorial Day, May 25. 

In order to reduce risk of damage from future storm events, the gabion-basket walls were completely removed and replaced with steel bulkhead for toe of slope stability and an armor stone revetment wall. Highway officials said the bulkhead — which now protects areas of the bluff that have experienced significant levels of erosion in the past — has a much longer life span than the gabion-basket walls and will better protect the drainage infrastructure and shoreline from high storm surges, nor’easters and hurricanes. A new drainage system and stormwater treatment unit were also designed and incorporated into this project, ensuring that polluted stormwater is not directly discharged into the Long Island Sound.

“The completion of this project will ensure that we are less vulnerable to damage from future storms,” said Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) in a release.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Program has approved for 90 percent reimbursement of the total project cost of $1,165,000. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) helped secure a total of $4.5 million in FEMA grants. The last 10 percent, or $116,500, comes from the town’s highway budget as a capital project.

In the release, Zeldin said the project is “bolstering our area’s storm resiliency,” and is “preventing future water damage.”

This project is the last of a $6 million total Hurricane Sandy response for nearly a decade. This includes:

• Gully Landing Road, Miller Place — Total Cost: $1.4 million; 90 percent funded by FEMA

• Shore Road and Amagansett Drive, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $1.3 million; $233,651 FEMA funded

• Friendship Beach, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $1,045,648; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Hallock Landing Road, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $996,829; 90 percent funded by FEMA

• Sills Gully Beach, Shoreham — Total Cost: $875,000; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Riverhead Drive, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $239,210; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Landing Road, Miller Place — Total Cost: $145,845; 90 percent FEMA funded

• Woodhull Landing Beach, Sound Beach — Total Cost: $70,000

• Hagerman Landing Road, Rocky Point — Total Cost: $43,572

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More than a hundred local residents attended a Fourth of July event sponsored by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and Rocky Point/Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Kyle Barr

Well over 100 people crowded in the empty lot in front of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 building and behind Broadway Market July 4 to celebrate Fourth of July and honor those passed veteran family members from the community.

Last month, the Rocky Point/Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce announced an initiative to honor passed veterans with banners hung all along Broadway and King Road. For the Fourth of July, the local groups hung 33 pictures of veterans from the Rocky Point area. The chamber raised $3,300 from the community in order to raise the banners.

Those on the banners included people who had fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the many families in attendance, was the McCarrick family, who had three passed members of the clan up on those banners. This included the elder McCarrick’s brother Hugh and Kevin’s father William, mother Phyllis and uncle Thomas, all of whom participated in the Navy during WWII. Family and friends of Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa, of the U.S. Air Force who was a bronze star and purple heart recipient, were also there to remember his life.

As families sat in the small lot with groups of chairs distanced from each other, chamber and VFW leaders led the crowd in thanking vets for their sacrifices. Included in the event was the usual singing of the national anthem and the reading of the Declaration of Independence by multiple local residents.
“As you celebrate with your family and close friends, I ask you to honor all American patriots,” VFW Commander Joe Cognitore said to the assembled crowd. “They are the ones who allowed us the freedom to celebrate today.”

When Cognitore said he joined with the VFW in the 70s, nearly everyone there was a veteran of WWII. Now, he said, they are down to just two living members who participated in that long-ago war.
Chamber President Gary Pollakusky said though the area has been hit hard because of the coronavirus, “We are strong, we are fighters, and we will all get through this.”

He referenced people he called “keyboard warriors” who “stoke fires rather than build bridges.” As compared to the “doers,” which he said included the veterans and people who helped put on the ceremony.

The names of all those hung on the banners were read out and a bell tolled in their honor, with those men’s and women’s families standing when each was called in turn.

The banners will be kept up throughout July. The chamber is looking for people to submit names for next year’s ceremony, which could include deceased veterans, living vets and active duty service members or any other military heroes the community wishes to recognize. They are also asking for additional donations for next year.

Rocky Point 2020 Valedictorian Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Salutatorian Molly Lambert. Photos from RPUFSD

Rocky Point High School is proud to announce that seniors Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Molly Lambert have been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2020.

Lantz-Gefroh’s diversified high school career includes president of the National Math Honor Society, member of the National Honor Society, a member of Compassion Without Borders, a math and science tutor, a regional team dancer and dance teacher, and is employed at a formal wear boutique in Mount Sinai.

The valedictorian will join the freshman class at Texas Christian University where she will be on the pre-med educational track.

Lambert’s list of achievements is comprehensive and includes being a member of the National Honor Society, the New York State Mathematics Honor Society, the National English Honor Society and the Thespian Society. She was selected to represent the Rocky Point school district at the New York State School Music Association’s All-County and All-State conferences as a senior, took part in the high school’s Pocket Theater Productions for three years and has been a leading character in numerous high school musical productions. She also took on the responsibility of assistant director on the school’s most recent show “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The salutatorian intends to major in biology and minor in English at Colgate University in the fall.

“In addition to being at the top of their class, these two exceptional students are both well-rounded in their academics and interests,” Principal Jonathan Hart said. “Their ambitions and defined goals will lead them to greater achievements and we all look forward to hearing about their successes in the future.”

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

All school districts passed their budgets this year, though all are anticipating potential changes in state aid later in the year. In addition, all district voters decided to reelect incumbents in contested races.

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District 

SWR passed its 2020-21 budget, 2,146 to 801. Its budget is set at $77,164,774, a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy is $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

The district will maintain all current programming despite potential state aid cuts. Its state aid package would be $12,789,308, a $112,843 increase from last year. In the event of potential state aid cuts midyear, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

In the board of education elections all three candidates were incumbents and ran unopposed. Board president Michael Lewis secured another term on the board with 2,292 votes, Katie Anderson, who finished her first term this year, was reelected with 2,324 votes. Henry Perez was reelected to another term as well and garnered 2,300 votes. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District

The 2020-21 budget passed 1,961 to 952. Its budget is set at $84,586,600, with state aid reduction resulting in a $2.1 million decrease in the overall figure. Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. The budget sets the tax levy at $52,483,059,

setting itself directly at the tax cap, a very slight increase from last year’s figure.

A capital reserve proposition was approved 1,998 to 893. The district is planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. Due to the result of the vote, the district will gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy.

Incumbents Sean Callahan and Jessica Ward secured reelection to a three-year term. They garnered 1,955 and 2,094 votes, respectively. Challenger Kellyann Imeidopf fell short with 960 votes.

Miller Place School District 

The Miller Place School District passed its 2020-21 budget convincingly with a vote of 2,156 to 860. The budget is set at $75,713,895, a 2.37 percent increase from last year. The district’s 2020-21 tax levy is set at $47,616,059 and an increase of $687,471 from last year’s amount. 

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Officials said they plan on using leftover aid and funds from repairing the high school gym floor to help offset any further reductions in state aid. 

Proposition 2, which comprised the library budget, passed overwhelming as well:  2,464 to 548. 

Board Vice President Richard Panico was reelected to the board with 2,407 votes. Trustee member Lisa Reitan was also reelected to another term with 2,420 votes. 

Mount Sinai School District

Voters passed the 2020-21 budget, 2,108 to 857. Its budget is set at $61,769,870, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

A second proposition asked voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. It passed 2,365 to 595. Projects will include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000.

Three board seats were up for grabs this year. Incumbents Edward Law, Robert Sweeney and Peter Van Middelem all secured reelection with 1,635, 1,915 and 1,675 votes, respectively. Newcomer Karen Pitka came up shy in her bid to get on the board securing 1,597 votes.

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Protesters stood on the side of Route 25A in Rocky Point June 12 to call for an end to police brutality and racism in general. Photo by Kyle Barr

Well over 100 peaceful protesters lined Route 25A in Rocky Point June 12, calling for an end to police brutality and more in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd’s killing in police custody almost three weeks ago.

A number of area locals and other Long Island residents crowded the sidewalk in front of the Kohl’s shopping center. Suffolk County Police were present, mainly asking protesters to keep off the road for safety reasons.

A diverse crowd of multiple races and ages shouted slogans such as “black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe,” also the last words of Floyd and Eric Garner, who was killed during a police chokehold in New York City in 2014. Several passing cars honked their horns in support.

Jim Sweeney, a Selden resident, said the protests today have shown much more diversity than those in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, though so many of the problems remain the same as they were over half a century since.

“Everyone wants to say its one bad cop, its one bad cop, but there were four cops who killed George Floyd, there were supervisors who falsified the report, there was a medical examiner who tried to say it wasn’t murder — how did Floyd run into seven bad people in one instance?” Sweeney said. “If Floyd was white, he wouldn’t have even been handcuffed.”

Other protesters said they have been calling for an end to black oppression for many years.

“I’m a privileged white woman, who no matter what obstacles in my life I have been able to overcome them, but I can’t say the same for my black brothers and sisters, so I want to stand here in support of them,” said Mary Cappasso.

While many residents wrote on social media, they feared violence from the protests, all still remained peaceful.

“We’re protesting because black Americans deserve the same rights that everyone else already has and they’ve been oppressed too long, it’s time to speak up,” said Nikita Narsingh, of Mount Sinai. “If there’s any time it’s now,”

Sound Beach resident Emily Marciano came to the protest with her son, Dontae. She is white, while her son is black. She said it’s systemic racism as a whole that needs reform, not just the police.

“Whenever I see [police violence against minorities] it scares me to think … I’ve also been told by someone in the area ‘you don’t shoot deer, you do black people,” she said. “It scares me when my son goes out, wondering if he could come home or he could not come home, if someone sees him and doesn’t like the color of his skin.”

Voting booths at Rocky Point High School. File photo by Kyle Barr

It very well could be a challenging next few years for school districts all across Long Island, let alone the North Shore. Districts await with bated breath any announcement from New York State regarding any new mandates, let alone the announcement for when schools could potentially let students back into buildings. Not to mention, the potential drastic cuts in state aid due to major state budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set up committees headed by billionaire Bill Gates and others to look at “reimagining” education, though what that will mean down the line could have major impacts on school district operations.

With that, only two of four local school districts have contested elections, but all still face similar issues. Given these challenges, The Village Beacon Record has given all board candidates the chance to say what challenges they see ahead for their districts.

For more information about districts’ 2020-21 budgets, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com/tag/school-budgets.

Shoreham-Wading River

Three incumbents are looking to return to their seats at the SWR school board, and no challengers have presented themselves to contest those positions this year. Each seat is for a three-year term. 

Michael Lewis

Current board president Michael Lewis has been on the board for four years, and with two children in the district, he said that while the position is stressful, “It is very rewarding to see the board’s impact when students attend our meetings and display their accolades, achievements and success.”

Lewis, a senior project manager for an architectural firm on Long Island, said the biggest concerns for the future are the potential for state aid cuts and for what he called “unfunded mandates” caused by new physical distancing regulations.

What may help the district into the future is what Lewis called their “very healthy” capital reserves, which may allow for more flexibility in uncertain and potentially lean times. 

“Having a very supportive community which has consistently approved our annual budget, a four-year average growth of only 1.52%, is a huge advantage as well.” he said.

Lewis said he is hopeful for full student attendance of buildings come the start of fall, but still the district has purchased Chromebooks for all elementary students, with secondary school students already having them. 

“Our administrators have offered multiple professional development opportunities which a majority of our teaching staff has taken advantage of,” he said. ”There is always room for improvement in everything we do as a district.”

Katie Andersen

Katie Andersen, who is finishing her first term as trustee on the SWR BOE, said difficulties the district will face in the coming years will be issues of mental health and gaps in student knowledge from distance learning.

Andersen, who is vice president of the board, said she has several children in the district, including a seventh-grader, fourth-grader, first-grader, and a brother who is a junior in high school. She is a member of several committees and is involved with the PTA and SEPTA. Outside of work on the board, she is a marketing consultant.

“I’m deeply committed to serving our community in this role,” she said. “In spite of the challenges and extensive donation of time, I do enjoy it.”

Though she said the most significant issue is students’ emotional well-being, she added the district will also be facing issues from complying with new unfunded state mandates, such as having to provide distance learning on the fly, that will be a challenge “while becoming increasingly creative at stretching every dollar so that we can continue to enhance our programming and move forward with the maintenance projects for our buildings,” she added.

While Andersen said the district will continue to improve upon lessons taught by rolling out distance learning, she felt the district did everything it could with what it had.

“The resources provided to students and parents, the ongoing professional development provided to teachers, and the tireless efforts of our administration and staff has been nothing less than remarkable,” she said. “Our district will continue to provide for the needs of our students, staff and families as creatively as possible under these less than ideal circumstances … A growth mindset isn’t just something we teach our children — it’s at the heart of everything we do here in SWR.”

Henry Perez

With his third year on the board under his belt, Henry Perez, a mechanical engineer for a national architectural/engineering firm and near 20-year Shoreham resident, said the district is trying to be fiscally responsible despite the current hardships.

“The current pandemic will impact New York State’s financial ability to support local education,” Perez said. “I expect reduced funding from Albany in the next few years.”

He added the pandemic will likely change how students are taught in the future, and with the fear of additional unfunded mandates, it will mean a greater challenge to the district as it attempts to continue its current levels of education. 

“Shoreham-Wading River is already positioned to continue providing this level of education,” he said. “However, going forward requires careful planning to navigate these changing times. Listening to the community and receiving timely feedback in this time of social distancing is extremely important.”

Perez, who has two children in the district, said distance learning remains a complicated topic. The biggest issue is despite current efforts that he and others in the district are proud of, “it requires months of planning and feedback to develop and fine-tune a distance learning platform.”

However, the district has made major strides with its virtual classroom through its Chromebook initiative. Rolling out the distance learning structure in “a matter of days” showed the district’s quick response time, and feedback helped fine-tune the services. 

“I am confident we will only see improvements,” he said. “It seems in this day and age many expect things to be perfect from day one, myself included. However, it’s this expectation that results in change. It is change that brings opportunity.”

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District has three candidates running for two at-large seats for the 2020-21 school year. Each seat is for a three-year term. This year two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for the public’s nod.

Sean Callahan

Sean Callahan, the current board vice president, has sat on the BOE for six years. Himself a labor lawyer specializing in education and school issues, he said he and the board have spent the past years “transforming” the district by hiring people in central office and in principal positions, adding the board has worked to maintain balanced budgets and improve communication between the board, administration, staff and community.

“I am running once again to continue the transformation into the next generation,” he said.

Callahan, a Rocky Point resident since 1975 and father of three sons, two graduates and one in middle school, said he has experience in school auditing districts. He added he is also a certified school business official. On the local side, he has been a member of the Rocky Point civic, PTA and was a 10-year member of the North Shore Little League board of trustees.

As for upcoming issues due to the pandemic, the longtime resident said the board has already worked, even prior to schools closing, to tighten the belt. This year with a tax levy cap set at 0.08 percent and having prepaid part of their bonds of over a million dollars, which meant little had to be changed due to the pandemic with no loss of educational programming. While there is a chance state aid can be cut down the line, he said his day job offers him insight others may not have. 

“During this pandemic through my employment I am privy to many internal discussions from the governor’s office as well as having access to many other school districts,” he said. “This enables our district to learn from others’ mistakes and borrow their ideas.”

Jessica Ward

Trustee Jessica Ward has been on the board for one year, having run last year to finish the term of another trustee who had resigned.

She works at the William Floyd School District as an office assistant at William Floyd High School, which she said gives her insight into the ground-level view of what districts are having to do during this unfortunate time. She has four children who attend Rocky Point schools at every level from elementary to high school.

She sees the issues that districts all across the island will face in the near future as maintaining programming despite potential drastic cuts in state aid, following the guidelines for and ensuring the health and safety of staff and students in the aid of social distancing and trying to create a balanced budget to facilitate all that. Districts also face the challenge of ensuring equal access to technology for all students in the event that distance learning becomes more cemented in the future.

“We need to make sure that we are using our resources wisely, examining existing contracts to ensure fiscal responsibility, thinking outside the box in terms of schedules and extra-curricular activities, researching grant opportunities for technology needs, and partnering with other districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES for staff training and curriculum needs,” Ward said.

With that, she added she feels Rocky Point has done an “excellent job” in rolling out distance learning. The district identified students in need of electronic devices in their homes, and the English as a Second Language department “ensured non-English-speaking students received the help and support they needed.

Some teachers in the district have been presenting audio and video lessons, and the guidance department, she said, has been reaching out to students who need additional assistance.

“There is always room for improvement though, and in the future, I would like to see every student at Rocky Point receive a Chromebook or device to assist in distance learning should we need to continue this in the 2020-21 school year,” she said. “I would also like to see all of our teachers doing some form of live interaction with our students via Google Meet or another platform in the future.”

Kellyann Imeidopf

A 10 and a quarter-year resident in the Rocky Point school district, Kellyann Imeidopf said her two main jobs are as a real estate salesperson and as a mother. She has four students in the district, with one in kindergarten, with the others in first, eighth and 10th grade. She said she decided to run because, “I ultimately have the children’s interest at heart. I want to be part of the team that shapes how our children get ready to become productive and active community members themselves. I want to create a shared vision for the future of education.”

She said the main challenges the district will face in the coming years will be regarding the mental health of both children and staff, and how they will “maintain social distance, but not emotional distance.” 

She said there will be setbacks from online learning, adding there needs to be a look at how to adapt the physical classroom to a virtual environment that can both engage children without leaning on parents. She said she has other ideas for how to prepare seniors heading off for college, even though seniors don’t have the same access to guidance departments they had when students were in school buildings.

In terms of distance learning, she said the district is working with the resources it had on hand, and both teachers and parents are “all dealing with this transition in not only professional ways, but personal, social-emotional and economic ways. I believe every staff member has our children’s best intentions at heart.”

She added the district can come together as a team to develop ways to ease the burdens on parents.

Miller Place 

The Miller Place School District has two seats up for election, and two incumbents are looking to fill them. Trustees Richard Panico and Lisa Reitan are the only candidates asked to be put on the ballot.

Both could not be reached before press time. The two candidates will be included in a follow up article if they respond before the June 4 issue of the Village Beacon Record.

Mount Sinai

This year, Mount Sinai voters will be asked to cast ballots for three at-large board seats with a total of four candidates running. Three incumbents and one newcomer are looking to fill the at-large seats for the next three years.

Edward Law

Ed Law, also a nine-year member of the Mount Sinai BOE, said he has decided to run again because with the district facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, the district will need to navigate the pandemic and continue offering the same level of education. That, he said, will need experienced hands. 

“During my time on the board of education, we’ve been able to improve on the objective metrics of success for our district as well as providing for the specific needs of students who have developmental delays and disabilities,” he said. “Our track record of success of our students earning admission to competitive colleges and universities has been improving year over year while our district has expanded choices and options for those who choose career over college. We need to continue to improve on these.”

Law, who works full time as a management consultant, said the biggest challenge for the district will be in potential loss in state aid. The ongoing crisis might also result in other unfunded mandates, but he called those “nothing new.”

He added that the district has crafted its 2020-21 budget with consideration toward potential state aid cuts, while still keeping the tax levy increase minimal.

“As a district, we have evaluated every line item of our operating budget to ensure that we can provide continuity of our program,” he said. “This current scenario has been reflected in our proposed budget.”

In terms of the future of education at Mount Sinai, Law, who has one child in the middle school and two recent graduates, said that the district has tried to address concerns with how the district is doing distance learning. Though it’s hard to tell what may be in the future, the district must plan for everything.

“We have had a few issues raised by parents and we have it addressed directly by the teacher and principal,” he said. “Since we don’t know yet whether in person instruction will be able to be provided in the fall as per Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] guidelines and the governor’s directives, we need to continue to improve on how instruction is being provided, and have a plan for remote/distance learning in the new school year, whether through existing technology solutions or alternate technology platforms.”

Peter Van Middelem 

With six years already on the job, trustee Peter Van Middlem said the district must try to maintain its high standards of academics and other programming while facing potential financial challenges from the pandemic.

Van Middelem is a retired New York City Fire Department member and current financial auditor in various Suffolk school districts. Among his three children, his son, Jacob, is a junior at the high school.

“As a lifelong resident who attended Mount Sinai Schools and a 35-year volunteer of the Mount Sinai Fire Department, service to this community is my guiding force,” he said. 

He cited the district’s efforts already with hiring a teacher for the school’s robotics program, a new special education director and the new elementary school principal he described as a “literacy expert,” along with the implementation of Columbia Teacher College Reading and Writing programs for middle and elementary schools. He cited his and other members ability to deal with crises, including new security efforts such as armed guards and perimeter fencing.

However, now with the ongoing pandemic, he said the district’s efforts to generate savings through the district’s retirement incentive program and use of the capital plan to make improvements to facilities are important. 

He said the district must also be there to support community members facing financial hardships in this time.

“Our students and their families potentially will experience financial difficulties and we will be there to help any way we can to support them,” he said.  

In terms of the future of learning at Mount Sinai, he said the district has done well with limited New York State guidance, and will continue to improve on distance learning.

“With basic at best guidance from New York State, our teachers and admin have had to create a new learning environment,” he said. “The vast majority of our staff have done a great job considering the circumstances. We can always do better and will strive for that goal.”

Karen Pitka

Karen Pitka, a Mount Sinai resident since 2011, works as a fourth-grade teacher and said she can bring that experience in education matters, especially at the youngest grade levels, to help Mount Sinai in these difficult times. 

Pitka said she has taught second and fifth grade as well. While she has considered running for school board before, she said the pandemic has made the choice all the more clear.

“My extensive experience in education allows me to be well versed in what our children need,” she said. “Our youngest children will suffer greatly from the closure of schools during this unprecedented time and I feel I will be an asset to the community and will be able to offer the proper guidance being that I am an elementary school teacher and mother of young children.” 

Having the proper protocol for distance learning is one of the most important issues districts will face. Pitka said districts need a “proper plan” for distance learning should students not return to school buildings in September. Plans, she said, need to adhere to the Free Appropriate Public Education. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which needs to take into account the type of technology students have at home or have at their disposal so all can have access. 

However, she said the district has done everything it could with the time it had to create a distance learning experience. Still, now that the district has had time to collect its bearings, she said Mount Sinai should look at programs that can offer a similar experience to all users.

“Moving forward, now that we know we need to be prepared for circumstances such as these, I feel it would behoove the district to look at their plan for 1:1 student devices and ensure that a developmentally appropriate online learning platform is put into place for distance learning,” she said.

She added the district will face the challenge of an academic gap caused by school closures, and Mount Sinai should look into a specific mental health program to assist students with coping with the “new normal.”

“More pull-out remediation services may need to be offered and class sizes will need to be smaller in order to provide direct remediation from the classroom teacher,” she said.

In terms of finances, Pitka said if state aid changes the district should look at “every single line in the budget and decide which areas are absolutely critical to the development of all Mount Sinai students from the elementary level through the high school level.”

Robert Sweeney

Robert Sweeney, the current BOE president, has been on the board for nine years. Himself the managing partner of a law firm, he said he has the longtime and intimate experience of the school district, from both the administration side and from the student’s perspective.

Sweeney, who currently has two children in the district plus one who’s graduated, said this year’s budget was modified in response to the pandemic. He said he advocated for the lower tax levy increase of just over 1 percent, a full percentage point below the tax cap, especially since many residents will be hard pressed financially in the coming months. He added that the board has helped negotiate teacher retirement plans that can reduce the budget in the future without making cuts. Knowing when people will be retiring and enrollment numbers, he said, allows them to know how to staff going from year to year.

“There’s a balancing act of keeping the programs and keeping teachers in place,” he said. “We really tried to focus on a point where it makes sense for the district but some people may have jobs lost, lost a second income or have seen payroll reductions …  We can’t just keep going on as if nothing’s happened.” 

He also cited use of the capital reserves to work on projects like refinishing the high school roof as another example of the district trying to maintain its infrastructure without laying the burden on taxpayers.

With the potential for state aid cuts looming somewhere later into the year, the board president said the budget was designed for some amount of flexibility. He added the district is dedicated to long-term strategic planning to think several years ahead.

“I don’t know of any school district that could survive, as is, with a 20 percent drop in state aid — that could be huge,” he said. “We’ve drawn a bit more out of fund balance — that’s what it’s there for — and that will take us to a position next year.”

Sweeney called the term distance learning “a misnomer,” adding that programs looked different mid-March into April and then into May. Schools will have to remain flexible, he said, in case months down the road they will have students in schools, then have to reduce attendance in schools should the state require it. Most importantly, though, is to regain the social and emotional interaction between students and teachers.  

“It is providing support to the students, I do not think of it as distance learning,” he said. “The classroom teacher is important not just because of the material and the textbook, but because of the social and important interaction that the teacher has with the students. We have to make sure that we have classroom teaching in some form. Going forward every building and grade will be different.” 

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A stack of 100 Chromebook computers gifted to students in the Rocky Point school district. Photo from RPUFSD

As Rocky Point students continue with distance learning, donors both near and far have been eager to lend a helping hand so that all students have the tools they need to succeed.

Locally, the Rotary Club of Rocky Point and the North Shore Youth Council have lent Chromebooks to students, and the Organization of Latin America of Eastern Long Island donated 100 Acer Chromebooks to the Rocky Point School District to assist with online education during the COVID-19 crisis.

The donations were part of the OLA of Eastern Long Island’s initiative granting 2,500 laptops and wifi equipment to eastern school districts. The donations to 11 different school districts totaled around $500,000 in electronic equipment. 

“We are grateful for the generosity and kindness of these organizations for helping our students have this crucial access to succeed in their school work,” Superintendent Scott O’Brien said. “These partnerships help to not only advance our students’ ongoing education, it encourages and strengthens school-community connections.”

Students without devices in their homes were able to pick up the Chromebooks last Friday as they moved forward in their educational digital instruction.