A new leader has taken the helm of the Huntington school board.
Trustee Tom DiGiacomo was unanimously voted the president of the school board at the board’s reorganizational meeting on Monday evening. Trustee Xavier Palacios nominated him for the position, and Trustee Bari Fehrs seconded his nomination.
Trustee Jennifer Hebert maintained her position as vice president of the board.
DiGiacomo succeeds incumbent President Emily Rogan, a nine-year member of the board, who has held the leadership role for four years.
After his appointment as president, DiGiacomo publicly thanked Rogan for her leadership, noting she’d “done an excellent job in helping our district improve.” He noted, at one point, that he had “big shoes” to fill.
When reached by phone on Wednesday, Rogan said she supported DiGiacomo.
“I think he will do a terrific job,” she said. “Tom has my support 100 percent. Did I still want to be president? I would have gladly been president. There were trustees on the board who wanted a change.”
In an interview after the meeting, DiGiacomo spoke briefly about his appointment.
“I’m honored and privileged that my fellow trustees have nominated me and made me president.”
Newly elected Trustee Christine Biernacki also took an oath of office at Monday night’s meeting, along with several other school officials, including Superintendent Jim Polansky and District Clerk Joanne Miranda.
A former Northport-East Northport school board trustee is calling the group’s decision to shell out $935 a day for an interim assistant superintendent for human resources “absurd.”
The board voted on June 15 to appoint Lou Curra as its interim assistant superintendent for human resources from June 17 through Dec. 23, replacing former assistant superintendent Rosemarie Coletti, who resigned on June 30 to take another job. Curra didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday, but Joe Sabia, who served on the school board from 2011 to 2014, took to the microphone at a meeting on July 1 to tell board members he and others in the community felt that $935 a day was too high, and that the district should have hired someone from within.
“They think that you’re pushing the envelope too far against the homeowners — the taxpayers of this district — to bring in an interim,” he said.
School board members, however, countered that the appointment is not long-term and that the board needed to find someone with the right skill set to assist new Superintendent Robert Banzer.
“That is a per diem appointment with no vacation time, no sick time, no benefits,” Trustee Julia Binger told Sabia. “… And also we needed somebody who was very experienced, because we have a new superintendent on board, and we need to have somebody very solid who really understands human resources and collective bargaining and so on.”
Board President Andrew Rapiejko said that for human resources, this is the busiest time of the year.
“We are in the process of soliciting resumes for permanent person to take over that and hopefully we’ll have someone on board in relatively short order,” he said.
With costs rising all over, Sabia said taxpayers are struggling.
Voters in the Huntington, Northport-East Northport, Harborfields and Cold Spring Harbor school districts resoundingly approved their districts’ proposed 2015-16 budgets and elected a number of newcomers to local school boards.
Both Harborfields and Northport-East Northport school board races had contests this year — in Harborfields, five candidates vied for three seats, and in Northport-East Northport, a pool of seven were competing for three slots.
Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor had races in which trustees ran unopposed.
Voters in the Huntington school district approved a $120.3 million budget, 1,228 votes to 301. Proposition 2, which allows the district to spend just over $1 million in capital reserve monies to pay for state-approved projects, passed 1,252 votes to 251.
Four people ran unopposed for re-election or election: board President Emily Rogan received 1,193 votes, board members Xavier Palacios and Tom DiGiacomo collected 1,139 votes and 1,185 votes, respectively, and newcomer Christine Biernacki garnered 1,189 votes. Rogan, Biernacki and DiGiacomo won three-year terms.
As the lowest vote getter, Palacios will serve the remaining two years on a term of former Vice President Adam Spector’s vacated seat.
“We will maintain our efforts toward achieving cost savings and efficiencies, while preserving the goal of providing students across the district with a high quality education that promotes an affinity for learning as well as college and career readiness in an increasingly global and technologically-driven society,” Superintendent Jim Polansky said in a statement.
In Northport-East Northport, the $159.6 million budget was approved, 3,281 to 788, in a turnout that school officials there called stronger than usual. Proposition 2, which allows the district to spend $1.2 million in capital reserves, was approved 3,561 to 504. Longtime Trustee Stephen Waldenburg Jr., who has served on the board for 15 years, was voted out in a heated race against six others for three seats, amassing 1,290 votes. Incumbent David Badanes, 2,446 votes, was re-elected to another term. Candidate Tammie Topel, former school board member, got her seat back after declining to seek re-election last year, with 2,130 votes and newcomer David Stein, who championed a successful grassroots parental movement to get full-day kindergarten included in this year’s budget, enjoyed victory to the board, with 2,548 votes.
Newcomers Peter Mainetti, Josh Muno and Michael Brunone missed the mark as well, with Mainetti garnering 1,018 votes, Muno receiving 542 votes and Brunone getting 1,039 votes.
Stein said he’s looking forward to working with his colleagues on the school board as his first order of business.
“I feel that the will of this entire community, that did great things this year, was just heard. This is what we’ve been working for. The community put kindergarten together; they did it as a community effort.”
Waldenburg said he “would’ve liked to won,” but the community has spoken.
“I’ve given it my all for 15 years and I’m grateful that I was able to serve that long,” Waldenburg said. “I appreciate it. The community wants somebody else; that’s their choice.”
Newly elected Trustee Tammie Topel and incumbent David Badanes also spoke positively about their victories.
“I feel on cloud nine. I feel really great,” Topel said.
The United Teachers of Northport, the district’s teacher’s union, endorsed the three candidates who won, according to Antoinette Blanck, the president of the union. She said she was “thrilled” the budget passed, especially because of full-day kindergarten.
Voters in Harborfields approved their budget with high marks — 82.5 percent voter support for an $80.5 million spending plan, with 1,442 voting in favor and 305 voting no. Voters also supported a proposition on the ballot to establish a new capital reserve fund, with 79.4 percent in favor.
Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and board President Dr. Thomas McDonagh were returned to the board, and voters elected newcomer Suzie Lustig. Mastroianni earned the most votes, at 1,017, McDonagh earned 958 votes and Lustig got 953 votes.
Candidates Chris Kelly and Colleen Rappa fell short.
Mastroianni and McDonagh are both incumbents; serving their ninth and seventh year, respectively. Lustig, a resident of the Harborfields district for 22 years, will be serving on the board for her first time.
Lustig said she wants to focus her time on making sure all students at Harborfields receive a well-rounded education that is competitive for the 21st century.
“Our school has to be of a holistic level, some children may be gifted in science or they may be gifted in music, and we need to make sure we represent everybody for a competitive environment,” Lustig said.
Lustig has served as the Harborfields Council of PTAs “Get Out the Vote” chairperson for three years now, and has served on the district’s advisory committee since 2013, as well as holding many different PTA positions since 2007.
Mastroianni, who has served on the board since 2006, believes that the biggest challenges Harborfields faces as a district are state-imposed, including the gap elimination adjustment on school district aid, a deduction from each school district’s state aid allocation that helps the state fill its revenue shortfall.
Mastroianni also hopes to focus on current district committee work regarding building usage and full-day kindergarten.
“I think full-day kindergarten is definitely possible, but we have to take a hard look at the costs and the sustainability,” Mastroianni said.
McDonagh wants to focus on many of the projects that have just begun this year, including the capital improvement bond project, and evaluating the need for facility modifications over the next few years.
“The projects being considered include both athletic facilities and educational facilities, as well as just general district facility needs like bathrooms and other facilities,” McDonagh said.
Cold Spring Harbor
In Cold Spring Harbor, voters approved a $64 million budget, 335 votes to 130. Proposition 2, which moved to spend capital reserve money on various projects, passed 318 to 107. Proposition 3, to establish a new capital reserve fund, was approved 314 to 114. Board President Anthony Paolano and Trustee Ingrid Wright ran unopposed for re-election and received 366 and 359 votes, respectively.
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