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Shoreham-Wading River school district

SWR 2020 Valedictorian Jacqueline Holden and Salutatorian Stephanie Searing. Photos from SWRCSD

Shoreham-Wading River High School announced the top scoring seniors of the Class of 2020 with Jacqueline Holden and Stephanie Searing having been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

These two well-rounded students both have impressive achievements and interests and have taken advantage of many of the district’s courses and extracurricular activities.

Valedictorian Holden’s achievements include involvement with the Drama Club and Tri-M Music Honor Society, where she serves each club as treasurer; leadership roles as secretary for both Women in Science and Engineering and Students Against Destructive Decisions and varsity captain of Brainstormers. Outside of a busy high school career, she is a leader in St. Mark’s Teen Choir and a Girl Scout.

Holden will study molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall. She, along with other valedictorians, were saluted by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association this year in what would have been their 26th annual valedictorians luncheon, which was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead Superintendent Gerard Poole presented Holden with a commemorative program, congratulatory video, a certificate of achievement and a cherished childhood storybook, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Salutatorian Searing served as vice president of the National Honor Society’s Peer Tutoring, is treasurer of Tri-Music Honor Society, represented her peers as the ex-officio student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education, is a member of Mathletes, the varsity track team and the varsity tennis team. Searing is principal violist of the Children’s Orchestral Society and participated in the Plum Island Animal Disease Center High School STEM Forum, a unique opportunity where she presented her findings on the organ shortage in America to scientists from Plum Island, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Connecticut, Suffolk County Community College and Mystic Aquarium among others.

Searing will attend Stevens Institute of Technology where she will major in biomedical engineering.   

“These two students represent the exceptional programming offered at our high school,” Principal Frank Pugliese said. “Their leadership skills and well-rounded academic, athletic, extracurricular and community involvement exemplify the goals of the Shoreham-Wading River School District – providing all students the skills required to become lifelong learners in a self-sufficient manner. We look forward to hearing more about their accomplishments in the future.”

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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SWR student John Basile works on the Wildcat Pause 2020 senior issue. Photo from Jean Branna

It was months before the start of the crisis, and the editors of the Wildcat Pause school newspaper at Shoreham-Wading River High School were anticipating the school year’s end and the annual senior issue. Last year, printing troubles resulted in only a few copies getting published. This year was supposed to be different. 

‘I will miss the relationships I have created with teachers and peers. Some of us went to kindergarten together, so it’s not easy to recreate the same type of relationship.’

—Brianna Cohen

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

Then the pandemic happened. The schools were closed. Students started learning at a distance online, and for the editors of the Pause, a new concern popped into their heads. What would happen to the senior issue, the one supposed to cap off both their and their fellow student’s final year?

“It became obvious that we needed to have it ready,” said high school journalism teacher Jean Branna. The newspaper is planned to be available online and will be printed in time to be handed out alongside the yearbook.

What became apparent to both the teacher and school newspaper editors was this senior issue, the last of their K-12 careers, would mark a defining moment for so many of their classmates. What they were experiencing was historic, a disruption to traditional schooling not seen in more than a century.

It was a marking point for a graduating class which editors said has become tight knit through adversity, such as the students who came together in the 2018 high school walkouts, protesting gun violence in schools after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“The senior class is very close, we went through a lot of stuff in the past several years,” said Heather Tepper, co-editor-in-chief of the Pause. “To see the last three years taken away from a lot of people, you really see them react with deprivation and disappointment.”

Tepper, along with co-editor-in-chief Sasha Medvedeva, SWR senior John Basile and Branna have taken to the task of producing the senior issue come hell or high water.

Of course, nothing comes easy, especially in a crisis. The school newspaper crew is unable to use Adobe InDesign from home, as Branna said the program does not meet the data privacy and security requirements by state law. Instead, thanks to the technical expertise of Basile, the editors have started laying out using Google Docs. Normally just a tool for straight text formats, using tables and cells the students have learned to format the papers, despite limitations of the program.

The fact the students and teacher have had only three weeks to put together issue meant some long hours compiling pictures and senior comments, then laying everything out. Tepper said there was one night she logged on to see Branna was still working on a page at around 11:30 p.m. She told her teacher to “go get some sleep.”

Doing this project, she said, is as much for the students as it is to show appreciation for her teacher.

‘Be yourself and don’t sweat the small stuff. The years go by way too quickly to worry about the little things, and one day you’ll look back on those things and realize how stupid they were. Also, be yourself and never change for anyone because you’re happiest when you’re you.’

— Mike Casazza 

Quoted in SWR 2020 senior issue

“Branna is so invested with journalism in general, she’s so into her work, and I felt like I wanted to go out with a bang,” Tepper said.

But the hours have been worth it, as students from the journalism class take in the massive number of quotes from seniors. In previous years, when student-journalists would get comments from seniors wandering the halls, comments had been terse or simple platitudes. Now, while students are forced online, seniors became more verbose. To read some of their quotes is to understand the mindset of those graduating seniors, hurtling themselves into the many unknowns the pandemic has produced.

“I’ve learned about how their friendships, their experiences have changed with other people,” Medvedeva said. 

The senior was planning to attend Binghamton University to study neuroscience, but she still does not know if the college will even have a fall semester, or what shape it will take. Tepper was set to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and study advertising with a goal of going into public relations. Similar to her fellow editor, she also does not know what the future may bring. It is possibly the most daunting and most uncertain time for a person to graduate since the 2008 financial collapse.

Though in writing the senior issue’s editorial, co-written by both editors, what became clear was just what this issue of the Wildcat Pause meant to the graduating students. Medvedeva in hearing some of the anecdotes from seniors has “learned about their friendships with other seniors, of how some experiences throughout their high school career have changed them. It has just warmed my heart to hear those.”

Tepper, who shared in her fellow seniors’ anxieties over the future, added this Pause issue may memorialize the shared experiences of her classmates.

“I still think there’s something to celebrate, as things were taken away from us,” she said. “I think that given the unfortunate circumstances, we can appreciate what we had even more.” 

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns.

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures.

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though if it does change based on any state decisions, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai residents will see a marginal increase in budget but only a slight increase in taxes, despite the lingering question whether students will even be in school next September. The district voted to approve its budget at its May 18 board meeting.

The 2020-21 budget sees a $61,769,870 budget, 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.

The largest increases come in the form of operations and maintenance by just over $84,000 because of contractual obligations, as well as oil and electric increases. Employee benefits increased by $272,695, mostly from employee and teacher retirement requirements. 

“Every participant in the retirement system is given percentages based on the market performances from the comptroller’s office,” said board president Robert Sweeney.

Though much of the budget remains the same in presentations from the past 3 months, officials said that this year’s budget has had to account for the fact many, many residents have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. 

“Our community is not in the same financial position five weeks ago,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

A second proposition the district will ask voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. This does not increase the tax levy.

Current projects still 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. 

The district is currently set to receive $17,653,079 in state aid this upcoming school year, a some $135,000 decrease from last year. Brosdal said it was due to decreased building aid from continuing to pay off loans and bonds from building projects.

Brosdal said the question of whether the governor will cut state aid, that is still up in the air, could mean massive upheaval for the district.

“He has talked about a further 20 percent school aid cut, which would be devastating, devastating,” Brosdal said. “Things are not what they were, this is a brand new game.” 

Should the state budget change mid-year, that would also cause issues for the district, the superintendent said, as they would then have to revise the budget midstream, potentially leading to staffing cuts and program changes.

Brosdal, who in his time working from home has grown a mustache since the start of quarantine, also added, “I need to go back to school because I need to shave.”

Mount Sinai will host its budget hearing June 2 at 8 p.m. A link to the online meeting can be found at mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Votes must be received by June 9 at 8 p.m.

Miller Place

For a budget that was originally meant to be displayed and voted on earlier this month, not much has changed between then and the pandemic which has pushed the vote back to May 9. 

The district adopted its budget at its March 17 emergency meeting, but has reallocated resources in order to better meet the needs of students as they handle distance learning, and potentially when they are allowed back into school buildings.

“We reviewed all of our expenditures reallocated from areas that we can regress,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano.

The budget for 2020-21 is set at $75,713,895, a $1,755,288 or 2.37 percent increase from last year. Though the district also cites using about a million dollars in capital project funding, which would mean this year’s increase is $754,612, or just over 1 percent.

The largest increases come from the usual suspects such as a $390,137 or 2.38 percent increase in employee benefits and a $134,659 increase in health insurance budget.

The district’s 2020-21 tax levy, or the amount of money the district raises through area taxes, is set at $47,616,059, which sits directly at the state tax cap limit for this year of 1.46 percent. It’s an increase of $687,471 from last year.

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. Cartisano said that million or so dollars came in response to the high school gym floor, which was remedied last September. Now that aid, along with saved funds, will be used to help offset any potential reductions in state aid, should the state revise its budget somewhere down the line. 

“It’s not an advantageous place to be in to have a huge unknown, but we are fortunate that we can plan for it — the school district is very financially solid,” the superintendent said. 

In terms of programming for this upcoming year, the district plans to continue with all current classes and clubs along with adding more time to middle school math labs and new courses of AP Calculus BC and non-regents chemistry. These two new courses are being funded by reallocation of resources and will only run if there are enough students enrolled. 

The budget also adds elementary sections in an effort to lower class sizes in the third, fifth and sixth grades. These sections were seeing an average of 26 students before, but that will be reduced to 22 or 24.

The district is also adding an extra 10 minutes of “specials” time in the elementary school, or the daily activities where one day may be gym and the next day art. These activities are going from 30 to 40 minutes for physical education, art, music or library time.

The district has also allocated for a 1 to 1 technology initiative with each student receiving a district laptop or otherwise electronic device, which will also go towards distance learning if state mandates remain in place. Going along with this thought, the high school will receive an additional 3:05 p.m. late bus for students who stay after school for extra help. In addition, the district is adding two counselors to expand mental health options and assist with the transition back to classes.

This is alongside an overall enrollment that continues on the gradual declining trend. May 2019 saw a size of 2,581 students. Next year is projected to have 2,531.

Miller Place is hosting its budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can go to the district website millerplace.k12.ny.us/District to find the link. All mail in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9.

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District adopted its budget at its May 19 board meeting, though the 2020-21 budget has seen some significant reductions since it was last seen by board members in April.

Things have changed since then, with a reduction in New York State aid resulting in an even larger cut in overall budget by some $2.1 million to the new 2020-21 total of $84,586,600.

The reductions in budget coincides with a loss of state aid funds compared to last year, seeing a reduction of nearly $1.5 million. 

Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. This is also to reduce the budget thanks to a tax levy cap of just 0.08 percent this year, a figure Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for business, said was due to expiring debt service, which is no longer allowed as an exclusion. The budget sets the tax levy, or the amount the district raises in area taxes, at $52,483,059, setting itself directly at the tax cap, and is a very slight increase from last year’s figure. 

Van Cott said the district is “taking a very conservative approach” toward this year’s budget, adding there will be cuts in several areas while still being able to maintain current instructional programming, along with athletic and cocurricular programs.

“We looked at staffing and enrollment, and made decisions based on that enrollment, looking for different ways to deliver the same service in more economical ways,” Van Cott said. “Despite fiscal challenges, and lack of guidance and the numbers we need from the state, we were able to achieve budget goals.”

There are cuts across the board, though the biggest decreases are from administration and central services, as well as a $250,000 decrease in athletics and PPS. Van Cott said the district plans to reduce the number of sports teams at the middle school level. Though not removing any sports from the roster, multiple sports that have two teams will be reduced to one, Van Cott said. 

The district is also 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. In a separate proposition to the budget, the district will be asking residents to vote to gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy. 

The potential the state could further reduce state aid is real, and Van Cott said the district is looking to use its capital reserves, along with the described expenditures reductions, to plug any holes that come up. If state aid does not decrease, he added some of those staff positions expected to make reductions in might not have to be.

Rocky Point is hosting its budget hearing June 2 at 6 p.m., but residents will also be mailed a budget brochure and six-day notice shortly after. That same document will be available at the district website May 26. Ballots are due by 5 p.m. June 9. 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River

SWR’s 2020-21 budget boasts it will maintain all current programming despite looming fears state aid will be cut in the near or distant future. The district adopted the revised budget at its May 19 meeting.

The district’s $77,164,774 budget is a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy, or the amount of funds raised from resident taxes, would stand at $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

This tax levy represents an overall decrease from what the district showed in its March presentations by almost $300,000.

Though the district boasts its maintaining its programming, the overall cuts to the planned budget have left an impact. Recent program initiatives, including several new art, wellness, jazz band and world languages clubs, have been axed. The planned SWR 101 class, which would have been a new kind of basic overview class for incoming freshmen, is no longer on the table for the year’s budget. Replacement equipment for the Wading River school’s gym wall pads and outdoor basketball hoops, as well as middle school smart classroom furniture and high school volleyball standards will not arrive as originally planned. In addition, travel and conference funding will be reduced by 50 percent if the budget is approved.

Assistant superintendent Arcuri said those funds are being redirected to applying additional “structural” support for distance learning due to COVID-19, as well as additional sanitizing equipment and supplies. He added, optimistically, there’s a possibility if funding stabilizes bringing in these proposed clubs mid-year.

The budget relies on a $12,789,308 state aid package, which would be a $112,843 increase from last year. To make room for the very real potential the state could make cuts to state aid midyear in the fall, 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.  

“These are not items that are absolutely essential,” Arcuri said. “They are important to get completed, but they are not more important than losing instructional support or any student related program and/or any staff within the district.”

Of course, with so much still unknown, the district does not know if the approximately $5,235,229 of a $24,114,734 five-year contract with bus company First Student will even be used.

The district is planning to host its budget hearing presentation May 26. For mail-in ballots, all must be received in the clerk’s office by 5 p.m., June 9.

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The Alfred G. Prodell Middle School could go from eight perioids to nine. Photo from Google Maps

Citing that 25 percent of middle school students don’t have access to their full potential, the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is considering bumping up from eight to nine periods in a school day at the middle school, but doing so could mandate an earlier start time for some students.

Alfred G. Prodell Middle School Principal Kevin Vann said at the Jan. 7 board meeting the middle school program committee has come to the conclusion a nine-period school day would mean students have additional time for electives, for specific classes like earth science or for more students to participate in clubs or in musical classes, which would be moved into the middle of the day if the board were to accept the proposal. The principal added that such a change will allow students to free up time for further electives once they enter high school.

Vann said according to their data, 25 percent of the overall middle school students are currently unable to participate in activities they would otherwise be able to with the additional period. Other neighboring districts like Three Village, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai all have nine-period days in the middle schools.

With the change however, all students would need to be in the school during the early morning period of 7:20 a.m. Currently students taking one of the musical electives or seeking extra help come in during that time.

The board will also need to look at the cost and potential impacts of such a change before coming to a decision further down the line.

File photo

The Comsewogue School District has added its name to the list of districts that are standing up to New York State on a proposal that would mandate the HPV vaccine in state schools. 

The proposed amendment to Section 2164 of the public health law would require that all students born after 2009 receive the human papillomavirus vaccine as part of the state’s mandated school immunization program.

In a letter sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Dec. 6, the district detailed its stance on the matter. 

“While the vaccination may be helpful in preventing certain forms of cancer, the choice as to whether to have children vaccinated should be made by parents in consultation with their physician,” John Swenning, board president, said in the letter. 

The HPV vaccine is designed to prevent cancer-causing infections, but several school districts including Shoreham-Wading River and Three Village have written letters similar to Comsewogue’s saying it is unnecessary.

In a letter signed by the school board and superintendent, SWR said they did not believe it was necessary for a vaccine for something not usually transmitted in schools.

“The HPV vaccination has historically been a parental decision, is not transmitted in schools, lacks the full support of the medical community and would require schools to enforce a widely unpopular mandate by excluding children,” the letter stated. “It should not be adopted.”

The Comsewogue School district went on to say the activities that cause this spread of HPV should not be occurring on school grounds, and HPV is not a public health risk in the school setting. They also said that if this bill passes, it will preclude children from being able to access a public school education.

In addition to the letter, Comsewogue district board held a workshop Dec. 5 to discussed the proposed mandate.

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the feeling she got from speaking with local officials is that the proposed mandate will not likely pass, but is still concerned about what it could potentially mean for students and parents in the district. 

“They told me that it is not happening,” she said. “I’m concerned that the other immunization changes happened so fast … that this might pass at the 11th hour, which could happen. It has been a little hard to predict lately.”

Quinn and other board members urged parents to reach out to local lawmakers. 

“It’s our kids, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do but they’re telling you what they can put in their bodies,” Swenning said. 

Parents in attendance also brought up how the mandate could harm immunocompromised children, who can’t take certain vaccines and how the state may take away exemptions for the HPV vaccine. Current vaccine mandates exempt people who are immunocompromised.

Others were concerned the mandate would take away a parent’s prerogative and choice whether or not their child would get the vaccine. 

School officials also brought up the possibility of setting up a legislative committee session between elected officials and residents.

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

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The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

With construction of a new parking lot at the Shoreham-Wading River High School complete, school officials are chomping at the bit to receive the guard booth they already ordered by the start of the school year.

Entering into the new parking lot, drivers are greeted with two routes, one for buses and the other for parking. 

The SWR High School parking lot is finally completed as part of the ongoing bond project. The district is looking to see if the fitness center will use extra bond funds. Photo by David Luces

“The biggest question a person will have to ask is whether I turn right, or I go straight,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “There’s plenty of signage. … It should be very clear.”

Some of the new spaces are designated specifically for student parking, while other spots are designated for library patrons, marked with green lines, of which there are 20. Each space, except for handicapped spots, are numbered, which will correspond to senior student’s assigned parking values. Otherwise there are a number of spots for parents dropping off items or for expected mothers.

The other major piece of the parking lot, however, still has to arrive. Arcuri said they ordered their mobile guard booth, one that is attached with a trailer, after the school budget passed several months ago but has yet to arrive, with the company citing delays. 

Otherwise, the guard booth will be set up at the drive in toward the new parking lot. It will not contain a lowering bar, and instead a security guard will ask each incoming car why they’re there. All North Shore Public Library users will be asked to park in a marked section, while others who are dropping off items will be directed, and the guard will radio they are coming. The booth will be up during school hours, but it may also be used during larger events. A permanent booth could be added using money from the New York State Smart School Bond Act, which the district finalized plans for at the end of 2018.

The mobile booth is a test, the assistant super said, for what may become a permanent booth not just in the high school but in other district buildings.

During school hours, the recreational facilities like the football field and tennis courts, along with the trails to the southwest of the high school, are off limits, Arcuri said.

“It pushes any imminent threat further out, and that’s the goal of the visitors booth,” he added. “We are learning as we’re going.”

Arcuri said the district should be releasing a map of how to navigate the new parking lot sometime before the start of school.

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Shoreham Wading River school district earlier this month began construction of a new parking lot at the high school. This is the latest project in the district's 2015 bond renewal project. Photo from Google Maps

Shoreham-Wading River High School students and staff will return to a newly renovated building in September as this month the district began the next step in its 2015 renewal bond project.

Work at the high school commenced in early July and the building will be going through a number of renovations.

“The bond has really given a sense of renewal to the school district,” Gerald Poole, superintendent of schools said.

Last summer, Prodell Middle School’s cafeteria was renovated as part of the bond project. Photo by David Luces

The project will include the reconstruction of the high school’s main parking lot as well as adding an additional bus drop-off loop meant to improve student safety. Renovations will be made to the high school kitchen and cafeteria, main office, guidance office, psychologist and social worker’s office and nurse’s office. Ceilings throughout the building will be repainted.

“The bond [project] will be the first major renovation/construction work since the inception of the high school in 1975,” Poole said.

The high school auditorium will also undergo additional renovations to sound and lighting fixtures after it received new paint, carpeting and seats last summer. Poole said the project will run through August and everything will be done before the start of the school year.

“Over the summer, the auditorium will be getting a downstairs audio/visual booth,” the superintendent said. “It will have a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. Students in the theater and arts program will really enjoy it.”

Since the bond project was approved four years ago, the district has undertaken a slew of projects.

The first phase of the bond project was completed in 2016 with the reconstruction of Shoreham-Wading River High School’s tennis courts and roof. The high school’s football field was also upgraded with new turf. Phase two involved renovations at both Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools. Miller Avenue’s parking lot was reconstructed with additional parking as well as a new bus loop that goes to the rear of the building. The school was also expanded with the addition of new kindergarten classrooms.

Last summer, the middle school got a new cafeteria and kitchen as well as a renovated main office area and library.

The renovated bus loop at Wading River Elementary School. Photo by David Luces

“I am so grateful to the community for supporting this bond back in 2015, it was much needed work,” Poole said. “It has been exciting these past summers and seeing the work happen.”

The superintendent said it has been a satisfying feeling when students, staff and parents come back and they’re just proud of the new spaces.

“It’s been a boost to the school district,” he said.

During construction, the district office will remain open although parking for the North Shore Library will be relocated to the rear of the high school building. In order to access the temporary parking for the library, drivers should bear left at the fork in the driveway toward the district offices rather than right, toward the high school. Also, there will be limited access to the high school campus. Tennis courts, fields and trails will be closed throughout the summer. High school staff will be relocated but phone systems and extensions will remain intact.

“We are pushing to get the parking done as soon as possible,” Poole said.

After renovations are complete, the superintendent said they will be taking a look back at the bond project and evaluating where the district is at.

“We’ll look at the priorities of the district going forward and keep looking for areas where we can improve on,” Poole said.

 

Mount Sinai School District

With a vote of 1059 to 322, the Mount Sinai School district convincingly passed its $61,009,770 budget, a 1.34 percent increase from last year.

In addition to the budget, the public voted 1,141 to 228 to set a capital reserve of $850,000. Including the $750,000 in funds put last year in capital reserve, the district will have $1.6 million for future capital projects.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board are proposing to use $1.5 million for two projects: the cost of another partial repair of the high school’s roof and to replace the middle school’s HVAC system. The high school roof repair would cost $850,000 and the HVAC replacement would cost $650,000. The remaining $100,000 would be saved for future projects. 

“I feel much better that the turnout [this year] beats the 960 from last year,” Brosdal said. “You can’t assume [the budget] is always going to pass, I was concerned about the bond.”

Brosdal said he is hopeful that the voter turnout is on the upswing. 

“We got over 1,300 voters this year, maybe we’ll get 1,400 or more next year,” he said. 

With five candidates running for three open trustee seats, board member Anne Marie Henninger, who replaced trustee Michael Riggio, secured re-election to the board with the highest vote tally of 790. Challengers Lisa Pfeffer and Robert Pignatello claimed the other two available seats with 713 and 662 votes, respectively. The race for the last seat was a close one with challenger Chris Quartarone coming up short with 655 votes. Longtime board member Lynn Jordan failed to secure re-election this year with 628 votes. 

“I’m very humbled,” Henninger said. “I had a lot of people pulling for me and I’m excited to get back to work, we have a lot to do.”

Pignatello said he was happy with the voter turnout this year for the budget. 

“I’m looking forward to working together with the board and do what’s best for the children and the community,” he said. 

Pfeffer said she is looking forward to serving on the board and doing what’s best for
the community. 

“I’m excited to be working with this group on the board and I’m just going to hit the ground running,” she said. 

Miller Place School District

With the Miller Place School District proposing a $73,958,607 budget, an increase of more than $1.2 million from the current year’s amount, residents overwhelming passed this year’s budget 610 to 173.

This year’s total tax levy amount is $46,928,588, an increase of $638,534 from last year and sticking directly to a 1.38 percent tax levy cap. 

“On behalf of the board of education and district administration, I would like to thank the entire Miller Place-Sound Beach community for their support of the 2019-2020 school budget,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. 

Two seats were open for this year’s Miller Place school board election, and two incumbents ran unopposed. Both seats will be up for three-year terms starting July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.  Incumbents Johanna Testa, who this year served as the board president, and Noelle Dunlop secured their seats with 657 and 636 votes, respectively.

Testa said she was pleased that this year’s budget passed by 78 percent. 

“I feel really excited and I’m looking forward to a third term and continuing to advocate for the community and district,” she said.

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Rocky Point residents passed the school district’s $86,743,446 with a vote of 703 to 213. The new budget is a slight increase of 0.71 percent from last year’s amount but a $1.3 million increase in the tax levy.

“The district is once again extremely grateful to the community for its overwhelming support of the proposed budget,” Superintendent Michael Ring said. “This plan is one that will enable Rocky Point to continue to provide enriching academic opportunities for all students and a co-curricular program geared toward supporting student interests.”

Debt services will decrease in the 2019-20 school year as a result of a completion of payments of two bonds that date back to 1995 and 2000. The bond payments will expire on June 30 and will save the district $451,751. 

Employees Retirement System rates will decrease to 13.1 percent, which will most likely save the district more than $159,000. Teachers Retirement System rates are expected to decrease as well to 9 percent and would save the district close to $582,000. 

Rocky Point had two open trustee seats this year. Board member Scott Reh, who was sworn in to the board Jan. 14 to fill the seat vacated by Joseph Coniglione earlier this school year, decided not to run for re-election. Veteran board member Susan Sullivan nailed down a three-year term with 618 votes. Challenger Jessica Ward secured the one-year term seat with 551 votes. Michael Lisa came up short with 410 votes. 

“I’m very excited to be on the board and I’m looking forward to working closely with our new superintendent,” Ward said.  

Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River school district residents resoundingly decided to pass this year’s $75,952,416 budget with a 1,129 to 329. The new budget is a $1,176,344 increase from last year’s figure.

The district said the new budget will cover the implementation of an integrated video, door access and alarm management system as well as additional video cameras and perimeter fencing. Night gates will be installed at the Alfred G. Prodell Middle School, Miller Avenue Elementary School and Wading River Elementary School. Also, the budget will cover the purchase of a new high school auditorium bandshell and supplies/materials for the middle school greenhouse and new electives for high schoolers.

“I am very grateful to the Shoreham-Wading River community for their ongoing support of our students and school district,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Our students have a longstanding tradition of achieving academic, artistic and athletic success. This approved budget will allow us to continue to build upon that legacy while maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Six people ran for Shoreham-Wading River school board to fill three seats. This comes after trustee Erin Hunt vacated her position in March and after current trustee Kimberly Roff said she will not run for re-election. 

Incumbent board president Michael Lewis was re-elected to a one-year term with 652 votes, while challenger Meghan Tepfenhardt received the highest votes with 744 and secured a three-year term. Thomas Sheridan also secured a three-year trustee seat with 691. Challengers who did not win election were Edward Granshaw who received 471 votes, Jennifer Kitchen with 568 and Bill McGarth with 603.