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Smithtown board of education

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Mark Secaur. Photo from Smithtown Central School District website

By Sabrina Artusa

During the Smithtown Central School District Board of Education meeting on June 13, the board was divided on the motion to amend Superintendent Mark Secaur’s contract. 

The amendment’s immediate implications were unclear, but discussion suggests that the amendment would raise the superintendent’s salary. However, the specific conditions of the amendment were undisclosed.

“I think this moves him up toward the middle of the pack,” said Vice President Michael Saidens to board members. “Monetarily, I don’t think there is anything in there that is astronomical.” According to data released by the New York State Education Department in May, Secaur’s salary is $259,984 and he receives $62,806 in benefits. 

Stacy Murphy, one of the trustees who opposed the motion, was uncomfortable with the amendment. “We are putting ourselves in a position where the superintendent’s contract ends in the middle of the school year,” she said. “What’s the rush?”

BOE President Mathew Gribbin supports the movement, although he declined to publicly answer Murphy’s question. Gribbin lauded Secaur’s performance as superintendent. Proponents of the movement, such as Gribbin and Saidens, made it clear that they want to ensure that Secaur stays in the position long-term.

 “I hope Mark is here for 10 dozen years. I think he is the right man to do the work,” Saidens said. 

Murphy and fellow trustee John Savoretti question the details of the contract. Gribbin said that the contract was distributed to the board a week before, but Savoretti said there was no opportunity for discussion prior to the meeting. Gribbin neglected to publicly reveal the motivation behind the amendment, stating “extenuated circumstances” influenced the motion and that he is “not at liberty to discuss.”

The argument led to one audience member, Andrea Elsky, to criticize the board’s disunity. Elsky told the board to have a “special meeting” beforehand and to remember that they are “one board.” “It’s a disgrace,” she said, a sentiment that was met with applause from the audience.

On a different issue, Kevin Simmons, the assistant superintendent for instruction and administration, presented a new approach to the Disabilities Education Act.  Simmons talked of a data-driven approach to identify trouble areas, and thereby direct assistance to the students that need it. Simmons acknowledged the disparities among certain subgroups and mentioned potential fixes, such as counseling and course catalog revisions.

Bringing up another concern, Smithtown High School East senior Andrew Guidi, spoke to the board about their decision to arm security guards. The February decision has received both criticism and support from Smithtown residents. This was Guidi’s second time approaching the board asking them to reconsider. 

“If it has been seen that armed guards do not help prevent violence, and it actively is making people feel unsafe as an effect, why would this decision be passed?” he asked the board. Guidi said many of his peers feel unsettled knowing that they are in such close proximity to a deadly weapon, “no matter who is in possession of such a weapon”. 

Gribbin responded that there wasn’t a clear solution to the threat of mass shootings, but he hoped the fact that there is protection would “ease people’s minds.”

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High School East sophomore Abigail Brennan was recognized by the board of education April 11 for her recent accomplishments at the FIRST Long Island Regional Championship at Hofstra University. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Leah Chiappino

During the April 11 Smithtown Central School District Board of Education meeting, the district honored students who achieved high placements in the Robotics Competition and DECA state finals, where each competitor chooses to compete in one of four career clusters: marketing, business management and administration, hospitality and tourism, or finance. 

The district also passed policies relating to time-out rooms, and updates to the Freedom of Information Act. 

Armed guards 

During the public participation portion of the meeting, Maddox Elbert, Smithtown High School East’s Class of ’26 president, spoke out against the district’s February decision to hire armed guards. 

“I’m not a criminal,” he said. “My classmates are not criminals and my teachers are not criminals. Stop treating us like them.”

He went on to cite a variety of statistics and arguments against armed guards, including increased anxiety and cases in which armed guards were on campus during shootings.

Matthew Gribbin, BOE president, thanked Elbert for expressing his concerns, noting the decision was not made lightly and offering to discuss it with him further. 

 “When it’s our responsibility to protect over 8,000 students, we take that extremely seriously and we understand that not everybody will agree with it,” Gribbin said. “But we’re not going to sit back and wait and hope nothing happens.”

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if we had the opportunity to protect our students and our staff and our community, and we didn’t,” he added.

 

Policy meeting

Trustees Michael Catalanotto, and Michael Saidens along with an attorney for the district, Steven Goodstadt, Superintendent Mark Secaur, among others, met at a prior policy meeting.

Officials reviewed policy with Goodstadt, and discussed certain areas to be updated. 

Saidens suggested the district could have parents sign a form noting they reviewed the school’s concussion policy rather than them hearing it in passing. Other policies for review included enforcement of nonresident students attending the district. Goodstadt recommended the district updates policy further, specifically proof of residency requirements, to make the policy more enforceable.

Officials agreed to bring in feedback from administrators and faculty before suggesting changes to the district’s social media policy between students and teachers

Secaur said he thinks the policy should set clear boundaries for students and teachers for what they can and can’t do. Saidens said social media should be used positively to highlight students, but acknowledged there was a possibility that contact between students and faculty could go down the wrong road. Saidens did not respond to a request for comment to further clarify his position.

The policy presently prohibits staff from posting “pictures, video or any other material that identifies students or provides any information that would be considered confidential” on social media sites “Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, VSCO, LinkedIn, Messenger, Pinterest, Yelp, Google, WordPress, YouTube, blogs, etc.” It also requires staff to keep their personal social media activities/accounts private from students.

Time-out rooms

The school board adopted a policy relating to a time-out rooms, which will be used in cases in which the “Committee on Special Education has made a recommendation that this type of behavior management approach would be appropriate.”

The rooms are meant to give students an opportunity to de-escalate and regulate their emotions, so they can return to instruction. The policy states the rooms are to be used “in conjunction with a therapeutic behavior management intervention” or in an emergency situation. The use of the rooms must be specified in the student’s individualized education program, which also needs to give direction on the maximum amount of time students can stay in the room, taking into account their age and needs.

Parents need to be notified prior to the rooms being used and must be shown the space upon request. The amount of time students are in the rooms will be carefully monitored to “ensure that a time-out room is not being used to the detriment of a student or student’s educational program.”

A room can never be locked, and a staff member must be able to see and hear the student.

One contested board of education seat has Mandi Kowalik pitted against Christopher Alcure

Smithtown school district's administrative New York Avenue building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

The school year is almost finished, and while students are sitting at the edge of their seats ready for summer, their parents and other Smithtown residents are being asked to vote May 15 on the school budgets and board elections.

The Smithtown Central School District is including new security measures in its proposed 2018-19 budget, which sets aside funding for new security guards for all seven elementary schools.

The school district adopted its budget of $244,913,464, which represents a 2.32 percent increase, or additional $5,546,259 more than this year’s budget.

“The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible,” Superintendent James Grossane said in a statement.

The board and administration believe we have met our promise to the community to preserve student programs while optimizing budget efficiencies to remain fiscally responsible.”
– James Grossane

The school district’s security was one of the larger areas receiving a funding increase under the proposed budget. The suggested security upgrades include vestibules in all school entrances that will be constructed over the summer as well as full-time, unarmed security guards for all elementary schools.

“Full-time security guards began on May 1 in all district elementary schools and will continue as part of the budget moving forward,” Grossane said.

The budget will also maintain all current programs while transitioning to universal elementary school start and end times from 9:20 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. It will allow the district to offer new elective courses at the high school including adding Advanced Placement Capstone Research in addition to the existing AP Capstone program.

If approved, the 2018-19 budget represents a 2.95 percent tax levy increase, which is within the district’s state tax levy cap. Because the district stayed within the tax levy cap, it only needs a simple 50 percent majority vote to pass the budget.

In addition to security, the district is looking to add one additional school psychologist, social worker and guidance counselor to its staffing.

The ballot will include a proposition for the use of capital reserve funds to complete a number of repairs and renovations in the district. This includes repairs to the tennis courts at Smithtown High School East and West, window replacement in the Accompsett Middle School and roof and skylight repairs at the Smithtown Elementary School.

Smithtown board of education

Two seats on the Smithtown school board have come up for re-election but only one race is contested. Newcomer Mandi Kowalik is competing against incumbent trustee Christopher Alcure for a trustee seat. Incumbent and current board President Jeremy Thode is running again for his seat unopposed.

Christopher Alcure. Photo from Alcure

Alcure is finishing his second term on the board and he is looking for a third.

“I am running for re-election in 2018 as there is still more to be accomplished,” Alcure said.

Alcure is a 15-year Smithtown resident where he currently operates a small business. In addition, he works as project manager at CA Technologies based in Islandia.

Alcure said he has two daughters currently enrolled in Smithtown schools. His experience raising his kids as well as his six years on the board, including three years as board president, has given him plenty of experience to deal with today’s challenges.

“I am battle tested and I have thick skin,” he said. “These are very important qualities for public service. I survived the economic downturn where the board had to make difficult decisions in terms of balancing the budget and making sensible cuts to programs that would not overly impact students.”

Alcure said he wants to focus on investing in additional security options for Smithtown schools, maintaining low class sizes and improving district facilities.

“I’m looking for ways to continue to improve educational opportunities for students, at all levels, on the path toward college and career readiness,” Alcure said.

Mandi Kowalik. Photo from Kowalik

Kowalik is a 14-year resident of Smithtown and a published author of the children’s book titled “Stella, Or Star: Coping with a Loss During Pregnancy.” She has worked as a school teacher for nursery school through sixth grade for 13 years before leaving to raise her three children. She has worked on a number of school committees including as area representative and member of the board for the Teacher Center of the West Hamptons.

Kowalik has one son starting kindergarten this September with two younger daughters she plans to enroll in the district.

“Our school board needs a mom with school-aged children,” Kowalik said in a statement. “My family will be attending Smithtown schools for 16 more years. I am very heavily invested in the welfare of the district.”

Kowalik said she wants to focus on security as well as the mental and physical well-being of students.

“The security of our students and staff are the most important issue that we are currently facing,” she said. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our school safe.”

The board candidate said she believes
students need time to socialize without adults actively interacting and closely monitoring them. While she said the district has explored this at some levels, she would like to continue to explore further avenues for it.

Go vote

The budget vote will take place May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Depending on your election district, residents can vote at the Smithtown Elementary School gymnasium, the St. James Elementary School gymnasium, the Nesconset Elementary School gymnasium or the Accompsett Elementary School gymnasium.

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Smithtown board of education member Michael Saidens raises his hand as he is sworn into offie. Photo from Jessica Novins.

By Ted Ryan

Change was a popular theme at Smithtown’s board of education meeting July 12. Two new trustees were sworn into office, and the board voted to update the school’s code of conduct regarding strip searches.

Board Members Michael Saidens and Daniel B. Lynch both took the oath after achieving victory at the polls in May.

Both Saidens and Lynch are serving three-year terms that will expire in June 2019.

Lynch, a Nesconset resident, works as a carpenter for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, where he does indoor and outdoor commercial construction.

Both he and his wife graduated from Smithtown Central School District and they currently have four sons in the district.

“Smithtown is a wonderful community,” Lynch said in a phone interview. “I want it to be that way for my kids as well.”

To familiarize himself with state of his community’s education system, Lynch has been attending Smithtown board of education meetings regularly for two years before being elected as a trustee.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to being a part of the decision making process, so that all children will get an equal education, while being fiscally responsible,” he said.

Smithtown board of education member Daniel B. Lynch raises his hand as he is sworn into offie. Photo from Jessica Novins.
Smithtown board of education member Daniel B. Lynch is sworn into offie. Photo from Jessica Novins.

Saidens and Lynch were not the only ones claiming their positions; James J. Grossane repeated the same oath of office, renewing his role as superintendent.

A unanimous vote was made to re-elect Christopher Alcure as president of the board of education.

Also re-elected during the board of education meeting was Vice President Joanne McEnroy. She was also unanimously voted to stay on as the second in command.

And after the new administration was settled in, the board voted to change the district’s strip search policy.

The board has been discussing changes to the code of conduct since early June, after members expressed concerns with the policy allowing school officials to conduct strip searches when there is “probable cause to believe that there is an emergency situation that could imminently threaten the safety of the student or others.”

At a June 28 meeting, district attorney Eugene Barnosky said Smithtown does not agree with the current policy.

“We don’t conduct strip searches here … there is an anti-strip search, anti-physical search policy in place,” school district attorney said. “That’s always been the policy of this district, and it’s never been violated.”

The vote to expel that section of the code passed, and the school district officially does not support or adhere to any strip searches among their students by school officials.