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Smithtown Central School District

Suffolk County residents can call 311 to report an antisemitic incident. File photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

By Sabrina Artusa

Just last week, schools across the North Shore — including Smithtown East, Commack and Port Jefferson high schools — all reported antisemitic language in their buildings.

‘It’s such a cruel way of being made to feel better or superior.’

— Renée Silver

Last week, swastikas were found in the boys bathroom at Commack High School and on a desk at Smithtown High School East. This is the second swastika reported at Commack this month — racist graffiti was also found on the bathroom stalls.

Two swastikas were also found on a desk at Smithtown East.

“This news is greatly upsetting, but it is important for our school community to be made aware of such incidents and work collaboratively to oppose hate whenever it occurs,” Smithtown Central School District Superintendent Mark Secaur wrote in a letter.

Jordan Cox, superintendent of the Commack School District, wrote in a letter to families, “Once the responsible individual is found, I am committed to pursuing legal action to the fullest extent,” adding, “Given the current conflict in the Middle East and the many families in our community who are hurting, it is a travesty that something like this occurred.”

Cox plans to take students to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and invited Holocaust survivors to speak to the students. Survivor Renée Silver, 92, told News 12 that she hopes “giving a little background” will help teach the students the harm of their actions.

“It’s such a cruel way of being made to feel better or superior,” Silver said.

In Port Jefferson high school, a swastika was found on a desk alongside the Star of David and the word “fight.” The Star of David can be a source of pride for many Jewish people or as a connection to their shared culture and past. It can also be seen as a symbol of support for Israel.

Police reports were filed for each of the incidents at the three high schools, and the county Hate Crimes Unit is involved.

Antisemitism and racist language are spreading at both high schools and middle schools across Long Island. Three swastikas were found in a bathroom at South Woods Middle School in Syosset. A swastika and antisemitic language was written on a whiteboard at the Harry B. Thompson Middle School, also in Syosset. A student was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. 

These incidents occur alongside the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked the Israeli towns neighboring Gaza. Over 11,000 Palestinians and about 1,200 Israelis have died, according to reports.

Antisemitism in Long Island schools mirrors a broader national trend. Since Oct. 7, incendiary language regarding the conflict has increased on social media. 

In addition, antisemitism and other hate crimes across the United States, including college campuses, have left students feeling scared and unsafe. The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism recorded nearly a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents for the same Oct. 7-23 period from last year.

President Joe Biden (D) has addressed the uptick in antisemitism in the U.S., particularly on college campuses. “We can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens,” he said. “We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.”

They “Popped for Paige” and had a great time doing so.

Nesaquake Middle School PTA in the Smithtown Central School District recently raised $450 for the Paige Elizabeth Keely Foundation with an Oct. 20 fundraiser.

Students and faculty showed their support for AVM Awareness Month by dressing in pink and purchasing popcorn during their lunch periods. Many students wore pink and even painted their faces. The PTA donated all proceeds to the Paige Elizabeth Keely Foundation. 

Paige Elizabeth Keely was a first grader at St. James Elementary School who passed away in 2018 at the age of 6 from an undiagnosed brain arteriovenous malformation.

For more information visit thepaigekeelyfoundation.com.

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Smithtown High School West. Photo from Wikipedia

By Sabrina Artusa

After years of alleged bullying, a Smithtown student is suing the school district, claiming inadequate handling of the abuse. An accused party is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

According to the $6 million lawsuit, the 16-year-old was allegedly subjected to degradation, mockery and even physical assault, which was recorded and shared.

The lawsuit accuses the Smithtown Central School District, Smithtown High School West, Superintendent of Schools Mark Secaur and the district Board of Education of enabling the bullying by failing to punish the bullying students and allowing them to remain in school, consequently creating an unsafe environment.

The bullying allegedly began in 2018, when the unnamed plaintiff, “A.S.,” as the lawsuit refers to her, was in sixth grade. The Accompsett Middle School principal, Paul McNeil, was alerted.

A.S. made the varsity cheerleading squad upon entering high school in 2021, along with one of her alleged bullies, referred to as “A.M.” in the lawsuit.

At a party in the summer of 2022, A.S. was allegedly screamed at by a fellow cheerleader, pulled to the ground by another girl and beaten, all while another teenager filmed the event, the suit claims. The video was allegedly shown to several school officials, including Secaur. 

The lawsuit states that after a period of homeschooling, which was allegedly deemed below par by the school district, A.S. had to return to school, where bullying allegedly persisted. While A.S. quit the cheerleading team, the suit claims the bully was allowed to remain.

“The group of girls continued to target anyone who talked to [A.S],” the lawsuit alleges. They would tell her friends “not to be friends with her, right in front of her.”

The parents of A.S. communicated with school officials and were promised several times that a plan would be put into place and that she would be monitored by security, the suit reads. Additionally, a school counselor allegedly promised to support the girl but never did so, according to the lawsuit.

Smithtown High School West employees allowed a friend to escort her to her classes but, when pressed by parents for a solution, allegedly said there is not enough staff.

“Parents sent several emails, phone calls, texts to school administration, and all went unanswered for weeks,” the lawsuit suggests.

In another incident, A.S. was targeted in the bathroom, where she was found by an employee crying in a stall. She named her bully but was not believed by school officials, who told the parents that the girl A.S. named was not involved.

The bullying students weren’t removed from the school, according to the lawsuit, which argues that the school was negligent in allowing the bullying students to remain in school “despite knowing about these students’ vicious and aggressive propensities.”

Parents bought A.S. an emotional support animal, a horse, which was then put down by veterinarians for reasons undisclosed. This event was allegedly weaponized by the bullies, who started calling her “horse girl.”

The family’s attorney, Kenneth Mollins, told the New York Post that the accuser “threatened to kill herself if they forced her to go back to school.”

The accuser’s family filled out forms under the Dignity for All Students Act — once in 2019 and again against the three assaulters in May 2023 — all deemed “unfounded.” The Dignity for All Students Act is designed to ensure “a safe and supportive student environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property.”

When questioned, the school district stated that it does not comment on matters pertaining to litigation. 

The Town of Smithtown hosted its Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in Recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month on Sept. 7. Photo from Town of Smithtown

On Thursday September 7, local officials joined together with Smithtown Central School District, local parent advocate and Solving Kids Cancer partner; Amy Beach, families and friends to kick off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with the annual ‘Go Gold’ Tree lighting ceremony at Town Hall.

The tree at Town Hall is adorned in gold bows, bearing the names of local children who are actively fighting cancer, in remission or have since passed away. The lights and ribbons on the Tree were originally donated to the Town courtesy of Katia Conte, founder of the Daniela Conte foundation in 2021.

Additionally, life size gold awareness ribbons, donated by the Thomas Scully Foundation are on display at the Smithtown Bull Monument, at Town Hall, the Parks Department and at the Highway Department through the month of September. Local mom and advocate of Solving Kids Cancer; Amy Beach distributed gold laces as a part of the “Lace up for Kids” partnership, in honor of her son Dylan. Additionally the Town distributed and donated approximately 200 gold ribbon charms for the School to distribute with the “Lace up for Kids” initiative on September 22nd.

“Many of the families here with us tonight will tell you, cancer doesn’t take a day off. That is why we are all here tonight as one community, one family… to let every parent, or caregiver, with a child diagnosed with cancer know that you are not alone. We are here to fight for you, cry with you, laugh with you, pray with you and hopefully work to discover more humane treatments and an eventual cure. Only then can we truly celebrate with you,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

Each year, the Town of Smithtown raises awareness for Childhood Cancers in the month of September through various activities and events. These efforts are intended to help fund and raise awareness, identify breakthroughs and fill gaps in the treatment landscape, and direct research to the areas with the greatest need.

“The mission of the Thomas Scully Foundation is to bring A Little Bit of Happiness to children with cancer today, while supporting a cure for tomorrow. The foundation delivers care packages to bring comfort and joy to children, while they’re in local NY hospitals. They also support a cure for tomorrow, by providing A Little Bit of Hope grants. These are given to families seeking innovative treatments for their child… The Thomas Scully Foundation would like to thank the Town of Smithtown, for helping to bring awareness to childhood cancer by going gold for the third year in a row. Not only are you helping to bring awareness but you’re also letting everyone know that you support those children and families who have been affected. We thank you for that,” added Debbie Scully, Thomas Scully Foundation (Read by Amy Beach on Behalf of Debbie Scully)

“One in five children diagnosed with Cancer in the United States will not survive. And for the ones that do the battle is never over. The majority of childhood cancer survivors have chronic health problems because of the treatments they had as kids. Childhood cancer research is consistently under funded, with less than 4% of the federal budget for cancer research in the United States of America is dedicated to childhood cancer. Solving Kids Cancer is an organization that finds, funds and advocates for breakthrough treatment options to cure children with the most fatal pediatric cancers. They help accelerate new, next generation treatments, including immunotherapy, cancer vaccines and new drugs, by applying an understanding of the entire childhood cancer landscape to wisely invest in innovative treatments,” said Amy Beach of Solving Kids Cancer Childhood Cancer Research Advocate, and a Smithtown Parent.

“All September long, Smithtown Schools will be swapping out our regular shoe laces for gold ones. The Smithtown Central School District students will receive gold laces at each of their respective school buildings. Fall sports teams will be participating in the lace up for kids campaign. And on Friday September 22nd, we will have a district wide Go Gold day. We invite all of you as well to care, wear and share your gold throughout this month of September… We look forward to many more years of partnership, awareness and advocacy until one day, there is a cure. Be Bold. Go Gold. Because every kid deserves a chance to grow up.”


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At the July 5 Smithtown BOE meeting, new president Stacy Murphy was sworn into office. Photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Leah Chiappino

The Smithtown Central School District Board of Education held its reorganization meeting Wednesday, July 5, with shake ups in board leadership and committee assignments. 

Trustee Stacy Murphy was elected board president, and trustee Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi was elected vice president.

Former BOE president Matthew Gribbin and trustee John Savoretti were sworn into their new terms on the board, both having won re-election. Trustee Kevin Craine, who was elected to replace outgoing trustee Jerry Martusciello, was also sworn in.

The leadership changes mark a shift in the board’s dynamic. 

Board members expressed their preferences for committee assignments and the appointments were discussed. The final appointments are listed on the school’s website.

NYSSBA resolutions

The board voted on whether to support six propositions to be brought forward to the New York State School Board Association to consider implementing at its October convention.   

Wontrobski-Ricciardi said Smithtown and other districts showing their support for the  propositions would “carry more weight” in NYSSBA deciding to implement them.

The first proposition would have NYSSBA  “oppose any legislation or budget initiatives that would allow New York State to overrule local zoning ordinances.” The rationale is in opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) housing  plan to build 800,000 new homes in the next decade.  

Catalanotto said the resolution itself would “never pass,” as it is too vague, and he can’t support it.

“We can’t dictate when the government decides to step into local zoning regulations on certain occasions, so to make it that broad and say ‘never’ doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

Savoretti, a realtor, said  he supported the resolution to “tell the government where
we stand.” 

“We can’t tell the government what to do and what not to do but they’re up in Albany, they’re not down here on Long Island,” he said. “Suffolk County is Suffolk County. It’s not a big Metropolis. … That’s why we have the town supervisor and Town Board to make those decisions for what is locally best for our community.”

Gribbin said he supported the “intent” of the resolution, but the language was too vague, and in the past they have been more expansive. Murphy said NYSSBA will develop more expansive resolutions and send them to districts to vote on based on the resolutions districts vote to support.

“It’s more about getting the rationale out there to let the state know where we as Smithtown stand on certain issues,” Wontrobski-Ricciardi said.

Crane said he would support it due to “the increased pressures of increased enrollment on budgets,” and after Catalanotto reiterated the resolution was too vague, suggested the board tweak the language. 

“All seven of us are comfortable with this sentiment, but just want to clean up the language to make it stronger,” Saidens added.

The board agreed to change the language to include, “For the last two years the governor has attempted to enact policies that would give the state control over local towns and village zoning, to force construction of high-density housing plans or to allow accessory dwelling units. Forcing rapid expansion of housing would have a detrimental effect on schools, leading to overcrowding, increased class sizes and increased taxes to our residents,” and passed the resolution unanimously.

The next resolution was for NYSSBA to advocate for the reinstatement of the religious exemption to immunization. The board passed this 6-1, wth Craine voting against the measure. The third resolution stated that NYSSBA will advocate for the “adoption of Parental Rights Legislation.”

“Parents have the right to determine the upbringing of their children, which includes but is not limited to matters of education, medical care and character education,” the rationale of the  resolution reads. “The legislation must protect the parents’ right to make decisions for their children in addition to opt their children out of any non-academic instruction that they morally or religiously object to.”

Saidens said he was uncomfortable with the broadness of the resolution. “It specifically targets character education, so if you’re talking about being empathetic, if you’re talking about teaching children to share, if you’re talking about if somebody is bothering somebody … there’s so many variables,” he said. 

Murphy said she believed the resolution is intended so that parents could opt their children out of this kind of instruction.

Catalanotto said the resolution is unrealistic, bringing parent involvement too far into the fray.

“You’re cutting the legs out of every teacher, off of every teacher in the district,” he said. “You’re talking about group lessons, when kids get together in groups and an opportunity to teach kids how to cooperate and work together.” 

He added, “When you’re dealing with kids who are arguing in class and you’re essentially saying each parent gets to choose for their child whether that’s acceptable for the teacher. It’s impossible and it would destroy a school district. You can’t operate like that.”

An educator and administrator, Saidens agreed that the resolution is not practical. 

Craine, who is an elementary school teacher, also said the resolution is unrealistic. “It’s something that would be hard for an educator   to teach with, especially in an elementary classroom with respect to honesty, kindness and empathy,” he said. 

Craine, Gribbin and Saidens voted against the resolution while Murphy, Savoretti and Wontrobski-Ricciardi voted for it. Catalanotto, who was joining remotely, had his connection cut out.

The next resolution was to oppose “any mandates from the New York State Education Department regarding matters not pertaining to academic standards/subjects (i.e. math, science, reading, writing, social studies) that have not been approved by an up/down vote of the NYS Legislature.”

Saidens said NYSED are the experts, not elected officials, and they should be determining curriculum. Murphy said elected officials are accountable to the people, and the Department of Education officials do not have that same accountability.

The board did not pass the resolution. 

The fifth resolution states that NYSSBA would advocate for “Local Control by School Boards and/or County Executives.” It passed unanimously.

The final resolution was to “oppose any legislation or NYSED regulation mandating comprehensive K-12 gender and sexuality education.” Saidens said these decisions should be left to experts.

“I think there’s conversations that are appropriate based upon age levels, and I think that if we put a room of 100 people we may have a hundred different opinions of what that may be,” he said. “The health curriculum is developed by experts in health.”

Murphy said the resolution had nothing to do with gender identity and politics but was about local control. The resolution did not pass, with Craine, Saidens and Gribbin voting against it.

If anyone is interested in getting more detailed information on what was discussed at the meeting, there is a video of the meeting on the school’s website.

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By Emma Gutmann

After a months-long search and evaluation process, the Smithtown Central School District Board of Education unanimously approved a contract with an armed security vendor during its Tuesday, June 27, meeting. 

The district reached out to 21 vendors, of which six responded. The evaluation committee’s five-pronged rubric scored proposals based on cost, references, relevant experience, understanding of the project and implementation plan and schedule. 

With an anticipated expenditure of $850,000 for the 2023-24 school year, the district deemed Ronkonkoma-based security and investigative agency Covert Investigations & Security the proper fit.

With the security firm approved and the contract in effect as of July 1, the next step is to introduce the security detail to the facilities, coordinate with the Suffolk County Police Department and post guards throughout the district. The contract is valid until June 30, 2024, with the agreement subject to termination by the district under certain circumstances.

Covert Investigations & Security’s website touts its teams’ expertise from police and fire service, homeland security and emergency management agencies. They have about 20 years of experience with school safety and protect approximately 75,000 students.

In an email, Jamie Stuart, communications consultant for the district, said the school district declined to comment further than what was said in the February 15 community letter from Superintendent Mark Secaur and the BOE, which is available on the district’s website.

“The rationale for this security enhancement is simple: Having armed guards on school grounds will improve our response time in order to better protect our students, faculty, staff and community members who are in and around our building on a daily basis,” the letter reads.

The school will not be at liberty to expose specific details such as “guard deployment, locations, and working hours as it may compromise their safety and effectiveness.” However, the letter promised guards would not be stationed within the school buildings or interfere with daily operations or activities. 

Guards would also have mandatory training sessions every year and be required to “requalify through performance-based assessments to ensure they will perform at an optimal level if ever called upon.”

Although the BOE meeting made the matter seem unambiguous, not all community members are content with implementing armed security. Representing the discontented peers he interviewed, Andrew Guidi, a recent alumnus of Smithtown High School East, has appeared before the board twice, highlighting the stance that heightened security can be counterintuitive. 

“I researched this topic more, and I found out there’s no clear evidence that supports the theory that firearms help prevent violence in schools,” Guidi told the BOE during its June 13 meeting. “The only thing this decision is succeeding at is making the people who attend these schools feel unsafe and uncomfortable.”

It remains to be seen whether the enhanced security measures will promote a more relaxed or unsettled environment for the students and faculty they were designed to protect.

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

In February, the Smithtown Central School District Board of Education opted to bolster school security by adding armed security guards to the exterior perimeter of its schools.

Since the decision, some students have opposed the new policy. While the school district has not yet employed armed security, Maddox Elbert, a freshman at Smithtown High School East, preemptively organized a petition calling upon the school board to reverse the decision.

“There’s a multitude of reasons why armed guards shouldn’t be in any school,” Elbert said in a phone interview, noting the costs associated with the plan. 

It is projected to cost $800,000 to employ these armed guards, Elbert indicated, a price tag more than eight times more costly than a proposed mental health initiative from Northwell Health that has been widely controversial in the community.

Elbert argued that mental health initiatives are more effective in mitigating armed violence at schools than employing armed guards, citing a study from University of Albany and the RAND Corporation that found that school resource officers “do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.” Elbert added that death rates are actually higher for school shootings in schools that employ armed guards than in those that don’t.

The school board has focused more on appearances and less on addressing the issue at hand, Elbert said. “God forbid there was a situation, they could say that they did something when really it would be doing the opposite.”

Elbert also expressed concerns over the proximity of firearms to school grounds. “Armed guards are proven to increase anxiety levels and stress levels, which can lead to a mental health crisis,” he said.

In a letter dated Feb. 15, Superintendent of Schools Mark Secaur and BOE members argued that their primary reasoning for this initiative was to increase response times for potential active-shooter incidents.

“Having armed guards on school grounds will improve our response time in order to better protect our students, faculty, staff and community members who are in and around our buildings on a daily basis,” the letter stated.

School officials also maintained that the guards would only be stationed in the exterior of the buildings, and that they would not “comment on specific details, such as guard deployments, locations and working hours as it may compromise their safety and effectiveness.”

Elbert presented his concerns to the school board in an April meeting. He said that he and BOE President Matthew Gribbin had agreed to disagree on best practices for protecting schools.

The student organizer hoped something might change, encouraging the board to consider changing its course. To read the full petition, visit: www.change.org/p/remove-armed-guards-from-smithtown-schools.

When contacted for further comment on this topic, a district spokesperson stated: “The district is not providing any comments outside of the community letter.”

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Smithtown Central School District budget passed 4,236 to 2,406. The budget, at $280,642,272, constitutes a 4.8% increase from the current budget.  The tax levy has increased 2.83% from last year.

Two incumbents, board President Matthew Gribbin and John Savoretti, held on to their seats. Gribbin defeated his opponent Elena Guttieri, a middle school teacher, who ran on a ticket with Savoretti, 3,472 to 3,177.

“Thank you to the Smithtown community for the approval of next year’s budget,” Gribbin wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “I am honored to be elected to a third term on the Smithtown Board of Education.  It has been a privilege, and I am looking forward to serving our community for the next three years!!!”

Former trustee Charles Rollins, who was defeated by Savoretti in 2021, praised Gribbin in a comment responding to the post.

“A well-earned honor,” he wrote. “Your leadership and strength have served the students of Smithtown well! Your election is a message that the Smithtown voters have validated your efforts of the past 6 years!”

During the campaign, Gribbin, a physical education teacher, said he was proud of the accomplishments during his tenure as president, such as increased mental health support and partnerships with the Suffolk County Police Department and Town of Smithtown. Guttieri pushed to teach “traditional” literature and “patriotism” in schools.   

Savoretti, a realtor, defeated his opponent, Nicholas De Bello, a vice president of the AME Union, 3,343 to 3,323. De Bello had run on a ticket with Gribbin. Savoretti has pledged to continue to involve the community on the board and counted security as one of his chief accomplishments. De Bello had pushed for smaller class sizes during the debates.

Kevin Craine, a teacher, defeated Vladimir Pean, an information technology specialist, 3,361 to 3,282, for Jerry Martusciello’s seat. Martusciello did not seek reelection. Pean ran with Gribbin and De Bello, and Craine ran with Guttieri and Savoretti.

The Savoretti, Craine and Guttieri campaign also issued a social media statement, thanking the community for their support and involvement in the race.

“We knew it would not be easy,” the statement read. “Up against a well-organized machine, we relied on family and friends donating their time to spread the word. Although the race was long and our opposition stiff, we sent a message: parents’ and students’ rights will be respected, academic achievement will be prioritized, and accountability and transparency will be restored in Smithtown.”

Each trustee will serve a three-year term.

Kings Park Central School District

The majority of voters in the Kings Park Central School District approved the 2023‒24 budget of $104,039,636, a 1.76% increase over last year, with 829 voting yes and 336 no.

The tax levy will increase from last year’s $77,430,655 to $80,103,141, which is a $2,672,486 increase. This results in a 3.45% tax levy increase.

Incumbent Joe Bianco ran unopposed for school board and received 976 votes. In July he will begin his fourth term.

Commack Central School District

The Commack Central School District budget for 2023‒24 passed, 1,247 to 351. This year’s total budget is $222.110,181, up $7,464,854 from last year’s $214,645,327, which is a 3.48% increase.

The tax levy will increase from $149,681,444 last year to $152,660,104. This would be a rise of $2,978,660, resulting in a 1.99% tax levy increase.

Incumbents William Hender and Susan Hermer ran unopposed for their seats on the school board. Hender received 1,283 votes and Hermer 1,303.

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Leah Chiappino

The Smithtown Central School District 2023-24 proposed budget of $280,642,272, is an increase of 4.8% from this year’s budget of $267,786,882 with a proposed tax levy of 2.83% which is within the district’s allowable limit.

There are three seats open on the board, with incumbent Matthew Gribbin as well as challengers Vlad Pean and Nicholas De Bello running on one ticket, and incumbent John Savoretti along with Elena Guttieri and Kevin Craine on another. They are competing for three-year terms from July 1 through June 30, 2026. Trustee Jerry Martusciello is not seeking reelection.

The school budget vote and election will be held Tuesday, May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For polling places, visit the district website at www.smithtown.k12.ny.us and use the “Budget Information” tab.

The candidates discussed the issues at a meet-the-candidates night May 4 moderated by the Suffolk PTA.

Kevin Craine

Craine is a sixth-grade teacher at Lloyd Harbor Elementary School in the Cold Spring Harbor school district, and father of three children who attend St. James Elementary. He has also served as a youth sports coach, emergency medical technician and PTA volunteer.

According to his biography, he has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and holds a school district administrative certificate from Stony Brook University. A Smithtown graduate himself, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology/education from SUNY Geneseo and a Master of Science in liberal studies/coaching from SBU.

“While I am very proud of all these accomplishments, it all pales in comparison to the pride that I have for this community,” he said.

If elected, he pledged to make his constituents’ voices heard and feel as though they matter through “increased transparency, administrative accountability and collaboration.”

Nicholas De Bello

De Bello said his father was a social studies teacher at Nesaquake Middle School and Smithtown High School East, and his mother was a social worker for the Sachem school district. 

 “I was growing up with that inspiration from my parents about the value of schools and how educators can make first-hand differences in the lives of children,” he said.

A former caseworker for Suffolk County Department of Social Services, he is currently a vice president for the Association of Municipal Employees. He noted that several school employees, such as crossing guards and early intervention specialists, are members of the union.

He pledged to fight for small class sizes if elected. 

Matthew Gribbin

Gribbin, the current board president and a gym teacher in the Half Hollow Hills school district, graduated from The University of Maine in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and physical education. He then earned a M.S. in educational technology from Long Island University. Gribbin’s three children attend Smithtown schools, and he said it is important for him and his family to give back.

“My wife and I love raising our children in this great community,” he said. “There’s so much to offer. With that comes responsibility. We feel that it’s important to be active contributors to make this community and district what it is.”

As such, Gribbin serves as a soccer coach with the Smithtown Kickers, basketball coach with St. Patrick’s R.C. Church of Smithtown, has coached lacrosse and baseball, and also assists with PTA events. He has previously served as a board member and division coordinator with the Kickers. 

Gribbin has frequently sparred with fellow trustees Stacy Ann Murphy, Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi and Savoretti.

A particularly contentious moment occurred at the Oct. 25 meeting, when Wontrobski-Ricciardi questioned the athletic placement process which allows skilled middle school athletes to participate at the high school level. At the same time, trustee Michael Catalanotto’s son was up for consideration. Subsequent events led Wontrobski-Ricciardi to seek the removal of Catalanotto and Gribbin from the board through the New York State Education Department.

The complaint was dismissed, but in the decision NYS Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa encouraged Gribbin “to comport himself in the future in a manner befitting a holder of public office.”

Gribbin acknowledged that there had been challenges during his tenure. “Many people have thanked me for running for reelection this year knowing all that I’ve dealt with over the past three years as board president,” he said.

He chose to run again “because there is still work to be done.” Gribbin counted his chief accomplishments as board president as decreasing class sizes, increasing programming, adding mental health support, improving district security and building partnerships among the community, such as with the Town of Smithtown and Suffolk County Police Department among others.

“Over the past several years we’ve seen an unfortunate divide in our great community,” Gribbin said. “I’ve worked diligently to build relationships with many members of the community in order to return to a place of civility and respect.”

Elena Guttieri

Guttieri is a middle school English teacher in the Syosset school district. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in English from Dowling College, along with a professional certificate in literacy from grades 5-12. She is trained in nonviolent crisis intervention and has earned the SEPTA distinguished service award.

A mother of four, she expressed concerns about aspects of the curriculum in the district.

“As a classroom teacher for over 20 years, I feel qualified to tell you what the goal of education should be — prepare our students with basic truths,” she said. “We must always teach English and traditional literature. We must always teach American history and patriotism while admitting our mistakes but always emphasize the accomplishments that have made us the greatest nation in the history of the world. We must teach mathematics in a way that is comprehensible so that even parents can help their children with their homework.”

Vlad Pean

The son of Haitian immigrants, Pean is a graduate of CUNY Baruch College, and has been in the information technology field for over 25 years. He said he hopes to bring his technological experience to the board. A father of three, Pean has spoken at Board of Education meetings about his daughter being bullied and subject to racial slurs.

“If I got on the school board I would never let what happened to her happen to her brother or sister or any other student,” Pean said.

“There have been a few bumps in the road but the one thing I learned is that Smithtown is full of compassionate people,” he added. 

John Savoretti

Savoretti earned a degree in marketing and finance from Adelphi University, and owns a real estate office in Nassau County and in Smithtown.

He has been active in the PTA, Little League, and was a Cub Scout leader. He said his strength on the board has been his community involvement. He counted security as one of his chief accomplishments 

“I don’t know why it took so long but we finally have security on the table for Smithtown,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be done. It’s scary but it’s true, and my goal now is education.”


When asked about security, Craine said he thinks the district needs to take further precautions for open events such as Field Day and the Halloween Parade, and institute safety drills. De Bello said that the district should ensure everyone is on the same page as to armed security, as well as combat bullying and ensure students feel welcome. 

Gribbin pointed to the security booths outside of the secondary schools and improvements to the vestibules enter the buildings, as well as the implementation of armed guards and improvements to district mental health services. Guttieri said cameras should be increased in the schools, and there should be an anonymous reporting app. She also noted a wellness room leadership students are implementing. 

Pean agreed that there should be improvements to technology, and that there should be drills for students, while making is clear the school is there to protect them. Savoretti said some improvements could be made to cameras, and that it’s important to teach students to respect each other.

Civility on the board 

When the complaint filed by Wontrobski-Ricciardi was referenced, De Bello said it’s important to bring respect and build consensus, also talking out disagreements while acknowledging politics has made its way to the board.

Gribbin said that “disagreements and disrespect” are two different things. The accusations against him were “an unsuccessful coordinated attempt to really try to discredit my character.” Guttieri said she was concerned about the treatment of female board members and
encouraged respectful discourse.

Pean said that even now at board meetings, he goes up to members with whom he disagrees to try to understand where they are coming from.

Savoretti said the board has been “a boys’ club” for too long, and he would like to
see more women elected.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
By Carolyn Sackstein

Given the nationwide proliferation of violence in schools, the Smithtown Central School District Board of Education recently voted to vet and hire a private security firm to patrol the exterior perimeter of all schools with armed guards. 

Long Island schools from Greenport to Copiague have experienced threats of violence made by students. Following the Parkland, Florida, school shootings in 2018, some districts opted to provide armed security personnel, including Hauppauge, Miller Place and Mount Sinai. With an ongoing public debate over the most effective way to protect children in schools and public spaces, TBR News Media took to the streets of Port Jefferson village Saturday, Feb. 18, asking people for their opinions on armed guards in and around schools.

— Photos by Carolyn Sackstein



Gannon Lawley, Anchorage, Alaska

“I am against armed guards in almost all places, especially schools. It doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing that would be good for a school or a learning environment. It arises from an aversion to armed guards in general. It’s a hippy peace thing for me.”






Nicole Carhart & Hector Monell, West Islip

When asked about armed guards on school campuses Carhart said, “It depends. It is good for people to keep safe. You want to make sure they are not using it against others.”

Monell thought Smithtown’s decision was “a positive outcome.”






Joseph Vergopia, Manhattan

When asked to comment on Smithtown’s decision to put armed guards on campus, he responded, “That’s the stupidest idea I ever heard, because more guns on the street are just a ridiculous way to curb gun [violence].”




Jeremy Torres and Xiao Han Wu, Stony Brook

Jeremy Torres from Stony Brook village was with his wife, Xiao Han Wu, originally from Beijing, China, and young daughter. Torres said, “With today’s crazy environment, I would prefer police on the campus. As long as [private security] has proper training and qualifications and gun safety, I would trust that. You can’t just have anybody.”

Han Wu said, “Because I see a lot of news like shootings in the schools and all that and having a kid, that definitely makes me more concerned about the safety in schools. I feel comfortable, they put armed guards [on campus]. I also prefer police.”


Louis Antoniello, Terryville

“There are better ways to protect the school systems. [Examples would be] electronic locks on the schools, where you have to use a pass key to get in, electronic locks on the classroom doors and gymnasiums. If there is an issue in the school, where somebody does get in, the entire school can be locked down with kids and teachers in the classroom through the main office. They can just lock it down electronically. Nobody can get into the classrooms. Would you rather have more guns where now you’re getting into a gun fight on the street? Doesn’t matter if it is someone who has been trained to use a gun or not. If you look at the statistics and the percentages of how many times you hit with your first or second shot, those percentages are very low. Where are these bullets going? They could be going into the windows of the school. They could be going into neighbors’ houses. The best thing to do is spend your money on securing the building, and electronic locks are the way to go. You can also have security cameras all around with people watching the security videos. They can see who is coming on campus. You’re stopped at the door, they ask what you’re doing there, you’re on camera, you show your ID. You sit and wait to pick up your son or daughter. You can drop something off for them at security. That’s how you secure a building. Leaving the building open without electronic locks and just having people walking the perimeter with guns is not the way to go.”