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Smithtown Central School District

Despite a few job openings, local school districts are ready for the new school year. Stock photo

With schools across the nation facing issues filling positions, including vital teaching jobs, local school districts, for the most part, are looking toward the new academic year in a good position with staffing.

While COVID-19 created severe obstacles for schools in the last couple of years, local districts are moving past them.

Some difficulties

Kevin Scanlon, the new Three Village Central School District superintendent, said the district is among those well staffed regarding teachers. Slight shortages involve jobs such as teaching assistants and monitor positions. Substitutes for teaching and various openings, including custodial, are also hard to find. Scanlon said that with more than 500 teachers in the district, 30 to 50 of them could be out on any given day.

Neil Katz, Smithtown Central School District assistant superintendent for personnel; Jim Polansky, Huntington school district superintendent; and Roberta Gerold, Middle Country Central School District superintendent, all said their districts are in the same position with permanent teaching positions being filled, but there are small issues finding noncertified employees.

Routinely, it can be challenging also to find candidates in the fields of English as a New Language, family and consumer sciences, technology and language classes. Scanlon added that it’s difficult to find certified American Sign Language educators. 

“Also, business teachers, which is unusual because 25 years ago you probably had your choice of teachers,” he said. “Some of the local colleges in New York also used to produce 120 candidates a year in tech teachers, now they’re producing maybe 12 to18. So, the numbers are quite short of where they were years ago in those specialized areas.” 

Scanlon added finding such teachers is even more difficult than finding math and science teachers.

“We are all competing against each other trying to find them,” he said.

Polansky said, from time to time, there can be last-minute resignations at the end of the summer.

“Those can present issues, but those are few and far between, and sometimes if you have an added aide position that comes up due to class formation, that doesn’t take place until late in the summer,” he said.

Gerold said, “One of the many byproducts of the pandemic has been a smaller pool of applicants, which has impacted the Middle Country school district’s ability — as it has school districts across Long Island and the country — to hire talented educators.”

Like other districts, Middle Country found ways to ensure it was properly staffed.

“While the hiring process has been particularly challenging heading into this school year, our human resources and personnel teams have worked hard to creatively find new solutions to attract the next generation of educators to lead our community into the future,” she said. 

There has also been a need to stay proactive regarding teacher retirements. While student enrollment has declined in some local districts, the number of teachers retiring has increased.

Katz said the number of employees currently retiring makes sense as the population was growing in the area 25 to 30 years ago and schools were expanding, which led to the need to hire more teachers at the time. Those employees are now meeting their retirement requirements.

“We’re hitting that point that there’s this balloon of the number of teachers that are eligible for retirement,” Katz said, adding COVID-19 exacerbated the problem in recent years.

Polansky agreed.

“You’re going to see more in the next couple of years because it is kind of generational,” he said. “That’s another thing that we need to take into account.”

According to New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, 33% of active members could potentially retire in the next few years.

Solutions

Some news outlets have reported states such as Florida dropping the requirements for people to secure a teaching position such as having a bachelor’s degree. Polansky said, “There’s a fine line between helping your teacher availability and compromising quality. You don’t want to be in a situation where actions are being taken that actually lessen the quality of the educator that’s in front of your children in the classroom.”

He added that such a move could cause more problems in the long run.

“We have to make teaching a desirable profession,” he said. “There are a couple of ways to do that, and it’s incumbent upon states and local school districts to make that happen.” 

Administrators said their districts always start the hiring process early in the calendar year to prepare for the first day of school, attending recruitment events at colleges in New York state, hosting their own career fairs and placing ads in papers.

Scanlon said the Three Village school district will run an ad in The New York Times at the end of January or early February. He added that advertising in the paper is something many high-caliber schools do. Looking toward the future, the superintendent said there are talks about bringing back a Future Teachers of America club to the high school to encourage students to choose teaching as a career.

Gerold said one of the Middle Country school district’s “initiatives has been our successful partnership with Stony Brook University to fortify our roster of substitute teachers. During the pandemic, the district partnered with Stony Brook University to place student-teacher substitutes in schools. Through this, we’ve been able to satisfy the substitute teacher needs throughout the district and identify strong educators who are poised to excel in leading classrooms.”

Katz said the Smithtown Central school district tries to reach out to different associations and offer more competitive salaries. However, even using various hiring methods and starting early, sometimes a new hire will get a better offer right before the academic year begins.

“We’re getting into bidding wars,” he said. “Candidates are pushing one district against the other in bidding wars. Kind of like the housing market.”

Despite a few job openings, local school districts are ready for the new school year. Stock photo

Town of Smithtown residents who turned out to vote in school elections May 17 approved their district’s budgets. They also voted incumbents back in to retain their seats on the boards of education.

Commack Union Free School District

The $ 214,645,326 budget for 2022-23 was passed with 2,392 votes. There were 815 who voted “no.” Proposition 2 to decrease transportation limits in grades three through five from 1/2 mile to a 1/4 mile was also passed, 2,376 to 814.

The budget for next academic year is an increase of 4.64% over last year. This will result in a tax levy increase of 1.95%, under the tax cap of 3.82%. This includes a state aid package of $43 million.

Incumbents Steven Hartman and Justin Varughese retained their seats with 2,277 and 2,247 votes, respectively. Newcomers Pauline Fidalgo received 877 and Christopher Jurkovic 893.

Hauppauge Union Free School District

Hauppauge residents passed the $123,913,904 budget, 639-300. The budget reflects a 3.29% increase over last year and a 1.22% tax levy increase.

Three candidates ran for three seats, incumbent and board vice president Rob Scarito, 617; Michael Buscarino, 651; and incumbent and current board president David Barshay, 624.

Kings Park Central School District

The Kings Park $102.24 million budget was approved by voters, 2,229 to 1,125. The budget is an increase of 1.94% over last year. This will result in a 2.99% tax levy increase, or $23.39 more per year for the average taxpayer.

Trustees Pam DeFord and Dan Tew did not seek reelection, leaving two seats up for election. Patrick Hanley, 1,879 votes, and Shala Pascucci, 1,737, will be the new board trustees beginning July 1. They defeated Jaime Lelle, 1,529, and Douglas Cerrato, 1,490.

Smithtown Central School District

Smithtown school district residents approved the $267,786,882 budget, 5,250 to 2,241. The 2022-23 budget reflects a dollar change of $5,467,217 from last year’s budget of $262,319,665. The tax levy is 1.2% and is below the district’s allowable tax levy.

Proposition 2, establishing a capital reserve, passed 5,249 to 2,241. 

Michael Catalanotto and Michael Saidens won back their seats, with 4,582 and 4,590 votes, respectively. This will be the second term for Catalanotto and the third for Saidens.

Charles Fisher, who challenged Catalanotto for his seat received 3,201 votes, and Angela Kouvel, who challenged Saidens, received 3,157.

In a joint statement sent May 18, Catalanotto and Saidens thanked Smithtown voters “for putting your confidence and trust in us.”

“We are honored to be reelected with nearly 60% of the vote,” they said. “The parents and residents had a choice to make, and voted to keep Smithtown schools great, support all of our students and protect our property values. People were fed up with our children being used as political footballs, and roundly rejected efforts to destabilize our schools. We couldn’t be prouder of the hard work our teachers, administrators and staff do, each and every day, in running a world-class school district and they will continue to have our strong support.”

North Shore residents stopped by their local polling places throughout the day May 17 to vote on school budgets and for board of education members.

Winning candidates are in bold.

This story will be updated as more results come in. Last updated May 18 at 11:33 a.m.

Commack Union Free School District

$ 214,645,326 budget passed

Yes – 2,392

No – 815

Proposition 2 to decrease transportation limits in grades 3 through 5 from ½ mile to a ¼ mile, passed

Yes – 2,376

No – 814

Candidates, two seats 

Steven Hartman – 2,277

Pauline Fidalgo – 877

Justin Varughese – 2,247

Christopher Jurkovic – 893

Comsewogue Union Free School District

The budget passed.

Yes – 998

No – 427

Robert DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter both elected for three-year terms. 

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District

$73,420,423 budget passed

Yes – 817

No – 276

Candidates, two seats

Amelia Walsh Brogan – 496

Alex Whelehan – 888

Bruce Sullivan – 648

Elwood Union Free School District

$69,181,071 budget passed

Yes – 804

No – 396

Candidates, one seat

Deborah Weiss – 965

Sean Camas – 183

Harborfields Central School District

$92,895,995 budget passed

Yes – 1,655

No – 353

Candidates, two seats

Hansen Lee – 1,490 votes

Colleen Wolcott – 1,530

David Balistreri – 603

Hauppauge Union Free School District

$123,913,904 budget passed

Yes – 639

No – 300

Candidates, three candidates

Rob Scarito – 624

Michael Buscarino -651

David Barshay- 617

Huntington Union Free School District

$142,968,343 budget passed

Yes – 834

No – 150

Candidates, two seats, incumbents unopposed

Bill Dwyer- 823

Michele Kustera- 838

Kings Park Central School District

$102.24 million budget passed

Yes – 2,229

No – 1,125

Candidates, two seats

Patrick Hanley – 1,879

Shala Pascucci – 1,737

Jaime Lelle – 1,529

Douglas Cerrato- 1,490.

Middle Country Central School District

The budget passed.

Yes – 2,036

No – 946

Robert Hallock – 1,500
Kristopher Oliva (Incumbent) – 1,452
Denise Haggerty (Incumbent) – 1,518
Leah Fitzpatrick – 1,440
Robert Feeney (Incumbent) – 1,513
Tifanny Lorusso – 1,434
Dawn Sharrock (Incumbent) – 1,481
Kimberly Crawford-Arbocus – 1,471

Miller Place School District

The budget passed. 

Yes – 1,394

No – 503

Proposition 2 (library budget) passed.

Yes – 1,590

No – 310

CORRECTION: It was originally misreported that Andrea Spaniolas received 628 votes. Spaniolas actually received 924 votes. 

Keith Frank – 830

Johanna Testa – 990

Andrea Spaniolas – 924

Jennifer Andersen-Oldenskov – 616

Kenneth Conway – 743

John Galligan – 625

Jenna Stingo – 782

Mount Sinai School District

 

Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

$177,856,084, budget passed

Yes – 2,285

 No- 1,674

 Proposition #2: Capital Expenditures: Passed

Candidates, three seats

Larry Licopoli – 2,528

Allison Noonan – 2,676

Thomas Loughran – 2,729

Frank Labate – 1,754

Port Jefferson School District

Budget passed: Yes – 642; No – 165
Proposition #2: Yes 673; No 130

Ellen Boehm – 550
Randi DeWitt – 563

Paul Ryan – 267

Rocky Point Union Free School District

Budget passed.

Yes – 1,017
No – 322

Proposition 2 – Capital Reserve
– 1,063 Yes
– 267 No

Susan Sullivan – 595 –  3yr term
Erin Walsh – 515 –  1yr term
Nick Contes – 514
Nicole Kelly – 485
Jason Ford – 221
Susan Wilson – 258

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Budget passed. 

Yes – 625

No – 167

Proposition #2

Yes – 652

No – 139

Tom Sheridan – 659

Meghan Tepfenhardt – 638

14 Write-in candidates received less than five votes each

Smithtown Central School District

$267,786,882 budget passed

Yes – 5,250

No – 2,241

Candidates, two seats

Michael Catalanotto – 4,582

Michael Saidens – 4,590

Charles Fisher – 3,201 votes

Angela Kouvel – 3,157.

Three Village Central School District

$224,060,618 budget passed

Yes – 2,584

No – 2,518

Candidates, two seats

Vincent Vizzo – 2,715

Jennifer Solomon – 2,650  

Reanna Fulton – 2,283

Evan Proios –2,122

 

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Residents of the Smithtown Central School District will once again decide who will sit on the school board after a contentious race in 2021.

Last year Stacy Ann Murphy, John Savoretti and Karen Wontrobski-Ricciardi beat out incumbents Jeremy Thode, Mandi Kowalik and Charles Rollins in a race where the newcomers were inspired to run after disagreeing with the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic regarding in-person learning and masks.

This year newcomer Angela Kouvel will go up against incumbent Michael Saidens for his position and first-timer Charles Fisher will challenge Michael Catalanotto for his current seat. Voters will also decide on a proposed $267,786,882 budget for the 2022-23 school year which reflects a dollar change of $5,467,217 from last year’s budget of $262,319,665. The tax levy is 1.2% and is below the district’s allowable tax levy.

This year the district is set to receive $48,731,716 of state aid, an increase of $1.26 million. Residents will also have the opportunity to vote on a proposition to establish a new capital reserve fund. The fund is not to exceed $25 million over a 10-year period. If Proposition 2 is approved, residents will not have an additional tax increase. Funds would transfer from the general fund and would be used to make capital improvements to the district’s schools.

Candidate information

Catalanotto and Saidens participated in phone interviews with The Times of Smithtown for this article. Kouvel asked for questions to be emailed to her so she could answer them after returning from vacation but answers were not received before press time. Fisher did not respond to requests for an interview.

Michael Saidens

Saidens is an elementary school principal in the Sachem school district. Throughout his career he has worked as a teacher, including in the Smithtown school district, as well as a principal in other schools in Suffolk County. He also has experience as a special education administrator.

He is running for the third time.

“I think there’s still work to be done,” he said. “I think right now our community is pretty fractured, and I want to be part of the team to bring us back together to focus on what’s best for our kids in our community.” 

He said the last couple of years the board of education has received criticism from parents about the district’s response to COVID-19 state mandates. There have also been concerns that the district was including critical race theory in its curriculum, which it does not.

“We really need to focus on that every kid in Smithtown should count, and it’s our job as a board of education to make sure we’re not just educating like-minded kids,” he said, adding every child should be comfortable in school.

He said he believes his experience in education is an asset to the board.

“I’m there to focus on our school business and then also understanding that there are mandates that we need to follow, rules that we have to follow, and you’re not always able to do exactly what you want to do,” he said. “You have to work within the parameters and framework that a state education department sets and work toward working on curriculum that way.”

Saidens said that while the board is divided at times there are also issues they agree on.

He said a lot of times subjects brought up by members of the board and the public are “hot button topics that aren’t necessarily a part of our purview as a board of education.”

Michael Catalanotto

An attorney born and raised in Smithtown, Catalanotto is running for his second term. His first term was one that was filled with enforcing state COVID-19 mandates. Despite the controversies that may have followed a few of the BOE’s decisions, he said he is proud of many things the trustees have accomplished. 

“Despite the challenges that we had, we continued to add programs during COVID,” he said. “We made addressing learning loss a priority, and we’ve been able to come in below the tax cap, keep the budget below the tax cap the last two years.”

He would like to see foreign language programs in the elementary schools and the expansion of mental health programs. He said recently the school has partnered with the Suffolk County Police Department to offer programs in the schools.

As an attorney, who primarily deals with divorce mediation, he said he has experience dealing with tax records and getting two people on the same page.

He agrees with Saidens that the board can be divided at times: “There’s been this division on the board, lack of focus on the issues that really affect our children, and instead focused on what we can do to flip the board completely. That’s really been the focus of a lot of what’s going on right now. So, it’s a shame, but we’ve got to get back to what the real issues are and focus on our children.”

Both Catalanotto and Saidens said they were proud of the district’s partnership with Northwell Health that will provide more opportunities for assistance for families seeking mental health support for students.

Charles Fisher

During a Meet the Candidates Night via Zoom, Fisher said he is an attorney who deals mostly with real estate law. He and his wife moved to Smithtown when their oldest of three was 5 years old and beginning kindergarten 15 years ago, because they felt the Smithtown school district was a good one. He said he and mostly his wife have volunteered for many extracurricular school activities, which he said enables him to be familiar with what is involved in the school programs.

“I volunteered to run for school board out of concern due to the great slowdown of 2020,” he said, adding the pandemic revealed problems in the district describing them as when a river dries up you see what is laying at the bottom.

He said he feels he needs to be part of the board to address issues that were unforeseen before the pandemic.

Angela Kouvel

Kouvel, who is the mother of two, also moved to the district to provide her children with a better education. During the Meet the Candidates Night, she said she is married to a police officer, and she oversees contracts for a plumbing company.

With children in the district, she said, “I see now more than ever just how important a proper education is. They’re not only the children of today but they are also the children of our future and community.”

She added she believes in equality for every student, and the importance of enrichment and special education programs in every school in the district. Kouvel said she is not only a candidate for the students but also the community.

Voting information

To view the Meet the Candidates Night, visit https://youtu.be/w0iokgmcoEQ. Voting will take place Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For information on polling places, visit the district’s website, www.smithtown.k12.ny.us/boardofeducation/budget_information.

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Tackan Elementary School students officially got into the swing at their new playground on Jan. 13.

With the temperature reaching the upper-40s and the sun brightly shining with no wind, Barbara Beard and Kelly Bennis’ third grade students became the first of several classes to use the new playground throughout the school day.

Students shouted, “I’m so excited!” and, “This is so cool!” and, “It’s like a wild carnival ride!” as they approached and then began using the state-of-the-art new playground.

The playground includes eight swings, a pair of slides and several other climbing structures. One swing even resembles a car seat for those who may have accessibility issues with a traditional playground swing.

Staff, including the entire group of cafeteria workers, were so excited by the Tackan addition, they posed for photos on Day 1 of its use.

The playground is part of Director of Facilities Daniel Leddy and the Smithtown Central School District’s ongoing project to try to introduce one new playground annually around the district, provided the budget continues to allow it.

As part of a STEM Partnership with the School District, Smithtown HS West Marine Biology students in Kimberly Williams’ class get an inside look at real world dilemmas, which Long Island must face regarding future solid waste and recycling concerns.

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, embarked on phase two of its first STEM program partnership. On  Dec. 2, students in Kimberly Williams’ Marine Biology class at High School West, got an inside look at the Town’s Recycling and Solid Waste process at Smithtown Municipal Services Facility as it relates to the environment and the major challenge Long Island will face, once the Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.

Sanitation Supervisor Neal Sheehan and Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator, Mike Engelmann led a hands-on experiential learning trip with marine biology teacher, Kimberly Williams. Students saw the process of what happens to waste once it leaves the curbside, the many different materials which Smithtown recycles, challenges of fluctuating recycling markets, and the harmful impacts which can occur without personal awareness and responsibility.

“This was the first of several STEM programs, together with the school district and it couldn’t have been better received. This generation is very conscious of critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. Bringing their lesson plans from the chalk board to the real world, so students can witness the benefits of their hard work before their eyes, is not only exciting… It’s beneficial to the community they call home. I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in this phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The day began with a basic understanding of where solid waste and recycling goes once it leaves the curb at home. Students learned about the recycling markets, recent changes the Nation was forced to make once China closed the doors to the U.S. industry and the consequences of contaminated materials being disposed of in a country without the same regulations as the United States. The Smithtown HS West marine biology students had an excellent, previous understanding of plastics pollution happening in our oceans. Neal Sheehan and Mike Engelmann gave an in depth presentation on the upcoming closure of the Brookhaven Landfill, the harmful and invasive environmental impacts of trucking waste off the Island, and the possible solutions to expand recycling and removing ash off the Island.

“This was the most fun I’ve had at work in years. First, I can’t believe how engaged the kids are. This generation is so aware of the impacts we as humans have on our local environment and they are eager to solve the problems at hand. I’m very excited to work with the class on the final stage of the partnership. I have a hunch we’ll have some excellent new employees working in the various fields of environmental planning, and engineering in the very near future!,” said Neal Sheehan, Sanitation Supervisor.

The class toured the Municipal Services Facility (MSF) where they saw cardboard and paper being sorted, and learned the do’s and don’ts of recycling properly. Students got an eagle eye view of the various material drop sites residents can utilize, such as electronic waste and ​​household appliances, construction and demolition, and glass. From the top of the hill, they observed the massive wood chipping operation, which is made from residential brush and tree branch collection and given away to residents for free. Additionally, students got to see groundwater monitoring locations, located at the former landfill site. The Town is required to monitor the underlying groundwater as a part of the post-closure care period. At the end of the tour, Smithtown Environmental Planner, Liam Trotta took a drone up in the air to show students the Solar array and wind turbine located on the grounds.

“It really makes all the difference when you get to physically see the whole operation right in front of you. We could see the concern and surprise on each student’s face, despite their face masks.  Concerned when they learned that the average Long Islanders is responsible for almost five pounds of waste in one day… Pleasantly surprised when they saw just how much we in Smithtown reuse and recycle, and even happier to learn that their solid waste was being recycled into energy at Covanta. But, when we explained the environmental and economical impacts of trucking the remaining ash and C & D off Long Island, you could hear a pin drop in the room. They understand that a clock is officially ticking to implement a solution… and they are very eager to tackle the issue at hand,” said Mike Engelmann, Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator.

The STEM Partnership takes a hands-on approach to real world environmental issues affecting the community, utilizing the branches of science in order to apply possible ideas or solutions to improve the problem. Such topics covered include solid waste & recycling, invasive species, stormwater runoff, nitrogen pollution and water quality. Phase One is a simple introduction video presentation for students to understand the scope of each issue. Phase Two involves site and case studies where students witness each issue in person and have the opportunity to ask questions which are answered by official Town experts in each field. Phase Three is conducted in the classroom where students will present solutions to each concern. At every stage of the partnership, the Town and School district work in tandem to help students apply lesson plans to each real world scenario. The Town of Smithtown hopes to expand this program to all local school districts who are interested.

Photos from Town of Smithtown

This year as students returned to the classrooms full time, school officials are facing problems hiring enough faculty members.

Even before the pandemic, organizations such as New York State United Teachers, known as NYSUT, addressed the decline of people enrolling in the state’s teacher education programs. According to its website, enrollment has declined by more than 53% since 2009.

Gary Dabrusky, Three Village Central School District assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district “has experienced a shortage of teachers, which is reflective of regional and state trends.”

He said there has been a general decline in “the number of employees who have chosen to seek employment in the educational field. This includes areas such as tech, family and consumer science, global languages, substitute teachers, monitors, aides and food service workers.”

Smithtown Central School District is also experiencing shortages of certified and noncertified staff members, according to Neil Katz, assistant superintendent for personnel. In the Cold Spring Harbor district, Superintendent Jill Gierasch said her schools are also among the ones facing hiring issues. The superintendent said while they haven’t had major problems with their teaching staff, finding substitute teachers, special education and library aides has been a challenge for the district that has 1,700 students, which she added is small compared to others.

“We even increased the salaries to try to draw more folks for the first time,” she said.

Reaching out

Gierasch said while they have advertised in local publications, the district has also taken out ads in The New York Times “to try to spread our scope.”

Dabrusky said he “created a human resources Facebook page to help cast a wider net in an effort to reach a greater number of potential candidates.” The search has also led to the Three Village assistant superintendent revamping the human resources tab on the district’s website and using other sites such as the BOCES online application system, SchoolFront and Indeed.

In addition to online and social media, Katz said the Smithtown district also seeks “new and creative ideas on how to promote our vacancies in an effort to attract the most highly qualified candidates to join our staff.”

He added recommendations are also welcomed.

“While many online sources attract candidates, referrals from current staff are also very helpful,” he said. “The use of virtual interviews has also allowed us to meet with candidates from a farther distance more easily and to interview more candidates quicker in order to expedite our onboarding process.”

Solutions

Katz said the district has been utilizing all staff members.

“Many part-time aides are working double shifts and covering various positions as lunch monitors and classroom aides,” he said. “We have hired a number of full-time aides to provide the necessary support. Teachers are covering classes during their lunch and preparation periods. Other certified staff are providing coverage in classrooms, as necessary.”

Gierasch said the Cold Spring Harbor district has put together skeleton crews to ensure each space is covered. In the past, for example, when the school librarian would go to lunch an aide would cover the break. Now, the library is closed during the librarian’s lunch period.

The superintendent said they have also looked at the IEP [individualized education program] aides for students who need them to see if they require someone for all periods or just certain ones so they can adjust who the aides work with throughout the course of the day.

Dabrusky said Three Village has been resourceful in managing the shortage as he described student instruction and supervision to be of “paramount importance.”

“For example, in our elementary schools, every teacher volunteers for two coverage periods,” he said. “In the secondary schools, extra class coverage is offered to our teachers to cover a class during their lunch and preparation periods. In addition, we employ permanent substitute teaching staff, and human resources leadership has expended robust effort to recruit and maintain substitute teaching staff.”

Possible reasons

Gierasch said some of the faculty positions aren’t always high paying and many people take them for health insurance coverage. With COVID-19, she feels many are hesitant to take a position due to health concerns.

“I don’t think it’s just germane to school districts,” Gierasch said. “I think, in all industries, staffing is an issue.”

Dabrusky agrees that many may be reluctant to return to the field due to the health crisis.

Katz also pointed to the overall decline.

“It appears that fewer people are entering the profession and that has caused some difficulty with securing teachers in certain areas of certification,” he said. “The number of vacancies that are posted for school districts throughout NYS is much greater now than I’ve seen in years. There definitely seems to be a supply and demand issue.”

From left, Environmental Director David Barnes, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Smithtown artist Susan Buroker, Smithtown CSD Art Teacher Timothy Needles talk with students about stormwater runoff. Photo from Town of Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, has begun a unique partnership in time for the 2021-2022 school year. Town officials will begin to coordinate hands-on experiential learning opportunities with school science teachers, which focus on real world environmental issues affecting the community. The new programming will focus on the branches of science and how to apply the curriculum to real world issues such as solid waste, invasive species, and water quality.

“We’re absolutely thrilled at the prospect of getting our youth more engaged in critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. I can remember back to my school days, always asking ‘When am I ever going to use this in the real world?’ This programming takes studies from the chalk board to the real world, so kids witness the benefits of their hard work unfold before their eyes… I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in what will undoubtedly be a phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

Over the Summer, town department experts at Environment and Waterways, and Municipal Services Facility will begin coordinating with school district science teachers to help perfect the programming. Real world topics include the impending solid waste crisis, shellfish and water quality, invasive species census and stormwater runoff. Each class will hear expert presentations from Smithtown’s environmental authorities, in addition to participating in eco-adventure field trips. Students will then learn how to apply STEM related solutions to real world issues.

While still in the planning phase, the new partnership program is slated to launch in the fall.

Families rallied in August asking the Smithtown Central School District to consider five days of in-person schooling for all of the district’s students. Photo by Lina Weingarten
Stacy Murphy

The 2020-21 school year began with a tumultuous start for the Smithtown Central School District when local parents rallied in front of the administration building before various board of education meetings demanding schools to be opened five days a week for in-person learning during the pandemic. The charge was led by the Facebook group Smithtown Parents Watchdog Group, which was founded by Stacy Murphy, a guidance counselor in the Amityville school district.

Now Murphy along with educator Karen Ricciardi and real estate agent John Savoretti will go head-to-head with BOE incumbents Jeremy Thode, Mandi Kowalik and Charles Rollins. Voters on May 18 will have the opportunity to vote for Murphy or Kowalik, Savoretti or Rollins and Ricciardi or Thode.

The challengers

Savoretti, Murphy and Ricciardi did not return requests to schedule interviews but created a Facebook page where they share their common goals via posts and a video.

Karen Ricciardi

Murphy said in the video she enjoys helping others.

“I love helping kids, and I love being a voice for their families and helping them navigate a very confusing educational system if you don’t have any role in it,” she said. “And, I want that for this community.”

According to the candidates, they want to raise the bar of the education received in the district and “to ensure that the education our K-12 kids are receiving is void of any one group’s agenda, affiliation, belief system or persuasion; and to encourage and provide every student with the tools to be bold enough to exhibit qualities of compassion, kindness and good citizenship to all.”

In the video, Ricciardi said looking out for students was important.

“What’s that old expression?” she said. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Well, this is what’s going on in Smithtown. They’re wasting these amazing resources with these kids.”

The candidates also have stated on their page that being fiscally responsible is a priority and that the needs of the students are part of every budget decision.

“Ensuring the community that every vote in favor of a budget item is an investment in our children by building a trust with the community that we will be board members who do not put our own agendas, beliefs and needs — or the agendas, needs or beliefs of any other organization — above that of the needs of the Smithtown student body.”

John Savoretti

The three newcomers are also looking for more dialogue between the board and the community.

“Our goal is that we will have a school board of seven members who have absolutely no obligation or indebtedness to any group(s) that could jeopardize their ability to unequivocally put the needs of the students at the utmost forefront of each and every decision,” the candidates wrote.

In the video, Savoretti explained why the three decided to run together.

“Having one person change is a start, but when you have all three of us change, that’s a running start,” he said. “And what you’re doing is you’re sending a serious message to the other candidates who are in there, who are going to be coming up for election next year and the years after, that if you don’t wake up and start doing right by the kids and what’s right for the community, you’re not going to be there again.”

The incumbents:

Mandi Kowalik

Mandi Kowalik

Kowalik is seeking her second term. A mother of three, she is a former elementary school teacher, author and community volunteer. In an email, she said she enjoys the challenging work of being a BOE trustee.

“I am extremely passionate, dedicated, professional and hardworking,” she said. “There was a definite learning curve during my first term, and I now feel even more equipped to address the needs of the Smithtown community. I would like to assess the needs of the community and the wants of the students regarding the time that was lost during the pandemic, and then work to ensure that we make up for what children and families feel like they missed out on.”

She said she felt the board made the right decision by not opening up all schools in the district right away for five days of in-person learning, saying they followed state guidance for the safety and health of “our students, their families, our staff and the community.”

Kowalik added that the Smithtown school district was one of a few that were back to full-time, in-person learning.

Jeremy Thode

Jeremy Thode

Thode, an associate high school principal, director of health, physical education, business, fine and applied arts and athletics in Center Moriches, is completing his second term as trustee. He agreed that the board did the right thing regarding opening schools in phases. He said the board has more work to do, especially with getting back to normal after the shutdowns. He added having experience with working through the pandemic is a benefit.

He said there were a myriad of reasons regarding school reopenings, and he agreed the board did the right thing following a hybrid model considering state guidelines and also followed the research that was available about the coronavirus.

“We chose to stay on the conservative side, and ensure that our kids were safe,” he said. “The number one priority was keeping the students safe, and the community as safe as possible.”

Among other concerns in the district, Thode said once school returns to normal it would be beneficial to look at the empty buildings in the district, which he said could potentially be utilized by local businesses or nonprofits and lead to students getting internships.

“It would be nice to use them as a hub for resources for the community that our kids might be able to get intertwined with,” he said.

Charles Rollins

Rollins, was appointed by the board and replaced Frank James, who stepped down in January. Rollins’ three children graduated from Smithtown schools, and he is a retired senior executive. He or Savoretti will complete the last two years of James’ term.

Charles Rollins

Involved in the community, he has served as president of the Smithtown Booster Club in the past and is currently its treasurer. He most recently served as senior vice president of operations for First Industrial Realty Trust until his retirement a few years ago.

With a background in business, he feels he has something to offer the board, and he has been working on a capital improvement plan with administration, which is considering taking out a bond in the next few months. Rollins said now is a good time with low interest rates.

“We will be communicating with our constituency to let them know what the plans are,” he said.

Rollins added that the $120 million capital improvement plan will include infrastructure as well as cosmetic improvements, which will include ventilation system work to respond to COVID concerns. 

While he wasn’t part of the original plan to reopen schools, he believes the board and administration did the right thing by opening schools up slowly and said he has high praise for his colleagues, adding they made decisions based on “the science and the numbers, and the direction and guidance from health providers.”

Rollins said he is the president of the homeowners association where he has a house in Florida for vacations. He said he had to make similar decisions to help keep residents safe. The candidate said while some of those decisions weren’t popular, he had to put everyone’s health first. When he heard the Smithtown board was being criticized, he knew what they were going through.

“In my heart, I knew they were doing the right thing,” he said.

Recently the district received criticism for its inclusion, diversity and equity education. In a district letter to parents, the administration said such work has been deemed a priority for many educational organizations.

Rollins said the goal of making sure every student feels welcomed and comfortable is an important one. He added he has heard many passionate speeches from community members at board meetings, and he feels the goal can be achieved with conversations between parents and the board and administration.

Budget and vote

According to the district’s website, the 2021-22 budget of $262,319,665 is an increase of 2.79% over last year’s budget, which is a 1.75% tax levy increase.

Budget voting and board of ed trustees elections will be held Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information on voting locations for the four election districts, visit the SCSD website at www.smithtown.k12.ny.us.

An inside look at Smithtown school libraries. Photo from district

School libraries are looking a little different nowadays.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithtown Central School District had to revamp its library protocols, said Vincenza Graham, director of world languages, ESL & library media services. Like many districts across Long Island, new initiatives have changed how students take out books, read and learn.

“Pandemic or not, libraries are used to constant change,” Catherine Masrour, a librarian at High School West, said. “For years, libraries have been evolving as a result of the rise in access to digital information and the constant and ever-changing world of technological innovations.”

Masrour said that as librarians, they are constantly looking at their students’ needs, trying to provide them with the best resources to be successful — including in a virtual world. 

Students distanced by barriers at Smithtown High School West. Photo from Smithtown School District

“I felt so proud last week when one of my students contacted me to share the news of her college acceptance,” she said. “She thanked me for helping her with her college essay last spring via several Google Meets, and then again, this fall just before she submitted her final application. Hearing the excitement in this student’s voice gave me one more reason to say that I love what I am doing.”

Smithtown elementary schools began virtual programs and fully remote options to students and had to revamp book circulation to keep the library safe for students and staff.

“This system has required the students to truly look beyond the cover of a story, and many have shared that they wouldn’t have taken out some of the books they truly enjoyed if they hadn’t utilized this system,” said Ellie Eichenlaub, a librarian at Dogwood Elementary School and Smithtown West High School. “While this school year has brought some unique challenges, it is nice to reflect on some of the good that it has brought to our students.”

And when staff was back at school in September, Michelle Robinson, a librarian at Tackan Elementary School, said her students wanted to pick up right where they left off in March.

“My fourth-graders were asking if we were going to continue working with author Robin Newman as we did in third grade, and my fifth-graders were asking if we were going to work on our Summer Olympics sport research project that we began at the end of February of fourth grade,” she said. “It made me realize how much they had missed our library as well.”

Keely Schuppert, a librarian at St. James Elementary School, said librarians at her level are in a unique situation of being able to watch their students grow as readers each year from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s the greatest feeling to be able to provide a student with a book they’ve really been wanting to read,” she said. “With masks being a necessity, we have all become very skilled at reading our students’ eyes. It’s the beautiful glimmer in a child’s eyes that reminds me why I love what I do each and every day.” 

Middle schoolers have been able to take out e-books through a new digital platform and are gaining access to print resources by placing holds on books via the library catalog, according to director Graham.

“After our revamped library orientation for sixth-graders, one student asked if we had any manga [Japanese publications],” said Sheila Tobin Cavooris, a librarian at Great Hollow Middle School. “She was so excited when I showed her our graphic format collection, and her enthusiasm was echoed by a number of other students who shared her interest.”

Accompsett Middle School librarian Donna DeLuca said that while sixth-grade orientation was a bit challenging this year, she wanted to keep things as close to normal as possible. 

“At AMS, we had our usual scavenger hunt throughout the library to learn about the different sections and resources available,” she said. “In each section, students recorded themselves talking about what they learned. Even though we followed mask, social distancing and ‘no touch’ guidelines, students were so happy to be up and about and not sitting in front of a screen.”

The human touch is still all important. “When I run after-hours office hours through Google Meet, sometimes from 8 to 9 at night, the kids are appreciative to see a friendly face, happy to be able to ask questions and relieved to know the library safety net is still there,” Smithtown High School East librarian Jean Marie Kliphuis said. “I’ve always told them that our job is to support their work, and whether we are digital or in person, that hasn’t changed.”