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Smithtown school board

Kings Park

Budget: $88.5 million

The 2017-18 budget is a 2.18 percent increase over last year’s budget The tax levy increase is set at 2.08 percent; however, this budget does not pierce the state-mandated cap, according to Superintendent Tim
Eagen. The budget passed with 1,360 yes votes to 533 no votes.

Eagen said he was pleased with the outcome.

“I just feel great,” he said after the results were announced. “The budget passed 72 percent approval. Just happy that the community is very happy with what we have going on here, and it’s just great to have their support.”

The district wasn’t interested in change this year, as incumbent Joe Bianco was elected for another term. Bianco had 989 votes, with Katy Cardinale coming in second with 733 votes, and J.P. Andrade getting 110 votes.

“It feels great,” Bianco said after the results were announced. “It feels very nice to know that you’ve done this for three years and people trust you to look after their kids for another three years. I’m [also] very happy that the budget passed by such a wide margin.”

Bianco already has his sights set on the future.

“Continuing to build on our facilities and our bond project and facilities upgrade to update our foundation of Kings Park,” he said. “And to continue to work with our teachers to negotiate, I’ll steal Dr. Eagen’s words, a sustainable, predictable and equitable contract”

Cardinale said she felt confident in Bianco’s ability to lead the district, and Andrade said he enjoyed getting to know his community better while running.

Smithtown

Budget: $239.4 million

The 2017-18 budget is more than $3 million higher than last year and has a tax levy increase of  1.73 percent — which is the exact tax levy cap for this year.

It passed with 2,421 yes votes and 693 no votes.

The budget includes reduced elementary class sizes, new special education resources and a new curriculum management plan.

Smithtown school board president Christopher Alcure appreciated the community’s support Tuesday night.

“We thank the members of the Smithtown community for going out and supporting the vote,” he said after the results were announced. “We run an excellent program here and I’m glad we can continue to do that.”

In Smithown the winds of change came in, as newcomer Matthew Gribbin unseated incumbent Grace Plourde. Trustees Joanne McEnroy and Gladys Waldron also won another term.

Waldron had 2,095 votes cast in her name, McEnroy had 2,090, Gribbin had 1,835 and Plourde had 1,155.

Leader of the pack Waldron said she was happy to be able to continue to serve.

“It’s great working with the board to provide a financially responsible budget and to enhance the kids’ opportunities for instruction,” she said Tuesday night.

McEnroy echoed the sentiment.

“I’m thrilled to be able to continue to serve the community and our children, which has always been my priority and continues to be,” she said.

Plourde declined to comment, and Gribbin was not at the district Tuesday night. In a Facebook post he thanked supporters.

“Thank you to the Smithtown community for putting your faith and trust in me by electing me to the Smithtown Board of Education,” he said. “I can’t tell you enough how much all of the support that I have received over the last few weeks from friends and colleagues has meant! Thank you!”

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Smithtown residents are up in arms about the sale and potential development of the district’s administration building on New York Avenue.

At the Dec. 13 Smithtown school board meeting, citizens gathered to express their dissatisfaction with how the board has handled the plan and criticized them for a lack of transparency.

Joe Fortunato, a Smithtown resident, said he came to the meeting to express his disappointment with the board.

“I understand the need for development in this town, but 250 units on 13 acres is ridiculous,” he said. “The zoning has to be changed, and we’re being almost railroaded into having to accept four-story structures in a neighborhood that we moved into 25 years ago that was very quaint in nature. To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

Fortunato said he doesn’t agree the plan will benefit the whole community in part because the increase in traffic will actually cause more problems.

“To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

— Joe Fortunato

Dennis Bader, like Fortunato, is a Smithtown resident who said he has lived through many development projects in the area. He asked the board how they came to the decision about the amount of structures in the complex, which the board said they had no control over.

“That was up to the developer,” district Superintendent James Grossane said.

Community member Richard Cardone said the board does not have their best interests at heart.

“Do you think all these people would be here if you had the town’s best interests?” he asked. “You’re going to lose the horseshoe of people that live around this school because nobody is going to want to live in a community with 200 plus apartments, with cars going all around here, the streets can’t handle anymore traffic than we have now. This community does not want this. I’m telling you it doesn’t belong here. Shame on you.”

Grossane addressed the audience before the public comment period.

“This decision was reached following several months of careful planning and extensive research,” he said. “This decision was not made lightly.”

Grossane said the New York Avenue building is more than 80 years old, and is in dire need of repairs, which the district would receive no state funding for because the building is used for administration and not instruction.

“Our enrollment continues to decline each year, by approximately 300 students per year,” he said. “In fact, our enrollment has fallen from a recent high of 10,800 in 2009 to the current 9,300, and is projected to continue to decline until it reaches approximately 8,500 students a few short years from now.”

He said one of the board’s primary responsibilities is to be fiscally prudent to the residents of the entire Smithtown district.

“The sale of the New York Avenue property amount to approximately $15 million or more to assist the district with future budgetary concerns,” he said.

Grossane said the district worked with town officials throughout the year to find the right bidder and to help a plan come to fruition, and he was surprised to hear Supervisor Pat Vecchio’s (R) comments that the school board had no communication regarding the property.

“The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone,” he said in a previous interview. “There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company LLC, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning to building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

The district was encouraged to explore the sale of the building by members of the community in the spring, in the hopes of avoiding the closure of Branch Brook Elementary School.

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Smithtown board Trustee Theresa Knox said the discussion is still ongoing for whether the district will edit down the current code of conduct for strip searches on students. File photo

By Ted Ryan

The Smithtown board of education said at last week’s meeting they want to remove a section of the district’s code of conduct that allows school officials to conduct strip searches in emergency situations.

The specific section of the code allows school administrators to perform a strip search when there is “probable cause to believe that there is an emergency situation that could imminently threaten the safety of the student or others.”

The current version of Smithtown’s code describes a strip search as one that requires a student to remove any or all of his or her clothing, other than an outer coat or jacket, socks, cap, shoes, or sweatshirt.

The board said they wanted to remove this from their code of conduct because it is against the district’s personal policy to perform strip searches.

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

This change was passed in 2001, two years after two students brought firearms into Columbine High School in Colorado and killed 12 classmates and one teacher.

Barnosky spoke on how Smithtown came up with a policy on strip searches after Columbine.

“Everyone got together, school boards, the school’s superintendent associations and put together this draft document — which ninety percent of the school districts on Long Island have adopted,” he said at the meeting. This update for strip searches was a statewide policy for New York, as a guideline for what the rules should be in the case of a student bringing a weapon to a school. The actual wording and execution of these rules are up to the schools — which is why Smithtown is changing its policy now.

This change in language still has to be approved with a vote during the July meeting.

Trustee Theresa Knox said this is not the end of the discussion.

“Indeed it [change in the code] will not be approved until the July meeting — and even at that time [it] could face amendment again,” she said, adding that whatever changes are put in place, the code will still “be in accordance with what the law is.”

These changes in the Smithtown district’s code of conduct are still awaiting approval for a meeting in July.