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Three Village Central School District

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Writer Stefanie Werner, right, and her mother, Diane. Photo from Stefanie Werner

By Stefanie Werner

My mother, Diane Werner, was by far the most influential person in my life. She was a teacher for more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the social studies wing of Ward Melville High School and was the inspiration behind my career choices. During her tenure in Three Village she was a highly respected educator and mentor with a passionate nature that empowered even the most resistant student to not only show up for class, but more importantly, achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Her sudden death only five years into her retirement produced an immense outpouring of love and compassion that exemplified how much she meant to her students and the community at large.

Fast forward 14 years and we find ourselves at a crossroads in the Three Village community. In these unprecedented times, my mother’s voice echoes in my head a trillion times a day. I hear her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to advocate for my child and to use my voice to defend that which I believe to be just. As we debate the guidelines for our return to school in September, I wish that my mother was here to add her two cents —more like twenty — to the on-going deliberations. She would be confounded by the dissension that has arisen in the community regarding the safety protocols required for our school reopening plan. Her mind would be awhirl with thoughts of how parents, teachers and community members should be united in this cause, creating a universal practice, not drowning in a “you do you, I’ll do me” mindset. Mrs. Werner would be feverishly scribbling lesson plans in her college-ruled spiral notebook, all the while remaining vigilant in her pursuit to educate her students despite the nonsensical squabbling of parents over mask mandates and plastic shields. Social distancing and face shields would be no match for the force that was Diane Werner at the head of a classroom, and no one would be more determined to keep kids safe and learning.

Although most of the old guard is gone from the halls of Ward Melville High School, many of my mom’s former students are now parents in this district. A handful of her former colleagues are now administrators making the most important decisions that have ever confronted Three Village Central School District. Nineteen years may have passed since Diane Werner blissfully strolled into the sweet land of retirement, but she left behind a legacy of strength and determination the likes of which this district needs to channel right now. The students of this community, including the grandchild my mother never met, deserve a comprehensive, rock-solid plan that exemplifies the need for a safe and secure learning environment during this global pandemic. In her day there would have been no flip-flopping on mask enforcement, and no questions left dangling at board of education or district meetings. Of course, she would have appreciated the debate, she did teach You and the Law and Mock Trials after all, but in the end, the result would be the same. Mrs. Werner would pull on her orange mask (her favorite color), walk into room 239 (her footsteps were distinct), make sure that every desk was 6 feet apart and students were masked, sign-in to Google Classroom (although she preferred chalk) and rock this place like nobody’s business. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will accept nothing less than 100% for mine. And mom would have given nothing less for yours. Miss you mommy!

Stefanie Werner is a mother, teacher and social worker. She is a lifelong resident of the Three Village community and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Long Island University and Stony Brook University.

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Administrators say remote option will be available, students to wear masks all day

Three Village students will be able to chose between in-person or remote learning. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

On Aug. 12, the Three Village Central School District held the first of three state-mandated information sessions about how it will address coronavirus-related concerns for the upcoming school year. During the live, 2 1/2 hour YouTube video stream, members of the district administration answered previously emailed questions about the fall reopening.

“We want it to not just be safe. We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

— Jeff Carlson

Three Village, which earlier had announced its plan to fully reopen for in-person classes in September, announced during the session that it will also offer a fully remote option to families uncomfortable with sending their children back to school, or who have medical reasons for keeping their children at home.

Questions from parents last Wednesday centered on how the district would ensure student safety. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that the district will follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking a “more conservative” approach toward masks. Students and staff will be required to wear masks “even when physical distance can be achieved,” she said.

In addition to lunchtime and 10-minute mask breaks, students will not be required to wear masks during outdoor recess, which will be staggered to help maintain cohort groupings and social distance. Pedisich said the district would reevaluate the plan as the year goes forward.

Each building will have extra masks for students or staff who don’t have them or whose masks are lost or damaged throughout the day, officials said.

Classrooms, learning spaces and lunchrooms will be reconfigured so that students can be at least 6 feet apart, Pedisich said. Additionally, said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during the discussion about facilities, clear shields will be mounted to elementary school desks, while secondary students will be given portable, collapsible shields to take to each class and to and from their homes.

Carlson also said that areas such as auditoriums, secondary cafeterias, libraries and music rooms will be equipped with high efficiency MERV-13 filters, while classrooms will have unit ventilators that will circulate fresh air into the spaces.

High touch areas such as lunch tables, school bus seats, doorknobs, stair rails and bathrooms will be cleaned throughout the day, in addition to thorough cleanings at night, he said. There will also be spray cleaners in classrooms to wipe down desks as needed, though Carlson said parents might want to send sandwich bags with disinfectant wipes to school with their secondary students.

“We want it to not just be safe,” he said. “We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

While administrators expect the average elementary class size to decrease from 18 students once some parents opt out of the in-person plan, the district is working to reduce secondary class sizes to ensure social distancing. It is also planning to adjust schedules, with students changing classes at different times to reduce hallway congestion.

The plan, Carlson said, is to use reserves to hire more teachers to cover additional class sections as well as additional custodial staff.

The district also outlined additional measures to direct student traffic and encourage social distancing. They will include the placement of signs, tape, stickers and cones and other markers, as well as the creation of videos that deliver hygiene messages.

While all secondary students currently have Chromebooks, the district is expanding the initiative to include all elementary students. This decision will limit the amount of supplies students will need at school, since students will not be allowed to use cubbies, closet hooks or lockers for their personal items, officials said.

“We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

Gary Dabrusky, assistant superintendent for human resources, went over health protocols, saying that parents and staff will be able to use an app to record daily health screenings, which will include temperature and other symptom checks, each morning before school. He added that students or staff who begin to show symptoms during the day would be moved discreetly — to maintain privacy — to an isolated area where a nurse would be able to assess their condition.

The district will follow state Department of Health protocols when it comes to contact tracing and assist officials by keeping accurate attendance records, schedules and logs of visitors, who will be limited to vendors performing essential or emergency facilities-related tasks, Dabrusky said.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, discussed academics and remote instruction. Whether students choose remote rather than in-person instruction, or all students end up on a remote plan, because of school closure, instruction will be “real-time teacher facilitated,” he said. It means that students will receive live instruction. Students choosing the remote option at the secondary level will follow their regular class schedule and log into live classes and interact with their teachers and classmates from home.

At the elementary level, specific teachers will be assigned to teach in-person classes, while others will be assigned to remote students, Scanlon said.

The deadline for the district’s most recent parent survey, which polls parents regarding choices of in-person return, hybrid or remote instruction, is Aug. 21. While parents have until the first day of school to change their minds, Scanlon said that it is “critical” that they get their choices in as soon as possible so that the district can staff and balance classes and get schedules to students.

Pedisich said that families who choose the fully remote option can change to in-person instruction at the beginning of the second or third trimester for elementary school, or the beginning of the second semester for secondary school. In-person students can switch to remote at any time.

“We want parents to understand that choosing a remote option for their child is not giving their child any less of an education at any level,” she said. “We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

The superintendent also emphasized that the district’s plans are “fluid” and could
still change.

“We are willing to make those adaptations to make it as safe as we possibly can,” she said.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

The Three Village Central School District is considering additional feedback from parents on how the new school year will look.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said while recommended plans submitted to the state July 31 called for Three Village schools to open in-person Monday through Friday, after feedback from parents it was decided that a new parent survey would be offered “to gain a benchmark understanding of how many families would be interested in a potential remote learning option for students.” The option would be in addition to the proposed plan and would be subject to the approval of the New York State Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The first reopening survey sent to parents and guardians was fielded between July 10 and 17. The district received 2,328 responses, which is a 66 percent response rate. Out of the 2,328 anonymous respondents who represent 3,734 students, 22 percent said they would be extremely comfortable with students returning to schools, 30 percent comfortable, 19 percent neither, 17 percent uncomfortable and 12 percent extremely uncomfortable. The survey also asked parents other questions including how they felt their children handled remote learning the last few months of the 2019-20 academic year, how they were doing emotionally and if parents worked in or out of the home. Out of the families who responded, 49 percent said all caregivers work outside of the home, 34 percent responded at least one person worked from home and at least 17 percent indicated that one will be home and not working.

“As has been said throughout this process, there is no one-sized-fits-all plan to resume instruction this fall and many uncertainties still remain, as the ultimate decision on how, when, and, if schools reopen in September will be rendered by Governor Cuomo this week,” Pedisich wrote in the Aug. 2 letter.

She added in the letter the goal of the proposed reopening plan was to develop one “that is both educationally sound and safe for our families and staff — and that process continues to be a fluid one, as there are many external factors that will contribute to our ability to resume full in-person instruction as planned.”

Pedisich recognized that families face different circumstances as far as their comfort level with students returning to school, especially for those with immunocompromised family members

When the recommended reopening plan, that would require students, teachers and staff to report to school Monday through Friday was unveiled July 31, the district, which has almost 6,000 students, received criticism from a large number of parents.

Those opposed to a five-day, in-person plan created the Facebook page 3V in Support of Remote Learning. At press time, the group had nearly 300 members. Some have suggested asynchronous learning where teachers record lessons for students to watch when they can. Others have pointed toward neighboring school district, Smithtown Central, where a hybrid model is being proposed where 50 percent of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and alternate Wednesdays. There is also a remote option being offered at Smithtown.

Parents have also expressed concern that while facial coverings will be recommended at Three Village schools they will not be mandatory in the classrooms whenever there is six-foot distancing.

To come up with the proposed plan, the Three Village Board of Education commissioned a Governance School Reopening Task Force and affiliates subcommittees, which included 107 individuals, and in addition to parent/guardian surveys also sent one out to staff members.

Among the changes to be made for the new school year are classroom layouts that allow a minimum of 6 feet distancing; classrooms and other spaces being cleared of any additional items to allow for greater distancing; markers and signage being used for visual distancing cues; and plastic separators for use in cafeterias, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Steps are also being taken to instruct staff members on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus and what to do to isolate a person if it’s believed they are sick.

“The district will proceed with the understanding that planning for schools to reopen is not a one-time event,” the reopening plan read. “We will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies and regulatory changes as the situation requires.”

The school district’s reopening plan can be viewed at www.threevillagecsd.org.

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The Three Village Central School District board of education trustees were sworn in July 8. Back row, Vinny Vizzo, Irene Gische, Inger Germano and Deanna Bavlnka. Front row, Dr. Jeff Kerman, Bill Connors and Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The first in-person Three Village school board meeting since schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic July 8 was eventful. Everyone wore mandatory face masks, and seating was arranged for social distancing. Most notable was the tense public participation session marked by sharp opinions.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political.”

— David McKinnon

There was also the routine swearing in of board members — incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman — for new terms. The board elected Germano as its new president. She succeeds Bill Connors, who continues to serve as a trustee. Gische was reelected vice president.

Rising to the forefront, though, were recent parental criticisms of the district, though those who spoke during the meeting sought to balance their criticism about distance learning and district governance with their support for teachers.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political,” said David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University and recently an unsuccessful school board candidate.

“At a personal level, there’s a high level of respect for the teachers in our district, and there are deep ties of gratitude within the community to individual teachers for their efforts to advance the education of our children,” said McKinnon, who was not on the slate of candidates endorsed by the Three Village Teachers Association.

However, he said, when it came to the political system, the school board elected to “facilitate parental oversight” of the district wasn’t doing its job. The TVTA, he said, is both a labor union and a special interest lobby group, which “aggressively pursues its own agenda,” and has made decisions for the district that exacerbated an already challenging situation.

McKinnon went on to say that he believed that the nearly 3,800 votes cast for both him and Shaorui Li respectively represented “a massive vote of no confidence” in the board and union leadership. In order to win back the trust of a large segment of parents, McKinnon said the district would need to have a “clean and functional school board, with independent, parent-backed candidates who know and care about education.”

Li said that she and other parents wanted to help teachers, not attack them.

“In the Asian culture, we have a very high respect for teachers, and we rely on teachers to give our kids their education,” the engineer and entrepreneur said.

McKinnon’s wife, Barbara Rosati, who is president of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which counts more than 250 district families among its members, also spoke. She made the distinction between her concerns about TVTA president Claudia Reinhart’s “role in the governance of our district and its consequences on our children” and her appreciation for the district’s teachers.

“I cannot believe I was dragged here tonight to say unequivocally that we support and we love our teachers, that we believe in their expertise and guidance,” she said, alluding to the pandemic. Rosati, a research assistant professor at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at SBU, questioned the leadership of Reinhart, who she said “is not teaching currently and is not involved in any parent-teacher interaction.”

She added that it was “irresponsible and cruel to let teachers believe that our community is at war with them.”

Addressing teachers and administrators, Rosati added: “We have your backs. We will be here to help and support you like we have always done.”

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack.”

— Claudia Reinhart

Reinhart rejected claims that the criticism was not directed at the teachers, paraprofessionals and teaching assistants the union represents.

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack,” she said.

The union president said they’d been forced to listen to people “like Ms. Rosati” and others who had written to the board to “demand answers and reactions to nothing more than hearsay — hearsay that is usually completely incorrect.”

Reinhart, who taught music in the district, said the union does not try to hide the fact that it endorses candidates.

“Why would we?” she asked. “We want people on the board who understand public education and the needs of students and staff. We want people on the board with a proven record of overcoming challenges and moving us forward in good times and bad. Your candidates lost the election. The community has spoken. You need to get over it.”

Reinhart directed comments to the many teachers at the meeting.

“We must stand together united against this attack,” she said. “We must stand together to defend our professions, the work we do and the job we have done. We have nothing to be ashamed of. It is time we started saying that out loud.”

She urged parents, teachers, administrators and the community “to stand up and say, ‘Enough.’” She ended by drawing from the words of the late Albert Shanker, former president of the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, saying, “Along with the responsibility of negotiating good contracts, it is the obligation of teacher unions to preserve public education.”

“That is our goal,” Reinhart told the audience. “There is nothing less at stake than our future,” she added, sparking enthusiastic applause.

Fall Plans

Besides those who spoke in-person at last week’s meeting, three parents sent letters that included appreciation for teachers, but also expressed concern about the district’s spring execution of remote learning, plans for the fall and limited communication from the school district.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor.”

— Kevin Scanlon

Responding, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that she shared parents’ frustration about the upcoming school year.

“I feel as though we are all navigating in the dark at this point because we have not received any direction at all from our governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] or the SED [New York State Education Department],” she said.

Earlier that day Pedisich had sent a letter acknowledging parents’ “unanswered questions about the reopening of school this fall” and shared the governor’s most recent plan to release guidance July 13 [see details at end of article] and require districts to return their plans for reopening by July 31.

During the meeting, Pedisich noted that other states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, among them — had already provided their school districts with plans for reopening.

“I will tell you that we are working very hard … over the last several weeks, and I apologize for the lack of communication,” she said, adding that she would not “deal in conjecture and supposition,” because she didn’t think it was fair to families and staff.

The superintendent specifically addressed concerns about remote learning.

“We are looking at all options to make it more effective for our families,” she said. “We understand that there were numerous challenges, and we won’t make excuses for those. But moving forward, I think we are in a much better place. And I have great confidence in the members of our team, and I have confidence in our administration, our staff and our parents. We will do the best for the community. We owe it to them, and they deserve nothing less.”

So far, Pedisich said, the district plans for every student from kindergarten to 12th grade to have access to a Chromebook for remote instruction, and a survey about distance learning was sent out to parents and staff last week.

In an email, Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, said the district has also offered more than 90 courses to its staff, with the majority focused on online instruction. There are more than 1,500 teachers, administrators, assistants and paraprofessionals enrolled in the courses to prepare for the fall, he said.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor,” Scanlon said.

The state released its reopening guidelines on Monday. The document offers districts guidance on face coverings for staff and students, configuring classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms and other shared spaces to maintain social distance and safety, as well as recommendations for ways to maximize in-person instruction. While the document states that “the goal is to return all students to in-person instruction,” it encourages districts to prepare “a phased-in approach or hybrid model” because of “the dynamic nature and risk of community transmission” of the virus.

District plans will have to address how they will conform to state recommendations on social distancing, personal protection equipment, hygiene and disinfection, extracurriculars and transportation, as well as health monitoring and containment.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

This spring, voting on the school budget and school board faced the notable challenge of taking place during a pandemic, but other than record levels of voter participation, the final results were anything but unprecedented.

Inger Germano. Photo from Germano

With the absentee ballots counted, Three Village residents voted overwhelmingly in favor — 6,096 for and 3,135 against — to approve the $218.84 million budget for the 2020-21 school year.

Residents also chose to return incumbents Inger Germano (4,727 votes), Irene Gische (4,506) and Dr. Jeffrey Kerman (4,479) to the school board, over challengers Shaorui Li (3,722), David McKinnon (3,799) and Vinny Menten (2,810).

During a phone interview this week, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich expressed gratitude to the community for its support and confidence in the budget. But not everyone was satisfied with the election process.

Three Village parent David Tracy expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter that was read during the board’s June 24 meeting. He was “extremely disappointed,” Tracy said, with the teachers union’s ability to “enforce their will on a board of education election.”

The Three Village Teachers Association and New York State Union of Teachers endorsed Germano, Gische and Kerman and paid for the candidates’ campaign signs.

“Having independent candidates is absolutely paramount in ensuring the best interest of all parties involved, mainly the students and the taxpayers,” he said.

Tracy compared the unions’ public and financial support of candidates to “Congress or other political bodies voting for their own raises.” In his letter, he also spoke of what he said is a trend of budget increases despite declining enrollment and voiced his concerns about nepotism, favoritism and conflicts of interest.

While Barbara Rosati, president of the Three Village Parents Alliance, congratulated the newly reelected board members, she too questioned the election process, asking how independent, community-backed candidates could compete against the efforts of the TVTA and NYSUT.

Rosati is married to McKinnon, one of this year’s independent candidates. She said that with the union president having “regular access” to  administrators and board members “in private settings,” that such access can sometimes mean that the board as a whole is bypassed in some decisions — something she believed happened with the launch of this spring’s remote learning. 

Irene Gische. Photo from candidate

“I love and support our teachers, and they deserve to have a strong union, but I am concerned about our district’s governance in the current situation,” Rosati added.

Board members and administrators did not respond to Rosati’s request for “comments, insight and solutions” during the meeting.

However, board president Bill Connors did address the issue in a phone interview.

“We represent the community on the board of education, and we work with the teachers union because we have an awful lot in common,” he said. “We are working in the interest of the children, and I see them as a real partner.”

Though Connors sees the goals of the board and the union as aligned, he said there have been times when the two have not agreed. In 1997, for instance, the district narrowly avoided a strike over a provision in the teachers’ contract requiring them to contribute to their health insurance. The issue was resolved in time for the new school year.

Connors, who announced at the June 24 meeting that he is stepping down as board president, also clarified a statement Rosati made about the union president being on the district payroll. Her salary, Connors said, is reimbursed by the TVTA.

Pedisich declined to comment on the parent letters, but said she appreciates the community feedback.

Remote Learning and School Reopening Task Force

During the board’s June 29 meeting, the discussion centered on remote instruction and the reopening of schools in September.

Rosati was critical of the district’s handling of remote learning during the pandemic, calling it “chaotic.” She made comparisons to what she saw as more successful implementations of synchronous instruction in the nearby Half Hollow Hills District and the free summer bridge program offered by Smithtown to students in grades kindergarten through eighth.  She also posed questions about how the district will move forward with instruction and reopening in the fall.

“We recognize that there were aspects of our program that did not go as smoothly as we had wanted, or may not have been as effective,” Pedisich said of the implementation of distance learning in March, during the meeting.

She added that the district has more insight now.

“We are looking at what worked well and what did not work well,” she said.

Jeff Kerman. Photo from candidate

The district is preparing a survey that will go out to parents and staff in the coming days, Pedisich said. Though officials have received many comments from parents, she said they are difficult to quantify. A survey “can grab information we need and synthesize it quickly,” she added.

The superintendent also said that the district is waiting for guidance from the state, but that its school reopening task force is considering three models — one in which everyone returns, a hybrid model of some in-person classes and some remote, or an entirely remote model.

The district is also preparing for the possibility that the year could begin in-person but revert to entirely remote instruction as it did in March. For this reason, she said, the district will provide kindergarten through sixth grade students with Chromebooks that they will be able to use at home.

The reopening task force is made up of subcommittees for transportation, instruction, scheduling, childcare, athletics, mental health, health needs, facility needs and professional development and technology. Task force members include staff, administrators, parents and board members. Pedisich said parents were selected by the PTA council, while staff and administrators were chosen by their union leadership.

The instructional subcommittee, which has been further divided into elementary and secondary subgroups, is looking at guidelines for minimum standards of instruction and synchronous learning across the district. Pedisich said that the elementary level and secondary levels will probably look different. She foresees more structure for the more independent secondary students and more flexibility for younger children who might need assistance from parents.

She said that teachers are continuing to train over the summer to use Google Meets and Hangouts — conferencing software similar to Zoom — that are part of the Google platform the district already uses.

“We as educators feel that it’s so critical for us to be back in September,” Pedisich said, adding that teachers who will be working with new groups of students need to be able to assess their students’ learning styles and needs.

“That’s why we’re looking at following all of the recommendations from the CDC and the DOH, so that we can come back at least for a period of time so that we can get to know our students,” she said.

In other news, the board approved the contracts for the superintendent and the assistant superintendents.

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village Central School District residents voted 6,096 to 3,135 in favor of the 2020-21 budget.

The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

Incumbents Inger Germano (4,727), Irene Gische (4506) and Jeffrey Kerman (4479) retained their seats on the board. Challengers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten received 3,722, 3,799 and 2810 votes, respectively.

By Andrea Paldy

Despite the upheaval to daily life, the Three Village community is doing what it can to stay informed and exercise democracy.

In anticipation of the Three Village Central School District budget vote and school board election by absentee ballot June 9, more than 250 people registered for last week’s virtual Meet the Candidates night, hosted by the Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against newcomers Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten for three seats on the Three Village school board.

Before the candidates discussed their platforms and answered questions, Jeff Carlson, the district’s deputy superintendent for business services, discussed the proposed 2020-21 budget. The $218.84 million budget falls within the 1.96 percent cap on the tax levy increase and represents a 1.75 percent increase on the 2019-20 budget.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to say we’re not adding any new programs for next year,” Carlson said, alluding to uncertainty about state aid and the possibility of further cuts to aid during the school year.

The district has prepared for multiple scenarios, and the budget reflects reductions in equipment, supplies, conferences and some field trips, the deputy superintendent said. There are also some cuts to personnel, such as clerical, custodial and administrative staff — areas that Carlson said would have “as little impact on educational programs as possible.”

The district did see some savings from the early school closure this year, when the Acme Bus Corp., which provided the district’s minibuses, went out of business. The money saved from not paying Acme offset the loss of the monthly over $100,000 in childcare revenue and over $200,000 in monthly revenue from food service sales and federal and state reimbursements, Carlson said. The district has continued to pay a reduced fee to Suffolk Transportation Service, which provides big buses, to keep the contract intact. Bids for a new minibus company were due last week, Carlson said.

At a May school board meeting, Carlson mentioned the possibility of drawing from district reserves should there be drastic cuts in aid. The district’s reserves are divided into those that are restricted to specific uses, such as retirement contributions and workers’ compensation, and those that are unrestricted and can be targeted to “a rainy day,” Carlson said during a phone interview. Reserves are built up over time from unspent funds at the end of a fiscal year. The district currently has approximately $15 million in restricted reserves and about $6.5 million in unrestricted reserves, Carlson said.

A budget item that has caught the attention of some residents addresses the salaries of the superintendents, which appear to increase in next year’s budget. Since the superintendents have year-to-year contracts that do not have salary increases built in, their salary increases are not reflected in the adopted budget, Carlson said. He added that their raises are determined by the board of education after the adopted budget is passed and are reflected in the adjusted budget.

While the amount of money allocated to the budget remains the same, any changes to the distribution among line items are noted in the adjusted budget. Carlson said the superintendents’ salaries listed for the 2020-21 school year reflect the increases granted last July for this school year’s budget. This means the salaries budgeted for next year are the same amount as this school year.

In the 2020-21 adopted budget, the salary of Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is shown at $325,000, a $25,500 or 8.51 percent increase.

If the budget does not pass, Carlson said it is not clear whether there would be a date for a revote. If there is no revote or a new budget does not pass, the district would have to move to a contingent budget, he said. This means the tax levy would not increase and the district would have to cut $3.1 million. At that point, capital projects would be cut, and the administration would have to decide where to make additional reductions.

“Of course, we would do whatever we could to have as little impact upon the educational program,” Carlson said.

He addressed the process for counting votes. To ensure ballot secrecy, the board appointed 23 election inspectors to count the votes. After 5 p.m. June 9, the ballots will be removed and separated from the sealed envelopes — which have residents’ names and signatures — before they are counted. There will be live streaming of the process, Carlson said.

All ballots must be received at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Carlson’s presentation, along with those of the Three Village board of education candidates, can be seen at the civic association website, www.threevillagecivics.org. Also visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for candidate profiles.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As if times are not challenging enough, districts across the state must create budgets without knowing when, or by how much, state aid will be cut.

Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, has removed $1 million from next year’s budget in anticipation of cuts beyond the $300,000 decrease in aid already projected by the state in March.

The current 2020-21 budget falls within the cap on the tax levy increase of 1.96 percent, for a total budget of $218.84 million. This is a 1.75 percent increase over the 2019-20 budget.

The district has begun to make contingency plans with alternate budgets, being referred to as Phase 2, which would mean a further $2 million reduction and Phase 3, which would require a deeper cut of $3 million. Cuomo has said school aid could drop by as much as 20 percent and cuts could take place as late as December, Carlson said.

If cuts go deeper than Phase 3, they will definitely affect services and student programs, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said at the district’s May 6 school board meeting. The board would have to decide whether to make deeper cuts to the budget or use district reserves, she said.

One thing officials do know is that they do not want to make cuts once the school year has begun and would not make cuts to instructional staff.

Pedisich said the district would have to look to reserves, because “any kind of midyear cuts in terms of services would be incredibly disruptive … and this year has been disruptive itself, so we don’t want to add to it and exacerbate the situation.”

The district held a hearing on the budget May 27. Carlson will also give a budget presentation June 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs virtual Meet the Candidates night on Zoom. This program will allow residents to hear from the six candidates running for three seats on the school board.

Also, the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Chamber of Commerce will jointly host an online Meet the Candidates event Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. via Zoom conferencing. For information about how to be part of the online meeting, go to the websites of either the civic association, www.threevillagecivics.org, or the chamber of commerce, www.3vchamber.com, for links to the Zoom meeting.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten.

All 34,025 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the 2020-21 budget and board trustees. Ballots must be returned to the office of the district clerk at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for profiles on each of the candidates.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

If this were a normal spring, Three Village residents would have voted this week for the 2020-21 school budget and board of education trustees. But in the wake of a global pandemic requiring school closures and social distancing, business has been anything but usual.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pushed the school budget votes and board elections back from their May date to June 9 and said that “in an effort to keep New Yorkers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” voting would be conducted by absentee ballot. That means all 32,984 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the district’s budget and select three board trustees from a crowded pool of six candidates.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Dr. Jeff Kerman and board vice president Irene Gische are running to keep their seats against engineer and start-up founder Shaorui Li, David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University, and Vinny Menten, director of parts sales at Gabrielli Truck Sales.

Candidates are listed below in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Inger Germano

Inger Germano. Photo from candidate

Germano, 48, is running for her fourth term. In an email, Germano noted that when she first ran in 2011, the district faced seismic changes, including the implementation of Common Core, teachers annual professional performance review and the tax cap. Those past challenges position her to make informed decisions about staffing, programs and other changes that the district may encounter as a result of “uncertain financial times,” she said.

A health care administrator at Advanced Cardiac Care, Germano said her experience as a health care compliance officer and managing health care facilities will help when it’s time to make decisions about reopening schools. She mentioned additional issues the district would need to tackle. Chief among them, Germano said, was reopening schools “with the priority being the safety of the students and the staff,” emergency preparedness, online instruction and using technology “to supplement and enrich” student learning.

“The changes need to be made while ensuring that staffing and program changes due to budget cuts are made with minimal effect to the students,” said Germano, who has lived in the district for 14 years with her husband and two daughters.

During her tenure on the school board, Germano created the Facebook group, Three Village Connection, to foster communication and transparency between the community and board members.

She has served on the North Shore Montessori School board and volunteered for the Suffolk County Girls Scouts, St. James R.C. Church, Three Village Basketball and the Setauket Fire Department.

Irene Gische

Irene Gische. Photo from candidate

Gische first served on the Three Village school board from 1983 to 1995 and was president for two years. She ran again in 2011 and was elected. During a phone interview this week, Gische said she is running to “make sure that the programs that we have in place continue and that we continue to look for ways to improve the opportunities we give our kids.”

“The district was very different” when she ran in 1983, she said, explaining that it had considered eliminating foreign languages at the junior high schools. The vote was 4-3 “and that was what pushed me … that was too close for comfort,” said Gische, 74.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth and improvements in our programs and in our schools over
the years.”

A Three Village resident for 47 years, she’s proud of the district’s ability to prepare its students for the world and points to honors classes, strong academic teams and student acceptance at top colleges as examples of the district’s success. She doesn’t want any of these things to “fall by the wayside” in any situation, but especially not as a result of the pandemic, said Gische, who was the head teacher at University Preschool for 25 years.

Gische also highlighted the board’s successful budgeting. Even while “keeping a pretty tight budget, we have been able to maintain the programs that prepare our kids to move on, and that’s very important to me,” she said.

Gische and her husband have two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville and five grandchildren. Three have gone through district schools. Gische noted, though, that she counts among her honorary grandchildren the many junior high and high school theater kids she’s sewn costumes for over the years.

Jeff Kerman

Jeff Kerman. Photo from candidate

A dentist with practices in Miller Place and New York City, Kerman and his wife have lived in Three Village for 47 years.

“It is a wonderful community, and I want to keep it that way,” he said during a phone interview.

Elected in 2011 after serving from 1999 to 2005, the former board president acknowledged the challenges the district faces with remote learning, possible budget cuts and reopening schools safely. However, he said, the district has had “lots of issues that are very difficult to deal with, and we’ve managed to deal with them in our district very well.”

“We have excellent administrators,” he added, and they present the board with good advice to make good decisions.

“Whether school starts in September, our primary concern is the health of the kids and the staff,” he said. Also, paramount, is providing them with a good education, the former captain in the U.S. Army said.

Kerman, 75, said he first ran for the board to ensure that his two sons, Ward Melville graduates, received an “excellent” education. In his current bid, he said he wants to maintain the district’s reputation, while continuing to help it improve.

One way would be to introduce foreign language education in the elementary schools, he said. Kerman also spoke of his respect for the scientific support for a later secondary school start time, which is why he thinks it was important to form a task force to look into whether a change would be feasible for the whole community.

Kerman has been treasurer for 20 years of the nonprofit NYACAO Corporation, an organization that helps dental students, is a member of the American Dental Association and a founding member of the Suffolk County Dental Society and the Bronx County Dental Society.

Shaorui Li

Sharui Li. Photo from candidate

Li, 45, points to her research projects, funded by the Department of Energy and NASA, and work in the private sector and for national laboratories as experiences that will make her an effective board member. Her background has required her to work with budgets, operations and personnel management.

“I would strongly support initiatives that allow our students to explore our local professional landscape, to learn more about available career opportunities and be able to shape their own,” Li said in an email.

She suggested career workshops from the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, art programs through local art galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and technology and research programs through Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Stony Brook University Small Business Development Center. Through such collaborations, she hopes to enrich the curriculum and provide opportunities for all students to explore careers suited to their unique talents.

Li also has suggested taking advantage of district parents’ diverse talents and expertise as a resource, especially amid looming budget concerns.

Students should be the driving force of budget decisions, Li said. Teachers, whom she recognized as “excellent experts of traditional teaching methods,” are also critical, and investing in them will benefit students, she said. Li advocates for providing teachers with professional development to help them with the abundant and sometimes overwhelming online resources and programs that are available.

The six-year Three Village resident and mother of two district students has been active in professional organizations and the local community. She serves as the local society chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has mentored the Gelinas Science Olympiad team, and has volunteered for local PTAs, the Long Island Chinese American Association, Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Parents Alliance.

David McKinnon

David McKinnon. Photo from candidate

McKinnon, 62, is a 30-year resident and father of a current district student and two other children who attended Three Village schools.”

As a board member, the Stony Brook University professor said he would like to reform the elementary math curriculum, increase technology education and serve all students, especially those in the “middle” — kids who “have a lot of potential, but they are largely dependent on the school system to develop that potential.”

McKinnon proposes an “opt-in” program for elementary math learning that would “use specialist math teachers and would build on the success of the SchoolNova program,” which introduces basic algebra concepts at an early stage. SchoolNova is a local enrichment program at Stony Brook University that offers math, science, world language and art classes. Following this model would help prepare students for the math they encounter in junior high and would also enable them to learn computer languages at an earlier age, he said. It also could improve employment options for students, he added.

“Given how central computers are to our lives, I don’t think anyone should leave school without having at least a basic understanding of how a computer is controlled by a program they have written,” he said in an email.

Aware of the budget challenges that the pandemic poses to the district, McKinnon said he would work to make sure that the core mission of educating students in the fundamentals and providing them with practical skills is not “degraded” with budget cuts.

In addition to the curriculum reforms, McKinnon, who is married to Barbara Rosati, the founder of the most recent later-start-time movement in the district, is a supporter of the cause. Both he and Rosati are members of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which formed as an advocacy group to address various issues that affect the schools, including a later school start.

McKinnon said he is running in part to see a board that is more “responsive to parent or teacher-initiated proposals that can improve the learning environment and academic outcomes.”

Vinny Menten

Vinny Menten

In addition to helping the district provide an “excellent level of education that our students deserve,” Menten, 62, said he would like to help balance the budget to reduce waste, lower taxes and increase transparency.

A 50-year Three Village resident and 1975 Ward Melville graduate, Menten points to business degrees, certification in human resource management and experience working with budgets larger than $100 million as preparations for a seat on the board.

His ties to the community run deep. He owned an auto-repair shop in the district for 15 years, is the former commissioner of the Three Village Basketball League and was a substitute teacher at BOCES in automotive technology. In addition to having two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville High School, his wife of 35 years has been a special education aide in the district for 20 years. His father was a district carpenter.

“Cutbacks are inevitable,” he said in an email, alluding to the brewing budget storm, but he believes they can be achieved by “trimming the fat” first. “And thereafter, all parties involved should be willing to put a small level of skin in the game for the good of the school and the community, just like the private sector is doing,” he said.

Since enrollment has been declining for many years, Menten said that “with some innovative analysis and some persevering execution,” the district could use the savings to “limit the increase to the taxpayers far below the tax cap, while protecting the educational excellence that our students expect and deserve.”

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Ward Melville High School graduates at the 2019 commencement ceremony. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The Three Village Central School District is reimagining graduation.

On May 11, Ward Melville High School seniors and their families were notified that a commencement ceremony of sorts would be held on the school’s grounds in a letter signed by Principal William Bernhard and Assistant Principal Erin Connolly. According to the letter, the decision was made “after careful consideration to the New York State guidelines and the governor’s executive orders.”

Since the traditional outdoor graduation ceremony with hundreds of students and family members cannot be held due to the coronavirus pandemic, the school will hold five separate ceremonies during the week of June 22, and each ceremony will take place with families in their vehicles.

Ceremonies will begin at 5 p.m. with a rendition  of the national anthem and speeches by the school’s salutatorian, valedictorian and the senior class president taking place at each individual commencement. Plans are in the works for the speeches to be live-streamed for viewing and broadcasted on the radio. Students will be divided alphabetically to determine which day they attend.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, families are allowed only one vehicle and will need to stay in their cars. The letter added that after speeches cars will be directed to pull through the bus circle. Seniors will be allowed to get out of the car one at a time where their name will be announced. They will also be able to pick up their diploma jacket and have a photo taken.

Bernhard and Connolly thanked the students and families for their “patience and support during this extremely challenging time.”

TBR News Media talked to a few people in the community who were positive about
the plans.

Parent Jennifer Catalano said while her daughter, Rachael, is heartbroken that she and her classmates won’t experience a traditional graduation, “she’s happy that they came up with a unique experience for their class.”

Senior Alexarose Marcellino said she thought the plans were better than a virtual ceremony, and she appreciated that the school is making an effort to have the speeches heard every night. She said her parents and siblings plan to decorate their car on the day she can receive her diploma.

Both Marcellino and her mother, Allison, said they are grateful that Bernhard listened to students’ concerns. Allison Marcellino said the principal knew from Zoom meetings and talking to students how important it was for all of them to have an in person graduation and how passionate they were about it.

“They had every faith in him that he would do that for them,” the mother said. “He’s that kind of principal. The kids know that he would go out of his way for them.”

The mother said with the high school having more than 500 seniors she and other parents at first didn’t think it was possible to come up with an alternative plan.

“I really think it’s the best of both worlds because the student gets to walk and receive their diploma, and the closest members of the family get to be there to see their child receive their diploma,” she said. “They actually feel like they got as close to possible to their normal graduation.”