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Three Village Dads

Assemblyman Ed Flood speaks in front of local politicians, educators and community members at a press conference against Gov. Hochul’s proposed school funding cuts. Photo by Mallie Jane Kim

By Mallie Jane Kim

Local political representatives and school superintendents rallied to Three Village Central School District Jan. 25 for a passionate press conference decrying proposed cuts to state school funding in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) proposed budget. 

Hochul touted an $825 million increase in state funding for schools overall, but some districts including 34 in Suffolk County and 10 in Nassau would face decreases. Of these, Three Village would lose the highest dollar amount at nearly $9 million if the governor’s plan stands, and the smaller Port Jefferson School District would be hit by the largest percentage of funding loss on Long Island over 28%. Mount Sinai, Cold Spring Harbor, Smithtown and Kings Park school districts would also see modest cuts. This marks a break from the “hold harmless” provision in New York, which in the past has guaranteed school districts didn’t receive less state funding than the previous year, a practice that takes some guesswork out of budget planning.

Political opposition

“Governor, stop playing politics with our children — because we will fight you tooth and nail,” New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) said at the event. “We need to restore some common sense and do what’s right for the children of our community. Where are our priorities? Let’s put our children first.”

The politicians who spoke including U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY-1), state Assemblymembers Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), Jarett Gandolfo (R-Sayville), Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) and state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) were united in considering the cuts as a targeted political attack and a conscious choice by the governor.

LaLota referred to the Jan. 5 Long Island Association’s annual State of the Region breakfast during which, as reported by Newsday, Hochul traded barbs with Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman (R), including her quip, “I walked in, I hear somebody doesn’t want New York on Long Island, I was ready to walk off the stage right then. You don’t want me to take all the money with me, though, right?”

LaLota called Hochul a “schoolyard bully” and suggested she is using children as a political pawn against Long Island.

“It is wholly unfair and unjust to take money from our kids because she’s got a political squabble with us,” he said. “Don’t come after our kids because you have a political problem with Long Island. The right thing to do is to fully fund our kids’ education that’s something we rely upon.”

The governor’s state budget proposal represents a first draft. The state Assembly and Senate will be instrumental in crafting the finalized version, which is due April 1 but does not often come in on time. If the budget takes until early May to pass, as it did in 2023, school districts will be in a tricky situation since their budgets must be ready and made available for public review between April 30 and May 7.

Superintendents and other groups oppose cuts

“It is important to recognize that these proposed changes will create uncertainty and hardship for our districts,” said Bayport-Blue Point Superintendent Timothy Hearney, who also serves as president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. His district stands to lose 3.34% of its state funding under the plan.

Even though the budget is a first draft and subject to political bargaining in Albany, any final answer may come too late. School districts spend the early spring ironing out budget plans, so unless there is a change soon, districts will be faced with the option of incorporating the funding loss into the 2024-25 school year budget or risk putting up a budget that could surpass the state’s mandated cap on increases to the tax levy, an unpopular option for Long Island taxpayers, who already face high property taxes. In this instance, budget passage would require approval by a supermajority of voters (60 percent or more).

Hearney pointed out that education costs have increased even as enrollments have decreased over the past decade or so, in a nod toward one of Hochul’s stated reasons why some districts should receive less funding. “It’s crucial to underscore that condensing a decade’s worth of lost enrollment in a single year places an overwhelming burden on all of our districts,” he said.

Other concerned superintendents standing in support were Christine Criscione from Mount Sinai, Jessica Schmettan from Port Jefferson and Kevin Scanlon from Three Village. 

Scanlon spelled out what he thought the “significant challenges” losing $9 million in funds for his district would pose at a Jan. 24 school board meeting, the night before the press conference. He said he hoped for compromise in Albany, but that such sudden cuts would require drastic measures to accommodate. He said the district may have to close a school or discontinue the Three Village Academy high school program, and they may have to make cuts to the pre-K and pre-K enrichment programs, the Intellectually Gifted Program, special education aides, teaching positions, administrative positions, educational and extracurricular programs and even security. 

“Every area of this community will be impacted, so Three Village needs to come together as it has never done before,” he urged at the board meeting. “Parents, students, teachers, administrators, anyone out there anyone on the street we can get in this community to be part of this conversation we need for advocacy.”

Those who showed up to advocate at Thursday’s press conference included school board members, staff and teachers union members from Three Village and Mount Sinai, as well as members of parent teacher associations, also civic and community groups, including the local parent group Three Village Dads. 

David Tracy, leader of Three Village Dads, said he isn’t interested in being divisive politically, but couldn’t ignore the air of apparent retribution in the governor’s move. “Long Island was not a huge voting fan of the governor. I hate to believe this cut in the budget is somewhat of a backlash for that,” he said, adding that the disparity in funding changes from district to district is baffling to him. “It’s just tragic that it comes from our kids.”

Three Village Civic Association president Charles Tramontana agrees the issue is bipartisan. “Nobody wants to see that amount of funding cut without some sort of warning. I don’t think it’s controversial,” said Tramontana, who was scheduled to attend the press conference but was stuck home sick. 

“I don’t understand the way the state operates sometimes,” Tramontana said. “They didn’t give any notice that they were dropping that ‘hold harmless’ provision. Basic fairness would dictate that you would give some warning.” He added, “We took some hit$9 million in one year is definitely going to cause some chaos in our budget.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

A new experience is heading Down Port, with a focus on whiskey.

Thanks to a group of 10 from all across the North Shore, the entrepreneurs have taken over the former space of Fork & Fiddle, now creating The Whiskey Barrel.

Located at 138 Main St., the group of whiskey enthusiasts signed the lease just two weeks ago and are anticipating a Memorial Day weekend opening.

John Louis, owner of Maui Chop House in Rocky Point, said The Whiskey Barrel will focus primarily on brown liquors, and also feature a full menu.

“We have 100-plus bottles of whiskey, bourbon, Scotch,” he said. 

And the menu will be curated by 18-year-old Maddy Bender, the barrel’s young and enthusiastic sous-chef and partner, who’s been working and gaining notoriety at Maui Chop House over the last year. 

“It’s more of like a rustic American kind of thing,” she said. “We’re going to have all different burgers and wings. We’re going do a steak sandwich or pork katsu sandwich, so definitely something that would be really cool with all the different bourbons and whiskeys.”

Bender added the barrel will also have bourbon and whiskey pairings on the menu.

The recent college student said this whole experience has been surreal. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“John told me that he was looking to possibly open a new place in the village and said, ‘I want you to come in as a partner with me,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ And now that it’s like actually happening, John says it to me every day, that I’m not even 21 and I’m going to be owning a bar. He gave me the keys and it’s so real now.”

The group began discussing the idea less than two months ago, Louis said, and from then it was full-speed ahead. 

Now that they took over the former Southern-inspired spot, which closed right before the COVID-19 pandemic after a short-lived life on Main Street, Louis said that all they need to do is build a bar and do some cosmetic changes. 

“All the fixtures, the kitchen’s in great shape, brand-new fridges I think that only had been on for six months — it’s all ready to go,” said co-owner David Tracy, of Stony Brook. 

Thomas Francis, of South Setauket, said he hopes this restaurant becomes a destination. 

“It’s really that old-world Kentucky cigar-bar feel that we’re going for,” he said. “It’s something that when you walk in, it’s going to be a destination. It’s going to be why you want to come to Port Jeff.”

Francis, a whiskey expert himself, said that the bar will not be a place with intimidation. 

“Some of this might intimidate folks,” he said. “So, hand in hand is an education aspect. We bring people along for the experience, and shepherd them along the way.”

He hopes that it will be a place where those who are interested can learn the whiskey ways.

“We’re not just looking to open the doors and that’s it,” Francis added. “We want to be an experience, and have you come along for the ride.”

The group said they also obtained their tobacco license and will sell cigars to pair with the liquors.

But for those who can’t handle a whiskey or a bourbon, don’t worry. Another part owner, Paul Hess of Rocky Point, said there will be craft beer on tap and a wine list. 

Bender said that although the group of partners and investors is large, everyone brings some-thing different to the table.

“We have a little bit of everything in here,” she said.

Visitors to a Stony Brook bar and restaurant were looking for more than food and drink March 15, they were aiming to help out a good cause.

The Bench hosted a St. Baldrick’s Day fundraiser Sunday where participants got their heads shaved to raise funds for childhood cancer research. Lead organizer Christopher Pollina said with donations and a company match, participants surpassed the total event goal of $20,000.

According to the organizer the nonprofit group Three Village Dads raised more than half of that amount, and its foundation donated an additional $1,000.

Rob Meo raised the highest amount of the day with $5,000. During the event, Boy Scout troops 70 and 427, both from Setauket, stopped by to have their heads shaved by Amanda Bellavance of Dapper Cuts Barbershop and donate funds. Music was provided by Mike Rutowitcz of Sound’s Alive Entertainment.

Pollina and co-organizer Scott Montekew were pleased with the results from the second annual event at The Bench.

“We topped last year’s $12,500 raised, even during this trying time of COVID-19,” Pollina said.

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Three Village Dads hold up a check for $15,000 that was given to the Veterans of Foreign War Post 3054 in East Setauket. Photo from Three Village Dads

When it comes to raising money, members of one Facebook parent group have been busy this year.

Just a few months after donating $12,000 to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, the fathers who make up the Three Village Dads Facebook group presented a check Sept. 16 for $15,000 to Veterans of Foreign War Post 3054 in East Setauket. The group raised the funds during an Aug. 23 golf outing at Rock Hill Golf and Country Club in Manorville where 95 people participated. Among the golfers were six post members who were invited to join the online group and play some golf as well.

Group administrator David Tracy, of Stony Brook, said the VFW post came in a close second to the children’s hospital earlier this year when administrators asked members what nonprofit they should raise money for. Tracy said the fathers were able to collect $15,000 for the post by charging for golf and offering raffles including a 50/50. They also approached businesses to ask if they would like to sponsor golf tee signs and meals on the day of the event.

“Because we had such a great turnout and a good reputation from back in May with the children’s hospital, we essentially had the same returning businesses and then a few extras,” Tracy said.

Post Commander Jay Veronko said the $15,000 came at a good time. The post recently installed a fire alarm system which cost $14,000. The members have been busy renovating the building, and after Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) reached out to local unions, sheet metal workers reworked the kitchen’s vent system as a project for their trainees. In addition to the kitchen renovations, the back steps were recently redone. Masonry union members, who have donated their time and tiles, will work on the bathrooms. The post members also are hoping to replace their windows, which aren’t energy efficient.

Veronko said by renovating the post, the hope is that it can be used as a community meeting center. Three Village Dads has planned to gather there once a month, and the Titanium Twirlers — a group of baton twirlers — just held their initial meeting at the post.

“It’s part of the mission of trying to get back out in the community,”

– Jay Veronko

Tracy said the post is the perfect place to meet. In addition to a few Facebook group members belonging to the post, since they recently formed the Three Village Dads foundation to streamline the fundraising process, they are required to meet monthly. In addition to discussing future fundraising projects, he said the group hopes to talk about local issues and how they can add their voices to concerns in the community. He said the meeting space would provide members, who may be hesitant to post on a social media, a chance to discuss issues.

“It’s nice to be able to pool together the thoughts and the ideas of everybody, and put these major concerns front and center,” Tracy said. “These meetings will make that an even more viable place to sound off.”

Veronko said the post will hold an Oktoberfest event on their grounds, 8 Jones St., East Setauket, Oct. 12 from 2 to 7 p.m. On that day VFW members will present the Three Village Dads with a plaque.

“The event really is more or less a thank you to the Three Village Dads for doing what they’ve done for us,” Veronko said.

The day will include the Chris and Ronnie Polka Band from Staten Island performing, food from Pumpernickels Restaurant in Northport, steinholding, German trivia contests and a 50/50 raffle.

In addition to the group page, Three Village Dads now have a public page, www.facebook.com/threevillagedads, to inform those outside of the group of their latest activities as well as share some fatherly tips.

 

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Three Village Dads present check to Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

It may be Father’s Day June 16, but some local dads recently decided they would try a little giving instead of receiving.

Members of the Three Village Dads Facebook page stop for a photo after presenting Stony Brook Children’s Hospital with a check for $12,000. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

On June 3, members of the Facebook page Three Village Dads presented a check for $12,000 to Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. The group raised the money at a May 18 South Setauket Park barbecue and through a GoFundMe page. Child Life Services provides therapeutic, educational and recreational activities for children during hospital stays.

“It is never easy to coordinate a giving event, but the Three Village Dads certainly went above and beyond all expectations,” Alpers said. “Our community donors help us to brighten the lives of kids and families during a difficult time. We are so grateful to this great group of community dads who chose to support all of the children in our community who struggle with illness and hospitalization.”

Three Village Dads started six years ago as an offshoot of Three Village Moms. A year later, Stony Brook resident David Tracy joined. When he noticed there were only 20 or 30 members, and there wasn’t much interaction on the page, he asked the founder if he could take over as administrator.

Tracy said the fathers talk about a range of topics from advice on lawn care to sports to politics and nothing is off limits. The group now has more than 900 members.

“Once we got stronger and larger, we realized we could do a lot of good with it,” said the former Marine, who now works for Homeland Security.

The dads regularly meet at businesses owned by members, including O Sole Mio and Sweet Mama’s in Stony Brook, Maui Chop House in Rocky Point and Rolling Smoke Grill in Lake Ronkonkoma. Tracy said the group recently began discussing how they could contribute to the Three Village community.

“Once we got stronger and larger, we realized we could do a lot of good with it.”

— David Tracy

Three Village Dads was planning a potluck barbecue to get all of the families together, so they decided to use the event as an opportunity to raise money for a nonprofit. After polling the members as to which organization they would like to contribute, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital was the most popular answer. Tracy said $8,500 was collected through GoFundMe, and more than 30 businesses that participated in the barbecue donated food or money to be part of the event. The group also raised money by selling raffles.

“I didn’t think we’d get past $5,000 much less $12,000,” Tracy said, adding that the achievement was eye-opening for him as far as the group’s potential.

The day of the barbecue about 200 attended throughout the day, which included fire trucks from the Setauket and Stony Brook fire departments, bouncy houses, a DJ and more.

“We’ve really built a sense of community, and there’s a good camaraderie with all the dads on the page to really come together and support the community and community businesses.”

— Chris Carson

Chris Carson, who has belonged to the group for three years, helped Tracy plan the barbecue. The South Setauket resident, who works for Suffolk County, said the more the fundraiser picked up steam the more drive the group had to raise more money and make the goal higher.

“We’d hit the goal, and instead of stopping or patting ourselves on the back, we just set a higher goal for ourselves and kept moving forward and try to do as much as we could,” Carson said.

The dads are hoping to hold an annual barbecue and are currently discussing future events to help in the community, the county employee said, including a golf outing to benefit the VFW Post 3054 East Setauket on Jones Street and a toy drive during the holiday season.

“We’ve really built a sense of community, and there’s a good camaraderie with all the dads on the page to really come together and support the community and community businesses,” Carson said.

The barbecue wasn’t the group’s first good deed. Earlier this year, 55 members donated blood and platelets at Stony Brook University Hospital’s blood bank.

“We look out for each other. We look out for each other’s families.”

— Colby Rowe

Colby Rowe, Trauma Center Education & Prehospital outreach coordinator at Stony Brook Medicine, said donating blood at the hospital is essential since supplies are low.

A member of Three Village Dads since last year, Rowe said he appreciated how many of the dads donated, adding that many who couldn’t donate came out to support the others.

“It made me feel great not only because I’m a member of the community, a member of the group but I’m also an employee of the hospital,” he said. “It made me proud to be part of each one of those organizations.”

The turnout didn’t surprise him as he said the members are always helpful whether asking for advice or looking to borrow power tools or a beaker for a science project.

“We really are a productive group of people,” he said. “We look out for each other. We look out for each other’s families.”

Rowe said the group plans on organizing three blood drives a year with the next one scheduled for the end of June.

When it comes to creating a group like Three Village Dads, Tracy said it takes more than just one person to make it successful and credits all of the members for playing a part in the success.

“You really can’t force it,” he said. “It’s kind of a natural thing, and it has to take shape on its own.”

To join the page, which is open to dads, brothers, uncles, grandfathers and sons of the Three Village Central School District, visit www.facebook.com and search for Three Village Dads.