11/20/14 8:00am
11/20/2014 8:00 AM
The Shoreham-Wading River High School tennis courts have been closed and locked since March after they were declared unsafe. Fixing them up will cost over $800,000. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The Shoreham-Wading River High School tennis courts have been closed and locked since March after they were declared unsafe. Fixing them up will cost over $800,000. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Shoreham-Wading River School District residents will vote Jan. 13 on a $48 million bond proposal on capital improvements throughout the district.

On Tuesday, the district released an itemized list of upgrades that will be paid for — should the vote pass — as well as a packet for the public summarizing the project, which the district’s public relations firm has dubbed ‘Renewal.’

“Since the formation of our district decades ago, only minimal work to our schools has ever been undertaken with the exception of emergency projects (roof at Briarcliff) or small infrastructure projects,” the material states. “Meanwhile, communities all around us have addressed deteriorated or inefficient building systems and instructional environments with upgraded facilities.”

The district will hold two separate meetings in early December for residents to learn more about the proposal.

On Dec. 2, a presentation will be given by architects hired by the district to complete the work. On Dec. 9, the public will have the opportunity to speak with board members and administrators about the proposal.

Below are the highest-ticketed items proposed.

• $5.6M: Wading River Elementary School: Four new classrooms, multipurpose room.

• $4.6M: Miller Avenue Elementary School. Four new classrooms and reconstruction of library/media wing.

• $3.7M: Prodell Middle School: kitchen and cafeteria addition.

• $2.4M: Miller Avenue Elementary School: New bus loop/parking.

• $2.3M: Wading River Elementary School: New bus loop/parking.

• $1.7M: High school: Synthetic field turn and lighting for multipurpose field.

• $1.4M: Miller Avenue Elementary School: New roof.

• $1.3M: High school: New window system.

• $976K: Prodell Middle school: New window system.

• $811K: High school: Tennis court reconstruction.

For a complete list of the proposed upgrades, as well as the Renewal packet released by the school district, see the following page.

11/09/2014 12:00 PM
Credit: Patrick W. Moore

Credit: Patrick W. Moore

One concerned grandmother went before the school board Tuesday night, railing against what she called a “secretive” decision to install a solar panel plant on a sod farm across the street from the district middle school.

Michelle Sterling of Shoreham said she was disgusted by the Town of Brookhaven, which she claimed approved the sod farm solar plant without informing residents or the district.

Residents have complained to other boards in recent months: namely Brookhaven Town Board and Brookhaven Planning Board. The latter unanimously approved plans for the project last month, despite much opposition from neighbors, according to Newsday.

“We went by the codes,” Planning Board Chairman Vincent E. Pascale told the paper. “We did all our checking. We took facts from factual sources.

Board president William McGrath said last week that the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education was also concerned by the circumstances around the approval of the installation and said the district was “looking into it.”

Ms. Sterling went on to claim that the solar panels would cast radiation onto the district’s students and said “studies” couldn’t prove that the solar panels wouldn’t cause cancer.

“Our children are certainly not going to be the guinea pigs to find out,” she said. The board didn’t comment on those claims.

11/08/2014 8:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen and school board president Bill McGrath.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen and school board president Bill McGrath.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board approved a contract worth over $7 million with a worldwide manufacturing company to improve energy-saving measures throughout the district.

Assistant superintendent Glen Arcuri said the contract will pay for itself through resulting energy savings.

Mr. Arcuri explained that the district will borrow the necessary money to pay off the contract.

“It’s a type of a lease arrangement,” he said.

Officials from Honeywell, which recently won the project bid, said in February that making the improvements will save the district more than $250,000 each year on its roughly $1.2 million energy bill.

Improvements would include energy-efficient LED lighting, a “smart” system for heating and cooling and a natural gas line to the high school that would allow the school to use either natural gas or oil, depending on which fuel was cheaper.

The district will use those energy savings to pay off the entirety of the lease, Mr. Arcuri said. If the district doesn’t save as much as projected, Honeywell will have to cover the difference between what they promised and what they delivered, he added.

The state education department will next review the scope of the work to ensure that the district gets “maximum savings,” Mr. Arcuri said.

If the state determines that the district won’t break even on the deal, they will refuse to issue the site plans.

11/01/14 2:00pm
11/01/2014 2:00 PM
Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen, left, and school board president Bill McGrath. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen, left, and school board president Bill McGrath. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

The union representing Shoreham-Wading River School District’s administrators received a four-year contract extension at last month’s school board meeting, granting the faculty members three percent raises this year, followed by smaller raises over the next two years before no increase in the contract’s final year.

In addition, eligibility for retirement incentives for union members was reduced from 12 to 10 years.

According to the terms of the deal, which was OK’d at the district’s Oct. 21 meeting, raises this year don’t apply to administrators hired for the 2014-2015 school year. For the 2015-2016, and 2016-2017 school years, members of the union will receive a 1.5 percent raise.

“I think that the district and the administrators’ association came together to settle a contract so that our schools could move forward and the kids could benefit from everything,” said union president Linda Anthony, principal of Prodell Middle School. “And it was positive that it was settled early in the year.”

The union has 11 members: principals at each of the district’s four buildings, assistant principals at the middle school and high school, and directors of athletics, technology, special education, humanities, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The contract comes after the previous deal held by the union expired at the end of June this year. That deal had lasted three years, held salaries flat in its final year, and upped employee contributions to healthcare from 15 to 20 percent for new members, and 15 to 17.5 percent for existing members.

Board of Education President Bill McGrath said that partly due to those previous contributions, he was happy to sign the new deal.

“Basically, we were pleased with it from the point of view that we value these members and they’ve already increased their healthcare contribution,” he said. “And we’re trying to be as fiscally prudent as we can in light of everything the state government is doing with public education.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on Monday, Nov. 3, with comment from Linda Anthony, president of the administrators’ union.

06/28/14 5:00am
06/28/2014 5:00 AM
(Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Riverhead school board vice president Greg Meyer honoring Ann Cotten-DeGrasse Tuesday night. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Ann Cotten-DeGrasse was congratulated Tuesday night for six years of service on the board. She was hired as a business teacher by the district in 1966 and served as president for the Riverhead Central Faculty Association before retiring in 1997.

(more…)

03/28/14 9:00am
03/28/2014 9:00 AM
Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

As if journalists needed another reason to call for more open government, the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005 started Sunshine Week, a “national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Sunshine Week was actually last week, March 16-22. But this week has provided us with a couple of reminders about how various elected officials could easily improve their efforts to open up to the public.

It’s not exactly breaking news that Riverhead’s all-Republican Town Board meets in caucus from time to time. Precedent supports the legality of such meetings. Supervisor Sean Walter’s allegation that board members are discussing public business during the meetings, however — and the fact that board members are meeting so frequently — is noteworthy, as it appears to fly in the face of state open meetings laws.

RELATED STORY: ‘SUPE TAKES AIM AT CLOSED-DOOR MEETINGS AMONG BOARD MEMBERS

Board members who attend the caucus meetings, as well as the current Riverhead Republican Committee chairman, deny the allegations, describing the meetings as discussions about the political impact of board members’ decisions and not the decisions themselves.

The timing the supervisor picked to bring all of this to light could be considered curious. He’s suffered the loss of a few votes on the public stage recently — likely stemming from discussions during these caucuses — so this could be construed as a political counter-punch. But there’s really no way for the public to know the whole truth unless the all-Republican Town Board stops meeting in caucus. And the only way to accomplish that, it would seem, would be to diversify the party affiliations of Town Board members.

Meanwhile, in the school district, a couple of instances this past week show room for improvement as well.

Superintendent Nancy Carney gave a thorough presentation Tuesday night about a $4 million bond proposal now set to go before voters in May, after which the school board voted to adopt it as a ballot proposition. But the proposal had never been publicly discussed at any previous school board meeting.

Without speaking on the merits of the bond itself, one might think these publicly elected officials — albeit volunteers — would want to inform and seek input from their constituents before setting the stage to borrow $4 million.

And following the presentation, it raises eyebrows to see a unanimous vote on such a costly plan without any discussion whatsoever — between members of the public and the school board or within the school board itself.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Another note from Tuesday night: The school board approved a plan to spend $456,000 from the district’s capital reserve fund right after closing a public hearing on the matter. While it’s not uncommon for public boards to adopt more mundane measures immediately following a public hearing, voters deserve more time to weigh in on $456,000 in expenses for a fund they voted to create.

So, in all, the school board may spend about $4.5 million with little public discussion or input from the people being asked to come up with the money.

If taxpayers in the town and school district feel they’re being increasingly marginalized when it comes to big decisions — and their leaders are opting to keep them out of the discussion to avoid headaches, slowdowns or the outright blockage of measures — then the public’s only recourse is to demand change through their votes.

03/06/14 5:00pm
03/06/2014 5:00 PM

schoolsSix local school board incumbents are up for re-election this year. So far, one has said she’ll step down after her term, two are on the fence about appearing on the May 20 ballot and another two are gearing up to run again. One board member was unavailable for comment. To gain a spot on the ballot, candidates must submit their petitions by April 21, under state law.

RIVERHEAD (3 SEATS)

Three of the seven seats on the Riverhead Board of Education will be up for grabs in May.

Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse announced last year during her campaign for town supervisor that she will not seek re-election at the end of her second term. A retired teacher who taught in the district for more than 30 years, Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse is a former president of the teachers union in Riverhead and a co-founding member of the North Fork Breast Health Coalition. The Jamesport resident was first elected to the school board in 2008.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said in a previous interview that she decided not to seek another term on the board because she feels that she’s accomplished what she intended. “My goals were to bring civility and respect back to the board and to see that the bond passed,” she said. “I did the two things I really set out to do and I’m ready to move on.”

Board vice president Greg Meyer confirmed last week that he will seek another three-year term. Mr. Meyer, a Calverton resident, was first elected in 2008. He’s employed as a firefighter and emergency medical technician at Brookhaven National Lab.

When asked if he’s interested in becoming board president given Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse’s decision, Mr. Meyer said, “We’ll have to see what the board decides.

“I enjoy what I’m doing and believe the progress the board has made in the last six years has been terrific,” he said.

Board member Kimberly Ligon said last week she hasn’t decided if she’ll seek re-election. She was first elected in 2011.

SHOREHAM-WADING RIVER (3 SEATS)

Incumbents Bill McGrath, John Zukowski and Jack Costas are up for re-election to the seven-member board. Mr. McGrath, who was elected in 2008 and has been board president since 2011, said last week he hasn’t decided if he’ll seek another three-year term. As the budget season unfolds, Mr. McGrath, of Wading River, said he’s focused on helping to draft next year’s spending plan.

Mr. Zukowski, an attorney who was first elected in 2011, said last week that he plans to run for re-election. Mr. Costas wasn’t immediately available for comment.