02/07/13 5:00pm
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Superintendent Steven Cohen presents the budget forecast for next school year at Tuesday's school board meeting.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Superintendent Steven Cohen presents the budget forecast for next school year at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

By making one-time cuts and reducing professional services in their 2013-14 school budget, the Shoreham-Wading River school district will be able to stay within the state tax levy cap without having to cut school programs, according to a preliminary school budget.

But district officials warned that eventually there will be no more areas left to cut and administrators may have to make the “hard decisions” as early as next year about which school programs will go.

“The 2 percent tax levy cap is forcing districts all over New York State to think about what the important elements of their program are,” said superintendent Steve Cohen during a presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

The nearly $66 million 2013-14 school year budget forecasted in Mr. Cohen’s presentation is a roughly 5.3 percent increase from this year’s budget. The tax levy — the total amount of money collected from residents — will rise 1.9 percent, keeping it within the state’s limit.

But Mr. Cohen said that the budget is higher mostly because of hikes in the state-regulated pension contribution rates.

The district’s contribution to the teacher retirement system jumped 38 percent from last year, while employee retirement contributions rose about 13 percent from 2012-13, according to the presentation. Health insurance costs are also expected to rise by at least 15 percent, Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen said the district administration’s budget forecast would preserve district programs by making decisions to reduce $1,650,000 in costs that don’t affect student’s education in the budget.

One example was removing the overlap in federal grant money, Mr. Cohen said. In previous years, the district has budgeted in money that the federal government had promised them in grant funding in case the grant money is not delivered.

Now the district will not budget in the overlap in funding, which reduces flexibility in the budget if the grant funds are less than projected, he said. Once those one-time cuts are made, the next budget would be set at that new lower baseline.

Some programs will be improved in the new budget. Athletic teams will no longer use the district’s mini-buses to get to athletic events; the district will sign a contract with an outside company to hire newer buses with better safety measures to transport the teams, officials said.

Board member John Zukowski said the board must make sure they are getting all the necessary taxes from new construction projects like the proposed J-Power natural gas power plant in Shoreham.

But even if the district is getting the right amount of taxes, the board will still have to choose whether to cut programs or pierce the tax cap within the next few years, board president Bill McGrath said.

“Eventually we’ll either run out of money or the philosophy will be if we want to maintain this educational program that works to the benefit of our kids, then we’re actually going to have to start having a discussion about how do we go about piercing the cap,” Mr. McGrath said.

And the longer the district waits to pierce the cap, the higher the tax levy will jump and the harder it will be to pass a budget, officials said. If programs aren’t cut, the tax levy could rise to about 10 percent or higher as expenses increase and the district’s fund balance and state aid dry up in the coming years.

“We’re building the hill before the cliff,” Mr. McGrath said.


02/05/13 4:00pm

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The track at Shoreham-Wading River High School.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board will provide an update on the voter-approved high school track and technology proposition at their meeting Tuesday night, according to the agenda.

The board will also vote to approve the construction of a concession stand near the new press box at the Shoreham-Wading River High School fields.

The $1.6 million track and technology proposition was approved by district residents in a vote last October. The district will spend most of the money on installing a districtwide wireless system and upgrades to school computer systems to conform with upcoming state-mandated testing requirements for the 2013-14 school year.

The tech upgrade will also include virtualized computer labs, Smartboards for classrooms and Microsoft software licensing. The resurfacing and subsurface repairs to the high school track — the other part of the proposition — would cost $286,000, according to a prior presentation on the project.

The projects will be paid for by using prior year state aid — money owed to the district by the state that can only be used for capital improvements or tax relief — and will not affect residents’ taxes.

A resolution to make additions to the press box at the high school field is also on the agenda Tuesday night. The board approved building a press box, public restrooms, a rooftop viewing platform and a space for a future concession stand on Feb. 14, 2012, but the press box construction was to only include the box and the viewing platform, according to the agenda.

The space for the new concession stand will be added to the press box if the resolution is approved.

The meeting will be held at the Shoreham-Wading River High School library at 8 p.m. and is open to the public.


02/04/13 9:00am
02/04/2013 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The ballfields at EPCAL will be named after two soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Jonathan Keller and Anthony Venetz Jr., both of Wading River.

A pair of new ballfields at the Enterprise Park at Calverton will be named in honor of two highly decorated Wading River soldiers who gave their lives defending their country.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to name one of the two fields at the new park after U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Anthony Venetz Jr, and the other field after U.S. Army Sergeant Jonathan Keller.

The Town Board in December voted to name the entire park complex being built at EPCAL as “Veterans Memorial Park,” citing the fact that the property was owned by the U.S. Navy for many years and the Grumman Corporation built and tested fighter jets there.

In addition, the individual fields at the park also will be named after individual veterans from the area.

“We have four fields there and we’re going to name them all after veterans,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

The long-planned park is expected to finally open in April, he said. It had been delayed for many years by requirements from both the county health department and the state transportation department, officials said.

The Town Board plans to vote on resolutions naming the two fields after SFC Venetz and Sgt. Keller at its meeting Tuesday, and has yet to decide on names for the two other fields.

“That’s so nice,” SFC Venetz’s mother, Marion Venetz, said of the town’s plans. “I’m just honored they decided to do that. What a nice tribute to my son. I think it’s a very nice way to honor the veterans.”

“We are honored that the Riverhead Town Board and the community would recognize and pay tribute to our fallen sons,” said Martin Keller, Sgt. Keller’s father. “We hope everyone enjoys this Memorial Park and its facilities as it brings the community together.”

The first two soldiers being honored by the town grew up on the same block in Wading River, where they were one grade apart in school. Both died of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, and they both died on nearly the same day, two years apart.

Sgt. Keller, a 1998 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school, had first served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then joined the New York State Army National Guard Reserve’s “Fighting 69th” in 2004.

In late 2007, he was called to serve in Afghanistan and was assigned to the 172nd Airborne in Kabul in early 2008. It was there, while engaged in battle with Taliban forces, that he sustained critical gunshot wounds that led to his death on Jan. 24, 2009.

He received a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal and the Army’s Meritorious Medal.

SFC Venetz is a 1999 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school and joined the Army in 2001. He became a special forces engineer sergeant and served twice in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. He died from injuries sustained while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on Jan 28, 2011.

He was given two Bronze Star Medals, including one with valor, two Purple Heart awards and four Army Commendation Medals, two of which were for valor.


02/04/13 7:00am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | First-grade teacher Jillian Coster (right) uses a book to illustrate her idea for a math project at Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham. From left, first-grade teachers Linda Burke and Ronnie Malave and special education teacher Christine Bradley.

An hour before the school day started Tuesday at Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, a group of first grade teachers sat in little blue chairs and huddled around a tiny table.

First-grade teacher Linda Burke started the discussion by spreading out pins depicting cartoon characters. Her task is to come up with a project to encourage students to discuss their opinions.

“I can seem them saying, ‘This is my favorite because one year I was at Disney on my birthday,’ ” Ms. Burke said to her colleagues as she pointed to a birthday pin. “Or this one because they like the Boston Red Sox.”

The Shoreham-Wading River School District now provides weekly professional development workshops to replace the superintendant conference days that were scheduled throughout the year. The workshops are intended to help educators cope with recent changes in the teacher evaluation process.

Earlier this month, the state approved the district’s annual professional performance review plan, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after the state was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For school districts to qualify for part of this grant, the state requires them to im- plement their own APPR programs.

The state later approved legislation requiring school districts to replace their two-tier teacher evaluation system — satisfactory or unsatisfactory — with a four-tier rating structure — highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. A mathematical formula combining observations by the principal with student assessments determines a teacher’s score.

Shoreham-Wading River High School instructor Erin Schmalzle, who has taught electives in the district for over 25 years, said she’s grateful the district is providing professional development time because it helps her further develop what are known as Socratic seminars.

This teaching style differs from a typical lecture because it involves creating an open forum for students to share their ideas and discuss their opinions, she said.

Ms. Schmalzle said that because it gives students the opportunity to direct the learning process, this type of teaching will achieve a “highly effective” ranking in the state’s eyes.

“I barely speak,” she said. “I’ve had kids tell me they hate me because I’m making them think. So, hate me all you want for not making you just spit back memorized information.”

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the Board of Education and the teacher’s union agreed this year to the weekly workshops and he’s excited about the district’s new approach to professional development.

“They agreed having a little professional development all of the time is better than having it in big chunks,” he said. “It’s more tailored to individual needs and it’s the teachers driving the process.”

Ms. Schmalzle said although some workshops provided at superintendent conference days could be valuable, she believes the new arrangement for teacher professional development is more productive.

“This seems to me to be a whole lot more helpful because it’s driven by us and that’s what education is supposed to be anyway,” she said. “It always seems that we’re told ‘race to the top, but we’re not giving you any money or time to figure out how to do it.’ ”

Ronnie Malave, a Briarcliff first-grade teacher, said she believes the new professional development time is “extremely beneficial” because it gives her a forum for meaningful conversations with her colleagues about new teaching methods, such as the state’s Common Core Standards. This program integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem-solving in all educational settings.

Shoreham-Wading district teachers have also come up with ways to see students’ progress through pre- and post-assessment methods. For example, one way the Briarcliff first-grade teachers are pre-assessing their students’ opinion-writing skills is by having them write letters to a groundhog explaining why they do or don’t want him to see his shadow on Groundhog Day. After the class completes the section on opinion-writing, students will write another opinion piece and the progress between the two pieces will be evaluated.

As these Briarcliff elementary teachers continued to kick around ideas for opinion projects Tuesday morning, Ms. Burke slapped two clear plastic bags onto the table filled with little animal figurines.

“We could ask them which one is your favorite animal and why,” she said.

The idea piqued her colleagues’ interest. “You have a nice collection,” Ms. Malave said. “My kids are in college, so I don’t have a whole lot.” “My kids are older, too, but I still keep this stuff,” Ms. Burke said as she arranged the toys. “This is great,” Ms. Malave said. “Do you think I could borrow your collection?” “Of course,” Ms. Burke said.


02/03/13 3:31pm
02/03/2013 3:31 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A Suffolk County police helicopter airlifts a crash victim from Miller Avenue Elementary School

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A Suffolk County police helicopter airlifts a crash victim from Miller Avenue Elementary School

Update Feb. 5: Suffolk County police said the victims of Sunday’s crash suffered non-life threatening injuries in the accident. The occupants of the car were teenagers, 16- and 17-years-old, police said. Detectives are investigating the crash, but do not suspect any criminal activity was involved in the accident.

Original story: A rollover accident in Shoreham Sunday afternoon sent four people to the hospital, one of whom was airlifted, Wading River fire officials said.

The accident occurred about 1:10 p.m. when a vehicle rolled over on North Country Road between the Lilco and Valentine roads, authorities said.

Wading River and Rocky Point firefighters and ambulance crews were called to the scene, said Wading River fire chief Jim Evans. A Wading River Fire Department heavy rescue team arrived at the crash to cut the victims out of the car, Mr. Evans said.

One victim from the crash was airlifted by a Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University hospital. The three other occupants in the vehicle were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital by ambulances with the Wading River and Rocky Point fire departments.

An update on their condition was not immediately available. Suffolk Police closed North Country Road in both directions while detectives investigated the crash.


01/17/13 5:33pm

JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | State officials said Thursday Shoreham-Wading River’s teacher evaluation has been approved.

The Shoreham-Wading River school district’s state-mandated performance review plan has been approved by the state education department Thursday evening, alleviating concerns that the plan would not be okayed by Thursday’s deadline and the district would lose half a million dollars in state aid.

The SWR plan, called an APPR, was listed on a state education department website as approved, hours before the Thursday night deadline for approval. The APPR was in jeopardy after a negotiations breakdown between the district and the administrator’s union

The plan was submitted in July without the signature of the administrators association president, school officials said. The plan was returned to the district at the end of December with orders to have the proper signatures or face losing state aid.

Had the plan not been approved, the district would have lost $457,000 in state aid for this school year, meaning the district would have had to make cuts or increase revenues to make up the difference.

Steven Donohue, president of the administrators association, had said the union didn’t get enough time to negotiate the plan, but eventually signed off on the document Friday afternoon. The state sent the APPR back over the weekend and requested the district make several changes.

The district sent the APPR plan up Tuesday after an emergency board meeting authorized board president William McGrath to sign the fixed plan.

Mr. McGrath said the different parties involved “came together [and] worked really hard to get agreements that would work.”

Below is the complete report:

Shoreham-Wading River state approved APPR plan by

01/16/2013 1:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTOS | Shoreham-Wading River students (from left) Giovanni Giordano, Brandon Green and Jason Novetti were among the 12 award-winners in last Wednesday’s DECA contest.

A dozen Shoreham-Wading River High School students won top awards at last Wednesday’s DECA contest at Suffolk County Community College in Selden and are now preparing for the state competition.

More than 1,700 students from 28 high schools competed in the Jan. 9 regional competition. The Distributive Education Club of America, known as DECA, is a national organization that promotes business and marketing skills among high school and college.

The winners now qualify to compete in the State Competitive Conference on March 5 to 8 in Rochester.

Here’s a rundown the top awards for Shoreham-Wading River students:

DECA adviser, Melissa Cosgrove

-Xenia Kim, Business Management & Administration, 2nd place.
-Jayne Hoffman, Public Service Visual Advertising (Billboard), 3rd place.
-Jason Novetti, Decision Making (Human Resources), 4th place.
-Madison Hubner, Food Marketing, 4th place.
-Anne Jacqueline Bryant and Jillian Rossin, Buying & Merchandising Management (Team), 4th place.
-Jade Joannou, Accounting Applications
-Giovanni Giordano, Decision Making (Marketing).
-Aidan Goldstein, Decision Making  (Marketing).
-Tristan Capes-Davis, Sports & Entertainment Marketing.
-Kimoni Campbell, Job Interview.
-Brandon Green, Business Finance.

Riverhead High School officials said Tuesday the district hasn’t had a DECA club for the past few years.

01/14/13 11:00am

SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | Roof repairs at the Briarcliff School in Shoreham will be included as part of a proposition on the Shoreham-Wading River ballot this May.

Residents in the Shoreham-Wading River school district will vote this May to allocate $3.9 million from prior year  state aid funds to make repairs to damaged roofs at district schools and build technology labs after the school board authorized the proposition at their meeting Tuesday.

Several of the building’s roofs are in need of emergency repairs, officials said, including the roof above the high school stage that has begun to warp the wood below. The district uses 35-gallon garbage bags to catch the water now, officials said.

The funds will be pulled from the district’s prior year state aid reserves, which are set aside for capital projects, officials said.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the repairs cannot wait any longer.

“We really don’t have a choice about the roofs,” Mr. Cohen. “They need to be fixed.”

The vast majority of the proposition would devote $3.2 million to build and renovate new tech labs at the high school.

The funds would pay to renovate four existing non-conforming science labs, turning them into two classrooms while building an additional two tech labs.

Roof repairs at Briarcliffe Elementary School would also be paid for by the proposition, if approved. Briarcliff was closed for one week in 2011 due to roof damages.

Since the roof repairs were said to be essential, school board members debated whether or not to take the repairs out of the proposition and put them into the capital budget for next school year as emergency repairs.

In that case, the $700,000 in repair projects would have been guaranteed to be funded, because emergency repairs remain in any contingency budget should the original budget fail.

The board voted to leave the the repairs in the approved proposition after some members brought up concerns about putting an additional $700,000 into the budget.

“It needs to be done, proposition or budget,” said board president William McGrath.