09/25/13 3:00pm
09/25/2013 3:00 PM


RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Homeland Systems president Chris Downie, front, discusses his company’s emergency alert system at Tuesday’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting while his business partner, Phil Tumminio, looks on.

As school district officials across the entire country consider ways to make their classrooms safer less than a year after a school shooting in Connecticut, the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education heard a presentation Tuesday night about an emergency alert system it’s integrating that will enable designated school personnel to communicate with first responders in the event of a security breach.

The software was discussed at Tuesday’s school board meeting by Homeland Systems president Chris Downie. S.A.F.E.R. Direct, the name of the program, is smartphone-based and can send text message and email alerts to first responders and school personnel depicting where a security breach has been made. Alerts can be sent via smart phone, tablet or computer.

“Our system is a virtual panic button,” said Phil Tumminio, a district resident and the treasurer and marketing manager of Homeland Systems, based out of Delaware. He said he and Mr. Downie have been working with the district since May and are in the midst of negotiating a contract. “It’s not stationary. Everyone on the system with a smart phone can send an instant emergency alert direct to first responders from any location in the school.”

This is the latest in a series of security measures the district has implemented or is considering.

In January – less than six weeks after the deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn. left 26 innocent victims dead – the district hired two security guards. A district parent had raised concerns during an open forum on security in the district, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. The middle and high school’s entrances have also been upgraded with more security measures.

In explaining in more depth the ‘virtual panic button’ to the board of education Tuesday night, Mr. Tumminio said one of the main problems with emergency cell phone calls is poor cell tower coverage in the area. “Hard-wired calls from alert stations can work, but in times of crisis it might be impossible to get to a hard-wired phone to send an alert,” he said.

The S.A.F.E.R. (School, Ambulance, Fire Department, Emergency, Response) Direct program would not be reliant on cell coverage, but would rather run through the a wireless Internet network.

Glen Arcuri, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said S.A.F.E.R. Direct is already partially installed at Shoreham-Wading River High School. He hopes to see the installation process completed there by mid-November.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said on Wednesday that the board had instructed him to move forward with installing the program.

“Much planning will be needed, however, before the system is operational,” he said in an email.

The cost to install the program, Mr. Arcuri said, is typically $7,000 per school, or a total of $35,000 for the district. The total cost is offset by a $20,000 price reduction Mr. Tumminio and Mr. Downie said they’re willing to contribute, bringing the total installation cost down to $15,000. Once installation is completed, the district would have to pay $18,000 annually in maintenance fees – $300 per school, per month – Mr. Arcuri said.

Board member John Zucowski said during Tuesday’s meeting he supports installing an emergency alert system throughout the school district.

“What first responders really need during an emergency is information, so I think it’s worth pushing forward,” he said.


09/24/2013 12:02 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River High School.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board will vote on a resolution calling on state and federal officials to end the over-reliance on standardized testing at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. The board is also expected to vote on a resolution asking state and federal officials to re-examine New York state’s accountability systems.

Recently, both the Riverhead and Southold school boards took similar action.

The Shoreham school board is also expected to discuss a security improvement proposal at tonight’s meeting. In January, the district hired two security guards after a SWR parent raised concerns at an open forum on district security, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. A head security guard was also chosen this winter to review the district’s security policies and improve them.

Tonight’s board meeting takes place at 8 p.m. in the high school library.


SWR School Board Agenda 09/24/13

09/11/2013 2:30 PM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen said programs and positions such as teacher aides and tutors could face cuts.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board is discussing the possible elimination of some non-mandated programs next year, including athletics, full-day kindergarten and musical performances, if the district can’t find a way to close a projected $6 million budget gap.

While the 2013-14 budget keeps school programs intact, school officials have said it will be difficult in future years to find ways to trim the budget to fit within the state-mandated tax cap, largely because increases in teacher salaries and benefits will outpace the cuts.

Programs aren’t the only things in danger of being cut or reduced. Positions like teacher aides, tutors and an athletic trainer are also potentially at risk, Superintendent Steven Cohen said during the school board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“We’re now at the point where the board needs to make some strategic choices,” he said. “We need to decide, ‘Are we going to dip into savings? And if so, how much?’ That’s where we are.”

Mr. Cohen said he believes the gap could be filled temporarily by dipping into the district’s savings. In March, the district had reserves of $14.7 million, with $9.9 million still due from prior-year state aid.

During the meeting’s public comment period, Shoreham-Wading River PTA vice president Alisa McMorris expressed concern about eliminating all non-mandated programs and asked how her group could help.

“At some point, there’s going to be something that gives,” she said. “This is a black hole for every district on Long Island, so we’re definitely not alone.”

During the 2013-14 budget process earlier this year, Mr. Cohen said the district would be able to stay within the tax levy cap without having to cut school programs by making one-time cuts and reducing professional services. In May, residents in the Shoreham-Wading River district approved a $66.1 million budget, which represents a nearly 5.5 percent spending increase and carries a 2.29 percent tax rate (the most allowed under the tax cap).

“These are beyond difficult times in terms of trying to make these decisions,” school board president Bill McGrath said. “It’s very difficult choices we’re being forced to make here. We’re open to all suggestions.”

As the budget process unfolds for the 2014-15 school year, Mr. Cohen said the community and the board may need to come together and decide that some programs are just too important to lose.

“And if that means we need to try to convince the community to pierce the cap, that’s what it means,” he said. “It’s a tough question, but I think that’s what the numbers are telling us.”


09/08/13 12:00pm
09/08/2013 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |  Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school's expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school’s expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to roll out changes to curriculum, faculty or initiatives, and in Riverhead Town public schools, the 2013-14 school year is no exception.

From new computers at Shoreham-Wading River to 30 new staff members in the Riverhead School District, the two local superintendents each shared a list of four things that will be new or different in their districts this year, as well as their hopes for the next nine months.

Nancy Carney

Superintendent Nancy Carney

• The district has hired over 30 new staff members, including over 20 new teachers to replace retirees.

• Construction work is complete at Aquebogue, Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools. There are new parent drop-off areas and bus loops, renovated libraries, classrooms and computer rooms, a new kitchen at Aquebogue, two new classrooms and an expanded cafeteria at Riley Avenue and new playground surfaces at all the schools. At Riverhead High School. There are new bleachers in the gymnasium and the library and auditorium will be completely renovated this fall. Construction will continue at the high school over the next two years with the addition of new science rooms and a new weight room.

• The district has installed new physical education equipment at Pulaski, Roanoke, Phillips Avenue and Aquebogue. Equipment at Riley Avenue will be installed this fall. Riverhead is the first district in New York State to be awarded a Project Fit Grant, in collaboration with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

A new curriculum is being implemented in the physical education program as part of the grant.

• Riverhead will continue to take delivery of new propane-powered buses to replace older diesel models.

“This continued overhaul of our transportation department will be complemented by a bus garage committee that will begin work this fall to oversee the design and location of a new bus hub,” Ms. Carney said. “We are looking for community members who are interested in joining this effort. Please contact me if you would like to participate.”

Steven Cohen

Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen

• The district is implementing a technology initiative in all five buildings. This includes new computers throughout the district, as well as Smartboards.

• The faculty will be strengthening its new professional development program.

• The district will be adding more security measures to all the schools

• Officials are continuing to strategically plan for the future of the district’s facilities while developing a five-year plan for programs and fiscal plans to preserve the high quality of education in Shoreham-Wading River.


08/24/2013 12:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | A case of whooping cough was confirmed at Shoreham-Wading River High School last Thursday.

FILE PHOTO  |  The teachers union at Shoreham-Wading River agreed to a hard freeze on salaries for the 2014-15 school year.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board and the district’s teachers union reached an agreement in June that will result in a $1.5 million savings through a combination of decreases in steps and a hard freeze, Superintendent Steven Cohen said in an interview last week.

A step is an incremental increase in salary based on individual professional experience, according to the state Department of Education.

Mr. Cohen said in an email this week that if a settlement hadn’t been reached by the previous contract’s June 30 expiration, the district would have had to pay “$1.5 million more than the renewed contract calls for.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the first year of the new four-year contract, all step increases will be reduced to 2.5 percent, he said. If there had been no new agreement, the average step increase would have been 2.8 percent, Mr. Cohen added.

During the next school year (2014-15), teacher salaries will be held flat, with no step increases or annual raises, a contract provision known as a hard freeze. The third year will include a 2.25 percent increase in steps. During the final year of the contract teachers will move up on the step scale, Mr. Cohen said.


04/10/2013 2:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO  |  The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at Tuesday night's meeting.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at a meeting earlier this year.

Taxpayers in the Shoreham-Wading River School District will vote on a $66.1 million 2013-14 school budget this spring after the Board of Education adopted the proposed spending plan at its meeting Tuesday night.

The proposed budget represents a roughly 5.5 percent spending increase from this year’s plan and will preserve classroom and extracurricular programs by pulling extra funds from the district’s state aid reserves, school officials said.

The proposed tax levy — the total amount the district can collect from taxpayers — would increase by 2.29 percent. The increase can be higher than the usual 2 percent statewide cap on levy increases because of certain exemptions approved by the state, said district superintendent Steven Cohen.

The district recently learned it will receive more state aid than expected next school year, school officials said. The extra funds will go into a capital fund for improvements to district facilities, Mr. Cohen said.

School board officials said that while next year’s proposed budget keeps school programs intact, it will be difficult in future years to find ways to trim the budget to fit under the tax levy cap, largely because of increases in teacher salaries and benefits that will outstrip the pace of the cuts.

“You have to look at what we were able to do with this budget with the restrictions handed to us,” said board president William McGrath.

Since the proposed budget is within the tax levy cap, it only requires a majority to pass.

If the budget fails, the tax levy would not be allowed to increase and the district would have to cut middle and high school clubs, middle school athletics, three clerical positions and one teacher to cut $1.1 million for a contingency budget, Mr. Cohen said

• Security at Shoreham-Wading River schools dealt with two minor incidents last week, school officials said during the meeting.

In the first incident, a suspicious car was seen near the high school on April 2. The car was determined not to be a danger, officials said. Two days later, security spotted a man using prescription drugs in the parking lot. Both incidents were quickly dealt with, Mr. McGrath said.


03/06/13 12:00pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River School Board at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board discussed Tuesday how it plans to plug a budget gap created by salary and health care cost increases coming in the 2013-14 school year.

During the school board’s regular meeting, Superintendent Steven Cohen estimated that expenditures will rise by 5.25 percent in his nearly $66 million preliminary spending plan, up about $3.3 million over the current school year.

The majority of those expenses, he said, will result from a 5.2 percent increase in salaries, up $1.6 million, and a 13 percent increase in benefits, up over $2.2 million. The total cost of salaries, Mr. Cohen projected, is $32.3 million — or 49 percent of his proposed budget — and nearly $18 million in benefits, which account for about 27 percent.

While Mr. Cohen said his preliminary spending plan maintains current programs and staff, he’s also allocated additional funds for more security measures, like guard salaries and benefits, cameras, vehicles and uniforms.

The district is considering using “one-shot” revenues to offset a tax levy spike, including $4 million from its fund balance, $1.5 million of prior year state aid and nearly $227,100 from the employee retirement system reserve, Mr. Cohen said.

Other options the school board has to reduce costs, he said, are to cut educational programs, lay off teachers and other staff and increase class sizes.

Most of the non-mandated programs that could be cut are high school programs, including interscholastic athletics, music, foreign language, school newspaper and science research, Mr. Cohen said.

“Obviously, we’re not recommending that we make these cuts, but what is important for us to recognize is these are the tough questions that the board and the community are going to have to consider because this where the money is if we’re not going to use money from the savings,” he said.

Under Mr. Cohen’s proposal, the tax levy increase will remain within the state’s limit, at 1.9 percent.

While a state law passed in 2010 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the state’s mandate because certain expenses, such as pensions and capital costs, are exempt.

Although SWR is allowed to raise the tax levy to 2.29 percent without obtaining 60 percent voter approval, school board member Jack Costas wondered if the community understands that such a move isn’t an attempt to pierce the tax cap and will approve it in May.

“I have reservations going over 2 [percent],” Mr. Costas said. “It’s almost like a psychological barrier … I’d rather go to 2 [percent] and then just pull from the fund balance.”

School board members agreed to consider their options during future budget workshops to create a spending plan over its starting point of 1.9 percent, which Mr. Cohen said is nearly $190,700 less than the allowable tax levy increase.

Future budget workshops are scheduled as follows:

• March 12: transportation, districtwide expenses, facilities, debt service and transfers.

• March 19: special education, personnel services, health services, technology, curriculum and staff development.

• April 2: athletics and community programs.

• April 9: revenue budget and budget review.


03/05/13 12:00pm

FILE PHOTO | Tuesday night’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting is at 8 p.m.

Shoreham-Wading River School District Superintendent Steven Cohen is expected to continue his 2013-14 budget discussion at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

According to the agenda, Mr. Cohen will give a presentation about the district’s expenses for employee salaries and benefits.

During the Board of Education’s Feb. 5 meeting, Mr. Cohen presented a nearly $66 million budget for the 2013-14 school year. Under his preliminary proposal, the tax levy — the total amount of money collected from residents — will rise 1.9 percent, keeping it within the state’s cap limit.

Tuesday’s meeting will be held in the high school library at 8 p.m.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda.

Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting agenda, March 4, 2013