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Port Jefferson promises to include more public input on future proposals

Residents tell school board that there were ‘profound missteps’ that led to voters rejecting the $29.9M improvement plan.

Port Jefferson school Superintendent Paul Casciano discusses the

Port Jefferson school Superintendent Paul Casciano discusses the district's $29.9 million bond proposition at an informational meeting on Nov. 27, 2017. Residents rejected the plan on a Dec. 5 vote. Credit: Newsday / Carl MacGowan

Port Jefferson school officials Tuesday pledged to seek greater public input before crafting a new plan to upgrade schools after voters soundly rejected a $29.9 million bond proposition last week.

Speaking during a school board meeting at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, officials said they had not yet discussed a new plan to make improvements to schools, administrative offices and athletic facilities.

They acknowledged district residents had sent a strong message on Dec. 5 when they voted by a 4-1 margin to reject the bond.

“We hear you,” school board president Kathleen Brennan told about 40 residents attending the meeting. “We intend to study this and clearly and carefully and slowly review those comments and include you” in future discussions about building improvements.

School officials had said before the vote that district facilities were badly in need of repairs to improve safety and security and comply with federal and state requirements, such as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Many residents had questioned specific proposals, such as synthetic turf and lighting at district athletic fields. Some residents also criticized the district for proposing the bond amid a dispute between the Long Island Power Authority and the Village of Port Jefferson that could result in reduced LIPA tax payments to the school district.

Resident Vahid Ranjbar said the district had made “profound missteps” that caused voters to reject the plan. Among them was the school board’s decision to propose one “all or nothing” bond, rather than offering separate propositions, he said.

“They were not happy with how this bond was conceived and the way it was presented,” Ranjbar told the board. He added, “There’s a groundswell of support from people who want to help you at this time.”

Some residents said the district had relied too heavily on its website to promote the proposal. Several residents said the board should appoint a citizens advisory committee to help plan and promote a new proposition.

Lauren Sheprow called the defeated bond a “tone-deaf proposal,” but added that residents would support a plan to bring district buildings into compliance with state and federal laws.

Superintendent Paul Casciano said district officials were studying the “implications” of the vote’s defeat, referring to buildings and fields that he said were “overcrowded and overtaxed.” He said officials’ goal is to build “21st-century” facilities.

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