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Long IslandEducation

South Country

BUDGET

SPENDING $134,600,063, a 1.85 percent increase from the current $132,158,005.

TAX LEVY 3.36 percent increase, from $60,217,689 to $62,240,685. This is equal to the district's 3.36 percent tax-cap limit, so a simple majority vote is required for approval.

TEACHER PAY / PROGRAMS The budget does not include any increases in teacher salaries as the district is currently in negotiations. The budget calls for a reduction of 1.9 instructional staff positions and an increase of 4.5 noninstructional staff positions and 1.0 additional administrative staff position. The budget also provides funding to open a prekindergarten center.

PROPOSITIONS

Proposition 2 authorizes the district to spend up to $2.3 million from its capital reserve fund to add an exterior vestibule at Kreamer Elementary School and to replace all windows at the school. Approval will not increase the tax levy.

Proposition 3 authorizes the district to liquidate the $490,451 remaining in its property loss reserve fund and transfer the money to the general fund to be used for legal expenses. Approval will not increase the tax levy.

WHEN | WHERE

6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Bellport Middle School. http://www.southcountry.org/

CANDIDATES

Eight candidates for four at-large seats: Melissa Aruta, James Ford, E. Anne Hayes, Karen Johnson, Clyde Parker, Shawn K. Patrick-Reese, Christine Rignola and Cameron Trent. Incumbents Cheryl A. Felice, Anthony Griffin and Carol Malin are not seeking re-election. Terms are three years.

Melissa Aruta

BACKGROUND Aruta, 42, has lived in the district for 14 years. She is a fifth-grade teacher in the Brentwood school district. Aruta received an associate's degree from Nassau Community College and bachelor's and master's degrees from LIU Post. She previously served on the Verne W Critz Elementary School PTA and on the balanced literacy task force and now serves on the district's teaching and learning committee. Aruta has two children attending district schools. This is her first run for the school board. 

KEY ISSUE Aruta would increase the district's use of project-based learning initiatives, in which students work in groups to explore real-world problems. "This helps create deep thinkers in children. This is the way children learn now. We need a curriculum that teaches to the entire child."

James Ford

BACKGROUND Ford, 53, works in sales and as a consultant to major corporations. He has lived in the district for 11 years. Ford obtained an associate's degree from the Community College of the Air Force in Montgomery, Alabama. He is a youth soccer and football coach and a former cubmaster for the Cub Scouts. Ford has a seventh-grader attending Bellport Middle School. This is his first run for the school board.

KEY ISSUE The lack of clear and efficient communication between the school board and parents, from details about state tests to the timing of school dances. "There is no straight line of communication … I see something in business and try to fix it. I feel like I can fix anything."

E. Anne Hayes

BACKGROUND Hayes, 68, has lived in the district for 40 years. She is in the process of retiring as an attorney with an emphasis on elder law. Hayes has a bachelor's degree from Barnard College in Manhattan and a law degree from Boston University School of Law. She is a member of the South Country School District's strategic planning committee and the South Country community leadership network and is retiring next month as chairwoman of the weekday education committee at Bellport United Methodist Church. Hayes has two adult children who graduated from district schools. This is her first run for the school board.

KEY ISSUE "I want a vibrant and intellectually challenging school environment for students so they are not burdened with testing that is not necessary. We need to provide the best education for all students."

Karen Johnson

BACKGROUND Johnson, 48, has lived in the district for 13 years. Johnson works as a senior account manager for a trade show exhibit manufacturer. She studied criminal justice as St. John's University and marketing at SUNY Oswego. Johnson is on the board of directors at Vegan Long Island and volunteers at the Association for Mental Health and Wellness in Ronkonkoma. She has a daughter attending Frank P. Long Intermediate School and a son who graduated from Bellport High School in 2014. This is her first run for the school district.

KEY ISSUE Johnson says there is a lack of healthy and nutritious meal options in school cafeterias. "A lot of children complain about the quality of the food and that it's not healthy enough. Kids need better meal options that are better balanced. There is no nondairy or plant based options."

Shawn K. Patrick-Reese

BACKGROUND Patrick-Reese, 54, has lived in the district for four years. She is an assistant vice president at People's United Bank in Medford. She is a graduate of Hempstead High School and received an associate degree from Nassau Community College. Patrick-Reese is a member of the Medford Chamber of Commerce and the Order of the Eastern Star in Brooklyn. She has no children attending district public schools and this is her first run for the school board. 

KEY ISSUE Patrick-Reese says teachers don't receive enough credit or support from parents, particularly those who opt their children out of state-mandated standardized tests. "I want to bridge the gap between parents and teachers. I want to be a partner for the teachers, along with the parents."

Christine Rignola 

BACKGROUND Rignola, 51, who grew up in the district, returned to the area 18 months ago. Rignola is a real estate saleswoman and a community development analyst. She has a bachelor's degree from Kent State University in Ohio; a master's degree from Stony Brook University and a real estate sales license from the American Real Estate School. Rignola is a founding committee member of Our Community Salutes-Brookhaven and is a past trustee in the Patchogue-Medford school board. Rignola has two adult children. This is her first run for the South Country Central School District.

KEY ISSUE Rignola wants to gather community stakeholders and large employers to learn about the training and skills students will need to find good jobs in the area after graduation. "Not everyone is going to go to college so we need to find out what we need to do to provide students with these opportunities. We need outside-the-box thinking."

Clyde Parker

BACKGROUND Parker, 71, has lived in the district for 21 years. He is retired after running a chain of retail stores based in New York City, Connecticut and Germany. Parker took two years of classes at Central State College in Edmond, Oklahoma, but did not graduate. He is a board member at Long Island Community Hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport and is president of the Rosa Parks Democratic Association in Brookhaven. He has no children attending classes in the district. This is Parker's first run for the school board.

KEY ISSUE Parker would increase resources in the district for guidance counselors and classroom support staff to help troubled students. "We've had to cut back on those positions because of the budget and it's created a lot of problems. I've seen the other side of it at the Boys and Girls Club and can bring that experience to the school board."

Cameron Trent 

BACKGROUND Trent, 21, is a sales associate at Home Depot in Patchogue and has lived in the district for 16 years. He is a graduate of Bellport High School and is attending classes at Suffolk County Community College. He is a member of the school board's finance and facilities committee, a board member at the South Country Library and volunteers at Lighthouse Mission in Bellport and the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area. He has no children in the district. This is his third run for the school district.

KEY ISSUE Trent contends more attention needs to be focused on the health issues at Frank P. Long Intermediate School in Bellport. Some parents have complained about sickening odors from the Brookhaven Town landfill located less than a mile away, and the state Department of Health is reviewing cancer rates and disease occurrence at the school. "We need to find out what's causing these illnesses reported in the building. We are not doing enough to address the problem."

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