TODAY'S PAPER
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Long IslandEducation

South Country school district

VOTING

7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Bellport Middle School.

THE BUDGET

The district proposes a $132,158,005 budget for 2018-19, a 1.98 percent increase from the current $129,595,729. The tax levy would increase by 2.01 percent, from $59,032,115 to $60,217,689.

This increase is equal to the district’s tax-cap limit of 2.01 percent, so a simple majority will be required to approve the budget.

School taxes on the average single-family home would increase by 1.45 percent, from $5,937 to $6,023.

The proposed budget includes a contractual salary raise of 1 percent and a 3.5 percent step increase for teachers. It also adds six instructional and administrative staff, 9.6 noninstructional positions and expands the elementary dual language program.

Voters will decide a proposition to authorize spending $2.42 million for capital repairs to Frank P. Long Intermediate School, including replacing windows, doors and furniture and renovating the heating and air conditioning system, courtyard and exterior masonry.

District website:

www.southcountry.org

THE CANDIDATES

Incumbents Lisa Di Santo, Regina L. Hunt and Chris Picini and candidates Gena Ancona, Monique Armann and Cameron Trent are running for three at-large seats. Terms are three years.

Gena Ancona

BACKGROUND: Ancona, 37, a property and casualty insurance broker, has lived in the district for eight years. She is a graduate of William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach. She was a secretary of the Kreamer Street Elementary School PTA for four years and a member of the Shared Decision Making Team committee. Ancona has a sixth-grader at Bellport Middle School.

ISSUES: Ancona said she made the decision to run for the school board following the Parkland school massacre. “I want to bring proactive measures to this district to guarantee that we are sending our children to a safe haven,” she said. “If there is one place in this world parents should feel safe sending their child, it is school.” Ancona wants to increase programs focused on mental health, suicide prevention and bullying and strengthen disciplinary actions for children accused of bullying. Ancona also is opposed to a budget proposition that would authorize spending $400,000 to renovate the courtyard at Frank P. Long Intermediate School, which is near a sewage treatment plant, asphalt facility and a town-owned landfill. “There are much better ways to spend $400,000,” Ancona said.

Monique Armann

BACKGROUND: Armann, 52, is a housing coordinator at Brookhaven National Laboratory and has lived in the district for 14 years. She is an officer on the Brookhaven Learning Center Parent/Teacher Committee and is an Individualized Education Program parent advocate. Armann has an eighth-grader at Bellport Middle School, a 10th-grader at Bellport High School and a 12th-grader with Down syndrome and autism who attends Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Brookhaven Learning Center in Bellport.

ISSUES: Armann wants to create more parent participation in Board of Education meetings, discussions and decision-making. For the past year, Armann said, she has attended board meetings and streamed them live on Facebook, often attracting up to 400 viewers. If elected, she would work to ensure all meetings are recorded and available to the public. “If we bring more information to the community, they will become more engaged,” she said. “We need to embrace the change.” Armann also is concerned about the infrastructure of district schools, from leaking ceilings to old telephone booths that have never been removed. “Our schools have been neglected,” she said. “Fixing them may be expensive but it needs to be done.”

Lisa Di Santo

BACKGROUND: Di Santo, 54, has lived in the district for 28 years. She is a substitute teacher in the Patchogue-Medford school district. Di Santo earned her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oneonta, received a master’s degree from Stony Brook University and has school building leader and school district leader certificates from Dowling College. She is a member of the Bellport High School PTSA and is completing her ninth year on the board. Her daughter graduated from Bellport High School, and she has an 11th-grader at the school.

ISSUES: Di Santo wants to expand the district’s prekindergarten program to include a full-day option. She would bring prekindergarten busing back as the district creates a Pre-K center at the Southaven School in the 2019-20 school year. “Early literacy is really the key,” Di Santo said. She also wants to expand the district’s dual-language program by creating a magnet school at Brookhaven Elementary School. “This would benefit both [English-language learners] students and native English speakers,” she said. “I constantly see that bilingual is preferred. And a second language opens a tremendous gateway for our students’ future.”

Regina Hunt

BACKGROUND: Hunt, 54, a customer service representative at Copart Auto Auction in Brookhaven, has lived in the district for 18 years and is the board’s vice president. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in community and human relations from Empire State College. She serves as vice president of the South Country Library, is co-founder of the South Country Community Information Café and serves on the board of directors of Long Island Head Start. Hunt, who has served three years on the board, has three sons who graduated from Bellport High School. She also has an 11th-grader at the high school and a fourth-grader at Frank P. Long Intermediate School.

ISSUES: Hunt wants to establish a legislative committee on the board to advocate for increased state funding. She said the district needs to improve its mental health services, including programs and workshops for both students and faculty. “At this point in time, students don’t have the coping skills to deal with things,” Hunt said. “We need to be proactive to address concerns.” Hunt said the district also must tighten up its security following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. “Our security needs to be flawless,” Hunt said. “We need to be working together to improve coordination and communication. And everyone needs to be held accountable, from the school board down to the students.”

Chris Picini

BACKGROUND: Picini, 45, works in sales management for a swimwear company in Farmingdale and has lived in the district for 18 years. A board member for six years, he is a former president of the panel. He has been recognized for board excellence by the New York State School Boards Association, for which he serves on a statewide awards committee. Picini has three children in district schools — two second-graders at Verne W. Critz Elementary School and a ninth-grader at Bellport High School. He is a past president of the Patchogue Kiwanis.

ISSUES: Picini said the district should continue to focus on improving student performance, which he said has been slipping in recent years. “We need to increase the rigors of the classroom,” said Picini, who believes district leadership should have more autonomy to implement education programs without “micromanaging” from the school board. He said the district has been proactive in addressing security since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, but that more can be done. He supports putting a Suffolk police officer or school safety officer in every school building in the county. “We need them where the kids are the most impressionable and where they can make the biggest difference,” Picini said.

Cameron Trent

BACKGROUND: Trent, 20, is a program assistant at the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk Inc. and has lived in the district for 15 years. He is a graduate of Bellport High School and is attending classes at Suffolk County Community College. He is a board member at the South Country Library and volunteers at Lighthouse Mission in Bellport and the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area.

ISSUES: Trent supports improving communication between the board and the community. He would post commonly asked questions and answers on the district’s website and use social media to update parents about district issues. “We need some more modern minds on the board that understand social media and can use it to better communicate,” Trent said. He said more attention needs to be focused on health issues at Frank P. Long Intermediate School after the discovery of traces of toxic chemicals at the school last year. Some parents have complained of sickening odors they believe stem from nearby Brookhaven Town landfill and the state Department of Health is reviewing cancer rates and disease occurrence related to the school. “This is a big issue that needs to be addressed by the board,” he said.

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