TODAY'S PAPER
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Long IslandEducation

Syosset school district

VOTING

6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Robbins Lane Elementary School, H.B. Thompson Middle School and Syosset High School.

THE BUDGET

The district proposes a $230,346,020 budget for 2018-19, an increase of 2.97 percent from the current $223,702,174 budget. The tax levy would increase 2.26 percent, from $191,622,402 to $195,954,954.

This increase is within the district’s tax cap limit of 3.57 percent, so a simple majority will be required to approve the budget.

The district did not provide the dollar amount of school taxes on the average single-family house because officials said assessment figures were not available.

The district said the proposed budget includes 1 percent contract raises for teachers as well as 1.5 percent step increases.

A proposition on the ballot asks voters to approve the establishment of a capital reserve fund known as the “Security Capital Improvement Program 2018” for districtwide security improvements. The fund is not to exceed $5 million, would come from the budget reserve and won’t have any effect on taxes, the district said.

District website:

syossetschools.org

THE CANDIDATES

Incumbents Christopher DiFilippo and Andy Feldman — along with challengers Wendy Levitt, Uzma Syed, Chris Ulrich and Bill Weiner — are vying for three seats. Incumbent Joshua Lafazan is not seeking re-election. Terms are three years.

Christopher DiFilippo

BACKGROUND: DiFilippo, 64, has served on the Syosset school board since 2012 and is running for a third term. DiFilippo, a 36-year Woodbury resident, works as an information technology manager for the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA, where he provides IT for declared disasters, most recently for last year’s hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida. He also has worked for Honeywell, Bank of America, Chase Bank and other organizations. He is a 1978 graduate of St. John’s University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. DiFilippo is a certified emergency medical technician and volunteers with the Syosset Fire Department. He is also a member of the Syosset Woodbury Chamber of Commerce. His children attended district schools.

ISSUES: DiFilippo said he would work to improve safety protocols. He said he wants to gauge the community’s reaction to assigning armed guards to school buildings, noting they, along with other security measures, “can help deter and slow down the active shooter.” He also said he would advocate for an independent, environmental review of soil and groundwater for a mixed-use development planned next to South Grove Elementary School.

Uzma Syed

BACKGROUND: Syed, 39, is a physician in private practice specializing in infectious diseases, with offices in Bay Shore and Syosset. Syed is a graduate of an accelerated seven-year medical program, during which she earned a bachelor’s degree from Utica College of Syracuse University and a doctor of osteopathy from the University of New England. Syed has been a member of various district committees and serves as chair of South Woods Middle School’s Cultural Unity Committee and Schools and Communities Committee. Syed also is a member of the Nassau County Police Commissioner’s Community Council. She has two children attending district schools. She is running on a team with Andrew Feldman.

ISSUES: Syed said she wants to focus on improving the district’s safety protocols. “We need to have experts in the field do a thorough survey and give us a breakdown of where we’re lacking.” She proposed adding more coding initiatives to the curriculum, as well as an internship program in which students work at local companies. Another proposal, she said, is to train staff to detect “emotional distress.” Syed, noting the proliferation of social media, said, “there’s a national crisis going on . . . [Students are] not emotionally or socially mature to [handle] the amount of material they’re exposed to on a regular basis.”

Andy Feldman

BACKGROUND: Feldman, 57, a Woodbury resident for 19 years, has served on the board since 2015 and is finishing his first term. He is a certified financial planner who owns his own wealth management firm. His children attend or have graduated from district schools. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1982, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business. Feldman, a former board member of the Michigan State University Greater New York Alumni Association, is also a member of Residents for a More Beautiful Syosset and the Syosset Woodbury Chamber of Commerce. Feldman is running on a team with Syed.

ISSUES: Feldman said the most important challenge facing Syosset is keeping the budget “under the tax cap, while maintaining and improving the excellent academic and extracurricular services that our students and residents expect and deserve.” He said that effort has become more challenging, given the rising costs for health care and retirement contributions. He also proposed a district partnership with a credit card company to offer a loyalty-type card in which the district can earn revenue. Feldman said he wanted to continue to build on security enhancements the board has already implemented.

Wendy Levitt

BACKGROUND: Levitt, 49, an 18-year district resident, is a co-owner of a company that provides electronic entertainment services for homes and boats. She is also the author of a novel, “At the Corner of Wall and Sesame,” a story that muses on work-life balance — a subject about which she has lectured. Levitt is a 1990 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received bachelor’s degrees in English and economics. She is a 1992 graduate of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, where she received a master of business administration. Levitt, a recording secretary at Syosset High School PTSA, is a past president of Walt Whitman Elementary School PTA and Thompson Middle School PTSA. Her children attend district schools. She is running as a team with Chris Ulrich.

ISSUES: Levitt said her main focus is to address concerns about students’ mental health. “Our kids are cracking and the real question is what can we do to get these kids to unwind, to get these kids to realize that it’s not about making sure everything goes right all of the time, to get them comfortable with understanding how they’ll recover when something goes wrong,” she said. Levitt said she wants the district to use technology “to track behaviors that indicate a student is under increasing stress.” For example, the experts could then use the information to identify which students need counseling or other support.

Chris Ulrich

BACKGROUND: Ulrich, 50, is an attorney who owns a digital marketing agency in Melville. Ulrich is a 1989 graduate of Hofstra University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He also graduated from St. John’s University School of Law in 1994. He has been involved with various PTA and youth basketball organizations over the years. Ulrich is running as a team with Wendy Levitt.

ISSUES: Ulrich said the district should enact “stronger policies to proactively deal with those who are engaged in bullying or fighting in the schools.” He added that “when something bad happens, we need to address it quickly.” Ulrich said he had concerns about a proposed mixed-use development at the former Cerro Wire property. “My concern is the number of homes being built and the potential number of students that would create an enrollment surge within the district,” he said. He also said he would work to alleviate academic pressures that have been placed upon students. “I would love to set broader policies that balance out the work for the student,” he said, suggesting caps on the amount of homework assigned and better testing coordination among teachers to avoid scheduling many exams during the same day or week.

Bill Weiner

BACKGROUND: Weiner, 56, a 14-year district resident, is a program manager dealing with cybersecurity for JPMorgan Chase. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Boston University in 1984, and a master’s degree in information systems from American University in 1992. He is a member of the Syosset Board of Education Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance, a past president of the Birchwood Civic Association. He has been involved with various PTA councils and chaired budget committees. His children attend district schools.

ISSUES: Weiner said his experience in the field of cybersecurity can help the district with forming districtwide security policies. “I want them to ensure that we are instilling the industry’s best practices,” he said. On the academic front, Weiner said he would push for Syosset to add more instructional days to the calendar to make up for time that’s lost to the administration of state tests. Weiner said he wants the district to revisit the subject of weighing a Regents exam score in a student’s overall GPA. “We should have a do-no harm policy” with regard to counting the Regents exam in the GPA, Weiner said. “It shouldn’t hurt you.”

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