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Long IslandSuffolk

South Country school district


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


The district proposes a $123,565,274 budget for 2015-16, a 1.26 percent increase from the current $122,033,676. The local tax levy would increase 2.0267 percent, from $56,241,540 to $57,381,312.

This increase equals the state's tax-cap limit of 2.0267 percent, so a simple majority vote will be required to approve the budget. School taxes on the average single-family home would increase 1.87 percent, from $5,666 to $5,772.

The district is undergoing contract negotiations. There are no reductions in teachers or staff. The budget proposes 12 more teachers and administrators.

Voters also will decide a proposition asking them if the size of the school board should be reduced from nine to seven members.

District website:


Incumbents Lisa Di Santo, Regina Hunt, Jeannette Abate Mistler, Christopher Picini and Gino Cruz are vying for three at-large seats. Terms are three years.

Lisa Di Santo

BACKGROUND: Di Santo, 51, is a small-business owner and substitute teacher. She graduated from SUNY Oneonta, received a master's degree from Stony Brook University and school building leader and school district leader certificates from Dowling College. She is a former secondary social studies teacher. She also is a member of the Bellport Middle School PTA and is completing her sixth year on the board. She served on the Verne W. Critz PTA and the districtwide PTA council. Her daughter graduated from Bellport High School, and she has an eighth-grader at Bellport Middle School.

ISSUES: Di Santo said her goal on the board is "to have a proactive educational plan that meets the diverse needs of all our students." She said she will work "to foster both students, and community-centered school board policy on our school board and district office, which must always operate in an open, transparent fashion." She said she wants to continue to bring board members, district staff and community members together to work "collaboratively on issues of mutual concern." She believes early literacy "is key to improving the educational outcome of all our students." She said she wants to expand the district's prekindergarten program to become a full-day option. Di Santo also supports "an inclusive-interview committee for hiring district personnel and supports an open, community-centered budget process."

Regina Hunt

BACKGROUND: Hunt, 51, is a facilitator for Parent Leadership Initiative through the Child Care Council of Suffolk. She is studying for a bachelor's degree in community and human services at Empire State College. She serves on the board of directors of Long Island Head Start, is vice president of the Brookhaven Rosa Parks Democratic Association; a member of COMPASS Unity; and in the South Country Community Leadership Network. She has three children who graduated from Bellport High School. She has an eighth-grader at Bellport Middle School and a first-grader at Kreamer Street Elementary School.

ISSUES: "Our diverse district needs a parent from the community to assist with parent involvement," Hunt said. "I would like to get all parents from the Bellport community to be more involved." She said, "Family participation is the key to continued growth for our children, parents and community so it can be one of the top districts on Long Island." She would create parent workshops to encourage parent involvement.

Jeannette Abate Mistler

BACKGROUND: Abate Mistler, 45, is a real estate agent. She has been a district resident for 41 years and graduated from Bellport High School. She is a president of the Bellport Middle School PTA and served as PTA president at Verne W. Critz Elementary School.

ISSUES: Abate Mistler said she wants "to improve the quality of education that we provide to all our children." She said her goal is to "implement a proactive educational plan that meets the diverse needs of all our children. I want to provide extra help to those students needing it as well as seeing how best to provide more enrichment programs." She also wants more students to participate in the BOCES Technical program. For the school district, Abate Mistler wants to have the "most professional administrators representing our school district as well as making sure our district's finances are spent wisely and not overspent, by looking through the proposed budget, line by line, and asking questions."

Chris Picini

BACKGROUND: Picini, 42, works in sales management, and has been board of education president for two years. He has lived in the district 15 years and was president of the Patchogue Kiwanis. Picini was recognized for board excellence by the New York State School Boards Association, where he serves on a statewide awards committee. He has three children, a sixth-grader at Bellport Middle School and two children in prekindergarten.

ISSUES: "Our district needs leadership from our board of education in order to hold our administration accountable while at the same time acting supportive," he said. "We must look beyond our past struggles and continue to be supportive of our recent successes. We are heading in the right direction and we must continue toward our goals. I have strong leadership abilities and a willingness to improve." Picini said he will continue to advocate on behalf of the school district in Albany.

Gino Cruz

BACKGROUND: Cruz, 46, is self-employed, and received a bachelor's degree in physical education from Almeda University. A former public school coach, Cruz is founder of the annual Easter Egg Hunt and coordinated the Clipper Classic 5K Run. He also founded the "Turkey Trot" 5K Run and is coordinator of the Suffolk County USA Track & Field. He has been coaching football and track and field for 25 years on Long Island. Cruz has an 11th-grader at Bellport High School and two adult children who graduated from Bellport High.

ISSUES: Cruz said he sees "many challenges from money issues to leadership voids" in the school district. He said parents are concerned "about safety for our students. It is much harder for our staff to teach our students if they are in a hostile environment. We need to create a new environment inside our schools that fosters education. This is best accomplished by building a strong leadership team that is fiscally responsible to our taxpayers, but also committed to the students and staff."

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