11/21/2013 8:42 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Mattituck school board applauding Superintendent James McKenna moments after he announced his plans to retire.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Mattituck school board applauding Superintendent James McKenna moments after he announced his plans to retire.

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent James McKenna has announced he’s retiring this summer after working in the district for 25 years.

At the conclusion of his monthly report during the school board’s regular meeting in the high school library, Mr. McKenna said he decided to retire in order to spend more time with his wife and family.

“I’d like to think I did the very best I could during the time that I was here at Mattituck,” said the superintendent, whose voice was hoarse and who fought back tears as he struggled to talk. “This is a great, great district. You should be proud of what you have here and I’m glad to have been a part of it.”

After school board president Jerry Diffley praised Mr. McKenna for his dedication and hard work, the audience of about 70 people gave him a standing ovation.

Although Mr. McKenna has already submitted his letter of intent to retire in July, the school board isn’t set to vote on it until its next meeting Dec. 12.

Mr. McKenna’s announcement comes less than a week after the Greenport and Southold school boards agreed to share a superintendent next school year. Under that agreement, Southold Superintendent David Gamberg will replace Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda, who announced in August that he plans to also retire this summer, though he will remain in a part-time role as superintendent of the New Suffolk School District.

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10/29/2013 9:40 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Mattituck-Cutchogue school board member Jeff Smith, parents Jeanine Warns and Terri Boyle Romanelli the moment the track bond vote results were announced Tuesday night.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Mattituck-Cutchogue school board member Jeff Smith, parents Jeanine Warns and Terri Boyle Romanelli the moment the track bond vote results were announced Tuesday night.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District will get a new running track next year.

District residents voted 777-386 in favor of the $925,000 track bond proposal during a special vote Tuesday night in the high school gym. Of that total, there were 49 absentee ballots cast, with 34 voting yes and 15 voting no.

Superintendent James McKenna said he’s “thrilled” the bond was approved.

“This will be a wonderful asset for the school and community,” he said.

Senior Kyle Freudenberg was also excited about the track bond proposal passing.

Although she won’t get to enjoy it during her final school year at Mattituck High School, she said she’s pleased others will get to enjoy the new facility.

“I’ve been pushing this since eighth grade,” she said. “I’m so glad it passed.”

Officials have said the estimated cost of installing a new all-weather, polyflex track over the existing facility is about $675,000. The remainder of the bond would go toward purchasing portable bleachers and irrigation upgrades ($50,000), perimeter sport netting ($40,000), sidewalks ($15,000) and asbestos remediation work inside the school ($25,000).

The proposal also includes a $120,000 contingency budget. Some fees, such as architecture and legal, are lumped into the contingency budget, district business administrator Michael Engelhardt said.

Mr. McKenna said the asbestos remediation project was added to the bond because the state reimburses 10 percent of the total cost of capital improvement projects, including asbestos remediation work.

Sidewalks are needed in order to make the facility handicapped accessible, he said, and netting is a safety precaution to block lacrosse balls or other equipment from entering the track while it’s in use.

Mr. McKenna said nearly 15 percent of the high school’s 800 students participate in track and field and a new track would allow them to host home meets. The community would also be allowed to use the facility, he said.

As for estimated tax increases, Mr. McKenna said the yearly increase over 15 years would range between $8 and $12 for houses assessed at $400,000 to $650,000.

Construction is expected to start in June. Officials estimate the project will take about three months to complete.

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10/21/2013 5:05 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue school board president Jerry Diffley, left, and Superintendent James McKenna during a budget workshop last spring. Mr. Diffley is up for re-election in May.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District has released a budget-planning timeline for the 2014-15 school year.

Internal meetings are being held through Nov. 29 to discuss next school year’s priorities and district employees are expected to submit their requests to the administration office by Dec. 13, according to the timeline.

Administrators have until Jan. 14 to submit their final recommendations to Superintendent James McKenna, who is expected to present his preliminary spending plan to the school board on March 5.

There are two preliminary budget workshops scheduled: March 6 and March 13. (If necessary, a third date has also been scheduled for April 3).

The deadline for the school board to adopt its budget is April 10. The spending plan will then be made available to the public by May 6.

The final budget hearing is set for May 13 — one week before the vote.

As for the school board race, president Jerry Diffley and vice president Charles Anderson are up for re-election. Board of Education candidate petitions are due April 21.

Jeff Smith won a seat on the board during last May’s write-in race after Janique Nine decided not to seek re-election.

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09/23/2013 11:27 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Anthony Claudio, right, and attorney Frank Blangiardo enter the federal courthouse in Central Islip last October.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Anthony Claudio, right, and attorney Frank Blangiardo enter the federal courthouse in Central Islip last October.

The attorney for Mattituck-Cutchogue School District teacher Anthony Claudio has asked a federal judge to award his client tenure, an increase in seniority and salary, and more than $200,000 in legal fees from the district.

Last October, an eight-member jury awarded Mr. Claudio $70,000 in back pay at the conclusion of a trial in which it found the district liable of age discrimination(more…)

09/08/13 12:00pm
09/08/2013 12:00 PM

North Fork schools

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to roll out changes to curriculum, faculty or initiatives, and in Southold Town, the 2013-14 school year is no exception. From classroom reorganization at Oysterponds to iPads for all high school students in Greenport, local superintendents shared their lists of things that will be new or different in their districts this year, as well as their hopes for the next nine months.

James McKenna



“Mattituck-Cutchogue has established a district-wide theme this year that plays off the AT&T commercials that advertise ‘It’s Not Complicated,’ ” Mr. McKenna said.

“The shared purpose for everyone associated with our schools is not complicated; it is to provide an environment that helps all students learn well, stay safe and participate, in order to graduate. Each day every member of the school district — students, parents, staff and community members — should challenge him- or herself by asking, ‘How am I going to do this to the best of my ability?’ ”

This year, the district will:

• Make improvements to the technology infrastructure within the district, including an upgrade of the wireless capability at the junior-senior high school, plus Windows 7 and Office 2013 upgrades on all district computers. A second computer lab will be installed at Cutchogue East Elementary School for computerized state testing, as well as differentiated instruction.

• Provide more “authentic learning experiences,” like the Farm to School initiative, which emphasizes the importance of agriculture in the community, and the library advisory program, which improves the use of school libraries and public libraries to support curriculum and the joys of reading. The district will also expand vocational training programs for students with disabilities.

• Establish a Junior Human Rights Commission to eliminate bias and discrimination in the schools. Other anti-bullying initiatives will include upperclassmen-facilitated workshops for younger students aimed at creating a safe and respectful learning environment for every student.

• Maintain and improve facilities. The front of the junior high school building has been painted and damage to the roofs of the high school and elementary school caused by superstorm Sandy have been repaired. A bond proposal will be presented to the taxpayers on Oct. 29 for reconstruction of the existing track for school activities as well as community use.

David Gamberg



“We must become learning organizations, flexible and dynamic places that aspire to uphold the values of our community and the integrity of the public school system,” Mr. Gamberg said of the upcoming school year.

This year, the district:

• Has a new athletic director/dean of students, Michael Brostowski.

• Will share an educational technology director, Ryan Case, with Greenport School District. Greenport and Southold have approved several shared-service agreements in recent years to cut costs and offer more programs for students.

• Plans to distribute Google Chromebooks to students for use in grades 5-8.

• Continues to review, monitor and make adjustments when necessary to enhance safety and security throughout the school district.

Richard Malone



“I think there are many exciting and rewarding changes taking place at Oysterponds,” Mr. Malone said. “We are committed as a faculty to provide exciting learning opportunities for the individual, successful achievement of all students.”

This year, the district will:

• Combine each grade and reorganize classrooms. Pre-K and kindergarten are now called primary 1, grades 1 and 2 are now primary 2, grades 3 and 4 are now intermediate 1 and grades 5 and 6 are now intermediate 2. Each class will have multiple teachers and assistants, including literacy, math and enrichment specialists, as well as a technology teacher assistant.

• Have a lunchroom/multipurpose room. The new arrangement will provide more opportunities for students to socialize, as well as serve the PTA.

• Implement a new administrative model. The principal and superintendent will work three days a week and share a common day for meetings and planning.

• See the administrative return of former Oysterponds superintendent Joan Frisicano, who is replacing Françoise Wittenburg as part-time interim principal.

Michael Comanda



“We’re looking to build on our Award Winning Blue Ribbon Elementary School and our U.S. News and World Report Award as one of the best high schools in America,” Mr. Comanda said.

This year, the Greenport school district:

• Has a new athletic director, James Caliendo.

• Is sharing an educational technology director with Southold.

• Will give iPads to all students in grades 9-12 and laptops to students in grades 4-8.

• Has a new playground, new chemistry lab and new physics lab.

• Has a new anti-bullying program.


Mr. Comanda also serves as superintendent of New Suffolk Common School. The district will:

• Split administrative tasks. Head teacher Holly Plymale will be responsible for administrative tasks and the school’s math and science teacher, Sara Campbell, will take the lead on academic and curriculum planning, special education programing, state assessments, DARE and coordinating other lesson plans. English and social studies teacher Nicole Pollina, who is expected to have a baby in January, will be involved with school events.

• Implement a classroom restructuring plan for its 16 pre-K through sixth-grade students. Ms. Campbell, who taught grades 5 and 6, and Ms. Pollina, who taught grades 3 and 4, will now focus on teaching the subjects that are geared toward their teaching certificates. Ms. Campbell’s higher education work focused on math, science and technology, with her undergraduate degree in physical geography. She has been teaching at New Suffolk for the past four years. Ms. Pollina, who has been at New Suffolk for three years, has a Master of Science degree in literacy. They each have dual certification in special education.

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08/17/2013 8:00 AM
Former special education teacher Anthony Claudio in the 2009 Mattituck High School yearbook, his final school year with the district.

FILE PHOTO | Anthony Claudio in the 2009 Mattituck High School yearbook, the last school year he worked in the district. The school board appointed him Thursday as a probationary elementary school teacher.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue school board appointed Anthony Claudio as a probationary elementary teacher following an executive session Thursday night.

Superintendent James McKenna said Friday the school board voted 6-0 to approve the appointment, which goes into effect Sept. 1. School board member Sara Hassildine was absent from the vote.  (more…)

05/23/13 7:59am
05/23/2013 7:59 AM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Election officials count the write-in results Tuesday night.

Some things make us gently scratch our heads and other things make us want to claw straight through to our brains.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District’s decision not to release the results of a write-in election for a vacant Board of Education seat certainly falls into the latter category.

When a woman present Tuesday night as the district released the balloting results requested a tally of the write-in votes, school officials declined to disclose them, saying only that former board member Jeff Smith had won and accepted the post.

When a Suffolk Times reporter followed up with a district administrator, the answer given was that the district does not have to release the results as long as the winner accepts the position. She assured us that Mr. Smith had won by a wide margin.

Now, we’re not so naive as to believe that school districts are beacons of transparency, but we can’t comprehend why a district would believe it’s OK to withhold the results of any election.

When we followed up again Wednesday morning, Superintendent James McKenna said that to receive the vote totals, we’d have to fill out a Freedom of Information request — a step typically reserved for obtaining information school districts don’t want people who read newspapers to know about.

We don’t doubt Mr. Smith won the election, and we understand that the process of tallying write-in votes can be difficult, but the public has a right to know all the details.

So we ask the Mattituck district: Why on earth would you not want to reveal to taxpayers, who pay your salaries, the full results of an election?

04/18/2013 5:30 PM
THE SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | The Mattituck-Cutchogue school board is expected to adopt Superintendent James McKenna's proposed budget tonight.

THE SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | The Mattituck-Cutchogue school board adopted Superintendent James McKenna’s proposed budget Thursday night.

The Mattituck Board of Education adopted Superintendent James McKenna’s proposed $38.85 million budget Thursday night, which carries an estimated 3.28 percent increase to next year’s tax levy.

His spending plan is a $853,139 increase compared to the current school year’s budget and calls for not replacing some retired teacher jobs, consolidating a few positions and laying off others. The staff reduction for the 2013-14 school year will be the “equivalency of 6.5 full-time” employees, Mr. McKenna said.

One position that was slated to be cut was a science specialist at Cutchogue East Elementary School, but was restored Thursday night after school board members expressed concern about the reduction.

The majority of programs — such as AP courses, BOCES and NJROTC — are included in the proposed spending plan.

As for next year’s tax hike, Mr. McKenna said the estimated 3.28 percent increase is below the state-mandated tax levy cap.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the state’s mandate because some expenses such as pensions and capital costs are exempt.

Mr. McKenna said Mattituck is allowed to raise the tax levy to 3.65 percent without obtaining 60 percent voter approval. However, Mr. McKenna and the school board agreed to present a budget to residents below that amount.

“I think we’ve made an attempt to try to understand the needs of the taxpayers at the same time trying not to put ourselves in a position where we’d hurt ourselves in the future,” he said during the meeting.

With the addition of unanticipated state aid secured last month, coupled with various district spending reductions, several positions that were on the chopping block have since been restored in Mr. McKenna’s spending plan.

The extra state aid wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked about $2.21 million in state aid for the Mattituck district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been an 10.05 percent decrease over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured an 8.22 percent boost, totaling nearly $2.66 million.

The school board voted 5-0 to approve next year’s spending plan. School board president Gerard Diffley and school board member Laura Jens-Smith were absent from the meeting.

The proposed budget will go before voters May 21.

Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Read more in the April 25 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

Mattituck-Cutchogue school board meeting agenda, April 18, 2013

03/15/2013 6:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education president Gerard Diffley, left, and Superintendent James McKenna at Thursday night’s budget workshop.

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent James McKenna projected Thursday night nearly 12 positions would need to be eliminated in the 2013-14 spending plan, including about seven layoffs, in order to plug an $800,000 gap.

More than 40 parents, teachers and students attended the school board’s second budget workshop and listened as Mr. McKenna and school board president Gerard Diffley explained how rising benefit costs, contractual increases and a decline in revenue have attributed to the district’s “unprecedented budget deficit.”

“I’ve been on the board for almost 15 years and this is probably the most devastating budget I’ve seen in my tenure as far as the deficit goes,” Mr. Diffley said.

While a state law passed in 2010 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the state’s mandate because some expenses such as pensions and capital costs are exempt.

Mr. McKenna said Mattituck is allowed to raise the tax levy to 3.65 percent without obtaining 60 percent voter approval. The superintendent said his $38.6 million proposed budget carries a 1.68 percent spending increase over the current budget and calls for not replacing some retired teacher jobs, consolidating a few positions and laying off others. Another cost-saving measure is to reduce busing by one run, resulting in a $59,000 savings. Class sizes at the Cutchogue-East Elementary School are also expected to increase next year, he said.

Mr. McKenna said the majority of programs — such as AP courses, BOCES and NJROTC — are included in the proposed spending plan.

Although his preliminary budget doesn’t slash student programs, he said it does “shrink” some opportunities. For example, library, technology, speech, business, art and music offerings would be reduced.

Some of the reductions are due to dwindling enrollment, he said. The district’s enrollment has decreased from 1,500 in 2010 to 1,350 this year. The superintendent is also projecting another 150 student enrollment drop for 2016.

“This is not the budget the district wants, but this is the budget the district can afford with a tax levy cap,” Mr. McKenna said.

Several parents and students pleaded with the school board to maintain the district’s music program because they believe it plays a major role in development and promotes creativity.

Greg Messinger, a tenth-grade student and musician, said he doesn’t believe a downsized version of the music program is acceptable.

“Lessons are a way to expand upon what you learn in band that you don’t have time to do that 40 minutes of class,” he said. “It’s one of the only things I’m willing to miss lunch for.”

Mr. McKenna stressed the proposed cuts aren’t official and said local state elected officials believe some of the district’s state aid will be restored. The state Legislature is expected to approve its budget by April 1.

Since the 2008-09 school year, he said Mattituck’s state aid has reduced by 22.1 percent. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Mattituck would receive about $2.2 million, down nearly 12 percent compared to the current year.

Mr. McKenna said he doesn’t believe hoping for restored state aid, using additional fund balance and some reserves and eliminating programs is enough to close the $800,000 shortfall.

He said the most feasible solution is to make the “hard decisions” of cutting staff and reducing programs because he doesn’t believe the community will support a budget that pierces the cap since the district’s budget has “historically” failed to gain a supermajority approval.  Last year’s $38 million budget carrying a 2.19 percent tax levy rate passed by a 571 to 395 vote. That budget appropriate $1.14 million from its fund balance to keep the tax increase under the cap, and Mr. McKenna had halved his salary increases in a newly negotiated contract.

In order to off set next year’s tax levy rate, Mr. McKenna is proposing the district pull $450,000 from its reserves.

Community members asked the school board if negotiating salary increases is an option to save money next year.

Mr. Diffley said about a couple of years ago the teacher’s union gave back half of their increases for two years, which he said the district was “very grateful for.” The teacher’s current contract is set to expire in a year, he added.

Mr. Diffley said the school board has recently approached the teacher’s union and asked them to open negotiations.

“We continue to talk to the union’s executive committee and we remain hopeful that they will go to their constitutions and ask for the negotiations to take place,” he said.

While those discussions continue, Mr. McKenna said he believes his proposed budget is the best the district can do with the current financial estimates available.

“This is a crisis year,” he said. “After this, I think it’s going to get a little better if we really watch our pennies.”

Although the school board has its regular meeting scheduled for next Thursday, the third budget workshop will be held on April 11.

Scroll down to read Mr. McKenna’s budget presentation.

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James McKenna’s 2013-14 proposed budget presentation, March 14, 2013.