West Islip heads to the polls
WEST ISLIP—School districts across Long Island will be heading to the polls on Super Tuesday, May 15, to decide on school budgets and board of education trustees. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at West Islip High School.
The proposed budget is $122.9 million, which represents a 1.5 percent spending increase over the current year, carrying a 3.13 percent tax levy increase.
Voters will also be asked to elect two board of education members for a three-year term beginning on July 1, 2018. The candidates include Richard Antoniello, Catherine Artusa and incumbent Steven Gellar.
Richard Antoniello has resided in West Islip with his wife for over a decade. They have two daughters; the oldest is a third-grader in the district and the youngest recently celebrated her 3rd birthday. Antoniello says he’s running because of his daughters, adding that he’s the only candidate (and potential board member) with children as young as his. “Everyone else has children in the upper grades or they’ve graduated,” he said. “I’m looking to be on the board while my kids are coming up through elementary school.”
Antoniello has also taught American history at the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District for the past 21 years. He feels that it’s important for educators to have a voice on the BOE. “Even if I lose, it’s still an experience to share with my students,” he laughed.
Antoniello, along with incumbent Steven Gellar, have both gotten the endorsement of the West Islip Teachers Association. “As an elementary school parent and a public school teacher, Mr. Antoniello is an advocate for children and parents alike, and possesses the necessary skills and attributes to bring a fresh and new perspective to the board of education,” the organization wrote on their website.
Catherine Artusa, a 20-year resident of the hamlet, has been regularly attending school board meetings for the past 10 years. “I’ve been an advocate for issues for the kids,” she told the Islip Bulletin during her previous run for the board last year, adding that others in the community have often turned to her for information. “I feel like it was time for me to make the next step,” she added.
Artusa has a degree and background in business. “I feel that a business background is crucial in managing budgets, contracts and planning aspects,” she said. Once a buyer by profession, Artusa is now a full-time mother of two daughters in the district—the oldest is a ninth-grader, the youngest in seventh grade. She is also active in school groups such as PTA.
“Our community has major concerns about the safety and security of our buildings,” she said in regards to the recent string of school shootings that have occurred throughout the country. “As for education, we need to address state testing and find alternative ways to move forward. Seventy-six percent opted out of the ELA this year. Eventually, no one will be taking the tests, but the district is forced to give it. We also need to address the educational instruction that is based on the tests.”
“In the future, we should ensure college readiness for our students. We should also have options for students entering the work force. We need to expand on programs in both areas to be more diverse,” Artusa added.
In the past, she has also said that she’d like to fix some of the communication issues with the board that she and others have experienced. “Maybe I can break through that communication problem if I’m on the other side of the table,” Artusa said. “I’m willing to listen, learn, and I’m willing to speak up.”
Steven Gellar (incumbent)
Gellar and his wife, Evelyn, have lived in West Islip since 1996, and he has served on the BOE as president and vice president for the past 12 years. They have two children, Lindsey and Mark. Lindsey is a sophomore in college and Mark will be graduating from West Islip High School this summer.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Gellar put himself through college after gaining work experience in the construction industry as both a project manager and specialist in construction projects. He is now an engineer, and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Polytechnic University.
After graduating, Gellar joined AIL Systems in 1996 as a designer of space-based communications systems before moving on to L-3 Communications in 2003 as a designer of ground-based satellite communications systems. Since 2008, he has been employed by Bren-Tronics, overseeing multi-billion-dollar programs from inception, through engineering design to production.
Gellar says his engineering background is helpful when it comes to various construction projects for the district. “By nature, I analyze everything,” he said.
Gellar also believes that “surviving” the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was first enacted in the 2010-11 fiscal year to help close New York’s budget deficit, was the biggest accomplishment during his time with the BOE. The district lost around $25 million between 2009 and 2015, according to Gellar. “The cuts made us more efficient, though,” he said.
Enhancing security is one of the BOE’s top priorities, Gellar says. The district recently hired more security guards and installed 200 security cameras. There will also be a concentrated effort of alcohol and drug prevention as well as combating bullying, particularly cyberbullying. “We’ve already started this process,” Gellar said, “but I’d like to see the district improve.”
Gellar is currently seeking his fifth term with the BOE. When asked why he wants to keep going, he said, “It’s because I believe in public education, just as I did 12 years ago.”
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