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Miller Place Board Adopts Budget Under Cap Without Full-Day Kindergarten

(Full story as published 4/4/13)

The proposal of full-day kindergarten in the 2013-14 school budget in Miller Place has been a hot topic since first proposed by Superintendent Marianne Higuera. On Wednesday the Board of Education made a decision to adopt a budget without the proposal.

After including kindergarten in the superintendent’s budget, the school board listened to varying community views on the topic for about a month before ultimately deciding against it.

“We are all cognizant of the educational merits of doing it, but at this particular time the sustainability issue is just too much for this board to pass,” said trustee Michael Unger.

The budget would have been $67,757,777, a 4.3-percent increase, with full-day kindergarten. Instead, the adopted budget of around $67.3 million will be an increase of 3.64 percent from last year.

“They are putting together the best educational program they can for 2013-’14 and I support their decisions,” Higuera said of the board’s adoption.

The budget not only retains all staff and programs, but also includes other initiatives and comes in under the tax levy cap. The district’s maximum allowable tax levy increase was 4.3 percent but the board managed to reduce the increase to 3.94 percent after initally projecting to be at the cap.

“The board really put a lot of thought and energy into offering the best educational programs for the district they could at the time and also considered the economic and fiscal constraints in the community,” Higuera said. “Their decision to come in under the tax cap was reflective of their beliefs.”

While full-day kindergarten is in the rear-view mirror for this upcoming budget, Unger noted that time taken to analyze the program was beneficial and it is something they will look at again in future budgets. They will also have to monitor whether or not they will still have the New York State Conversion Aid for the program in upcoming years.

“We’re going to keep in contact with legislators to find out the possibility of the aid going away,” Unger said. “The good thing is we looked at it now in detail. It’s important for the community to know that it’s now fully in our laps and we’re going to continue to look at it.”

Debate Persists On Contentious Miller Place Kindergarten Proposal

(Full story as published 3/14/13 on Miller Place-Rocky Point Patch)

Full-Day kindergarten continued to be the topic of contention at Wednesday’s second budget workshop as the district pitched the proposal again while now including a four-year projection.

Clearly the most controversial topic after the first workshop, the program would come at no cost to the district the first year and little cost in 2014-‘15 thanks to Kindergarten Conversion State Aid that would be received. The first two years of full-day kindergarten would come at a net cost of $105,370 thanks to a projected $750,000 in aid.

After the original meeting the board and residents asked for a projection extended past the first two years of the program. Superintendent Marianne Higuera delivered that on Wednesday. The projections showed that the total net cost of the program to the district over four years would come to $975,513. Teachers, parents and other residents spoke and shared their support or opposition with the proposal with the superintendents and the board.

“I’m concerned about its stability and what it’s going to do to us in three years,” said parent Lori Murphy. “We’ve made a lot of progress this year. How is it possible we can say that we can sustain that and it’s not going to pit everyone against each other once again in years three, four and five?”

Assistant Superintendent Susan Hodun also delivered a presentation on the effects of a full-day program, which included a comparison of the half-day and full-day schedule for students. The current half-day program lasts from 9:15 to 11:45 a.m. and includes four half-hour lessons. The full-day program would last until 3:45 p.m. and include 10 half-hour lessons as well as a 50-minute lunch and recess for the kids.

“I know that people will say, in the past we’ve always had half-day kindergarten and it’s worked, but we’re moving ahead now,” said parent Lauren Getz. “We need to give these children the opportunity and the resources to be the great citizens that I know that they can be.”

Another parent, Lisa McNulty, added, “It’s the time. This is the opportunity to go full-day and see how well our children can do by first, second and third grade.”

The Board of Education is continuing to look at all aspects of the superintendent’s proposal before adopting a budget, including the kindergarten proposal. According to projections, the proposed budget would be $67,757,777 with full-day kindergarten and $67,320,399 without. The budget includes other new initiatives and zero cuts.

“Personally I don’t think the board’s made a decision yet,” board member Michael Unger said regarding the kindergarten proposal. “I think clearly we feel that the educational impact is something you can’t argue. The other side though is the sustainability. Where are we going to be in three years?”

Budget adoption is scheduled for March 20, but at the request of some residents, the board is considering pushing the adoption back in order to leave more time for public comment.

From a Dream to a Nightmare and Back, Grindhaus Finally Opens

Full story as published 12/26/13 on CarrollGardens.Patch.com

By Rich Arleo

Five years after signing her lease, Erin Norris finally opens Grindhaus at 275 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.

“A half a decade…that’s a long time,” said Grindhaus owner Erin Norris.

The restaurant started out as a dream for Norris, but after she signed her lease back on April Fool’s Day in 2008, it became a nightmare.

The whole idea started when she and a friend made what she estimates to be about 300 sausages for the neighborhood in her friend’s backyard. That night she had a dream where she envisioned Grindhaus, and she decided to act on it.

Norris found the space for a good price back in April of 2008, but didn’t realize what she was getting in to. The first of the long steps was waiting until December for her building permit. Then there was a year of work done by just her and a friend.

“The budget was so tight I couldn’t have a big firm come in and do it,” she said. “My parents actually did a reverse mortgage on the house we grew up in to fund this. It was a big leap of faith for them.”

Then there was a year where Grindhaus had to be put on hold as Norris worked 80 hour weeks as a restaurant manager in Manhattan. But then she joined Little Neck in Gowanus closer to home and was inspired.

Grindhaus was almost done as the end of 2012 neared.

“I had plans to open around this time last year,” Norris said. “Everything was basically done…and then the flood happened.

“The contents of my kitchen were in the dining room. It was traumatizing. Not to mention the basement was full of four feet of mud. That really takes the wind out of your sails.”

But when her mother who had given up so much to help told her it was OK if it never happened, Norris was more determined than ever.

With the help of a fundraiser on Kickstarter, money from Restore Red Hook and a few more grants and loans, Grindhaus has finally opened.

“It’s a challenge every day, but I love it,” she said. “I wanted to do this mostly because I really enjoy serving food. I don’t have a backup plan. I’m in it for the long haul. It’s hard to even think there was a time I was considering walking away from it.”

Originally planned to be a sausage parlor, the size of the kitchen made those plans change. Now featuring a fresh, seasonal menu with items for both meat lovers and even vegetarians, there is still one nod to the past.

Chef Aaron Taber and sous chef Leon Douglas were sure to include one sausage dish on the menu, a Meurgez that Norris calls “just the best.”

“They’ve got technique and they’re super inventive,” Norris said of her chefs. “They wow me on a daily basis.”

Now in its third week, Norris still hasn’t had time to sit and realize that the dream finally became reality.

“It really hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “I don’t have time to sit and think about it. I’ll never get to sit over in my favorite seat and have dinner. It’s just not going to happen. If I’m here I’m on the floor running around.”

The five-year push to open Grindhaus is over, but that was just the beginning. The restaurant, Norris says, was built with the intention of giving back to her parents while doing what she loves: feeding people.

2013 Fantasy Baseball: Don’t Sleep on Matt Harvey

Full story as published 2/16/13 on Rantsports.com

By Rich Arleo

The New York Mets don’t boast a large amount of relevant fantasy baseball players, but they do have a particularly interesting young pitcher in Matt Harvey.

Harvey, a tall right-hander, made his debut last July and finished out the season strong for the Mets while helping some fantasy teams in a late-season push. In 10 starts, the 24-year-old won only three games but had an impressive 10.62 K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) ratio with a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He showed great strikeout ability in his quick ascension through the minor leagues, and he was able to translate that to the majors.

Harvey did have a little bit of luck. He had 81.3 percent of runners left on base while hitters had a low .262 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him. You could say that some of his success was from hitters’ unfamiliarity with the rookie. What’s encouraging, however, is the high strikeout rate and solid K/BB ratio. His 2.69 K/BB rate would have landed him in the top 20 in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify.

Hitters had a lot of trouble making contact on his pitches as he managed an incredible swinging-strike percentage of 12. To put that in perspective, Justin Verlander had an 11.7 swinging-strike percentage last season. He has a fastball that touches the mid-to-high 90s consistently and a tight slider that can hit 90 MPH as well. As long as he keeps his velocity up and can continue to control that slider, there’s no reason to believe he won’t become the Mets’ ace this season.

He is worth around $10 in auction leagues and is likely worth a pick near the 10th round in standard leagues. There’s always the risk that hitters catch on a bit, and he isn’t going to rack up a ton of wins on the Mets, but he absolutely has the stuff to be a dominant strikeout pitcher in 2013 and for years to come.

Read more at http://www.rantsports.com/fantasy/2013/02/16/2013-fantasy-baseball-dont-sleep-on-matt-harvey/?8TzxZkkeCKm8WiD8.99

2013 Fantasy Football Breakout Players: David Wilson

Full Post as Published 5/29/13 on Brunoboys.net and USAToday.com.

By Rich Arleo

Every year, fantasy football owners enter their drafts searching for the next big star. These aren’t the guys taken in the Round 1, but players who are ready to take that next step and become top fantasy football picks for years to come. We like to call them fantasy football breakout players.

Leading up to 2013 fantasy football drafts, we will take a look at different players that are ready to break out this season.
David Wilson, RB New York Giants

After being selected in the Round 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, many fantasy football players eyed Wilson as a possible starter for their teams. As a rookie, Wilson saw work immediately in Week 1, but lost a big fumble in the game (a bugaboo of his in college) and was immediately put in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse.

The rookie saw just seven touches in the first four games and gained 10 total yards. In Week 5, he again was given just two carries but he took one of them 40 yards in to the end zone, showing off the talent he clearly has for the first time in the NFL. Wilson ran seven times in a blowout victory the next week before touching the ball just 14 combined times in the next six days.

After shining in another blowout victory—running for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries—Coughlin had a bit more confidence in him as the season wound down. The coach didn’t have much of a choice with Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown both ailing, but the bottom line is that Wilson got his chance and ran with it. He finished the season with 358 yards on only 71 carries (5.0 yards per carry) with five touchdowns.

Now, with Bradshaw gone, Wilson looks to have every chance to step up and be the primary ball carrier in New York. Brown is still on the team and will likely see his fair share of work, however Wilson’s combination of power and speed makes him the more enticing option. Wilson pleased his coaches by being fumble free after Week 1 and he is mentality prepared to continue that hot finish he had last year.

With a full season under his belt, and no true competition, Wilson should be considered a top-20 running back with tons of upside. Fantasy football owners should draft Wilson as a RB2 entering the season and if he breakouts like we think he is capable of, expect even more. He is dynamic enough to be a top-tier RB2 option with the ability to be an top-10 fantasy football running back for years to come. Owners who play in fantasy football dynasty leagues should target him even higher than re-draft leagues.

Ward Melville Pulls Away From Smithtown West to Clinch County Title

(Full story as published June 2, 2013 on Three Village Patch)

By Rich Arleo

Seven-goal run caps 11-6 victory for Patriots.

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A goal by Ward Melville senior captain Christian Mazzone with 11 seconds left in a tightly-contested first half helped turn the tide as part of a seven-goal run, sparking the Patriots to an 11-6 win in the Class A County Championship.

The game started off in a defensive struggle before a scoring flurry just over five minutes into the first. Ward Melville struck first at 7:25 with a goal by Kevin McKeever off an assist from Mazzone and then grabbed a two-goal lead just 30 seconds later when Brendan Hegarty buried one. It took Smithtown just 20 seconds to answer back, however, and stop the run with a goal of their own.

The Bulls were able to grab a 4-3 lead with a goal by John Day with 8:44 left in the second quarter, but it was the last time they would have the advantage. After Ward Melville’s Jack Bruckner tied it with just under five minutes left, goalie Daniel Nemirov made a huge save on a one-on-one chance which led to a transition and the game-winning goal from Mazzone with 11 seconds left in the half.

“I feel like whenever I can do my job in the cage and get a quick alley we’ll be able to get some transition which really turns the tables,” Nemirov said. “That was a two-goal swing to end the half which really gave us momentum in the locker room.”

The Patriots then scored five more unanswered to put the game to bed.

“We were feeling good at halftime,” Nemirov said. “We were right where we wanted to be in a perfect spot to take the win and we did the job.”

Head coach Michael Hoppey also credited the save and goal to end the half as a momentum swing, but was sure to note that it was their play in the third quarter that really clinched the win.

“We hadn’t been in alot of close games but we were anticipating it,” he said. “I think we played our best quarter of the year in the third quarter. This has been a big hurdle for us getting out of Suffolk County, a lot of time that’s the toughest game.”

Amidst speculation that he would be retiring after 32 years with the Three Village School District, a drenched Hoppey said shortly after his water-cooler shower, “It’s not official yet, we’re still figuring it out.”

Ward Melville moves on to play Massapequa Saturday at Hofstra for the Class A Long Island Championship.

“We looked at the tape of Massapequa and they’re a very good team,” Hoppey said, “so we’ve got our work cut out for us Saturday.”

Gay Miller Place Alumni Return to Inspire Current LGBTQ Students

(Full story as published on the Miller Place-Rocky Point Patch)

By Rich Arleo

Three alumni take part in the Live Out Loud organization’s Homecoming Project to speak with current LGBTQ Miller Place students.

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When Miller Place alumni Doug Shapiro, Kate O’Brien and Michael Pesce went to high school as gay youths, acceptance at the time in the 80’s and 90’s was tough to come by.

Fast forward to 2013, and while there is more widespread acceptance, LGBTQ youth still must deal with the challenges of coming out. The three alumni teamed up with Live Out Loud’s Homecoming Project and Miller Place High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance to share their stories with students going through their own struggles and triumphs; sharing the important message that while it is never easy, it can get better.

Live Out Loud has been doing their Homecoming Project since 2008 as a way of connecting youths to role models and leaders in the LGBTQ community.

“Kids are coming out younger and younger,” said founder Leo Preziosi, Jr. “A lot of times the support systems aren’t there so…the LGBT community has to play an active role.”

Shapiro, a 1988 graduate of Miller Place, had originally decided to take part in the project before inviting friends O’Brien and Pesce. The singer, actor, and voice-over talent was thrilled to see the support systems that these students now have.

“It was pretty empowering and wonderful,” Shapiro said. “Each of us were able to bring a certain element that was needed. I didn’t realize I was gay in high school despite really obvious signs, but now to have kids that are out and proud and to have students there to support them is a complete turnaround.”

Pesce, who like Shapiro graduated from Syracuse University as a theater actor, graduated from Miller Place in 1995. A longtime friend of Preziosi, Pesce jumped at the opportunity to speak as someone who is gay and comfortable with the label of his sexual orientation.

“It was a chance to explain to these kids how it felt back then when understanding my own innate sexuality was very confusing and how I found my way from where they’re sitting, through college to what I’m living now; an adult life where everything has fallen into place,” he said.

“I know at their age they may not necessarily feel that that’s going to be the case, even though there is currently much more visibility for the LGBTQ community.”

The message touched Rebecca Ogno, president of the school’s GSA, who helped organize the event.

“It was just such an inspiring message that each and everyone shared that day,” Ogno said. “Even coming from me as president of the GSA, myself being openly gay, it really did affect me that much. I know for a fact that even the people in the audience that were straight were just so moved…it was absolutely beautiful.”

O’Brien, a 1991 alumna of MPHS, is now Director of Education for a Jewish nonprofit organization in New York City.

After marrying her wife in 2010, she felt more and more that she needed to tell her story, “If for no other reason than to open people to the possibility that coming out to themselves and to others – as LGBTQ or in other ways they keep hidden – is part of becoming who they were created to be.”

“I was terrified walking into MPHS again for the first time since I graduated,”
O’Brien laughed. “It was a reparative experience. I came to give my support and to create a space for dialogue and imagination. I was overwhelmed to feel so embraced by my co-presenters, former teachers, and the students.”

While there is clearly more widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community in today’s society, Pesce and Preziosi stressed that there is still a long way to go and the young kids and teens still have many obstacles to overcome.

“We’re not getting it right as a country,” Preziosi said. “There’s so much more that we can do to support students…high school really is the most important part.”

Pesce added, “It’s very difficult for myself as a member of the gay community to see what we’ve been seeing recently in the past couple of years, which is something those of us in the gay community have known for years, that the suicide rate is incredibly high for at risk youth, specifically LGBTQ. It’s very scary.”

If Ogno speaks for the majority of students in the room who listened to the three alumni speak, it’s clear that their message hit home and had a positive impact on everyone there.

“If anything it was just motivation, definitely inspiration to just keep going and keep being who you are,” she said.

“I would talk to all the kids in the school if I had the opportunity,” Pesce said, “ My story is one of an insecure gay youth, but all kids have something about which they feel insecure.

“All kids have to deal with the issue of ‘coming out’ in some way in reference to who they are or where they’re from. Kids are bullied for a myriad of reasons and no matter what that might be, we have to understand it and support them unconditionally.”