Six candidates, three seats
One candidate, Marybel Kasten, has withdrawn her candidacy for a seat on the South Country Central School District Board of Education. As a result and in accordance with NY State Education Law, the nominating petition process was reopened and the time for filing nominating petitions was extended until 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 10. No one filed
Six candidates are seeking to fill a total of three seats on the board of education during this year’s budget vote and election to be held on May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bellport Middle School. The proposed budget is $126,296,440.
Those running include incumbent Carol Herrmann, along with Gino Cruz, Cheryl Felice, Brian Gilligan, Anthony Griffin and Cameron Trent.
Felice, 59, was born and raised in Patchogue and is a lifelong Suffolk County resident, who currently resides in Bellport Village with her wife. She is the administrator of the Suffolk County Municipal Employees Benefit Fund, a supplemental employee health plan, and previously served as the fund’s labor trustee for 16 years before becoming the chairperson.
She is also an advocate for working people and their families, a lifetime member of the Suffolk County Community College and St. Joseph’s College alumni associations, a NYS notary, a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians and the LI Labor and Employment Relations Association.
In the more local community, she has been a past board member of the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area, a member of Bellport Playcrafters, a member of the Performing Arts Center of Suffolk County, a National Women’s Political Caucus past president, Suffolk Boat Club past bridge officer, Patchogue Lions Lioness Club director and the co-founder and past commissioner of the Patchogue Youth Athletic Association Girls League.
“I decided to run this year because I’m a lifelong Suffolk County resident born and raised in Patchogue, who just moved into a retirement home in Bellport and this is our forever community,” she said. “I believe in investing back and giving back to my community in my retirement years.”
Never before having run for a school board, she said she is looking forward to bringing her diverse experience, education and commitment to the students, residents and employees of the South Country Central School District.
“Whether it’s to promote a budget that stays within the tax cap or to fight the ill effects a municipal landfill is having on our schools, I believe we share the same goals to strengthen what’s working and to improve what’s not,” she said. “I look forward to addressing the needs of the students, employees, residents and school district alike with a steadfast level of commitment and dedication that is second to none.”
Gilligan, 18, is a 2015 graduate of Bellport High School, who currently attends Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University studying computer science and math. He currently lives in his East Patchogue home with his parents and is the only child.
“I thought it would be a good initiative to take,” he said.
He feels that during his time at the high school, math and science resources were limited and he wants to fill that gap for future and current students. Gilligan chose his first year eligible to run because he said it’s less about age and more about his generation becoming critical thinkers and having a voice.
“My generation has quite a few problems to deal with, so the more people we get in the field the more critical thinkers we have. I figured I’d start as soon as I could,” he explained. “My beliefs are the same as anyone else’s in the district, for our children to continue to grow and develop. We need to give my generation a chance to really make a change in the world and make sure that they are prepared to do so.”
Gilligan is a multi-sport athlete, who was a varsity lacrosse player in high school, is the building service manager for Sky Zone in Mt. Sinai and is currently waiting on a background check to become part of Brookhaven Memorial Hospital’s IP development team.
Griffin, Ed.D., 42, has lived in the district in Brookhaven hamlet for 12 years. Currently, he lives with his wife, three children — one at Frank P. Long, one at Brookhaven Elementary and one in preschool — and two dogs. For the past 20 years, Griffin has been an English teacher at Central Islip High School.
“I have never run before, but I have become very involved with school reform and trying to make public education less of a testing factor,” he said, as the co-founder of Race to the Top, a group of parents against Common Core. “It’s time to help out more locally within my own school district and make sure students in my area are getting the best education possible.”
Griffin is the director of field maintenance for the South Country Youth Soccer League and is also the coach for two soccer teams, which his children are a part of. He’s been sporting those titles for the past four years.
If he were to score a spot on the board, he said, “I would like to talk about different ways that we can help our child move away from test and punishment by moving toward something more authentic.”
He said he is fond of Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes’ approach to a more whole-child approach. “I feel we should be following along with something that is more locally controlled and not just following along with the corporate agenda,” he added. “As a teacher for 20 years, I know first-hand classroom experience, I am a dedicated parent and very much involved with community events. Sometimes, we need to speak up and not just hope someone else is going to fix things.”
Trent, 18, is also a 2015 graduate of Bellport High School, who currently attends Suffolk County Community College studying business administration. He lives in Bellport with his grandparents and two younger brothers, out of six siblings altogether.
He said he has lived in the district his entire life and recently started his own business, a laundry service for fast-food employees.
“It’s been so successful, but I had to devote a lot of time to it,” he said.
Trent has never been eligible to run for the board before and feels that he is ready for a seat. He said it is something that he has always wanted to pursue and after being supported by former board member Robert Powell he was confident in his ability to do so.
“I wanted to do it ever since I was in high school … I always was that person that wanted to improve policies and rules,” he explained.
Every day, Trent said, he visits the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport and is a member of a leadership group there, where the main objective is to provide community service projects to the community and promote academic success.
“I hand out food to people who are in need at the club and speak in front of young men, telling them about my walk in becoming a man,” he said.
“I bring a different insight,” he added as to why he should be elected. “I know better than anybody the struggles that students face in school.”
His main focus, he said, is to provide the best education for students who are the most in need. He said he wants to change the way students see the school system, by going to school not because they have to, but instead because they feel it will improve their lives.
Recently, he also started a movement called Better North Bellport. The community program will help youth in the area become more actively involved. The kickoff rally took place on Tuesday, May 10 at the Boys and Girls Club.
Herrmann has decided to run for her second term this year after three years serving as vice president of the board of education. She said she has lived in the district for her entire life, 38 years, graduated Bellport High School in 1995 and currently lives with her husband and three children, a daughter in eighth grade, another daughter in sixth grade and a son in third grade.
For the past 17 years, Herrmann has been a high school social studies teacher in the Sachem school district. She originally ran and continues to do so because “I thought I could and put my education expertise and knowledge to work on school board,” she said.
Her main goal, she said, is working toward changing the reputation of the district by highlighting their positives. So far, she believes they have made great strides in doing so.
“I would like to continue the work,” she said. “For the last three years, the superintendent put in place action plans and I would like to see them along.”
During her time on the board, she said she has pushed for more activities for both the students at Frank P. Long and the middle school and is also a member of the PTA, PTA Council and coaches South Country Youth Soccer.
“This community is just so special to my heart; it’s a time commitment but something that is worthwhile doing and I find it to be extremely rewarding,” she added.
Multiple attempts to contact Cruz were unsuccessful.
Like what you have read? Click here to subscribe to the Long Island Advance so you can read more stories like this, and find out everything that’s going on in your town!