G.N. school board to set forth new bond referendum

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The Great Neck Board of Education will take a second crack at  a bond referendum after the initial proposal was voted down by residents last month.

At Monday’s school board meeting, the board voted to set a new $68.34 million bond referendum for the same day as the district’s budget vote in May.

Board members said passing a bond that addresses the capital needs of the district was critical for the entire community.

“If we don’t preserve the infrastructure of the schools, where will be in the next 10 or 20 years?” Trustee Donald Ashkenase said. “In my mind everybody in the community benefits from the attractiveness of public education in Great Neck.”

On Feb. 14, a proposed $85.9 million bond referendum was voted down by district residents by 113 votes, with 1,677 votes opposing it and 1,564 votes in favor of it.

Following the vote, board president Barbara Berkowitz said the “prevalent comment” the board heard from members of the community was that the bond was “too large.”

The previous bond aimed to spend $51.7 million to address the capital needs of the district’s 18 buildings, while $43.71 million would have spent on educational enhancements, such as renovated science laboratories and library media centers.

About $9.51 million in reserves would have covered the remainder of the spending not covered by the bond.

The bond introduced on Monday was scaled down to exclude the creation of a $6.58 million early childhood center, where children across the district would have been offered a pre-kindergarten education, at the district’s Clover Drive facility.

As the facility currently houses the Adult Learning Center, Supportive Environment for All Learners and Pupil Personnel Services programs, the district originally proposed constructing a $9.8 million building at the Cumberland Adult Center to relocate those programs, but that plan was scrapped from the new bond as well.

The new bond also slashes a little over $1 million from an approximately $6.9 million project to construct a new school auditorium and expanded cafeteria at E.M. Baker Elementary School.

Board members have said the projects were aimed at providing pre-K for all students at the district, as it only has one pre-k facility on the south side of the peninsula, and alleviating an overcrowding issue at E.M. Baker. Although they are no longer part of the proposed bond, board members said they would seek other ways to address the issues.

Residents at Monday’s meeting said they were concerned that the same people who voted down the proposed bond in February would come out on May 16 and vote down both the new bond proposal and the district budget.

Berkowitz said the board would explore other ways at getting correct information on the new proposed bond out to district residents, as falsehoods and confusion about the previous bond were spread through social media.

“We have most certainly failed this community because we have not marketed this strongly enough,” she said. “If we talk about apathy, then perhaps we were also reliant on the majority of people we felt would support this as they have the budget always.”

Board Vice President Larry Gross noted that of the 31,000 registered voters in the district, only about 3,200 showed up to vote last month, which he said needed to be improved.

“The need that exists is to get people engaged,” Gross said.

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