Great Neck mobilizing for school elections

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Photo courtesy of Great Neck Public Schools.

Marlene Sotelo-Dynega said she never voted for anything aside from presidential elections. But as a parent of a toddler, who moved to the district because of the schools, the Great Neck bond, budget and trustee elections might change that.

“I’m originally from the city and have had no interest in small politics until now, because of this topic,” Sotelo-Dynega said. “I personally wish I had more facts… Reasons to vote yes and reasons to vote no from a respectable source.”

Sotelo-Dynega is one of many people energized in wake of the rejected bond referendum – but also seeking answers in what many people have described as a contentious campaign. Both anti-tax and anti-bond advocates and pro-public school and pro-bond activists are mobilizing on social media, making calls, and sometimes even knocking on doors.

On May 16, voters will decide the fate of two vacant school board seats, which trustees noted almost never happens, a $223.3 million budget and a $68.3 million bond, which is the successor to a $85.9 million bond rejected by voters in February because it was too large.

The new bond, about $17.5 million less than the previous bond that was defeated in February, aims to pay for critical projects and building enhancements across the Great Neck public schools. Renovations will cost $77.8 million, with $9.5 million drawn from the district’s reserves.

The majority of the bond – $51.7 million – goes towards critical projects like roof replacements, masonry reconstruction, and window and door replacements. The other $26.1 million goes towards educational and building enhancements like science labs, auditorium renovations and other upgrades.

School officials said that the current bond is the most prudent option because it will be paid overtime, the school holds a triple AAA credit rating and to take money from the budget for repairs would significantly harm current programming.

A homeowner with a house worth $750,000 could expect a $203.63 rise in annual taxes, while a $1 million home would see a $271.50 increase, school officials said.

The project could take years to complete because construction would occur at times when school is not in session.

Nikolas Kron and Jeff Shi are competing for Lawrence Gross’s seat. Ilya Aronovich, who was competing against Rebecca Sassouni, dropped out of the race for Susan Healy’s seat because he said the community was “fractured.” This leaves her uncontested.

Longtime residents and school officials alike have said the future of the Great Neck’s schools could be determined by this election.

“Our generation got energized politically in town years ago when they were talking about closing schools,” school Trustee Donna Peirez said, referring to when the school district tried consolidating the high schools about 40 years ago. “And I think this now is the watershed moment for this generation to become activists in this town.”

Steve Markowitz, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center and president of the Great Neck Democratic Club, said that the upcoming elections have been the dominant topic in town and that he expects this final week to become very hectic.

“This has really emerged as the single most important thing going on. I never recall a local election having this kind of attention,” Markowitz said.

“People are very very energized on both sides of this election,” Markowitz added.

According to Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz, voter turnout has been relatively low. Last year’s budget vote saw around 1,400 people, Donna Peirez’s election 1,869 people, and the previous bond referendum had 3,241.

And this is a small percentage of the region.

“There are approximately 30,000 people who have the ability to vote in Great Neck,” Berkowitz said.

But now the board anticipates many more people coming out—and is taking it seriously. At the last Board of Education hearing, trustees advised people to vote between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when there would be less people.

Berkowitz and Peirez also noted that they added another room in E.M. Baker School that people could vote in, convinced local police not to ticket people parking on Baker Hill Road, and encouraged teachers to park on the street in order for people to rotate in the main parking lot.

Anyone living north of the Long Island Railroad can vote at the E.M. Baker School, while anyone south of the Long Island Railroad would vote at South High School, on May 16 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Voters will also be deciding on the Great Neck Library’s proposed $9.766 million budget.

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