The vote on Tuesday, May 16 that faces Great Neck is truly a watershed election that will shape our public schools for a generation.
It has never happened in memory that we vote only on a budget and a once-in-20-years bond, but two open seats on the five-member school board.
Previous columns have discussed the reasons to support the budget and the bond proposal. Now it comes down to people — most crucial of all.
Our public school system has been so successful -— No. 1 in New York State, No. 5 in the nation — largely because of the culture and mission ever since Lawrence Gross first joined the board 36 years ago — a similar time of cost-cutting obsession and disparagement of public education.
The biggest reason is the commitment of each of the school board trustees to the fundamental mission to enable each child, regardless of ability, fulfill their full potential.
From this also flows a culture on the board — an ego-free zone, if you will — which also promotes transparency, participation from all constituents and respect and appreciation for the often competing interests of constituencies and stakeholders.
Now our community is faced with crucial choices of who should take up the two open seats.
Among the two candidates running for the seat being vacated by Lawrence Gross, who has so ably and heroically served this community for more than 36 years, contributing his genius for finance and fiscal management, Nikolas Kron brings vital finance and management experience, and has invested the time to attend board meetings and most significantly the budget process. He has spoken eloquently on behalf of supporting the bond, and has made smart, incisive points and suggestions.
Jeffrey Shi , who has lived in Great Neck since 2013 and is an IT specialist for the City of New York, would be the first trustee from Great Neck’s burgeoning and important Asian community, but unfortunately, has little knowledge or understanding of the workings of the school board.
His heart is in the right place but he has said because he works so hard, he has not had the time to devote to the schools.
I fear he does not realize how much time and work that a school board trustee entails and he certainly has no familiarity with the budget process, the constraints on public school systems and the challenges.
By our reckoning, Shi has attended but one board meeting and did not even participate in the budget process.
His responses during the two candidates night presentations were shallow.
“I am running because as an engineer, I believe in simple things, 1 plus 1 equals 2,” he said. “I will stand up for public schools — it’s about equal access… Since I entered race, I realized the gravity of situation — not just my kids, all the kids, parents. The interest of those kids is weighing on me.”
Shi, at the April 24 Candidates Night, made a statement that seemed to disqualify him in my mind: “The graduation rate is 100%…Why limit to 100%, why not 200%? Look at enrichment – we should give the smartest kids a chance to really swing the bat and knock out of ball park.”
Nicholas Kron, who I have become familiar with at the various board, bond and budget meetings and who previous ran (losing to Donna Peirez), strikes me as intelligent, reasonable, pragmatic, and open-minded, someone who has independent ideas but works for consensus.
He possesses the most important attributes for this position: a passion and appreciation for public education and a commitment and dedication to protect and preserve the excellence of Great Neck’s public schools.
In a surprise move, Ilya Aronovich, after giving an opening statement at the May 9 Candidates Night at Great Neck House organized by the Allenwood Park Civic Association, announced he would step aside in the interests of healing the rift in the community, so that Rebecca Sassouni is uncontested to replace Susan Healy on the board.
Sassouni certainly deserves the seat, based on her experience, her expertise as a lawyer who advocates on behalf of students with special needs and disciplinary issues, her long, long involvement with UPTC (she chairs the legislative action committee) and school-based committees. And most importantly, the obvious empathy, compassion and passion she brings to the mission of public education.
“Great Neck is an exceptional place, a glorious tapestry of micro communities, but for each and every one, it’s our home,” she stated at the April 24 Candidates Night. “Public education has become political football, nationally, statewide, forces outside Great Neck. Those influence us here in Great Neck.”
The budget, she said, whether or not we are empty-nesters, parents of public or parochial school students, or homeowners with no school-age children, “is a shared resource, the commonweal, that’s what public schools are about.”
The vote for our schools represents “the metaphysical question about community: Who are we, what are our values?” Sassouni reflected. “Our challenge is to define ourselves in these votes. These are value propositions, not only about money, but what is important about living in Great Neck. That’s what you vote on.”
Vote May 16 in support of the budget, the bond, and for Rebecca Sassouni and Nicholas Kron to fill the two positions on the school board.