G.N. school board to address future after bond referendum is voted down

After a proposed $85.9 million bond referendum was voted down by residents last week, the Great Neck Board of Education will address community concerns about the bond in the coming weeks.

Board President Barbara Berkowitz said the board was “extremely disappointed” that the bond was narrowly defeated but it plans to meet with various groups and school committees to discuss future steps.

“The board will now be embarking on some further meetings with groups that wished to speak with us, as well as scheduled meetings with both the Financial Advisory Committee and the Citizens Advisory Committee, and we are open to further discussions about the bond,” Berkowitz said.

Last Tuesday, the 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.

In October, school district officials and architects from Patchogue-based BBS Architecture introduced proposed plans for each of the district’s 18 school buildings aimed at addressing their critical needs. The cost of these projects was estimated at $51.7 million.

School district officials then presented plans in November for how $43.71 million would be spent on educational and school building improvements.

The proposed $95.41 million in spending would have come from a bond issue of $85.9 million and about $9.51 million from reserves.

Roger Smith, BBS’ principal architect, had said roof construction was one of the “larger pieces” of the bond, as many of the district’s roofs were damaged or have moss growing due to water infiltration.

The funds would also have been used to fix windows and doors, which, Smith said, were “truly past their life expectancy.”

A week before the vote, at a school board presentation at the Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees meeting, the board was asked why the district’s buildings were allowed to deteriorate to the level of needing to bond to address the issues.

Alfredo Cavallaro, the head of the district’s buildings and grounds department, said the district spends $3.5 million each year on maintenance repairs, but needed “capital money” for the critical projects.

Also at the meeting, residents, business owners and elected officials questioned the school board on the bond’s necessity.

Some questioned the tax impact it would have on residents, with taxes already high, as well as the tax impact on businesses on the peninsula, with businesses struggling to survive.

While some were critical of the proposed bond, others voiced support, citing the potentially positive impact on students through renovated science labs and library and media centers, auditorium renovations, bathroom renovations and improved air conditioning and infrastructure in the district’s schools.

Berkowitz said at the school board’s March 9 meeting, a discussion on the bond referendum will be on the agenda.

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