Great Neck residents vote down $85.9 bond referendum

Great Neck residents on Tuesday voted against a proposed $85.9 million school bond. 

There were 1,677 no votes and 1,564 yes votes cast in a referendum.

“While we have always maintained that this was the community’s bond, it is clear that portions of the community who were not in favor have spoken,” Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said. “Today’s bond proposition came at the conclusion of years of meetings and assessing the needs of our school district.”

The proposed bond was to be part of a $95.41 million total the school was set to spend on capital needs and educational enhancements in the district.

The remaining $9.51 million would have been taken from reserves.

There are over 6,500 students in the district.

The school district estimated that if the bond had passed, a home valued at $500,000 would see a tax increase of $157.50 per year, a home valued at $750,000 would see a tax increase of $236.25 per year and a home valued at $1 million would see a tax increase of $315 per year.

School district officials and architects from Patchogue-based BBS Architecture introduced proposed plans in October for each of the district’s 18 school buildings targeted at addressing critical needs. The  projects would have cost an estimated $51.7 million.

In November, school district officials presented plans for how $43.71 million would be spend on educational and school building improvements.

“More upsetting than this loss is the fact that this bond has polarized our community, Berkowitz said. “Therefore, before we can contemplate our next step, we will need to determine how best to repair this fracture.”

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.

Smith said the roof work was expected to last the district between 25 to 30 years.

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

Of the $43.71 million in educational enhancements proposed in the rejected bond, many of the “areas of focus” that were detailed by Fred Seeba and Joe Rettig, architects from BBS, in November were related to renovated science labs and library and media centers, auditorium renovations, bathroom renovations and improved air conditioning and infrastructure in the district’s schools.

The bond would have allowed the district to create a $6.58 million early childhood center, where children across the district would have been offered a pre-kindergarten education, at the district’s Adult Learning Center on Clover Drive.

The early childhood center would have been more convenient for students living in the southern half of the district.

Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast said leading up to the vote that the early childhood center would have also helped alleviate overcrowding at E.M. Baker Elementary School.

Leading up to the vote, the school board pushed the importance of the bond, urging residents to vote in favor.

The school board made an effort to reach Great Neck residents through mailings, presentations at school board meetings and presentations at different organizations, including the Great Neck Village Officials Association, Great Neck Chinese Association, Great Neck Chamber of Commerce.

Donald Ashkenase, who is serving his 12th term on the school board, called the bond issue one of the most important undertakings the board has considered during his 35-year tenure.

“Our disappointment is obvious, but we will continue to do all in our power to address the needs of our children, our schools and our community,” Berkowitz said.

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Stephen Romano

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