Great Neck voters to decide on $229.84 million budget, trustees, library budget

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Great Neck voters to decide on $229.84 million budget, trustees, library budget
Barbara Berkowitz and Donald Ashkenase are both running for re-election to the Great Neck school board. No other candidates filed petitions. (Photos courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

Great Neck school district voters will decide on a $229.84 million school budget, two trustee seats and a $9.76 million library budget on May 15.

The proposed school budget is about $6.53 million higher than the current $223.3 million budget, with boosted investment in security, contingency positions and technology upgrades. It also features a $5 million increase in the tax levy, or 2.52 percent, from $198.56 million to $203.57 million.

Most of the $229.84 million proposal goes toward instruction costs, which are slated to rise 2.8 percent to $171.24 million, according to a budget presentation. The district is also budgeting $23.63 million for maintaining the buildings and grounds – a 1.73 percent increase – and $14 million for transportation costs.

According to the budget, the school spends $4.74 million to transport over 1,800 students outside the district to more than 70 private and parochial schools that can be up to 15 miles away from a student’s residence.

Capital projects are slated to cost about $5.56 million – 38.4 percent higher than the $4.01 million spent this year – but will not have an impact on the levy because they are being paid for through reserves.

This increase is due to the school board adding a $1.54 million project to upgrade every main entrance vestibule. These changes include installing double door locks, additional security cameras, an intercom buzzer system, bullet resistant glazing and film, and an area to pass through items without entering the building.

At a meeting on Monday night, Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast said this project proved necessary because of “the climate we live in now.”

The school board had originally pitched a $227.8 million budget, which would have been a 2.01 increase from the current budget, and a 2.47 tax levy increase to $203.46 million. The board then proposed increasing the budget 2.24 percent, or $4.99 million, to $228.3 million and the levy by 2.52 percent.

These increases stemmed from parents expressing safety concerns in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student killed 17 people, and social media posts construed to be possible shooting threats.

The capital projects are unrelated to a package of projects pitched as part of a $68.3 million bond approved with last year’s budget, like roof replacements, masonry reconstruction, window and door replacements, and a parking lot for North High School students, an issue coming under fire from nearby residents.

School officials also noted the addition of five full-time security guards, new filtration systems, another school psychologist, social worker and special education teaching position, as well as three contingency teacher positions and funding for training and materials related to new state science and social study standards.

School board President Barbara Berkowitz, who has served on the board since 1992, is seeking a ninth term uncontested. Vice President Donald Ashkenase, who has served since 1982 and is pursuing a 13th term, is also running uncontested.

Ashkenase, the second longest serving school board trustee in Great Neck’s history, said since the board appointed William H. Shine as superintendent in 1982 district administrators have reduced class size, forged a strong relationship with teachers, and made a “significant investment” in special education and “meeting the needs of children who go to private school.”

“I think we’re in a phenomenally strong position,” Ashkenase said on Tuesday. “The quality of the schools are clear in terms of our state and national recognition and we just need to continue to build on the success that we’ve had and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”

“The most meaningful thing that happened was the selection of Bill Shine as a superintendent because he transformed the quality of the schools,” Ashkenase added.

Voters will also decide on the $9.76 million budget for the Great Neck Library, which does not feature a tax levy increase.

When people go to vote in school or library elections going forward, there will be two additional locations. (Map courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
When people go to vote in school or library elections going forward, there will be two additional locations. (Map courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

“We have agreed that we should not increase taxes as allowed by the tax cap as we have shown no need for additional funding,” Steve Kashkin, the library’s business manager, wrote in a memo to trustees and library Director Denise Corcoran.

The boundaries of both the library and school district stretch from Kings Point south to North New Hyde Park.

Voters registered by Thursday, May 10, can vote on Tuesday, May 15, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Polling locations include E.M. Baker School and Saddle Rock School for residents north of the Long Island Rail Road and Lakeville School and South High School for residents living south of the LIRR.

To find your polling site, visit https://nb.findmypollplace.com/greatneckufsd/.

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