Herricks trustee candidate touts business, construction experience

Tarantej J. Arora is running for the Herricks board of education. (Photo courtesy of Tarantej J. Arora)

Herricks school district trustee candidate Tarantej S. Arora is seeking to make school spending more efficient and step up the district’s COVID-19 response and distance learning efforts.

Arora is challenging incumbent Trustee James Gounaris in the Herricks Board of Education election on Tuesday, June 9. Bhajan S. Ratra is running against incumbent Trustee Henry R. Zanetti.

Voters in the Herricks district will cast absentee ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Arora has a background in architecture, construction management and business administration. He moved into the Herricks district eight years ago, and said that he chose the area due to the great reviews of its school system and the welcoming community.

Arora stressed that he believes the district needs to be proactive rather than reactive, and provide more structural support for students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also plans to look at ways for the district to tighten its spending, if elected to the board.

“The past few months have been really hard,” he said. “Most school boards were caught off guard by COVID. But what sets us apart from the other school boards is our response to the challenge, and that’s where we’re lacking. It is our third month in this pandemic, and there is no formal response.”

He added that his daughter is in fifth grade and is “lacking that formal structure of instruction.” She is given homework, which she spends an hour or two a day completing, and does not have virtual face-to-face classes, according to Arora.

“There is no proper oversight,” he said.

He added that he has spoken with many parents in the district, who are also frustrated with the way the district is handling remote learning.

Additionally, Arora said, Herricks has not helped students access the technology necessary to learn from home. He commented that since no one anticipated having to work from home, many households do not have enough computers or other devices to allow both work and school to take place remotely.

Arora pointed out that New York City schools were able to distribute over 300,000 iPads to students during the coronavirus crisis.

“I believe we can do better,” he said. “The coronavirus has shown where the weaknesses are. I firmly believe that this is not a one-time event. There will be similar events. We need to make our district better by providing the proper equipment so that kids don’t lag.”

Another central tenet of Arora’s campaign is making the district’s spending more efficient, he said. He emphasized that his background puts him in a position to “bring expenses under control,” rather than continually increasing property taxes.

“I analyze, I adjust and I make sure I get the results I am looking for,” he said. “And this is the need of the hour: to be rational, to be analytical and to be proactive. We’ve got to take a hands-on approach.”

Arora explained that he believes his education and his experience developing facilities for school systems would enable him to help the district be more efficient in terms of its capital spending, a major expense for any school district.

“I fully believe that I can focus on those items, where savings can be a key, and we can control the budget without imposing additional tax increases or cutting programs for the kids. We have to look at tightening our belts, we have to manage our processes more efficiently, we have to look at ways to cut the waste in spending. I will bring my education, I will bring my building experience, and help the district achieve these savings,” he said.

Arora also commented that he does not think that the board began planning for a potential cut in state aid due to the financial impact of COVID-19 early enough.

He said that the possible state funding cut was first discussed at the April 21 board meeting. At that time, the state had not provided any concrete information or numbers. At the meeting on May 7, he said, the board announced that districts may face a cut of up to 20 percent of the budget. In Herricks, that amounts to over $2 million, he said.

Arora speculated that assuming the aid cut occurs, the board’s reaction will be to raise property taxes. He argued that it is not sustainable to keep raising property taxes in the district.

Meanwhile, he said, by April 16 New York City districts were working on instituting a hiring freeze and cutting spending on professional development in anticipation of state aid cuts.

Arora explained that his goals of improving remote learning and tightening the budget are linked. If students fall behind, the district’s rankings and reputation will be impacted, which affects property values, he said.

“The foundation of our community is our school district. If the education suffers, then grades drop, teachers get the blame, the district loses standing, property values drop, sales activity drops, and eventually we go back and increase the taxes. It’s a vicious cycle, and we can’t afford to fall into that trap,” he said.

“It’s time for a change, and I as a change agent am here to collaborate with the school board,” Arora said.

“Together, the teachers, the community, we can all make a difference.”

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