A candidate for the Great Neck school board declined to say on Monday whether he supports a proposed bond to repair and improve school buildings, setting off a clamor at a meet-the-candidates event and drawing an implicit rebuke from his opponent.
The other five candidates supported the $68.3 million bond. Two board seats are being contested in the election on May 16.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see any beneficial reason to answering the question and further polarizing the community,” said Ilya Aronovich, vice president of the board of Silverstein Hebrew Academy, noting that whoever wins the seat will deal with the consequences of the bond.
The filled meeting room at the Great Neck Library erupted, with people asking why he wouldn’t answer the question. Some accused him of not supporting the bond.
“Actually, nobody should really put words in my mouth. I’m not saying whether I do or I don’t and especially because I would tell you if I was a private citizen, but I’m not telling you as a candidate here. It doesn’t matter,” Aronovich responded.
Moderators from the sponsoring groups, the Sephardic Heritage Alliance and the Great Neck Chinese Association, intervened, asking the crowd of more than 100 people to respect the candidates. The candidates do not have to answer a question if they do not want to, they added.
Then Rebecca Sassouni, chair of the United Parent-Teacher Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, pounced. She said that, as the person running against him, she needed to point out that Aronovich is “running for a public school board” and “cannot state a position on a matter of import that everyone in this room is about to vote on.”
“And, of course, I support the bond referendum,” Sassouni added.
She and Aronovich are competing for one board seat, and four other candidates are competing for the second seat.
The $68.3 million bond proposal is the successor to a $85.9 million proposal rejected in February. It is meant to pay for critical infrastructure and building enhancements across the Great Neck district’s 18 buildings, whose average age is 77.
The total cost of renovations will be about $77.85 million, with $9.5 million coming from reserve funds. Roof replacements, masonry projects and window and door replacements will account for $51.7 million, while $26.1 million goes towards science labs, auditorium renovations and various other upgrades.
“They are necessary enhancements to keep us on the cutting edge of instruction and make us in a better position to teach the curriculum,” John Powell, assistant superintendent for business, said in an earlier interview.
One candidate, Grant Toch, chair of the United Parent-Teacher Council’s Budget Committee, expressed support for the new bond, but said it could have been bolder.
“We had a vision of using this money not just to fix windows and roofs, but to really help build the school that we wanted to have in 15 years time when this bond actually matured,” Toch said, referring to work with Jimmy Kwong and others on the council’s Budget Committee.
Nikolas Kron, a candidate who founded a real estate and finance company and previously was a strategy consultant, said that school districts routinely issue bonds to fund necessary infrastructure improvements and that what goes into financial planning by the board is understated.
“From my perspective, I think that the bond is necessity for managing a school district,” Kron said. “It is the most financially prudent way to spread the cost over a 20-year period, taking advantage of low bond rates with a triple A rating that gives us an advantage over other school districts.”
Another candidate, Michael Golden, a retired public school teacher now heading the Great Neck Per Diem Teachers organization, also said fixing the old infrastructure of the schools is pivotal.
“The only way to reasonably do that is through passing the bond issue,” Golden said. “I just think it’s essential.”
Jeffrey Shi, a candidate who has worked with financial, healthcare and technology companies, said a small portion of taxpayers have children in the district, but the taxpayers sacrifice a bit to help build a legacy.
“[The] bond is an investment in our future,” Shi said. “It is a community building process.”
Great Neck residents will vote on the bond, budget and two trustee seats on May 16.