By Amanda Copkov and Janelle Clausen
The Great Neck school board swore in Jeffrey Shi and Rebecca Sassouni as its two newest members on Wednesday night after their victories in May’s contested election.
The two new board members took the former seats of Lawrence Gross, who served on the board for 35 years, and Susan Healy, who served for 10.
Shi, a technology consultant who moved to the district in 2013, said that earning a seat on the board is a great honor for him, and he is excited for the work he and the board will accomplish in the months to come.
Shi defeated Nikolas Kron in the May election after candidates Grant Toch and Michael Golden dropped out. Sassouni won unopposed after her opponent, Ilya Aronovich, dropped out of the race.
During that election, residents were voting on a $223.3 million budget, $68.3 million bond to repair and upgrade school buildings and two school board seats.
Many community members also felt that public schools were under attack. An earlier $85.9 million bond in February was defeated 1,677 – 1,564– a rarity for the school district.
Additionally, Aronovich was serving on the board of Silverstein Hebrew Academy, a private school, and declined to give a stance on the revised $68.3 million bond, while some doubted Kron would align himself with the public schools’ interest.
Many residents had also expressed concerns about higher taxation, a lack of transparency and how the schools would spend the money.
“We have a great school district, but there’s a lot of work for us to do,” Shi said. “We can’t be complacent, and the community realizes that as well. We are going to keep investing in our community and investing in the future of [our] community.”
Shi said he wants to continue to work on the district’s academic excellence and on engaging more members of the community to make them more aware of happenings within the district.
“We have open meetings for the board because parents feel overwhelmed, so we try to reach the parents through various channels,” he said. “When there is a decision to be made, [the community] will be aware of the options, and things like that.”
Sassouni declined to speak with a reporter after the meeting.
Barbara Berkowitz, the school board president, said that she is excited to bring Shi and Sassouni on board.
In their new roles, Shi and Sassouni will also serve on the district’s three advisory committees: the Building Advisory Committee, the Financial Advisory Committee and the Citizens Advisory Committee, Berkowitz said.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with them and we know them because they’re both parents in the district,” she said.
The school board also elected Berkowitz again as president and Trustee Don Ashkenase as the new vice president. Gross was the vice president before his departure.
Gross expressed confidence in Sassouni and Shi in a phone interview, noting that Sassouni and Shi reached out to him to better prepare for their positions and that they have a strong foundation to work off of.
“They’re both very enthusiastic and ready to go and that’s important,” Gross said. “I feel good about it.”
Also on Wednesday, board Trustee Donna Peirez said the district has a new policy to contact students’ parents after they have charged $75 or more on school lunch.
When children go to school, they can buy a yearly lunch card or pay for lunch individually, Peirez said. If the child goes to school and doesn’t have money with them, the school allows them to charge for lunch.
Peirez said a recent problem has been that in buildings throughout the district, some students have run up hundreds of dollars in charging for lunch. The cafeteria fund, she said, cannot carry a balance of money owed, so the general fund must then pay into the cafeteria fund.
This policy arrives after an ordeal at a school in Killeen, Texas, as reported by Newsday on July 4, where a woman at the cash register took away a 4-year-old girl’s milk carton and threw away her lunch along with it as a result of not having money to pay.
Because of this incident, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked school districts across the country to come up with policies that address this issue.
“We’re thinking ahead,” Peirez said. “We would never allow any student to go without eating lunch.”