Six candidates are running for two Great Neck Board of Education seats vacated by Lawrence Gross and Susan Healy, longtime board members who declined to run for re-election.
Grant Toch, Nikolas Kron, Michael Golden and Jeffrey Shi are competing for Gross’s seat, while Rebecca Sassouni and Ilya Aronovich hope to fill Healy’s seat. Voters will decide on a budget, a new bond referendum and the three-year trustee seats on May 16.
The proposed budget, which is set to be adopted by the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education on Thursday, April 20, amounts to $223.3 million. This is a 1.9 percent increase from the current budget, $219.15 million.
Paired with this election is a $68.3 million bond proposal, which would pay for critical projects and building upgrades across the Great Neck Public Schools. The previous bond, which was rejected by voters on Feb. 14, was $85.9 million.
Lawrence Gross, a 12-term trustee on the board, announced in March he would not be running because of post-retirement plans to move to New York City.
Running for Lawrence Gross’s seat
Grant Toch has been head of the United Parent Teacher Council’s budget committee since 2013, involved in youth soccer and a member of the Board of Education’s new financial advisory committee. He is a financial analyst who worked for various hedge and mutual funds.
Toch, who has three daughters in Great Neck’s public schools, said he has both the community and professional experience that the schools need.
“I’m a pro-public school candidate who believes in fiscal responsibility and who would seek to continue to tirelessly advocate to promote financial stability and transparency so that we can maximize the resources provided to our school districts’ students and teachers,” Toch said.
Nikolas Kron, who first moved to Great Neck in 1999, worked as a strategy consultant for Ernst & Young and Cap Gemini S.A. and advised a variety of clients on how to take advantage of new technology. He also founded a real estate and finance company in 2004 and served on various committees and boards of the Great Neck Synagogue.
Kron, who was born and raised in Ireland, said he hopes to bring an outside perspective and a unique set of skills to the Board of Education.
“[I want] to make sure that our district is preparing our children for the world in which we live in today, which is a global economy, a highly connected economy, a fast moving economy,” Kron said.
Kron also said he wants to get more creative with revenue generation, look into more local partnerships with businesses and ensure the school’s infrastructure is cared for regularly.
Both Kron and Toch previously ran for Monique Bloom’s trustee position in a special 2016 election. Donna Peirez, former United Parent-Teacher Council president and longtime first grade teacher at Lakeville Elementary School, won that election with 848 votes. Kron received 384 votes, while Toch got 117.
Michael Golden, a Great Neck Public Schools teacher from 1985 to 2010 and president of the Great Neck Per Diem Teachers, a substitute teachers union, noted that his experience allowed him to work with teachers, administrators and people in the community.
Golden said the school needs to strike a better balance between using new technology and teaching critical thinking skills. He also said that properly informing the community about the issues is pivotal.
“I think we have to make sure that we do a better sales job in terms of what the schools are doing, how the schools are performing,” Golden said, noting the importance of opening a dialogue.
Jeffrey Shi, a Great Neck resident who has worked with various financial, healthcare and technology companies, also emphasized the importance of reaching out to the community. He said he wants to reach out to Great Neck’s various ethnic groups and take advantage of social media.
Shi, who has a daughter in the Great Neck Public School system, said his faith in public schools is rooted in his upbringing. His mother was a high school vice principal and his father was vice president of Fudan University in China.
“I witnessed firsthand the lifetime impact that educators could have on their students,” Shi said. “This prepares me and drives me to enter this election.”
Running for Susan Healy’s seat
Rebecca Sassouni, a resident of Great Neck since 1994, currently serves as a parent member on the Board of Education’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee and as chair of the United Parent Teacher Council’s Legislative Affairs Committee.
Sassouni said that in the UPTC, she worked with teachers, union representatives and the administration to discuss legislative and budgetary issues outside Great Neck that affect the schools.
“I have four children who are either graduates of or students in the Great Neck Public Schools and I appreciate the value of a public education, having been a public school graduate myself,” she said.
Sassouni also said she understands that “we live in very constrained financial times” and that many residents are weighed down by a tax burden.
“But at the same time, I feel we must protect our investment in our public schools because Great Neck is one of the top districts in the state,” she said. “We should preserve that, we should celebrate that, and we should do everything we can to ensure that the next generation of American citizens receive the top notch education that they receive here.”
Ilya Aronovich, a Great Neck resident for 16 years, is currently the Vice President on the Board of the Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck. He was also a “technology entrepreneur,” according to a biography posted on the Great Neck Chinese Association website. Aronovich and his wife, an OBGYN practitioner, have four children. Efforts to reach him were unavailing.
The Great Neck Chinese Association and Sephardic Heritage Alliance will host a meet the candidates event on Monday at the Great Neck Library at 159 Bayview Avenue at 7 p.m. A previous version of the Chinese Association flyer said it would begin at 8:00 p.m.
Jessica Vega, public relations coordinator for Great Neck Public Schools, said the district also aim to have video interviews with the candidates posted on its website by May 2.