Readers Write: Negative comments about G.N. schools unwarranted

Readers Write: Negative comments about G.N. schools unwarranted

After reading the letter contained in the March 1 “The Island Now” section, I thought it important, as a 36-year veteran of board service in our district, to provide accurate details of how the Great Neck School District’s operations are conducted in a fiscally prudent manner, achieving maximum return for the tax dollars provided by our community, while giving each student maximum educational opportunities.

There is no question as to the primary emphasis of district plans: educational achievement is the primary goal of all undertakings.  The establishment and maintenance of an environment which promotes such achievement is the purpose of each and every person working for our schools.

At the top of this pyramid is our board of education and our administrative staff.  Anyone who has regularly attended board meetings and spent time analyzing the district’s budget knows how the district’s actions work toward this goal.

We often hear, quite correctly, about the high quality of our educational staff.  For a number of reasons, we are able to maintain this excellence, including the desire of teaching candidates to come to be a part of this environment.

It has been asked if the board and administration work to maximize return on the tax dollars spent each year.  The board provides great detail as to what is being done with these funds.

The annual budget cycle, which is about to begin, includes an exceptionally detailed budget document available to the public, along with a number of meetings dedicated to communicating these facts, as well as answering questions which residents may have.

As with any organization, private or public, the best way to evaluate school leaders is to evaluate school results.

Great Neck has performed exceptionally over the past years.  Critics of current board members who are falsely attacking the board need to address school performance facts.  The terribly negative tone of their letters paints an untrue picture of our school community.

The best way to illustrate what I have written is to provide summary details of just some of the actions which the board and administration have taken (and continue to take) and their results.

  • In recent years, the Niche national school rating service has rated the district among the very highest in the nation.  This year Great Neck is ranked as the #6 Top Ranked School District in America.
  • The Great Neck Public School District has established financial controls which enable it to obtain the top AAA financial rating for its bonds from Moody’s Investors Service.  The district is one of only two dozen of the 4,720 government bodies in New York State to obtain this highest level rating and, as a result, obtain the best possible interest rate for their bonds.
  • Quite often governmental bodies rush at the end of a fiscal year to spend every penny allocated in the budget.  Such waste does not occur in the Great Neck Public School District.  Excess funds are kept separate and utilized to fund unanticipated needs or for district reserves.  This is particularly important when educational programs are threatened by the need to divert funds to meet extraordinary events.
  • The district developed a program to utilize available space in some of its special programs for students from other districts.  This school year, $2,100,000 will be earned with little incremental cost, decreasing the need for taxation of a corresponding amount.
  • Recently, currently unused district property was leased for $260,000 per year.
  • Great care was taken in planning the district’s major capital renovation program in 2017 to ensure that the district would not have to commence amortization of amounts borrowed until after repayment of amounts borrowed in the earlier 1998 program.  In addition, district reserves totaling more than $9,500,000, reduced the amount needed to be borrowed in 2017.
  • Reserve funds established by the board have been used to offset needed expenditures in recent years.  The 2020/2021 budget benefitted from $5,700,000 in such expenditures and such funds are anticipated to save $11,000,000 in the planned 2021/2022 budget.  These amounts directly offset required real estate taxes.
  • State aid funding has been reduced far below levels being received in the past.  Funds received from New York State totaled as much as 11 percent in the late 1980s but declined to a projected 3.8 percent for the coming year.
  • Yet, financial planning has enabled the district to ALWAYS establish tax rates below allowed tax cap limits.
  • Most importantly, these actions to more efficiently utilize district funds, and to keep increases in the local tax rate within required state limits, have all been accomplished while still maintaining the quality of district educational programs, maintaining small class size, retaining music, art and drama programs, and maintaining the nationally recognized quality of the district’s teaching staff.
  • Constant monitoring of district operations is conducted by the district’s top administrators and the board in order to maximize effectiveness and to eliminate nonessential positions.
  • Other efforts resulted in improved purchasing methods and new coordination with other districts to improve purchased item pricing.  The district was also a leader in establishing an insurance cooperative for school districts.

The terribly negative tone of recent letters does a disservice to Great Neck’s hard-working employees and board members who plan and work to retain oversight of district operations and to ensure that the greatest possible efficiency is being realized from the expenditure of school taxes.

Residents can learn more by attending meetings, participating in budget reviews and requesting copies of material providing details of school performance.

We all know how important our schools are to the entire GNPS community.  We are proud of our students’ achievements and of the exemplary dedication shown by the entire educational staff.  Please learn the facts and form your own opinion of our district’s success.

Lawrence R. Gross

Great Neck

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