Two seats on Herricks board of ed challenged

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Two seats on Herricks board of ed challenged
Incumbents Henry R. Zanetti (left) and James Gounaris (center) are running for re-election against challengers Bhajan S. Ratra (right) and Tarantej S. Arora in the June 9 elections.

Two Herricks Board of Education members, Henry R. Zanetti and James Gounaris, are running for re-election against challengers in the June 9 contest.

Voters will cast absentee ballots, which were to be distributed 14 days before the vote due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bhajan S. Ratra is challenging Zanetti, and Tarantej S. Arora is running against Gounaris.

Zanetti, a Williston Park resident who served on the Herricks PTA for over a decade, was elected to the board in 2017. He is now running for his second term.

Gounaris, a Manhasset Hills resident, was president of the board from 2013 to 2015. He is now running for his fourth term on the board.

Ratra is an adjunct professor of mathematics at Baruch College and SUNY Farmingdale. He is a panel member on the content advisory and bias review committees of New York State Teaching Certification Examination and has served in the past on the standards setting committee for the NYS Regents exams.

“As a member of the Board of Education, I would like to bring my experience to serve the community,” he said. “I believe that it is critical that the Board of Education has members who have deep insight into how kids learn best and how we can improve and grow our systems and structures to provide them with 21st-century skills … As an educator, I will be able to guide the conversations and influence the decisions in ways that help us to move our school district from good to great.”

“My three core goals are collaboration, accountability and transparency, which I don’t see here,” explained Ratra.

“I want to make sure we put students first, and that the budget cut does not affect students or their families,” he added.

Efforts to reach Arora were unavailing.

Both Zanetti and Gounaris emphasized that they want to keep up the momentum that the current board has built.

“We believe that we have a very good team of people on our board,” said Zanetti. “We want to keep it up. We’re facing a lot of things that need to be addressed. Obviously the big one is what happens in September, and it would be best to have an established group deal with that.”

“We don’t believe our work is done yet,” agreed Gounaris. “We’re running to see the completion of a lot of our goals, a lot of our programs. We’ve made commitments and we’re running for re-election to make sure that we live up to our word and see through to completion those promises we’ve made to the Herricks community.”

Ratra said that the incumbents are “good people,” but that they do not have backgrounds in education. He stressed that he has been in the education field for 20 years.

As the district begins to plan for the fall, it is important to have a “steady hand” leading the charge, Gounaris said.

“[Zanetti and I] have seen the district go through a lot of changes,” he commented. “Henry and I, together with the other board members, really provide the structural policy basis for [the district’s] goals to be met. And our past history of achievements and the new programs starting in September and our short- and long-term goals all tell the same story. They tell a story of success by collaborating with everyone, by communicating with everyone, and by making sure that we as a community work together to get to where we want to go.”

Zanetti said that the board has to plan for three scenarios for the fall: fully returning to school, keeping classes entirely online and a hybrid of these options.

There are a lot of things to consider if schools reopen in the fall, such as keeping students safe during lunch, gym class, recess and time between classes when the hallways are crowded with people, he said.

Zanetti added that the board has learned a lot of important lessons alongside the teachers during the school shutdown.

“We know what works, what needs to be improved, and we will continue working on that over the summer,” he said.

Without further instruction from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, the board does not know what to plan for, Zanetti commented.

Ratra said that the board needs to work with families in the community to come up with a plan for the fall. He added that when he attended the board’s March 7 meeting and asked how the board was preparing for a potential school shutdown, the board did not have a plan, which he said he found concerning.

My main goal is collaboration – between students, families, teachers, board members,” he said.

Both Zanetti and Gounaris named the budget as the biggest issue facing the board. The amount of state aid that school districts will receive has not yet been determined, and therefore Herricks had to design a flexible budget.

“In the budget that we’re proposing, we numbered all of the items from number five to number one, one being the most important,” explained Zanetti. “But if we lose more state aid than we think, we might end up having to lose all of the number fives.”

He added that if the budget passes, it will give the district the ability to compensate for a loss in state aid.

“The challenge is to make sure this budget passes,” emphasized Gounaris. “If the budget fails and we have to start going into a contingency budget, there are some really tough implications with that.”

In order to preserve class sizes and the programs that are currently in place, the budget would need to pass, said Gounaris.

Ratra criticized the 2 to 3 percent increase in the proposed budget.

“What’s going to happen? It’s going to place the burden on the taxpayer. We’re not thinking as a community,” he said.

Ratra added that he believes the board needs to provide a detailed breakdown of the budget proposal to the community, which he said has not happened in the past.

“Something is not working, because there is no transparency,” he said.

He also emphasized that he believes there needs to be more accountability on the Herricks board.

For example, he said, he has been urging the district to increase the middle school lunch period from 22 minutes to 25 minutes for the past three years. Many parents have also wanted the lunch period extended, according to Ratra.

When he proposed the idea to the board, he was told that the current amount of time has been sufficient for the past 20 years, he said. However, the district has decided to increase the lunch period to 25 minutes in the coming school year, said Ratra.

“Why didn’t they stick to what they told me in writing?” he said.

Zanetti and Gounaris said that residents should vote for them due to their thoroughness and persistence, as well as their cognizance of the fact that they are entrusted with taxpayers’ money.

“We like the phrase ‘constant improvement,’” said Zanetti. “We don’t sit still on anything. Jim and I are both people who spent a lot of time in the audience [at board meetings] before we became board members, and both of us are questioners, we want to know why, we need to know the reasoning before we do something.”

“We never forget the fact that we are always using the taxpayers’ money, and we treat those taxpayer funds as if it was our own,” said Gounaris. “We’re prudent, we’re careful, we like to see a return on our investment. We investigate how we’re using this money, why we’re using this money and what the yield result is for the students and the community.”

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