Attendees at last night’s Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) Board of Education meeting represented a fascinating mix of perspectives from our diverse Great Neck community. We came together to discuss the state of the bond and we quickly broke into different camps.
The teachers and administrators stood and passionately told stories about their babies. They talked about how in some classrooms the windows don’t open for air in the summer and there is no AC, leaving young children lethargic and unfocused; and a lack of heat in the winter means that teachers must wear their hats and gloves indoors. The staff begged us to fund the bond to provide essential upgrades to the facilities for the sake of the children. In counterbalance, there were several residents who felt that another tax increase was not fiscally responsible in this environment of rising costs, exorbitant property taxes and $220 million school budgets. They asked the board to look for ways to cut costs, reduce the number of projects being tackled by this bond and generally look for ways to be more fiscally conservative. Still others felt that the bond proposal was perfect as proposed and shouldn’t be changed at all. These speakers, parents and empty nesters, begged the board to keep our district at the forefront of educational standards. Questions were asked and perspectives shared. Sometimes the tone was biting, but at the end of the four-hour meeting, there was a feeling that everyone was heard and our perspectives would be incorporated into planning the next bond proposal.
What was most striking was that the face-to-face interaction allowed a more respectful dialogue amongst engaged and intelligent adults. This is not the way that I’d describe the online conversations that have been taking place over the past few weeks on Facebook, WhatsApp and via email. Somehow, the anonymity of digital media causes us to forget our common decency and respect for our neighbors and allows us to stereotype, name call, rely on alternate facts and generally bully others to accept one point of view or the other. First and foremost, the online comments show a lack of trust in the Board of Education and the process they followed in putting forth the bond proposal.
Here are some facts:
The district runs on an annual budget of approximately $220 million that pays for the salaries, benefits and pensions of our teachers and staff (but not the Board of Education, which is comprised of unpaid professionals). It pays for the upkeep and repair of the districts’ 18 buildings and maintains a rainy-day fund. Additionally, the budget provides support services to those children who need extra help—both in the public schools and in the private schools. Whether we agree with the board and the direction that it is taking our public schools, we cannot say that it is mismanaging our funds. How can I state this? Because the New York State comptrollers and audit report say so. So does Moody’s—the district has a AAA rating. So do the independent auditors in their annual financial review. We need to trust the professionals who are reviewing the accounts in detail rather than listening to hearsay or guestimating budgets from data shared online. If you don’t have the time or expertise to review the district’s budget line by line, you must rely on the opinion of independent experts. To learn more, view the 2017–18 Preliminary Working Budget, the Proposed Budget Presentation, Budget Details Page and the Budget Events Calendar at www.greatneck.k12.ny.us.
As a parent with children in both the public and private schools, I would like to share a few perspectives that I think are important to keep in mind when voting for the budget and bond proposals on May 16.
Some private school parents feel that they don’t need the GNPS and so don’t feel the need to cast their vote or perhaps vote No on budgets that only cost them more money. I’d like to remind those parents of the old saying, “As man makes plans, G-d laughs.” We hope that your children or grandchildren don’t need the support of the GNPS for a special-needs child or a child that is not able to handle the dual curriculum of the religious private schools. But, I can tell you from personal experience, it is good to know that it is there. Also, don’t forget that the district provides all private school children with busing to and from school, school books, school nurses, school psychologists, technology financing and special-education support services. The private schools and the GNPS work closely together in the best interests of all the children in our district.
To the empty nesters and the parents of children who are recent graduates of the GN schools—you may feel that there is nothing left for you to gain by supporting the public-school system, but I’d argue that you are wrong. Strong public schools keep our property values high and it is time for you to give back to support the community that supported you and your family while you needed the services of the public schools to educate your children and prepare them for the world. If you don’t have children and never used the services of the district, it is not too late. There are many wonderful adult-education programs and senior services available to all GN adults. If you choose not to participate in what’s available that is your prerogative, but I hope you will see the value available to the community.
In follow up to the comments written after the March 9 meeting, I attended the BOE meeting on March 13 and learned that the board has listened to the community and plans to reduce the size of the bond proposal by approximately $20 million to $68.3926 million. The reductions are being made to the new building projects at Clover and Cumberland and a reduction is being made in the scope of the Baker proposal. I commend the board for listening to the community and making these cuts to the proposal. As Board President Barbara Berkowitz said last night, this is a bond for the whole community.