Back in February, the future of public education in Great Neck received an unnecessary blow. By the slimmest of margins (approximately .25 percent of the Great Neck population—just more than 100 votes) the recommended bond offering was rejected. The school bond proposal was reasonable, rational, thoughtful and responsible. Unfortunately, voters with ulterior motives sunk the proposal behind confusion and made up facts (disseminated through fliers, as well as nasty and wholly inaccurate social media posts).
In large part, those who voted against the bond had limited interest in our public schools as many of those families elect to send their children to private school. Those same private school families do enjoy the benefits of GNPS funding for buses, special-education programs and services for disabled students, among other benefits. They enjoy many of these benefits as mandated by New York State law. As a result of their individual private school decision, they believe that they do not directly benefit from the needed capital improvements addressed in the bond proposal. To rally their base, and since reasoned presentation of the truth didn’t suit their purposes, the leaders of this group invented claims to motivate voters against the children of the Great Neck community and our highly rated public school system. They published and distributed flyers filled with gross inaccuracies.
Shame on them. Reasoned disagreements between respectful and open-minded people can often lead to better results. I don’t expect everyone to agree all the time but I encourage listening and rational thinking. I hope those who previously voted no will abandon the misleading, inflammatory and dishonest rhetoric and engage in a productive community dialogue for the benefit of the entire Great Neck community.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the rest of us were caught sleeping. At best, about 10 percent of the total population and only about 30 percent of eligible voters voted in February. That means approximately 70 percent of potential voters skipped this vote. We can do better than that minimal turn-out and, once we do, public school–related elections and referendums will not be close. The vast majority of Great Neck residents rely on, and believe in, the public school system.
So shame on the rest of us for not supporting our kids, their teachers and the larger Great Neck community. To those who did not vote in February, please understand this is not a fluke and it is not an isolated incident. Budget votes, bond referendums and elections for the Board of Education are on the ballot regularly. The opposition to our goals, schools, priorities and community is real and will continue unless we collectively stand up and speak up.
I grew up in the Great Neck community and was lucky enough to be able to choose to raise my own children here. For more than 35 years I have watched my parents, my wife and thousands of other parent and grandparent volunteers dedicate hours to the school PTOs, district UPTC and our schools generally. Great Neck is a family destination for so many reasons, but especially for our schools—but now those schools, and the children they serve, need us. The schools are obviously used for education, but also for community-wide events and programs (think performing arts, social activities, senior citizen programs, community meetings and non-school sporting events).
Now is the first chance to fix February’s mistake. On Tuesday, May 16, we will have an opportunity to pass a revised (smaller) bond referendum, the regular school budget and elect two new members to our Board of Education. We need to stand together and pass the bond and the budget. As for the Board of Education seats, two candidates stand out from the rest and deserve our resounding support.
Community diversity is a strength and today we have an opportunity to cause our school board to more closely reflect the face of the Great Neck community. Rebecca Sassouni is a smart, thoughtful, articulate, passionate and dedicated community leader, who also happens to be a fantastic advocate for the children of the Great Neck community. I consider Rebecca a friend, but that’s not why she’s got my support. No one is more deserving of, or better prepared for, a seat on the Board of Education. She has committed uncountable hours to the GNPS as an officer of the UPTC, including as chair of the Legislative Committee, and as a member and leader of various arms of the school support system including PTOs, Nominating and Shared Decision Making Committees. Professionally, she is a lawyer who has focused her practice on education and student’s rights. Rebecca sees the big picture and she is approachable. And, as an added bonus, she’s a Persian woman.
We also have an opportunity to put a member of our Asian community on the school board. I do not know Jeff Shi personally, however, at the Board of Education candidates forum, Shi presented himself as a rational and committed Great Neck resident and public school parent and supporter. Shi’s theme that evening was as an admirable defender of our schools, but he also offered thoughtful opportunities for district improvement. I expect he will be a voice for the entire district—including our significant and valued Asian community.
Now is our chance to fix the mistake from February and put this community back on the right track. Great Neck is best served with strong public schools and facilities (and, by the way, your home is ultimately more valuable, too). We must all shake the grogginess. Get involved and make sure you, your family and friends vote—this time and every time. Our collective and individual voices are necessary for the children of our community and everyone in Great Neck who otherwise uses the school facilities.
On Tuesday, May 16, support the whole GN community. Vote Yes on the Bond, vote Yes on the Budget and elect Rebecca Sassouni and Jeff Shi for the Board of Ed. Your children will thank you.
—Andrew J. Bloom