I urge all registered voters to vote “Yes” in the Feb. 14 Bond Referendum to support the Great Neck Public School district, because a yes vote supports everyone in our Great Neck community—homeowners, renters and businesses, both present and future. Regardless of whether you have children in the public schools, in private school or have no school-age children, as a Great Neck resident, you are an investor in the Great Neck Public Schools, a cornerstone of this peninsula.
I serve on the school board’s Citizens Advisory Committee because of the multiple hats I have worn as a Great Neck taxpayer and parent, informed by more than a decade of involvement as a parent leader in three schools, as an officer in the United Parent Teacher Council, chair of Shared Decision Making Committees, chair of the Legislative Committee, an officer of SHAI (Sepharidic Heritage Alliance Inc.), an officer of a synagogue that runs a fee-based preschool, a board member of a local Jewish day school and an attorney with a private practice limited to representing students in school settings. My most important role is as a mom and as a daughter of immigrants to the U.S., myself the product of the public school system. At the Advisory Committee meetings, I have witnessed firsthand the deliberation that went into selecting the projects selected for the bond, the careful calibration of interests, the cognizance of the board’s awesome fiduciary duty to the many stakeholders in our community, particularly in this era of the 2 percent state tax cap and unfunded federal and state mandates.
It is through this personal involvement in the bond deliberation process that I write in a personal capacity to voice my concern regarding a wave of apathy evidenced by poor attendance at Board of Education and United Parent Teacher Council meetings this school year. Equally worrisome is a wave of misinformation that overstates the tax impact to scare residents to defeat the bond with a thinly veiled anti-public-school agenda in certain pockets of the community. The fact is that the tax increase is $157.50 for every $500,000 of home value, per year, through 2038-39.
Property owners know that the public school district gets funded by property taxes. I do not imagine that many of us enjoy paying taxes. Yet, we do and must recognize that the resale value of our homes correlates directly to the standing and reputation of the Great Neck Public School District, by the continued desirability of our schools for families who move here for them and our library, parks and short commute to Manhattan. We reap the benefits in home value when the real estate market rises and it protects us from the bottom falling out when the market downturns. The reputation of our schools is one of the primary selling points Realtors tout when showing properties. To that end, Niche.com just ranked Great Neck Public Schools the #1 school district on its 2017 New York State Best Schools list. This reputation is why as populations in neighboring districts fall, the population of the Great Neck schools continues to rise, particularly on the north side. Currently there are 6,522 enrolled public school students and 1,782 private school students who also receive services from our district.
A Bond Referendum comes once every 20 years. As one bond retires, another issues. The monies borrowed and repaid over the term do not cover operating budget expenses but, rather, infrastructural maintenance and vital educational enhancements that the operating budget simply cannot cover. Interest rates are still at historic lows, and the bond monies will cover necessary items such as masonry, windows, expansion of E.M. Baker School’s auditorium and cafeteria so that they may actually hold the school population, modernizing school libraries and science labs to keep up with the revolution in technology that has occurred in the past 20 years, and much more. The bond will also provide funds to retrofit the Clover Drive School into a universal prekindergarten and kindergarten facility, allowing north residents to have ready access to the acclaimed state-aligned free fours pre-K program currently offered at Parkville (as well as relieve the very problematic overcrowding at the E.M. Baker School). The bond covers necessary items as well as a vision for the future. Without approval of this bond, none of these will be remediated by the operating budget we vote on every May.
The current school bond passed 20 years ago and matures this year. Even though I was not here to vote in the last Bond Referendum, for the last 20 years, my children, family, friends and neighbors have all benefited by the forward-looking civic spirit of the voters who passed the referendum back then. My own children are nearly grown, and it is today’s parents’ and residents’ turn to step up to the plate to invest in this community’s future—a step that will protect the value of our homes.
A referendum is by definition a yes or no vote. On Feb. 14, please join me in saying, “Yes” to Great Neck, our children and our homes, present and future.
—Rebecca Yousefzadeh Sassouni