Thoughts from the March 9th Board of Education Meeting

Attendees at last night’s BOE meeting represented a fascinating mix of perspectives from our diverse GN 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. How in some classrooms the windows don’t open for air in the summer, there is no AC leaving young children lethargic and unfocused, and a lack of heat in the winter means that teachers have to wear their hats and gloves indoors. The staff begged us to fund the bond to provide essential upgrades to the PS facilities for the sake of the children.  In counterbalance, there were a number of 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 to be tackled by this bond and generally look for ways to be more fiscally conservative. Others felt that the bond proposal was perfect as proposed and it 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 meeting (4 hrs), 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 dialog 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 allow 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 $220m that pays for the salaries, benefits, and pensions of our teachers and staff. 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 that need extra help – both in the public schools and in the private schools. Not to mention technology, books, and bussing for all Great Neck children. Whether we agree with the Board and the direction that they are taking our public schools, we cannot say that they are mismanaging our funds. How can I state this? Because the NYS Comptrollers and Audit Report say so. So does Moody’s, the District has a AAA rating.  So do the auditors each year in their annual financial review.  We need to trust the professionals that are reviewing the accounts in detail rather than listening to hearsay or guestimating budgets from data shared online.  I don’t have the time or expertise to review the District’s budget line by line and therefore I rely on the opinion of independent experts. I hope you will too. View the 2017-18 Preliminary Working BudgetView the 2017-18 Proposed Budget PresentationView the 2017-18 Budget Details PageView the 2017-18 Budget Events Calendar.

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 16th

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 ‘that as man makes plans, G-d laughs’. We hope that your children nor 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, that 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, 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 who 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 the GN adults. If you choose not to participate in what’s available, that is your prerogative, but we hope that you will see the value available to the community.

I look forward to seeing how the Board will move forward with the bond proposal and hope that they will listen to the feedback from the community while balancing the needs of the District as they see them.

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