What’s All the Fuss About?
We all live on a peninsula called Great Neck. There are 40,000 of us here and while we are all Americans, we are all pretty different. We also have the top school district in NY state and are in the top ten nationwide. That’s not bad! According to Niche.com Great Neck Public Schools get an A+ rating. We win 2017 Best School Districts in New York (#1 of 670), 2017 Districts with the Best Teachers in New York (#1 of 574), 2017 Best Places to Teach in New York (#1 of 553)
So, what’s all the fuss about bonds and budgets all about?
The budget lays out the financial plan for the coming year. It is an estimate of how much needs to be collected from us, the taxpayers, to run the school district. That budget has to be voted on by the community every year before it can be approved. The next budget vote is on May 16th and it is really important. If the community does not pass the budget then we have to make cuts to things like AP and Honors Courses, Art and Music Programs, Early Morning Drop-off and Enrichment Programs, Special Education Services, Small Class Sizes, Teachers on all levels, Ongoing Capital Improvements, After-school Clubs and Activities, Science and Technology Labs to support STEM, Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Extracurricular Athletic Teams. None of which we would like to see happen. Perhaps you are wondering if there is anything new or different about this budget? Is it going up a lot? The answer to these questions is NO. The budget is only 1.26% higher than last year’s budget, which is within the Tax Cap, and it is not calling for anything out of the ordinary for a GN School District budget. In short, the budget should be passed.
So, what’s the bond all about?
Our school buildings are getting older – some of them are nearly 100 years old! Just like with your home, the patch repairs are no longer sufficient. Engineers and architects have inspected the 18 buildings owned by the District over the past 5 years and have put together a list of the critical repairs that have to be made to ensure that the buildings are waterproofed, safe and updated to today’s standards. At the same time, the parents, teachers and students identified a number of key improvements that need to be made to bring the schools into the 21st century. If the bond is passed, the District will then seek proposals from contractors to complete the work. It will take 16-18 months for architectural plans, NY State review and a spec book to be created before contactors can bid on the projects for winners to be selected. The community will be notified in the newspapers. The money will only be drawn from the bond holder on an as needed basis, in chunks, to cover each phase of the renovation work.
The question is how to pay for it. Cash out of savings, or take out some sort of loan? Federal law prohibits all school districts from holding more than 4% of its annual budget in reserves, so it is nearly impossible to complete major renovation projects from the District’s operating budget. Most school districts borrow money through a bond or a long term “I owe you” to pay for improvement projects. It works like a mortgage and ask tax payers for a Bond Levy, or an increase in property taxes. The increased amount of taxes pays back the bond holders and the interest on the loan – it is self-amortizing so there is no balloon payment at the end of the term. The bond was originally proposed at $86m back in February and following its defeat, it has been reduced to $68.4m. You can click here to figure out how much this new borrowing will cost you. On average, it is around $150-$250 per year. If you live in a more expensive home, it will be more expensive, but that is a function of your home’s assessment.
So why is this vote and election creating so much noise in the community?
We need the 2017-18 budget and the proposed bond to pass. As explained above, both proposals are fair and reasonable for our community, but there are a number of voters who would like to push back on the passing of these proposals to send a message that our taxation is too high and getting higher every year. Unfortunately, this stance will lead to many more ripple effects. But we all live here. We are neighbors, friends and our children are classmates and playmates. We need to support one another as a community. The public-school parents should appreciate the financial support coming from the empty nesters, seniors and private school families. Without their support our district would not be as strong as it is. The private school families should appreciate the busing to and from school, school text books, school nurses, technology financing and special education support services. Without the District’s support, the cost of private school education would be higher.
I hope that you will consider supporting my candidacy for one of the Trustee seats. I am running against Jeff Shi, who is also pro-budget and bond, but I feel that I am more qualified to build the bridges needed throughout this community. If elected, I will personally visit with each of the local community groups, synagogues, churches and associations to better understand their needs and relationship with the GNPS. We cannot give everyone what they want but we can at least listen and share ideas. I want to encourage everyone involved in this election to be educated and informed. But most of all, be respectful and kind to one another.
Education is the passport to the future,
for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
How much will the bond cost me?
Taxes are calculated on the assessed value of your home. Click here to find the assessed value of your home. You can either enter your address or you can enter the Section, Block, and Lot information to find your home. Under the photos of your property, you will find a table with the information you are looking for. Under the Values tab, you will find the Fair Market Value of your home as recorded by Nassau County. Enter that value below and the calculator will tell you what your 2017-18 school taxes will be. The additional cost of the bond is included in this number.
Note: I’m running for Mr. Larry Gross’ seat against: Mr. Michael Golden, Mr. Jeffrey Shi, and Mr. Grant Toch. I am in favor of the new bond and will also be voting Yes for the 2017-18 budget. See you at the polls on May 16th.
Thoughts from the March 13th BOE Meeting
I attended the BOE meeting last night, 3/13/17 and learned that the Board has listened to the community and has plans to reduce the size of the Bond proposal by approximately $20m to $68.3926m. The reductions being made to the new building projects at Clover and Cumberland and a reduction in the scope of the Baker proposal. I commend the Board for listening to the community and making these cuts to the proposal. As Mrs. Berkowitz said last night, this is a Bond for the whole community.
See my earlier comments here.
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 Budget…View the 2017-18 Proposed Budget Presentation…View the 2017-18 Budget Details Page…View 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.