Education center owner runs for Herricks ed board against four other candidates

Education center owner runs for Herricks ed board against four other candidates
Surendra Gupta (left), Shaheda Quraishi (middle) and Eric Lo (right) are running for a seat on the Herricks Board of Education. (Courtesy of the candidates)

Surendra Gupta, a longtime Herricks resident and owner of two children’s education centers in Nassau County, is running for the Herricks Board of Education along with four other hopefuls.

Gupta, physician Shaheda Quraishi, financial adviser Eric Lo and two other candidates are competing in the contested race for one of the two seats up for election.

Incumbent Trustee Brian Hassan is running for re-election. Challenger Maria Bono is running for his current seat.

Newcomers Gupta, Quraishi, Lo, Ravinder S. Ratra and Russell M. Stuart are all running for the seat left vacant by Trustee Nancy Feinstein, who is stepping down from the board after serving for 12 years.

Gupta lives in North Hills. He has been a Herricks district resident for 51 years and graduated from the Herricks district. Gupta has a 12th grader in the district and a son who graduated from Herricks in 2018 and now serves as a naval officer.

The North Hills resident runs two family-owned children’s education centers in New Hyde Park and Hicksville called Smart Brain International.

“My wife and I have run this family business in children’s education for the last 21 years and quite successfully. We understand education as an overall thinking,” Gupta said. “We’ve dealt with children here that have learning struggles and the other side of the gamut where kids are coming in and they got straight As. We understand that a one-path type of approach is not necessarily the best thing for the general student population overall.”

The resident said his biggest concern for the district is intolerance toward diverse students and families.

“Diversity is celebrated on some levels and very much not celebrated on other levels,” Gupta said. “Comments that sometimes people make. ‘The neighborhood has changed. It’s not the same as it’s been in the past. We have such-and-such nationalities coming in. It changes the neighborhood.’ Things like that.”

While Gupta acknowledged that addressing these tolerance issues is not an overnight fix, he said he hopes to take a multi-pronged approach to diversity conversations if elected. He said he wants to create an environment where people begin talking about diversity more often and encourage small group conversations to take place.

Regarding the district’s proposed budget and how the administration is handling costs due to child sex abuse lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act, Gupta said he would need to take a closer look at the budget before sharing his opinions. He said he would not be averse to piercing the tax cap during his tenure as trustee if elected, but there would need to be solid justification to do so.

Gupta said he enjoys serving the district and this trustee position is another way to continue that volunteer work. The North Hills resident is a firefighter and EMT in Albertson, his older son who is now a naval officer was also a firefighter and EMT and his 17-year-old son in high school is a firefighter.

“It’s been a very long time being in this district and I know a lot of other people have moved out. I stayed and I love this place,” Gupta said. “I love the schools and I think it’s done wonders for my own children and it’s just something that I want to make sure that other people have that opportunity.”

Quraishi is a lifelong Nassau County resident. She is no stranger to the district, having lived in the Herricks district for nearly 40 years. She has three children in the Herricks district: one in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school.

“As a physician from Northwell, I am uniquely poised to help facilitate [the partnership between Northwell and Herricks],” Quraishi said, as reported by Blank Slate Media last week. “The mental health needs of our students is also a very, very big concern and I want to make sure we’re providing all the resources that we can to help our kids be the best that they can be.”

If elected, the lifelong Nassau County resident said her goals include improving the safety and security of students with additional security guards, improving cybersecurity efforts and improving the district’s partnership with Northwell.

The physician also works as an assistant professor at the Hofstra school of medicine.

“I educate on a daily basis. I teach residents and medical students at my practice and I also teach at the medical school at the anatomy lab, so for me, educating our youngsters is the most important job that we have as a society and it’s definitely my most favorite part of my job,” Quraishi said.

She said her biggest concern for the district is growing enrollment, a financial stressor that she would hope to combat by maximizing state aid and federal grants.

Quraishi said she supports the board’s adopted 2024-2025 budget and believes the board is doing a good job of handling costs associated with child sex abuse lawsuits.

Lo is running against Quraishi for a seat on the board. He said he thinks the board is doing a good job of handling lawsuit costs and would like to work with board members on this issue.

Lo has been a Williston Park resident for six years. While Lo works as a financial adviser, his wife owns a coffee shop in Williston Park where he said local parents often come in and speak about their experience as district parents. The couple have two young children in the Herricks district.

If elected, his goals include improving school facilities, especially at the middle school, replacing outdated sports uniforms, lending his financial background to budget conversations, improving communication efforts between the board and district parents and better supporting district-wide sports and arts programs. He said he wants to act as a conduit for these district parents and their concerns.

“I do have two very young children in the district so we are going to have a number of years here,” Lo said in an interview with Blank Slate Media last week. “Being in a position that we do have this establishment within the community, it allows us to really listen to a lot of the local parents all around, not just our elementary school, but elsewhere. The middle and high school.”

Lo said some of his biggest concerns for the district include CVA costs and student access to social media. He said he worries about cyberbullying and the spread of misinformation online among students.

“I think residents should vote for me because…I am here for the long haul,” Lo said. “I want to improve the experience for our students and, of course, hopefully the teachers as well.”

Efforts to reach Ratra and Stuart were unavailing.

An issue top of mind for candidates is the large budget-to-budget increase included in the proposed budget.

Herricks School District board members adopted a proposed 2024-2025 budget of $141,710,364, which represents a 5.2% increase from the 2023-2024 budget of $134,719,970.

The proposed tax levy increase is 2.38%, which is within the state tax cap. The average tax levy over the past seven years in the district was 1.78%, Superintendent Tony Sinanis said.

Herricks is set to receive a larger increase in state aid than initially proposed, from 6.58% to 8.32%, according to the state budget adopted nearly three weeks late. It is unclear how the new state budget will affect the current adopted budget.

Board members said the larger-than-usual budget-to-budget increase was due in part to the cost of settling child sex abuse claims against the district filed under the Child Victims Act. The district has paid $1.1 million to settle four of the 21 claims thus far.

Residents are set to vote on the budget and elect two trustees on May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Herricks Community Center at 999 Herricks Rd., New Hyde Park.

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