Seven candidates vie for two seats in competitive Herricks trustee election

Seven candidates vie for two seats in competitive Herricks trustee election
Incumbent Brian Hassan and challenger Maria Bono are competing for a seat on the Herricks board of education. (Courtesy of the candidates)

The Herricks School District will hold a contested trustee election May 21, with seven candidates vying for two seats.

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

Newcomers Eric Lo, Surendra Gupta, Shaheda Amin Quraishi, 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 as a trustee for 12 years.

The deadline to file a petition to run for the board of trustees closed Monday at 5 p.m.

The larger than normal budget-to-budget increase in the proposed budget is expected to an important issue in the race.

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 Saturday. It is unclear how the new state budget will affect the 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.

Hassan said his goal in handling the CVA costs is to not allow the budget to pierce the tax cap.

Hassan has lived in Albertson since 1977. He serves as the Albertson water commissioner. All three of his children graduated from district schools. If re-elected, this will be his 13th year on the Herricks Board of Education.

Hassan said the board should be able to finalize all of the settlements in around three or four months. The district will have to take out bonds to partially pay for those CVA claims, Hassan said.

“The challenge is going to be for the length of the bond, which is basically 15 years, how are we gonna manage the finances to pay for the bonded cost of those CVA claims?” Hassan said.

He said the board has done a good job of planning not just for the current year, but for two and three years out.

The planning addresses the district’s growing enrollment, with the middle and high school buildings approaching maximum capacity, and the long-term challenge of covering the bond cost for the next 15 years, Hassan said.

Hassan said working as a trustee is his way of giving back to the community.

“In my opinion, you’re obligated to give back,” Hassan said. “I’m a firm believer in people have either time or money, but they should not be obligated to give both. I don’t have a lot of money, so I would rather give back my time to the community.”

If re-elected, Hassan said he hopes to continue his work in finalizing a $25 million bond for capital improvements to the district. He said he is also focused on fostering a holistic approach to education by implementing additional mental health programs for students and hiring additional school counselors.

“I’ve been on the board for 12 years. We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount in the last 12 years,” Hassan said. “If people are happy with the way things have changed for the district over the last 12 years, the academic standards that we’ve presented for the district, then vote for me. If people want a change or are not happy with the way things are going, then vote another way.”

Bono said she is ready to see some changes on the board.

The former New York City school teacher has been living in Albertson for 22 years. She has three children who have graduated from the district and one child who is currently a 10th grader in the district.

If elected trustee, one of her goals is to mitigate traffic issues around the schools, especially the middle school, Bono said.

However, she said her main goal is to spark change amongst the board of education itself.

“I also feel it’s important that people on the board, that there’s a turnaround and new blood,” Bono said. “Currently, we have five members that have been there for 12 years, plus. And none of them have children on the board and I think that’s important as well in order to be relevant and be able to connect with the community.”

Bono later acknowledged that she misspoke and one member has been there for only 7 years.

Bono said her biggest concern for the district is keeping the budget under the tax cap. She said she is happy with the current proposed budget and the way administration is handling CVA costs.

“[The administration does] a good job of getting all the programs. I don’t feel we’re in a deficit as far as what the students and the children are getting,” Bono said. “I’m actually pretty comfortable with it.”

As opposed to radical changes, Bono said she would work to keep the level of programming supported by the board the same if elected.

Bono said she has been extremely involved in the district for 20 years, including acting as the president of nearly every district PTA at some point.

“I think my reputation and my work that I’ve put into the district speaks for itself. Everyone who knows me knows that I’ve given 110% to Herricks since the minute I walked into the school district,” Bono said. “I have extremely close relationships with the administration, the teachers, the parents. My reach is very far.”

Five candidates are running in a competitive race for the seat left vacant by Feinstein. Efforts to reach Gupta, Quraishi, Ratra and Stuart were unavailing.

Lo has been a Williston Park resident for six years. While Lo works as a financial advisor, 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 has 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.

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.

He said he thinks the board is doing a good job of handling CVA costs and would like to work with them on this issue.

“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.”

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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