Residents in the Herricks School District will be voting on the district’s $134.7 million budget and two trustee seats in the May 16 election.
Board of Education President Jim Gounaris is facing challenger Bhajan Ratra for a three-year term.
Incumbent Trustee Henry Zanetti is running unopposed for a three-year term.
Gounaris, a Manhasset Hills resident, was previously president of the board from 2013 to 2015. He is currently serving his fourth term on the board as a trustee after winning re-election in 2020.
He was appointed board president last year, taking over for Zanetti. He currently works at Great Neck Public Schools as the director of food and nutrition services.
Gounaris is also running for the North Hempstead Town Board on the Republican line this November. He faces Democrat Christine Liu for the 4th Councilmanic District seat, which is being vacated by Council Member Veronica Lurvey, who is running for receiver of taxes.
The board of education president said he originally ran for the board in 2011 to increase transparency to residents and that if re-elected, he would continue focusing on school safety. Gounaris said one challenge the board always has to face is security “in all aspects of the word.”
On top of physical security on school district grounds, students and staff should feel welcome in a place that has no room for intolerance, Gounaris said.
“Parents need to know that we are all welcome in this community and that feeling provides a unique sense of comfort, calm and belonging,” Gounaris said. “Ensuring this is my major goal.”
Ratra is a retired adjunct professor of mathematics at Baruch College and SUNY Farmingdale. He previously was a panel member on the content advisory and bias review committees of New York State Teaching Certification Examination and has served in the past on the standards-setting committee for the New York State Regents exams.
Ratra said he is running to provide his experience in education and help lower the tax levy for the Herricks budget.
Ratra said he would propose lowering the district’s tax levy through “professional development days” during the school year where district teachers would learn and write grants from $2,000 to $5,000 to the state to seek more aid.
“It would help our district get revenue through the grants and lower the tax levy.”
The Herricks budget for the 2023-2024 school year is $134,719,970, which marks a 7.50% spending increase.
Excluding pending claims and the associated legal fees, the budget represents only a 5.3% increase, district officials said.
The budget’s tax levy is an increase of 1.83%, which is equal to the tax cap determined by the state and falls below the 2% allowable growth factor limit.
On the revenue side, state aid represents 18% of incoming funds. Total state aid of $25 million represents an increase of $8 million over last year.
Zanetti, a Williston Park resident who served on the Herricks PTA for over a decade, was elected to the board in 2017. He is currently in his second term.
Ratra previously ran for a spot on the board in 2020, losing to Zanetti, who had 72% of the total votes.
The 2023-2024 budget includes a nearly $9.5 million increase in spending from the current budget, a 7.5% rise. Excluding pending claims and the associated legal fees, the budget represents only a 5.3% increase, Superintendent Tony Sinanis said during previous budget presentations.
Assistant Business Superintendent Lisa Rutkoske explained during budget presentations the major drivers for the budget increase, where legal claims and settlements take up almost $2.8 million, or 30%, of the budget-to-budget increase.
Of the $9,404,489 increase from last year’s budget, health insurance accounts for $2,070,000, payroll represents $1,997,000, special education services are responsible for $863,000 and facilities and utilities take up $555,000.
The remaining expenditure increases include debt taking up $316,000, textbooks accounting for $239,000, technology claiming $235,000 and all other costs adding up to $338,000.
Budget features include hiring assistant principals for Searingtown and Center Street Elementary Schools and funding for social-emotional learning programs, special ed.
District voting will take place Tuesday, May 16, at the community center gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.