BY ROSE WELDON, ROBERT PELAEZ AND SAMUELE PETRUCCELLI
Incumbents were trounced in elections to choose representative on two of the three school boards serving the Manhasset area on Tuesday.
In an election for two seats on the Manhasset school board, longtime district parents Jill Pullano and Erin Royce won, defeating writer and educator Frank Bua and the lone incumbent, 15-year trustee Carlo Prinzo.
Pullano received the most votes at 1,650, with Royce coming in second at 1,385 votes. Bua received 1,000 votes, and Prinzo received 684 votes.
Prinzo’s ousting comes after the school board announced last week that Superintendent Vincent Butera would go on leave following an investigation into a teacher’s complaints of sexual misconduct, which concluded that the superintendent had violated district policy by making the teacher feel uncomfortable. Some parents voiced disapproval of the board’s decision not to fire the superintendent outright, and advocated voting against the incumbent.
Others simply thought it was time for new blood, like Vin Calluzzo, a former school board trustee.
“It’s time to get new people here,” Calluzzo said before casting his ballot. “I’m happy to see that the candidates have young kids. If you want to affect change, you have to do it early.”
Pullano, an 18-year Manhasset resident and parent of two graduates plus a high school junior, is the former treasurer of the Manhasset School Community Association and has served in numerous roles and various committees throughout the district. She campaigned on a platform of improving school curriculum and mental health resources.
Royce, a 14-year Manhasset resident, is a parent of two elementary students and possesses a background in education, beginning as a school psychologist in the Syosset district and later serving as director of guidance at St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay. She campaigned on giving a louder voice to parents of younger children in the district.
Efforts to reach Pullano, Royce and Prinzo for comment were unavailing, and Bua declined to comment on the results.
Voters also passed a $100,659,820 budget for the 2021-22 school year, a 1.17 percent increase from last year’s $99,497,241 budget. Of 2,595 votes cast, 68.8 percent, or 1,786 voters, moved to accept the budget, while or 31.2 percent, or 809 voters, voted no.
The results come at the end of a contentious campaign, according to Bua. In an interview Friday, he said that though he has claimed his campaign aims to steer clear of negative messaging, the final days of the campaign seem to have had residents combative online.
“Growing up I always wanted to be a star,” Bua said. “I didn’t want to be the star of a Facebook group but that seems to be happening.”
In speculating on the start of contentious online content, Bua suspected three sources.
“Some of it I think it’s just coming from people who are bored,” Bua said. “Some of it is coming from people who are threatened by my message … and I think some of it’s coming from the fact that I’m different.”
Bua, a teacher in the Great Neck school district, claims he’s heard individuals speak about his inability to “represent Manhasset values,” as well as “his flamboyance,” but reiterated his reasons for running his campaign.
“I’m running for something,” Bua said. “I’m not running against something.”
The candidate has also touted his ability to find mutuality with constituents, and said he can “meet people where they are, find some common ground, get that common denominator and build from there, earn respect, move past perceptions and listen.”
Bua said his efforts are in hopes to propel the district forward, saying “We’re an A school. We need to be an A+ school.”
Achieving an A+ grade is something the candidate described as requiring ‘incremental’ change. But after making comments on sixth grade education in Manhasset at a board of education call, Bua said he received a strong response.
“I got eviscerated by two of the members privately after that,” Bua said. “I went back two days ago for the first time and looked at my words, which couldn’t have been more measured and respectful.”
Three challengers were elected to the Port Washington Board of Education, defeating a slate of three incumbents.
Nanette Melkonian, Adam Block, and Adam Smith were elected to the board, defeating board President Nora Johnson, Vice President Elizabeth Weisburd, and Trustee Larry Greenstein.
Melkonian, who entered the race as an independent candidate, received 1,903 votes, Smith received 1,524 votes, and Block received 1,447. Greenstein received 1,362 votes, Johnson received 1,307 and Weisburd received 1,261. Justin Renna, who ran on the same slate as Smith and Block, received 953 votes.
Melkonian, along with her husband, Matt, moved to the area in 2000, with all three of their children passing through the Port Washington school district. She has spent time as an elementary, secondary and post-secondary special education teacher.
Since she moved to Port Washington, Melkonian said, she has kept herself informed on various programs in the school district. She touted the role that a Board of Education member plays in a school district and community and said she felt this year was the right time to run.
“I have listened and learned that everyone in this community values educational excellence, strong communication and parent engagement with our school district,” Melkonian said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “I’m proud of my 30 years of advocacy for the individual needs of all students, for educational excellence, for strong parent/school partnerships, and for public schools more broadly. I look forward to continuing this work as your Board of Education Trustee.”
She thanked the incumbents for their time serving the board and said she looks forward “to the privilege to serve” on the board.
“Thank you to Larry Greenstein, Nora Johnson, and Beth Weisburd for your many years of service to our schools and community,” she said. “Thank you to Justin Renna for your willingness to serve and congratulations to Adam Smith and Adam Block; I look forward to working with you for the benefit of our students and community. Thank you to my supporters who have written letters and emails, stood outside grocery stores and on ball fields, and offered advice, expertise and wisdom. I am humbled by this moment and could never repay you. And to the community, thank you for engaging in this process. You also served our schools by becoming informed voters. To those who voted for me, thank you for your trust and to those who didn’t, I hope to earn it.”
Smith runs strategic and financial planning, as well as day-to-day operations, of a New York-based real estate investment and development firm. He is also the emergency preparedness chair and serves on the board of trustees for a local religious institution and preschool. Smith and his wife, Jenny, live in Port Washington North and their three children go to district schools.
Block, a graduate of Schreiber High School, is a professor of public health at New York Medical College. He received a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in health policy with a concentration in economics from Harvard University. Over the course of his career, he has worked as an economist for the U.S. Congress and wrote regulations for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Block also started the company, Port Skis, a ski equipment rental service based in the area, and is treasurer of Salem Elementary School’s Home School Association. Block, his wife, and their three children all reside in the area, with all three of his children being active students in the school district.
Smith and Block echoed Melkonian’s sentiments to the outgoing incumbents and thanked others on helping them be elected to the board.
“Thank you to the outgoing trustees for their many years of service, for their efforts during this difficult time and for a hard fought but cordial campaign,” Smith said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “I want to personally thank Justin Renna for his unwavering support and his continued service to the community coaching youth athletics. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone in the community who came out and voted, it is so important to encourage civic engagement and to model it for our children. Finally, thank you Port Washington for putting your faith in me, I am ready to get to work.”
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to be elected to the Port Washington Board of Education,” Block said in a statement to Blank Slate Media. “Having come through these schools and now having three children attending Port schools I know what a special place they are. I am looking forward in the short term to building on the work from this year to get our kids back to normal as soon as possible, safely. And in the longer term I am looking forward to helping the Board provide excellence in academic opportunities for all. We have learned in the last 14 months just how important schools are in our community. And starting July 1st, working alongside new Board members Nanette Melkonian and Adam Smith, plus the current Board members, Emily Beys, Deborah Brooks, Julie Epstein and Rachel Gilliar, and the fantastic administrators, educators and other staff, I look forward to strengthening their role in Port Washington.”
The district also passed the $167 million budget with 2,580 votes in favor of it, compared with 1,009 opposed.
Herricks Board of Education Trustees Brian Hassan and Nancy Feinstein were both re-elected.
Feinstein received 888 votes and Hassan received 675, according to the district.
Feinstein, a Roslyn resident, was elected to her fifth three-year term on the board. She has three children who have all attended and graduated from Herricks schools.
Hassan, an Albertson resident, was also elected to his fifth term on the board. He has three children who have graduated from the Herricks schools.
Efforts to reach the incumbents for comment were unavailing.
Voters also passed the $122.9 million budget. The budget received 825 votes in favor of it, compared with 391 votes opposed.
The budget is a $2.33 million, or 1.94 percent, increase from the 2020-21 budget.
The budget called for a 1.42 percent increase in the 2021-22 tax levy from this year, but it remained below the state cap of 2.51 percent.
The initially proposed 1.86 percent levy increase was lowered to 1.42 percent as a result of additional state aid. The district’s average levy increase since the cap’s inception in 2012-13 is 1.66 percent.
The district also passed a proposition to allow the district to spend $1.2 million of capital reserve funds for renovations to the Herricks High School auditorium. The proposition received 888 votes in favor, compared with 301 against it.
“Our Board and Administration worked diligently to develop a budget that continues to support all programs and opportunities for students yet was well below the allowable tax levy cap,” a district statement said. “We appreciate the efforts of and thank everyone in the community who participated in the budget development process and all those who express a continued interest in our schools.”