School budgets and a contested board of education race in Great Neck headline a few of the propositions for residents in the New Hyde Park area on May 17.
In Herricks, residents will be voting on the district’s $125.3 million budget proposal as well as the seat currently held by Board of Education Trustee Juleigh Chin as she seeks re-election.
The proposal for the 2022-2023 fiscal year represents a spending increase of 1.99 percent from the current year and calls for a tax increase of 0.5 percent.
Over the last seven years, the district’s average tax levy increase has been 1.54 percent.
Breaking down the budget, 76 percent of it is devoted to programs and 13 percent goes to capital improvements, according to district officials. The district anticipates state aid of $16.6 million, an increase of $2.2 million from the current year.
Some highlights include funding for social-emotional learning programs, instructional technology improvement and updated facilities.
District officials previously said they plan to fund a partnership with Northwell Health for crisis intervention and underwrite additional social worker staffing at the middle school.
In terms of facilities, the proposal includes bathroom renovations at the Searingtown and Center Street schools, art room renovations at Searingtown and the high school, and technology classroom upgrades at the middle school.
The district also plans to complete an initiative to provide each student with a Chromebook, which has been at the center of its technology goals.
Chin said if re-elected she wants to keep Herricks on the path of success it has enjoyed in recent years.
“We want to maintain the level of excellence that Herricks has been known for and catapult us forward to becoming even greater,” she said.
Chin is currently running unopposed for her fourth three-year term. Her current seat is the only one up for election. In addition to her role as trustee, she has also served on the board as a vice president and president, specifically during contract negotiations with the teacher’s union and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to her time on the board, Chin has been a PTA president and PTA council vice president for a collective six years. She said she saw a chance to be on the school board as “the right time to move forward in my role in the district as well as in the community.”
In her current term, Chin said she prioritized getting through COVID-19.
“We were in unprecedented times and this was a very trying time, for obvious reasons,” Chin said. “Health and safety were paramount, but so was the educational, emotional and social well-being of our students and staff. I am proud of the work of the district through this time and stand firmly that we did well by our community.”
Chin said she intends to maintain her commitment to keeping Herricks at its current level while also ensuring that the district finds the best replacement possible for outgoing Superintendent Fino Celano.
“I want to assure our community that choosing the right leader to be at the helm of our district is our top priority,” Chin said.
Celano, who has held the role since 2015, is retiring this June, at the end of the school year. The district previously announced that the board is in the final stages of finding his replacement and hopes to update the community in the near future.
Outside of being a trustee, Chin said she has been an adult leader of Boy Scout Troop 201 since 2011 and a strong supporter of both the Herricks Athletics Boosters and Council of PTA’s.
She is also a member of the United Way Community Impact Council, chairperson of the Herricks Korean Community and has been a member of the Nassau County Asian American Affairs Committee since its inception in 2019. She currently works in the Department of Community Services and Services for the Aging in the Town of North Hempstead.
Chin is a parent to two Herricks High School graduates, the younger having left the district in 2021, and believes serving on the board is perfect for her.
“I truly love my role with the Board of Education,” Chin said. “I can’t say how long I will stay on the board, but I have complete faith and trust that I am where I am supposed to be at this time in my life.“
Voting will be held Tuesday, May 17, in the gymnasium of the Herricks Community Center, 999 Herricks Road, New Hyde Park between the hours of 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
For Great Neck, residents will be voting on the district’s $261.4 million budget proposal, which represents a 3.66 percent increase in spending from the current fiscal year.
The proposed tax levy increase of 2.57 percent, or $5.6 million, falls below the state-mandated cap.
District officials said instruction-related costs make up more than 74 percent of the budget expenditures, followed by buildings and grounds costs, which make up more than 9.5 percent of the budget, and then transportation, making up 6.4 percent.
Property taxes make up more than 85 percent of the budget revenue while appropriated fund balance and reserves make up more than 5.6 percent, according to officials. The real property taxes the district anticipates receiving are more than $1 million less than previously allocated in the preliminary budget.
Great Neck Board of Education Trustee Donna Peirez is running for re-election against district resident Emil Hakimi in the May 17 election.
Voters will also decide on a $261.4 million budget for the 2022-23 school year that the board adopted in April.
Peirez, who was first elected to the board in 2016 to fill a vacant seat left by Monique Bloom, said in a letter to Blank Slate Media that protecting quality public education and promoting transparency throughout the district are her paramount concerns ahead of the May 17 election.
“All parents who live in Great Neck are entitled to a quality education for their children,” Peirez said. “In order for our students to continue to excel in school and beyond, we must preserve the creative, innovative and visionary programs we offer and continue to hire and retain the best teachers.”
Peirez, who previously served as a teacher at the Lakeville School for nearly three decades, said the school district’s “stellar reputation” is the driving force behind many families, including her own, to come to Great Neck. Her tenure as a board member has included helping navigate the district through the coronavirus pandemic and protecting the safety and well-being of its students.
“These experiences have helped me to understand the special families of this community, my community, in a unique manner,” Peirez said. “I am first and foremost an advocate for children. On their behalf, I am seeking another term on the Board of Education to continue championing public education.”
Hakimi, who has four children enrolled in the district, said parental concerns surrounding the school district’s curriculum inspired him to run for a seat on the school board. Hakimi, in a letter to Blank Slate Media, said he heard from parents “about the introduction of socio-political indoctrination into our children’s curriculum and instruction.”
Hakimi said a slideshow allegedly part of an 11th-grade English class at North High School, which was circulated on social media, were one of the instances that motivated him to run. A handful of parents, students and teachers addressed the slides, which featured teachings of “white fragility” and racism, at a school board meeting.
The slides were included in an article on the website of Parents Defending Education, a conservative national organization that works to ensure schools do not promote “harmful agendas,” according to its site.
The group said the slides presented in Great Neck were “steeped in the tenets of critical race theory,” and some residents who spoke at the meeting seemed to agree.
Under a slide discussing racism in America, a quote reads, “White people benefit from this system, intentionally or unintentionally, which makes us all (technically) racist, myself included.” The slide also mentions that the word “racist” was used “as an adjective to describe certain language, beliefs, and policies as opposed to racist as a noun to label a person.”
The teacher who was said to have presented the slides and the class being taught were not named.
“We’re so adamantly denying that critical race theory exists in our schools, when this was literally the definition of critical race theory,” Hakimi said in a phone interview.
School district officials said in response to the complaints at the school board meeting they would launch an investigation into the matter and previously addressed the issue at prior public meetings.
District Superintendent Teresa Prendergast reiterated her support and faith in the district’s administration and educators to provide students with quality education and keep its reputation intact.
“The district’s role is to guide students to see and consider differing perspectives so that they may make informed decisions and develop personal viewpoints,” Prendergast said in a statement. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that the District provides all students with a diverse set of opportunities and tools needed to be successful in school and in all their future endeavors.”
“As previously shared publicly, viewpoint neutrality is the expectation of the Board of Education of the Great Neck Public Schools,” a statement from the Board of Education said.
Hakimi also said his stance on the adopted $261.4 million budget for the 2022-23 school year has been mistakenly portrayed through some social media posts, clarifying that he is in favor of passing the budget.
“I am unequivocally supportive of the budget passing, and I encourage all my supporters to vote in favor of the budget as well,” Hakimi said.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, both candidates said, parents and district stakeholders need to work together and prioritize the education the district provides to its students.
“We are all one community here, we all share the same instinct to want what’s best for our children,” Hakimi said. “So please, let’s all be kind to each other. Regardless of the outcome of this election, we must all be united for this common cause.”
“Whatever our diverse beliefs, our shared faith in our children overrides them all and binds us together,” Peirez said. “The job of our schools is to kindle our students’ imagination and grow their knowledge. We must pursue alliances among all stakeholders in our district, as well as work toward a consensus model of decision making. Transparency must always be our touchstone.”
The election will take place on May 17 with various polling places. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. There are four polling locations for school district elections: E.M. Baker School, Lakeville School, Saddle Rock School, and South High School. Registered voters will only be permitted to cast a ballot at their assigned polling location.