Deciding on something that accounts for two-thirds a homeowner’s taxes and perhaps the future of their children, school district elections are never insignificant — notwithstanding the state-mandated tax cap that significantly limits how much a district can increase its taxes.
But the elections in Great Neck this year stand out.
Not only are residents of Great Neck and parts of New Hyde Park deciding on a proposed $223 million budget — the largest on the North Shore — they must also decide the fate of a $68.3 million bond and a contested school board race for two seats that some believe could change the culture of Great Neck.
Already it has set off Great Neck’s own version of the culture wars.
Each school board race pits a candidate who expresses strong support for a public school system that spends more than $34,000 per pupil and is ranked among the best in the country against candidates with strong ties to private religious schools whose commitment to the school system’s spending levels is in question.
Some, echoing critics of charter schools, question whether they are anti-public education.
Nikolas Kron, who is running against Jeffrey Shi, has children who have attended Great Neck’s public schools and one child who attends North Shore Hebrew Academy. Ilya Aronovich, who is opposing Rebecca Sassouni, has children who are attending Silverstein Hebrew Academy, where he sits on the board.
In opposing Kron and Aronovich, critics have frequently cited Lawrence, the South Shore community in which Orthodox Jews whose children attended private schools gained a majority on the school board.
The new Lawrence school board reduced support for some well-established public school programs. Coupled with boycott threats against businesses that stayed open on Saturdays, regardless of the owner’s religious beliefs, the shift on the school board resulted in many businesses and residents leaving the community.
We believe that residents whose children go to private schools or residents with no school-age children at all should be free to run for school board. After all, they too are taxpayers.
And candidates for school trustee certainly have the right to question district spending.
Great Neck sits atop the rest of the North Shore’s school districts in spending per pupil and offers services that in some cases compare favorably with tiny private schools.
So questioning how much is spent and on what is not unreasonable.
Still, it is incumbent on Kron and Aronovich to tell people what they believe.
So far Aronovich is not off to a good start.
He recently set off a clamor when he declined to say whether he supported the bond proposal, which is intended repair and improve the district’s 16 buildings. The $68.3 million bond offering follows an $85.9 million proposal that was defeated by school district voters in February.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see any beneficial reason to answering the question and further polarize the community,” Aronovich said in response to a question about whether or not he supported the latest bond proposal.
Sorry, Mr. Aronovich, but as a candidate you need to answer the question.
Kron, who founded a real estate and finance company, and the other four candidates running at the time all said they supported the bond.
Two candidates — Michael Golden, a retired teacher, and Grant Toch, head of the United Parent-Teachers Council budget committee — withdrew from the race last week, saying they did not want to split the vote.
But Kron needs to further clarify his positions on supporting public and private schools.
A Facebook post that was shared by North Shore Hebrew Academy parents identified Kron as a North Shore Hebrew Academy parent and called for voters to support him, saying “The Public Schools provide ALL private schools with tech, books, nursing and special ed services. We want this to continue and expand. Nik wants to shake things up, reassess spending and ensure yeshivas get their fair share of support.”
This is a debate worth having. In public.
Ironically, some believe that the election may come down to the turnout of Chinese-Americans, drawn both by Shi and the defeat in February of the first bond offering.
More than 50 percent of Great Neck South High School and Middle School is now Asian-American and Shi is seen as someone who might draw a strong Asian-American vote that might offset the strong Orthodox Jewish vote expected on behalf of Kron and Aronovich.
Like most elections in this polarized time, the outcome could very well be a matter of turnout.
That’s a message that both sides can agree on.