Readers Write: A thank you to G.N. School District voters

Readers Write: A thank you to G.N. School District voters

Great Neck Board of Education President Rebecca Sassouni decisively defeated challenger Niloufar Tabari, in a hotly contested race for trustee and the school budget passed by a wide margin on Tuesday.

Sassouni received 4,008 votes compared to Tabari’s 2,686. {6,694 is the actual total. I think 6,700 is close enough.}

District resident Joanne Chan also defeated Aili Zhang in the race for a vacant seat previously held by Trustee Jeff Shi, who did not run for re-election this year. Chan received 4,011 votes while Zhang received 2,620.



I am honored to have been re-elected by a greater than two-to-one margin to a third term, to serve on the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education.  I write by way of gratitude and relief for the resounding mandate in support of my re-election.

Thank you to the nearly 6,700 voters who voted, whether in-person or by absentee ballot. Whether you are one of the 4,008 who voted for me or not, I will continue to endeavor  to represent all of Great Neck’s stakeholders fairly, and to ensure that Great Neck remains a preeminent place to educate all Great Neck students.

I offer gratitude to those who submitted letters of support to this newspaper, and acknowledge the role of the Island Now for running those letters, online and in print editions, and for your coverage of the local school board election by sending a reporter to the Reach Out America Forum held on Sunday, May 7,  as well as, by assigning reporters to interview candidates.

Even so, your cover story headline Re: May 19, 2023 “Sassouni easily beats Tabari in Ed Board race” while numerically accurate regarding the outcome, given the clear mandate I received, belies that. Since public forums did not occur,  the victory was hard won.

The “easy” victory was won by my willingness to answer to the public, and by the efforts of dozens of dedicated volunteers in support of my re-election, in support of the Great Neck Public Schools, and ultimately, thousands of voters who rallied to protect this precious jewel in our community.

Voters and readers would do well to note that two relatively unknown candidates, without known track records, who declined invitations by the League of Women Voters and Reach Out America to engage in any public forum, somehow managed to garner in excess of 2,600 votes apiece.  Of note, the approximately 2,600 number of votes each received appear to correlate to the 2,261 number of votes cast against the annual operating budget this year.

The losing candidates addressed groups in houses of worship, private Zooms, on recorded Instagram and Facebook posts, or answered questions with canned scripts, which included banal calls for “transparency” in the budget and calls to change curriculum.

As the only incumbent in the race, I repeatedly noted the strange inconsistency of their calls for transparency.  Because my opponent refused to face off in public, both the public and I were denied transparency to hear, evaluate and hold accountable her viewpoints.

(Ultimately, recordings of her public comments at a Board of Education meeting last year,  social media campaign, foreign language flyers, and recordings of nonpublic events brought these to the surface, in lieu of traditional public forums or the news media.)

Moreover, with regard to the district’s annual operating budget, I found it odd that candidates who had not made an effort to attend either United Parent Teacher Council or Board of Education meetings to learn about the budget process prior to its adoption, were questioning its transparency. Certainly, concerns regarding the budget could have been posed prior to adoption, as well as to the Assistant Superintendent for Business any time.

The two losing candidates also made other claims which betrayed fundamental misconceptions regarding the role of a trustee of a board of education. Their claims, and the number of votes they received, indicate that a concerning number of voters shared in the misconceptions and conflations of issues:  The losing candidates referred to trustees’ roles in changing curriculum as auditors of the budget and as proxies for special interest groups, whether due to the ages of their children,  athletics, special education status, or professional degrees.  In point of fact, the law in NYS does not require much beyond being 18 years of age and a literate resident to run for Board of Ed.

In my opinion, albeit as one who also personally has multiple subjective perspectives, it is not useful to think of trustees as tokens. The notion that a Board of Education trustee is an advocate for only one part of the student body, or staff, or only one side of town, one professional portfolio, age group, or demographic is yet another misconception which must also be debunked.  I reject it categorically.

Once elected, all five trustees to the Board of education are fiduciaries to oversee the  superintendent, policies and budget of the entire district — irrespective of our own ages, our parental status, professional degrees, zip codes, ethnicities, or any other idiosyncratic factors.

I can only write and speak for myself in my personal capacity here. My own children have recently graduated from the public schools. When I ran for re-election, I  withstood some amount of personal indignities (among them, being tailgated, harassed, told to “go back,” labeled a “groomer,” a “pedocrat,” a “pedophile” and “Lucifer, and other painfully preposterous ad hominem comments).

I withstood these for the purpose of preserving public education here in Great Neck. More specifically, to continue the Board of Education’s current task of hiring and onboarding the next superintendent of schools.

I, also, fundamentally believe every single child enrolled in the district, irrespective of their immutable personal characteristics, is deserving of protection and a Great Neck education. On this point, your May 19, 2023 article requires further clarification: the $40,400 reported as a per pupil cost is actually an oversimplification, and at best an average. In reality, given the wide range of Great Neck’s learners, this average does not elucidate the unique costs of supporting special education, academic intervention services, transportation, English Language learners, students in poverty, and more.

I shared all the foregoing  to preserve a record for your readership, and because I care. I cared about winning, to be sure.  I also care about process, public education, and children: This year, again, the public was deprived of the opportunity to have a public forum for candidates seeking public office to discuss these.

Nevertheless, I am gladdened by the victory.  One might even say that contested elections, are good for democracy, as they keep incumbents (including myself) on their toes. Certainly, the large number of votes cast indicate that Great Neck is a place where voters care deeply about education and values.

A quorum of the Board waited to certify election results on the night of the election, but could not even do so until nearly 4 a.m.  the following morning of May 17. There, too, the losing candidates asserted their rights, this time to challenge every single absentee ballot.

I cared about the process enough to have stayed with some Board members at Phipps until nearly 4 a.m. (even though the machine count indicated the absentee ballots would not have made a difference in the outcome) to certify this year’s  election results.

I care about the process of education enough to withstand being called vile names, in multiple languages, in person and on the internet.

Yet for all our care regarding education and values, and the large number of votes cast, in my personal opinion, voters and Great Neck’s children deserve better.  Great Neck voters have always supported education and the plethora of options available here in our community.

Because my seat was contested, I had the gratifying opportunity to speak to many of you about your stories. It was a privilege to hear excited high school students and parents speak about voting for their first time in this election It was a pleasure to meet many residents and to be engaged with so many local grassroots volunteers who care deeply about public education, whether for the arts and music, the literature, the sciences, athletics, special education, preschool, or adult learning opportunities, or home values here due to the Great Neck Public Schools.  I also heard quite a few pained stories of disappointments with individual situations involving certain families. From all these many many interactions, as well as your votes, I learned others care deeply, too.

No person or institution is perfect. We must always strive for continual growth and improvement lest we stagnate.  Challenge can be helpful insofar as it can help an organization or individuals grow. However, I  think it is time for a call to intellectual modesty.  Perhaps, students, families, and educators, could all benefit from a little more space to engage with texts and one another without resorting to polemics.

How about if adults model interrogating texts instead of one another?   How about if we express intellectual curiosity about one another’s beliefs instead of casting doubt on the school system as a whole, the role of trustees, or heaven forbid, one another as neighbors, parents, and educators.

It is my honor to serve on your behalf  as an unpaid public official as one of five resident stewards of our schools,  for all, without fear or favor. Knowing that both the process and the outcome, which supported my re-election, the election of Joanne Chan, and the passage of the district budget was good for Great Neck-  whether difficult or easy-  makes it  worthwhile.

Rebecca Sassouni

Great Neck

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