Eight candidates step forward for Great Neck school board seat

Eight candidates step forward for Great Neck school board seat

Eight candidates have stepped forward to run for former Trustee Monique Bloom’s seat on the Great Neck Board of Education, and because a ninth candidate withdrew from the race, more people could join the  contest.
School officials announced last Thursday that Mariana Ristea had officially withdrawn her candidacy, so the district would need to extend its deadline for accepting nominating petitions in accordance with state education law.
The deadline is now extended from Nov. 7 to Monday, Nov. 28, at 5 p.m.
The eight candidates for the open seat include Donald Panetta, Josh Ratner, Nikolas Kron, Nicholas Toumbekis, Lori Beth Schwartz, Donna Peirez, Michael Darvish and Grant Toch. Bloom resigned in September because of her corporate travel commitments.
Toch said that it “doesn’t matter” how many candidates are vying for the seat, as he is a “unique” candidate because of his work in the community and in the school district.
He said he moved to Great Neck with his wife in 2006. The two have three daughters who attend schools in the district in first, third and seventh grade.
Toch said that as well as serving as a parent coordinator for Great Neck travel soccer teams, on which all three of his daughters play, he has worked with the Great Neck United Parent-Teacher Council, or UPTC, since 2009.
In 2009, he joined the budget committee and in 2012 began chairing the committee, he said.
Toch said he became a member of the UPTC executive board in 2012, first serving as a treasurer and now serving as a recording secretary.
He said he went to the University of Michigan, attended law school at George Washington University and received his M.B.A. from Columbia University.
Toch said that his experiences for 14 years as an analyst at various hedge funds, and the fact he specializes in the financial services sector and in government bonds, are relevant to the district’s endeavors.
The school district is discussing plans for a proposed bond referendum to address the district’s estimated $51.7 million in capital needs. The district has scheduled a vote for Feb. 14 on the proposed capital projects.
Toch said one of the main reasons he is running for the seat is to ensure that residents in the district have all the information they need to make a decision on the proposed bond referendum.
“That has been my goal,” he said. “To provide help to the district and to help the board understand what financial stability means, promote it and the same time provide transparency so the people of the community can make the decisions.”
While serving on the UPTC’s budget committee, Toch said, he has worked on and submitted to the school board budget reports on projections and financial models, which are  available on the UPTC website.
“My committee is responsible for saving the taxpayers of Great Neck a substantial amount of money and, at the same time, preserving teacher jobs,” he said.
Toch said that although working on the budget and discussing it with school officials can lead to tense discussions and disagreements, he “gets along very well” with the Board of Education.
He said voters should select him because he is seeking to provide the community with his expertise in the financial aspects of the school district.
“I am talking about an issue that goes across the different ethnicities in our community in a way that is not opportunistic, it is sincere and demonstrated over a long period of time,” Toch said. “My candidacy is about the promotion of financial stability, providing transparency and ensuring that our students and our teachers are provided the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.”
Peirez, a 28-year first-grade teacher at Lakeville Elementary School who retired in June, said what makes her different from the other candidates is her knowledge of what goes on inside the classroom.
“I think the main thing … is my experience from working in the classroom with the children,” she said. “That one extra piece is my knowledge of the intricate workings of the district.”
Before teaching in the district, Peirez said, she was very involved in the district by serving on the Parent Teacher Associations of the former Kensington-Johnson Elementary School, E.M. Baker Elementary School, North Middle School and North High School.
She said that she is a “consensus builder” and that one of her biggest achievements was when Kensington-Johnson closed around 1980 and she helped facilitate the move of students to E.M. Baker.
“When the two schools were merging, all those areas required bringing people from very different points of view together and trying to get them to agree on something,” Peirez said. “I have always worked under the term of consensus, which is another thing I felt I could offer to the board and the community.”
She said that as a teacher, she was involved in contract negotiations with the district, which helped her understand the “fine line” the district faces when making decisions about finances and maintaining the quality of education.
Peirez, who also taught at the Great Neck Community School, a cooperative nursery school, for 11 years, said her expertise on what works best in the classroom would be an asset to the board.
“I feel that I can bring a current knowledge of curriculum that is successful and some that is not,” she said. “Everybody has great ideas about what they want in the budget, but what really affects the teaching in the district, the students, facilities, technology? What are we bringing that’s meaningful and what isn’t?”
Peirez said that in addition to maintaining the district’s high academic standards, she wanted to see increased efforts in developing students’ social skills and understanding of other cultures.
“I think that in some situations we have gotten so involved in curriculum that we have forgotten the interpersonal skills that are so important in our students to make them a well-rounded person,” she said.
In terms of the bond issue, Peirez said, it is important to look at the needs of everyone within the district, including how it could affect those who don’t have children   attending public schools.
She served as UPTC president from 1986 to 1988 and chaired various UPTC committees, including the budget committee, legislative committee, health and safety committee and transportation committee.
Efforts to reach Kron, Toumbekis, Schwartz and Darvish were unavailing.
The election will take place on Dec. 6 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the E.M. Baker School and Great Neck South High School.
Grant Toch

By Joe Nikic

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