Great Neck school budget approved, trustees re-elected

Janelle Clausen
Barbara Berkowitz and Donald Ashkenase were both re-elected to serve on the Great Neck school board. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Barbara Berkowitz and Donald Ashkenase were both re-elected to serve on the Great Neck school board. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck school district voters approved the $229.85 million budget by a ratio of more than 5-1 on Tuesday, while incumbent and uncontested Trustees Donald Ashkenase and Barbara Berkowitz were re-elected.

Voters approved the proposed budget, which features boosts in security spending and maintains the school’s programming, 1,856 to 333 – meaning about 84.7 percent of voters said yes.

“We’re very lucky to live in a community that despite hardships that people feel … and the awareness of the large chunk of change that goes toward school taxes, there’s still that support,” Berkowitz, president of the Great Neck school board, said after the results were announced.

“In my mind, we need to be deeply grateful to the community for generating this 2,000 plus vote on Election Day,” Ashkenase, the vice president of the board, added. “It was truly extraordinary, and I was worried to death that we wouldn’t even hit 1,000 today to tell you the truth.”

Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast also noted that this exceeds last year’s 81 percent yes vote and the 84 percent yes vote in 2016.

Ashkenase, who has served since 1982, was re-elected with 1,444 votes, while Berkowitz, serving since 1992, was re-elected with 1,745 votes.

This year’s budget vote and trustee elections differ starkly from last year, when a $68.3 million bond, $223.3 million budget and two trustee seats became contested after Lawrence Gross and Susan Healy declined to run for re-election.

That year saw the defeat of an initial $85.9 million bond in February, 1,677 to 1,564, a rarity for the district sometimes framed as an attack on the public schools by community leaders. This in turn became a rallying cry for many parent leaders to get people in the district to vote.

That election drew more than 8,000 voters to the polls in the second highest turnout ever to approve that budget 6,772 to 1,607, a revised bond proposal 6,299 to 1,925, and elect Jeffrey Shi and Rebecca Sassouni to the school board.

Six candidates had originally vied for the two seats, with two people going for Healy’s seat and four for the one belonging to Gross, but eventually the race for Healy’s seat became uncontested and Shi defeated Nikolas Kron to secure Gross’ seat.

Michelle Ahdoot, the president of the United Parent-Teacher Council, said she was happy – although not too surprised – with the turnout this year in spite of stormy weather. She also thanked both the parent-teacher organizations for rallying voters and the community for coming out to support the school system.

“I think this year is what years past have been – that it’s just calm, we know that the budget makes sense,” Ahdoot said. “We know from all the presentations we’ve heard from [Assistant Superintendent for Business] John Powell and central admin the budget that is put together is sensible, it’s not pulled out of thin air, makes sense and it’s exactly what is necessary for our wonderful community and amazing school system.”

“It actually just warms my heart to see how everybody came out and supports and realizes how important a wonderful public school system is,” Ahdoot later added.

Additionally, voters also approved a $9.76 million budget for the Great Neck Library, 1,709 to 456.

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