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Great Neck school board touts $86M bond referendum as vote looms

Fred Basali, of Great Neck, poses a question

Fred Basali, of Great Neck, poses a question to the Great Neck school board at a meeting on Tuesday Feb. 7, 2017, in advance of a bond referendum vote set for Feb. 14. Credit: Newsday / William Perlman

One week before a community vote, the Great Neck school board made the case for passage of its proposed $86 million bond referendum to residents and others attending a village board of trustees meeting Tuesday night.

The bond, which would increase taxes for all village residents, is a necessary step to maintain the district’s quality of education, said Barbara Berkowitz, president of the Great Neck Board of Education.

“It is imperative that we cannot let our investment in our [school district’s] 18 buildings deteriorate,” Berkowitz said. “This bond is truly a bond for the entire community and addresses items for those in our schools now as well as in the future.”

The funds would pay for vital infrastructure and educational projects across the district’s buildings, which have an average age of 70 years old, school board officials said. About $52 million would be slated for building improvements such as window, masonry and roof replacements. Another $44 million would be budgeted for educational and building projects such as a $6.6 million renovation to an existing facility on Clover Drive to create an early childhood center and also host E.M. Baker’s kindergarten classes.

The $96 million cost will be defrayed by about $10 million the district has in reserves, officials said.

More than 100 residents attended the meeting, some voicing concerns about the sheer dollar amount of the bond, which would be issued over a 20-year period. Debt service would begin in July 2019, following the conclusion of the last capital bond issued in 1998. Residents could expect a gradual tax impact; on average, property taxes for homes assessed at $1 million would rise by an additional $315 annually.

Longtime resident Jean Pierce said the tax increase would have an adverse impact on the village’s middle class. Though her children have long since graduated from Great Neck schools, Pierce said she is still paying her dues decades later.

“What you’re doing, with these constant increases in our taxes, is a form of gentrification,” Pierce, 77, told the board. “You’re pushing the middle class out of Great Neck.”

Tax impact estimates for business owners were not provided. Village Mayor Pedram Bral said he is concerned that the property tax burden will fall hardest on the village’s business district.

School board officials countered criticisms, saying that investments in the schools would only draw new residents to the village. “People are interested in moving here for the schools,” Berkowitz said. “We do know that our property values are directly correlated with the school district.”

Other parents spoke in support of the prekindergarten proposal at Clover Drive, citing the needs of the district’s growing enrollment. There are more than 6,500 students in the district this year, a number projected to rise by another 100 students by 2021. The facility would offer free prekindergarten for students zoned for E.M. Baker, Saddle Rock and John F. Kennedy elementary schools.

The bond referendum is scheduled for a vote on Feb. 14 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The polling location is E.M Baker School, at 69 Baker Hill Rd.

If the bond is approved, plans call for construction to begin in the summer of 2018 and conclude by the summer of 2022.

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