''Clearly, this is a victory for the Great Neck school community,'' said State Senator Michael Balboni, as he announced that a charter school will not be opening in Great Neck. Last Friday, Dec. 17, Senator Balboni made the official announcement to the Great Neck Record, reporting that the SABIS Educational Systems application had not been recommended by the Charter Schools Institute at its meeting that same day, and that the application is ''off the agenda and will not be given any further consideration by the SUNY board of trustees.''
Both Senator Balboni and State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli have stated opposition to a charter school in Great Neck, and the two have worked together to get their point across in Albany. Both legislators report having received an incredible number of letters in support of the Great Neck Public Schools opposition to a charter school here.
After publicly stating his opposition to this charter school at last month's Great Neck Village Association meeting, Senator Balboni took the issue directly to Governor George Pataki, personally meeting with the governor and stating his opposition. ''It was the community that helped me make my case,'' said the Senator. ''The community's effort was unprecedented...my office received over 2000 letters of opposition...those personal efforts were of great help to me,'' he reported.
Senator Balboni continued in his praise of the Great Neck community: ''The Great Neck community always prides itself on the quality of life, and a big part of that is the quality of education. To have a charter school come in the face of all that Great Neck has achieved would be a slap in the face. My position is that a charter school has no place here, and I look forward to working with the school district to see what the needs are and that all needs are met.''
Assemblyman DiNapoli has long opposed the charter school concept and he voted against the Charter School Act of 1998. ''This decision is welcome news and it is in no small measure attributable to the overwhelming sentiment of the Great Neck community that this application should not be considered. Without the advocacy of the Great Neck community the result might well have been very different. This is great news for public education in our community.''
The response of community leaders was immediate. Board of Education President Judi Bosworth stated: ''The real story here is the extraordinary effort so many in the Great Neck community made to support public education and to protect our school district's ability to continue providing all our children with an excellent education. Clearly, the Charter School Act was not intended for a district like ours, which is meeting the needs of a diverse student body in a verifiably effective way. It is most important to thank all those who joined us in our effort to get the message across to the Charter School Institute and the SUNY board of trustees. We are very grateful to Senator Michael Balboni and Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli who were steadfast in their support of the Great Neck Board of Education's resolution in opposition to a charter school here and were instrumental in helping us achieve this objective. Anyone with concerns about any facet of our program is encouraged to share this with the board of education, Dr. Shine, the building administrators, teachers, and the school PTAs so that we can continue in our effort to best meet the needs of our children.''
Superintendent of Schools William Shine is equally appreciative of this outcome, stating, ''I am grateful for our community's support for the 'traditional' public school. Children are entitled to attend good schools, and the citizens of Great Neck have consistently met this responsibility. Once again they have demonstrated their strong support for their system. This support, based on student performance, parental satisfaction, and fiscal integrity, can never be assumed. It is the product of a board of education working with parents and staff to ensure a consensus that is educationally and fiscally sound.''
In an interview with Kitty Poons, president of the Hispanic Community of Great Neck, Inc., she stated, "We are so pleased that the Charter School Institute really listened to us. We spoke and they heard. Some Hispanic families really sacrifice to live in this community with all its services." According to Ms. Poons, 226 individual letters were written by Hispanic families, with another 300 signing a form letter on behalf of the public school system here and in opposition to the charter school. Ms. Poons went on to add that there has always been a receptive attitude from the administration and the Great Neck school board when needs have been brought forward. She noted that the community as a whole has been generous in helping minority students succeed. Last year alone over 50 percent of the Hispanic graduating seniors received scholarship money for college from the Great Neck Student Aid Fund which is supported in part by the Great Neck United Community Fund.
Great Neck resident Robert Klein, the lead applicant for the charter school application, chose not to make a public statement regarding the decision. John Farrell, an attorney who was on the proposed charter school application as a trustee, was called by the Record, but he declined to comment. Allen Anderson of SABIS did, however, speak with the Record. He stated that while the applicants were disappointed that the application in Great Neck was not approved, he felt that the Institute had placed an emphasis on approving charter schools for the areas of greatest need. Mr. Anderson thinks that in the long run, the cautious approach of the Institute will ensure the eventual success of charter schools in New York.
Following the Dec. 17 Charter Schools Institute meeting, CSI did submit a list of 17 recommended charter school applications ''meriting further review and inquiry'' to the trustees of the ad hoc committee on charter schools. Two of the 17 applications still under review are located on Long Island---in Central Islip and in East Hampton.