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Meet the candidates for the Merrick School District Board of Education

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Erik Bashian

I have been a Merrick resident since 2010 and am a parent of three elementary-aged students who attend Levy Lakeside Elementary School. My wife, Lauren Bashian, a physician at Long Island Women's Healthcare in Bellmore, was raised in Merrick and attended Birch Elementary School.

I am the owner of Bashian & Papantoniou, P.C., a local law firm, where I represent students and families in education-related matters as an attorney. I was named a "Rising Star" SuperLawyer by my peers in the legal community for the past five years. My firm sponsors the Merrick Bellmore Little League, where I also volunteer as a baseball manager.

I am an active participant in the Merrick community. Following Hurricane Sandy, I created and coordinated a donation pick-up for residents with the help of local temples — my family is a member of the Merrick Jewish Center. Through the Nassau County Bar Association, I have also volunteered at Superstorm Sandy Recovery consultations and mortgage foreclosure clinics to help those in need.

As mentioned, I am very active in the local youth sports leagues, and also coach for Merrick PAL soccer and the Bellmore-Merrick Basketball League. I also previously served as the Legislation Chair on the Lakeside PTA Executive Board.

I am a dedicated and caring parent who is committed to our community and its children. It is my goal to get our children back in school in person this fall. To learn more about my campaign please check out my Facebook page, @bash4schoolboard.

Lukas Gubba

I have been a Merrick resident since 2006 with my wife, Lori, and twin 10-year-old boys, Benjamin and Zachary, who attend Chatterton Elementary School.

Upon graduating from St. John’s University’s criminal justice program, I became an officer in the United States Army. As a paratrooper, I was deployed overseas during the Balkan War in an effort to assist in terminating the genocide of Albanians in Kosovo by then Serbian president Slobodan Milošević.  

When I left the Army, I found myself at the base of the World Trade Center on Sept 11, 2001. That experience was the impetus for me to join the NYPD in 2003. In 2004, I transferred to the Nassau County Police Department.

For the last year I have worked as a lieutenant in NCPD’s Bureau of Special Operations. BSO is responsible for plainclothes anti-crime enforcement and tactical operations such as hostage rescue, threat assessment, active shooter scenes and high-risk search warrants.

I believe that my experience within the military and law enforcement, as well as the various safety and security trainings I’ve received regularly at the federal, state and local levels, will bring value and esoteric knowledge to the board.

Friends and family have asked why I am running for the board. I do not directly benefit from it, like some may with a private practice or business. In fact, in my line of work, anonymity and maintaining a low public profile is preferred. But when Aristotle was asked, “What is the essence of life?” his answer was simple: “To serve others and to do good.”

The reason I joined the Army, two police departments and the BSO is the same reason I wish to serve on the board of education: to serve others and do good. Please vote for me by mail on June 9 so that I may serve you and do good.

Jill Levine

I have served as a trustee for the Merrick School District for six years. I have lived in Merrick for 20 years with my husband, Craig, and children, Josh, Sami and Rylie. I founded Forever 9-The Robbie Levine Foundation in honor of my late son, Robbie. I currently work as the course coordinator of a graduate program at Hofstra University.

During my 17 years as a parent at Lakeside School, I held multiple PTA positions on the Executive Board, chaired many committees and served as class parent every year. In the Merrick community, I am also very involved with my son’s foundation, the JFK Sports Boosters and, most recently, Bellmore Merrick Helping Our Heroes. I feel it is my responsibility to give back to the community that has given my family a wonderful place to live.

As a current trustee, I am dedicated, experienced and open-minded when dealing with issues involving the different stakeholders in the community. I strive to do what is right while listening to all opinions. I am proud to be part of such a strong and respected school district, and hope to help lead the district in these unprecedented and ever-changing times.

Butch Yamali

I am running for re-election to the Merrick School Board on a record of accomplishment, dedication and expertise. I will control district spending, ensure that all programs remain in force and provide for the safe reopening of schools in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A member of the Merrick community for 20 years, I have served on the school board for 12 years and am a past-president. I am also past-president of the Merrick Little League.

Today, I run the Dover Group, one of the largest hospitality organizations in the Metropolitan area. It consists of some of the most respected and long-running restaurant and catering businesses on Long Island, including The Milleridge Inn, The Coral House and Peter's Clam Bar.

My experience with the Merrick School Board has proven invaluable to our families and children. Merrick schools are rated in the top 10 in the state and top 100 in the country. I have worked aggressively to constrain district spending while retaining small class size.

My credentials and distinctions are impressive, noteworthy and demonstrate a commitment to the well being of our region. I sit on the board of Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital, am the president of the Freeport Educational Foundation and am a 2018 Inductee of the Long Island Business News Hall of Fame.

During these uncertain and rapidly-changing times, we need a proven manager who can keep our children safe, address educational goals in an effective manner and control school budgets. I am the best-qualified person to accomplish these goals, and have already done so for many years.

As we confront the coronavirus pandemic, I will do everything possible to secure CARES funds and other available federal funding to address district needs. I am the only school board candidate who has announced a plan to ensure the safe reopening of our schools for students and staff, which includes social distancing, regular sanitization of facilities and the use of personal protective equipment.

I have always stood with families, students and faculty, that’s why I opposed the inflexible common core mandates. It is also why I am standing up against the Gates Foundation plan, which promotes an overreliance on online learning at the expense of classroom education.

I have the experience, dedication and expertise to continue serving the residents of the Merrick School District. Please support me with your vote on June 9.

Nicole Venditti

I have two children that attend Birch Elementary and one child who attends a special education program at Lakeside.

I have always been committed to public service. I served as an Assistant District Attorney for almost six years and was later inspired to devote my legal practice to helping others navigate through the world of special education.

I am also an active volunteer in our schools, a community leader and a strong advocate for children and families. I worked to unite parents, teachers, administrators and other community members to bring a Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA) back to Merrick. In 2018, we chartered the Merrick School District SEPTA, of which I have proudly served as its first president for the past two years.

In addition to founding SEPTA, I have lobbied with the New York State PTA in Albany on behalf of our school community, served on school site-based committees, have been a class parent and participated in the lunch program as a volunteer and chairperson.

I believe I have consistently demonstrated the qualities our community needs in a board of education trustee, who can be trusted to help guide Merrick through the challenges that lie ahead in a post-Covid world. If elected, as a member of the Merrick Board of Education I will study and carefully evaluate policy and programs so that we, as a community, understand and can make informed decisions about the value they will bring to our children’s education.

Richard Soleymanzadeh

I am running for Merrick school board again and hope that our Merrick friends will support my campaign. Now more than ever our local school board needs new trustees with fresh insight to navigate the uncharted waters ahead.

My wife Debbie and I are the proud parents of three young children: a sixth-grader and first-grader that attend Lakeside and a first-grader who receives special services at Birch. I am a PTA member, participate in meetings, regularly volunteer at school events, serve school lunches and coach little league.

As a lawyer for 20 years, I pride myself on being able to analyze problems fairly and objectively, always taking a reasonable approach to problem solving and working collaboratively with others to achieve goals. I am also an educator at Hofstra University, and have taught at Nassau Community College and Brooklyn College. As a teacher, I am acutely aware of the skills students need to succeed, which must be cultivated and encouraged in their primary school education.

My personal and professional life experiences give me unique insight into the important issues we face, and the concerns that are raised by parents, students and teachers in our community. I firmly believe that our school board should be comprised of trustees who have young children in the district, like me. The board makes decisions regarding school safety, virtual learning, services and programs and budgeting and taxes. These crucial and long-lasting decisions should be made by those whose children will be directly affected.

I pledge to make myself available as though you were my client, to listen carefully to what you have to say, to understand your perspectives and to represent your voice in board meetings.