NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Tuesday is Election Day for School Districts and Public Libraries in New York State.
In New Rochelle, there are budget referendums for the City School District of New Rochelle and the New Rochelle Public Library. The library budget exceeds the tax levy cap.
The race for Library Trustee is uncontested.
SCHOOL & LIBRARY BUDGET
The City School District of New Rochelle budget for the 2017-18 school year is $259,622,488, with a $5,936,852 spending increase, or 2.34 percent, over the previous year’s budget.
The New Rochelle Public Library budget for the 2017-18 school year is $5,261,511.46 with a $332,028 spending increase, or 6.25 percent, over the previous year’s budget.
SCHOOL BOARD RACE
The race for two open school board seats is contested. The four candidates are Paul Warhit, Amy Moselhi, Moraydda Rosado, and Vince Malfetano.
There is no point to voting in the school board election, for two reasons: (1) in a one-party town the monopoly party’s selections always win; (2) what little power the board once had it gave away in 2014.
This is a race between the two “anointed” candidates (Warhit, Moselhi), selected by and backed by the Democratic Party of New Rochelle and a Democratic outsider (Rosado). The fourth candidate (Malfetano) has a history of violence against women, so warrants no consideration.
As to choosing between the three candidates, it is important for voters to understand that under the current Superintendent contract, membership on the New Rochelle Board of Education is largely a ceremonial position. Given that, it makes little real difference who is elected on Tuesday.
In New York State, the primary role of a school board revolves around policy, financial oversight and hiring/firing senior staff.
In New Rochelle, the board typically adopts policies developed outside New Rochelle (often mandated). The board has never done financial oversight (a big part of why a $106.5 mm bond was necessary). And, under the contract given to Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne in 2014, the board gave up its role in hiring senior staff including school principals. The board is a rubber stamp for the Superintendent.
Sadly, the New Rochelle Board of Education has reduced itself to a “talk shop” where it spends months if not years agonizing over a Strategic Framework that will gather dust beside all such previous efforts, ignored and unloved. As candidate Paul Warhit said during a debate, “it’s just a piece of paper”.
It has been our inclination to support Paul Warhit and Amy Moselhi for school board in the belief that the board would benefit from adding a business person and an engineer. It was our belief that the last thing the board needed was another person with an education background, ruling out Moraydda Rosado. That said, the debate performances of three candidates was highly revealing.
If readers insist on voting, we offer the following appraisal based on the performance of the candidates in last week’s candidate forums, in no particular order.
Moraydda Rosado was the only candidate to answer each of the 22 questions directly, simply and, at times, eloquently. She often explained education law and policy to the other candidates, showing a deep knowledge of the issues facing a school district, and a deep passion for public education’s potential to elevate people in life. She recounted her own, moving, personal story of how her family came to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico and how she went on to become the first person in her family to graduate from college, later going on to earn two Master’s degrees. She was engaging, thoughtful and the sort of person members of the New Rochelle Board of Education and PTSA so often claim they want as a member but so rarely support.
Paul Warhit is not a wife-beater or anti-semite; other than that there is little else to recommend him as a school board candidate over Vince Malfetano with whom he so often agreed. Warhit showed up late for both debates, dressed as a baseball umpire, disrupting the other candidate’s remarks by making grandiose entrances. He could not answer even the most basic questions about education, failed to demonstrate familiarity with the District, the issues facing the District, how a school board works or what the work of the school board has been over the past several years. He spent a good portion of the League of Women Voters forum slumped in his chair, pushed off to the side, and appeared to be sleeping a good deal of the time.
Warhit is not a member of any PTA, does not have kids in the school district, did not know even the basics of special education (terms like “inclusion” and “least restrictive environment” mystified him). He rarely used his extra time to expand on his (always brief) answers or reply to the other candidates (to one question, he said he had nothing more to say on the topic but wanted to say “I love my wife”). He was flippant, disengaged and shockingly devoid of awareness of issues he would address on the board, if elected. To several questions at the LWV Forum, Warhit answered “I agree with Vince”. He often both supported and opposed the same position in one answer. His most common answer at the LWV Forum was “I will support [insert topic here] as long as it makes sense.” He came out for and against a homework policy, for and against re-aligning middle schools, for and against “continuing” to employ Aramark and so on.
At the PTSA Forum, Warhit dismissed a question about PTA membership to attack Malfetano; Warhit said he would be at the Fund for Educational Excellence Gala the following night and, violating a classic rule not to ask questions you don’t already know the answer to, demanded to know whether Malfetano would attend the Gala. Malfetano gleefully announced that he already had a ticket. It takes a great deal of effort to cede the moral high ground to Vince Malfetano but Warhit managed to do it.
It was abundantly clear that Warhit had not made the slightest effort to familiarize himself with the position he seeks to occupy over the next 5 years. He conveyed the sense of a man born on third base who thinks he hit a triple, secure in the knowledge that as Noam Bramson’s friend, hand-picked by the Democratic Party, he could shoot someone on North Avenue and not lose a single vote. Warhit clearly believes he is a lock to win a seat and so having to campaign for a board seat is beneath him. He is probably right and will likely get what he deserves — five years in the gulag known as the New Rochelle Board of Education.
For the ladies out there, if you want five years of uninformed mansplaining, then Paul Warhit is the candidate for you.
Amy Moselhi began to show up at board meetings for the first time ever after the Webster ceiling collapse and then all but disappeared, despite her claim to “have attended every board meeting from the past two years”. This is utterly false. To my knowledge, she had not attended a single board meeting until after the Webster ceiling collapse in August 2015 and was not in attendance at meetings I attended except one where I specifically asked her to attend. At that meeting I presented a 2014 letter from the architect of record warning Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne of unsafe conditions with the roof-ceiling structure at Webster School. Presented with the letter, a topic right in her wheelhouse, Moselhi’s response was to challenge its authenticity, demanding to know how she could know it was genuine. I pointed out that the letter contained the name, phone number and email address for the architect. I suggested she reach out to the architect and get back to me. She never followed up with me after that night until she asked me to publish her announcement that she was running for school board.
Moselhi claims to have an intense interest in building safety and providing oversight of how the school bond money is spent. Her campaign literature stated the amount of the bond to be $104 million when the actual amount is $106.5 million, a basic error that raises doubts about her ability to provide financial oversight. She appears to be unaware that if she wins that by the time she is seated on the board more well over half the bond money will have been spent. She seemed unaware that the school board has no direct role in building health and safety issues or how the school bond money is spent. There is a committee that does have that role under New York State RESCUE law, the District Wide Health and Safety Committee, of which I am a member. Moselhi has never attended a single meeting of the RESCUE committee. There were a series of building-level Health and Safety meeting over the winter; Moselhi never attended any of those either.
In her answers, she mostly came across as a rubber stamp candidate. For example, asked about her spending priorities she indicated she had none, and would accept whatever the board decided. Her other answers repeatedly deferred to the current board or the Superintendent which raises real questions as to why she even wants to be on the board in the first place.
While Rosado is the best of a group of weak candidates, none of them seemed to know too much about how the District operates.
One question asked of the candidates at the League of Women Voters forum was “Would you be in favor of continuing the policy in New Rochelle where the school building and grounds is supervised by an outside management agency”
None of the candidates, including Moselhi, knew that the District had terminated its contract with Aramark to provide facilities management a year ago and that the Aramark supervisor had been replaced in September by a direct hire, Carl Thurnau who, for years, ran the Facilities department for the New York State Education Department. Given her supposed interests, it is surprising Moselhi would know this. All the candidates favored continuing the policy of employing Aramark despite the fact that the Board and Administration had all agreed to fire Aramark in 2016 (in no small part due to the reporting of Talk of the Sound).
The most disturbing moment of the candidate forums was a question asked about the decision of the District to open schools this fall without the required Certificates of Occupancy (my question):
“When the current school year began the administration failed to obtain legally required Certificates of Occupancy for any of New Rochelle’s public schools, if you had been on the board last September what steps would YOU have taken PERSONALLY to alert parents and staff and the community that school officials intended to (and did) violate state law and open and operate schools deemed unsafe by the state?”
The implication of that question is that the Administration knowingly broke the law and, in doing so, violated the terms of its liability, property and casualty, and fire insurance policies so that any claim filed between August 1, 2016 and November 23, 2016 could be denied leaving the District wide-open to unlimited legal and financial liability. In other words, it’s a big deal.
The three candidates danced around the question but ultimately gave the same answer — they would do nothing to alert parents and staff and the community of dangerous conditions in the schools, a position consistant with past board practice, to hide the truth from the publc at all costs.
The following night, at the PTSA forum, I provided copies of the Certificates of Occupancy for every building in the New Rochelle School District to the candidates. Those documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show that a series of Permanent Certificates of Occupancy (PCO) and Temporary Certificates of Occupancy (TCO) were issued on November 23, 2016 and were backdated to August 1, 2016. I directed their attention to the TCO for Trinity Elementary School. That TCO was set to expire on May 9th, just a few hours later, and the school would open in the morning without a Certificate of Occupancy. No candidate addressed the issue during the candidate forum that followed.
The League of Women Voters provided the following schedule for replay for the forum. The district has not provided a schedule for reply or a link to view the PTSA forum online.
League of Women Voters of New Rochelle Candidates Forum Monday, May 8
The Candidates Forum is on Optimum (Cablevision) Channel 75 and Verizon FiOS 28:
- Thursday, May 11 at 10am, 5pm and 10pm
- Friday, May 12 at 10am, 5pm and 10pm
- Saturday, May 13 at 10am, 5pm and 10pm
- Sunday, May 14 at 8am, 1pm, 5pm, 8pm, 10pm
- Monday, May 15 at 10am, 5pm and 10pm
- Tuesday, May 16 at 12am, 7am, 12pm.
The PTSA Candidate’s Forum will be aired at the following times on NRED-TV
- 8:00 am
- 10:00 am
- 12:00 pm
- 2:00 pm
- 4:00 pm
- 6:00 pm
- 8:00 pm
- 10:00 pm