Vince Malfetano at Recent PTA Council Candidate Forum

20 Questions with New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate Vincent Malfetano

Written By: Robert Cox

1. The budget was approved by the board unanimously on April 23rd.  If you had been on the board on that day, how would you have voted and why?

As much as there are issues with the budget as presented, I would have voted “yes.” I do not think an extra month will resolve many of the issues that have been raised. There is too much to be done to “reinvigorate” the business from the dramatic loss of leadership and staff to really impact the changes needed now. The concerns of just raising taxes to the cap that did nothing to honor our commitment to a Zero Based Budgeting model and “parking” excess funds in reserve account hopefully will be addressed in next year’s budget that may then not need to tax to the cap. It’s not ideal and much was not done to make this budget a truly transparent functioning document. I may be wrong and can understand the frustration of many who will vote “no” but I don’t think it helps now.

2. Currently, most of the top administrative positions in the District are held on an interim basis; come July 1st, four board members will have been replaced in 12 months, 7 of 9 board members will be in their first term in office and 6 of those 7 will have just two years on the board. Speak to the issue of stability as it applies to the administration and the board the impact on recruiting senior-level administrators.

The stability of top leadership is critical. Our district seems to have made many poor hiring decisions of the recent years and we have been hurt. The Board is rather inexperienced in total. All the more reason more should have been done to attract and retain effective school leader. I believe the Human Resources office bears much of the responsibility for much of our staffing issues.

3. The Superintendent Search was run by the current school board President who will no longer be on the board after June 30th. As a new board member, you will inherit his recommendation for a new Superintendent along with a new School Business Official and NRHS Principal. Would you support the board postponing a decision on these critical hires until after a new board is seated even if that meant filling key positions on an interim basis for another year?

I hear the argument but believe more time under interim leadership is not good. I, and another person, would be 2 of the 9 members of the Board. I would hope if I had major concerns about recommended hires I would be able to convince my colleagues to consider other options for leadership.

4. There was a recent board discussion about the demands placed on board members in the context of reducing board terms from 5 years to 3 years. Would you support shorter terms? Would you support term limits? Would you support a $10,000 annual stipend for board members?

I do not think shorter terms really do much to improve board functioning and only make members run more often. Also, it takes a year or two to become comfortable and effective as a board member. We need truly significant changes to address concerns about board accountability. Our problem isn’t the length of the term of office. Our problem is how we select members: Few people vote, about 10% or so in each election. We should look into electing members in November, we should elect members by school zone or district rather than at-large, we should consider electing all members at once just like the New Rochelle City Council. The Westchester County Board of Legislator, the New York State assembly and the United States House of Representatives.

We do not need to pay board members for service. As this and most elections have shown, there are plenty of people who offer to run for this office. Paying not needed and the money is better spent on our kids.

5. There has been a great deal of discussion over the past 16 months regarding School Resource Officers. What is your position on school security generally and SROs in particular?

I am not opposed to the idea but at present it appears only the high school and perhaps the middle schools might have an SRO. What about our elementary kids? Don’t they deserve protection? Is the SRO meant to protect us from our own kids or from an outside threat, or both? It seems the focus is on fear of one of our own. I would like to see more discussion on preventing weapons from coming into our schools in addition to having an armed officer there to confront a shooter who just walked in as one of our own students and pulled out a weapon.

6. It has been a long-standing board policy (and practice) that New Rochelle High School is a “closed campus”? Although the policy has never changed, the practice was changed two years ago to a de facto open campus policy. This became a major issue after the death of Valaree Schwab. Would you vote to rescind this policy or not? Why?

The policy can be revised to allow selected students, perhaps upperclassmen, with a history of good behavior to be off campus, with parental consent, and an ID with special marking showing there status.

7. The demands on school board members have increased exponentially over the past decade or so starting with moving meetings out of City Hall to the school buildings, then adding principal presentations, then adding student performances, then adding various board sub-committees like a Policy Committee, then adding a School Buddy program, then adding ad hoc committees like Culture & Climate which meet during the school day. Is this a concern and, if so, how would you address it?

Yes, the extra responsibilities are taxing. My candidacy should attract folks because I am a retired person with the time to engage in day time committee meetings and other activities serving our kids. People with day jobs have a hard time being fully engaged. I can bring my 40 years classroom/administrative experience and legal training on a full time basis to help our schools and kids.

8. There is an ongoing residency verification program. Do you support residency verification?

I fully support the residency verification program. We have seen a rather significant number of families withdrawing their kids. This program has had a good result. More needs to be done regarding the Family Hosting program. There are more kids attending our schools via this program (397 at last count), which allows people from outside New Rochelle to a kid live in someone’s home as a “hosted” student, than will attend our schools when the entire downtown development of 6,300 apartments and 15,000 new residents move in to our city. All of the new development projects only 340 students. Remarkable.

9. Since the law changed from appointed to elected school board members, over 90% of school board members have resided within elementary school districts that feed into Albert Leonard Middle School (i.e., North End). Would you support any change to any of this? Would you support elections by districts so that every elementary school district has one representative on the school board?

Yes, as I said earlier, I think electing members from all neighborhoods is helpful. If elected, I will be the only person from the shore area of our city. By the way, when Dr. Fernandez leaves there will be no one with actually classroom experience on the board. As a lifetime educator much of my teaching and supervisory experience was in serving special needs kids. They make up 10% of our school population.

10. You wake up late. There is no time to go through your typical morning routine. What do you do about breakfast?  Where do you eat it? What do you eat?

I’m not a big breakfast eater. Mostly a coffee and a role after I help get my kids off to school. Warm weather? I’m at Hudson Park.

11. The board typically spends months holding entire meetings solely on the budget. These are discussions on where the District plans to spend money. The board spends only a fraction of one meeting each fall on the auditor’s report which covers actual spending (audited financials). The audited financials are not released well in advance of the meeting. There are no public hearings. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending?

Absolutely, many have pointed out the problem of not having actual spending number on a regular basis to track what is really going on in the district spending plan. More transparency, more on line data relating the budget plan to real spending data.

12. The City School District of New Rochelle spends large sums of money on outside counsel for legal services, in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 a year. Some of the legal services are highly specialized so hiring specialists may make sense for certain work but much of the work is routine. Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff (like the City of New Rochelle has done for many years) to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses?

Yes, hiring in-house counsel seems like a good idea that allows for more accountability and interaction. Looks like a money saver as well.

13. Under New York State law, in-district busing of elementary school students in New Rochelle is partially reimbursable for distances over 1.5 miles. Still, there are benefits to busing students under 1.5 miles despite the lack of reimbursement (student safety, lifestyle benefit to parents, traffic reduction especially around the schools, lower greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). Also, not every student eligible for busing under 1.5 miles would take the bus as they may live close enough where walking is a preferred option and of those who do accept there be existing empty seats on currently scheduled routes. To understand the economics and various pros and cons, would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?

I have been asking for a study of this issue for some time. One only need look at the incredible traffic around our elementary schools each morning. Safety, pollution from large numbers of idling cars, traffic nightmares. By the way, the Alteris security/SRO presentation the other day recommended tighter traffic control and enforcement around our schools, especially the elementary schools. Imagine how this might exaggerate the situation now for parents who often park illegally and make “not always legal” stops to let kids out or pick up. Yes, let’s look at more bussing options.

14. With the prevalence of social media and online discussion, and a growing interest and awareness of issues regarding our schools, would you support more frequent and accessible communication? Are you satisfied with the methods, frequency and transparency of communication employed by the district. Suggest three ways it could be improved.

Communication has improved in some areas but in major areas concerning class attendance, student academics/reporting and safety issues more needs to be done. I have focused on “Time on Task” – the actual amount of teaching time/instruction our kids get. We should be able to track easily the amount of time our kids actually attend a math, science, social studies class. This can be posted to parents monthly perhaps.

15. To what degree have you been involved with the New Rochelle School District over the past 10 years? As a parent? As a PTA member? Volunteer? Vendor? Prior to 2019, how often have you attended board of education meetings? Other?

I have been an active member attending board meetings for decades and offering suggestions to improve our schools. I respect people who now offer their help but I have been there for years trying to help us all. I am not as active in the PTA this year but have attended perhaps 75% of board meetings for years – and have attended many of the committee meetings. As you know, I have run for this position for several years now.

But what you may not know is I ran for the board in the eighties and even though I had been in town for about 5 or so years I observed during the debates that someone, who had been a teacher like I was at the time, was more qualified than me. I announced I was withdrawing from the race and it was published in the old Standard Star newspaper. Just before the election. I told the paper I believed Ms. Mary Jane Reddington was more qualified than me. I believe she won election by 6 votes, not sure of this number. She served on the board for 25 years. This is not and has never been about me.

16. What are your thoughts on the T&M investigation related to Apex Online Learning?

The investigation was short circuited and cut short. It appears the BOE intentionally limited in the scope of the investigation. The other high school houses should have been looked at as well, not just M. Alvarez. I had pointed out the problems with Credit Recovery some time ago having seen it abused as a teacher in NYC. Something for nothing does not help a kid pass a Regents Exam.

17. The New York State School Board Association identifies three primary responsibilities of school boards (financial oversight, policy, hiring and firing of senior level staff) with the budget being the biggest responsibility. Given this, and that if you win a full term, you will be responsible for spending over $1.5 billion dollars of other people’s money, describe your level of financial literacy. What about your background has prepared you to evaluate and adopt (or not) a budget with hundreds of millions in expenses?

As part of my work with NYC schools I was responsible for creating and presenting a budget for my school areas. I had to match budget design with programs and staffing needs as part of overall planning. I know this is no where near a full district budget. The training I received at Pace University, where I took my training to be a school district superintendent, I learned the nuts and bolts of budget preparation and planning. I have attended school board budget presentations/sessions for many years and become conversant with the local budget, its historical issues and areas of concern. I am sure I will be a worthy contributor to our budget process and its impact on education programming.

18. The board adopted a strategic road before your term would begin. You had no say in it but would operate under it. Identify three elements of the strategic road map that you feel the board got right (and why). Identify up to three (if any) elements that you would change or drop altogether (and why)? In your answer, address your experience in developing, implementing and measuring progress towards long range plans and objectives?

The board has succeed in these areas of the Strategic Road Map: bringing a more diverse staff to our schools; has succeed in forming committees to engage with public with areas of interest and encouraged the use of the school website for interaction on safety and other issues; and, has increased the reserve fund. Two areas not improved that were goals that need our attention center on academic achievement as a district at large and with minority students/special needs students. The goal of creating a safe school environment has not in total been met., and with school concerns overall academic success.

In my role as an administrator with NYC schools I was involved at many levels with school programming and planning. I sought ideas from all stakeholders and acted to come to consensus and “but in” as all felt involved and respected.

19. Having by now completed many years of your own education, describe your various learning experiences over the course of your lifetime (in school but not exclusively), which had the most meaning to you? How do you continue to work to expand your understanding of the world around you as part of your personal learning experience?

Getting degrees and diplomas helped in training but the most important experience was working front line for 40 years as a teacher in high school and middle school, working with special needs kids, with parents, the staff under my supervision and as colleagues, working with union reps., administration, governmental agencies and the public. I can bring my knowledge that team work, respecting others and seeing goals through can help all succeed. This is not easy but I bring a lifetime of real world experience in education to the table. I listen to others, watch what others do and look for new info and ideas.

20. What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected.

I think I’ve given a pretty good description in earlier answers.. I’ve been involved for decades. I want to help my kids, your kids and us all succeed.

BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on May 21st?

I bought my small home near Shore Road 40+ years ago. I invested my life here. I’ve raised a family here. I want to move us forward.

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