20 Questions with New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate Richard Bamberger

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?

I would have voted yes. The budget is responsible and does not break the cap. It adds essential full time positions. Can it be better? Absolutely. This year, we had an interim budget office. Next year, we will make sure that the new, full time budget office, along with the Board, starts the discussions earlier so the community has better chance to review the numbers in more detail.

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.

As you mentioned, with board terms being 5 years long, many of the first term board members have still been on the board for several years. They have gotten the lay of the land and with new blood coming in, they are free to impart their knowledge while still working with an open mind. I look at this as a selling point for top talent. We have nine people, who are all involved in the community, with the ability to come together and make real change. We can figure out what works and what doesn’t. We can strengthen what works and fix what doesn’t.

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 don’t think we have the luxury to delay a decision. We need to fill open positions and figure out a strategy to get the schools back on track.

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 am open to reducing board terms from 5 years to 3 years as well as term limits, but I do not think we should be paying the Board members a stipend.

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 think this needs to be part of a larger discussion involving such things as:

• Reviewing old and implementing new mental health programs;

• Reviewing staffing regarding counselors and mental health professionals

• Additional training of security guards;

• Hardening of the outward security possibly with new-hi-tech equipment;

• Enforcing the locked door policy

• Gathering intelligence of potential threats from such places as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and VSCO;

• Mentoring programs

I do not believe we should have police patrol the hallways of the school and I don’t think we should have metal detectors, but I am open to an SRO whose role it is to, for example, get intelligence and become a mentor.

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?

I think that we should have a closed campus, but I am open to discussing the implications and feasibility of giving off-campus privileges as a reward to juniors and seniors.

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?

The demands are intense and the pressure is real because in the end- what we do affects our kids. If elected, I am excited to fulfill the duty of the job, but I am realistic that work or family functions may preclude me from attending every single event.

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

Yes. The schools are for the children of residents of New Rochelle. I know there are some controversial state requirements which add to our classroom sizes which, we will have to review on a case by case basis, and then bring to the State.

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?

I think we should look at any proposal that could potentially help with engaging more members of our community.

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 am up at 5AM every morning even on weekends! I have never been much of a breakfast person. Some days I don’t even eat until lunch.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Questions 11-20 were cut off in the initial email but are added in here:

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?

I would. The more information the public has the better.

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?

I would have to see what the numbers look like, but it sounds like a possibility to look into.

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 would support a study. It’s especially important for kids who need to cross busy streets to get to school.

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.

We can absolutely do better when it comes to communications – for good news, bad news and general information. We have to get contacts for parents and residents into a unified system. We can also allow parents and residents to opt into a text messaging system.

Then we need protocols for what is sent out and when. For example, there should have been better messaging to parents who had kids on the Dorney Park trip – and there should have been better messaging of congratulations regarding the Chess club at Columbus Elementary.

We should also think about doing some targeted geo-fencing using zip-codes on such media as Facebook to tell New Rochelle residents about some of the achievements.

It’s not expensive and it’s so important to get our good news out.

I also want an audit of our communications – we have an outside firm with a large contract so I want to know what they are doing.

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 moved to New Rochelle in February of 2002. I now have 3 kids in the school system: 1 in the high school and 2 at Albert Leonard Middle School. My oldest is the captain of the Varsity Lacrosse team. My middle plays basketball, lacrosse and soccer. My youngest plays soccer, basketball and baseball. I spent many hours on fields and inside of gyms.

I am a former board member of the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence. My family has been a member of the various PTA’s for many, many years. My wife has been PTA co-President at Davis (and is soon to be co-President at Albert Leonard.) Supporting the schools through our PTA is a family affair. I have set up carnivals, chaperoned Halloween parties, cleaned up events etc. When our school principals have called asking for help, I have always been there to support whatever they have needed.

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

I think it hurt the reputation of our entire school district. I think we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again – and that’s where the need for strong leadership is clear.

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?

When I was with State Government, I was part of the leadership team working on the state budget and the budget of the agencies and authorities. My first year in Albany, in 2011, the budget deficit was over $10 billion – and on April 1 of that year, the legislature passed a balanced budget. One line item was millions every year being paid to a junkyard outside of Albany. We went to the junkyard and found ‘never used’Amtrak trains with trees growing out of them. No budget is a water-tight barrel- the trick is finding the waste and making the budget efficient and effective.

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?

Developing long and short term plans for companies and individuals is what I do for a living. Each initiative should be based on hard research which will be used to make a road map that includes our messaging, our plan, our implementation and our metrics to determine whether it’s a success.

The strategic road map that’s exists is a good high level plan but it needs some specifics moving forward.

Our review should include a look at:

• Achievement gap programs

• Test Score programs

• Curriculum

• Community Involvement

Basically, are we giving our students everything they need to succeed.

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?

I am on my third career now. I started in media as a freelance Associated Press photographer – when it was necessary to develop and print in a darkroom. I then went into TV news – spending almost 17 years at CBS in Albany, CBS in Miami, Fox in Detroit and CBS in New York. I covered the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center as well as 9/11. I covered the TWA crash, the Valujet Crash as well as Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina. When I was with CBS, I helped negotiate a hostage crisis in Connecticut. I then became the Communications Director for then Attorney General Cuomo and later was the Communications director for several years of Governor Cuomo’s first term.

I now handle crisis communications for companies and individuals with a portfolio of worldwide clients. I was able to do all of this – even though I couldn’t speak until third grade because of a severe stutter. Thanks to a teacher and my Cantor who took me under their wing, I was able to flourish in school and I am now able to speak publicly for a living. This just proves that with the right attention, the right tools, the right guidance – all of our students can succeed. We must make that happen.

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

Collaboration is a key component to success. This district has brilliant people working for it. Have there been shortcomings? Yes. But I believe stronger communication skills can fix many of our problems. I bring patience. I bring teamwork. I bring the ability to problem solve. I bring government experience that can help get answers. I bring dedication. I bring passion. I bring the desire to make a difference.

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

It would be my honor to serve on the School Board and I ask everyone to come out and vote!

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