Thoughts on the 2019 School Board, Library Board and Budget Vote

Written By: Robert Cox

The most important thing to happen in this year’s school election already happened, on May 1st, when current School Board President Jeffrey Hastie did not file the petitions his supporters had collected for him.

The debacle that has been the Hastie one-term tenure as school board President is a different story for a different day but for now residents can be grateful that his grotesquely negative influence on our community will end on June 30th, after which, word is he is not only moving out of New Rochelle but moving out of the country, off the continent, to Europe. Does it surprise anyone he would spend a year creating a mess then move to Italy?

Vai via e non tornare.

It is our view that every person on the school board on January 10, 2018 should have resigned that day given their failure to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to see that their own policies were being implemented by the Superintendent, namely 5520: Closed Campus at New Rochelle High School. Barring that unlikely scenario, the next best thing is that none of those board members should serve beyond their current term. That four of the nine will no longer be board members 17 months later, as of July 1, 2019 (Maddali Attalah, Pam Davis, Sal Fernandez and Jeffrey Hastie), is progress.

The second most important thing also already happened: Mayor Noam Bramson did not endorse any candidates this year, reverting back to a policy he first abandoned in 2011.

THE 2019-2020 BUDGET: NO

We attend every budget meeting this year and several Finance and Facilities committee meetings. We can say without fear of contradiction that the entire budget process was a dismal failure, especially ironic considering that the board leadership of Jeffrey Hastie and Amy Moselhi came to power last year based on strident opposition to what they portrayed as a lack of transparency in the budget. If you are going to demagogue on that issue when out of power you damn well better do a better job when in power. They did not. Hastie did not even bother to remain in the country for the entire budget review process – skipping every meeting. The so-called “budget cafe” was a pathetic undertaking with the cafe dominated by the presence of school board members, employees and the boys Lacrosse team (they wanted their friend hired on a permanent basis). The despicable attempt to retroactively portray a town hall meeting in January as a “budget input” session was a de facto admission of the general failure to solicit community to input.

The budget itself consists almost entirely of setting revenue at the maximum, at, but not over, the tax levy cap, blindly rolling forward last year’s budget — largely the same as the one Hastie and Moselhi opposed last year — then filling in the spending up to that amount.

If you believe, as Emerson wrote, “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” then you will like this budget

For our part, we do not.

We rarely take a position in opposition to the budget (and did not last year). There seems little likelihood that this year’s budget will fail and as it does not break the tax levy cap and so only required 50% + 1 vote to pass. That said, we view the vote as a referendum on the current board leadership which has utterly failed to improve on last year’s budget process which they decried and, by every measure that matters, made things worse.

In our view this budget is a referendum on the incredibly stupid, short-sighted decision to remove Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration Jeff White, one of a very small number of highly capable senior administrators we have seen since launching Talk of the Sound in 2008, a person who actually exceeded every expectation from when he was hired. On his watch, he got rid of Aramark, pushed out Jeff Kehl, fired 42 employees in a District that typically fires no one, balanced the budget, improved the District credit rating, passed the largest school bond in the history of New Rochelle, routinely hired talented people, implemented a green cleaning program, re-established the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee and much more.

We recommend a NO vote on the budget — well aware it will pass anyway — but as a rejection of Hastie-ism

Hastie-ism is the concept that board members should be directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the school district, achieved by the method of firing “everyone”, filling most key leadership positions with “interims”, wielding power through the use of weak, sock-puppet administrators, creating an environment which talented administrators seek to avoid, them moving to Italy with your girlfriend.

SCHOOL BOARD: BAMBERGER AND CANTONE

We attend every candidate forum but one and we listened to that on audio tape. We attended the East End Civic, the CNA at the American Legion, the League of Women Voters, the PTA Council and the NAACP New Rochelle Branch. We listened to audio of the Gnarly Vine event.

This year there are five candidates for school board: Richard Bamberger, William Ianuzzi, Peter Cantone, Vince Malfetano, and Valarie Williams. There are two open seats this year.

We are endorsing two of them: Richard Bamberger and Peter Cantone.

We believe Richard Bamberger is by far the strongest candidate and is an easy choice for the first seat.

Peter Cantone and William Ianuzzi would both make good choices for the second seat but forced to choose between the two we are going with Peter Cantone as the most determined and experienced of the two

It is our hope and expectation that if William Ianuzzi does not win a seat this year he will continue his involvement in the schools through the Boys & Girls Club, the Outreach Committee and be back as a candidate in the future.

We spent more than 5 hours meeting with these three candidates. We would be satisfied with any of these three candidates being elected to school board but will be voting Bamberger and Cantone on Tuesday, May 21st.

Richard Bamberger

By far the most professionally accomplished candidate in the field, our first question to him back in April is why someone like him would want a position like school board member. Bamberger has worked in high-level positions in television news for years, served as Director of Communications for Andrew Cuomo as Attorney General and Governor and is currently a Managing Director at a prestigious media relations and crisis consulting firm. A good case can be made that the District should have hired him and his firm last year; that the District could get the benefit of his knowledge, experience and contacts for free is a good thing. Having the Governor’s personal line on speed dial is even better. The downside to his professional success is whether his job will interfere with attending school board meetings, a problem that manifest itself quite a bit over the past several years with Madalli Attalah resigning and high levels of absence by Jeffrey Hastie, Sal Fernandez, Paul Warhit and Todd Kern. Asked about this, Bamberger said he would be at the board meetings. If he wins, we will hold him to it.

Peter Cantone

No candidate wants the job more than Peter Cantone and when he speaks about why he first got involved with school board issues in 2018 he is compelling. He talks about how the school violence that January made him think about the safety of his own children – four girls – and their teachers at the high school. He put in a good deal of effort last spring on the budget and was a tireless advocate for financial transparency. He has evolved as a candidate from his first appearance in which he took credit for single-handedly causing things to happen that were going to happen anyway (the defeat of the first budget in which exceeded the tax levy cap, and the departure of Dr. Brian Osborne and NRHS Principal) and claiming not to understand how anyone could not support School Resource Officers in the schools, to more nuanced positions where he talked about collaboration with others and a better understanding of the concerns of SRO opponents. If he wins a seat on the board he will benefit from continuing to evolve along these lines if he wants to advance ideas on a body where five votes are required but consensus is preferred.

William Ianuzzi

We at first dismissed the candidacy of this 26-year old on the grounds that he was too young, unmarried, with no children of his own. From the opening moments of the first candidate forum at the East End Civic in April, we revised our opinion. Ianuzzi was thoughtful, engaging and clearly knew more about what was going on in the schools than any recent school board candidate. He was without a doubt the most “likable” and “approachable” of the candidates and extremely articulate on key issues, all attributes that would serve the board well. His work with the Boy’s & Girls Club is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he is in the schools on a regular basis where he works closely with building leadership selling and maintaining BGCNR programs. On the other hand, such work would represent a clear conflict of interest beyond simply abstaining from board votes on BGCNR funding resolutions. School principals and staff would be dealing with a program director for a non-profit who has a say in the budget for their schools and their own future as employees. We asked Iannuzzi about this conflict two weeks ago and he has yet to explain how he would resolve the conflict but if he wins and wants to serve out his term we would insist that he resign from his current role with the Boys & Girls Club.

Valarie Williams

Fairly or unfairly, it is difficult not to compare Valarie Williams to former board member Dr. Pam Davis. Both were teachers in a school district on the other side of the county, both had no prior involvement with the New Rochelle school community prior to running for school board, both were unmarried and had no children. In her favor, at least Williams grew up in New Rochelle and has lived in New Rochelle for decades. Davis had moved to New Rochelle from Mount Vernon two years prior to running for the board. Davis’ spent five years decorating a chair, never having been made an officer of the board and making not a single significant contribution. She did serve on the New Rochelle IDA which seems to be why she was supported by Greg Merchant. We worry that with no track record of involvement in the schools, Williams may follow the Davis track; Williams had support from elements of Indivisible Westchester, a group with a history of politicizing school issues.

Vince Malfetano

For the same reasons we have explained in the past, we would never support Vince Malfetano for any office let alone school board. We are aware that Malfetano has garnered some support from people who only became active in school matters in the past 16 months and do not know his history. It is true that Malfetano comported himself better during the two video taped candidate forums but the real Malfetano was on display at the most recent Culture & Climate Committee meeting where he reverted to form, getting nose to nose with a committee member and screaming in his face. His performance at the NAACP New Rochelle Branch candidate forum was buffoonish (at one point, he joked that he was going to declare himself a 25-year old black man to get the support of the NAACP). Like Nancy Reagan used to say, when it comes to Vince, “just say no”.

Our Endorsements: Richard Bamberger and Peter Cantone

As for the Library, the budget is trivial so we will vote yes. Of the three candidates, the only one we know is Beth Accocella so are endorsing her. She will certainly be a vocal and active member. That said, we support the sale of the library and its relocation elsewhere if the board can find a developer willing to pay a boatload of money for the privilege.

A personal note on Vince Malfetano taking credit for my work…

Vince Malfetano has stated many times that he and Peggy Godfrey were raising the issue of the failure to implement Policy 5520, Closed Campus at New Rochelle High School, before the murder of Valaree Schwab on January 10, 2018. Malfetano he and Godfrey were “raising the issue FOR YEARS”.

None of this is true and as the person who WAS raising it “FOR YEARS” I resent Malfetano and Godfrey seeking to pass off my effort as their own.

The decision to stop enforcing 5520 occurred in Spring 2015. No one, including me, raised the issue publicly until October 3, 2017. I had raised the issue privately from Spring 2015 until I wrote the following article three months before the murder.

Enough is Enough: Time to Enforce School Board’s Closed Campus Policy at New Rochelle High School – Part I (October 3, 2017)

I then posted photos and videos almost daily of students using drugs, screaming, yelling, fighting and otherwise behaving badly for which many on social media complained.

In response to Malfetano using the WVOX airwaves to spread his lies, that he and Godfrey spoke about 5520 at board meetings, I wrote this article:

Stop Re-Writing History on New Rochelle High School Closed Campus Policy (February 29, 2019)

During the current school board campaign, Malfetano has continued to spread his lies, that he and Godfrey spoke about 5520 at board meetings. Today, I looked through the District meeting archives, going through every meeting back over the year before the murder. Here is what I found:

Malfetano spoke at 6 board meetings, none on the topic of 5520.

  • 10/24/17 Lincoln Attendance Zone
  • 8/1/17 Funding
  • 6/20/17 Time on Task
  • 4/19/17 Bussing
  • 4/4/17 Development
  • 2/7/17 School Use

Godfrey spoke at 4 meetings, none on the topic of 5520.

  • 8/1/17 Time on Task, etc.
  • 6/20/17 Various Education Issues
  • 4/19/17 Development, Idling
  • 4/4/17 Development

Malfetano has also referenced my reporting on the Bramson-Osborne-Richardson press conference on January 11, 2018. He had nothing to do with that either.

The First Step to Begin Restoring Trust in New Rochelle School System is to Come Clean on the Supposed Open Campus Practice (February 8, 2018)

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 2019 School Board, Library Board and Budget Vote”

  1. Bob — Thank you for hastening the departure of Hastie. I wonder if Mr. Hastie plans on paying his $2,000 telephone bill before he leaves for Europe?

  2. I seriously doubt he has any plans to be transparent and financially accountable for his abuse of a taxpayer funded phone.

    There are two “regulars” at BOE Meetings who were present when Hastie was sworn in back in 2009, me and the District Clerk. When they got to the part that it was a 5 year term he laughed out loud, during the oath. He said that day he would not be there in 5 years.

    It was me who convinced him to run (to my regret) for a second term.

    Had it not been for a series of unfortunate events (Attalah resignation, Hastie replacing her as VP, a weak-kneed board, his election as Board President) I thought Hastie would resign a year early (divorce, sold house, kids in college, girlfriend in Italy).

    So, I do not put much stock in the idea that I was a key factor in his decision not to run but other people do think that. I have no idea. I just know I did what I could, and was prepared to pour my heart and soul into crushing him in the current election. If that gave him pause, good.

    With so much baggage and ill-will towards him he would have been lucky to get 600 votes.

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