NEW ROCHELLE, NY — This article is Part 1 of 8 in a series on the June 23rd meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education where administrators and board members discussed a plan to move the Alternative High School from St. Gabes High School to the Family Life Center at Bethesda Baptist Church. There were four subsequent board meetings – two in executive session and two in public session. This series is focused on what took place on June 23rd, an attempt to deceive the board and the public by cherry-picking or withholding information in order to “sell” Bethesda to a skeptical school board.
The meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education on June 23rd was meant to be the grand unveiling of a secret plan in the works for months to move the Alternative High School, also known as the Campus School, from the site of the former St. Gabriel’s High School to the Family Life Center at Bethesda Baptist Church. The coronation quickly devolved into something more akin to the Battle of King’s Landing at the end of the Game of Thrones – a scorched earth.
The presentation of the secret plan to the board was made primarily by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Alex Marrero and Facilities Director Carl Thurnau with input from Campus School Administrator Andrea Schwach, Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo and Board President Amy Moselhi.
The “Strategic Considerations” slide presented by Marrero, which he referred to as “Strategic Concerns”, was a mixed up mess of a muddle and barely comprehensible. It came across as an attempt to backfill reasons for making a selection already made which is because that is what it was.
In the mistaken belief that there were enough votes to approve the move, Board Vice President Paul Warhit dismissed concerns raised by his board colleagues in a misogynistic rant — accusing the four women raising concerns with the proposed move to Bethesda of pandering to the public — closing with “the community doesn’t decide, the board decides so put on your big boy pants and get ready to make a decision.”
By the end of the meeting, the board voted to table the motion. The deal now appears in ruins — on life support if not dead.
Talk of the Sound first broke the story of the secret plan in an article published on March 4th:
We prophetically observed:
“There is no legal or financial justification for keeping the Bethesda deal secret. The only reason for doing so is because it will not stand up to even cursory scrutiny.”
It did not.
As board members spent a good part of the meeting lambasting the board leadership and the Superintendent for the failure to solicit input from key stakeholders — students, staff and parents — Board President Amy Moselhi threw Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo under the bus as if Moselhi was just another passenger.
“I hope you walk away with some lessons learned in terms of like really how when you are in a community like New Rochelle and you’re not in New York City how engaging with the board and the community is everything is everything because what would have otherwise been really a simple conversation because people would have been invested and come along,” said Moselhi. “We would have at least landed somewhere where everyone was comfortable because we would have vetted options and whatever and Mr. Thurnau would not have dedicated six months of his life in something some members of the board don’t like none of that would have happened.”
In reality, this was an Amy Moselhi Production from start to finish. She failed to mention her animating role in concocting the deal in the first place or her efforts to suppress information about the deal even after Campus School employees were informed they were moving to Bethesda in early March.
At the March 3rd school board meeting held at Jefferson School two members of the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee which has state-mandated oversight responsibility for school facilities (Robert Cox, William Coleman) asked Moselhi, also a committee member, about the proposed move from St. Gabes to Bethesda. Moselhi said she would not discuss the matter, and asserted that any sources of such information were misinformed as has since proven not to be the case.
During the June 23rd board meeting, Dr. Feijóo stated that her interest in Bethesda began at “some breakfast” in January, presumably meaning the annual Martin Luther King Day breakfast held on January 20th at the Bethesda Family Life Center. What Feijóo failed to mention was the involvement of David Peters, a Deacon of Bethesda Church, and Moselhi who has described Peters as one of her closest friends.
Many critics view the proposed move to Bethesda as a sweetheart deal between Moselhi and Peters intended to elevate Peters’s stature in the community while throwing a financial lifeline to Bethesda Baptist Church which is said to be in dire financial straights in no small part due to the economic hardship resulting from Bethesda’s failure in converting part of its’ former school/gymnasium building ￼into a banquet hall.
According to New Rochelle Building Department records, Bethesda Baptist Church was issued Building Permit BP-2005-0462 for a “two-story front addition and interior second floor addition and alteration/renovation to an existing church school”. The building permit was closed on December 31, 2008. A Certificate of Occupancy was issued on April 15, 2009.
The facility has been lightly used with few banquet hall rentals and no stable tenant between 2009 and 2020, sources say.
The “misinformed sources” Moselhi dismissed at the March 3rd board meeting were District employees who attended a meeting convened by Campus School Administrator Andrea Schwach on March 2nd and accurately recounted the details to Talk of the Sound. Schwach presented the move to Bethesda as a fait accompli according to several staffers who were present. Concerns about the lack of a gymnasium, the loss of space for an art room, music room, computer room, weight room, and more were raised as well as concerns about limited staff and visitor parking.
In an attempt to rebut questions from board members, Moselhi without a hint of appreciating the irony, accused her colleagues of “being very selective about what we are hearing.” Intended as a criticism of other board members the statement was an apt description of the presentation by Marrero and Thurnau to the Board which was comprised of many false and misleading statements or withholding of relevant facts or context.
Moselhi later challenged concerns about the Bethesda structure by saying, “the education of students will not changed based on what building they are in, that the questions are not answered by one location or another”, unwittingly making the very point skeptics on the board were making in opposing the move to Bethesda.
The presentation to the board was so confused and muddled it came across as either inept or deliberately obtuse with Moselhi, Feijoo, Marrero and Thurnau repeatedly conflating issues of location with access to services offered at New Rochelle High School.
There was a great deal of discussion during the meeting about the process that led up to the board being asked to approve the move from St. Gabes to Bethesda. None of that discussion bears on whether the Campus School should be relocated and, if it should be relocated whether that location should be Bethesda.
That said, it is concerning that none of the facilities issues described during the meeting were ever brought to the attention to the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee which is a state-mandated committee which has an oversight role on school facilities issues and construction.
It is worth noting that that had the issue of moving out of St. Gabes been tasked by the Board or Superintendent to the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee a year ago the outcome might have been very different.
The members of the committee at the time included the Principal of New Rochelle High School which includes the Campus School who also happened to lead the bargaining unit for school administrators, the President of F.U.S.E. (including teachers), the Vice President for Service Related Professionals (including custodians, security guards), the President of the New Rochelle Board of Education, and the City Manager of New Rochelle. The Facilities Director and/or his staff attend every meeting along with the District’s Constriction Management company and, often, the District’s Architectures/Engineers. In short, every key player involved in what was discussed on June 23rd by the school board was gathering on a monthly basis.
Several members of this committee did ask questions about the proposed move to Bethesda in early March but were shut out.
The most appropriate process would have been for Dr. Feijoo to task the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee to come up with a set of criteria on what the District wanted — or did not want — in a new facility for the Campus School. That criteria could have been developed in consultation with parents and students directly or through Joe Starvaggi as well as teachers and staff directly or through Billy Coleman or Martin Daly. Any information or approvals about the use of City-owned facilities like the Boys & Girls Club or Lincoln Park could have been obtained from Chuck Strome. The committee can be expanded as needed and could have included Andrea Schwach and the Director of Special and Alternative Education Dara Joseph and PTA leadership from the Campus School.
With an agreed upon framework based on the criteria, a realtor could have been hired to identify locations that met the criteria. The candidate properties could have been evaluated and scored by the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee and the scored list of all available properties evaluated by the New Rochelle Board of Education. The final published list of candidates would each receive a site visit from board members and then a public discussion about the pros and cons of the various options. If necessary, the District could have negotiated short-term exclusives with the finalists to allow for a public discussion.
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