Wow! What a race for school board!
I want to thank all those people who came out to vote Tuesday, especially those 1,796 voters that cast their votes for Financial Accountability, Transparency, Equity and Excellence.
We came up 172 votes short out of 8,546 votes cast or 2% of the total votes cast. We did not win but last night, surrounded by an incredible group of volunteers who came together from all parts of the City, it sure did not feel like a loss. There is always a lot of talk in New Rochelle about "celebrating diversity" but our campaign brought together as diverse a group as your are going to see: North End and South End, East End and West End, African-American, Latino and White, Young and Old, Christians and Jews of many denominations, professionals, working class, housewives, civic leaders, elected officials, veterans, municipal and school district employees and more. These are people who came together on the fly, from very different walks of life but all united by a common desire to restore Financial Accountability, Transparency, Equity and Excellence to our schools.
UPDATE: We just got the official canvas. There were 5,028 votes cast up from about 3,900 last year or a 27% increase or about 12% of registered voters up from about 9%. That was the impact of our campaign on voter turnout.
Somewhere along the way, from turning in our petitions to get on the ballot at the end of April until Election Day yesterday, this year's race for school board became about something larger than any individual candidate. In just three weeks, the race was transformed into a referendum on out-of-touch leadership in both our school district and our municipal government, people fed up with ever-increasing taxes, going up in inverse proportion to the decline in the quality and integrity of the product offered by our City and Schools and dissatisfaction with our current leadership.
Almost 1,800 people came to the polls Tuesday, many being people who normally do not vote in school board elections, to say with one voice "enough is enough, we deserve better". It is those people I intend to represent at future Board of Education meetings.
The returns by polling place say a lot about the school district specifically and the state of New Rochelle generally.
I won every South End school -- Jefferson, Columbus, Trinity and Isaac. I also won Holy Name and City Park and came in second at the Martin Luther King Center and New Rochelle High School. I was particularly gratified to come in second at MLK as I worked hard to ask for that vote and got it.
I ran 1st or 2nd at 8 of 13 polling places. The two winning candidates ran 1-2 at the other 5, all of the North End schools. The results reflect what I have been writing about here on Talk of the Sound and talking about on WVOX Talk of the Sound Radio. Residents in the West End, South End, East End and the City Center are dissatisfied with the performance of the administration of the school system - increasing expenses, higher taxes and general financial mismanagement. Their children are experiencing a fundamentally different educational experience and they do not like it. The North End districts of Webster, Barnard, Davis, Ward and ALMS are generally satisfied with the schools. I appreciate that as my children, at one time or another, have attended each of those five schools. If that's all you know, the New Rochelle schools are great but where does that leave the rest of the community? That's one divide we need to bridge in this community.
Another divide is between public school parents and those who choose to place their children in private and parochial schools. These children have the same claim on the attention and concerns of the Board of Education as any child in the public schools, both morally and legally. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak's decision to exploit this divide in order to pass a school budget, pitting neighbor against neighbor, was a cowardly and cynical maneuver that served only to tear communities apart. It was easily among the most shameful episodes in his career as Superintendent in New Rochelle, a career littered with such episodes.
Yet another divide to bridge is between the people who benefit directly from their children being in the public schools and those who generously fund those schools despite not having school-age children. The budget process shows a complete lack of respect for those people who fund the district but especially those without children. One issue that came across loud and clear in this campaign, and was echoed even by the "anointed" establishment candidates, is that entire budget process is Kabuki Theater where Assistant Superintendent Quinn is allowed by the board to waste hundreds of man hours reading aloud every line in the budget, a document that any interested person could read at home prior to the budget meetings if only it was provided to them in advance.
What should be clear is that New Rochelle is currently ruled by a relatively small but organized group that runs the City and the School District for their own narrow interest at the expense of every other resident. The last divide to bridge is that between the perception of invincibility that the North End political machine has cultivated and the reality that an ad hoc, rag tag army of volunteers came within two percentage points of taking them down on their home turf.
To those who manned the barricades this time, my thanks. To those who will join us next time, welcome.