The New Rochelle Board of Education's Rather Special World -- The "List" of Who Got Private Meetings for the Superintendent Search

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If you have not heard, last night's meeting of the New Rochelle Board of Education at Jefferson School turned into a free-for-all. There is a video and I live tweeted the meeting so let me set that aside for now.

Suffice to say there was a great deal of anger directed at Board President David Lacher for refusing to provide a list of who was and was not granted private meetings as part of the Superintendent Search Input Process and at Board Vice President Lianne Merchant who voted against granting a meeting to United Citizens for a Better New Rochelle, citing their opposition to the Echo Bay Development project and "bringing down" Mayor Noam Bramson.

At the heart of the matter was a discussion that took place at the first public input session at Isaac E. Young Middle School on January 8th.

At the meeting, former school board candidate Vince Malfetano, hearing that some individuals and groups were being granted private input sessions asked to know who those people were. With Lacher weighing in throughout the meeting, the two consultants repeatedly stated that they wanted to meet with any individual or any group that wanted to provide them input on defining the Executive Profile for the Superintendent Search. Pressed on this point repeatedly, one of the consultants interrupted Malfetano to say "I have a list right here...it's 5 or 6 pages". As he described the list he thumbed through several pages of paper. The other consultant said he would allow Malfetano to review the list after the meeting. Malfetano said he wanted a copy of the list and wanted the list made public. Close to a dozen statements were made by the consultants about their willingness to meet with anyone or any group. Lacher was present the entire time and never disputed their assertions.

At the second public input session at Albert Leonard Middle School on January 9th, Malfetano raised the issue of "the list" again prompting Lacher to give a 20 minute peroration on the subject of all the different people who were designated by the board to get a private meeting. Lacher stressed that the group was inclusive and diverse.

Lacher said Vince's question had a certain amount of cynicism, that the list was not "self-selected".

Vince said the list would tell the public what the board values in the community, then added "trust but verify".

Lacher then rattled off the types of people or groups who he says were on the list to receive private meetings:

1. Neighborhood Associations
2. Mayor
3. City Council
4. Unions
5. Principals
6. Staff
7. Department Heads
8. NAACP
9. League of Women Voters
10. Religious Leaders
11. Political Leaders
12. Educators
13. Business People
14. PTA

On January 18th, David Lacher sent an email to the other members of the New Rochelle Board of Education to apprise them of which individuals or groups had meetings based on this discussions with Dr. Lee Nunery, one of the consultants on the Superintendent Search.

Talk of the Sound has obtained a copy of this email.

Lacher begins:

"The following are the meetings which already have taken place, as best I am able to construct "the List" from what Lee has shared with me of his schedule. I know there are more individual meetings than are listed here because, for example, I know there was a meeting with Dr. Korostoff (I believe on January 9) but he is not included here."

Lacher then provide a list by date:

January 8:
Jeffrey Hastie
Rachel Relkin
John Quinn
Yvette Goorevitch
David Lacher
4:00 Forum - Staff @ Isaac Young Middle School
7:00 Forum - Public @ Isaac Young Middle School

January 9
Valerie Orellana
Bruce Daniele
Rhonda Jones
Jeffrey Korostoff
Susan Yom
Stephen Young
Lianne Merchant
4:00 Forum - Staff @ Albert Leonard Middle School
7:00 Forum - Public @ Albert Leonard Middle School

January 11
9:00 Forum - Public @Ossie Davis Theater, NR Public Library
Chrisanne Petrone

On the schedule for this Wednesday (1/22) and Thursday (1/23):

January 22
9:00 Bennie Giles, City Clerk
9:30 Mayor Nom Bramson
10:00 Barry Fertel, City Council
11:00 Charles B. Strome, III, City Manager
12:00 Deidre Polow
2:00 Susan Weisman, NR Fund for Educational Excellence
3:00 Jared Rice, City Council
4:00 Forum - Staff @ NRHS Auditorium
7:00 Forum - Public @ NRHS Auditorium

January 23
8:15 Stephanie Tomei et. al
10:00 Ivar Hyden, City Council
11:00 Albert Tarantino, City Council
12:00 Martin Daly, FUSE
1:30 Joe Starvaggi, A&S
3:00 Ron Williams, NAACP
4:00 Shari Rackman, City Council

Lacher then continues by indicating which other meetings may have taken place.

Naomi Brickell
Dr. Pam Davis
Dr. Korostoff
John Quinn
Dianne Massimo
Joe Williams
All Central Administration Directors (Dr. Adrienne Weiss, Dr. Rhonda Hones, Yvette Goorevitch)
Jeff Kehl, the attorney for the school district and board.
Linda Kelly was contacted for a one-on-one, but she has not yet been scheduled.

He continues (edited for brevity):

There is supposed to be an outreach to retired Board members, who would meet as a group if the schedule permits.

There was outreach to the Inter-religious Council but I am not aware that anyone has been scheduled in that organization.

He then lists "affinity groups" that he says were contacted but notes that none of them ended up having a private meeting.

League of Women Voters
NAACP
Chamber of Commerce
Boys & Girls Club

He writes:

"Now on the all-important question of which 'groups' either had or will be scheduled for a private meeting with the consultants: The answer is, none yet as far as I am aware."

Lacher then explains that Ron Williams (NAACP) is getting his own one-on-one meeting and that NAACP members attended the public forums but that there is no NAACP group meeting.

He says the League of Women Voters will not be having any meeting with the consultants but that Cindy Kahn, the president, is polling her members and she will provide e-mail feedback on the answers to the 3 questions.

He says Stephanie Tomei (PTA Council co-president) and Sue Weisman (New Rochelle Fund for Excellence) each had a one-on-one meeting scheduled and they may bring one or more of their board members.

He concludes by saying there might be a separate meeting of building principals, but that has not yet been scheduled.

So this email from Lacher is the best we have this point as to who is on the list.

I would now like to make a few observations about the "list".

First, I have no issue with staff, faculty, administrators, board members and PTA leaders having private meetings. Likewise with FUSE, Fund for Excellence and so forth. Of course they should be on the list.

Second, although Lacher stated that neighborhood associations were invited to have private meetings they were not. They are not on his list and I checked with a few and none had been contacted.

Third, the idea that City Clerk Bennie Giles and Chamber of Commerce Director Eli Gordon would be offered private meetings with the search consultants and that ANY ONE or ANY GROUP was denied a meeting is absurd.

Fourth, no religious leaders or business persons has had a private meeting.

So, the generic list Lacher rattled off in public was not terribly accurate but he was speaking off the cuff (and so this illustrates further that simply providing the actual list would have been better).

More to the point, Lacher has portrayed the list has broad and inclusive.

And here is where suspicions are bound to be raised. The list is clearly not inclusive.

The consultants would have no way to know but the list is compromised almost entirely of people that are paid by the school district, part of groups closely aligned with the school district and leaders in the New Rochelle Democratic Party.

While most of people would have plenty to offer in terms of experience and opinions, and I have no problem with the vast majority getting private meetings, this is largely a collection of people who are either part of the New Rochelle "cheerleading squad" that only want good things said about New Rochelle or people whose careers or "access" is determined by the "cheerleading squad." In short, while these folks might individually offer a long list of ideas, they are quite likely to be a lot of the same ideas over and over again.

I can see one gaping hole in this list.

There are people and groups that receive services and stipends from the school district under New York State law — transportation, pre-K, special education, psychological services, medical services and text books -- that are nowhere represented on this list.

I am referring to private and parochial schools in and near New Rochelle.

I have heard nothing about whether any of the New Rochelle families with children bussed to Saints John and Paul or Solomon Schechter were offered a meeting, the Mothers Auxiliary at Iona Prep, the Salesian High School SEPTA, the PTSA at Holy Name and so on. Special students? Montessori parents? The list goes on.

And this list is so obvious it makes me wonder how many other major stakeholders were never notified there was even an opportunity to have a private meeting? And have still not been contacted even to fill out the online form.

I checked with various neighborhood associations and none of them were offered a private meeting. I checked with East End Civic, West End Civic, South End Civic. Nothing.

The list -- not "mythological" as stated by Lacher last night but quite real -- is, just as Malfetano stated, a "road map" to understanding who the Board of Education considers worthy of their consideration and who is unworthy. Lianne Merchant's self-revelatory email suggests that political affiliations or personal financial interests or retribution also play role. It is an open question as to whether Merchant is an outlier but she clearly felt comfortable giving a blatantly personal and political reason for her opposition to a UCBNR meeting with the search consultants. Her use of the word "earn" is especially troubling.

What we see from Lacher's email is that the list is basically the "Usual Suspects".

The list appears to entirely vindicate Vince Malfetano's concerns.

It also explains the exaggerated attempts by Lacher to justify not making the list public. Recall, at Albert Leonard he said that a reason not to provide the list was that the consultants had advised the board that the identity of the candidates should remain secret until the end of the process. Read that again and ask yourself what one has to do with the other.

I suspect that if the Board were to provide a list of the home addresses of every individual who was granted a private one-on-one input session the largest group, by far, would be residents of District 5 and 6. The second largest group would be people who do not live in New Rochelle. Finally there would be "all other" otherwise known as Districts 1,2,3 and 4 or "the South End".

If the list of those granted a private one-on-one input session was broken down along ethnic and racial lines we would likely see the list is predominantly white, with few native Spanish speakers. If it was broken down on socio-economic lines, the list would be largely well-educated, financial secure. By age, largely older.

In other words, the "list" and certainly the list of private one-on-one input sessions, would not reflect the "diversity" that so many among the "cheerleading squad" like to praise as the District's strongest asset. It would not reflect the majority minority school district.

It would, however, reflect, the composition of the board which, in turn, reflects the make up of the North End.

Is anyone familiar with the New Rochelle Board of Education surprised?

It does explain why Lacher wants to keep the list secret.

Who knows, perhaps David Lacher actually believes that the board brainstormed in good faith to come up with a diverse and representative list.

Under this charitable scenario, the list then is a result of the sort of "group think" endemic to the New Rochelle Board of Education. This would be especially pernicious because they are so blind to it.

Pauline Kael is famously quoted as having said about the 1972 Presidential election, I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him. In the actual quote, Kael said "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon..."

And that in a nutshell is why David Lacher can say with such enthusiasm and earnestness that he invited everyone the board could think of to have a private session. The list is everyone they could think of.

The list is so narrowly constructed precisely because the New Rochelle Board of Education lives in their own rather special world.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Peggy Godfrey on Fri, 01/31/2014 - 05:39

This superintendent search process illustrates how comfortable the Board of Education members are when it comes to citizen objections. Only when the residents of New Rochelle become serious about school board elections will this disgraceful display or lack of concern for citizen input stop. All groups and individuals should take an active interest in the coming school board election.

Bob McCaffrey on Thu, 01/30/2014 - 15:53

New Rochelle School Board, responses never answers!

It still amazes me the responses we get from anyone from The New Rochelle School Board or The City of New Rochelle. That’s just it, responses not answers to the questions asked. I have made a point to ask the same questions of the board for over a year and have not gotten one answer to my questions, let alone a response.

I still love what Phil Reisman said in March 19, 2012, “Official is fluent in bureaucrat-ese”. We see this play out all the time. We get responses to questions at length and with gravitas, but also in such a way as to say absolutely nothing.

At last night’s form I asked, what groups met with the search committee? I was given the same answer as Bob. They gave the list of fourteen groups to receive private meetings the same as was listed here. I asked who decided which groups were invited or given a chance to meet with the committee. We were told, the committee did not decide this, and it was the decision of the Board of Education who would get to meet with them. First on the list was Neighborhood Associations.

My response was that I was President of my Neighborhood Association and we received no such information or invitations. Nor had any of the associations I am familiar with. The response I got was that they had no list of contacts to reach out to the associations, but they were all welcome to the open forums. That to me is a cop out or excuse, all that they needed to do was ask The City Council or City Clerk for the Neighborhood Association List on file to send a group mailing to the associations as the city does when they send out certain notices. I am sure there would have been no objection to this being done in the interest of an open process that would benefit the resident of New Rochelle and the association members.

By not reaching out to all the associations this in turn then becomes a selective process controlled for the self-interests of those selecting the groups that can meet with the committee. What validity would the process have and what validity can we expect from the online surveys that were done taking this into account.

I said last night, what we need in a New Superintendent, someone that will not put up with the past follies of the school district and school board. We need someone with a pair that is willing to take us in a new and better direction.

No more of tactics that are used in the school district and on The New Rochelle’s School Board. We have all seen the games, bullying, favoritism, cronyism and back peddling politics that has played out over the years.

Then later on in the evening former school board candidate Vince Malfetano said one thing that we all probably forget that concerns me and should concern everyone. In the end, The New Rochelle School Board hires the New Superintendent and he or she works at the pleasure of The New Rochelle School Board.

This is the reason we need to make sure this process is open and transparent. We cannot continue in the same direction under the same leadership that we have seen over the last few years. No more of tactics that are used in the school district and on The New Rochelle School Board. We have all seen the games, bullying, favoritism, cronyism and back peddling politics that has played out over the years. This is why they won’t speak to certain groups as they are afraid of the truth. It was said, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So let’s open up the process and our minds and do what is right for our children and their futures, not self-interest and big egos.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Thu, 01/30/2014 - 19:24
Title: Well said...

I would address one point when you wrote:

"We cannot continue in the same direction under the same leadership that we have seen over the last few years"

The leadership style you reference has existed for decades on the Board of Education -- paternalism (or maternalism).

There have been incremental improvements over the past few years -- Sara Richmond putting the meetings on TV, live broadcasts of budget meeting, Chrisanne convening two CACs.

As I said the other night, David Lacher has claimed that he was elected Board President with a MANDATE from the board that amounts to a giant step backwards for board transparency. That he cancelled last weeks' budget input session rather than reschedule, that he is not convening a CAC, that the board has all but ignored the CAC recommendations, that he is holding illegal executive sessions and board votes, that he refuses to disclose the list of who got private input sessions and so forth is a conscious and deliberate effort by David Lacher who had made clear that he believes that his predecessors were allowing the "inmates" run the asylum (where you, and I, are the inmates).

He said as much Tuesday, after I pointed some of this out. He said that if by mandate I meant that the board authorized him to prevent people from coming to meetings and asking questions and thus "hijacking" the meeting agenda then yes he has a mandate to do that.

That is a curious idea.

I have attended almost every board meeting for about 6 years (as of this June). I often sit quietly for 2 or 3 hours so I can speak for 3 to 5 minutes. Occasionally I ask a question, sometimes a few questions. Once I submitted a longer list of questions but did not read them aloud.

How would it be "hijacking" a meeting agenda if I use the public comment period to ask a few questions and await an email reply from the board president?

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