Listen, Learn, Come Together

Congratulations to Julia Muggia Ochs, who won the top spot in yesterday’s School election, and to Chris Daniello, who is leading for the second position.  (And thank you to all the candidates who competed.)  Congratulations also to the newly elected Library Trustees and to backers of the Library budget, which received a thumbs-up from voters.

The big story last night, however, was the overwhelming defeat of the School budget, rejected by a 2-1 margin.

When a budget loses this badly — and I am speaking as a Yes voter — something is broken and needs to be fixed.  All of us who love our city and care about its future must come together to listen, learn, reflect on the meaning and message of the results, and then rebuild the trust upon which every public institution depends.

The City government and the School District are independent entities, and the Mayor of New Rochelle has no authority over School policy or administration, so I cannot play a primary role in this process, and it would be wrong of me to try.

But as a parent, citizen, and public official who appreciates the vital place of good schools in a healthy city, I hope to play a supportive role to whatever extent is appropriate, constructive, and welcomed.  I have no doubt that countless other residents feel exactly the same, and that the Board of Education is fully committed to the challenge ahead.  With another budget decision coming in June, there is no time to waste.

A last, larger point.  Many people have commented on the divisions evident in the pattern of yesterday’s vote and in the school campaign as a whole.

As the only person elected to serve everyone in New Rochelle, I have perhaps a unique vantage point from which to see and hear the myriad and often conflicting views that shape each resident’s relationship to and expectations from the community.  The differences can be striking and humbling, reflecting not only diversity of race, ethnicity, and religion, but also of circumstance and perspective.

To be a resident of a diverse community is not easy.  The balance that enables each of us to feel valued and included — at once true to ourselves and also part of something bigger — is delicate and fragile.  Far simpler to live where everyone looks the same and thinks the same.  It is work, stepping into other people’s shoes, seeing with other people’s eyes.  That work is hard.  It never ends.  It can be dispiriting when it goes wrong.

But it is always, always worth it.

In the end, we all want the same things: a place where we are proud to plant roots, raise our children, and grow old.  A place that is safe and beautiful and interesting.  A place where we love our neighbors and are loved by them in return, including the neighbors with whom we disagree.

Whether you voted yes or no, let’s together make this a learning experience from which our entire community emerges stronger and more united.