On Tuesday, May 15th, the people of New Rochelle will make an important decision about the future of our children and community.  I urge you to vote Yes on the School Budget and to support Julia Muggia Ochs for the Board of Education.

Yes for Schools

There are at least three ways to look at the budget . . .

First and most importantly, as a plan of action.  Does it fund the right blend of academic and social enrichment, with programming, services, and personnel that meet our community’s needs and expectations?  Does it provide for a safe, nurturing learning environment?   Does it demonstrate respect for taxpayers by utilizing resources efficiently?  In my opinion, the school budget meets these tests; it provides good value for our money through its excellent, ongoing instruction, while adding necessary new investments in psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors, and still maintaining the third lowest expenditures per pupil in Westchester.  If you’d like more detail, please read this newsletter, see this Q&A, or view this video.

The second way to look at a budget is as a statement of fundamental principles.  Do we acknowledge the centrality of public education to a healthy community and a just society?  Do we believe that youth of diverse backgrounds deserve equal opportunity?   Do we value our educators and support their pivotal role in shaping a hopeful future?  When we vote on a school budget, we say something powerful about the character of our city — a message that’s communicated to families, parents, and teachers and to anyone evaluating New Rochelle’s civic image and culture.  Particularly in the aftermath of difficult events this winter — about which I have already spoken and written extensively — a statement of belief in public education generally and our schools in particular strikes me as even more urgent than usual.

Third, a budget can be viewed in its most literal terms . . . as a document.  Does it display data in a readable and understandable fashion?  Does it permit easy comprehension of how and where resources are assigned?  Do its tables and breakdowns facilitate constructive public discussion of priorities and trade-offs, with the associated and legitimate interest in fairness and equity.  In recent weeks, there has been a vigorous debate about this set of issues, with some arguing that the school budget is insufficiently transparent.  I understand this argument and respect the people making it, but, in my opinion, even if these concerns are entirely valid, they are not a sufficient reason to reject the budget as a whole, with all the attendant risks to children’s services and the community’s reputation.  My plea is that advocates apply a sense of proportion to these concerns, and then — however the vote goes — come together to address these challenges in the most constructive fashion available.

To be completely candid, the school budget is facing strong headwinds this year, and its passage is far from assured.  This is no time to sit on the sidelines — please be sure to vote.

Board of Education:  Julia Muggia Ochs

There are eight candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education.  That’s the largest field I can remember — a good and positive indicator of community interest in our schools, and yet also a high-class challenge for voters, who have to sift through a surplus of options to pick the best two.  For me and Catie, our first choice is clear:  Julia Muggia Ochs.

Julia Muggia Ochs

Julia is the president of the district-wide PTA Council and the former co-president of the Special Education PTA, giving her a greater depth and breadth of experience in local education than any other candidate.  Beyond these credentials, I know Julia to be exceptionally thoughtful, kind, intelligent, and responsible, with an intense, deeply-felt commitment to providing all of New Rochelle’s children with an opportunity to excel.

Furthermore, Julia has the capacity to strengthen the Board of Education as a whole.  The most effective public officials are able to balance their individual and institutional roles. That is: demonstrate principled, personal leadership through vigorous debate and advocacy, while at the same time recognizing that meaningful accomplishment requires teamwork, collaboration, and compromise.  Intellectually and temperamentally, Julia gets this balance exactly right.

Finally and of special importance this year, given my comments above, Julia has taken a forthright position in favor of the School Budget, and this also weighs heavily in my recommendation.

Catie and I have high regard for several of the other candidates and are still weighing our choices for the second spot (we may even end up voting differently, which is fine.)  So rather than endorse a second candidate, we simply encourage you to consider who best reflects your values and who is best prepared by intellect, demeanor, experience, and community relationships to serve the children and families of New Rochelle.

Library Trustees: Barrat, Bonnet, Galloway, and Jacobs

While the School elections understandably get most of the attention, let’s not forget that we also have an opportunity to vote on the Library Budget and for Library Trustees.

Five people are competing for four positions on the Library Board.  My enthusiastic endorsement goes to:  Whitney Barrat, Dan Bonnet, Corey Galloway, and Quentin Jacobs.  In addition to being capable and dedicated stewards of the library’s programming and finances, these four candidates have taken a careful, responsible and forward-looking position with respect to the potential creation of a new library, equipped for the twenty-first century.  Our library is the intellectual and cultural focal point of a growing and changing downtown and is vital to all of New Rochelle, so it’s essential that library leaders thoughtfully consider opportunities to evolve and thrive in the years to come.

Thank You for Reading

As always, my recommendation comes with no pressure, requirement, or directive attached and carries precisely as much weight as you and other voters choose to assign it, no more, no less.

Thank you for taking the time to read such a lengthy message and for considering my viewpoint as you make your own choice.  And please be certain to vote on May 15th.