Before the League of Women Voters’ LMC-TV forum to meet the Mamaroneck School Board candidates, moderator Alice Bloom gathered the four participants around like a boxing referee and laid out the ground rules: the event would be a discussion, not a debate, and there would be no gotcha moments.
The low-key, yet informative affair aired live on with just 10 people in the village courtroom/boardroom, including two broadcast technicians, one spectator and a reporter. Voting for the candidates, the school budget and a capital improvement bond will be on May 15.
For the first time since 2006, the board will have a rare contested election with four candidates vying for three vacancies. To keep overt politics at bay, candidates are vetted by the Mamaroneck School Board Selection Committee, which chooses one candidate per open position.
This year, Victor Gatti chose to run as an independent and secured the 49 signatures required to participate. By luck of the draw, his name will be placed second on the ballot list.
The candidates vetted by the Selection Committee include current school board president Robin Nichinsky and newcomers Melany Gray and Roger Martin.
Alice Pernick, vice president of debates at the Larchmont-Mamaroneck League of Women Voters, helped produce the event. Bloom is a past president of the local chapter of the league who now lives in Rye, “so she’s neutral,” joked Pernick.
Bloom set the tone by outlining the issues facing future board members, including maintaining educational quality in an era of dwindling budgets, unfunded mandates, teacher evaluations, maintaining an aging infrastructure, spending controls and tax caps.
She then asked the candidates what motivated them to run for school board and what personal and professional skills they brought to the table that would make them perform in an effective manner.
For a short bio of both Nichinsky and Martin, please click on the highlighted names below.
replied that she had served on the board for six years and “on pretty much every committee that we have in the school district.” Her work as an attorney is helpful for behind the scenes legal matters like contracts and collective bargaining, along with conflict resolution skills. Because it takes a while to develop knowledge about the inner workings of the board and the schools, and because the incoming board will be relatively inexperienced after three board members had to step down after one term due to commitment issues, her expertise is important.
A partner in the account firm KPMG LLP, Gatti has served on the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee for the past year. He warned of lean years arriving in the next decade, as financial constraints will put a pinch on the quality of education. He broke down the budget into discretionary and nondiscretionary spending, contending that most of the savings in the discretionary portion of the budget has already been wrung. His experience in the private sector gives him a unique ability to make tough decisions about how to balance the desire for quality education with monetary realities. He is good at identifying problems, solving those issues and negotiating with people, skills he called “portable” to the public sector. The issues facing the schools are similar than those facing businesses. “They’re not different,” he said. “It’s not different, it’s just a matter of context.”
Gatti has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, a J.D. Magna cum laude from Western New England College School of Law, and an LLM Master of Tax from New York University. He and his wife Alexandra moved to Larchmont from New York City in 2008. Their daughters are kindergartners at .
A longtime volunteer in the school system, is impressed by what she sees, but thinks “we can probably do things better.” A longtime reporter on school issues for the Larchmont Gazette, she noted that it’s hard to maintain educational quality with the tax cap coming down the pike. Her ability to solve problems stems from her analytical and fair nature, she said. Also a lawyer, she cited her legal training as an attribute that helps her solve problems. She has a passion for communications and recognizes that tougher financial times are coming. She has the ability, she said, to understand “why schools are the way they are and what can be changed.”
A graduate of some 50 years ago, has served in the educational administration as a dean at Harvard and as a president of two colleges. “I believe in service and in giving back,” he said. Now retired, he has the time to put into the position. He currently volunteers at the high school, helping seniors apply to colleges. He has considerable experience dealing with educational budgets and offers an insider’s perspective. When Bloom asked him if his experience in higher education was applicable to local schools, he said that they had similar problems.
The candidates delved into more issues that will be covered in a subsequent article.