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Heavy Turnout Drives Soul Crushing Defeat for New Rochelle School Budget

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Heavy Turnout Drives Soul Crushing Defeat for New Rochelle School Budget

May 16, 2018 - 08:38
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Muggia Ochs and Daniello win board seats.

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- For only the second time in New Rochelle history, voters have rejected a proposed school budget. The City School District of New Rochelle has a little over a month to convince voters to support a budget or New York State will step in to administer a Contingency Budget which will entail a form of financial austerity never before experienced in the Queen City.

It is not just that the referendum on the 2018-19 school budget was defeated but it is the suffocating nature of the defeat that has left Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and the five board members who supported his tax-levy-cap-busting albatross gasping for air.

The defeat is a particular blow for School Board President Rachel Relkin who has come under heavy criticism for her inept leadership in the wake of January’s school violence, her failure to enforce school board policy which precipitated the death of a student and lying about Dr. Osborne’s role in the hiring of a Maryland school official with close ties to Osborne to run a committee on school violence created by New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.

Also taking a hit are Bramson, Council Member Jared Rice, School Board Members Todd Kern and Paul Warhit all of whom were among the loudest, most vocal advocates for what proved to be the most unpopular proposed budget since New Rochelle was incorporated in 1899.

The overwhelming defeat was apparent so soon after election returns began filtering into City Hall that within minutes of the last vote totals being posted the School District had already decided against submitting the same budget a second time, opting instead to propose a revised budget for the upcoming June 19 vote.

The official election results will be announced at a Special Meeting of the school board on Wednesday at City Hall at 7:30 p.m.

At the same meeting the school board will fill the board seat left vacant after Maddali Attalah resigned from the board in January in the wake of a spate of school violence that left one student dead, another in critical condition at an area trauma center, and the arrest of six students on felony charges, including one student who was apprehended by the FBI in Alabama on Monday after a four-month manhunt.

Julia Muggia Ochs received the most votes, 1,712, and will fill a five-year term beginning July 1, 2018, and ending June 30, 2023. Christopher Daniello received the second most votes, 1,449, and will fill a two-year term (an unexpired portion of a five-year term). He will be sworn in tomorrow and the term will end on June 30, 2020.

Daniello, a New York City police officer, has previously stated in candidate forums — and confirmed to Talk of the Sound again tonight after his victory —that he would not support a budget that exceeded the tax levy cap nor would he support extending Osborne’s contract which ends June 30, 2019.

Osborne’s contract has a clause which requires the board to notify the Superintendent by the end of next month whether he will be retained. Daniello will have a vote on both the revised budget and Osborne’s contract.

Based on the school board vote on April 17th to adopt the budget proposed by Osborne, the budget which failed on May 15th, it appears Osborne has the five votes needed to be renewed. The budget adopted by the short-handed board passed by a vote of 5-2 in April.

The two “no” votes came from Jeffrey Hastie and Amy Moselhi. A third board member, Sal Fernandez, was not present at the April 17th meeting but later issued a statement to Talk of the Sound that he would have voted “no” on the proposed budget. 

There is some intrigue to the board vote on April 17th, which is viewed by many as a proxy vote on Osborne’s continued leadership. 

Jeffrey Hastie was elected board Vice President by a 7-1 vote in January after the previous Vice President Maddali Attalah resigned. Attalah was upset with Osborne after he maneuvered to get the board to dump her as board Vice President in 2017.

Lianne Merchant was the sole vote against Hastie’s election as Vice President. Her opposition to Hastie is apparently related to a long-simmering feud that goes back to Hastie leaking an e-mail exchange to Talk of the Sound in which then-Board President Merchant sought to deny Hastie a role in the job search process which led to the hiring of Osborne.

Merchant opposed Hastie having a role because, as she told her fellow board members in the leaked emails, Hastie had not been sufficiently supportive of New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson’s efforts with the Echo Bay development project. It later emerged that Merchant’s husband, real estate broker Greg Merchant, was on the payroll of the developer of the project, Forest City/Ratner and stood to gain from commissions on the sale of condominiums offered by Forest City/Ratner. The Echo Bay development deal collapsed in 2013 with the City Council voting 6-1 to terminate a Memorandum of Understanding with Forest City/Ratner.

Bramson has, for years, played a direct role in selecting and electing school board candidates, putatively a non-partisan position. In 2016, Bramson went beyond  just endorsing candidates and putting the resources of the political party he leads at the disposal of school board candidates; he wrote a $1,000 check from his campaign fund to Todd Kern’s campaign fund.

Kern and Hastie have some sort of alliance with Bramson which surfaced when the pair emailed out identical letters to their friends purporting to be their own words but which contained thoughts, ideas and phrases lifted directly from a speech Bramson delivered at a press conference the day after the murder of Valaree Schwab.

With Dr. Pam Davis a lame-duck, bad blood between Hastie and Merchant, the alliance between Hastie, Moselhi and Fernandez another alliance between Bramson, Kern and Hastie and Bramson’s anger toward’s Osborne following the negative publicity brought by the school district which served to threaten Bramson’s political career by undermining downtown development, it is difficult to say whether Osborne will maintain the five votes he had in April after Tuesday’s crushing defeat of the school budget.

The proposed budget for the 2018-2019 school year was rejected with 3,119 votes against and 1,689 in favor of the $272,804,093 measure. The results remain unofficial pending the counting of 20 affidavit ballots.

The District administration and Board of Education will begin working together on budget revisions. The Board is expected to adopt a new budget on May 29 and there will be a public hearing at 7 p.m. on June 5 in New Rochelle High School. Voters will have an opportunity to approve the revised budget on June 19. If the second budget fails to get voter approval, the District would be subject to a contingency budget.

The rejected budget carried a tax levy increase of 3.89 percent, surpassing the 2.231 percent tax levy cap for New Rochelle.

“We knew a tax cap override would be difficult to achieve,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne. “The voters have spoken. We will take a hard look in developing a new spending plan for the June 19 re-vote.”

A second proposition on the ballot was approved by a 2,484 to 2,319 vote. It will set up a capital reserve fund that will not impact taxpayers. The fund will be established to receive the District’s share of the City of New Rochelle’s Fair Share Mitigation Fund, which is comprised of mandatory contributions from developers under the City’s zoning plan for the Downtown Overlay Zone and/or any other legally available funds of the School District. The reserve fund will be used for construction and renovation costs.

Talk of the Sound took a look inside the numbers. The raw analysis can be found below for those interested to poke around but a few numbers jump out.

First, some good news, relatively speaking, on voter turnout. 4,808 votes were cast on the school budget out of 43,109 registered voters or 11.15% which is well above the typical 5-8% range.

Second, the school budget, which needed 60% to pass got only a bit above half that amount. The budget failed with just 35.1% support.

New Rochelle High School had the highest number of “no” votes, 426.

Albert Leonard Middle School was the only budget vote that was even close, failing 195-215.

Salesian and Jefferson both came in at over 80% “no”. Salesian at 84.0% and Jefferson at 82.9%.

Five of the thirteen polling places accounted for more than 55% of the “no” votes cast. New Rochelle High School led the way with 13.66% of all the "no" votes. Davis was next at 11.93%, followed by Salesian at 10.93%. Barnard and Webster both came in just under 10% (9.94%).

As for the school board candidates, the election proved to be a three candidate race with Julia Muggia Ochs at 1,712 and Chris Daniello at 1,449 narrowly eclipsing David Peters at 1,425. All other candidates were well below 1,000 votes.

Four candidates won at specific polling places with top vote-getter Julia Muggia Ochs winning 5 (Barnard, Davis, NRHS, ALMS, Ward). Chris Daniello won 3 (Jefferson, IEYMS, Salesian) as did David Peters (MLK, Webster, 570 Fifth). Eddie Contreras won 2 (Columbus, Trinity).

The raw analysis follows:

 

SCHOOL BUDGET CRUSHED:

YES: 1,689 (35.1%) NO 3,119 (64.9%). 60% required to pass

 

Ranked by Amount of NO votes

NRHS: YES 258 (37.7%) NO 426 (62.3%)

Davis: YES 239 (39.1%) NO 372 (60.9%)

Salesian: YES 65 (16.0%) NO 341 (84.0%)

Webster: YES 162 (34.3%) NO 310 (65.7%)

Barnard: YES 236 (43.2%) NO 310 (56.8%)

Jefferson: YES 51 (17.1%) NO 248 (82.9%)

Ward: YES 121 (34.3%) NO 232 (65.7%)

ALMS: YES 195 (47.6%) NO 215 (52.4%)

Columbus: YES 68 (26.2%) NO 194 (73.8%)

IEYMS: YES 92 (36.1%) NO 163 (63.9%)

MLK: YES 101 (39.6%) NO 154 (60.4%) 

Trinity: YES 86 (38.7%) NO 136 (61.3%) 570 Fifth: YES 14 (43.7%) NO 18 (56.3%)

 

Ranked by % NOs

Salesian: YES 65 (16.0%) NO 341 (84.0%)

Jefferson: YES 51 (17.1%) NO 248 (82.9%)

Columbus: YES 68 (26.2%) NO 194 (73.8%)

Webster: YES 162 (34.3%) NO 310 (65.7%)

Ward: YES 121 (34.3%) NO 232 (65.7%)

IEYMS: YES 92 (36.1%) NO 163 (63.9%)

NRHS: YES 258 (37.7%) NO 426 (62.3%)

Trinity: YES 86 (38.7%) NO 136 (61.3%) 

Davis: YES 239 (39.1%) NO 372 (60.9%)

MLK: YES 101 (39.6%) NO 154 (60.4%) 

Barnard: YES 236 (43.2%) NO 310 (56.8%)

570 Fifth: YES 14 (43.7%) NO 18 (56.3%)

ALMS: YES 195 (47.6%) NO 215 (52.4%)

 

Ranked by % of NO votes out of total NOs (3,119)

NRHS: NO 426 (13.66%)

Davis: NO 372 (11.93%)

Salesian: NO 341 (10.93%)

Barnard: NO 310 (9.94%)

Webster: NO 310 (9.94%)

Jefferson: NO 248 (7.95%)

Ward: NO 232 (7.44%)

ALMS: NO 215 (6.90%)

Columbus: NO 194 (6.22%)

IEYMS: NO 163 (5.23%)

MLK: NO 154 (4.94%)

Trinity: NO 136 (4.36%)

570 Fifth: NO 18 (0.06%)

 

Candidate vote totals:

1. Julia Muggia Ochs 1,712

2. Chris Daniello 1,449

3. David Peters 1,425

4. Vince Malfetano 897

5. Eddie Contreras 881

6. Valarie Samn 644

7. Adrianne Moses 482

8. Jakub Lau 400

 

Winners by polling places

Barnard - Julia Muggia Ochs

Columbus - Eddie Contreras

Davis - Julia Muggia Ochs

Jefferson - Chris Daniello

MLK - David Peters

NRHS - Julia Muggia Ochs

Trinity - Eddie Contreras

ALMS - Julia Muggia Ochs

Webster - David Peters

IEYMS - Chris Daniello

Salesian - Chris Daniello

Ward - Julia Muggia Ochs

570 Fifth - David Peters

 

Candidates who won polling places:

Julia Muggia Ochs (5): Barnard, Davis, NRHS, ALMS, Ward

Chris Daniello (3): Jefferson, IEYMS, Salesian

David Peters (3): MLK, Webster, 570 Fifth

Eddie Contreras (2): Columbus, Trinity

Vince Malfetano (0): None

Valarie Samn (0): None

Adrianne Moses (0): None

Jakub Lau (0): None