Name: Michael Recca
Occupation: Westchester County Department of Social Services- Financial Administration.
Education: BS in Business Administration, concentration in Finance, Fordham University 2010
Experience: Member of Board of Education Parking Advisory Committee (2006-2007); Chair, 2003-2004 Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council-HS Principal Search
Have you ever held an elected office? If so, what office did you hold and when did you hold it? President of the PMHS Class of 2006 (2002-2006); Senator for the Fordham University United Student Government (2008); Executive Vice President of the Gabelli School of Business (2008-2009); Executive Vice President of Fordham University United Student Government (2009-2010)
Why do you want to serve? I believe that I can bring a unique perspective the Pelham Board of Education as I have been involved in the community for nearly half of my life. Pelham is my hometown - I love the Schools, the Town and the residents of the community. I want to ensure that current and future generations of Pelham students get the same quality educational experience that I received. Having no children, I will be able to make decisions that affect specific constituencies, such as elementary class size, or additional programs in secondary schools, without having a personal interest in the situation. My interest is preserving and enhancing the educational experience for students across all grade levels, while maintaining fiscally responsible budgets.
Some district parents expressed frustration over the way the current board of education handled 2012-2013 budget process. Are you happy with the way the budget process was handled? If not, what else did you want to see the board do? I am happy with the budget process. I think the line by line budget review is essential because it gives members of the community an insight on what exactly is in the budget. Having our administrators explain line by line what each account code is gives residents an opportunity to understand how and why the budget was crafted. I support the move this year to open the Finance Committee meetings and I think this was another effort by the current Board of Education to improve transparency. One thing I would have like to have seen the Board of Education implement would be a volunteer Citizens Budget Committee. There are residents in Pelham who possess expertise that they can volunteer to our community. These residents should be encouraged to get involved with our district and help us tackle tough issues.
This is the first year that the Pelham school district has had to deal with the property tax cap. What adjustments do you think need to be made going forward to ensure that pressures from the tax cap don’t dramatically impact the quality of instruction offered by the district? We need mandate relief from Albany. I am a supporter of the property tax cap; I believe it will force districts to think long and hard about every expense. However, the property tax cap was always seen as step number one, with mandate relief being the next step to bringing true long-term stability to school districts and homeowners. Next year, the budget will be extremely difficult for us to produce. Our personnel expenses are increasing at a higher rate than we will be able to raise revenues due to collectively bargained agreements. This model is unsustainable. The newly elected BOE members will be part of team negotiating a new contract with our bargaining units in the coming years. We need to ensure that the yearly salary increases do not exceed our ability to raise revenue. I believe we also need to look at all expenses in the budget and look to save money where possible. This year we spent over $30,000 on consultants. One studied the efficacy of Investigations, and the other conducted a telephone survey of the community. I do not believe we should be spending money on consultants when we are eliminating teaching positions.
Dr. Dennis Lauro announced that he is stepping down as the superintendent of Pelham schools at the end of this year. What qualities would you like to see in the district’s next superintendent? This is the most important hire a Trustee of the Board of Education can make. Our new superintendent should be in touch with our students and community members and should have an excellent academic background in education. The new superintendent should also have experience as a superintendent in another district, or at the very least, as an Assistant Superintendent or comparably titled position. Additionally, an ideal candidate will not have agenda to impose on our community. I believe our new superintendent needs to use his experience and utilize the skill sets of his professional staff to work with both the Board of Education and the community to develop a 5-year plan for our school district.
What process would you like to see the Pelham school district use in finding Dennis Lauro’s replacement? I believe the Board of Education needs to hire a Nationwide Search Firm to develop a profile of a candidate and then to find potential candidates. To develop the profile, we need input from all stakeholders in the community. The Board of Education should then create committees comprised of parents, taxpayers without students, teachers, administrators and students. All of these committees should be given an opportunity to interview all of the finalists and make recommendations to the Board of Education. The Board of Education should interview all of the finalists and with input from all of the stakeholders, make a final recommendation. I strongly urge that this process be deliberate and not rushed. To ensure this, I believe that the Board should find an interim candidate. This way we can make certain that we find the absolute best candidate for our community.
Earlier in this year, the district discussed the possibility of reconfiguring the student population at its four elementary schools. The school board decided to suspend discussion on the plan until the 2012-2013 budget process was completed. Do you see benefits to reconfiguring the district’s elementary schools? At this point in time I do not see the benefits to reconfiguring the district’s elementary schools. The Princeton Plan was not thoroughly studied. The plan was presented as a way to equalize class size across the elementary schools and to eliminate the budget deficit. I believe that this is a proposal that represents major change for our community. Unlike other cost-saving measures, this is a proposal that cannot be reversed next year if it is not successful. Additionally, I believe that the educational benefits were not fully explained. Moving forward, the Board of Education needs to fully investigate this proposal but must have extensive community input. The timetable going into the investigation should be 18-24 months with plans to implement or not after the comprehensive study.
What questions do you feel need to be answered before you are comfortable supporting any changes to the configuration of the district’s elementary schools? There are many questions that need to be answered before a final decision is made on the Princeton Plan. What are (if any) the educational benefits to students? Can these benefits be achieved with community based schools, if so, why aren’t they being implemented currently? What are the net savings of redistricting our community? Will schools start at different times to accommodate parents who have students in multiple schools? How will this affect our police coverage? If policing needs to be added, this cost must be added to expense side of the analysis. How will the elimination of community based schools impact our property values?
There are many other questions that need to be answered, which is why a comprehensive community study of the plan is necessary.