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Mamaroneck School Board Candidate: Robin Nichinsky

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The Daily Mamaroneck and The Daily Larchmont will run candidate profiles on all four candidates running for three seats on the seven-member Mamaroneck School Board of Education before the May 15 election. Each candidate was asked the same questions.

Robin Nichinsky is in a four-way race with Victor Gatti, Melany Gray and Roger Martin to fill the two seats left vacant by outgoing board members Linnet Tse and Anant Nambiar, and the seat for which Nichinksy is seeking is her third three-year term.  Gray, Martin and Nichinksy have been endorsed by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees, while Gatti is running as an Independent.

Nichinsky, 56, has been on the school board since 2006, is the current school board president and has had various positions in the school PTA. She also served for a decade on the Mamaroneck-Larchmont Human Rights Commission, including twice as its chairperson.

Tell us about yourself and your family.

I am an attorney specializing in criminal appellate work and work part-time for the Center for Appellate Litigation as a senior appellate counsel. I live in Larchmont with my husband, Seth Schafler, who also is an attorney. Our three daughters went through the whole school system at Central, Hommocks and Mamaroneck High School. Eliza is a second-year law student at New York University after attending Yale, Anna is a certified elementary school teacher and attended Connecticut College, and Samantha is a senior at Solomon Schechter after attending Hommocks and will be joining Clark College.

I grew up in Queens and went to public school there. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have lived in Larchmont for 24 years and I love this community.

Why are you seeking a third term on the Mamaroneck School Board?

I love the work. I find serving the community meaningful and important work and feel the board has done some god things in the last couple of years. I feel like I still have important work left, such as on the collective bargaining team. Also, there are seven members on the board and this year there will be two first-year members and three open slots, so essentially five people in first or second years. If I was there I would bring continuity and balance of experience alongside new members with fresh perspectives. I still love the work and there is still a lot to do. That really cemented it for me.

I also have been pretty much on every committee. I really know the district in a very deep way now and that will be very helpful to the board, especially in the many years to come. I also can help mentor the new members.

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

In addition to my experience on the board, I am also an attorney, which is helpful in many ways that the public doesn’t see, especially when we work in executive sessions on confidential and personnel matters. My legal and analytical skills are helpful and I have training in conflict resolution that helps me listen and find common ground. I also have a degree in school guidance counseling and though I have never worked in it, I do some pro bono work with a variety of schools.

I also have the time to commit to the job, which is important as it is very time intensive between meetings and responding to the community. We listen, we’re out there, we have coffees – we are very involved – so it’s a big-time commitment.

What are the three biggest issues facing the schools today?

Issue number one really has to be the financial challenges we face with the tax cap and the various mandates from the state. Balancing fiscal responsibility with excellence in education is a challenge. This year our budget is more than $1 million less than last year by finding efficiencies rather than cutting programs; efficiencies in transportation, restructuring the IT department, centralizing printing. I was privileged that a superintendent was hired during my term. We hired Robert Shaps because we felt he had great experience with both financials and the curriculum.

Second related issue would be collective bargaining with the three unions – teachers, administration and clerical staff. We settled with the custodial staff earlier in the year with a fair contract for everyone. This is going to be very important to our future. With a 2 percent cap we need to be able to slow down salaries and have flexibility in schedules.

And third, we’re in a period of transition with our curriculum. There are new programs coming up, new responses to intervention plans, new technology and to address all that we need to further teacher professional development. Some of these programs are good but there are a lot of changes going on in education now and handling those changes will be a big task in the 21st century. We are in the forefront of these changes.

If elected, what would you do to address them?

For collective bargaining, I want to continue to hold the cost and slow down salaries and get flexibility in scheduling so we can look for ways that don’t negatively impact our programs. I want to find more ways to collaborate with other school districts. Continuing to look for efficiencies in the budget and continuing to challenge Albany on the many mandates and limitations also are goals.

I also would look at facilities use and restructuring programs within schools and change those that are not working well. We’re already on the way with a lot of them, as with special education bringing more kids backs to the district, energy preservation programs and refinancing debt.

Everything I will do on the board is to uphold the mission: to be fiscally accountable and maintain an excellent education. I will continue to get community input on what they care about and find efficiencies, using my experiences to do that.

If something had to be cut from the budget to meet the state tax cap, what would you cut?

This year we cut what we thought could be cut right now. Now we need to go back and revisit what’s left, the things already mentioned. It would be premature to tell, but after a full analysis and with a good collective bargaining agreement, we may not have too cut much.

Is there anything else you would like to accomplish if elected?

I want to be there to help make sure we preserve the essence of our schools. My experience helps me know what is important, what could be changed, identify ways to address them and thus make a contribution to the board. I can hit the ground running.

We do have an excellent school district right now, but we need to, with curriculum issues, move forward with technology into the 21 century and maintain the excellent professional development in the school district. That is the key to a good education.

Does the endorsement from by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees help your candidacy?

I hope that by being an incumbent will help my candidacy and the community will appreciate my experience and skills and the balance I bring to the board. I think the community appreciates the time the committee puts into the process and the members understand what the board does. It is seven people and sometimes your position does not prevail but you disagree and continue to work together. I am pleased with the other candidates and each person brings something different to the table. I think it’s good for the community to have a choice. At the same time I feel the selection committee process is a good one.

Related Experience:

- Nichinsky has served on several school board committees, including audit, building, communications, fields, finance, law and policy and safety.

- She is a member of the school district’s Collective Bargaining Team and Special Education Task Force.

- As a board trustee, Nichinksy has served as a liaison to the PTA Council, Chatsworth Avenue School, Mamaroneck High School, SEPTA, Murray Avenue School, Mamaroneck Avenue School, Mamaroneck Schools Foundation, Teacher’s Institute Policy Board and Professional Development Plan Committee.

- She founded the Central School CORE Conflict Resolution Program and was a co-coordinator, grant writer and trained facilitator for the program from 2002-05.

- She was the co-president and secretary of the Central School PTA from 2000-03; vice president of Parent Services at Hommocks Middle School PTA during the 2005-06 school year; and vice president of Diversity for the Mamaroneck High School PTSA from 2003-04.

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