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.
Victor Gatti is in a four-way race with Melany Gray, Robin Nichinsky 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. Gatti is running as an Independent, while Martin, Gray and Nichinksy have been endorsed by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees.
Gatti, 43, moved to Larchmont in 2008 from New York City and is an international tax attorney and partner at accounting firm KPMG LLP.
Tell us about yourself and your family.
I live with my wife, Alexandra, and our twin daughters, Georgia and Samantha, who are kindergartners at Murray Avenue School.
Why are you running for the Mamaroneck School Board?
After attending several school meetings, to me it looked like the future of our schools is a function of which programs were going to be cut year-to-year to maintain the budget. Functionally, there is little control over the budget between teacher costs and state mandates. That portion of the budget doesn't stop growing and the discretionary portion keeps going down by the same amount. We need flexibility in the budget because the schools are good and the community is great, but at what point does the budget stop dictating the kind of education our children get?
I have been volunteering with the Community Financial Advisory Committee in a communication-liaison capacity between the superintendent and the community, but it has no binding influence. It’s been a good experience but the impact of it is intangible. So I am running to be more hands-on.
What qualifies you to be a school board member?
I am an experienced tax attorney and many of the skills are common to all businesses and institutions. There is a benefit to being a lawyer with experience in finance as that experience provides context and quality to the issues our schools are facing. I run into similar discussions in the private sector all the time and in different government structures. I also have been staying on top of those issues and am fairly well-versed on them. My being vested in the future of the schools with my daughters’ education, my passion and dedication of time to this effort all make me qualified.
What are the three biggest issues facing the schools today?
The budget supersedes everything as everything else is a function of the budget. The curriculum also should be a key issue as at the end of the day the aim is to educate our children. We have to work toward an ideal curriculum and the ability to pay for it. I do not believe in federal educational standards and believe there should be more regional and community input in the curriculum. The needs of special education and how that fits into the bigger framework and in the curriculum needs to be addressed and changes made as needed.
If elected, what would you do to address them?
I would aggressively combat all of the mandates to get more flexibility in the budget, to push back and carve out some breathing room wherever possible to achieve the objectives of an excellent education. There is a theoretical place and a practical place and I would be one in a group of people. I would look at things differently and then work on consensus building. I will work hard with the other six members to come to a mutual viewpoint to address the priorities and make the community as vibrant as possible.
If something had to be cut from the budget to meet the state tax cap, what would you cut?
The state tax cap is hemming in the board, but I also think it is misunderstood. It is not a 2 percent annual increase and you do need a super majority to exceed it. But there are calculations that would allow you to go above that. I can foresee the board needing to radically go above that on the discretionary side. There are not a lot of choices other than sports and electives as areas that could be cut. So we are being forced by the budget to cut things and not based on what is good for the children.
I don’t have an easy solution because it will have to be something meaningful and fair in that the cuts would have to be proportional. I don’t want to cut things that bring value to education without sacrificing in other areas.
Is there anything else you would like to accomplish if elected?
My main thing is to focus on the budget, be successful in managing that, then curriculum and then special education by having more options for things in the budget. And engaging a bigger and broader discussion on the solutions.
Mamaroneck has not had a contested school board race since 2006 and your candidacy was not endorsed by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees. Does that impact your candidacy?
It may make it more difficult for me to win a spot. I have been asked by a committee member to not run. I would like to think that anyone who is interested enough should do so. I did go through their process, and they do an important job and they feel they made the right decision for the community. I respect that decision. I would think that everyone is better served by a greater number of candidates. I did not promise not to run if I was not selected by the committee. This is a democracy and it is OK if I am not elected. Still, I got the needed votes to get on the ballot and I am getting the word out in a low-key manner, reaching out to people who are involved in our community and schools, and doing so via word of mouth.