Three uncontested for town school board

By LIZ BUTTON

School board president Robert Summer, multiple-term board trustee Willa Brody and senior board member Vito Catania are running uncontested this year to keep their seats on the Eastchester Board of Education.

Three incumbent Eastchester school board trustees, Robert Summer, left, Willa Brody and Vito Catania are seeking re-election to the nine-member board. Photos courtesy Eastchester School District

Three incumbent Eastchester school board trustees, Robert Summer, left, Willa Brody and Vito Catania are seeking re-election to the nine-member board. Photos courtesy Eastchester School District

The public will vote on the incumbents’ three open seats on May 20, as well as on the district’s $77.4 million budget, which the board adopted April 8.

Three seats on the nine-seat board, on which members serve three-year terms, are up for election annually.

The deadline for candidates to submit petitions declaring their intention to run this year was April 21.

Board president Summer, an attorney, said he is running again because he believes he can continue to help the school system devise creative ways to offer diverse programs for all students, despite the financial constraints school districts in New York face, such as the tax levy cap, the gap elimination adjustment and unfunded state mandates.

When it comes to the 2014-2015 school year’s adopted budget, Summer said the process required difficult decisions.

“Despite a last-minute reduction in the gap elimination adjustment, we still had to cut almost a million dollars from the rollover budget,” Summer said.

Even so, the district administration and staff have been creative and flexible in trying to save or restructure programs to minimize the impact of increasing demands on limited resources and rising student enrollment, he said.

Summer, who was first elected to the board in 2008, said the board’s biggest accomplishment since he was elected was its progress solving the district’s biggest challenge: the dire need for space at the shared middle school/high school.

Essential to this was the passage of a bond through public vote in 2011 to build the middle school’s Lincoln Avenue wing addition and cafeteria addition, the latter of which is nearing completion and will be open at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

“We were able to demonstrate the true need for the facility to the community, and it responded by supporting the project. It will alleviate some, but not all, of the space needs at the shared high school/middle school campus,” he said.

This need continues to require attention at the aging high school building, which has had to accommodate a student population that has grown from 600 to more than 1,000 students in the last decade, he said.

Summer works for the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board as an Administrative Law Judge and has degrees from St. John’s School of Law and Binghamton University.

Summer and his wife, Deborah, have lived in Eastchester since 1996 and have four children in the Eastchester school system.

Brody, a 26-year Eastchester resident, was appointed to the Eastchester school board in December 2004 and was elected in 2005. She was re-elected in 2008 and 2011. She served as board secretary from 2005 to 2007 and as board president from 2009 to 2010.

Brody said she is running again because she cares about Eastchester students and maintains the belief all students deserve access to a quality education that includes “teachers and administrators who are high-level educators, achievers and leaders who offer curriculum, programs and services that are defining, facile and always challenging.”

Brody and her husband Jack Hughes have three daughters, all of whom attended or are attending Eastchester schools.

Brody currently directs government and community relations for the New York Presbyterian Hospital’s six campuses. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology/English from Queens College, a master’s degree in social work and a post-master’s degree in aging from Hunter College, and a law degree from Pace University.

For the past 12 years, Brody has also been a board member of the Westchester Business Council and a member of the Westchester County Association’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Health Care Reform, and the leadership council of the White Plains YWCA.

Brody said one of the board’s biggest achievements during her nine-year tenure was hiring a very well-received superintendent, former Eastchester Middle School principal Dr. Walter Moran, in 2013, who, she said, “clearly understands and respects the school community.”

Currently, budget issues, like shortfalls in revenue due to the property tax cap and cuts in state aid, have risked impeding the school district’s ability to do all it can to help students, Brody said. While this year’s budget did not see any program cutbacks, she said, some very difficult decisions were made, resulting in losing five full-time teachers, 1.2 full-time equivalent teaching assistant positions and 4.1 full-time equivalent support staff positions.

“No one wants to see jobs lost or marginalized,” she said.

The board’s senior member, Catania, is running as he wraps up his sixth term as a trustee. In past terms, he has served as board president, vice president and secretary, each more than once.

Catania works as a staff manager in the Information Technology Department at Verizon.

Catania holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s of business administration in finance, both from Fordham University. He and his wife, Chris, have lived in the district for more than 30 years and their son, Joe, graduated from Eastchester High School in 2006.

He could not be reached for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com