It's a heck of a year to be running for school board—or any office for that matter. Because of the novel coronavirus, schools have been physically closed since mid-March, and the Port Chester School District was forced to switch over to distance learning with little notice. Not until the 11th hour, when Governor Cuomo announced it on May 1, did anyone even know there would be an election and budget vote this year. Cuomo issued an executive order calling for the election to be conducted by mail and for the ballots to be due by June 9. The date was postponed from its original May 19, and school districts had to figure out how to run an election strictly by mail, something that had never been done before.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, former Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin announced he was running for a seat on the Port Chester Board of Education. In February, incumbents Tom Corbia and Anne Capeci, currently serving as president and vice president of the board, respectively, confirmed they planned to seek re-election. All three are well-known figures in the community, and we’re fortunate they want to serve in this challenging unpaid position, especially in these uncertain times.

There’s a lot to be said about stability and maintaining the status quo with Capeci, who has been on the board for 27 years, and Corbia, who is seeking his third non-consecutive three-year term. However, it’s going to take some creative thinking and financial know-how to get through the next three years. First the district must figure out how to ease students back into the classroom come September or improve online learning for all if the governor determines it is not yet safe to do so by then. With his experience as a global educator through his One World organization, which has after school clubs at all the Port Chester schools and provides teacher training within the district, Carvin has some ideas and insight about that.

Next the district may have to deal with a 20% cut in state aid in July, shortly after the new board takes office at the first of that month. Having had a successful 30-year career in finance and investments, Carvin, 65, understands budgets and the limitations of the state tax levy cap better than most. He pared down the Rye Town budget substantially when he was supervisor. His expertise will be invaluable as the district, state, country and world emerge from the economic shutdown put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Carvin also has a vision to provide a 21st century global education including a comprehensive character education plan to students in the district and to hire a new superintendent who shares that vision upon Dr. Edward Kliszus’s retirement at the end of the 2020-21 school year. As a majority minority district facing the same problems as urban school districts across the country, “Port Chester can go from good to great,” he said, and “serve as a model for the U.S. We have a real opportunity to rebrand Port Chester as that community that is taking the lead on 21st century skills.”

Another important asset in a school district whose students are 75% Latino is Carvin’s fluency in Spanish, shared by only one other board member, Blanca Lopez, who served from 2009 to 2012. “We need to reach out to the Hispanic community,” he said, noting that there are two parallel communities within the district.

With his passionate personality, Carvin is bound to shake things up on the board but only with the best of intentions for the school district in which he was educated, having graduated from Port Chester High School in 1972 and only having moved back a year ago after living in Rye Brook since 2002.

Corbia, too, has a vision for the school district, and although it differs drastically from Carvin’s, they both agreed they could work together during Westmore News’s lively, sometimes contentious, 2½-hour May 23 discussion via Zoom with the candidates.

A 40-year educator who is retired from the Port Chester schools and recently started working for the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health, Corbia, 71, is concerned that “the reopening of schools is going to be in some ways worse than the pandemic.” The social/emotional learning has been missing and children stuck at home with parents speaking a language other than English will have set them back.

He wants a new superintendent who is active in the community, understands it and is out there meeting the people every day. That person should be an academic leader with a measurable plan for improving academics and test scores. The latter are low at the elementary level and of concern to the PTAs, he said.

“I will join you in that fight,” said Carvin. “We need clear academic goals.”

Corbia also envisions involving the residents by inviting them to serve on three committees: buildings and grounds, academic and budget and finance. “When you include the community, you can’t lose,” he said.

Carvin has been harping on Port Chester’s loss of $22 million a year in Foundation Aid from the state and promises to stir up community involvement to go to Albany “to end this travesty of justice” and maybe even go to court to ask for the $232 million the district is owed.

Corbia, on the other hand, while a fighter, feels “we cannot belabor this point anymore.”

“I want to be a realist,” he said. “I want to get through this year.”

We can see both sides of this argument but know that for now it’s a moot point because the state has no money due to major coronavirus expenses the federal government so far has not reimbursed it for.

Carvin and Corbia offer a nice balance—one with ideals, the other a pragmatist.

Capeci is a wonderful lady, loved by all, with lots of institutional knowledge, but at this juncture Carvin and Corbia have set forth a forward-thinking vision Capeci is lacking, preferring to dwell on past successes.

Using their mail-in ballots which have already been received via the U.S. Postal Service, besides choosing two school board candidates, voters will also give a thumbs up or down to the district’s adopted $109.4 million 2020-21 tax cap-compliant budget.

Get your ballot in the mail three days before June 9 to be safe, and if you end up putting it off too long, you can always drop your ballot off at the district clerk’s office in the administrative wing at Port Chester Middle School up until 5 p.m. on the 9th.

With voting by mail-in ballot this year and many residents working from or spending more time at home, there should absolutely be a greater voter turnout than in previous years, hopefully representing more of a cross-section of the district, and that’s one of the few good things coming out of this global pandemic and the ensuing stay in place orders.