Archive for the tag 'budgets'

It’s not often you see a member of one of the nation’s most dysfunctional legislative bodies appropriately shaming members of another dysfunctional legislative body, but that’s what we wake up to this morning.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke is calling on Albany lawmakers to send resources to those Brooklyn neighborhoods that are currently without representation in either the State Senate or Assembly. Locally, that includes Marine Park, Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach, who are currently without an assemblyman.

In fact, there are currently five open seats in the two houses of state legislature that represent about 700,000 Brooklynites. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not called a special election to replace them, and those seats will be empty until January 2015.

That means that an entire budget season will come and go, and no one will be representing those districts in negotiations, depriving civic groups and community organizations of operating funds that are allocated annually.

“We cannot allow the failure to schedule a special election to prevent the allocation of resources to the people who lack representation. The legislators whose positions are now vacant supported many of the most important social service organizations and cultural institutions in Brooklyn. I believe we should continue that level of support,” Clarke said.

The Assembly seat representing Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park was vacated when Alan Maisel left the house to become city councilman. Some of the groups that depended on his voice for funding from Albany, according to Clarke, include the Marine Park Community Association and Amity Little League.

Clarke sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, urging them to keep these organizations in mind.

The letter, in full, is after the jump.

The leading candidates in the 48th District City Council race to replace term-limited Michael Nelson battled it out at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center during a candidate’s forum held by the Jewish Press last week, expounding on their qualifications for the job and their proposals for improving the district.

Mixed in the melee, which included a handful of attacks on their fellow candidates, the four leading Democrats and one Republican expressed mixed support for participatory budgeting, an innovative plan implemented by some City Council members to provide a more democratic and transparent way of distributing millions of dollars of discretionary funding throughout the district.

Three of the five Democrats – Theresa Scavo, Igor Oberman and Chaim Deutsch – expressed explicit support for participatory budgeting when asked about the need for reform to the process, while the fourth Democrat, Ari Kagan, and the lone Republican, David Storobin, suggested that they would continue to oversee distribution of discretionary funds without holding public meetings, the core characteristic of participatory budgeting.

Read their positions on participatory budgeting, and find out what else happened at the forum.

Photo by Erica Sherman

With the cost of renting out storefront property perpetually on the rise across the city, it comes as no surprise that many local politicians are having trouble meeting the budget limitations set for their respective headquarter bases. State senators based in New York City are allotted $40,000 a year for rental expenditures, but many have gone over that line, according to a report in the New York Post.

One of the state senators marked for going over their rental budget allotment is our own Marty Golden who rang up a yearly rent bill of $48,000 for his Bay Ridge headquarters. Still, its hard to blame Marty when a typical small storefront property on Sheepshead Bay Road goes for more than $4,000 a month.

Golden isn’t the only local politician having trouble meeting the limit:

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) paid $49,723 for his district office at 38-50 Bell Blvd. He insisted the Senate Republicans negotiated his lease — claiming he didn’t even know he was over the limit.

Even imprisoned ex-Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) and indicted former Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) got in on the fun, despite having represented lower-rent neighborhoods, spending $45,000 and $47,452, respectively.

[Jeff] Klein cut his annual rent by $15,000 by leaving his East Tremont Avenue district office for the Hutchins Center, where he pays “market rate,” said spokesman Eric Soufer.

“Believe me, nobody comes to work for us because of the accommodations,” Soufer said. “I’ve had college dorm rooms that are bigger than our office.”

The problem politicians like Golden face is that they could rent cheaper space on higher levels in office buildings, but they would lose on-the-street contact and easy access to their constituents.

We put the question to our readers as to what is more important; paying extra to keep your local politicians closer to the ground and more accessible, or saving costs by pushing their headquarters into harder to access office spaces?

Source: Antonio Martínez López / Flickr

Whether by car, bus or subway, getting around in New York City is about to become a little more expensive.

The MTA Board approved the agency’s 2013 budget this morning, which included a set of mass transit, bridge and toll hikes across the metropolitan region.

Find out what the new rates are, and how the MTA’s budget is looking overall.

Sheepshead Bay High School students protesting the city’s closure attempts in the last school year. (Photo: Robert Fernandez)

The third time’s the charm? New York City’s school administrators seem to hope so.

For the third time in three years, the Department of Education has again set its sights on closing Sheepshead Bay High School (3000 Avenue X), including it in a list of 24 high schools slated for closure as early as the end of this school year.

The “early engagement” list, reported on yesterday by Gotham Schools, is comprised of schools that the Department of Education says comes up short on student test results, attendance rates, graduate rates and college preparedness. In addition to high schools, it contains 36 elementary and middle schools.

Sheepshead Bay High School is one of seven high schools on the list that the city tried to close last year using the “turnaround” plan, which mandates closing the school, firing the staff, reopening under a new name and hiring a maximum of 50 percent of the teachers from the previous administration. Courts threw the brakes on the plan, though, after the teachers’ and principals’ unions successfully sued, claiming that it violated their collective bargaining agreement with the city.

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Taxpayers are forking over more money this year than any other year in recent memory, thanks to an increase in the number of special elections and primaries in New York State.

The bill? $80 million – a $23 million bump over previous years, according to the Independent Budget Office.

Here’s the explanation offered by the organization:

We typically have three citywide elections in a year when the terms for state and federal officeholders are up for vote. But this year a federal judge ruled that New York State’s scheduling of its Congressional primaries in September, in conjunction with the state primaries for Assembly and Senate, would not leave enough time to get absentee ballots to military personnel overseas before the general election in November.

Albany officials could have shifted state legislative primaries to June 26 as well, but chose not to. With New York’s legislative session scheduled to run until June 21, the State Senate balked at the idea of holding an election just five days later that would leave them little time to get home and campaign. So counties across the state pony up more money to cover the cost of an additional day for voters to go to the polls. For the city this meant adding $23 million to the Board of Election’s budget. The funds cover expenditures such as printing ballots, transporting voting machines to the city’s more than 1,300 polling sites, and paying about 30,000 poll workers.

For April’s poorly attended Republican primary, the bill came out to much less than the city had anticipated: just $13.3 million. But, the IBO notes, that comes out to about $522 per vote.

Locally, the race to replace former State Senator Carl Kruger, which pitted Democrat Lew Fidler versus Republican David Storobin, the election day costs were about $750,000. No one has yet figured out the cost of the hand recount triggered by the nearly 50-50 split in the vote, or the two months of proceedings that led up it. The New York Post puts that figure at more than $1 million.

Oh, and the kicker? The cost of that special election is not included in the $80 million price tag. Neither is the overtime pay for police officers station at voting sites, which the IBO estimated at approximately $500,000 for each citywide election (and less for local specials).

It’s enough to make a fiscal conservative wonder if democracy is worth the price.

After deciding last month to shutter Sheepshead Bay High School, as well as 23 other high schools, the Department of Education chose a name this week for the new school in the old building: Academy of Career Exploration of Sheepshead Bay.

John Dewey High School – also slated for closure – will be renamed Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus.

Both schools will close doors in June as part of a federal “turnaround model” – which requires firing at least half the staff. The plan has spurred condemnation from parents, teachers and students as we’ve previously reported.

The schools will reopen under the new names in September, flooded with as much as $1.5 million each in federal funds to get the schools back on track.

We didn’t think the DOE could make it any more difficult to report on school issues, but, alas, they found a way to nearly double the number of characters to type. That’s city efficiency at its very best!

Regardless, we think it’ll be known colloquially as Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School for years to come. What do you think?

Sheepshead Bay H.S. students protest the DOE's plans before a March hearing (Photo by Robert Fernandez)

Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School will close doors in June, a city panel decided last night despite objections from those closest to the schools.

The schools are both targeted for reform using a federal “turnaround model” – which requires firing at least half the staff. The plan has spurred condemnation from parents, teachers and students as we’ve previously reported.

The Panel for Education Policy made the final decision last night, when they voted to close all 24 high schools on the agenda at the five-hour meeting.

The schools will reopen under new names in September, flooded with as much as $1.5 million each in federal funds to get the schools back on track.

Students protest the DOE's plans before a March hearing (Photo by Robert Fernandez)

The plan to reform Sheepshead Bay High School using a “turnaround model” – which requires firing at least half the staff – has spurred condemnation from parents, teachers and students as we’ve previously reported.

It’s not a matter of whether the school needs work or not – most agree it does – but rather that the school was already enrolled in a reform process and had made great strides. Now the change in direction is wreaking havoc on the progress made, and teachers are losing faith in a system that has already pulled the rug out from under them.

Such undermining of teacher morale is setting any future reforms up for failure, one teacher told Gotham Schools:

Robin Kovat, social studies teacher at Sheepshead Bay High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

“Well, they instituted [the "restart" reform model], and we started it, and then they threw this wrench into our works, so the morale now is really going down because part of it involves a buy-in for the staff but nobody knows if they’re going to be here next year. I think dividing it into academies would really be wonderful if we keep the people here who can actually make a difference, who have been shown to make a difference, who have already made a difference.”

Gotham Schools has been asking a set of questions of teachers and students at some of the 26 high schools slated for closure. Here’s what another Sheepshead Bay High School teacher had to say about how the additional funds from reform have helped in the past year:

Alona Geller, English teacher and Cheerleading coach at Sheepshead Bay High School

What changes have the School Improvement Grants brought to your school so far?

“I started here when I was 22 years old. And I’ve been teaching for seven [years]. I think a lot of improvements have taken place. Any money granted to us is used for trips and programs and supplies, the kids have everything tha they need, and I know friends of mine in other schools don’t have those things.

This year in particular, we have City Year in the building, the ninth graders have a lot of support, and they’re thriving in away I haven’t seen before. City Year greets the kids at the door, they provide tutoring services, they’re in our classrooms, they follow the kids all day long and see what subjects they’re struggling with. They really keep up the morale for the students and for the teachers.”

Those funds will continue to flow while half the staff that have helped find the most efficient use for them will be dismissed if the turnaround model gets approved, as is widely expected.The Department of Education will decide whether to close the schools on April 26.

A rally to save Sheepshead Bay High School when it faced closure in 2010.

Parents, teachers and students at Sheepshead Bay High School are poised to fight back tonight against the Department of Education’s plans to close the school and fire up to half the teachers, as the school’s supporters organize a rally in front of the building before heading into a public hearing on the matter.

The Department of Education is proposing to reform the Sheepshead Bay High School using the “turnaround” model. This means the city will rename the school and replace the principal and 50 percent of its teachers. The school stands to gain $1.55 million in federal funding from the School Improvement Grant program using this model. William E. Grady High School, Franklin D. Roosevelt High School and John Dewey High School are other local schools slated for turnaround.

The turnaround model has been criticized by opponents as a politically motivated stab at the teacher’s union, after negotiations to implement a new teacher evaluation system stalled. Reforming teacher evaluations was a prerequisite to receive federal Race to the Top grants, and the failure to strike a deal cost the city a chance at hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s not the first time the school has been on the chopping block, most recently protesting in November 2010 to stay open – a battle it won. The school’s principal also vowed to fight for her job.

Today’s rally kicks off at 4:00 p.m. The public hearing begins at 6:00 p.m. at the school (3000 Avenue X). Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to D22Proposals@schools.nyc.gov, and oral comments can be left at 212-374-0208.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposal on April 26.

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