Archive for the tag 'funding'

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

I guess it’s not exactly the highest honor when they flash the Sheepshead Bay branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (2636 East 14th Street) when talking about how budget cuts have caused the system to suffer, but, then, it is arguably one of the most depressing exteriors in the system.

But the video above, produced and released as part of a campaign by the city’s three library systems to have past funding cuts restored, compensates for the slight by also featuring the branch’s indefatigable manager, Svetlana Negrimovskaya, inspiring kids and their parents, and working with the community. (Check out the 2:30 mark for that bit).

The 10-minute video shows some of the incredible services offered at libraries across the city, all with programming tailored to their local communities. And they’ve done in this in the face of funding challenges.

As New York magazine notes:

Over the last decade, book circulation at New York City libraries has jumped by 46 percent, annual visits by 59 percent, and program attendance by 88 percent. These figures are even more startling considering that budget cuts have forced the libraries to reduce both staff and hours.

There are no cuts in store in the budget proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, but there’s also no new money for the system after suffering years of slashes and increased costs. The libraries are asking for a combined $65 million dollars and have launched a petition to urge neighbors to join the fight. In addition to that petition, the Brooklyn Public Library has also created its own page for how you can stand up for these indispensable community resources.

Get involved; libraries are a part of the social safety net that we can’t do without.

nyrising

Residents help with long-term planning at a NY Rising meeting.

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article last week, examining the different and competing visions of city and state administrators when it comes to using the billions of dollars received for Superstorm Sandy recovery.

In short, the city wants to use it for long-term resiliency initiatives. The state wants to see the money funneled to homeowners seeking relief.

Here’s the nut of it:

More than a year after superstorm Sandy, the mounting frustration illustrates a broader dilemma for policy makers in New York City and Albany: Is it better to invest in pricey measures that protect the many or to help those hardest hit immediately?

The question is at the heart of different approaches taken by the city and state in how they distribute federal funds they received to help the region recover.

The city has decided to spend about $300 million of the nearly $1.8 billion it received in the first round on what is known as resiliency, or efforts to protect against future storms. The state, by contrast, has set aside just $30 million of the $1.7 billion it received on resiliency, including increasing public awareness about safe rebuilding and helping places like hospitals and nursing homes create energy backup systems.

About $650 million of the first round of federal funding the city received is being spent on housing recovery, while the state is spending about $840 million on far fewer applicants.

As it stands now, the city has only allocated enough funds to handle approximately 4,000 of the 26,000 applicants to the Build it Back program, and is prioritizing based on financial need. The program will receive another chunk of funds soon, a representative for Mayor Bloomberg said.

What do you think? Should the city have prioritized direct assistance to victims at the cost of long-term planning? Or is it better to get the big projects underway while the political will still exists?

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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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.

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

The Department of Education is proposing to reform Sheepshead Bay High School, William E. Grady High School, John Dewey High School and Franklin D. Roosevelt High School using the “turnaround” model, which includes renaming the school and replacing the principal and 50 percent of its teachers. But the city’s justification for the proposal remains in question, and community members continued to express doubt at a Brooklyn “turnaround” forum where DOE officials offered little to address their concerns.

Those from the Sheepshead Bay High School community addressed the panel, expressing agreement with the need to reform the school – but not using the turnaround model.

Gotham Schools reports on some of the statements made, as well as gives Sheepshead Bay High School’s recent backstory:

“We’ve got to have some discrimination here, because we’re closing down 33 schools because we don’t like something that happened between our union rep and the mayor,” said Bruce Sherman, a guidance counselor at Sheesphead Bay, referring to the deadlocked city-union negotiations over teacher evaluations that the city has blamed for the turnaround plan. “The staff is not the problem.”

Sheesphead Bay High School was named a federal “restart” school in 2011, meaning it would receive millions of school improvement dollars and be run by an Educational Partnership Organization. But a legal dispute with the city and the nonprofit EPOs stalled reforms at Sheesphead and other restart schools. In December, Principal Reesa Levy unexpectedly announced her retirement—a move that worried staff and students who knew the leadership change would hold up school improvements even more.  Sherman said the new interim principal, John O’Mahoney, “has his act together,” and has kept teacher morale from dropping further since he arrived at the school earlier this year.

“We believe that restart should still go into effect,” said Thaddeus Russell Jr. a father of three Sheepshead alumni and one current student. “The reason I disagree with turnaround is because the model says only 50 percent of the staff can be re-hired. I don’t believe that’s to the benefit of any students. How can the current freshmen, sophomores, juniors, how can we continue with the academies that have been instituted, if half the staff is not there next year?”

Parents, students and administrators from Brooklyn schools lined up to ask a series of questions to bring transparency and community participation into the process including, as Gotham Schools reports, the following:

Will parents be placed on any turnaround school personnel committees? What will happen to the “magnet” grants that some schools are already receiving? Can a new school choose not to keep on its EPO? How will students be able to ask former teachers for college and job references? Several teachers from different schools also noted that parents and teachers had been given conflicting information about their public hearing date—and asked how the problem could be fixed.

The answers from the DOE? We’ll have to get back to you on that.

There will be a public hearing on this proposal on March 28 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.

Congressman Bob Turner will appear on the steps of a Queens Catholic school today to announce his sponsorship of a new bill providing tax relief to families with children in private schools.

The congressman introduced the Tax and Education Assistance for Children (TEACH) Act of 2012 on February 17. If passed, the bill will provide an annual $5,000 tax credit to parents with children in private or religious schools. Congressmen Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) and Peter King (R-Long Island) are among the co-sponsors of the bill, formally known as H.R. 4075.

If approved, any taxpayer with one or more dependents in a non-public school will get the credit beginning in 2014 (for tuition paid in 2013). The credit amount does not increase with the number of dependents in private school.

You can read the full text of the bill here.

What do you think of diverting taxpayer money to private and religious schools?

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