New York, New York, It’s A Wonderful Town
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
My current Facebook status: “Your car is German. Your vodka is Russian. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your movies are American. Your tea is Tamil. Your shirt is Indian. Your oil is Norwegian. Your electronics are Chinese. Your numbers are Arabic & your letters Latin. Yet you complain your neighbor is an immigrant? Pull yourself together and stand with them all.”
Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger in the Daily News modifies the long reform wish list citizens of New York must have to make their legislature anything but pathetic. To independent redistricting, campaign finance, (and allow me to add member items, off the books deficits and on-time balanced budgets) Krueger proclaims:
“But there’s one practice that’s so routine it’s often overlooked on the reform wish list: the way rank-and-file members appear to sell their power, i.e. their votes, to party leadership. This is done through ‘lulus,’ the pet name for the large stipends doled out to those who are given leadership positions.
“The most common way to acquire a lulu? By securing a chairmanship or ranking position on a committee or a leadership title within your political conference. These roles are distributed by party leaders to members of their own conference, both in the Senate and Assembly, with the highest positions and lulus going to majority members and lower ranking positions and lulus going to minority members.
“At the end of the year, lulus cost the state $2.5 million, which is admittedly only a drop in the fiscal budget. But it’s fundamentally corrupting when a partisan leader has direct control over thousands of dollars in your salary.”
Krueger points out the practice exists on both sides of the aisle. But she highlights the out-of-the-ordinary lulus given by Republican leadership to the four members of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.
“What followed was not so surprising,” proclaims Krueger. “After accepting the lulus, these IDC members suddenly began voting in lockstep with the Republicans. The most egregious instance came with a vote that allowed the Republicans to change the rules of the Senate and circumvent the State Constitution to strip Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, a Democrat, of his ability to cast a tiebreaking vote in the event that the Senate is tied. Coincidence? I don’t believe it,” Krueger accuses.
Krueger has always refused lulus and is now calling upon her colleagues in both the Senate and Assembly to refuse theirs.
Liz, this is Albany, don’t hold your breath.
While we’re on the “upstanding,” “reform-minded” State Legislature – the most dysfunctional of all 50 states, there are a sufficient number of members of both houses signed on to enact independent redistricting – the true first step in real reform.
I apologize for the cynicism, but in spite of the math being there – with members publically signed on and pledged — and some noble New York elders like Ed Koch and Henry Stern monitoring and driving the process, it ain’t gonna happen.
Hair splitting, the two houses (intentionally) passing different final bills which they will be unable to reconcile, a last minute tweak of independently drawn lines by leadership or some supposed parliamentary or compromise provision will allow legislative leadership to make sure the lines favor their party, their favorites and insure that our state spends the next 10 years playing in the same muck and mire the State Legislature has provided for much of our lifetime.
It will take an uncompromising, heroic, reform-minded Governor to veto anything less than real independent redistricting.
I fear that such heroism exists only in fairy tales.
But nonetheless, I hope.
Layoff of 4,666 Teachers Proposed After State & Fed Cuts
By HENRY STERN
The proposed city budget is $65.6 billion. That is a $300 million reduction from the current year, almost one half of one per cent of the total budget, and represents a serious effort to control costs.
The most striking part of this year’s budget, covering FY 2012 (which begins July 1, 2011) is the projected reduction in the Department of Education staff by 6,166 teachers. Attrition will account for 1,500 vacancies, leaving 4,666 layoffs on the table.
This is the opening gambit in what will be a four-month struggle. The city budget is adopted each year by the City Council and the Mayor in June, and a series of public hearings will be held this spring. It is highly unlikely that the final result of the process will be the dismissal of 4,666 teachers, but we believe it is certain that the teaching force in Sept. 2011 will be somewhat smaller than it is today.
The scope of the proposed layoffs suggest that the mayor reduced the city’s education budget. In fact, he did not do that. He said that the city will spend $2.2 billion more on education next year than it has this year. He attributed the shortfall to a cut of $800 million in Federal funds and the loss of $1.1 billion in state aid. Governor Cuomo disputes the size of the cut, saying that part of the state reduction came a year ago, during the Paterson administration. But whenever the reduction came, the money is not in the school budget for FY 2012.
There is speculation that the issue of teacher layoffs is linked to the mayor’s attempt to change the LIFO (last in, first out) law in New York State. Under that law, seniority dictates that the newest, usually younger, teachers are the first to be laid off. The parties involved all deny any linkage, but that is the way negotiations, if any, are conducted. Besides, it is probably true that there is no linkage now, but who knows what will happen down the road.
The law that teachers must be laid off in reverse order of seniority is widely regarded as an impediment to quality education. President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan know this, as does anyone who is concerned with student outcomes rather than lifetime jobs for people, some of whom long ago lost their ability or willingness to communicate. On the other hand, LIFO protects teachers from arbitrary actions by political, corrupt or simply stupid supervisors.
OBSERVATIONS OF A SMALL BOY
I know from first-hand experience (as a kid) in New York City public schools that some teachers were wonderful - I still remember their names today - a handful were terrible, and most were all right. One of the best, Dr. Julius H. Hlavaty, first chairman of the math department at Bronx Science, was fired for not answering questions about his membership in the Communist Party. He was ordered reinstated with back pay by the courts.
Mrs. Mildred Waltzer, who at the time taught at P.S. 152-M, on Nagle Avenue, was a wonderful woman who cared deeply about her students. She taught an ungraded class called O.A. (open air), which would now be considered special ed. She later became a principal in East Harlem. She wanted to adopt me, but fortunately my parents resisted her kind offer.
One of the worst, A.A., taught in Junior High School 52-M, appropriately on Academy Street. She was perpetually annoyed, although we had no idea why. One day, another teacher in the school, a Mrs. Good, died. The next morning, A.A. told her class, 8B-R, which included me: “Do you know why Mrs. Good died? It was because she was too good. I won’t make that mistake.” I can’t say she frightened me (I was 11), but the fact that I remember what she said so many years later indicates that she did make a strong impression. There was an art teacher, G., who was so fat she couldn’t fit down the aisles between the children’s desks. When she tried, the bad kids tried to poke her with their rulers. I felt sorry for her.
In a way, teacher quality didn’t matter that much because the smart kids knew the material anyway, but there were others who did rely on the teachers for information and instruction. Other teachers at 52, in math and history, were very good. One science teacher spent most of the class time fooling around with developed 13-year-old girls, who he brought to the front of the room to sit by him.
At Bronx Science the teachers were generally better. Some of the science teachers had Ph.D. degrees, but they were unable to get jobs in science because of the Great Depression and because they were Jews. Things were really different many years ago, which young people often have no idea of, although they do know a lot about computers, video games, cell phones and other devices. Each generation masters different skills.
The purpose of this reminiscence is to make the point that teachers vary widely in ability, dedication and mental health. If thousands must be laid off, the City should be able to get rid of the worst ones, regardless of seniority. It is really bad for kids to be stuck with an incompetent or hostile teacher, especially if they rely on him or her to teach them English, or how to read. After a number of years, some teachers get sick and tired of other people’s children, while others don’t know how to control a classroom.
School can be a wonderful place for instruction and socialization. It can also utterly fail to achieve those goals. Empowering principals and teachers is important, and school officials should not be intimidated by hostile and belligerent parents. On the other hand, sometimes the parents are right, and principals should have the judgment to make decisions on the merits, not simply on the basis of politics or threats.
I have serious doubts that public school children are being taught and supervised in the best possible way. The problem is that either we don’t know the best way, or the people who do know aren’t being listened to. Can the new Chancellor provide instruction or guidance in the most serious and compelling issue of public policy?StarQuest@NYCivic.org