Calls for Equal Funding in High-Need Schools

By: Rashed Mian

Amparo Sadler, a grandmother from Central Islip, stood across the street from the Martin Luther King Jr., elementary school in Wyandanch on Wednesday and called on New York State legislators to equally allocate more than $200 million to more than two dozen high-need school districts, instead of forcing them to compete for the precious aid.

“Our children…should not have to compete against one another,” said Sadler, who also serves on the board of Alliance for Quality Education, a group that advocates for public education.

Members of AQE and Long Island Progressive Coalition joined together outside the elementary school to offer a list of recommendations to the state legislature concerning Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed executive budget that includes $805 million in school aid.

About 31 percent—$250 million—of the aid is tied to the performance grants. It also includes $113 million for average-need districts, $18 million to low-need districts and $421 million to high-need districts, according an analysis of Cuomo’s executive budget proposal by AQE.

Advocates said they are grateful for the additional aid from the state for high-need districts like Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch, but they argued that having school districts compete for aid will leave some schools without proper funding.

“Wealthy districts throughout the state have received cuts as well, but they do not run as deep as the cuts that high needs districts are facing,” said Melanie Lawrence of LIPC.

Cuomo’s competitive grant program was established as an incentive to reward the school districts that improve performance.

The group also recommended that the sate redirect $53 million of competitive grant funds to expand pre-kindergarten education, which also falls in line with suggestions from the Board of Regents, they said.

Sadler said her family is looking to get her granddaughter into pre-K in September, but is concerned that she might not be selected by the lottery system that her district uses to place pre-K students.

If her granddaughter doesn’t get picked by the lottery, Sadler said they will have to look at other services, including private school.

“Albany listen to me clearly,” she said. “This is not a damn game show, education is a civil right—it is the law.”

Residents Seek to End Sanitation District

By: Aisha Al-Muslim

Those circulating a petition to dissolve the sanitation district based in Baldwin hope to trim property taxes, but district representatives say the change would cost jobs and save little money.

Spearheading the effort with taxpayers in the district are two grassroots groups: Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), based in Baldwin, and Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC), of Massapequa.

Members hope to collect 5,000 signatures from residents to call for a referendum to do away with the nearly 84-year-old Sanitation District No. 2 that serves Baldwin, Roosevelt, South Hempstead and sections of Freeport, Rockville Centre and Uniondale.

“These districts are not economically sustainable,” said Laura Mallay, RESD’s executive director and a 20-year Baldwin resident who lost a bid for district commissioner in 2005. “Services will go down if we don’t do anything now.”

The New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act of 2009 gives residents a mechanism to consolidate and dissolve local governments. If advocates can secure the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the district, or 5,000 residents, the issue can go on the ballot.

Advocates wanting to get rid of the sanitation district have collected more than 3,000 signatures since March, Mallay said.

“Many of the residents of the area have been saying taxes are high,” said Serena Liguori, coordinator of LIPC’s Government Efficiency Project. “We certainly want to help support residents and help them save money if they can.”

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) introduced a bill last January to amend the consolidation law to require a detailed alternate plan when there’s a vote on consolidation. Now, if residents vote to consolidate a local government, it must formulate a plan on how the services will be picked up. “Residents should know how those services are going to be provided and the cost of providing those services after the special district is eliminated,” Martins said.

Residents in the district would pay half of what they pay now if the district is dissolved and the Town of Hempstead picks up the sanitation services, Mallay said. A home assessed at $400,000 serviced by the Town of Hempstead paid $267 in sanitation taxes in 2010, while an identically assessed home in District 2 paid $509, advocates said.

“We feel that in one town there should be one tax rate,” Mallay said.

Hempstead Town spokesman Michael Deery said it’s “premature” for the town to consider taking over the district because no detailed plan has been made.

Former district board secretary Bob Noble, who spoke for the district, said the advocates’ claims are misleading. He said it appeared that their taxes are higher because insurance costs are calculated in the district budget. “Their cost analysis is faulty,” he said. About 70 people could lose their jobs if the district were abolished, he said.

“Is bigger always better?” Noble said. “We are small enough and responsible enough to get to people right away. Most people are not willing to give that up.”

Advocates Petition for Vote on Garbage Taxes

By: Spencer Rumsey

A fraying flag hung forlornly on a pole outside the Grand Avenue offices of Sanitary District 2 in Baldwin Tuesday afternoon, as a small group of organizers and area residents assembled on the sidewalk near the entrance to announce that they were “halfway there” in their petition drive that would put the future of this special taxing district on a referendum. It would mark the first time on Long Island that the “Cuomo Law,” or more formally known as the Citizen Empowerment Act, would be put to the test.

Gov.  Andrew Cuomo helped draft this law when he was New York State attorney general and it was enacted last year. Under its provisions, New Yorkers can vote to dissolve special districts, which are the taxing entities that provide services such as water, fire protection and sanitation—and are seen by some as the “invisible government” contributing to high taxation.

In Baldwin members of Residents for Efficient Special Districts and the Long Island Progressive Coalition announced that they have collected more than 2,500 signatures of residents in the Sanitary 2 district; their goal is 5,000.

“It’s not about the service,” said Laura Mallay, RESD executive director, who first got involved in this issue in 2002 when she discovered that because she lived in South Hempstead she was paying about $543 in garbage taxes that would only cost her $263 if she’d lived in nearby Merrick. “It’s about the price and fairness.”

Once the petitioners get the required number of signatures—either 10 percent of the registered voters in the particular district or 5,000 residents, whichever number is smaller—the issue can go on the ballot and must be voted on within 90 to 120 days. And if they approve the district being dissolved, then the residents could see a significant reduction in their tax bill as these services would be picked up by the towns, rather than by a special district.

If Sanitary District 2 were eliminated, local residents would pay the same rate as those already served by the Town of Hempstead—half what they pay now to have their garbage picked up.

Leroy Roberts, one of the Sanitary District 2 commissioners, watched the press conference from the sidewalk but declined to comment, although the district’s opposition to being dissolved is well known. Their defense is that a lack of a viable commercial base in the district causes assessments to be low, necessitating higher taxes.

With rain clouds closing in, two local residents added their names to the petition: Natalie Singleton and Van White, who are neighbors in Woodland Estates, a community of townhouses in North Baldwin.

“I just want fair and equal service,” Singleton said, adding that she wasn’t aware of the Cuomo law until she was contacted by organizers from RESD and LIPC. “This is information I did not have. How would we know?”

“We’re here today because people of Long Island are paying too much money for their services,” said Serena Liguouri, LIPC’s coordinator of the Government Efficiency Project.

“By consolidating sanitation pickup into the Town of Hempstead, citizens will save tax dollars and maintain excellent services,” added Mallay.

The petition drive, which started this summer, has no deadline, organizers said, only the obstacles of bad weather, ignorance and fear. Certainly the special district commissioners would stand to lose their salaries, benefits and pensions, if the district is dissolved.

One organizer said that some residents have expressed concern that if they signed the petition, their garbage wouldn’t be picked up in retaliation. But so far, that service disruption hasn’t happened.

“We’re getting great feedback from the taxpayers,” said Liguori. “We don’t want to vilify the workers. We don’t want to get workers fired.”

‘Affordable housing’ projects seek to keep residents on Long Island

By: Jim Mancari

Though shelter—along with food and clothing—is a basic necessity of life, rising prices are making affordable housing increasingly difficult to find for young people and families on Long Island.

Nassau and Suffolk counties are ranked in the top-10 least affordable living counties in the U.S. Currently, over one-fifth of Long Island households spend more than half their income on housing.

Meanwhile, since 2000, rents have increased 39 percent throughout the island.

Despite these statistics, both counties are taking strides to lessen the financial burden on residents by offering affordable housing.

What is affordable housing?

The Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC) introduced the “Yes in My Backyard” project in 1979. It defines “affordable housing” as housing that costs no more than 30 percent of the monthly household income for rent and utilities. The project also guarantees the housing will remain affordable to families who qualify under specific guidelines.

What steps are Nassau and Suffolk taking to increase availability of affordable housing?

On Oct. 31, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano joined the Long Island Housing Partnership (LIHP) in Inwood to break ground on four new 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath homes, which have been made affordable through grants from the county, the Federal HOME Program and the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation. LIHP seeks to provide increased housing opportunities for Long Islanders unable to afford decent and safe homes.

“It is extremely important that we increase affordable housing opportunities available to our residents,” said Mangano. “These homes provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to those who need it the most, while also creating construction jobs which are the backbone of our economy.”

Mangano said these homes will revitalize neighborhoods and put federal dollars to good use for residents. Barring the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s approval of Mangano’s most recent 2012 budget proposal, Nassau residents will not experience a property tax increase in the near future.

“Any time you can create an affordable housing market, coupled with the certainty of no new county property taxes and then offer the individual or family the services and quality of life that Nassau County delivers, you create a very desirable place to live,” Mangano said.

Nassau County Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) also dug his shovel into the earth at the Inwood ground breaking ceremony.

“Making affordable housing available across Nassau County is fundamental to our long-term economic prosperity,” said Kopel.

Several months ago in Suffolk County, the LIPC fought for the approval of a 490-unit mixed availability living community in Huntington Station designed by AvalonBay. Though ground has yet to be broken, LIPC director Lisa Tyson said the goal is for nearly 20 percent of these units to be affordable housing.

Additionally, for the past decade, land developer Gerald Wolkoff has fought for the approval of the Heartland Project in Brentwood, which would create new shops, restaurants and apartments, in addition to jobs. Of the proposed 9,000 rental units, 23 percent would qualify as affordable housing. Disputes over labor and money have delayed this $4 billion project.

What does the future hold?

By the time these housing projects are completed, there may not be any buyers left. In 2008, the Stony Brook University Center for Survey Research reported that 65 percent of Long Island residents between 18 and 24 said they were likely to move away from the island in the next five years.

“Most people cannot go from living in their parents’ home to owning a home,” said Tyson. “Young people don’t want to live in their parents’ basements or attics. They can’t pay $1,500 a month, so there is just very little opportunity.”

While the economy doesn’t seem to be improving anytime soon, local officials hope that affordable housing will keep Long Island residents—and taxpayers—on the island for the long haul.

Letter: Keep tax surcharge on NY's richest

Article by: Claudia Hanover, Board Member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition

In response to your editorial “How to keep a millionaire” [Oct. 20], nothing could be more askew. The editorial board suggests that “the state should let its income-tax surcharge on those earning more than $200,000 a year (or married couples earning more than $300,000 a year) expire at year’s end.”

The editorial board would do well to look carefully at the coverage of Occupy Wall Street and its offspring all over the world. Those folks in the United States are decrying these basic facts: From 1979 to 2006, the average household after-tax income, including public and private benefits, rose at paltry rates for the bottom three quintiles.

By contrast, the top quintile says it all: It enjoyed a 55 percent increase, while the very top 1 percent took away a 256 percent gain. Put another way, that amounts to the top 1 percent more than tripling its already substantial disparate gains in 1979. These figures are from the Congressional Budget Office.

To suggest that anything other than an immediate and bold tax be levied against the richest among us is to be anti-American, anti-democratic and anti-humanity.

Teachers’ Organizations Rally to End Budget Cuts

Article by: Tracy Diamond

An organization held a rally outside of South Ocean Middle School Wednesday to share stories and speak out against budget cuts to Long Island public schools.

The Long Island Education Coalition (LIEC), the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) teamed up to voice their disagreement with the $1.3 billion budget cut.

Aside from being held in front of the middle school, the rally was not affiliated with the Patchogue-Medford School District.

“Our message today is to let Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and the state legislator know that school cuts hurt our kids,” AQE Community Organizer Danielle Asher said. “Three weeks into the school year, we’re feeling those effects, whether it’s pre-k or kindergarten programs being cut to half day, or sports programs.”

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According to Asher, the main areas of loss have been to after school programs, athletics, and advanced placement courses.

“The Patchogue Medford school district has been hit very hard, as well as many surrounding districts like William Floyd, Longwood, and Brentwood, so we wanted to be in the area that was hit the hardest,” Asher said.

LIEC co-chair Vincent Lyons said a survey was sent to the 120 LI school districts and preliminary findings were made out of 101 responses, showing the differences between low wealth and high wealth schools.

“The state aid cuts had a direct, negative impact on the lower wealth districts- class sizes, AP courses, career and tech- they had to reduce their programs by 40 percent,” Lyons said. “The high wealth districts, because they’re not dependent on state aid, had no adverse impact at all, they didn’t cut any programs.”

Lyons explained that schools have two streams of funding: tax-based and state aid, and with reductions in both comes losses in low and high wealth districts, but the difference in the amount of cuts between the two is evident.

“What we’re concerned about is the achievement gap, this growing disparity between the haves and have-nots,” Lyons said.

The preliminary findings offer statistics regarding each area of loss faced by low and high wealth districts, the numbers for low wealth significantly higher.

“They have to start protecting our children and putting funding into our public schools,” Asher said.

Obama Powered Up And Ready To Work On Job Creation… But Will He Use A 'Green Ladder'?

Article by Edgard Laborde

The forceful language and strong tone in President Obama’s speech is always a wonderful sign. That fighting spirit is what so many want to see from him. To witness this elegant president jump in the fray, or appear to jump in the fray, while standing his ground seems to give many people the “warm and fuzzies” because the candidate they hoped for, the president they voted for, the Leader they sent to Pennsylvania Avenue is the public official they hired to fight for them and in this instances he’s fighting for job creation and oh what a sight. As time continues to pass more and more Americans have observed the disappearance of job opportunities and the lack of creation. When you add the lack of opportunities and the rising cost of living for the working class people you get a growing population of working class people who are, mad, fed up, and unsure about what they can do to better their situation.

The President made sure to throw all the “goodies” into the American Jobs Act. He made sure to highlight the importance of small businesses because they are the engines that create jobs and foster innovation. Obama’s focus on re-building the nation’s infrastructure, building and fixing schools, getting teachers back to work all sound great and incentives to hire both recent and extended laid off workers are sorely needed. These were all great platitudes that set the tone for more discussion on jobs but there were no specifics, no examples.

It is hoped that his promises to close the many loopholes that benefit the few and hamstring the rest is realized. What is worrisome is government’s continued reliance of leaning on tax breaks as a method of job creation instead of focusing and adopting innovative ways to create the atmosphere for good jobs growth…let me be clear, not any job is a “good job.” Every employee should have the opportunity to grow and expand his skill set through training. Employees should have the opportunity to earn a fair wage with fair health benefits for them and their family. Tax breaks do not foster careers where an employee is afforded constant training so that America’s workforce is the most skilled in the world. The American People are ready to hear exactly how good jobs will be created now.

I hoped to hear more innovative and perhaps more detailed examples of what kind of good jobs can be created immediately during this job crisis. Let’s hear about a job sector that is changing, filled with potential innovation, that can last into the future, and cannot be outsourced. That sector is the Home Energy Efficiency Sector.

Here on Long Island, New York business owners, government municipalities, community not-
for-profits, state agencies, and Unions have come together to start-up a new and unique program that will create more “Green Collar” jobs while saving residents money on their energy bill. One such program that is a project of The Long Island Progressive Coalition’s is the Power Up Communities Campaign. Power Up encourages homeowners to make energy-efficient retrofits and improvements on their homes that will ensure cost savings. As more homeowners become involved with Power Up Communities, participating contractors will more employ union trained workers from the community to perform the retrofits and improvements and meet the demand.

People don’t just need any type of job creation; they need career ladders that develop skill sets so that long time employment and growth is assured. The Power Up Communities program provides training with the United Way of Long Island and the Laborers International Union Local 10. For many in historically Black and Brown neighborhoods on Long Island like The Village of Hempstead and Brentwood and Wyandanch where too many are unemployed and under-employed this opportunity will provide an energized hope that they still can provide for their family now and grow as skilled worker in the future.

We also need policies that give people the tools to finance energy efficiency. An example of an actual policy that encourages the increase of demand and in turn job growth in this sector New York State’s Power NY Act, and more specifically On-Bill Recovery. Homeowners in good standing with their utility company can use On-Bill so that the state will pay upfront for retrofit costs. The homeowner can then repay the state over time through their utility using the savings resulting from the improvements.

Such an act allows for moderate income, working class families to do something they never thought of doing, weatherizing their home through retrofits making it more energy-efficient, increasing comfort, while saving several thousand dollars a year while acting as a job engine in their own community. Power Up understands that we are linked which is why community development is a major factor in its business model. Through every referral the contractor pays a $100 fee to the person that makes the referral and another $100 to that individual’s favorite charity, church, synagogue, community organization of their choice in their community, this micro financing truly powers up the community.

Creating jobs now doesn’t just happen in the halls of congress. Especially with this bunch — many of whom would rather sit on their hands than work on their feet on behalf of the many who are under and unemployed fighting to survive. Job creation doesn’t come from tax breaks it comes from understanding what the community needs, what are the demands and then finding a way to provide that service to them. The Home Energy Efficiency Sector is new and needs existing institutions to provide the forum to introduce and explain the benefits for all involved. Without community engagement and grassroots organizing, energy policy would continue to reinforce existing economic inequalities, leaving large numbers of moderate-income households under served. We wish such examples were discussed so that more could replicate New York’s program and Power Up their Communities to create more of these types of good jobs, right away.

Critics Sound Off at Hearing on Long Island Bus

By  on September 2nd, 2011 of the Long Island Press

Nassau County’s pell-mell rush to have Illinois-based bus company Veolia Transportation takeover Long Island Bus on New Year’s Day drew a packed crowd Wednesday night at a “people’s hearing” in Garden City.

When Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, announced the pending deal in June, he said the county legislature would hold a public hearing only after the details of the contract had been worked out. But the legislature’s presiding officer, Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), has said only the seven members of the legislature’s rules committee would get to vote on the new contract, instead of the full body of the legislature. A small number of politicians, it seems, will determine the fate of some 100,000 daily riders.

So far, Mangano has said that the company has agreed to hold fares steady and maintain current bus routes for one year. What happens in 2013 was a constant refrain on people’s lips as they took to the microphone at the Ethical Humanist Society auditorium to address a bipartisan panel of legislators sympathetic to the riders’ plight.

“We want answers so we’ll know what we’re getting,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She urged those attending to “not leave this room without taking some action.”

Tables had been set up in the back to fascilitate a letter-writing campaign to elected officials. At the least, the organizers want Mangano’s deal with Veolia extended to five years.

Slevin repeatedly reminded the speakers at the microphone that it wasn’t a partisan, political event, but she didn’t have to remind the audience, some 150 or more in number, about the urgency of the meeting, which was also sponsored by the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Vision Long Island.

On hand was Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury), Legis. Jodi Bosworth (D-Great Neck), Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn), Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury), as well as the spokesperson for Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, whose office has audited the county-subsidized bus program. Also speaking was state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and several candidates for office.

“We have been rebuffed in every instance when we’ve tried to ask the county legislature and the county executive to hold a public hearing on this,” Ryan Lynch of Tri-State told the Press. “Riders and business owners and workers should be very scared of what happens in 2013….

“You can’t say you’re going to have the same fares and the same levels of service and still think you’re only going to contribute $2 million to $4 million [annually], as [Mangano’s] saying,” he said. “It defies the laws of economics.” Lynch pointed out that Suffolk County subsidizes its bus service with $25 million, and Westchester contributes $33 million to its system.

Wheel-chair bound Angela Davis, an elderly special needs Able-Ride customer, may have been the most poignant of those who spoke during the almost three-hour session.

“If fares rise,” Davis said, “I won’t be able to get around… If there are more cuts in service, poor disabled people will end up as shut-ins, which is unacceptable. We weren’t put on this Earth to be shut-ins!”

Free air conditioners for low-income LIers

Low-income Long Islanders who have medical conditions that make heat dangerous to their health can receive a free air conditioner under an emergency cooling program funded by New York State.

The Long Island Progressive Coalition is administering the program here. Under the program, window air conditioners will be delivered and installed free of charge through August or while funding lasts.

Income limits are based on family size and start at $25,548 a year for one person. The annual limit for a family of four, for example, is $49,128.

Proof of income, a doctor’s letter stating medical need, and landlord permission is required. Applicants cannot already possess a working air conditioner.

To apply, contact the Long Island Progressive Coalition at 516-541-1006, ext. 14.

Protestors Gather In Front Of Bishop's Southampton Office

Publication: The Southampton Press

Article By Colleen Reynolds

A flurry of bumblebee-colored “Hands Off My Medicare” signs waved toward passing motorists on Hampton Road in Southampton Village on Wednesday morning as part of a statewide “Restore the American Promise” advocacy effort.

About a dozen members of the Long Island Progressive Coalition gathered outside U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s office to call for the protection of federal safety net programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, in light of the August 2 deadline to raise the national debt ceiling.

“Congressional leaders are threatening to take no action unless radical cuts are made to historic social programs that have provided security and a better life to tens of millions of working American families for many decades,” the group said in a statement.

Seated in a lawn chair, Southampton resident Lucius Ware, who is also president of the eastern Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he attended Wednesday’s event because the people in the greatest need will suffer the most if such programs are cut.