Message to Lawmakers: Stick with What Works for Youngest New Yorkers

By: Mike Clifford, Public News Service – NY

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been using competitive grants to spur competition among school districts, but today lawmakers are being urged to not rely on that approach for early education funding. The jury is out on competitive grants, according to Danielle Asher, early childhood education campaign coordinator with the Long Island Progressive Coalition; she says maybe they’ll work, maybe not.

That’s why Asher says it’s dangerous to use that system to fund early education programs, which she says have been proved to save the state money and provide a quality education.

“It is proven to reduce grade repetition and disciplinary referrals, special education costs; it will save the state $22 million to $32 million, so we need to invest in Pre-K programs.”

Asher is one of the more than 100 parents, teachers and advocates traveling to Albany to urge lawmakers to restore $53 million in early education funding to the general fund. The Board of Regents also backs that approach, while Governor Cuomo lumped funding for early education into $250 million in competitive grants in his executive budget.

Currently, many of New York’s youngest children are on waiting lists to get into early-learning programs, according to Marsha Basloe, executive director of the Early Care and Learning Council. She says that’s a shame, because decades worth of studies show these programs work.

“Students that participate in quality early-care and learning programs are far more likely to attend college and get higher-paying jobs; avoid teen pregnancy; avoid welfare dependency; avoid delinquency and/or crime.”

Basloe plans to meet with lawmakers to talk about the need to find $20 million to fund a Quality Stars program to rate local early education programs.

A news briefing is planned for 11 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building.

A report is at bit.ly/yqELjA. More on the QUALITYstarsNY program is at qualitystarsny.org.

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.

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.

The Perfect Storm of State Disaster- Education Cuts

August 27th, 2010 7:18 pm ET

“The perfect storm of state disaster” is what state assemblyman Tom Alfano calls the governor’s proposed budget for schools.  This is a very apt statement, whether you are a parent of a child in a school on Long Island or a teacher.  This statement was made on December 19, 2008 in the Floral Dispatch, online edition.  However, this statement still holds true today as well.  Alfano also stated in his op-ed that these cuts would impact such areas in education as bigger class sizes, cuts in technology, and special education.

In order to decrease the gap in funding versus educational needs, New York attempted to win The Race to the Top.  According to a report by Newsday, New York State went from also-ran to winner in the federal Race To The Top competition, officials said.  New York is one of nine states splitting $3.3 billion.  Timothy Kremer of the state School Boards Association states that “it will not replace the $1.4-billion cut in school aid that forced some school districts to lay off teachers, close schools and cut programs.”

Long Island schools are showing their disagreement with state cuts.  One such district is in Wyandanch had fifty community residents on Saturday August 14, 2010 participate in a rally lad by local activists and the Long Island Progressive Coalition, a regional volunteer group.  Ironically when the state raised passing standards on its tests last month, the number of failed students soared – in Wyandanch and island wide.  So with the passing test score being increased as well as class sizes rising due to budget cuts, students will suffer.  New York state is going to receive some financial help from the federal government of $26 billion.  $607 million of that money – equivalent to more than 40 percent of state-aid cuts will go to New York.  But Albany authorities have not yet announced how the money will be distributed to schools.

Even with all of these cuts, there is still a silver-lining to this cloud.  People are still choosing to teach, and many of them return to the schools they went through.  Michael Arnone returned to teach third grad in the same classroom he had third grade in Glen Cove.  Sari Goldberg Alfano of Levittown returned to her elementary school as well to teach.  These teachers and teachers like them still believe in our education system here in Long Island, and so should you.