A few days before the beginning of the school year, on September 3, National Book Award-winning author Jonathan Kozol was in town, addressing an assembly of teachers and support staff for the Greece Teachers Association. Kozol, the author of Death at an Early Age and Savage Inequalities, has been an outspoken advocate of excellence and equity in America's public schools since the 1960s.
"He spoke about his experience with students in schools that were in deprived areas," says William Walzer, president of the Greece Teachers Association, "and said that children, regardless of whether they come from a fiscally rich district, should be expected to function at the highest levels."
Before arriving in Rochester, Kozol asked Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers' Association and an old friend, to gather a group of a dozen or so young teachers from inner-city and suburban schools for a private meeting.
Kozol has been critical of George W. Bush's education reform plans for failing schools, which he says rely too heavily on standardized tests, and include the unreasonable expectation that failing schools can meet the standards of more affluent schools without adequate increases in funding.
"He wanted to meet with teachers from Rochester and Greece to learn how the school reform effort actually translates into local practical realities, and to see reform through the eyes of relatively new teachers," says Urbanski. "He said he thought the conversation was enormously useful. He took an attendance list because he wants to come back to Rochester and continue that conversation."
Evan Wilson, a 27-year-old history teacher at John Marshall High School on Ridgeway Avenue, attended that meeting with Kozol. Kozol interviewed the teachers about their classroom experiences and bounced some of his new ideas off of them.
"He wanted to get a feel for what's really going on in our schools," says Wilson. "We talked about some of the reasons that kids aren't learning and achieving. It was helpful to share ideas with him, and to hear from him that the problems we're experiencing are things that he's seen elsewhere."
--- Susan Herman
As we go to press, it looks like the face-off between the University of Rochester's Strong Hospital and SEIU 1199Upstate will soon be over. Contract talks got bogged down in recent weeks, mostly over health benefits and wage hikes; the old labor contract expired June 1. (See "Metro Ink," October 2-8.)
On October 3, SEIU, which represents 1,000 hospital workers at Strong, said a tentative agreement had been hammered out in an all-night session. Union officials credited not just some hard work, but also a bit of help from federal mediator Kevin Powers. (A Strong Hospital spokesperson said management would issue no statement until after the union's October 9 ratification vote.)
The union statement contained a heads-up, too: On October 5, another labor contract expired --- this one between the university and 200 SEIU members in various job classifications on campus. Lots of people are watching to see if the caffeine and mediation will be needed again.
Your money or your health
Pardon our blood pressure as we await the Blues' 2003 rate hike of 12 to 14 percent. It seems when it comes to health insurance, it's all systolic and no diastolic --- high and higher. Go figure.
Which is exactly what some Rochesterians did October 1 at the Downtown Community Forum, during a candidates' night sponsored by the Rochester Interfaith Health Care Coalition and the Greater Rochester Community of Churches.
We trained our microscope on the top questions (paraphrased): Where do you stand on single-payer health insurance? And how about universal coverage in general? A report in the Democrat and Chronicle said four of the five candidates who showed up --- incumbent state Assemblymembers Susan John and David Koon, State Assembly candidate Christine Saltzberg, and State Senate candidate Harry Bronson; Democrats all --- said yes to single-payer run by state government. Odd man out was State Senate candidate Joseph Robach, a newly minted Republican, who said no.
But when you read the questionnaires that got mailed back, you wonder how affirmative the yea-sayers were.
Susan John, for example, said she's "long supported the concept of universal, comprehensive health care." But, she asked, "how do we translate such a concept into an efficient, effective, and affordable program for New Yorkers?" She said she's "not sure," and then lauded "incremental measures" leading to the goal.
Likewise, Harry Bronson said "universal [single-payer] coverage would be beneficial," though "the insurance industry would fight it." Bronson argued that "true universal coverage should be at the federal level." But New York, he said, "must look [for] a viable way to institute universal health coverage."
David Koon voiced unequivocal support for single-payer. But he muddied the waters with an opening written statement: "The single-payer system is the system we use in the US; the [sic] Universal health care coverage is what is used in Canada."
A clearer response came from one candidate who didn't attend the forum. (Forum organizers provided copies of all the returned questionnaires; there was none from Assembly candidate Saltzberg.) Republican Assemblymember Joe Errigo said he favored a single-payer, universal system, and he described the model accurately. Yet he downplayed moves in Vermont, et al., to fashion universal health care, and he claimed New York differs "in population and needs" from other states anyway.
Occupying the Federal Building's front walk October 4, a dozen Roman Catholic peace activists sat down on a fabric "red cross" they'd unrolled on the concrete. The women and men were anticipating arrest, though they hadn't blocked access to the building. No arrests were made, but the gathering, organized by the local chapter of Pax Christi, was a gentle indictment of US policy. The demands were a trinity: no threats against Iraq, no more civilian economic sanctions, and "money for human needs, not military dominance."
Pax Christi member Jan Bezila boiled it down: "We're really here to say no to war," she told a helmeted RPD bike patrol officer.
Three days later, during the countdown to George W. Bush's October 7 speech on Iraq, more than 1,000 local people rallied in front of the Federal Building. The anti-war protest became a wavelike tableau that covered the sidewalk, retaining walls, lawns, and benches, and spilled out into the street. Even more than the speeches, chants (e.g. "Bush keeps pushing on... and the media go along"), and banners ("Earth to Bush: No Iraq War," read the largest), the human presence got the point across.
The City Newspaper staff loves competition. We also love it when competitors like our ideas so much that they copy us. So we're flattered that the Gannettoids at the Democrat and Chronicle like our Best of Greater Rochester project so much that they're doing their own.
Their version is called "Rochester's Choice." As with our Best-of, D&C readers will fill out ballots and vote for their favorite restaurants, bakeries, and the like. (The congenitally uninspired Gannettoids couldn't think of a good time of year to run their project, so they're doing it in October, when we do ours.)
We were looking forward to a bit of competitive fun. But never underestimate the ability of the Gannettoids to pee all over themselves.
The D&C's ballot will run in a "Vote for Me!" special section. (Seriously!) Area businesses are being sold ads in the section --- to try to up their chance of winning.
And we do love the D&C's honesty. "Your participation in the 'Vote for Me!' section is like hiring your own spin doctor," says the promo piece being given to advertisers. "You increase your chance of winning by giving readers the perception (our emphasis) that your business is the strongest and most popular in its category.
The D&C is actually encouraging businesses to stuff the ballot box --- giving advertisers lotsa free copies of the ballot and telling them to urge customers to vote more than once.
So what's the value of a "Rochester's Choice" award? Oh, probably about the value of 100 stuffed ballots.
When we last left Peter Tubiolo of Rochester International Airport Taxi --- the co-op of cab drivers servicing air travelers --- he and his fellow drivers were working without a contract with the county while Airport Director Terry Slaybaugh sought bids from other companies.
These days, the co-op has dissolved, the county has yet to strike a new deal with another company, and Tubiolo is freelancing for friends. It's safe to say Slaybaugh isn't one of them. "I'm 67 and I'm happy just to be out of there, to be away from that son of a bitch Slaybaugh," says Tubiolo.
As City reported last June (see "Taxing cabs," June 19-26), after the September 11 attacks and the dramatic decline is business at the airport, Slaybaugh told Tubiolo the county wanted more money from the drivers --- the co-op paid the county $51,600 in 2001, Tubiolo says. Slaybaugh also wanted more than the 50-cent-per-fare fee co-op drivers had been forking over to the county on top of the $51,600, Tubiolo says. And liability insurance for county-contracted cabs was to increase by $1,400 (from $1,700 to $3,100 per taxi, per year.)
Slaybaugh, who had previously refused to talk to City, could not be reached for comment. An airport administrator referred questions to county spokesmen, who did not return calls before City went to press.
County Legislator Kevin Murray, who helped arrange the co-op's contract with the county 14 years ago, isn't sure where the process of finding a new company is now, but he believes there'll be another round of bidding.
Murray points out that within the scheme of the county's economic development efforts, having reliable, professional taxi service at the airport is no small element. "When the movers and shakers come to town, that's one of the first things they see," Murray says.