Friday, January 18, 2013

Poll: Public backs increase in the minimum wage

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 9:01 AM

The public is behind Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75 per hour, according to one statewide poll. Cuomo proposed the increase during his State of the State address last week.

A Siena College Research Institute poll, conducted on January 10 and January 13 to 15, says that 83 percent of the people surveyed support the minimum wage increase. The institute surveyed 676 registered voters.

Last year, Democrats tried to get a minimum wage increase through the Legislature. The legislation was backed by a variety of groups, including labor and clergy. But Republicans, who controlled the Senate, wouldn't bring the measure up for a vote, so it died.

This year, the Legislature's dynamic is different. The Assembly, with its large Democratic majority, is almost guaranteed to pass minimum wage legislation; it had no problems passing last year's proposal. And the Senate, is now under the control of a coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference. The IDC members want the Senate to pass a minimum wage increase, and the conference has the ability to bring it to the floor for a vote. And since last year, several Republican senators have come forward and said they support a minimum wage increase.

Those Republicans appear to have support from voters in their party. The Siena Research Institute says that 70 percent of Republicans polled support a minimum wage increase. It also says that, of the people polled who identify as conservative, 72 percent support an increase.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Parent trigger law debate heats up

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 10:44 AM

City school board Vice President Van White proposes school and parent report cards. - FILE PHOTO
  • City school board Vice President Van White proposes school and parent report cards.

The Buffalo-Rochester Parent Trigger Coalition, a group of community organizations and education activists, is renewing a push for a parent trigger law for the school systems in both cities.

Parent trigger laws, first initiated in California, give parents a tool to transform persistently failing schools. Parents can petition the school’s board to enact one or more reform options, such as converting the school into a charter school, firing the principal, or making sweeping changes to the school’s staff.

Allen Williams, president of the New York Center for Educational Justice and a former Rochester school board member, is leading the effort to get New York lawmakers to take up legislation drafted last year by Senator Mark Grisanti and Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Former Rochester school board member Allen Williams. - FILE PHOTO
  • Former Rochester school board member Allen Williams.

Also, the coalition is critical of a recent proposal by Rochester school board vice-president Van White. Part of White’s proposal supports trigger laws, but also recommends instituting parent report cards in Rochester’s schools.

White recommends that parents undergo a self-evaluation of their involvement in their child’s education. The results would be compiled into a grade for the school, based on factors like the school's attendance rate, parent participation in School-based Planning Teams, percentage of parents who sign and return report cards, and the percentage of parents who regularly use the district’s Parent Connect system to check on their child’s attendance and test scores.

The coalition says White’s proposal amounts to "cherry picking" parents who can petition the board for trigger reforms.

Seven states have passed trigger law legislation, and efforts to get trigger legislation passed are under way in about half-dozen more. Supporters of trigger laws got a boost of encouragement earlier this month when the parents of a school in Southern California successfully converted a failing elementary school into a charter school. It marked the first time the law has been invoked.

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AG turns attention to nonprofits' elections spending

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 9:15 AM

For the past few days, New York State news has been dominated by the Legislature's approval of new gun laws and Congress's approval of a Superstorm Sandy aid package.

Another important issue has flown below the radar. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has begun holding public hearings about new campaign finance disclosure requirements for nonrofits, specifically 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. FRONTLINE has a webpage that gives a basic rundown of the organizations and their role in politics.

The Attorney General's Office has developed some draft regulations, and the hearings are meant for the public, nonprofit officials, and elected officials to provide input. (Comments can also be made via the office's website,

During a hearing on Tuesday in New York City, Schneiderman said that nonprofits funneled $400 million to $500 million into the political system during the 2012 elections. Because the organizations don't have to disclose their donors, there is no way for the public to know who's providing the funding.

“As we begin the new year, most of us and I’m sure most people in the United States would agree that what is now referred to as 'dark money' was an unwelcome influence in the recently completed campaign cycle and we are here today to say 'Not in New York State,'" Schneiderman said during his opening remarks.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Obama: 'We've suffered too much pain'

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 at 12:38 PM

Gov. Cuomo was in Rochester for a ceremonial signing of New York's new gun legislation. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN

A day after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s groundbreaking gun legislation (Cuomo followed that with a ceremonial signing of the legislation at Rochester City Hall this morning), President Obama unveiled his own recommendations for reducing gun violence in America. He made three main recommendations to Congress.

Topping his list is enacting universal background checks for people purchasing guns. Currently, as many as 40 percent of the guns purchased in the US are sold without background checks, he said.

“You should at least have to show that you’re not a felon,” Obama said.

His second recommendation is to restore the ban on assault weapons with high-capacity magazines. Obama referred to a similar request President Ronald Reagan made in a letter to Congress in 1994.

Third, Obama asked Congress to crack down on people who buy guns for the purpose of getting them into the hands of criminals — so called "straw man" purchases.

The president also spoke about funding research into the study of violent video games and their link to behavior.

“We don’t benefit from ignorance,” Obama said.

And he recommended putting more police on the street and in city neighborhoods.

The relatively short speech was an appeal to the American public to not let the momentum for change slip away. The only way Congress will act is if the American public demands it, Obama said.

And he tried to chip away at the bedrock argument concerning the Second Amendment, acknowledging that Americans have the right to bear arms.

“With rights come responsibilities,” Obama said. “We don’t live in isolation. We live in a society.”

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Former Urban Choice leader starting another charter

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Figuring out how to improve student performance in the city’s schools is arguably the biggest challenge facing Rochester. Like many cities across the country, Rochester has pursued multiple avenues to increase student achievement with little success.

John Bliss, the co-founder and former head of Urban Choice Charter School, is concerned about the trend among state and local school officials to look outside the district to one of the many education foundations or firms for prescriptions for troubled schools. He compares it to buying a franchise. These organizations sell packaged reform models to school officials, who are often under enormous pressure from parents, business and community leaders, and government officials to turn schools around rapidly, he says. The packaged approach gets pushed down through a school from top administrators, but doesn’t usually garner great results, Bliss says.

He argues instead that teachers and parents frequently know the reasons why schools fail, and how to fix them. But they are typically sidelined even though they are perhaps the most essential ingredient to turning around a failing school or creating a new school.

And the school’s principal needs to have some autonomy from administration, Bliss says, a view often espoused by charter school leaders.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski agrees with some of Bliss’s ideas, and he says that the teachers contract allows for this kind of approach within Rochester’s schools.

But critics argue that schools wouldn’t be failing if teachers and parents really did have the solutions to student achievement problems. Bliss says that’s an oversimplification of the problems with urban education.

Bliss doesn’t fall neatly into one of the usual camps concerned with urban education. He’s a strong supporter of traditional public schools even though he started a charter school. He’s not a fan of high-stakes standardized testing, but he doesn’t demonize tests, either.

And even though teachers at Urban Choice — like most charters — are not unionized, Bliss doesn’t believe that teachers or unions are to blame for low student performance.

Bliss, who is no longer with Urban Choice, says he is in the process of creating another charter school. And this one may have a union.

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[UPDATE] Assembly Republicans bash Cuomo, gun proposals

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM

UPDATE 12:55 p.m., Jan. 15:

Rochester city spokesperson Mike Keane's reaction to State Assemblymember Steve Katz's comments that Rochester is close to bankruptcy:

The City is not on the verge of bankruptcy. Assemblyman Katz is wildly overstating the case here. The Mayor has advocated for increased state aid and will continue to do so, however, we have no commitments from the state for the upcoming budget.


Some tough words from Assembly Republicans on Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed package of gun legislation. The legislation is being debated in the Assembly right now. The State Senate passed it last night.

Assembly member Marc Butler said the legislation "tramples on the Constitutional rights of our constituents" and would be a job-killer for New York's Mohawk Valley. The Remington Factory is the largest employer in Herkimer County in the Mohawk Valley, says the Wall Street Journal.

Butler said the gun legislation is being rammed through without public hearings or proper vetting.

"I take no pride in what we are doing here today," Butler said.

Republican Steve Katz, who represents the 94th Assembly District, was more forceful. He said the Assembly is being bullied into passing the bill, and called the legislation a misguided, egotistical attempt to advance Cuomo's presidential ambitions.

The new law will turn law-abiding citizens into a new class of criminals overnight, he said.

Interesting and slightly alarming tangent: Katz ticked off a number of issues he said the state should be worried about before gun control. He said Rochester and a couple of other Upstate cities are on the verge of bankruptcy and that Cuomo's negotiating bailout packages for these cities. That might be news to Rochester Mayor Tom Richards.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

WEEK AHEAD: Sustainability meeting, RPD outreach, downtown planning, RCSD wants YOU

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 9:56 AM

The coalition developing the Finger Lakes Regional Sustainability Plan will hold a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, January 16, at RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

When it’s finished, the plan will outline actions for improving the long-term sustainability of the region’s communities and natural resources, planners say. It’ll include recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using energy more efficiently, and using more renewable energy. The plan will also include information on current greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

The plan is being developed by a group that includes the region’s counties, the City of Rochester, some local governments, and planning agencies.

Other regions across the state are developing similar plans, and they’ll all be competing for funding to implement their recommendations. The state is setting aside $90 million for regions to implement the plans.
More information: Jeremy Moule

Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard will hold the second in a series of one-hour Twitter town halls at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, January 15. You can ask the chief questions on any topic and offer comments on policing in Rochester. Participants in the first town hall, held last week, asked about children’s safety, policing initiatives in certain neighborhoods, human trafficking, and other subjects.
You must have a Twitter account to participate in the town hall. Follow #rpdchief. Town halls will take place every Tuesday in January.

Sheppard is a busy guy this week. The police chief will also appear alongside Mayor Tom Richards in the second Seeking Solutions to Violence public meeting. It’s at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 15, at the Carter Street Community Center, 500 Carter Street.

Seeking Solutions public meetings are being held in each of the city’s four quadrants. Citizens are asked to discuss violence under four broad categories: open-air drug sales and drug houses; gangs, guns, and the culture of violence; bullying and truancy; and house parties.

Citizen suggestions will be recorded and, according to a press release, used to “enhance the Rochester Police Department’s long-term violence-reduction strategies.”

Additional Seeking Solutions meetings are scheduled for January 29 and February 5.

Surely you’ve noticed all the bulldozers and construction activity downtown. The center of our city is changing — Midtown, the Sibley building, various housing projects — and here’s your chance to help shape that picture. The City of Rochester is seeking citizen input on a new master plan — essentially a planning strategy — for downtown.

The public input meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 16, at City Hall, 30 Church Street. It will include a presentation on downtown planning efforts since 2003 and will focus on the ideas and concerns of current and prospective downtown residents. Christine Carrie Fien

The Rochester school board is seeking parents interested in serving on the board’s committees for the upcoming fiscal year, July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.

The board has five committees, each led by a commissioner: audit; community and intergovernmental relations; excellence in student achievement; finance and resource allocation; and policy development and review. Though they are non-voting, volunteer positions, the intent is to bring parental representation to the committees and the issues that are being addressed.

All RCSD parents are eligible to apply, except those employed by the district or those who have a financial interest in the district’s work. More information and an application form are available by calling 262-8525. Applications are due by Friday, March 15, and each committee will select a parental representative by Tuesday, April 30. Tim Louis Macaluso

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Parent trigger law invoked in California

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 4:59 PM

Parents of students attending Desert Trails Elementary School scored a major victory this week with their use of California’s parent trigger law. The Adelanto School Board voted unanimously to convert the long-failing school into a charter school. It marks the first time the law in California has been invoked.

The country’s first parent trigger law was signed by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and since then six other states have enacted similar laws. The legislation is designed to give parents an avenue to exert direct reform over a failing school. There are multiple steps involved, and no one should be misled into thinking that it is an easy solution to a complex problem.

Basically, a large majority of the school’s parents have to agree to enact the trigger law, and their recommendations for improving the school have to go through various levels of approval.

There has been an effort to get a parent trigger law passed in New York, which began last year by education advocates in Buffalo. A summary of the failed bill is below, as is a fact sheet on the trigger law.

Trigger law information by

Trigger law legislation summary by

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Robach: Cuomo's Upstate plans could be good for the region

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 8:35 AM

I had a chance to talk to Republican State Senator Joe Robach yesterday about Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address.

Robach said he was glad to hear the governor talk extensively about Upstate New York. Specifically, he was pleased with the governor's plans to boost the area's economy; for example, the governor is calling for better marketing of Upstate. The governor also proposes to turn 10 tech startup incubators into "hot spots" with additional services and tax benefits. Rochester's universities and colleges produce a lot of research but the work to make products based on that research happens elsewhere.

"This is really the first time I can remember somebody putting some specific plans in place and really highlighting the importance of specific items to take place for the Upstate New York economy to prosper," Robach said.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Obama inauguration inducts acceptance

Posted By on Thu, Jan 10, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Hearing that Richard Blanco had been chosen to write a poem for President Obama’s second inauguration reconfirmed for me why this president will be remembered as a transformative leader.

Blanco is a Cuban-American gay poet. His work journals the cross-cultural experiences of two minority groups — the LGBT and Latino communities — at a time when the country’s acceptance of either is divided. But there’s also something strangely indigenous about Blanco’s poems, too.

His collections includes “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel.”

A personal favorite is a five-part poem titled America, a humorous take on family, discovery, and assimilation. This is part one:

Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.

Obama may have chosen Blanco purely for political expedience, a wink and a nod to two communities that strongly supported his re-election. But that doesn’t change the reality on the ground: a legitimization of the Latino and LGBT experience as authentically American.

Blanco joins a small group of poets who are asked to write a poem especially for a presidential inauguration by a leader who understands that inclusiveness is more than a slogan; it’s vital to the survival of the state.

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