Friday, September 20, 2013

That machine wants your job

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 3:58 PM

Several years out of the Great Recession haven't produced the economic boom of many past US recoveries, and we continue to hear about the millions of Americans who have joined the ranks of the permanently unemployed.

As Republicans continue to feather the nests of the rich with the failed expectation that they will create jobs, and Democrats continue to push job training and education, both parties may be wrong.

The pace of technological advancement is moving so rapidly that the question we should be asking is: How susceptible is the job market to computerization?

According to an article by Andrew Leonard on, the answer is very. One estimate puts the percent of US jobs at risk at nearly 50 percent.

Labor analysts have been tracking the trend for years, and we’ve seen how technology has transformed almost every major industry. Sometimes the transformation has been so dramatic that thousands of employees have been replaced with little or no possibility of reemployment. Take bank tellers, for example. Their numbers shrank to a fraction of their earlier level with the advent of the Automated Teller Machine.

More recently we've seen the hollowing out of the mid-level job market, also known as the middle class. Workers are clustered at the low end, filling low-paying manual jobs, while highly educated workers are filling specialized jobs.

Education — the more, the better — will keep workers ahead of the machines and employed, we've been told. But that’s looking less certain, too. Not only is the pace of technological advancement showing no sign of slowing down, education alone won’t be able to replace all the jobs lost.

As Leonard puts, if we really are in a race against the machines, you might want to bet on the machines.

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Food stamp fight

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM

House Republicans have passed legislation that would cut food stamp funding by $40 billion over the next four years. If there's any upside, it's this: the Senate won't agree to such severe cuts.

The Republican legislation passed by a mere seven votes, since even some GOP legislators thought the cuts too draconian. The cuts would boot 3.8 million recipients out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2014, says an editorial in the New York Times. House Representative Louise Slaughter and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, sent out statements yesterday condemning the legislation. Slaughter voted against the bill, but the other House member representing Monroe County, Republican Chris Collins, voted for it. In her statement, Slaughter had this to say about the bill:

"Decades of expanding inequality, misguided trade agreements and the recent financial crisis have decimated the middle class and destroyed good-paying American jobs, forcing many to temporarily rely on food stamps to feed their families. These are not people living lavishly; these are people who are having trouble finding work in a bad economy or are employed in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet. They need a little help to get by, and the SNAP program provides a modest benefit of $1.40 per meal to keep Americans from going to bed hungry."

The legislation would also impose new work requirements on SNAP recipients.

Continue reading »

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Ratings games

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 9:12 AM

Just last month, Moody's Investors Service downgraded Monroe County's credit rating, citing the county's structural budget deficit and reliance on one-shot revenues. 

But yesterday, the bond rating firm Standard & Poor's upgraded the county's ratings for several bonds — the public sector's way of borrowing money, basically — from BBB+ to A. And it gave the county a "stable" ranking, meaning the firm doesn't expect to downgrade the rating in the near future.

A credit rating upgrade generally suggests that the firm has confidence that the borrower won't default on its obligations. Higher ratings can mean lower borrowing costs while lower ratings can mean higher costs.

County Executive Maggie Brooks sent out a statement late in the afternoon yesterday highlighting the rating action and making a subtle knock at Moody's:
“S&P’s upgrade of the County’s credit rating to 'A' status stands as a strong and independent affirmation that our fiscally-responsible approach to budgeting not only protects taxpayers, it's also put county government on solid financial footing for years to come. S&P’s reliable analysis sets the standard in the credit rating industry, leaving absolutely no doubt that our taxpayer-first approach to debt management is a proven success. With a 2013 Budget that freezes the property tax rate for a ninth straight year and holds spending below inflation, it’s certainly no surprise that financial experts like S&P have recognized our work to protect taxpayers.”

When Moody's downgraded the county's rating last month, Brooks and administration officials criticized the action. They said that the firm wants the county to raise taxes, which the county is unwilling to do. But Legislature Democrats said that the downgrade echoed concerns they've been raising about the county's approach to budgeting, particularly the reliance on one-shot revenues.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ravitch on education's reign of error

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2013 at 10:33 AM

It’s a gross understatement to say that Diane Ravitch is a lightning rod for politicians, teachers, and education reformers. Once a marshal of former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law, she later rejected NCLB and the reform model it energized, saying it was completely wrong.

Charter school and education reform advocates say that Ravitch is nothing more than a post-liberal hack whose main agenda is to defend unions and to protect incompetent teachers.

But Ravitch is hardly an excuse-maker for teachers and unions. She does, however, anger many by pointing to the country’s often less-than-lucid understanding of concentrated poverty and institutional racism. And she dares to challenge the market approach to solving it.

Salon’s Sara Scribner interviews Ravitch about her new book: “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” It’s a good read and Ravitch talks about Teach for America’s teachers, education reform leader Michelle Rhee, and the new curriculum called Common Core.

Mostly what Ravitch describes is a government and business partnership that’s pulling apart public education in urban centers without addressing the sources of failure in those communities: poverty.

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Irondequoit's curfew question

Posted By on Wed, Sep 18, 2013 at 10:11 AM

Sporadic fights at the Regal Cinema's Culver-Ridge Plaza move theater last Friday night have the Irondequoit community demanding action. The theater is supposed to release a new security plan by Thursday, says an article in today's Democrat and Chronicle.

Of course, the matter is also becoming an election issue. Sitting Republican Supervisor Mary Joyce D'Aurizio and Democratic challenger Adam Bello have exchanged statements on the situation.

In a press release sent out yesterday, Bello said that D'Aurizio needs to act immediately to make sure to prevent future incidents at the theater. He said that the town should force the theater to implement a teen curfew and, if it doesn't, he said that D'Aurizio should use the town code, "which provides for the protection of our residents from disorderly and dangerous behavior" to shut the theater down.

In the D and C article, D'Aurizio said that implementing a curfew would be a lengthy process and that Bello's demand shows a lack of familiarity with the political process. That may be the case for a townwide curfew, Bello said, but he's only talking about a curfew for the theater.

Bello's curfew idea is not unprecedented. After widespread complaints about teen behavior at Greece Ridge Mall, the mall's owner, Wilmorite, implemented a teen curfew, though they call it a Parental Escort Program. After 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the mall does not allow young people under age 19 in the mall unless they are accompanied by a parent, guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. There are exceptions, and after the curfew, teens can be in businesses with their own exterior entrance, including the mall's movie theater.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

COMIDA gives incentives for beer, bitters, and lodging

Posted By on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Today's Monroe County Industrial Development Agency board meeting can be summed up in a simple phrase: hotels and drinks.

The COMIDA board approved incentives for two E. J. Del Monte Corp. hotel projects, for an expansion at the Genesee brewery, and for Fee Brothers to add more warehouse space. The board also approved incentives for the expansion of a multi-use building in a Greece office park and for NOHMS Technology, a lithium sulfur battery technology development company located in the Eastman Business Park.

Continue reading »

Monday, September 16, 2013

[UPDATED] Less testing for city students

Posted By on Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Updated at 9:15 on September 17, 2013:

The district plans to move forward immediately to reduce the number of tests taken by city students, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said at a press briefing yesterday. The decision requires approval from State Education Commissioner John King, but Vargas said he's confident that King will approve the change. Both Webster and Brockport have taken a similar approach, Vargas said. 

The reduction in tests is limited to those created locally; state mandated tests will still be administered. Vargas and Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, said the reduction in tests will allow teachers to spend more time teaching. The days devoted to preparing for and administering tests were not only an exercise in redundancy, Urbanski said, but they cut into instruction time.

Urbanski didn’t deny that the reduction came about as a result of the Annual Professional Performance Reviews. Teachers received their reviews only days ago. Urbanski is a strong opponent of the APPR and says he is actively trying to have the law rescinded. The APPR will still use the results of students' state-mandated tests to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness. And the announced changes will not negate the most recent reviews.

Many parents and teachers are pleased with the decision to reduce tests — some were scheduled to be administered starting next week. And there have been anecdotal reports of teachers receiving reviews based on students they didn’t teach or on test scores for students who didn’t take the tests. They also say that there are better tools to assess student and teacher performance than what's allowed under the APPR.

But some charter school advocates say that the criticism of excessive testing is misguided.

Continue reading »

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[UPDATED] Week Ahead: Public safety in city neighborhoods, COMIDA meeting, Pittsford project ruffles feathers again

Posted By on Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards will conduct the fourth and final Voice of the Citizen — Budgeting for Public Safety forum from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, September 16, at the Carter Street Community Center, 500 Carter Street in the city's northeast quadrant.

The city has set aside $200,000 in the fiscal year 2013 to 2014 budget for "citizen budgeting," a process that will allow residents to transform their ideas into projects or investments aimed at improving public safety in neighborhoods. Christine Carrie Fien

The Monroe County Industrial Development Agency will meet at noon on Tuesday to tackle a busy agenda. Among the items: exemptions for two E.J. Del Monte Corp. hotel projects.

For one of the projects, the company will invest $2.4 million to convert an existing Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Paddy Creek Circle in Greece to a Fairfield Inn by Marriott. E.J. Del Monte Corp. is seeking sales tax exemptions that’ll amount to $122,048 and plans to create the equivalent of three full-time jobs. A public hearing on the application is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, September 16, at Greece Town Hall, 1 Vince Tofany Boulevard.

E.J. Del Monte Corp. is also seeking tax exemptions for its $18 million Hilton Garden Inn at College Town in the city. A payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement for the project was approved in February, but the company is seeking additional sales and mortgage tax exemptions worth $831,200. The company estimates that it’ll create the equivalent of 50 jobs. COMIDA will hold a public hearing on the application at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 17, in the Watts Conference Center, 49 South Fitzhugh Street.

The COMIDA board meets in the Watts Conference Center, too. Its Tuesday agenda also includes incentive applications from NOHMS Technology, a lithium battery development company based at Eastman Business Park; High Falls Operating Company LLC, the North American Breweries subsidiary that operates the Genesee brewery; and Fee Brothers, which makes cocktail mixes, bitters, and botanical waters.

[UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 17] The Village of Pittsford has canceled Wednesday night's public hearing.

Original post: At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the Village of Pittsford Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing regarding the village planning board’s site plan approval for the 75 Monroe Avenue project. The hearing will take place in the auditorium at Pittsford Sutherland High School, 55 Sutherland Street.

The hearing will focus on an appeal of the decision, filed by project opponents. The village has a unique law on the books that lets residents and “any applicant or interested person” appeal planning board decisions to the Board of Trustees. That’s what’s happening here, and the public hearing is part of that process.

The project developer is suing to get that law thrown out, and the case is pending in court.

A Mark IV Enterprises subsidiary wants to build a 167-unit apartment complex with a restaurant and publicly accessible waterfront. The project site borders the Erie Canal. Jeremy Moule

Friday, September 13, 2013

Two Dems seek Town of Pittsford seats

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 5:20 PM

For at least the past 40 years, the Pittsford Town Board has been exclusively Republican. 

Democrats are out-registered by Republicans in the town. Monroe County Board of Elections figures show that Pittsford has 6,259 Democrats and 7,439 Republicans. (The town also has 4,854 voters not registered to any party). In 2011, Democrats didn't run candidates for Town Board, and in 2009 its candidates lost by significant margins.

But the party is giving it another shot by chasing two Town Board seats this year. Terry Steg and Pam Cooper-Vince are challenging incumbent Republicans Jared Lusk and Mary Gehl Doyle. But when it comes to convincing voters to back away from the status quo, they may have their work cut out for them.

Pittsford has a strong property base, so taxes aren't terribly high. And the town hasn't seen much controversy, save an initiative by former Supervisor Bill Carpenter that changed the role of the town Historic Preservation Commission, giving some of the commission's most significant duties to a new Design Review Board. As part of that plan, the Architectural Review Board was eliminated and the duties transferred to the new board.

On Friday, Steg and Cooper-Vince held a press conference to announce their campaigns. But earlier in the week I'd reached out to them to find out issues they planned to focus on. 

While they touched on the importance of preserving community character and open space as well as keeping taxes down, their main focus is on transparency. They say they see a lack of public deliberation by the board, which they say is evidence that the board is doing its business behind closed doors. The board has met for little more than eight hours so far this year and held 167 votes, they say, and all passed unanimously. 

"The only conclusion we can draw from these alarming facts is that the Pittsford Town Board conducts virtually all of the people's business behind closed doors and out of the public view," the candidates wrote.


How about partnering with the district?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 9:59 AM

It is difficult to resist shaking the bony finger of disapproval at the Rochester City School District. But this morning’s Democrat and Chronicle editorial telling Superintendent Bolgen Vargas and the school board to “reassess” was simplistic to the point of being ridiculous.
Van White. - FILE PHOTO
  • Van White.

Their recommendation follows the announcement that Rochester Institute of Technology will partner with the charter school gr oup Uncommon Schools. The announcement hardly deserves the ballyhoo they’re giving it; what could be safer and more convenient for RIT?

Rochester is frequently referred to as a college town. And many of the local colleges offer some form of teacher preparation program. Beyond the standard teacher training programs where student teachers do internships in city schools, the relationship between the RCSD and area colleges is somewhat distanced considering the urgent needs of the district, its students, and its families.

Yes, some offer niche programs aimed at improving reading and math. And the University of Rochester provides much needed physical and mental health services. But the area’s colleges can and should be expected to do more to help the city school district. They have the resources and expertise that other organizations lack.

While partnering with a charter school, an entity that is allowed by law to operate almost entirely differently from a traditional public school district, is commendable, it does not rise to the level of being innovative. With RIT’s prowess in technology and research, it would have been far more interesting to see what the school could bring to a full partnership to create a new district high school or turn around one of its most troubled schools.

As far as advising district officials to reassess their situation, what is there to reassess? We already know many of the reasons for the district's struggles. Thousands of students don’t come to school every day. In between door-knocking with Mayor Tom Richards, Vargas had to plea with Albany to make kindergarten legally mandatory.

Student behavior in many classrooms is beyond coarse; even a recent gathering of African-American clergy concerned about city schools recognized this.

Charter schools can limit their size and the enrollment of students with special needs. And they can send students who don’t work out in their classrooms back to city schools, if they choose.

Rochester school board member Van White is correct to be concerned about the loss of students and families who are more focused on education to charter schools. A win for charter schools and a loss for the district doesn't add up to progress for the community. This trend is putting the remaining district students’ educational footing on quicksand. And it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise. 

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