Friday, May 30, 2014

With Working Families nod in question, Cuomo digs in on campaign finance

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2014 at 9:46 AM

On Saturday, at its nominating convention, the state Working Families Party will decide whether it'll endorse Governor Andrew Cuomo for the November election. The endorsement isn't a given, since many of the party's members are unhappy with some of the governor's policies. 

The core of the Working Families Party's is made up of labor leaders and progressive activists. And one of their major criticisms is that Cuomo hasn't pushed hard enough for public financing of campaigns. The State Senate Republicans, which are part of a coalition that runs the chamber, have been the major obstacle to enacting public financing. And yesterday, the governor signaled that he might start getting aggressive with the coalition, Senate Republicans in particular, if it doesn't pass the necessary legislation.

During an unrelated press conference, Cuomo said that if the coalition doesn't go along, he would not only pull his support of the group, but would also work to dissolve it, say media reports. Crain's published this quote in a story on its website:
"I said clearly that if public finance is not passed by the end of the session I would consider the coalition a failure," Mr. Cuomo said at a Superstorm Sandy-related press conference in Staten Island Thursday. "And then we'd enter a period of time, political season, where everyone makes their case to the people, and I intend to go to the people and tell them what I thought, which was the coalition failed to deliver important progressive items."
But media reports say Cuomo didn't explicitly commit to campaigning against Senate Republicans, which many Democrats, and members of the WFP, want him to do.

It's unclear whether the governor's posturing is enough to win over the skeptical leaders of the Working Family Party. Some party members are reportedly advocating for alternate candidates, including educational historian Diane Ravitch, an outspoken opponent of charter schools. Many labor groups — particularly teachers unions — and progressives oppose the expansion of charter schools.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Orleans goes all charter

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 5:06 PM

It’s finally happened. The US is about to have its first all-charter school system. New Orleans will close its last remaining traditional public schools and beginning this fall, all of the city’s students will have to enroll in a charter school through a computerized lottery system.

Some in the education community see this as the death of a critically important public institution with a direct link to the democratic system of government. Others see it as a long overdue and refreshing cleansing of an old and ineffective bureaucracy of the worse kind — a fossilized failure.

After Hurricane Katrina damaged much of New Orleans' infrastructure, including many of its schools, the storm was used to sweep away much of the traditional public school system, according to a report in the Washington Post. Since most of the city’s schools were among the worst performing in the nation, shifting to charter operators wasn't a hard concept to sell.

And by many measures, the New Orleans education system has greatly improved, according to the Post. Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. By 2013, the rate had climbed to 77.6 percent.

The Post notes, however, that the data may not be entirely reliable, since many of the city’s students left after the storm, and new students have come into the school system.

And there are issues with the all-charter system that worry many parents, educators, and community leaders. Some parents say they have no control because the new system is not accountable to them. And some lament the loss of neighborhood schools and the sense of community those schools can encourage. 

An even bigger concern is that despite increased parental choice, white students seem to be filling the seats in the better charters.

It’s probably going to be another decade before we know how well New Orleans students perform in a charter-only school system. The city will either have created a model for other cities to follow, or a different storm.

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Warren says she'll accept whatever happens with mayoral control

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 11:36 AM

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. - FILE PHOTO
  • Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.
My nose tells me that something may be up with mayoral control and the Rochester school district. But it’s difficult to pin down.

What we know for sure is that State Assembly member David Gantt introduced mayoral control legislation in January 2013, and reintroduced it in January 2014. It presumably sat there until May 20 of this year, when it was on the Assembly Education Committee agenda. The bill was held for consideration — limbo, essentially. 

Nothing has changed as far as I know; the bill looks unlikely to make it out of committee, much less hit the floor for a vote. And the odds are even slimmer in the Senate; there’s no bill and no local senator has said he’s willing to sponsor one. (Anyone can introduce a bill, though the protocol is to usually defer to the local representatives.)

I asked Mayor Lovely Warren for insight into the situation. Warren and Gantt are very close; she used to work in his office and they have a mentor-protégé relationship. Specifically, I told her that it’s difficult to believe that Gantt would keep introducing the legislation if she’s telling him she absolutely does not want mayoral control.

“Well, that’s not necessarily true,” Warren said. “Nobody speaks for him. He doesn’t speak for me and I don’t speak for him. That’s an issue that’s controlled by the State Legislature and the governor, and whatever they see fit to do…We have several [state] mandates that we have on us already, and we follow suit.”

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

FBI investigating schools modernization project

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 5:43 PM

Mayor Lovely Warren confirmed today that the FBI is conducting an investigation into activities involving the first phase of the $325 million Rochester schools modernization project. The nature of the investigation is unclear, as is the impact it may have on the second phase of the $1.2 billion project. 

"About a month ago, my corporate counsel was contacted saying there was an investigation," she said. "They were not specific about what they were looking for."

Warren said that she was not called to testify before a Grand Jury, but she was aware that other people have been.

Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says he's hoping that legislation for the second phase of the massive overhaul of city schools will be approved by the Legislature in the few weeks left before the end of session. Vargas said approval is needed if the project to modernize the city's aging schools is going to stay on track. 

Warren said that she recently received a copy of the draft legislation for phase two of the project, but that she doesn't know the status of the legislation. 

Earlier this year, however, Warren said she was concerned about whether compliance requirements for hiring women and minority contractors on the project were met. Twenty percent of the contracts were supposed to be awarded to minority contractors in the first phase of the project, and 6.9 percent were supposed to go to women contractors. 

Some city officials say that those objectives were not met. 

"I was concerned with the whole entire project," Warren said. "There's been a serious lack of oversight."

Oversight is supposed to be provided by a board made up of appointments by the city and the school district. 

Warren and Vargas recently agreed to make changes to the way members of the seven-person Rochester Joint Schools Construction Board are selected. According to the original legislation, the mayor and the superintendent were each able to appoint three members, and jointly select the seventh. The city will now get four appointments. 


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Another campaign finance limit wiped out

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Recently, and quietly, the State Board of Elections declared its yearly overall contribution limits unenforceable. But limits on contributions to individual candidates remain in place, according to an Associated Press article.

Prior to the decision, a person or limited liability corporation could only donate a maximum of $150,000 to a combination of candidates, political parties, and independent groups. The Board of Elections' recent decision wipes out that cap, which creates a situation where donors could give the maximum donation to as many candidates and party committees as they want, and then give more still to independent groups or political party housekeeping accounts, without fear of running into a cap on their overall political spending.

The AP story says the board members took the action in response to a Supreme Court decision and another decision in a Manhattan-based federal court. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that aggregate caps on political contributions violated the First Amendment. (SCOTUSblog has a page devoted to the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.)

The board's decision and the Supreme Court ruling it's based on could result in a new flood of spending in this year's state elections. 

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Possible rating system sends chills through higher ed

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 10:37 AM

It’s hard to know what to think about President Obama’s plan to rate higher education institutions. The rating system would inject the federal government into an accountability role for about 7,000 colleges and universities. The feds would evaluate tuition costs and graduation rates, among other factors.

On one hand, the federal government and ultimately taxpayers underwrite somewhere between $100 billion and $150 billion annually in the form of grants and loans. And more money goes to universities for research projects on everything from energy to medicine. It’s not unreasonable to expect some scrutiny. 

But the Obama administration hasn’t exactly been a refreshing tonic on K to 12 education. Race to the Top has largely been an extension of No Child Left Behind. Together they’ve opened the door to viewing education through more of a business lens. It will be a generation or longer before we know the results of these policies, but early indicators aren't promising.

The higher education world is panicking at the idea of increased government accountability. It didn’t help that the Obama administration’s spokesperson said the new rating system would be as easy as rating a kitchen appliance.

But there’s no question that the cost of higher education is outpacing what students from lower and middle income families can afford. And graduating students from just about any college, including the brand name Ivy League institutions, with $70,000 to $100,000 of debt or more is unconscionable, and a crisis. Shedding more light on student outcomes and affordability may at least give students more information to weigh their options.

Almost no one disputes that a college degree is important to a young person’s future; but at what cost?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WEEK AHEAD: Psych Center meeting; take a look at the city budget; WFP undecided on Cuomo

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2014 at 10:11 AM

A local meeting on the state’s plan for the Rochester Psychiatric Center will take place today at 6 p.m. in the Rehab Building at the center, 1111 Elmwood Avenue, room 206/208.

The state plans to turn the Rochester facility into one of 15 regional centers across the state. It would house forensic adults — people who have had some contact with the criminal justice system.

Residents are concerned about what would happen to the facility’s current patients and also about the impact the new regional center would have on the area.

An open house will be held on Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren’s 2014-2015 proposed budget. Warren has proposed a $500 million plan that would increase spending by 3.6 percent and includes $5.8 million from increases in taxes and fees. Warren closed a $38 million budget gap by reducing capital expenses and netting a $6 million one-time increase in state aid.

The open house is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28, at Rochester City Hall 30 Church Street. All city commissioners and department heads will be on hand to answer questions, according to a city press release. BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

The state Working Families Party will hold its nominating convention on Saturday, and it’s unclear whether the party will back sitting Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election bid. The governor had the party’s backing when he ran in 2010.

Some of the labor leaders and progressive activists that make up the party’s core say that Cuomo’s policies haven’t been progressive enough. Many of the party’s leaders say Cuomo isn’t pushing hard enough for a strong public finance system for campaigns. And they aren’t sold on backing Cuomo.

Also unclear is whether the party might back a different candidate, and who that could be. The state Green Party, including gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins, has reached out to WFP leaders. In a letter, the Green Party said that the parties’ leaders “should meet to discuss how we can work together for a united fight against the Cuomo agenda and for the policy goals we share.” BY JEREMY MOULE

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kimberly and Beck issue apology

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 11:20 AM

Earlier this week, Entercom Rochester fired "Breakfast Buzz" hosts Kimberly and Beck after they went on a 12-minute tirade about the City of Rochester's decision to extend health care benefits to transgender individuals and their families.

This morning, the duo issued a statement apologizing for their comments. Whether anyone will buy it is another matter, but here's the release in its entirety:

We are very sorry for the hurt and pain we have caused anyone, especially those in the Transgender community and their friends and families. What we said and the manner in which we handled ourselves was wrong, we take full responsibility and we deeply apologize to any and all that we offended.

Our attempt was to discuss a controversial healthcare issue; however our lack of sensitivity and understanding of the Transgender people and their plight created 12 minutes of radio we that wish we could take back.

We fully understand Entercom’s position and their decision to dismiss us. It is their right and we accept their decision and our responsibility in it. Entercom has been and will continue to be a strong advocate for the LGBT community and we are proud to have been helpful in Entercom’s efforts over our 13 years with the company.

It is our hope that this situation can be a time of learning and understanding about the Transgender community and not a time for additional anger and insensitivity. This is a community of individuals that struggle painfully to be themselves and find the support and comfort they deserve. We believe that this can be a chance for all of us to stop the ignorance and find our humanity.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hochul for LG makes sense

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 10:47 AM

Governor Andrew Cuomo has picked Congress member Kathy Hochul as his running mate. Hochul replaces current Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, who chose not to seek re-election. 

But last week, when various prognosticators were tossing out Hochul's name, I wasn't convinced she'd make the cut. Yes, Hochul's from Upstate, and Cuomo seemed to want a running mate from this end of the state. But she's from Erie County. And New Yorkers in Rochester and Syracuse — probably other communities, too — often seem frustrated with the amount of attention the Cuomo administration has given Buffalo. Cuomo's plan to invest $1 billion in state economic development resources there has been a particular irritation.

That said, Hochul is a good choice. She's held local and federal office, which means she has valuable political and government experience.  And her private sector work — last year, M&T Bank hired her as a vice president of government relations — will undoubtedly be an asset. 

But Hochul could also boost the ticket in a very practical way. Back in 2010, when Cuomo ran for his first term, he lost Erie County, and by no small margin. Voters gave the Republican ticket, led by Buffalo developer and conservative activist Carl Paladino, more than 176,690 votes to the Cuomo ticket's more than 113,400 votes. Paladino may have had the home-turf advantage, but Erie County's Democratic enrollment substantially outweighs its Republican enrollment.

It's a safe bet that Cuomo wants to win Erie this time around, and the Hochul pick is savvy in that regard. 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

[UPDATED] Kimberly and Beck are hysterical trashing trans people

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 3:18 PM

There is an update at the end of this blog. 

It's about corporate responsibility. It's about the safety and well-being of young people who are frightened, and confused about their gender identity; that society says it's not OK to ridicule them, ostracize them, or pound their brains into the pavement. 

Good God, people. Have you no shame? No sense of decency? 

The Rochester radio show "The Breakfast Buzz" with Kimberly and Beck — while never an oasis of intelligent discourse — has hit bottom and then dug a basement. In the Marianas Trench. The radio hosts apparently decided that the City of Rochester's recent decision to extend health care benefits to transgender individuals and their families could not pass without their enlightened contribution to the subject. How fortunate for the rest of us. 

You can listen to the clip yourself, but here's an excerpt of the dialogue, which I'm sure rivals only the Lincoln-Douglas debates in thoughtfulness, sincerity, and responsibility to a greater idea of humanity: 

"Transgender or gender nonconforming. What the hell does that mean? Like you're not a woman or a man??

"The dude can look like a lady and the city is going to pay for it!" (cue "Dude Looks Like a Lady" music)

"Does that mean then they'll also, if women want a boob job, they'll pay for a boob job because I think that's only right."

"The services that will be paid for under the new coverage - gender reassignment surgery, PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING, because you're probably a NUTJOB to begin with!" 

Aren't we tired of this? Yeah, I know, they're shock jocks or whatever; this is their job. Well, who is paying them to do this terrible job? (98.9 The Buzz is owned by Entercom.) And why? (That last bit is rhetorical. I know why: money and ratings. Well, OK, then.) Living in a country that allows you to shoot your mouth off doesn't free you from the consequences of what you say. And I want there to be consequences for this. 

Who decides who is welcome in our society and who is not? These two? Lord help. Today, it's trans people. Tomorrow, it's heavyset blonde women and their poindexter sidekicks. Well, them's the breaks. 

And, of course, serial offender Bob Lonsberry had to have his say on the city's policy, too. And it's everything you could hope for. 

UPDATE, Thursday, May 22, 10:10 a.m..: The Buzz announced late yesterday that Kimberly and Beck had been placed on indefinite suspension. This morning, we learned that they have been fired. Applaud if you like, but the fact remains that Kimberly and Beck had been spewing hateful speech on Rochester's airwaves for a long time, with the apparent blessing of Buzz owner Entercom. Why? Because they were making the station money. Now that things have gotten a little too hot — with advertising dollars at stake — Entercom cut them loose. Who will hold Entercom responsible? 

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