Tag Archives: property tax cap

The Board of Regents Convene With a Contentious Agenda and the Ominous Shadow of the Governor

Wednesday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents and the newly selected commissioner will convene in the ornate Regents Room to begin the 15-16 school year. Oddly the agenda, to a large extent, has been set “across the street,” on the second floor of the Capital building, the executive offices of the governor.

Education policy for two centuries was set by the members of the regents with significant input from the commissioner. Commissioners worked their way up the ladder, from teacher to principal to superintendent to commissioner; all that changed in the last few years. David Steiner came from the university and John King had no public school experience, in fact, only limited experience in the world of charter schools. The newly selected commissioner returns us to the world of experienced educators.

In the current convoluted landscape of education the governor has effectively replaced the regents: adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a massive labyrinthine principal/teacher evaluation system, the receivership of struggling schools have been set in legislation by the governor with the regents being asked to set regulations in place.

The unpaid, un-staffed members of the regents are “elected” by a joint meeting of the NYS legislature. In reality the democrats select the members; there are far more democrats than republicans in the combined houses. In the last session the legislature dumped two of the most senior members of the regents and selected four new members (three incumbents were re-elected, there were two vacancies and two regents replaced); three former school superintendents and one nurse educator (the State Education Department is in charge of all schools, pre-k through college, all museums and libraries and the professions).

The four new members and two second-term regents members have formed a caucus to oppose the approval of the governor’s new matrix principal/teacher evaluation plan (3012-d); the debate will be lively.

The regents will approve regulations for the completely untried receivership law; if low performing schools fail to make progress, as defined in the regulations, the school may be removed from the district and placed under the supervision of a receiver who has sweeping power. (See Regents agenda here).

Not only has the governor seized control of the education agenda the feds have been the agenda-setter for all of the states. The feds require that after being in the country for one year all English Language Learners in Grades 3-8 must be tested regardless of their English language skills. The feds denied the NYS waiver request and the regents and the commissioner are asking the feds to reconsider.

The regents are forming a working group to discuss the pass/fail rates on the new Common Core Regents exams; we are currently in year three of the eight year phase-in of Common Core Regents; the grades are currently scaled to keep pass-fail rates at the same level as before the Common Core: are students making adequate progress in passing the new Regents, and, if not, how should the regents members respond?

Regent Cashin is highlighting the new testing regimen for prospective teachers who are required to pass four exams at a cost of about $1,000; the exams are timed and computer-based: are the exams accurate predictors of success? Are the high failure rates the result of selecting the wrong candidates, faulty college curriculum or simply poorly crafted exams? In an era of sharply declining enrollments in college teacher education programs the poorly designed Pearson-created exams should not be an unnecessary impediment.

While the funding of schools is the responsibility of the governor and the legislature the 2% property tax cap is resulting in drastic cuts in services in low wealth districts, of which there are several hundred located in rural districts with declining revenues. The regents can highlight and recommend changes to the “other side of the street.”

How will the regents address the large numbers of Students with Disabilities who are unable to “pass” grades 3-8 tests and unable to achieve the safety net requirements on the Regents exams? Should the regents create alternative pathways to graduation? Portfolios?

In some schools English Language learners are making progress similar to all other students while in others the majority of students are graduating at extremely low rates: Why? Higher or lower levels of instruction? Better professional development? Better designed instructional models?

Educational decisions, as the state constitution intended, should be made by the Board of Regents. Hopefully the governor will move away from his senseless policies that have antagonized parents and teachers across the state.

Far reaching education policies crafted behind closed doors by invisible staffers is not a fruitful path to better education. The two hundred thousand op-outers will grow and grow; the angry electorate will continue to grow.

Hopefully the governor will rethink his ideas and the legislature will continue to select regent members willing to challenge the governor as well as collaboratively develop approaches to address the core issues confronting children and families across the state.

Does Mario Define Andrew? The Governor Begins His Path to the White House on the Backs of Parents and Teachers

“The connection a man has with his father shapes his life. Which is why every adult son must choose how that relationship will – or won’t – define him.”

As the story goes the charter was sitting on the runway waiting for Mario to announce his candidacy for the presidency and fly off to New Hampshire to campaign for the “first in the nation” primary. The plane waited, and waited, and Mario defaulted. He never caught the plane.

Although not a psychologist I believe this “event” has dominated Andrew’s life, he will never allow the plane to linger on the runway, he will never miss the plane.

Deep in Cuomo Central every step, every speech, every policy is carefully plotted to situate Andrew on the spectrum of potential Democrats. Critics scoff, Andrew can never run for president!! Who was the junior senator from Illinois in 2006, an Afro-American with a Muslim name running for the highest office in the land. Obama overturned the classic progressive-labor-minority coalition, he created a new coalition, hostile to labor, appealing to -baby boomers and creating new voters and activists, first time and young voters who were passionately involved in his election, a campaign that raised mega-dollars and mastered social media.

Cuomo is “inventing” his own democratic coalition. progressive on social issues (marriage equality, the women rights agenda, the Dreamer Act), conservative on economic issues (property tax cap, tax cuts, working closely with business, new casinos) and joining the Obama-DFER views on education: rigid, test-based teacher accountability, charter schools, annual high stakes student testing, merit pay, school closings and “school receivership.”

As the Governor enters his second term his approval ratings, are sky high,

“On the eve of his fifth State of the State address, voters statewide give Cuomo the best favorability rating he’s had since July,” Siena pollster Steve Greenberg said. “He’s viewed favorably by more than three-quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and favorably by independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstate voters are evenly divided and Republicans are decidedly unfavorable.”

The independent Quinnipiac University Poll gives Cuomo gets a 71 – 23 percent approval rating in New York City.

Cuomo skillfully negotiated a Republican landslide. As the polls increasingly tilted to the Republicans Cuomo aggressively raised money, lots and lots of money, and, turned off the faucet for his opponent. The charter school Political Action Committee (PAC) was dangling millions and Cuomo snapped it up, antagonizing teachers. For a while it looked like the newly elected New York City Mayor might challenge Cuomo, Andrew refused to allow de Blasio to fund Universal Pre-K through a millionaire tax and also forced be Blasio to pay for charter school rent if space was not available in public schools. There was only one king in New York State.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) chipped away at Cuomo during his first term, and although they made no endorsement clearly union members were tilting toward his primary opponent and stayed home in November.

In his State of the State (Watch here) the Governor cut any relationship with teachers and their unions, and, with approval ratings at the top of the scale he’s betting he doesn’t need teachers, or, for that matter, parents.

Cuomo decided to hold education dollars hostage to changes in the law.

For months the Regents have been crafting a budget proposal, the final budget request was for an increase of $2 billion and continuing the phase out of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The Governor’s plan: you’re entitled to $300 million which I will increase $1.2 billion if the legislature approves my agenda:

Governor’s K-12 Agenda:

* Increase the probationary period from three to five years
* Increase the use of student test scores in teacher evaluation plans from 20% to 50%
* “Receivership,” turning low performing schools over to not-for-profits, with wide discretion including terminating collective bargaining agreements.
* Strip away due process rights in teacher dismissal cases
* Increase the charter cap by 100 statewide
* Increase charter school funding
* A tax credit for contributions to private and religious schools
* Tying college teacher prep programs to candidate test scores

The Governor is attempting to bundle his “K-12 Agenda” into the budget, school districts receive additional dollars in exchange for his agenda – all done by April 1.

For the next ten weeks the Legislature and the Governor will posture, will pontificate, will offer and threaten, hordes and hordes of citizen lobbyists will descend on Albany and the “three men in a room” will negotiate.

If the budget does not pass, a complex pied-a-deux, the legislature and the Governor dance toward a budget, item by item, with power tilting toward the Governor.

Sheldon Silver, the Democratic Speaker of the Assembly, Dean Skelos the Republican majority leader of the Senate and the guv’s guys will play high stakes poker, really high stakes.

It was not surprising that the Governor ended his speech with the same words his father ended his State of the State with in 1983.

“For all the ceremony, and the big house, and all the pomp and circumstance, please don’t let me forget what makes New York New York.”

And, to himself, “Don’t worry Dad, I won’t make the same mistake, when the time comes, I’m ready.”

Parsing the NYS Election Cycle: Experts Mull the Campaigns and Muse Over the Albany Session

(For Political Junkies)

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School convenes panels of campaign staff, consultants and advocates after major elections to reflect on the campaigns: last year the mayoral and city council, this year the gubernatorial and the State Senate races.

The first panel included the top staffers from the Cuomo, Astorino and Teachout campaigns (Matt Wing, communication director, Cuomo campaign, Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee, Jessica Proud, Astorino spokesperson, Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign, Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign and others) as well as Zephyr herself for the first section of the panel.

A few words about the panelists, they are the pros, they run campaigns for a living, plot the strategy and the communications operations, running a campaign is intense, with a clock ticking down to Election Day. This year there were three election days, the WFP convention, the Democratic primary in September and the November 7th general election.

The Cuomo administration over their first four years has successfully managed the news. The governor rarely gives press conferences, rarely gives “off the cuff” comments. His interactions with media are managed from the Cuomo side. While candidates and electeds generally lust after “earned media” the Cuomo administration carefully crafts interactions with the press.

Let’s define “earned media,”

Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows,

Teachout had no money, Cuomo ended up with a $50 million war chest and Astorino struggled for dollars as the national Republican organization wrote him off.

Although the panel did not discuss (there was no opportunity for questions) the governor’s charter school support was clearly intended to cut off funds to Astorino. StudentsFirstNY was richly funded, they ended up spending $4 million on Senate campaigns, where would they drop the four mil was an early question. If Cuomo opposed or was neutral on charter schools the $4 mil could have been dropped into the Astorino campaign and snowball into larger and larger Republican donations. Jumping on the charter school bandwagon closed off a potential spigot of dollars to Astorino, an example of the political calculus of campaigns.

Zephyr Teachout was a wild card, she came out of nowhere, and the left wing of the Democratic Party is housed in the Working Families Party (WFP). On the other side of the aisle the Conservative party is the right wing of the Republican Party.

At the WFP convention Teachout emerged as a serious opponent, Cuomo’s support of charter schools, the failure to pass the Women’s Equality agenda and the Dreamers legislation angered the left, and, suddenly they had a candidate: Zephyr Teachout. After serious arm twisting the WFP endorsed Cuomo. Teachout explained how they decided to run in the Democratic primary and the enormous hurtle – collecting 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot in three weeks – they collected 45,000 signatures.

The turnout in the primary was extremely low, without dollars Teachout, impressively, ended up with 34% of the vote, probably representing the left wing of Democrats in the state. I suspect Teachout votes included many teacher vote

Obama’s approval rating in NYS is 39%, lower than his national approval rating, in one of the “bluest” state in the nation. The 30% voter turnout in the November election was one of the lowest in history, and the decrease in votes was the largest among Democratic voters.

The panelists in the second panel focused on the Senate races included strategists from both parties, consultants who run campaigns, advocates and academics (Gerald Benjamin, professor SUNY, Jake Dilemani, Parkside Group, Tom Doherty, Mercury Strategy, Jeffrey Plaut, Global Strategy, Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group, David Nir, Daily Kos, Nomi Konst, The Accountability Project and others) mused over the Senate races..

Of the 63 seats in the Senate only seven were competitive and the Republicans needed five of the seven seats, three of which were held by Democrats. They won six.

The panel discussed whether Cuomo wanted a Democratic Senate – would he be happier with a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly, with the governor in the middle negotiating with both sides? Cuomo raised $50 million, spent forty, only one million was spent on the Senate races.

A few of the panelists argued the Democrats were relying on an old paradigm, the older prime voters; there was a lack of appeal to younger potential voters who receive all their info from social media. They also felt that Obama running out of the party structure in 08 and 12 weakened the Democratic Party. Others pointed out that in off year elections the electorate is older, whiter and wealthier.

Astorino, outside of NYC “won” the election 49% to 46%; inside the city he only won 18% …twenty years of Republican NYC mayors were an anomaly, although a deep-pocketed, a very deep pocketed Republican could win in NYC in 2017.

As one panelist reminded us the Senate, which means the Republicans, drew the current district lines. The money that flowed into the races came primarily from Wall Street and Real Estate, and 99.8% of voters did not contribute. The best chances of defeating an incumbent are in a primary.

All the panelists wondered whether the sharp decline in voters was a trend: is the electorate becoming more disenchanted with politics and the elective process?

The moderator asked: what would be the toughest issue in the upcoming session.

Three laws “sunset,” they expire unless renewed by the legislature and the governor.

Rent Control: A million New Yorkers, primarily in New York City, fall under rent control; if the law is allowed to expire, landlords would be free to increase rents – this is a vital issue for the Democrats and the Republicans will extract their drops of blood or, pounds of flesh, or, human sacrifices.

2% Property Tax Cap: The tax cap is the major piece of economic legislation of the Cuomo years, failure to reauthorize would probably result in increases in property taxes around the state and could have a negative impact on the state economy, and this issue does not impact New York City, it is an enormous issue around the state.

Mayoral Control: A New York City issue, with absence of Bloomberg Mayoral Control is not a top drawer issue; however, no one wants to go back to elected school boards.

The panelists ranked Rent Control as the # 1 issue.

A “deal” could emerge in a “lame duck” session in December; the rumors are a repeat of 1998, a salary increase for legislators for an increase in the charter cap. I don’t think so, why would the Sheldon Silver want to remove a “trading chip” before the session begins?

The next key date is April 1, the date the budget is due. Over the last few budget cycles controversial issues have been packed into the budget, an opportunity to trade one item for another.

If key issues are still dangling in the final days of the session, mid-June will become the usual 24/7 days as the legislature and the governor scramble.

The “game” begins on January 7th with the governor’s State of the State address.

Political Axiom: “Remember, the Hand You Bite Today May Be Attached to the Ass You Have to Kiss Tomorrow.”

Buddy Cianci, the “colorful,” occasionally outrageous former mayor of Providence is running again; Cianci also served time at the expense of the feds, and is noted for his political quips, one of my favorites,

“Remember, the hand you bite today may be attached to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow.”

For many years I served as the elected union leader of a school district representing 2,000 union members. There were times the superintendent or the school board did something I strongly opposed, there were times that members were outraged by some policy. I learned that no matter how angry, no matter the political pressures, I represented all of my members, not just the “angry and outraged” members. I had to learn to both vigorously express my displeasure and at the same time not to burn bridges – to “agree to disagree.”

I asked the superintendent to sign a form to get a teacher whose payroll was screwed up and about to be evicted an emeegency check.

I had to ask him to approve a leave with health benefits for a teacher who had had used up sick days.

Ripping the superintendent in public would satisfy angy members and have tragic results for other members; I always had to keep the door ajar.

The polls close in New York State at 8 PM, minutes later Andrew Cuomo will be declared the winner by the TV stations, his opponent Rob Astorino will trail by about 20% and the Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins will end up in single digits.

My e-mail box is filled with teacher denunciations of Cuomo, endorsements of the Green candidate, refusals to vote for anyone, just plain anger directed at Cuomo.

Cuomo deserves the disapprobation of teachers.

The NY Daily News report on a Cuomo meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board,

ALBANY — Vowing to break “one of the only remaining public monopolies,” Gov. Cuomo on Monday said he’ll push for a new round of teacher evaluation standards if re-elected.

Cuomo, during a meeting with the Daily News Editorial Board, said better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving and entrenched public education system.
“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term,” he said, “to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly.”

He said the key is to put “real performance measures with some competition, which is why I like charter schools.”
Cuomo said he will push a plan that includes more incentives — and sanctions — that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

Cuomo expects fierce opposition from the state’s teachers, who are already upset with him and have refused to endorse his re-election bid.

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it,” Cuomo said. “I feel exactly opposite.”

Cuomo can be described as a bully, self-serving, amoral, endlessly ambitious, and these are the kinder terms, on the other hand he’s going to be the governor for the next four years.

He is a master strategist: at the heart de Blasio’s campaign for mayor was “pre-kindergarten for all” paid for by increased taxes from earners of over $500,000. There was relatively little pushback. Under New York State law all taxes, state or local, must be approved by the legislature and the governor. Cuomo shot down the mayor’s plan and insisted the funds must come from the state budget.

de Blasio, the vassal, must show fealty to his feudal lord, pay homage each and every year to keep the pre-kindergarten dollars flowing. Any hint of disloyalty by the mayor can result in Cuomo, the lord, questioning the value of pre-kindergarten, jeopardizing the program and pointing blame at the mayor.

Mayor Bloomberg, a major contributor to the Senate Republicans, introduced legislation to end seniority for teachers in New York City; in a staff reduction principals would choose which teachers to excess, and, similar to Chicago, if “bumped” teachers could not a find a job in another school they would be laid off. The bill whisked through the Republican controlled Senate. Cuomo ended Bloomberg’s attack on “first in-last out” by announcing there was no need for the bill, the teacher evaluation law would sort teachers.

For whatever reason Cuomo chose the union over Bloomberg.

Every twenty years the legislature must decide whether to place a proposition on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention. There are some groups in support: maybe an Equal Rights Amendment or changes in the funding of schools – sounds like a good idea; however, on the other side are the dangers.

A simple clause in the state constitution,

After July first, nineteen hundred forty, membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.

School districts, cities, business groups, the Tea Party, and on and on would love to delete that simple sentence. To allow the state to “diminish and impair” pensions.

The last constitutional convention was 75 years ago and in my view another convention would do mischief.

Each time the question has arisen, previous governors and legislatures have passed – no interest.

There is always the next battle, be it avoiding a constitutional convention or amending the property tax cap. Unions, properly, have responsibly criticized the governor for his unseemly and antagonistic comments, and, I hope, keep the door ajar for the next issue.