Monthly Archives: March 2010

Charter Schools: The Power of Marketing

Wednesday’s New York Times ran a front-page story on some Harlem public schools that are responding to pressure from charters by aggressively marketing themselves. Such marketing typically includes school tours for prospective parents, augmented by postcards and brochures, with most campaigns [amounting] “to less than $500, raised by parents and teachers….”

The Times story tells how prospective parents touring P.S. 125 with its principal, Rafaela Espinal, showed appreciation for the low number of students they saw in each classroom and the school’s impressive physical amenities, which include a rare swimming pool. But some parents, according to the Times, still weighed sending their child elsewhere. Continue reading

The Bronx? Yes, Thonks!

Two Event Notices from 250+ Friends
(with apologies to Ogden Nash)

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The Bloomberg/Citizens Union Charter Agenda

Mayor Bloomberg’s 2010 charter revision partnership with the Citizens Union showed its face Monday in the form of a comprehensive charter overview by CU panelist Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College. Here’s some of what Muzzio wrote, with our translations in italics:

Describing the current city charter, Muzzio called it “a large document (currently 356 pages), packed with organizational minutiae, much of which belongs in the Administrative Code.” The Bloomberg commission — with the help of the Citizens Union — will call for “streamlining” the charter by shifting some of its provisions to the Administrative Code. This will make it easier for the mayor and the Council to change those provisions later on, without the public scrutiny that would occur if they remained in the charter.

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Charter Revision: Whose Rules?

Frustration grew to a boil near the end of a March 5 public hearing by the NYS Assembly’s Standing Committee on Cities at 250 Broadway. The committee, chaired by Assemblyman James Brennan (44AD), was hearing comment on proposed bills to amend the State’s Municipal Home Rule Law, which governs how New York’s cities may revise their charters.

Just two days earlier, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had announced the creation of a 2010 charter revision commission for New York City. To the surprise of many, the Bloomberg announcement singled out the Citizens Union, a century-old independent “good-government” reform group, to partner with the charter commission to improve public outreach. Continue reading

Why Charter Revision Matters: Our Core Principles

Some of our readers may wonder why we repeatedly worry about giving the mayor any additional powers. It’s because we believe that our current system of government tends to select city-wide leaders who support the interests of Manhattan’s finance and real estate industries — to the detriment of other boroughs and other industries. As important as finance and real estate are for the city’s financial solvency (right now, they’re still crucial), they don’t tend to create middle-income jobs, which can leave us in a vulnerable place in an economic downturn, as in 2008-2009. Simply put, we’ve placed too many of our eggs in one or two baskets. Continue reading

Mayor Finally Names 2010 Charter Revision Commission

Matthew Goldstein

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg finally named CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to chair his 2010 charter revision commission. Along with Goldstein, the mayor’s press release identified 14 other commission members.

Two of them can be expected to be particularly sensitive to the interests of NYC’s community boards: Anthony Perez Cassino, an attorney who served as Chairman of Bronx Community Board 8 from 2004-2008, and Carlo Scissura, who currently serves as Chief of Staff to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Continue reading

Government 101, Lesson 2: Why Does NYC Have So Many Traffic Lights?

Well, actually, only about 12,000 of NYC’s 43,000 intersections are “signalized.” The borough with the most traffic lights is Brooklyn, with over 4,000. One report has it that the first red-green light in NYC was installed in 1930.

By the Giuliani administration, the numbers were in the thousands, and the city’s Department of Transportation needed 34 months to evaluate whether an intersection needed one. Giuliani saw the lights as an easy way to curry favor with constituents, so he instructed Transportation Commissioner Christopher Lynn to eliminate a 600-light backlog and cut the study time. Lynn reduced the study time to 12 weeks. During his regime, the number of traffic lights installed went from 56 in 1995 to 169 in 1996, and to a a planned 222 in the first five months of 1997. By early 1997, the city’s traffic lights totaled 10,687. By January, 2006, after Michael Bloomberg had been in office for four years, the number had increased to 11,871. Continue reading

Charter Revision: No Lauder?

Elizabeth Benjamin reports that billionaire businessman Ron Lauder, principal sponsor of the 1990s referendums that restricted NYC elected officials to two 4-year terms, has declined to serve on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anticipated 2010 charter revision commission. If confirmed, Lauder’s withdrawal may mean that he expects the Bloomberg commission to seek to ratify last year’s City Council legislation that extended the limits to three consecutive terms—or maybe even to try to eliminate term limits entirely.

Charter Schools Chief Tells It (sort of) Like It Is

Michael Duffy photo: the Lo-Down

In a revealing interview with NYC Department of Education charter schools head Michael Duffy, Ed Litvak of the Lower East Side news blog The Lo-Down questions Duffy about how the NYCDOE used a recent public hearing on the proposed expansion of a Lower East Side charter school. Duffy’s response won’t surprise anyone who has sat through a charter school hearing:

“It definitely provides a forum for people to speak out, and I think that’s a good thing. It helps to get good information out there… I think, for my part, in a couple of hours of comments, I didn’t hear anything new from the public that wasn’t already known prior to the start of the hearing. I know it’s important that people have a chance to speak their mind, but I don’t think there’s anything that wasn’t known to the Department prior to the proposal…” Continue reading

Government 101, Lesson 1: Why Can’t the Streets Be Smoother?

Sometimes, the best ideas come while driving in heavy traffic. Although we don’t talk or text while behind the wheel, we do tend to obsess about city government. We also do that in other inappropriate situations.

Our latest episode happened while driving up Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue. Our tires kept on banging into one manhole depression after another. The 5-minute ride felt as if we were on an IED-pocked road in Afghanistan, not a major thoroughfare in America’s largest and most vibrant city. “Why can’t the city even pave the streets right?” we asked.

But, of course, we already knew the answer: Coney Island Avenue had been paved by a low-bid contractor, working under the oversight of private engineering consultants. They, in turn, had been supervised by civil servants who may have lacked the tools to impose useful sanctions if either the consultant or the contractor screwed up. Could efficiency improvements — which Mayor Bloomberg’s 2010 charter revision commission may try to implement — solve this? Continue reading