Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union



Doing Business With The City Gets Easier


Comptroller Scott Stringer

There are tens of thousands of individuals, non-profits, for-profits, and other entities that do business with New York City every year. The paperwork and communications systems involved can be antiquated, cumbersome, and slow - but the city is taking steps to make things easier for vendors.

Two changes being announced Wednesday by Comptroller Scott Stringer will help modernize the procurement process, moving key aspects of doing business with the city away from a paper-first model and allowing for quicker online function.

The reforms will make filing tax documents easier and improve the system by which vendors are notified of new business opportunities. Stringer points to the changes as part of a mission to improve the overall system by which the city contracts out billions of dollars per year.

"In 2015, getting a contract with New York City shouldn't require waiting in line at the post office or firing up a decades-old fax machine," Comptroller Stringer said in a statement. "Our new systems will make it easier for vendors to do business with the City – and that's good news for all New Yorkers."

For tax documents that vendors must have on file with the Comptroller in order to do business with the city, the W9 vendor information forms will no longer have a hard copy requirement. Instead, vendors will be able to file and edit these forms online.

The comptroller's office says it has processed about 3,000 W9 forms each of the past several years and that the move to a more digital system will save time on both the vendor and government ends, not to mention paper. This change will go into effect for the new year.

The more exciting of the two changes relates to vendor notifications, whereby the city puts out requests for proposals (RFPs) or other contracting opportunities, letting potential providers know about new business available. This change likely won't be fully operational through the Mayor's Office of Contract Services until the summer, but it is set to make a significant difference in how vendors learn about chances to do business with the city.

Having passed the city's Procurement Policy Board, the change, which was proposed by the Comptroller, moves to email the default method of releasing RFPs and Competitive Sealed Bids. It has been a traditional mail based system. Again, this change is aimed at reducing time, expense, and paper. It also targets ensuring that more individuals and small enterprises are able to access information easily and quickly.

"These reforms will leverage 21st century technology to increase productivity, save taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, and enable all vendors, large and small, to do business with New York City," Stringer said.

The Comptroller recently held a series of public hearings of his Red Tape Commission, aimed at helping to identify ways to improve the city climate for small businesses, and had previously introduced his Vendor Roadmap, an online, user-friendly guide to doing business with the city. He's also exploring a shift for the city to an electronic invoicing system.

The de Blasio administration, too, has been seeking new ways to help entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and small businesses compete through its Small Business First initiative.

Part of virtually any city government reform to contracting practices or business regulations is a concern about increasing the number of contracts and dollars awarded to qualifying women- and minority-owned businesses (MWBEs). The de Blasio administration announced a significant increase in contract dollars awarded to MWBEs in the most recent fiscal year. Still, Stringer has pointed out limits to the city's MWBE hiring, handing out annual letter grades to city agencies, including his own, with many of them lacking.

Stringer is among those hopeful that modernizing paperwork and business notification protocols will help improve the city's MWBE record.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

First DOE School Diversity Report Will Spur Further Desegregation Efforts

lander torres alatriste

Council Members Lander, center, and Torres, left (photo: William Alatriste)

Public policy has helped create racially segregated New York City schools, and public policy must be used to aggressively address the problem. So say the sponsors of the School Diversity Accountability Act, City Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres, and others who have been pushing the de Blasio administration to move more quickly to diversify city schools.

Those who want to see integrated schools are eagerly awaiting the first report mandated by that legislation, due from the Department of Education by the end of the year. The law requires an annual DOE report detailing student demographic data by school and program; school admissions policies; and efforts underway by the DOE to diversify schools, which many say have been lacking.

"What could be more progressive than racial integration?" Torres asked, rhetorically, in a recent interview with Gotham Gazette, referring to Mayor Bill de Blasio and other self-branded progressives in city government.

"The school system will only become diverse on purpose," Torres said, "we have to make it a purpose of education policy."

Torres, Lander, and others want to see the DOE change its admissions and zoning policies to foster more diverse schools - New York's are the most racially segregated in the country.

Thanks, in part, to pressure from City Council members, parents, and advocates, the DOE recently struck a footnote from its regulations that some say prevented it from adjusting school admissions policies to foster greater diversity. Soon after, the DOE announced it was allowing seven schools to initiate efforts to diversify by dedicating seats for students from disadvantaged backgrounds or facing acute challenges.

These moves may be included in the first report under School Diversity Accountability Act, but aren't required to be as it is mandated to detail information from the 2014-2015 school year. But, Council Members Torres and Lander each told Gotham Gazette they hope the DOE will go beyond simply what is required to show more recent progress and plans for the future.

"The report is going to tell us what we already know: how segregated our school system is, but in a lot of detail that sets us up to make it better," said Lander, who represents parts of Brooklyn including Park Slope and several schools that have been pushing to enact integration policies. "It is going to give us demographic data at a level of detail we haven't had before."

"This is a platform for setting us up to make change in future years," Lander continued. "We want to see what things are happening now in pilot schools, in individual schools, then we can look at whole districts and the whole system."

Indicating his disappointment with DOE efforts thus far, Torres said that the administration made its recent decisions "begrudgingly." He wants to see much greater urgency and focus from the DOE and City Hall on the subject of school desegregation, starting with a strong plan in the new report.

"I'm hopeful that DOE will follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law," Torres said. "What I'm hoping to see in the report is a comprehensive citywide plan for promoting diversity in public education in New York City."

Lander, too, said he wants to see an outline of a larger forward-looking plan, but also said that it shouldn't be too detailed because the DOE must account for engaging stakeholders at the local level. Those advocating for integrated schools point to data showing integrated schools improve student academic performance and the need for young people to learn to work and socialize in a multicultural world.

The issue of school segregation has come to the forefront over the past couple of years after eye-opening studies, damning media reports, and community calls for action. In neighborhoods, though, shifts in policy can be met with stiff resistance as parents who like their child's school, who moved for a specific school, or who are racist, are wary of change.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has referenced some of these factors in explaining why his administration has been slow to move on school desegregation. When Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio why his administration was not more quickly allowing schools to enact new diversity programs, de Blasio said in November, "You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school."

De Blasio has also pointed to his affordable housing and pre-kindergarten programs as efforts underway that will help foster more integrated schools. The arguments are that the housing program will help create more diverse neighborhoods through its mandatory affordable units in new development, and that pre-K is helping disadvantaged students close any early learning gaps with their more affluent peers.

While many say housing segregation is the cause of school segregation, the equation is not so simple. The city's schools are even more segregated than its neighborhoods, as detailed in a new report from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

The report shows that "school segregation is not always the result of housing patterns. In fact...there are dozens of high-poverty elementary schools that serve mostly black and Latino children that are located in far more racially and economically mixed neighborhoods."

On the ground, these factors have been seen in school desegregation debates this year in two neighborhoods looking at rezonings that could integrate sets of nearby schools, one on the Upper West Side and one in Downtown Brooklyn. In these neighborhoods, which are relatively diverse by population, nearby schools are zoned in ways that helped create deeply segregated student bodies. Attempts to move on rezoning school lines were met with resistance - and the Upper West Side plan was scrapped indefinitely, while the Brooklyn Heights plan moves toward a vote in the new year.

To be clear, both plans came about not as efforts to desegregate schools, but due to overcrowding at the mostly white school in each pair. There have been schools using admissions policies - and others looking to do so as well - in order to diversify.

Lander, Torres, and others are calling for a move toward unzoned districts, whereby school districts have open enrollment, by lottery where necessary, for all elementary schools. This, coupled with a policy known as controlled choice, which allows for set-asides based on certain student demographics like poverty level, could quickly create more diverse schools within many school districts. Set-asides by race have been disallowed by the Supreme Court, but schools are still able to use poverty levels and status as an "English Language Learner" among a list of qualifying factors.

While the Center for NYC Affairs report cautions "not to minimize the impact of housing segregation" on school segregation, there are significant factors at play when it comes to how schools are zoned - especially elementary schools, which are based on geography, while middle and high schools have more open enrollment policies in New York City (though admission policies vary widely, as the coming DOE report will show). Lander and Torres both say there is a great deal that can be done to diversify the city's high schools, which are not geographically linked like elementary schools.

Clara Hemphill is one of the authors of the Center for NYC Affairs report and a leading expert on city schools. While Hemphill wants to see admissions changes, she told Gotham Gazette "substantial integration is possible even without changing attendance zone lines." She'd like to see a focus on "improving ordinary zoned neighborhood schools" so that they would be more attractive to parents.

In the wake of the coming DOE report, Hemphill also said, though, that her primary hope is "to see the discussion focus on pre-k and elementary schools, where I think we have the most opportunity for integrated schools. By the time children are in middle and high schools, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is so huge it's hard for even highly qualified teachers to bridge them."

The city is home to 734 neighborhood elementary schools, according to the Center for NYC Affairs, which found that 124 of them (with a total enrollment of 62,607 students) "are substantially poorer than their school zones." This means schools are segregated by socioeconomics and race, which are inextricably tied.

While noting that "the potential for school diversity varies widely neighborhood by neighborhood," Council Member Torres previewed the DOE report by saying, "I would hope that the DOE would create a citywide plan...identifying neighborhoods that can benefit from the controlled choice model."

"The problem is much more intractable in my and other racially concentrated districts," said Torres, who represents part of the Bronx where very few white people live and acknowledged that "No one is pretending that this is a simple problem."

Torres said a City Council education committee hearing on the DOE report would be a logical next step, but that the chair of the committee, Council Member Danny Dromm, would make that decision. Lander said similarly, though he indicated he wants to see the report before calling for a hearing. The report is due to the City Council and to be posted to the DOE website by Dec. 31 of this year (and Nov. 1 in subsequent years).

For Lander, pushing the ball forward, using the report to advocate for more progress, is key. He understands that some may be frustrated by slow progress, but says that the situation is going to be improved one step at a time. Torres, too, acknowledged political realities.

"You can want a total solution and be frustrated by incremental steps," Lander said, "but there is so much work to do. The incremental approach is the right one so much as we keep going. Seven out of 1700 schools is a start, but if we keep doing it, momentum grows," he said of shifting admissions protocols at individual schools and moving toward controlled choice for districts.

Mayor de Blasio has expressed support for integrating schools, but has also been cautious in his public remarks about what should be done. It appears that the mayor is a believer in desegregating city schools, but is moving slowly because of the risks of blowback and the fact that he is already trying to push through his controversial rezoning proposals as part of his affordable housing plan.

In announcing the seven school pilot on Nov. 20, the DOE wrote that the administration "is working to expand diversity across our schools in partnership with the City Council and other partners, and this initiative is a pilot and remains one piece of a larger effort."

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that she is "hopeful that these changes will help serve as a model for schools across the city" and indicated that the DOE will continue to work with Council members, school officials, and community members to create such policies that "promote diversity and respect the needs of the community."

At the time, Council Member Torres called the announcement "a powerful and important first step to tackle the issue of segregation," but added that "the city still has more work to do to in order to create diverse classrooms."

With at least a tinge of incredulity, Torres is somewhat impatient, and wants to see significantly more from the de Blasio administration. "I want the administration to put as much energy into diversifying our classrooms as it has into creating and preserving affordable housing."

"Diversity is not going to happen on its own," Torres said, "we have to plan for diversity."

He continued: "The scandal is not that we're failing to diversify our school system, the scandal is that we're not even trying."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio Moves on Paid Parental Leave

de blasio mccray family leave

De Blasio and his family at a recent event (photo: Mike Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a somewhat surprising Christmas-week move, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that he will soon issue an executive order mandating paid parental leave for non-union city employees, while opening the door for municipal unions to return to the bargaining table to add the benefit to their contracts.

As Democratic presidential candidates have been blazing the trail decrying that the United States is woefully behind other developed nations on paid family leave and a major push has been underway for a statewide policy in New York, de Blasio is taking action and setting the city as a model. It is a development quickly garnering national attention, and it puts pressure on Albany lawmakers ahead of their January return to legislative session and budget negotiations.

"New York City is leading by example," de Blasio said in a news release, "putting us at the forefront of paid parental leave policies around the country. This is a common sense policy that will make for healthier and more financially stable working families – making it good for employees and employers."

In framing the need for such a policy, de Blasio invoked his own family experience and the choice faced by his wife, Chirlane McCray, when they were new parents. In his statement, the mayor said, "Too many new parents face an impossible choice: taking care of their child or getting their paycheck."

In the news release, the administration says that the new policy will provide a "national benchmark of six weeks at 100 percent salary for maternity, paternity, adoption, or foster care leave" and that it "puts the City at the forefront of city and state policies around the country."

De Blasio and his team have often worked to establish the mayor and the city as a progressive leader nationally, including around policies such as universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, and protections for immigrants.

About 20,000 city employees will be covered by the initial parental leave policy starting in 2016, once de Blasio signs the order. In combination with other vacation and personal time accrued it could mean up to twelve weeks for some new parents, the administration said. Significantly, the administration also explained Tuesday that "the new benefit will come at no new cost to New York City taxpayers, as the City will be repurposing the existing managerial raise of 0.47 percent scheduled for July 2017 and two days of existing vacation leave policy" of some long-term employees.

Providing this coverage to 20,000 city employees is a significant first step that could lead to hundreds of thousands of city workers having the option of paid parental leave.

The administration has publicly said it is ready to reopen collective bargaining with unionized workers to include the benefit in their contracts. Several unions have quickly indicated that they plan to sit down with the administration to alter their recently-bargained deals (de Blasio entered office with all municipal union contracts expired and has brought 92 percent of city workers under contract since).

In an interview with WNYC to first announce the policy, de Blasio said that his administration wants to give parents the choice to spend more time with a new child. "We want to give them that opportunity at that precious moment to spend time with their child in the way that makes sense for them," de Blasio said.

The administration opted not to hold a public event on the announcement, though when questions arose on social media about that decision, mayoral aides noting that there will soon be a signing ceremony for the executive order. Still, de Blasio certainly turned down even more attention for the announcement that could have come with a press conference, especially in terms of TV coverage.

Nevertheless, de Blasio is clearly fortifying what has already been two years of policies aimed at reducing inequality and creating new opportunities for workers and families, especially those at the margins.

On Monday, de Blasio spoke at length with reporters about the first half of his four-year term, reviewing top accomplishments and taking questions about missteps and the path ahead. Unsurprisingly, de Blasio cited the rollout of universal pre-kindergarten, the initial phase of his affordable housing plan, the city's new municipal identification program, among other achievements.

The paid parental leave policy - and its potential expansion to union workers - gives de Blasio more to claim in what he calls his ongoing pursuit of a more fair city.

The move was quickly met with praise from a wide variety of elected officials and advocates, some of whom noted that the New York state and federal governments can and should act on paid family leave. The United States is reported to be one of only two developed nations without a mandatory paid family leave policy - through the Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. currently mandates unpaid leave so that workers can care for a new child or sick family member, an option that many cannot afford.

Representatives of some businesses and governments argue that paid family leave can be disruptive to organizations and, depending on funding mechanisms, a potentially untenable mandate.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that de Blasio's policy is "an important step forward and starts to bring city policies into line with those of the Fortune 500 and governments around the world."

In praising de Blasio's move, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said that the push for a national policy must continue: "We need a national paid-leave program that covers all working Americans," she said in a statement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he supports paid family leave, but wants the two chambers of the state legislature to help figure out how a statewide policy will be crafted, and how the new benefit would be paid for. Cuomo's office did not immediately return a request for comment on de Blasio's announcement. The governor is set to give his combination State of the State and budget address January 13 in Albany.

The New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, which includes advocacy, labor, and community organizations, has been advocating for a paid leave policy in New York, and issued a statement in response to de Blasio's announcement calling on state lawmakers to enact "The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act," which passed the Assembly in March.

The release says that "the legislation would create a paid family leave insurance benefit that is employee-paid, through small payroll deductions that start at just 45 cents and rise to roughly 88 cents a week over four years" and "modernize New York's Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program, the critical support system for new mothers physically recovering from childbirth, which is currently frozen at the 1989 rate of $170 per week."

In a nod toward debate to come in the state capital next year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie offered comment in de Blasio's announcement, saying, "New Yorkers should not have to choose between keeping their jobs and spending time with a new family member. As longstanding supporters of paid family leave, the Assembly Majority applauds New York City for taking this critical step to strengthen family leave benefits for city employees."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: High Rates of Head Trauma in New York City Jails Raise Public Health, Recidivism Concerns High Rates of Head Trauma in New York City Jails Raise Public Health, Recidivism Concerns Gotham Gazette: Embracing Sanders, De Blasio Leaves Behind His Clinton-Cuomo Era Embracing Sanders, De Blasio Leaves Behind His Clinton-Cuomo Era Gotham Gazette: State Senate's New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism State Senate's New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism Gotham Gazette: 2018 Will Be a Busy, Contentious Election Year in New York 2018 Will Be a Busy, Contentious Election Year in New York


The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.