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Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities


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Opportunity Charter School leader Leonard Goldberg, middle, the author


A new report from the city's Comptroller showed once again that the City is unable to fulfill its responsibility to provide the necessary services to students with disabilities, failing to track $84 million allocated for disabled student services. Worse still, these findings come on the heels of the Public Advocate's report that revealed a troubling trend whereby the city offers parents vouchers instead of the necessary, required services for children with special needs. Troubling, but not surprising.

It’s no secret that the city’s public schools are not designed or equipped to properly serve the individual needs of students with disabilities, particularly those in low-income communities. In fact, while roughly half of all vouchers issued citywide go unused, this rate climbs dramatically in lower-income communities. District 8 in the Bronx, for example, has the highest rate of vouchers going unused at 91 percent.

This is why so many Bronx parents turn to Opportunity Charter School (OCS), a Harlem-based charter school that disproportionately serves children with special needs from communities of color. At OCS, we have been providing wraparound services since our founding in 2004, and focus on providing comprehensive clinical services to students and their families.

The majority of our students live in the Bronx, making the commute every morning because they can’t find the support they need in traditional public schools. And in spite of this, the city’s Department of Education has tried relentlessly to close our middle school, even after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge cautioned that the DOE would be wise to take a closer look at how to better evaluate a school as unique as OCS.

The trouble is there’s a gap between these schools in theory and in practice.

The students, who enter our middle school after years in the public system, are among the lowest performing in all of New York City, and well over 60 percent have a moderate to severe learning disability. These are the students who benefit most from the extra support OCS provides, and the same students that the city has previously failed to help.

At OCS, we work hard to help these students catch up, develop critical life skills and prepare for post-secondary success. Our individualized approach to learning pays off. In fact, this year, 86 percent of OCS students graduated on time, including 82 percent of students with disabilities. But the city, which is responsible for holding the 51 charter schools it authorizes accountable and renewing their charters, relies on a flawed system to make these judgements. The city bases decisions largely on the percentage of students in each grade that achieve “proficiency” on state tests, without acknowledging the makeup of the student body or how much progress individual students are making over time.

Meanwhile, the tests themselves are not designed to measure achievement among students with disabilities. Even DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged as much, going as far as to say that students with disabilities are ‘never [going to] get to a certain level on this kind of test’ and would consider opting out her own child if she were the mother of a student with a disability. This accountability system advantages students and schools with a history of academic success; bolstering charters that curate their student bodies and punishing those that take in struggling students. In other words, the current system is designed to enforce the status quo.

Each student with an IEP is different. Some have relatively minor disabilities, such as a speech impediment, but others face more significant obstacles, such as a severe learning disability. At our school, we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and neither should the city.

Better alternatives are available. For example, the State Education Department, as well as other state authorizers have created systems tailored to evaluate schools that focus solely on serving at-risk student populations. Authorizers can allow charter schools this flexibility in measurement and it is important that they use this function properly. The DOE, despite its rhetoric, chooses not to apply this sensible approach.

If the city really wants to help students with disabilities, its leaders are going to have to rethink their entire approach, from the supports they provide to measuring growth. It’s past time for the New York City DOE to concentrate its efforts on supporting the city’s most vulnerable children and getting them the help they need, rather than unfairly targeting the institutions that make these kids a priority.

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Leonard Goldberg is the Founder and Head of School at Opportunity Charter School.

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Note: this column has been updated with more recent data than originally published.

Planned Parenthood of NYC Joins Call to Remove Racist Statue


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J. Marion Sims statue (photo via Wally Gobetz)


When images of white supremacists taking the streets in Charlottesville first surfaced, thousands of New Yorkers participated in rallies to condemn the hateful actions and rhetoric of white supremacist groups. The protests were powerful affirmations of our city’s stance against racism and hatred.

But even though New York City is seen as a progressive place, we must not let this reputation blindside us. The history of racism isn’t particular to Charlottesville – New York must recognize white supremacy in our own backyard and we must take steps to upend it.

For years, activist groups around New York City have been doing just that by calling for the removal of a statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who repeatedly performed surgical experiments on enslaved black women in the 19th century without their consent and without anesthesia. According to Sims, “black women don’t feel pain.”

Recently, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) held a powerful protest in Central Park calling for the statue to be removed. Planned Parenthood of New York City joined City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials and partners at a rally calling for the removal of this statue. East Harlem Preservation has also been calling for this statue to be removed for a decade.  

PPNYC strongly condemns the statue of Dr. Sims because it sanctions racism, hate, and abuse of black women. We stand with the many groups calling for its immediate removal.

This call to action goes beyond merely removing a statue or symbol. We need to recognize and call out white supremacy as a fundamental and systemic problem that fuels racial and economic inequality and reproductive oppression.

America has a long history of controlling and threatening the safety and body control of people of color. White supremacy affects the people who come to Planned Parenthood for care and their ability to determine their own destiny. We cannot lose sight of that as we continue to fight to expand and improve reproductive health care for all.

Black women are still three-and-a-half times more likely to die in childbirth than white women in The United States. Laws that block access to abortion and contraception disproportionately impact low-income communities, including immigrants. Women of color, who are more likely to rely on Medicaid to receive health care, risk losing access to life-saving services like cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and more, because of Congress’ shameless attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

At PPNYC, we know that a statue that represents violence and hatred and a lack of medical care has no place in our city. We also know that our work will continue beyond the statue’s removal. PPNYC is more committed than ever to delivering compassionate care, and to building a city where no one has to live in fear of exclusion, harassment, or violence.

At PPNYC, we welcome people of all races, backgrounds, ages, incomes, and immigration statuses to our doors for high-quality health care. We will never turn away anyone seeking health care – no matter what.

Not just because our patients’ lives are at stake, but because that is our mission – to ensure that all New Yorkers can access the care they need to lead safe and empowering lives.

Planned Parenthood of New York City stands with BYP 100, East Harlem Preservation, and other groups and activists speaking out against racism and white supremacy. As the injustice of racism persists, none of us can be silent. For the sake of our city and our country, all of us must take a stand.

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Christina Chang is Vice President of Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood of New York City.

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'Placeholder' Must Temporarily Take Squadron's Seat


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Former State Senator Daniel Squadrion (@DanielSquadron)


The unexpected resignation of New York State Senator Daniel Squadron threatens to diminish the fundamental democratic right of the people to choose our representatives. What is needed now is a temporary “placeholder” who pledges to protect that threatened right by only serving out the rest of the current term and allowing a regular, open election to take place next year.

By way of background, Sen. Squadron was first elected nearly a decade ago and represented the 26th state Senate district, which includes the Brooklyn waterfront and lower Manhattan. He resigned in mid-August to undertake an initiative with Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs to help Democrats win seats in state legislatures nationwide. While Sen. Squadron left elected office to pursue an admirable goal, the timing of his decision has led to the immediate problem of subverting democracy in our city.

That’s because the window to hold a special primary election already passed by the time he stepped down. As a result, party bosses in Brooklyn and Manhattan now have the power to hand-select the Democratic nominee for a special general election, someone who would inevitably win in November in the heavily Democratic district. With the power of incumbency, the designee would likely win reelection over and over again, beginning with 2018’s regularly scheduled state legislative elections.

The Kings County (Brooklyn) and New York County (Manhattan) Democratic committees must explicitly reject this undemocratic result. Instead, members of both county committees should rally behind a consensus “placeholder” candidate who pledges not to run for reelection in 2018.

The placeholder candidate option would allow the constituents of the 26th Senate district to have a full, robust discussion during next year’s primary race about the values and capabilities of those hoping to fill the seat. Informed choice is the key to meaningful elections.  

An ideal placeholder would be an elder statesperson with experience in public service, preferably some in Albany. Armed with that wisdom, he or she could make the most of a truncated term.

Some may argue that finding a politician willing only to serve for such a short period of time would prove too challenging. They may even ask how we can be assured that the placeholder would keep his or her word and not run again in 2018.

First, as a practical matter, a placeholder who broke his or her word and ran for reelection in 2018 would be taking a huge gamble in so cavalierly lying to constituents. But more importantly, the placeholder alternative is the only solution that would restore true democratic choice to the people. It’s simply the best shot we have.

It was heartening to see Brooklyn Democratic boss Frank Seddio express support for the notion of a placeholder senator.

Responsible government begins at home. We, the citizens of New York City and New York State, must demand a government accountable to the people. That means, at a minimum, insisting on a thorough and complete election process for choosing our representatives.

What we need now are leaders willing to make sure that process takes place.

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Steve Wagner is a Brooklyn-based activist and personal injury trial lawyer. He is a member of Independent Neighborhood Democrats and a steering committee member of Indivisible Nation BK. He blogs at brooklynresists.nyc.

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Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting


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A charter school rally (photo: @SuccessAcademy)


Questions: How do you turn a 25 percent graduation rate into a misleading claim of 100 percent success? When does a school’s 30 percent proficiency rate on an 8th grade reading test translate into the assertion that nearly half of the students passed?

Answer: when charter schools do their own accounting, and authorizers allow them to paper over the fact that huge percentages of the children who start in charter schools get driven or eased out.

Charters claim that they serve the same children as city public schools, but the truth is that they enroll and keep half the percentage of English Language Learners, dramatically fewer special education students, including those needing the highest level of intervention, and far fewer children who are homeless or in temporary housing.

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Not content with starting out with more favorable demographics, many charters then rely on student attrition, boosted by draconian discipline strategies, to keep their academic numbers up. In New York City, charters enroll 8% of the students but account for 45% of the suspensions.  

Suspensions and pressure on students who struggle academically help charter schools force or ease out students with learning difficulties. And unlike regular public schools, charters often leave empty seats vacant.

As one charter organization -- Democracy Builders -- noted, when schools refuse to "backfill" or replace students who leave, the result is charters hyping their results (“artificially inflating perceived performance” in Democracy Builder’s words).

Here’s how it works.

At Success Academy Harlem 1, 73 students began first grade in 2007. By now this class has dwindled to 18 students as they reached the 11th grade. Assuming all 18 stay this year and graduate, Success Academy will no doubt claim a graduation rate of 100 percent. But in fact there are only 18 “survivors” of the original 73; even if all 18 graduate, the school should only take credit for a grad rate of 25 percent of the original cohort.

Success enrollment

The same logic can be applied to test score claims. Teaching Firms of America Professional Prep Charter School in Brooklyn claims that nearly half -- 47 percent -- of its sixth graders were proficient on the most recent state reading test. But that sixth grade class had only 36 students, far short of the 57 students who were in that class in third grade.

So counting the vanished children, only 30 percent of the original cohort actually scored proficient on the 2017 reading test, a rate well below the 40 percent passing rate average for all public schools.

None of these facts will stop charter propagandists from repeating misleading claims about their schools’ “success.” But charter authorizers, especially the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, need to be considering these issues as charters come up for re-authorization.

The committee has recently taken a tougher line against some charters, criticizing the chair of the board of Success Academy, Dan Loeb, for his indefensible statements comparing the actions of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and teachers unions with the KKK.

But the committee's recent proposal -- to permit some charter schools to drastically reduce the amount of preparation teachers must undergo in order to be certified – is an ill-considered favor for a sector that has proven itself not only incapable of honest accounting, but also unable to retain a qualified workforce.

If charter schools are to perform their original mission -- to act as laboratories of innovation -- it is up to authorizers to ensure that charter schools take seriously their obligation to educate all kinds of children, and to give New York parents a realistic view of both their successes and their failures.

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Michael Mulgrew is the President of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

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Note: this opinion column has been corrected to reflect that one organization cited is Democracy Builders, not Democracy Prep as originally stated.

The Threat Lurking on Primary Day


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State Senator and City Council candidate Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)


The New York City Council is under threat. There is a force exerting immense pressure to dangerously influence the session beginning in January. That threat goes by one name: Albany. And it is bearing down on the city this week.

We need to take stock of what is happening, and vote accordingly on Tuesday, September 12, or the 2018 City Council class will be far less progressive than the current.

What do I mean by the Albany threat? State legislators who represent people from New York City who are eager to get out of working in Albany and are running for the City Council. They have experience in campaigns with far fewer restrictions to keep them accountable to voters. Their experience as policy-makers is one where they are completely constrained by the leaders at the top and far less serious about the work of an elected official with legislative, oversight, and constituent service responsibilities.

These Assembly members and Senators have mostly accepted an unethical and unacceptable state government as it is, sought to bring some funding back to their districts, and cast blame around for the lack of beneficial policy results. Seeking easier commutes and a substantial pay raise, several state legislators are seeking seats in the City Council this year, with Tuesday’s primary elections set to determine the overall winners and losers given the city’s Democratic advantage. In order to run this year, these legislators don’t have to risk their seats, and with the power of name recognition and fundraising that accompanies being an elected official already, they have distinct advantages, no matter how good their opponents may be.

The worst case scenario is an eventual takeover, given the handful of potential migrants this year and the floodgates that could open in 2021, when many more Council seats will be open due to term limits. Voters must take a stand this year. And while it should be done on a candidate by candidate basis, overall, the threat of Albany must be beat back.

A quick survey of some of the contested Council seats confirms this Albany threat is real. In Brooklyn, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is threatened by Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, whose main accusation is that Menchaca isn’t good at constituent services. In Queens, two Albany people are fighting for City Council Member Ferraras-Copeland’s seat, and the progressive city is quivering that a former Albany gargoyle, Hiram Monserrate, will be defeated by a current state legislator who is hopefully not anywhere near as bad.

In both City Council District 13 in the Bronx and District 8, which includes parts of East Harlem and the South Bronx, the competition pits a male Assembly member against a strong female candidate with positive community experience and a bright future.

In the Bronx, State Senator and Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. announced that he is entitled to run for the City Council and that he eschews calls for separating religious and government work because, “I am the Church and the State.” He’s sucked up all the air in the room with a slew of major endorsement and his name recognition, and he’ll likely shut the door of opportunity on qualified candidates seeking their first elected office.

Also worth noting, then-State Senator Bill Perkins already nabbed the Harlem City Council seat in a special election earlier this year, and will likely ride the incumbency power to a victory this fall, despite other candidates ready to serve.

Not all of these Albany legislators are terrible as individuals. Some state legislators go to the capital to fight for and deliver change. But voters should wonder why each one attempting to leave is ready to jump ship and carefully consider the options on the ballot.

Is this current exodus from Albany representative of a strategic effort to tamp down the policy-driven New York City Council? That Council has moved a great deal of progressive policy over the last four years. Continuing in that direction is under threat.

Do these legislators just want a pay raise? It’s a question worth asking.

Most Albany legislators’ City Council campaigns echo themes of “I provide good constituent services so you should vote for me,” regardless of whether they have a record to stand on. They prioritize their constituent services to ingratiate themselves to their voters without actively seeking out ways to fix broken systems. While the Council’s current members are full of imperfections, the last four years have been full of real efforts to make government better for New Yorkers.

“Elections have consequences” was one of the themes that finally landed after the 2016 presidential. The consequences in New York City of the Albany influx will be many—number one, as new members they could block the victory of a potential progressive Speaker of the Council, which could then very easily halt real and important policy changes. They could defer to Albany’s typical priorities of promoting the interests of real estate developers and coming up with excuses for failing to fix healthcare, support immigrants, and achieve ethics reform.

If Albany sees a way in this year, we can be assured that in four years when most of the Council races will not have incumbents, many more state legislators will attempt to get out of Albany, intensifying this threat.

Elections do indeed have consequences. One could be a lot more Albany status-quo do-nothings elected in New York City; another could be a risk-taking, people-oriented Council for the next four years.

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Richard Semegram is a tenant attorney in Manhattan. On Twitter @richagram.

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Dig Just Once to Tackle Noise Pollution and Get More Done


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Vanessa Aronson, left, is the author (photo: Aronson campaign)


Sometimes it sounds like machine gun fire. Sometimes like the wail of a banshee. Sometimes like a wheezing dragon. And sometimes like all three at the same time.

I’m talking about the jackhammers, construction equipment and crews digging up your street for power cables, sewer work, and high-speed internet conduits. It’s an unfortunate part of New York City living. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially for broadband fiber optics.

New York City must deal with its noise pollution, and should quickly adopt a Dig Once policy, which would lower the cost of broadband expansion by doing two things:

One, requiring city utilities to coordinate digging schedules so that they accomplish what needs to be done efficiently. And two, Installing fiber optic conduit when the ground is dug up for other projects.

By installing fiber conduit with enough space for additional networks, we can limit the need for new construction, meaning digging new holes and trenches every time new fiber is required. That way the cost of that construction is amortized over all projects that later use the conduit. This not only reduces costs but also minimizes hazards and headaches for drivers, pedestrians, business owners, visitors, and residents. All while adding less than one percent to the total cost of the construction.

And Dig Once works.

The Dig Once policy is already in place statewide in Arizona, Minnesota, and Utah, as well as in Boston and San Francisco.

Simply put, this policy can save money by minimizing the amount of digging and noise, and reduce inconvenience when installing necessary conduits and cables. Successfully implementing a Dig Once policy is based on leveraging the “rights of way” that are owned and managed by many different utilities and communications companies.

At a state level Dig Once broadens the authority of the state’s Department of Transportation to include the transportation of information. This allows the agency to coordinate the installation of multi-user conduits in state highways.

At a city level, Boston’s Dig Once is a “joint build” policy that requires all telecom companies to install their cable in shared underground conduits on a shared-cost basis. This policy also designates a “lead company” that is tasked with coordinating efforts between all involved in the installation process, planning and implementing the installation.

San Francisco’s Dig Once Specification has lowered the cost of conduit installation from $128,000 per street mile for the first installation (including excavation) to $71,000 for the second.

Although there is no federally mandated policy, U.S. Executive Order 13616 directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to review Dig Once requirements and to work with state and local governments in the development and implementation of sensible construction policies including Dig Once.

If the U.S. adopts a Dig Once policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they excavate for new roads and dig up your sidewalk. But we’re New Yorkers. We shouldn’t have to wait for Washington to save us money and time, and from the assault of jackhammers. We can -- and should -- Dig Once now.

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Vanessa Aronson is a Democratic candidate for City Council in District 4. On Twitter @VanessaAronson.

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Congestion Pricing Won't Solve New York's Transportation Woes


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Gov. Cuomo and a bus (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent vague interest in congestion pricing as a solution to problems at the MTA may give new life to one of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s key policy goals, but absent transportation improvements officials could be making now, pricing will not save our subways. We cannot let them off the hook in search of the perceived silver bullet of congestion pricing.

The transportation community has been salivating over Cuomo’s statement that “congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come,” hoping that the governor will be able to convince the state to put a cordon toll around Manhattan south of 60th Street. Such a cordon toll, which would charge drivers entering the area on a daily or per trip basis, is reflective of similar policies elsewhere, particularly London, which implemented a congestion charge in the central city district in February 2003. Yet commenters and policy nerds this side of the Atlantic have missed the real substance of London’s improvements, and in doing so, they are giving our elected officials a pass on work they should be doing right now, regardless of the status of the pricing proposal.

What today’s transportation advocates are missing is that the key ingredient to London’s success was not its charge but its buses.

Beginning in 1993, ridership on London’s double-deckers increased annually, and was up 37% by the time the charge was implemented in 2003. In 2004, London’s buses carried more passengers than the New York City subway. While those ridership numbers are impressive on their own, what they signify is an overall shift away from cars to buses, bikes, and walking. London’s congestion charge was envisioned as a specifically anti-car policy, designed to make it easier for buses and taxis to traverse the city center.

When New York City congestion pricing advocates see London’s roads covered in bus lanes, they may imagine that the charge enabled such a shift, freeing up road space to then be taken over by buses and bikes. In fact, nearly all of London’s 180 miles of bus lanes were implemented before the congestion charge, in that era of increasing ridership between 1993 and 2003. The lanes and other improvements insulated London’s buses from congestion enough, even before the charge, to improve rider experience and reduce excess waiting time at stops. Combined with a lower fare on buses compared to the tube, the operational improvements led to increased ridership and declining car use before the charge policy was even developed.

New York’s bus system pales in comparison.

The city currently has just over 50 miles of bus lanes. While buses have priority at most intersections in London, such priority only exists in New York on four Select Bus Service routes. As congestion has risen, bus ridership has fallen as bus speeds have slowed to a level barely faster than walking.

Nowhere is the lack of bus priority more egregious than on the East River bridges, the very place tolls would be implemented. When Mayor Bloomberg signed the initial contract with the USDOT for his congestion pricing proposal, East River bus lanes were the only specific bus improvement named. When the deal fell through, the East River bus lanes plan mostly died.

There are high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, used by both buses and cars with two or more occupants, in the tunnels and in the mornings on the Queensborough and Manhattan Bridges. The tunnel HOV lanes serve the express buses, the second-most heavily subsidized way to travel in the city after the commuter rail. Currently, the Queensborough bridge carries three local routes and 18 express routes. There are no buses that cross the Manhattan Bridge and benefit from the HOV lane.

For New York’s system to match London’s status before the charge was implemented, we need not only priority for buses on the roads but also more local buses into Manhattan. Based on London’s experience, getting drivers out of their cars requires a double shift.

First, some subway riders shift to buses for shorter trips; then drivers, who generally take longer trips, switch to the newly opened subway space. New York’s bus system largely lacks bus routes to accommodate people switching from the subway to bus. Currently, only a single local bus goes from Brooklyn to Manhattan, the B39, which runs only between the Williamsburg Bridge Terminal and Delancey Street, and comes every half hour. Unsurprisingly, it has the lowest ridership in the bus system. Without more direct bus connections to Manhattan, New York severely limits the bus system’s ability to provide a subway relief valve.

To be clear, there are activists calling for New York to focus on its bus network, but the centrality of the bus network to the functioning of the whole system is not fully depicted. The Bus Turnaround Campaign, comprised of the Riders Alliance, TransitCenter, TriState Transportation Campaign, and the Straphangers Campaign, have called for bus improvements for the sake of riders, but not as a way of improving transportation in the city as a whole, though their recommendations are based in part on London’s improvements, including increased bus priority, less circuitous routing, and improved fare payment.

What is frustrating is that many advocates believe that they have to support the pricing proposal in order to achieve bus system improvements, and that others feel as though they don’t need to advocate as hard for buses because the charging regime will magically improve the buses. The reality is that absent good alternatives to switch to, any charge that is politically feasible (maybe no more than the cost of a subway fare, well short of what is proposed in the most thorough proposal to-date, the Move New York plan) will be ineffective at reducing congestion and thus at improving the buses. London’s temporary drop in congestion following the charge was made possible by the bevy of available bus seats. While New York has available bus seats, they are not yet good alternatives. If they were, we would have seen bus ridership increase during this especially difficult subway summer congestion pricing is supposed to fix, and we didn’t.

If New York wants to seriously improve the transportation system, it needs an all-out campaign on the buses, one with the same level of media attention given to a single Cuomo quote on congestion pricing. Because so much of the bus system is about how we prioritize our roads, this is a goal that a city mayor can actually make a significant dent in without the governor, the kind of transportation improvement our mayor enjoys. So rather than wait for Governor Cuomo to save us via a pricing system that won’t work in our current system, let’s appoint a congestion czar and get serious about a transportation system that provides affordable access for all.

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Rosalie Ray is a PhD student in Urban Planning at Columbia University. Her research focuses on London's bus improvements in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Don’t Endanger Minority Jobs in Name of Construction Safety


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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, left, the author (photo: @BPEricAdams)


It’s good to see our city engaged in a long-overdue discussion about safety on construction sites. “Safety first” is not mere sloganeering to me; nothing should top ensuring the health and welfare of every man and woman on every worksite.

The City Council has tackled and passed a number of meaningful reforms in recent months, and there is certainly more to explore. However, New Yorkers have good reason to be concerned about a bill known as Intro. 1447, which would likely sideline many local workers of color and prevent growing minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) from succeeding in the construction industry.

An earlier draft of this legislation would have required apprenticeships for construction workers; the current version being considered by the Council would necessitate a training requirement well in excess of the existing federal minimum standard set by OSHA. Either of these proposals would essentially result in a union mandate. I support unions and I am a longtime union man, dating back to my 22 years of service in the NYPD. But as I have noted in the past, my union pride also carries with it a responsibility to speak out when I believe there is inequity of opportunity within the ranks of my brothers and sisters in labor. In the construction industry, this largely remains the case, with several exceptions such as Carpenters Local 926.

The reality is that while some important gains have been made, I see from my own experience that union construction sites continue to fall short in reflecting the diversity of New York City. Equally important, too many of the union workers on Brooklyn’s construction sites do not actually live in our borough, or any of the five boroughs.

While construction unions have promoted apprenticeships and additional skills training as both a path to safer worksites and a way to diversify their workforce, no independent data has been released that shows the linkages for these claims. There is still no evidence that these efforts are providing minority workers with a reliable road to long-term career advancement. While apprenticeship programs may become more diverse, the higher-paying jobs on actual union worksites still elude the minority workforce. Until that changes, we should remain wary of approving de facto union mandates on construction sites that could otherwise provide much-needed job opportunities for highly-qualified New Yorkers of color, especially those living in public housing seeking a path to the middle class.

When it comes to M/WBE contractors, Intro. 1447 would have a very damaging impact because of the extremely high cost of its arbitrary training mandate. As City Council members should know, M/WBEs in the construction industry are generally smaller and less established than their competitors. If costs were to skyrocket, many M/WBEs would likely be unable to afford the difference, making it virtually impossible to compete for the jobs they need to stay in business. We must avoid any outcome that bars these hardworking small business owners from getting a fair shot in our city.

There is a strong argument that a universal enforcement of OSHA training certification requirements would be just as effective, and in some cases more so. We have seen that projects following strict standards on OSHA training — whether they be union or non-union — maintain safer sites and have fewer injuries. This would be a substantive step forward for safety.

I have sought to reframe the union construction conversation around the idea of job creation for all. It is only worth fighting for higher construction wages and good jobs when we ensure that all workers, including those who continue to fall through the inequality gap, are sharing equally in those victories. Now we also need to do the same thing for construction safety. There is no question that we need to make worksites safer, but it must be safer for all workers — and that means we must have an industry in which workers of all backgrounds have equal opportunity to participate and prosper.

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Eric L. Adams is the Brooklyn borough president. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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Life-Saving Legislation That Must Not Wait


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Marti Speranza, the author, center (photo: @MartiSperanzaNY)


The passage of the East Midtown Rezoning will lead to the construction of an estimated 16 buildings, six Subway projects, and many public spaces over the next 20 years. The plan utilizes density bonuses to incentivize developers to pay for transportation and public realm upgrades, while also empowering cash-strapped landmarks to capitalize on their air rights. All the stakeholders made compromises to reach the final deal, which will begin an era of restoring East Midtown to a globally competitive business district.

One thing that can’t be compromised is the safety of the workers, neighbors, and future occupants of East Midtown––or any neighborhood in our city.

In order to address the increase in construction deaths during the construction boom across our city, the City Council has introduced life-saving legislation to make work safer for the 180,000 construction workers who build and live here. Intro. 1447, which would mandate additional safety training, has the support of 46 Council sponsors. These legislators recognize that more safety training is needed to prevent avoidable accidents. As major projects like the Hudson Yards and the East Midtown Rezoning progress, this legislation becomes even more important.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is one of the biggest opponents of the bill. It claims it will shut smaller, non-union M/WBE contractors out of lucrative construction deals while rewarding union shops, whose record of worksite safety has been better due to the hours of union-provided safety training and other precautions. Masquerading as a nonprofit called “Putting New Yorkers to Work,” REBNY has run ads against the bill, featuring construction workers of color making appeals to the City Council to not “take their jobs away.”

The reality is that workers of color, specifically Latino workers, could have the most to gain from this legislation. They have been disproportionately killed in construction accidents, the overwhelming majority of which have occurred on non-union worksites, according to a New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health report released earlier this year.

The possibility of decreasing opportunities for M/WBEs is a serious concern that needs to be addressed. But to frame this bill as a choice between opportunities for M/WBE contractors and safety of workers is disingenuous. It’s cynical to imply this legislation is designed to penalize open-shop contractors. There’s no room for error on worksites; safety trainings -- union-sponsored or otherwise -- prepare workers to handle the inherent dangers of construction work and mitigate risks. The aim of Intro. 1447 has always been to increase safety on worksites -- that should be a top priority for all.

The final version of the legislation should not yield to demands for fewer hours of safety training. If opponents’ chief concern is the potential to undermine opportunities for M/WBEs in construction, legislators should move quickly to study the impact it could have on M/WBEs and ensure those firms have a voice in the conversation.

The battle over Intro. 1447 is an example of politics getting in the way of policy. That’s something we can’t allow to happen when lives are in the balance.

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Marti Speranza is a Democratic candidate for City Council in District 4. On Twitter @MartiSperanzaNY.

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‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis


Carlina Rivera

Carlina Rivera, the author (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Repairing the subways, closing Rikers, rescuing failing schools – it can seem like New York’s most insurmountable crises are always being dealt with by cutting corners and taking the path of least resistance. This isn’t how it’s always been in our city. When the city passed the historic Fair Share Criteria in 1989, officials finally said enough to the inequitable distribution of city facilities and called for investment in a long-term plan for facility siting in the future.

These rules were supposed to require the city to place facilities in a thought-out, deliberative process that factored in their potential effectiveness as well as the input of the community. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.

Over the years, the original Fair Share Criteria have been found to be non-transparent and filled with loopholes that city officials and agencies continue to exploit to this day, particularly when it comes to homeless shelter siting.

The city’s new homelessness plan shows this disregard for Fair Share, with officials looking to place shelters in the easiest-to-build locations in order to satisfy the plan's goal of building 90 new shelters. Sadly, this means that overburdened communities are once again seeing shelters open just blocks away from existing shelters, while nearby neighborhoods continue with few or no shelters at all. This is a clear misallocation of resources that will only help to exacerbate difficulties around existing shelters.

Want a real example of how Fair Share isn’t being factored into the city’s homelessness response? One of the newest facilities in the city, a 28-unit shelter that is set to open soon in on East 17th Street in Gramercy, perfectly illustrates the current situation. This shelter is exactly what the city needs – its small size will create a safer, more comfortable environment for its residents, and the facility will have access to the programs that can get New Yorkers back on their feet.

But this shelter’s innovations quickly end when it comes to its location. The site was quietly chosen largely because it was a former treatment center and easy to develop, even though the community already has nearly 1000 beds within walking distance at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter. With such a large population and a lack of individualized supportive services, this shelter has been a disappointment for many who reside in it and a continued complaint of local residents who see hundreds of men outside each day with seemingly no path to housing stability.

I want our district to be a role model for the rest of the city, where we each accept the same, equal responsibility to help. When I am elected to the City Council, passing the recently announced Fair Share reform package will be one of my first legislative goals.

I also understand that new shelters such as the one on 17th Street will be a real resource for our community’s most vulnerable residents. However, we also must be fair and recognize the terrible situation occurring at large, less-effective shelters such as 30th Street, and couple any new shelter openings with a reduction of beds at larger or failing shelters. This would bring shelters like 30th Street more in line with the smarter, smaller shelters we need in this city.

For years the city favored quick fixes over a long-term solution to homelessness. But homelessness has never been an issue that can just be swept under the rug and forgot about, or dealt with by warehousing people. It requires a forward-thinking strategy that looks at each level of the homelessness support structure and honestly asks if we can do better.

A better Fair Share is the first step in this process, and it won’t be easy. But our city’s biggest accomplishments have always emerged from the most visionary ideas. We know what needs to be done – now we just need the courage to follow through with it.

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Carlina Rivera is a candidate for New York City Council’s District 2, which covers the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera.

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A Victory for School Based Health Centers, But More To Do


carroll simon

Assemblymembers Carroll & Simon, the authors (photo via @Bobby4Brooklyn)


School based health centers (SBHCs) are a critical safety net for immigrants and the uninsured. There are 145 SBHCs serving students in more than 345 schools across the city, regardless of their ability to pay. SBHCs provide primary and preventive care, reproductive and mental health care, and first aid; manage chronic illnesses; and more. From asthma and diabetes to food allergies and anxiety, these clinics can make the difference between life and death for many of our schoolchildren.

The clinics yield positive health outcomes and are cost-effective through their provision of preventive health care. They are also wildly popular with parents, students, and school administrators. The city wholeheartedly supports the clinics, which have been shown to reduce absenteeism and enhance school performance. The clinics also fulfill the state’s goal of access to community-based care.

Therefore, it was alarming when four schools in District 15 received a letter in June from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which operates five SBHCs, informing them that state funding had been dramatically reduced and that the SUNY Downstate SBHCs were in jeopardy. 

A combination of a 20% cut in non-Medicaid funding in the 2017-18 State Budget ($3.9M), a May 2017 change by the State Department of Health to the funding methodology for the distribution of non-Medicaid funds, and a July 1, 2018 deadline to be carved-in to Medicaid Managed Care has created underfunding and instability to the SBHCs. 

SUNY Downstate was a big loser in the state’s funding methodology changes that followed closely on the heels of the state’s budget cuts: SUNY Downstate’s budget for 2017-18 was slashed by 70%, from $669,322 to $198,187. While some sponsors received more money and are scheduled to open new centers this year, some of the larger sponsors took significant blows to their budget; NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers also took a cut of over $500,000, as did Mt. Sinai Hospital, which experienced a nearly $700,000 loss.

SUNY Downstate later announced that the cuts were unsustainable and that it could not operate four of its five centers. This included the centers at M.S. 51 William Alexander; Brooklyn New School (BNS) and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies; P.S. 38 the Pacific School; and the School for International Studies and Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School.

Quickly, a coalition of parents, administrators, community leaders, labor unions, and elected officials came together to organize and fight back and everyone pitched in. An online petition in support of the centers was launched by the local elected officials. Jeremy Amar, a parent at MS 51, created posters of several student beneficiaries of the SBHCs with the slogan: “save your school based health center; community health starts here.” Amy Sumner, a parent coordinator from BNS 146, put out the call for personal stories about an SBHC and they poured in.

Thankfully, the coalition’s advocacy efforts were successful. SUNY Downstate decided that no matter the level of state funding that it received, it will continue to operate the four clinics for this year. We are very grateful that SUNY Downstate has stepped up for our children, but recognize the need to ensure the long-term viability of the SBHCs. It’s very likely that we will need to find a new sponsor for the four centers next year and we all need to make sure SBHCs across the city and state are properly funded going forward.

According to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, next year’s Medicaid carve-in will reduce revenues to SBHCs by $16.3 million -- on top of this year’s cuts. Legislation was passed by the State Legislature to enact a permanent Medicaid Managed Carve-Out for SBHCs (A7866 /S6012). We are hopeful that Governor Cuomo will sign that bill into law by the end of the year.

SBHCs are only one piece in a very complex and large health care system, but this experience has demonstrated that these small pieces often have a significant impact on the daily lives of New Yorkers and their children. We are proud that our coalition came together to save these clinics because they are vital to the health of our students in District 15 and as elected members of the state Assembly we are committed to seeing to it that they are preserved for many school years to come. 

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By Robert Carroll, Assemblymember, 44th District, & Jo Anne Simon, Assemblymember, 52nd District. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @JoAnneSimonBK52.

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