Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/justin-brannan 2019-07-16T22:49:22+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Dominating Harvard, and Redemption 2019-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 2019-06-30T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8647-dominating-harvard-and-redemption-bard-prison-initiative-brannan Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bard_prison.jpg" alt="bard prison initiative" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: @BPIBard)</p> <hr /> <p>One of the oldest and highest-regarded debating teams in the world just got beat by a team of incarcerated New Yorkers. But we shouldn’t be surprised; they’ve done it before. In addition to this most recent match with Cambridge, the Bard Prison Initiative debate team’s 9-2 record includes wins against Harvard, Morehouse, and the University of Pennsylvania.</p> <p>For 20 years, BPI has been championing the talents and potential of underestimated students, and debate, it turns out, is just one of the things our fellow New Yorkers are really good at.</p> <p>For too long, we have held low expectations for whole groups of our neighbors: confining people to extended periods of incarceration; inadequately supporting their personal, educational, and professional growth; and then expecting them to return home and somehow overcome all of the barriers put in their way.</p> <p>As we reevaluate how criminal justice should work in New York City, BPI and its alumni are a powerful example of what’s possible when we invest in incarcerated women and men and support them as they return home as our neighbors, colleagues, and friends.</p> <p>For 20 years, BPI has operated an ambitious college, now in six New York state prisons. Close individual attention and a vibrant academic community – the same experience students get at leading colleges – propel BPI students into ambitious academic work and, when they come home to New York City, into meaningful professional careers.</p> <p>A new documentary film, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8ec3QpnaiU&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">College Behind Bars</a>, produced by Ken Burns, will provide an unprecedented perspective of their stories when it airs nationally on PBS later this year.&nbsp;</p> <p>College in prison and support for alumni returning home helps formerly incarcerated people rebuild lives, and it also saves taxpayers money. The RAND Corporation estimates that every dollar spent on education for incarcerated students saves four to five dollars because those students return to prison at much lower rates.</p> <p>BPI alumni are a model of that: more than 95% of them stay out of prison, in comparison to just 58% of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers more broadly. BPI alumni do much more than stay out of prison: they become our treasured neighbors and colleagues. You’ve probably worked with, lived next to, or passed one of these alums on the street today.&nbsp;</p> <p>BPI alumni are having a profound impact across the New York City landscape, changing the face of philanthropy, public health, community service, business, and technology. They work at a diverse array of organizations including the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Harlem United, Bronx Defenders, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, the Center for Court Innovation, the New York City Department of Health, Hugo Neu Corporation, L&amp;M Development – the list goes on.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s not just incarcerated and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers who benefit from this type of investment in education and professional development. At the Brooklyn Public Library, an extraordinary new college was launched last year. BPL partnered with the Bard Prison Initiative to launch the Bard Microcollege at Brooklyn Public Library, bringing a tuition-free liberal arts college to a group of New Yorkers ages 19-66 ready for the challenge, but without the resume or resources of the typical student at an elite college.</p> <p>When students finish their AA degrees, they’ll get support transferring into bachelor’s degree programs at leading colleges and universities, for which they will be well prepared.</p> <p>When we invest deeply in the education of underestimated New Yorkers – in prisons and in communities – we create a generation of powerful leaders who represent the actual diversity of New York. That impact makes our city better.&nbsp;</p> <p>A proven pathway to higher education exists, and New York City is better for it.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/justinbrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bard_prison.jpg" alt="bard prison initiative" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: @BPIBard)</p> <hr /> <p>One of the oldest and highest-regarded debating teams in the world just got beat by a team of incarcerated New Yorkers. But we shouldn’t be surprised; they’ve done it before. In addition to this most recent match with Cambridge, the Bard Prison Initiative debate team’s 9-2 record includes wins against Harvard, Morehouse, and the University of Pennsylvania.</p> <p>For 20 years, BPI has been championing the talents and potential of underestimated students, and debate, it turns out, is just one of the things our fellow New Yorkers are really good at.</p> <p>For too long, we have held low expectations for whole groups of our neighbors: confining people to extended periods of incarceration; inadequately supporting their personal, educational, and professional growth; and then expecting them to return home and somehow overcome all of the barriers put in their way.</p> <p>As we reevaluate how criminal justice should work in New York City, BPI and its alumni are a powerful example of what’s possible when we invest in incarcerated women and men and support them as they return home as our neighbors, colleagues, and friends.</p> <p>For 20 years, BPI has operated an ambitious college, now in six New York state prisons. Close individual attention and a vibrant academic community – the same experience students get at leading colleges – propel BPI students into ambitious academic work and, when they come home to New York City, into meaningful professional careers.</p> <p>A new documentary film, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8ec3QpnaiU&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">College Behind Bars</a>, produced by Ken Burns, will provide an unprecedented perspective of their stories when it airs nationally on PBS later this year.&nbsp;</p> <p>College in prison and support for alumni returning home helps formerly incarcerated people rebuild lives, and it also saves taxpayers money. The RAND Corporation estimates that every dollar spent on education for incarcerated students saves four to five dollars because those students return to prison at much lower rates.</p> <p>BPI alumni are a model of that: more than 95% of them stay out of prison, in comparison to just 58% of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers more broadly. BPI alumni do much more than stay out of prison: they become our treasured neighbors and colleagues. You’ve probably worked with, lived next to, or passed one of these alums on the street today.&nbsp;</p> <p>BPI alumni are having a profound impact across the New York City landscape, changing the face of philanthropy, public health, community service, business, and technology. They work at a diverse array of organizations including the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Harlem United, Bronx Defenders, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, the Center for Court Innovation, the New York City Department of Health, Hugo Neu Corporation, L&amp;M Development – the list goes on.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s not just incarcerated and formerly incarcerated New Yorkers who benefit from this type of investment in education and professional development. At the Brooklyn Public Library, an extraordinary new college was launched last year. BPL partnered with the Bard Prison Initiative to launch the Bard Microcollege at Brooklyn Public Library, bringing a tuition-free liberal arts college to a group of New Yorkers ages 19-66 ready for the challenge, but without the resume or resources of the typical student at an elite college.</p> <p>When students finish their AA degrees, they’ll get support transferring into bachelor’s degree programs at leading colleges and universities, for which they will be well prepared.</p> <p>When we invest deeply in the education of underestimated New Yorkers – in prisons and in communities – we create a generation of powerful leaders who represent the actual diversity of New York. That impact makes our city better.&nbsp;</p> <p>A proven pathway to higher education exists, and New York City is better for it.&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/justinbrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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Advancing Efforts to Hire People with Disabilities Across New York's Economy 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8439-expanding-efforts-to-hire-people-with-disabilities Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dxej-efucaa3uxe.jpg" alt="dxej efucaa3uxe" width="600" height="459" /></p> <p>Victor Calise, front-left, is one of the authors (photo: @NYCCalise)</p> <hr /> <p>In the fairest big city in America, everyone deserves the opportunity to be employed. Unfortunately, the reality is that people with disabilities in the United States are twice as likely to be out of the workforce as their nondisabled peers.</p> <p>Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the proportion of Americans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 that was employed last year was only 30.4% compared to 74% for non-disabled individuals in the same age group. In New York City alone, 79% of working-age people with disabilities are currently jobless according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics. This staggering disparity is one of the most pressing challenges to full accessibility and independence of the disability community.</p> <p>New York City is doing our part to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities’ (MOPD) <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/mopd/employment/nyc-at-work.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC: ATWORK</a> program is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, with funding from Institute for Career Development (ICD), the Poses Family Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, ACCES-VR, and The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City that directly connects people with disabilities to prospective employers.</p> <p>For example, Chelsea Dimond is a person with a disability who reached out to NYC: ATWORK after she was previously unsuccessful in finding employment through traditional job-seeking websites. After getting guidance regarding the search and interview process, she was ultimately hired as a Peer Respite Worker by Transitional Services Inc. New York.</p> <p>On NYC: ATWORK’s assistance, Chelsea says: “This program took note of exactly what kind of job I was interested in and made a perfect match for me. This job feels like it was meant to be, and now I’m able to make a difference in the lives of those who have mental illnesses like myself.” Chelsea is only one of many examples of successful placement by NYC: ATWORK. &nbsp;The overall goal of this three-year initiative focuses on connecting 2,100 individuals with disabilities to internships, jobs, and careers in their field of choice.</p> <p>The City’s proactive approach to increasing employment for people with disabilities is rooted in the understanding that a good job and financial security are crucial to personal and professional independence. Before connecting with NYC: ATWORK, Simon Bondar was living with his parents. After working with MOPD on his resume and interview prep, he was hired by UNIQLO as a Sales Associate. With this new line of income, Simon was able to move into a new apartment with his wife.</p> <p>New York’s business community plays a crucial role in hiring more people with disabilities, in turn creating a more inclusive workplace that leverages the diversity of its employees. Through NYC: ATWORK’s Business Development Council, the City has fostered relationships with companies across a variety of sectors including finance, hospitality, transportation, retail, and technology.</p> <p>Additionally, the New York City Council has hired its <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2018/08/18/anastasia-somoza-city-council-liaison-to-disability-community" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first-ever liaison to New Yorkers with disabilities</a>. Together, the de Blasio Administration and Council are dedicated to including disability in conversations about diversity in hiring practices and society at large.</p> <p>Having an employee with a disability can be a catalyst for a cultural shift to a more inclusive workplace. Nondisabled business owners are more likely to think about accessibility and ultimately improve the company for all of its employees and customers alike. These employment opportunities also extend to city government where the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dcas/employment/55-a-program.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">55-a program</a> has paved the way for qualified people with disabilities to get hired without needing to take a Civil Service exam. By obtaining employment, a person with a disability will therefore not only gain the tools they need to live independently but will also make a positive impact on their employer and the community at large as well.</p> <p>While New York City has made great strides to improve the lives of people with disabilities and many businesses have joined us in hiring members of the disability community, we know this is just the beginning. It is imperative that societal attitudes shift to recognize that disability is an important aspect of a diverse work environment and, indeed, that people with disabilities are productive employees who will positively contribute to a business and the community. All of us must make a conscious effort to recruit, hire, and retain qualified people with disabilities. Only then can we have a truly inclusive society and make New York the most accessible city in the world.</p> <p>***<br /> Victor Calise is the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities. City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/nyccalise" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCCalise</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/dxej-efucaa3uxe.jpg" alt="dxej efucaa3uxe" width="600" height="459" /></p> <p>Victor Calise, front-left, is one of the authors (photo: @NYCCalise)</p> <hr /> <p>In the fairest big city in America, everyone deserves the opportunity to be employed. Unfortunately, the reality is that people with disabilities in the United States are twice as likely to be out of the workforce as their nondisabled peers.</p> <p>Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the proportion of Americans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 that was employed last year was only 30.4% compared to 74% for non-disabled individuals in the same age group. In New York City alone, 79% of working-age people with disabilities are currently jobless according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics. This staggering disparity is one of the most pressing challenges to full accessibility and independence of the disability community.</p> <p>New York City is doing our part to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities’ (MOPD) <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/mopd/employment/nyc-at-work.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">NYC: ATWORK</a> program is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, with funding from Institute for Career Development (ICD), the Poses Family Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, ACCES-VR, and The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City that directly connects people with disabilities to prospective employers.</p> <p>For example, Chelsea Dimond is a person with a disability who reached out to NYC: ATWORK after she was previously unsuccessful in finding employment through traditional job-seeking websites. After getting guidance regarding the search and interview process, she was ultimately hired as a Peer Respite Worker by Transitional Services Inc. New York.</p> <p>On NYC: ATWORK’s assistance, Chelsea says: “This program took note of exactly what kind of job I was interested in and made a perfect match for me. This job feels like it was meant to be, and now I’m able to make a difference in the lives of those who have mental illnesses like myself.” Chelsea is only one of many examples of successful placement by NYC: ATWORK. &nbsp;The overall goal of this three-year initiative focuses on connecting 2,100 individuals with disabilities to internships, jobs, and careers in their field of choice.</p> <p>The City’s proactive approach to increasing employment for people with disabilities is rooted in the understanding that a good job and financial security are crucial to personal and professional independence. Before connecting with NYC: ATWORK, Simon Bondar was living with his parents. After working with MOPD on his resume and interview prep, he was hired by UNIQLO as a Sales Associate. With this new line of income, Simon was able to move into a new apartment with his wife.</p> <p>New York’s business community plays a crucial role in hiring more people with disabilities, in turn creating a more inclusive workplace that leverages the diversity of its employees. Through NYC: ATWORK’s Business Development Council, the City has fostered relationships with companies across a variety of sectors including finance, hospitality, transportation, retail, and technology.</p> <p>Additionally, the New York City Council has hired its <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2018/08/18/anastasia-somoza-city-council-liaison-to-disability-community" target="_blank" rel="noopener">first-ever liaison to New Yorkers with disabilities</a>. Together, the de Blasio Administration and Council are dedicated to including disability in conversations about diversity in hiring practices and society at large.</p> <p>Having an employee with a disability can be a catalyst for a cultural shift to a more inclusive workplace. Nondisabled business owners are more likely to think about accessibility and ultimately improve the company for all of its employees and customers alike. These employment opportunities also extend to city government where the <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dcas/employment/55-a-program.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">55-a program</a> has paved the way for qualified people with disabilities to get hired without needing to take a Civil Service exam. By obtaining employment, a person with a disability will therefore not only gain the tools they need to live independently but will also make a positive impact on their employer and the community at large as well.</p> <p>While New York City has made great strides to improve the lives of people with disabilities and many businesses have joined us in hiring members of the disability community, we know this is just the beginning. It is imperative that societal attitudes shift to recognize that disability is an important aspect of a diverse work environment and, indeed, that people with disabilities are productive employees who will positively contribute to a business and the community. All of us must make a conscious effort to recruit, hire, and retain qualified people with disabilities. Only then can we have a truly inclusive society and make New York the most accessible city in the world.</p> <p>***<br /> Victor Calise is the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities. City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/nyccalise" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYCCalise</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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Time for the City to Pay Up 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-21T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8299-time-for-the-city-to-pay-up Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/just-bra-pu.jpg" alt="Justin Brannan" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Justin Brannan, the author (photo: @JustinBrannan)</p> <hr /> <p>Talk is cheap. The city needs to pay up.</p> <p>We have all been impacted by the important work of hundreds of human services providers across the city, many of which are deeply rooted in our communities. These vital non-profit organizations deliver services to New York City’s most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, our children, our grandparents. The clear and powerful impact of this sector makes it easy for politicians to praise the services these non-profits provide — but such talk is cheap if you don’t back it up with action.</p> <p>The uncomfortable truth is that these crucial organizations are very much at risk and in direct harm at the hands of the same government agencies and elected officials who praise them. How so?</p> <p>Human services contracts are registered late by city agencies 94% of the time, forcing organizations to make impossible decisions to bridge massive gaps in their funding. Ninety-four percent!</p> <p>In fact, most city contracts with non-profit human services providers are registered months or even years after these non-profits begin providing the services they cover. While this money is being held up by a broken and opaque contracting system, critical support for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, those living with HIV and AIDS, immigrants, and individuals coping with substance abuse and mental health challenges are put in direct risk.</p> <p>This is shocking and unacceptable.</p> <p>A domestic violence shelter cannot close for months while the city gets its act together. Senior centers can’t stop serving daily meals because of a funding gap due to a late payment from the city. Instead, non-profits are forced to front money, taking on costly loans and lines of credit with high rates of interest that are never reimbursed by the city agencies that held up their money up in the first place.</p> <p>I cannot believe this has somehow become the status quo. It must change.</p> <p>There are real human and financial consequences if a non-profit doesn’t start its services on time. Not to mention the corresponding challenges for those who work providing these crucial services.</p> <p>It is time for those responsible for this crisis to step up. Non-profits have borne the brunt of the city’s delays, putting the financial health of their organizations in jeopardy to ensure communities receive critical services. While no contract should ever force a provider to start delivering services before being paid, at the very least non-profits should not bear the cost! Those interest payments must be the responsibility of those at fault and should be paid, in full, by the city, a requirement that would provide a direct incentive to process contracts on time.</p> <p>It is also important that there is clear public access to data about which city agencies have the longest delays and why contracts are being held up. This information is vital not only to promote accountability but also to seek the needed remedies to this failure.</p> <p>Contracts and the procurement process may not be the sexiest topic in this city of headlines, but it has an exponentially reverberating effect on the city and how it functions. If we allow this to continue, these compounding late payments to the human services sector will only get worse and soon every neighborhood will suffer the consequences.</p> <p>As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, I have heard dozens upon dozens of devastating stories about how organizations are impacted by these unnecessary barriers built around them by the city. Talk is cheap. Action is long overdue – we must act now to address this crisis.</p> <p>***<br /> City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/just-bra-pu.jpg" alt="Justin Brannan" width="600" height="405" /></p> <p>Justin Brannan, the author (photo: @JustinBrannan)</p> <hr /> <p>Talk is cheap. The city needs to pay up.</p> <p>We have all been impacted by the important work of hundreds of human services providers across the city, many of which are deeply rooted in our communities. These vital non-profit organizations deliver services to New York City’s most vulnerable – the poor, the hungry, the homeless, our children, our grandparents. The clear and powerful impact of this sector makes it easy for politicians to praise the services these non-profits provide — but such talk is cheap if you don’t back it up with action.</p> <p>The uncomfortable truth is that these crucial organizations are very much at risk and in direct harm at the hands of the same government agencies and elected officials who praise them. How so?</p> <p>Human services contracts are registered late by city agencies 94% of the time, forcing organizations to make impossible decisions to bridge massive gaps in their funding. Ninety-four percent!</p> <p>In fact, most city contracts with non-profit human services providers are registered months or even years after these non-profits begin providing the services they cover. While this money is being held up by a broken and opaque contracting system, critical support for children, the elderly, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, those living with HIV and AIDS, immigrants, and individuals coping with substance abuse and mental health challenges are put in direct risk.</p> <p>This is shocking and unacceptable.</p> <p>A domestic violence shelter cannot close for months while the city gets its act together. Senior centers can’t stop serving daily meals because of a funding gap due to a late payment from the city. Instead, non-profits are forced to front money, taking on costly loans and lines of credit with high rates of interest that are never reimbursed by the city agencies that held up their money up in the first place.</p> <p>I cannot believe this has somehow become the status quo. It must change.</p> <p>There are real human and financial consequences if a non-profit doesn’t start its services on time. Not to mention the corresponding challenges for those who work providing these crucial services.</p> <p>It is time for those responsible for this crisis to step up. Non-profits have borne the brunt of the city’s delays, putting the financial health of their organizations in jeopardy to ensure communities receive critical services. While no contract should ever force a provider to start delivering services before being paid, at the very least non-profits should not bear the cost! Those interest payments must be the responsibility of those at fault and should be paid, in full, by the city, a requirement that would provide a direct incentive to process contracts on time.</p> <p>It is also important that there is clear public access to data about which city agencies have the longest delays and why contracts are being held up. This information is vital not only to promote accountability but also to seek the needed remedies to this failure.</p> <p>Contracts and the procurement process may not be the sexiest topic in this city of headlines, but it has an exponentially reverberating effect on the city and how it functions. If we allow this to continue, these compounding late payments to the human services sector will only get worse and soon every neighborhood will suffer the consequences.</p> <p>As chair of the City Council’s Committee on Contracts, I have heard dozens upon dozens of devastating stories about how organizations are impacted by these unnecessary barriers built around them by the city. Talk is cheap. Action is long overdue – we must act now to address this crisis.</p> <p>***<br /> City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

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After Parent’s ‘Gut-Wrenching’ Testimony, Next Step in City Council School Bus Reform 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 2019-02-04T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8254-after-parent-s-gut-wrenching-testimony-next-step-in-city-council-school-bus-reform Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-mem-just-brannan-irish.jpg" alt="council mem just brannan irish" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten\City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Sally Kabel was diagnosed with infant leukemia at ten months old, the treatment for which led to seizures, three broken bones, and a weak immune system. She developed epilepsy, and after her third bout of pneumonia she required continuous oxygen support. None of this stopped her from going to school more than complications with her school bus, according to her mother, Nicole Kabel.</p> <p>After missing the first day at Manhattan Star Academy on the Upper West SIde because she was sick, 5-year-old Sally was ready for her own first day. But, her assigned nurse did not show up to accompany her to school. Three days later, Nicole was informed Sally’s nurse had been reassigned, so Sally couldn’t go to school until she had a new nurse. It took two weeks. After persistent, unfruitful calls to the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), a division inside the city’s Department of Education (DOE)<a href="http://www.optnyc.org/schools/information.htm"> responsible</a> for providing transportation by yellow bus and public transit for all students in New York City, Nicole found out Sally’s nurse could not accompany her on the bus, as the bus was only designated for one passenger.</p> <p>Nicole, who has two other children, took Sally to school herself before a bus with a nurse finally showed up. But then there was no car seat for Sally. Nicole tried calling the DOE, but there was no fix. Sally had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a personalized plan for the education of children with special needs, which meant she had her own school bus and a supposed shortened commute time. Finally, the bus matron convinced the bus company to put a car seat on the bus, uncleared by the DOE.</p> <p>“School was her happy place. Psychologically she needed it to stay positive and keep going,” Nicole said during testimony at a City Council hearing of the education committee in October 2018, discussing the many challenges their family faced in trying to get Sally to school at the hearing, which was dedicated to oversight of the Office of Pupil Transportation and a suite of bills to reform it.</p> <p>Throughout the entire 2017-2018 school year Nicole made consistent calls to the DOE and OPT trying to address the long commute time and the lack of car seat. Sally began at a private school that summer, but the summer bussing company would not give her a car seat as it still violated code. Nicole tried to address the issue, but in the absence of a car seat, the nurse was forced to hold up Sally’s head and body to avoid breathing issues while Sally napped.</p> <p>In late August 2018, Nicole attempted multiple times to contact the DOE to again address the incorrect coding and the small nurse staff. Sally didn’t start school on time that year either.</p> <p>“She thrived [at school], whatever pain was happening to her, she forgot about it at school,” Nicole said in an email. “It was her happy place. It breaks my heart she was not able to go to school the first week of September. Her teacher whom she had previously and was going to have again texted me every day hoping busing/nursing issues would be sorted. The school missed her, and she missed them.”</p> <p>On September 15, 2018, four days after her sixth birthday, instead of going to school Sally was brought into the NYU Langone emergency room where she went into septic shock. She died four days later, on September 19.</p> <p>“I spent countless hours and days the last month of our daughter’s life battling to get her back to school where she could be happy. Those are hours wasted that should have been spent with her that we can no longer have back,” said Nicole.</p> <p>Nicole was among the parents and education advocates who testified at the City Council hearing last year, pushing Council members to address problems with the city’s school transportation system, including more transparency from the Department of Education and more efficient bus times.</p> <p>On January 9 of this year, the Council passed a series of bills designed to update the school bussing system of New York City. The package was spearheaded by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos and Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Committee on Education. Legislation dealing with the city’s school bussing system has been kicked around the Council for over 15 years, primarily driven by former Brooklyn Council Member Michael Nelson, who called for tracking capabilities as early as 2005 and two-way radios in buses as early as 2000, but has never made it out of committee.</p> <p>Most notably in this block of bills known as the School Transportation Oversight Package (STOP) is a bill, Intro. 1099, that mandates that each school bus used to transport students to and from school must be equipped with a GPS tracking device and a two-way radio allowing communication with the operator of the school bus. Furthermore, parents must have access to the real-time location of their child’s school bus.</p> <p>(According to the City Council Finance Division, about 6,000 out of the approximate 10,000 school buses used for pupil transportation already have GPS technology compliant with the legislation.)</p> <p>The suite of bills, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to either sign or allow to age into law, also mandates that the DOE must report to the Council twice a year specific information regarding bus transportation duration times, detailed information on complaints about school bus service and ensuing investigations, as well as the number of compliant buses, vendors, and students using the system.</p> <p>The DOE will have to share with parents their student’s bus route, scheduled arrival and departure times, as well as a school bus ridership guide with detailed descriptions of the system and the complaint protocol process. DOE will also be required to share daily if their child’s bus is late arriving or departing their school.</p> <p>The ridership guide is required to be sent to authorized parents and guardians of general education and special education students.</p> <p>The Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation have<a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/news-uncovers-225-cases-school-bus-abuse-article-1.246536"> long</a> been criticized for complications in the complaints process and for leadership turmoil.<a href="https://abc7ny.com/traffic/special-needs-students-stuck-on-school-bus-for-8-hours/4702106/"> Public</a> criticism reached a height this past November when multiple school buses, including students with special needs, were stuck in the snow and could not deliver some students until past midnight. While getting stuck was apparently not the bus company or drivers’ faults, the lack of ability to communicate with parents or for parents to track their children’s whereabouts was frightening and troubling to many, including parents and City Council members.</p> <p>But while the package of bills passed by the Council do a lot, they do not address all of the issues faced by Nicole and Sally Kabel, and other families with similar challenges. A new bill is in the works to more directly address those situations.</p> <p>Nicole said that the doctors at NYU Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital “gave their hearts, they gave their hours, they supported us in every way, shape, and form. And although they could not save her life, I have no anger to them whatsoever.”</p> <p>“I do, in fact, have anger towards the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan, whose Southern Brooklyn district the Kabels live in, said Nicole’s “testimony at that hearing was just gut-wrenching. I knew the story because I had lived it with her but really hearing her lay it all out in front of everybody was really eye-opening and really moving. I wanted to become an elected official for moments like this.”</p> <p>“Most people would think [testifying at the Council] would be an insane thing to do after losing a child but there’s so many things that are out of your control that doing something on things you can control makes me feel better,” Nicole said in a phone interview.</p> <p>The STOP bills most directly address the aspects of Kabel’s testimony dealing with communicating with the Office of Pupil Transportation and lodging complaints against the Department of Education and the OPT. However, the bills don’t really deal with issues related to how parents directly manage Individualized Education Programs and transportation.</p> <p>Brannan told Gotham Gazette that as a direct result of the Kabel family’s ordeal, he is currently writing legislation to address the school bussing system for students with special needs.</p> <p>“I’m a big believer in the constituent marching in the office and saying there should be a law and you doing everything you can do to make a change,” Brannan said in a phone interview.</p> <p>“The idea that came out of her testimony was to find a way so that no other child with additional needs or an IEP has to deal with this type of insanity ever again,” he said.</p> <p>The Council “listened to a lot of families and have given it a lot of thought on how to make the process better,” Kabel said in the interview.</p> <p>Brannan’s planned bill, which is being drafted by the Council’s staff, would require the Department of Education to name specific caseworkers for parents and guardians of children with both an IEP and some type of special needs transportation assistance.</p> <p>“One of the problems Nicole speaks about is she got someone on the phone with a heart and who cared but then was rerouted and had to tell her story again while she should have been playing in the park with her daughter who was dying of cancer,” Brannan said.</p> <p>Furthermore, Council Member Kallos told Kabel at the October hearing that the OPT “may need a position just focused on special education” and a way to enhance “interoperability in the DOE for the different departments and to share information,” both of which could potentially be part of further legislation.</p> <p>“I was so angry about the time I wasted in bureaucracy and the amount I had to do to give her a meaningful life in a world in which a child can go to school and have friends and learn,” Kabel said in the interview.</p> <p>She added she would still like to see the DOE implement a program to assign someone who knows the IEP, is assigned year around, and “makes sure everything is done correctly without putting it back on the parent.”</p> <p>“This is where bureaucratic dysfunction was impacting real lives,” Brannan said. “When your daughter is sick, and her life hangs in the balance then bureaucracy isn’t just frustrating, it’s life affecting.”</p> <p>Brannan’s bill will be introduced in the City Council once Council lawyers finish drafting it. He said he expects it to pass the Council quickly, becoming the next step in efforts to improve both the city’s school transportation system and its services to students with special needs, and where the two meet.</p> <p>“It should not be so hard to send your child to school,” Kabel said.</p> <p>

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-mem-just-brannan-irish.jpg" alt="council mem just brannan irish" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten\City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>Sally Kabel was diagnosed with infant leukemia at ten months old, the treatment for which led to seizures, three broken bones, and a weak immune system. She developed epilepsy, and after her third bout of pneumonia she required continuous oxygen support. None of this stopped her from going to school more than complications with her school bus, according to her mother, Nicole Kabel.</p> <p>After missing the first day at Manhattan Star Academy on the Upper West SIde because she was sick, 5-year-old Sally was ready for her own first day. But, her assigned nurse did not show up to accompany her to school. Three days later, Nicole was informed Sally’s nurse had been reassigned, so Sally couldn’t go to school until she had a new nurse. It took two weeks. After persistent, unfruitful calls to the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), a division inside the city’s Department of Education (DOE)<a href="http://www.optnyc.org/schools/information.htm"> responsible</a> for providing transportation by yellow bus and public transit for all students in New York City, Nicole found out Sally’s nurse could not accompany her on the bus, as the bus was only designated for one passenger.</p> <p>Nicole, who has two other children, took Sally to school herself before a bus with a nurse finally showed up. But then there was no car seat for Sally. Nicole tried calling the DOE, but there was no fix. Sally had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a personalized plan for the education of children with special needs, which meant she had her own school bus and a supposed shortened commute time. Finally, the bus matron convinced the bus company to put a car seat on the bus, uncleared by the DOE.</p> <p>“School was her happy place. Psychologically she needed it to stay positive and keep going,” Nicole said during testimony at a City Council hearing of the education committee in October 2018, discussing the many challenges their family faced in trying to get Sally to school at the hearing, which was dedicated to oversight of the Office of Pupil Transportation and a suite of bills to reform it.</p> <p>Throughout the entire 2017-2018 school year Nicole made consistent calls to the DOE and OPT trying to address the long commute time and the lack of car seat. Sally began at a private school that summer, but the summer bussing company would not give her a car seat as it still violated code. Nicole tried to address the issue, but in the absence of a car seat, the nurse was forced to hold up Sally’s head and body to avoid breathing issues while Sally napped.</p> <p>In late August 2018, Nicole attempted multiple times to contact the DOE to again address the incorrect coding and the small nurse staff. Sally didn’t start school on time that year either.</p> <p>“She thrived [at school], whatever pain was happening to her, she forgot about it at school,” Nicole said in an email. “It was her happy place. It breaks my heart she was not able to go to school the first week of September. Her teacher whom she had previously and was going to have again texted me every day hoping busing/nursing issues would be sorted. The school missed her, and she missed them.”</p> <p>On September 15, 2018, four days after her sixth birthday, instead of going to school Sally was brought into the NYU Langone emergency room where she went into septic shock. She died four days later, on September 19.</p> <p>“I spent countless hours and days the last month of our daughter’s life battling to get her back to school where she could be happy. Those are hours wasted that should have been spent with her that we can no longer have back,” said Nicole.</p> <p>Nicole was among the parents and education advocates who testified at the City Council hearing last year, pushing Council members to address problems with the city’s school transportation system, including more transparency from the Department of Education and more efficient bus times.</p> <p>On January 9 of this year, the Council passed a series of bills designed to update the school bussing system of New York City. The package was spearheaded by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos and Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Committee on Education. Legislation dealing with the city’s school bussing system has been kicked around the Council for over 15 years, primarily driven by former Brooklyn Council Member Michael Nelson, who called for tracking capabilities as early as 2005 and two-way radios in buses as early as 2000, but has never made it out of committee.</p> <p>Most notably in this block of bills known as the School Transportation Oversight Package (STOP) is a bill, Intro. 1099, that mandates that each school bus used to transport students to and from school must be equipped with a GPS tracking device and a two-way radio allowing communication with the operator of the school bus. Furthermore, parents must have access to the real-time location of their child’s school bus.</p> <p>(According to the City Council Finance Division, about 6,000 out of the approximate 10,000 school buses used for pupil transportation already have GPS technology compliant with the legislation.)</p> <p>The suite of bills, which Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to either sign or allow to age into law, also mandates that the DOE must report to the Council twice a year specific information regarding bus transportation duration times, detailed information on complaints about school bus service and ensuing investigations, as well as the number of compliant buses, vendors, and students using the system.</p> <p>The DOE will have to share with parents their student’s bus route, scheduled arrival and departure times, as well as a school bus ridership guide with detailed descriptions of the system and the complaint protocol process. DOE will also be required to share daily if their child’s bus is late arriving or departing their school.</p> <p>The ridership guide is required to be sent to authorized parents and guardians of general education and special education students.</p> <p>The Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation have<a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/news-uncovers-225-cases-school-bus-abuse-article-1.246536"> long</a> been criticized for complications in the complaints process and for leadership turmoil.<a href="https://abc7ny.com/traffic/special-needs-students-stuck-on-school-bus-for-8-hours/4702106/"> Public</a> criticism reached a height this past November when multiple school buses, including students with special needs, were stuck in the snow and could not deliver some students until past midnight. While getting stuck was apparently not the bus company or drivers’ faults, the lack of ability to communicate with parents or for parents to track their children’s whereabouts was frightening and troubling to many, including parents and City Council members.</p> <p>But while the package of bills passed by the Council do a lot, they do not address all of the issues faced by Nicole and Sally Kabel, and other families with similar challenges. A new bill is in the works to more directly address those situations.</p> <p>Nicole said that the doctors at NYU Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital “gave their hearts, they gave their hours, they supported us in every way, shape, and form. And although they could not save her life, I have no anger to them whatsoever.”</p> <p>“I do, in fact, have anger towards the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation,” she said.</p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan, whose Southern Brooklyn district the Kabels live in, said Nicole’s “testimony at that hearing was just gut-wrenching. I knew the story because I had lived it with her but really hearing her lay it all out in front of everybody was really eye-opening and really moving. I wanted to become an elected official for moments like this.”</p> <p>“Most people would think [testifying at the Council] would be an insane thing to do after losing a child but there’s so many things that are out of your control that doing something on things you can control makes me feel better,” Nicole said in a phone interview.</p> <p>The STOP bills most directly address the aspects of Kabel’s testimony dealing with communicating with the Office of Pupil Transportation and lodging complaints against the Department of Education and the OPT. However, the bills don’t really deal with issues related to how parents directly manage Individualized Education Programs and transportation.</p> <p>Brannan told Gotham Gazette that as a direct result of the Kabel family’s ordeal, he is currently writing legislation to address the school bussing system for students with special needs.</p> <p>“I’m a big believer in the constituent marching in the office and saying there should be a law and you doing everything you can do to make a change,” Brannan said in a phone interview.</p> <p>“The idea that came out of her testimony was to find a way so that no other child with additional needs or an IEP has to deal with this type of insanity ever again,” he said.</p> <p>The Council “listened to a lot of families and have given it a lot of thought on how to make the process better,” Kabel said in the interview.</p> <p>Brannan’s planned bill, which is being drafted by the Council’s staff, would require the Department of Education to name specific caseworkers for parents and guardians of children with both an IEP and some type of special needs transportation assistance.</p> <p>“One of the problems Nicole speaks about is she got someone on the phone with a heart and who cared but then was rerouted and had to tell her story again while she should have been playing in the park with her daughter who was dying of cancer,” Brannan said.</p> <p>Furthermore, Council Member Kallos told Kabel at the October hearing that the OPT “may need a position just focused on special education” and a way to enhance “interoperability in the DOE for the different departments and to share information,” both of which could potentially be part of further legislation.</p> <p>“I was so angry about the time I wasted in bureaucracy and the amount I had to do to give her a meaningful life in a world in which a child can go to school and have friends and learn,” Kabel said in the interview.</p> <p>She added she would still like to see the DOE implement a program to assign someone who knows the IEP, is assigned year around, and “makes sure everything is done correctly without putting it back on the parent.”</p> <p>“This is where bureaucratic dysfunction was impacting real lives,” Brannan said. “When your daughter is sick, and her life hangs in the balance then bureaucracy isn’t just frustrating, it’s life affecting.”</p> <p>Brannan’s bill will be introduced in the City Council once Council lawyers finish drafting it. He said he expects it to pass the Council quickly, becoming the next step in efforts to improve both the city’s school transportation system and its services to students with special needs, and where the two meet.</p> <p>“It should not be so hard to send your child to school,” Kabel said.</p> <p>

***
by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Brooklyn Girl Scouts Find City Isn’t Fully Implementing Menstrual Equity Law 2018-12-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-28T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8163-brooklyn-girl-scouts-find-city-isn-t-implementing-menstrual-equity-law-seek-redress Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/28293188955_14ffba99a8_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio menstrual equity" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio signs menstrual equity laws (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When a few Brooklyn Girl Scouts realized their middle school had no sanitary bins to dispose of menstrual products in the bathroom stalls, they sprung to action.</p> <p>Putting their demands into a petition, they garnered 32 signatures from students during morning recess and presented the list to their principal. Before, girls had to throw away their wadded up menstrual products in a trash can outside of the restroom. After presenting the petition, however, their principal installed new sanitary bins, according to the girls.</p> <p>“Girls didn’t feel comfortable coming to school on their period because there was no safe or secretive way to dispose of it,” said Arushi Kher, 14, of Bay Ridge.</p> <p>“We realized this isn’t something that’s very hard to put into action,” added Skyler Kim-Schellinger, 14, of Park Slope. “It’s just that people aren’t realizing that it’s a problem.”</p> <p>Over the next two years, these Girl Scouts of Troop 2653 focused on menstrual equity – or the accessibility of menstrual products and a fair surrounding culture – for their Silver Award, a Girl Scouts award promoting community service. They launched an investigation including public middle schools in school districts 15 and 20, which collectively cover neighborhoods in Brooklyn’s upper west and southwest corners, including Boerum Hill, Park Slope, and Bay Ridge. They found that only 18 percent of these schools met the standards of providing both sanitary bins in each stall and free menstrual products in the bathroom, the latter of which was mandated by a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6375-de-blasio-administration-backs-council-push-for-increased-tampon-access" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2016 package of city laws aimed at menstrual equity.</a></p> <p>To collect data on the public schools’ restrooms, Kher and Kim-Schellinger, along with a few other Girl Scouts who later dropped out of the project, called, emailed, and – when those two methods produced little – physically went to the schools. After contacting Department of Education Director of School Facilities of North Brooklyn Joseph Lazarus, they were also accompanied by Deputy Director Alea Stormer in their search.</p> <p>Although some schools did not answer their requests, they found that most schools they were able to investigate failed to meet one or both of their standards. Five schools also had menstrual product dispensers that charged money, despite the city law stipulating that these products would be free. Kher and Kim-Schellinger presented their efforts to ensure that local schools were both following the law and meeting other important needs of young women during a December interview at the district office of City Council Member Justin Brannan, who helped connect the Girl Scouts with journalists when he learned of their findings and wanted to bring attention to the problems they identified.</p> <p>After a September meeting with DOE officials from the Brooklyn North Field Support Center, officials said they would follow up with the schools in the district, according to the girls. One way the DOE officials said they could provide more oversight, the girls said, is by adding a section about feminine hygiene protocol to the schools’ janitors’ checklist.</p> <p>“Every building with a middle or high school has dispensers, receptacles and sanitary product, as well as allocation in their custodial budget for supplying and re-stocking," said Department of Education spokesperson Miranda Barbot, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "We have followed up with all of the schools in these districts to ensure they have the resources they need, and thank the Girl Scouts for their advocacy and partnership in the work.”</p> <p>It’s unclear if all the schools have been brought up to compliance with the law or with the girls’ dual standards, which Gotham Gazette asked the DOE about. It's also unclear whether there are major gaps in implementation at other schools around the city.</p> <p>The girls’ project comes at a time when menstrual equity is having an important extended moment in the national, even international, spotlight. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/03/25/564580736/more-states-move-to-end-tampon-tax-that-s-seen-as-discriminating-against-women" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Multiple states have moved to eliminate</a> a controversial “tampon tax,” the sales tax often attached to feminine hygiene products despite the fact that other ‘basic-necessity’ products are exempted. The state of New York ended its tampon tax in 2016.</p> <p>Just before the state ended its tampon tax, New York City enacted its package of menstrual equity legislation, which officially passed after Kher and Kim-Schellinger’s initial middle school petition. The legislation, spearheaded by then-City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, required certain public facilities, including public schools, homeless shelters, and jails, to provide free feminine hygiene products to students and residents. Earlier this year, New York State also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-reminds-schools-new-law-requiring-school-districts-provide-free-feminine-hygiene" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed a law</a> mandating public schools to provide free menstrual products in restrooms.</p> <p>“When New York City passed the historic law to ensure all public school students had access to free tampons and pads two years ago, we celebrated. But what's the point of fighting to pass laws if they ultimately aren't being implemented or enforced?” said Brannan, a first-term Democrat who represents souther Brooklyn’s 43rd Council District, in an emailed statement. “I applaud the Girl Scouts for doing this important investigative work which will force the DOE to finally comply with the law. We adults can all learn a lesson from their example.”</p> <p>Kher and Kim-Schellinger officially received their Silver Award from the Girl Scouts in October, after the completion of their two-year menstrual equity project, although the effects of their work are just beginning to be felt.</p> <p>“I know in my eighth grade year, some girls were talking about getting their periods and how it sucks to have cramps and whatever,” Kher said. “But, then I just remember someone saying, ‘But, we have those bins which is really nice. No guy ever has to see us throw out our pads.’ And I was like, ‘That was me.’”</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>This story has been updated with comment from the DOE, provided shortly after the story first published.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/28293188955_14ffba99a8_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio menstrual equity" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio signs menstrual equity laws (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When a few Brooklyn Girl Scouts realized their middle school had no sanitary bins to dispose of menstrual products in the bathroom stalls, they sprung to action.</p> <p>Putting their demands into a petition, they garnered 32 signatures from students during morning recess and presented the list to their principal. Before, girls had to throw away their wadded up menstrual products in a trash can outside of the restroom. After presenting the petition, however, their principal installed new sanitary bins, according to the girls.</p> <p>“Girls didn’t feel comfortable coming to school on their period because there was no safe or secretive way to dispose of it,” said Arushi Kher, 14, of Bay Ridge.</p> <p>“We realized this isn’t something that’s very hard to put into action,” added Skyler Kim-Schellinger, 14, of Park Slope. “It’s just that people aren’t realizing that it’s a problem.”</p> <p>Over the next two years, these Girl Scouts of Troop 2653 focused on menstrual equity – or the accessibility of menstrual products and a fair surrounding culture – for their Silver Award, a Girl Scouts award promoting community service. They launched an investigation including public middle schools in school districts 15 and 20, which collectively cover neighborhoods in Brooklyn’s upper west and southwest corners, including Boerum Hill, Park Slope, and Bay Ridge. They found that only 18 percent of these schools met the standards of providing both sanitary bins in each stall and free menstrual products in the bathroom, the latter of which was mandated by a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6375-de-blasio-administration-backs-council-push-for-increased-tampon-access" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2016 package of city laws aimed at menstrual equity.</a></p> <p>To collect data on the public schools’ restrooms, Kher and Kim-Schellinger, along with a few other Girl Scouts who later dropped out of the project, called, emailed, and – when those two methods produced little – physically went to the schools. After contacting Department of Education Director of School Facilities of North Brooklyn Joseph Lazarus, they were also accompanied by Deputy Director Alea Stormer in their search.</p> <p>Although some schools did not answer their requests, they found that most schools they were able to investigate failed to meet one or both of their standards. Five schools also had menstrual product dispensers that charged money, despite the city law stipulating that these products would be free. Kher and Kim-Schellinger presented their efforts to ensure that local schools were both following the law and meeting other important needs of young women during a December interview at the district office of City Council Member Justin Brannan, who helped connect the Girl Scouts with journalists when he learned of their findings and wanted to bring attention to the problems they identified.</p> <p>After a September meeting with DOE officials from the Brooklyn North Field Support Center, officials said they would follow up with the schools in the district, according to the girls. One way the DOE officials said they could provide more oversight, the girls said, is by adding a section about feminine hygiene protocol to the schools’ janitors’ checklist.</p> <p>“Every building with a middle or high school has dispensers, receptacles and sanitary product, as well as allocation in their custodial budget for supplying and re-stocking," said Department of Education spokesperson Miranda Barbot, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "We have followed up with all of the schools in these districts to ensure they have the resources they need, and thank the Girl Scouts for their advocacy and partnership in the work.”</p> <p>It’s unclear if all the schools have been brought up to compliance with the law or with the girls’ dual standards, which Gotham Gazette asked the DOE about. It's also unclear whether there are major gaps in implementation at other schools around the city.</p> <p>The girls’ project comes at a time when menstrual equity is having an important extended moment in the national, even international, spotlight. <a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/03/25/564580736/more-states-move-to-end-tampon-tax-that-s-seen-as-discriminating-against-women" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Multiple states have moved to eliminate</a> a controversial “tampon tax,” the sales tax often attached to feminine hygiene products despite the fact that other ‘basic-necessity’ products are exempted. The state of New York ended its tampon tax in 2016.</p> <p>Just before the state ended its tampon tax, New York City enacted its package of menstrual equity legislation, which officially passed after Kher and Kim-Schellinger’s initial middle school petition. The legislation, spearheaded by then-City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, required certain public facilities, including public schools, homeless shelters, and jails, to provide free feminine hygiene products to students and residents. Earlier this year, New York State also <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-reminds-schools-new-law-requiring-school-districts-provide-free-feminine-hygiene" target="_blank" rel="noopener">passed a law</a> mandating public schools to provide free menstrual products in restrooms.</p> <p>“When New York City passed the historic law to ensure all public school students had access to free tampons and pads two years ago, we celebrated. But what's the point of fighting to pass laws if they ultimately aren't being implemented or enforced?” said Brannan, a first-term Democrat who represents souther Brooklyn’s 43rd Council District, in an emailed statement. “I applaud the Girl Scouts for doing this important investigative work which will force the DOE to finally comply with the law. We adults can all learn a lesson from their example.”</p> <p>Kher and Kim-Schellinger officially received their Silver Award from the Girl Scouts in October, after the completion of their two-year menstrual equity project, although the effects of their work are just beginning to be felt.</p> <p>“I know in my eighth grade year, some girls were talking about getting their periods and how it sucks to have cramps and whatever,” Kher said. “But, then I just remember someone saying, ‘But, we have those bins which is really nice. No guy ever has to see us throw out our pads.’ And I was like, ‘That was me.’”</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>This story has been updated with comment from the DOE, provided shortly after the story first published.</p>
Without Chair, Council Committee Hears Bills Aimed to Help Discharged Military Veterans 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 2018-11-29T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8106-without-chair-council-committee-hears-bills-aimed-to-help-discharged-military-veterans Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/45051878725_27fd651644_z.jpg" alt="Council Member Chaim Deutsch" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Deutsch (photo:&nbsp;Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill that would require the New York City Department of Veterans Services to help veterans discharged from the military solely for their LGBTQ status to upgrade or change the narrative of their discharge status and “extend all city benefits and services” to them was introduced to the City Council’s Committee on Veterans at a hearing on Monday.</p> <p>Introduced alongside it was a bill that would require DVS to create a unit to assist veterans with discharge characterization upgrades and offer legal advice for those pursuing meritorious appeals. Almost all of the activists, city officials, and other members of the veterans community who attended the meeting supported the sentiment of the bills — but almost none of them supported them as written.</p> <p>Other than retiring, most people leave military service through the discharge process. When a veteran is first discharged, they can be given one of five statuses: honorable, general, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable. Discharge status is given at the discretion of the commanding officer. A less than honorable discharge, often referred to as a ‘bad paper discharge,’ can be given for any number of reasons — including being injured or ill — and results in a veteran being disqualified for certain federal Veterans Affairs benefits.</p> <p>President of the American Veterans for Equal Rights’ New York Chapter Denny Meyer stated in his testimony that between World War II and the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 100,000 LGBTQ American soldiers were less than honorably discharged for being gay. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, another 14,000 were involuntarily discharged for the same reason, and although most of these veterans received honorable discharge paperwork, the narrative of the paperwork listed their homosexuality as the reason for being discharged.</p> <p>The bill related to LGBTQ discharge and reparations, Intro. 479, was proposed by Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Democrat from Queens and chair of the Council’s LGBT Caucus. The bill would seek to address discriminatory practices by requiring the city’s DVS to offer assistance to those less than honorably discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity in upgrading their status or changing the narrative of that discharge.</p> <p>This effort complements Intro. 1218, a bill sponsored by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, the chair of the Council’s veterans services committee, which would require DVS to create a unit with the sole purpose of giving legal advice to any veteran seeking discharge upgrades. <br />Deutsch did not chair the hearing on the bills, despite not only being the committee chair but also having one of his own bills on the docket. A conservative Democrat from Brooklyn, Deutsch did not provide an on-the-record explanation of his absence from the hearing despite repeated inquiries by Gotham Gazette. The City Council speaker’s office did not provide comment for this article when asked. Council Member Dromm’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Deutsch’s absence. It is rare that a Council committee will hold a hearing without the chair.</p> <p>The hearing was chaired by Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat and member of the committee. Council Members Dromm and Alan Maisel, another member of the committee, were also in attendance at the beginning of the hearing, though Dromm left for state Senator Jose Peralta’s wake shortly after discussing his bill, with Maisel leaving not long after as well. Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a committee member, came for a short time later in the meeting, leaving after asking a few questions concerning the logistics of discharge statuses. The only other member of the veterans committee, Council Member Paul Vallone, was not present at all.</p> <p>Testimony on the two bills was first given by DVS Commissioner Loree Sutton, who in part responded to Dromm’s discussion of his bill.</p> <p>During the testimony, Sutton brought up two major issues with the bills that would be echoed throughout the hearing by advocates.</p> <p>First, although the language of Dromm’s Intro. 479 implies that some city benefits depend on discharge status, this is not the case, according to Sutton.</p> <p>“Discharge status and LGBTQ status are not identifiers used to screen out applicants for city resources,” Sutton said.</p> <p>The bill states: “A veteran with any discharge status less than honorable, for example, cannot access the full range of benefits offered by the VA and, often, are denied benefits by the state and local veterans affairs bodies as well.”</p> <p>Dromm said that part of the intention of the bill was to codify LGBTQ veterans’ rights into law. Mentioning how the Trump administration has set back LGBTQ rights, he said that this bill would prevent a similar occurrence at the city level.</p> <p>“One of the reasons why we put this legislation forward is because while we recognize Mayor de Blasio's commitment to LGBT rights and [Sutton’s] personal involvement in it as well, we don’t know what the next mayor’s going to bring,” Dromm said. “We’ve seen an administration in Washington D.C. that is already attempting to take away our rights and God forbid something like that should happen here in New York City, and all the work that either [Sutton has] done or the Council has done could be lost if in fact we don’t codify it.”</p> <p>When it came to the bill proposed by Deutsch, Sutton and others mentioned that it would have DVS provide a service already provided by non-profits, some of which had representatives at the hearing. The service of providing legal advice and guidance in regards to discharge status upgrades is somewhat specialized and requires intricate knowledge of the legal system, according to Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project Coco Culhane, whose non-profit provides said legal advice.</p> <p>“We do not believe that a unit within DVS would be an efficient use of city funds or city employees’ time,” Culhane said, going on to note that DVS was not originally intended to be a service-based agency, and so should not be advising veterans even if it had the legal expertise. The original mission of the still-new agency is to educate veterans about the services they are applicable for, largely federal, and help connect them with the resources they need.</p> <p>Sutton agreed with this sentiment.</p> <p>“DVS is not a subject-matter expert on evaluating the legitimacy of discharge upgrade claims,” Sutton said. “This bill would require that DVS provide what is actually legal advice and counselling, which is beyond its capacity and is inappropriate because city agencies do not provide direct legal counsel to members of the state.”</p> <p>Systems DVS already has in place to assist veterans seeking discharge upgrades mainly rely on reaching out to attorneys for their advice, and helping link veterans to appropriate legal services. <a href="https://vetconnectnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">VetConnect</a>, an online website that seeks to connect veterans with services they need, is also part of these efforts.</p> <p>Ashton Stewart, coordinator with SAGE Vets Program, an LGBT veterans advocacy group created for the purpose of helping veterans who had been less-than-honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, supported the legislation.</p> <p>“SAGE wholeheartedly supports the discharge characterization upgrade assistance legislation.” Stewart said. “We believe that taking this step will bring profile to the important issue of LGBT service members wrongfully discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.”</p> <p>Vadim Panasyuk, Senior Veteran Transition Manager at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, added to the concerns about the bills, saying that if DVS were to provide legal advice concerning discharge upgrades it may complicate things for veterans and nonprofits.</p> <p>“There are already processes in the nonprofit sector that will help veterans upgrade their discharge status free of charge,” Panasyuk said. “IAVA is concerned that passage of these bills could create confusion among the nonprofit and veterans community. DVS may be better served to complement these existing services rather than competing or duplicating them.”</p> <p>The larger problem, according to both Culhane and Kent Eiler, Project Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, is the lack of qualified lawyers in the field of veteran law.</p> <p>“The demand for able, experienced accredited representatives is vastly outstripped by the demand of veterans who need assistance,” Eiler said.</p> <p>According to Sutton, so far in 2018, 105 veterans contacted DVS about discharge status. However, both Eiler and Culhane expressed that this number is not representative of the actual need. Eiler mentioned that those who come to the City Bar Justice Center are often put on an eight- to ten-month waiting list, while Culhane said that the Veteran Advocacy Project has had as many as 650 veterans waiting at a time just for the non-profit to investigate the merit of their case. Culhane said in just under two years, 500 veterans had contacted her association seeking assistance with a discharge upgrade.</p> <p>With only two members of the Council remaining by the time the last panel of activists testified, Brannan brought the meeting to a close, with the fate of the bills unclear -- they can be voted on by the committee at a future meeting, amended and reheard by the committee, or laid over indefinitely.</p> <p>Meyer, who was the last to give testimony, representing the American Veterans for Equal RIghts’ New York Chapter, expressed that having heard the testimony given at the meeting, his thoughts on the bills had changed. However, his feeling that LGBTQ veterans needed to be repaid for their service even in light of unjust treatment, remained.</p> <p>“Someone is going to have to decide who is going to help them, who is going to rectify this, it’s as simple as that,” Meyer said.</p> <p>

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/45051878725_27fd651644_z.jpg" alt="Council Member Chaim Deutsch" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Deutsch (photo:&nbsp;Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill that would require the New York City Department of Veterans Services to help veterans discharged from the military solely for their LGBTQ status to upgrade or change the narrative of their discharge status and “extend all city benefits and services” to them was introduced to the City Council’s Committee on Veterans at a hearing on Monday.</p> <p>Introduced alongside it was a bill that would require DVS to create a unit to assist veterans with discharge characterization upgrades and offer legal advice for those pursuing meritorious appeals. Almost all of the activists, city officials, and other members of the veterans community who attended the meeting supported the sentiment of the bills — but almost none of them supported them as written.</p> <p>Other than retiring, most people leave military service through the discharge process. When a veteran is first discharged, they can be given one of five statuses: honorable, general, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable. Discharge status is given at the discretion of the commanding officer. A less than honorable discharge, often referred to as a ‘bad paper discharge,’ can be given for any number of reasons — including being injured or ill — and results in a veteran being disqualified for certain federal Veterans Affairs benefits.</p> <p>President of the American Veterans for Equal Rights’ New York Chapter Denny Meyer stated in his testimony that between World War II and the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 100,000 LGBTQ American soldiers were less than honorably discharged for being gay. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, another 14,000 were involuntarily discharged for the same reason, and although most of these veterans received honorable discharge paperwork, the narrative of the paperwork listed their homosexuality as the reason for being discharged.</p> <p>The bill related to LGBTQ discharge and reparations, Intro. 479, was proposed by Council Member Daniel Dromm, a Democrat from Queens and chair of the Council’s LGBT Caucus. The bill would seek to address discriminatory practices by requiring the city’s DVS to offer assistance to those less than honorably discharged solely for their sexual orientation or gender identity in upgrading their status or changing the narrative of that discharge.</p> <p>This effort complements Intro. 1218, a bill sponsored by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, the chair of the Council’s veterans services committee, which would require DVS to create a unit with the sole purpose of giving legal advice to any veteran seeking discharge upgrades. <br />Deutsch did not chair the hearing on the bills, despite not only being the committee chair but also having one of his own bills on the docket. A conservative Democrat from Brooklyn, Deutsch did not provide an on-the-record explanation of his absence from the hearing despite repeated inquiries by Gotham Gazette. The City Council speaker’s office did not provide comment for this article when asked. Council Member Dromm’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about Deutsch’s absence. It is rare that a Council committee will hold a hearing without the chair.</p> <p>The hearing was chaired by Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat and member of the committee. Council Members Dromm and Alan Maisel, another member of the committee, were also in attendance at the beginning of the hearing, though Dromm left for state Senator Jose Peralta’s wake shortly after discussing his bill, with Maisel leaving not long after as well. Council Member Mathieu Eugene, a committee member, came for a short time later in the meeting, leaving after asking a few questions concerning the logistics of discharge statuses. The only other member of the veterans committee, Council Member Paul Vallone, was not present at all.</p> <p>Testimony on the two bills was first given by DVS Commissioner Loree Sutton, who in part responded to Dromm’s discussion of his bill.</p> <p>During the testimony, Sutton brought up two major issues with the bills that would be echoed throughout the hearing by advocates.</p> <p>First, although the language of Dromm’s Intro. 479 implies that some city benefits depend on discharge status, this is not the case, according to Sutton.</p> <p>“Discharge status and LGBTQ status are not identifiers used to screen out applicants for city resources,” Sutton said.</p> <p>The bill states: “A veteran with any discharge status less than honorable, for example, cannot access the full range of benefits offered by the VA and, often, are denied benefits by the state and local veterans affairs bodies as well.”</p> <p>Dromm said that part of the intention of the bill was to codify LGBTQ veterans’ rights into law. Mentioning how the Trump administration has set back LGBTQ rights, he said that this bill would prevent a similar occurrence at the city level.</p> <p>“One of the reasons why we put this legislation forward is because while we recognize Mayor de Blasio's commitment to LGBT rights and [Sutton’s] personal involvement in it as well, we don’t know what the next mayor’s going to bring,” Dromm said. “We’ve seen an administration in Washington D.C. that is already attempting to take away our rights and God forbid something like that should happen here in New York City, and all the work that either [Sutton has] done or the Council has done could be lost if in fact we don’t codify it.”</p> <p>When it came to the bill proposed by Deutsch, Sutton and others mentioned that it would have DVS provide a service already provided by non-profits, some of which had representatives at the hearing. The service of providing legal advice and guidance in regards to discharge status upgrades is somewhat specialized and requires intricate knowledge of the legal system, according to Director of the Veteran Advocacy Project Coco Culhane, whose non-profit provides said legal advice.</p> <p>“We do not believe that a unit within DVS would be an efficient use of city funds or city employees’ time,” Culhane said, going on to note that DVS was not originally intended to be a service-based agency, and so should not be advising veterans even if it had the legal expertise. The original mission of the still-new agency is to educate veterans about the services they are applicable for, largely federal, and help connect them with the resources they need.</p> <p>Sutton agreed with this sentiment.</p> <p>“DVS is not a subject-matter expert on evaluating the legitimacy of discharge upgrade claims,” Sutton said. “This bill would require that DVS provide what is actually legal advice and counselling, which is beyond its capacity and is inappropriate because city agencies do not provide direct legal counsel to members of the state.”</p> <p>Systems DVS already has in place to assist veterans seeking discharge upgrades mainly rely on reaching out to attorneys for their advice, and helping link veterans to appropriate legal services. <a href="https://vetconnectnyc.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">VetConnect</a>, an online website that seeks to connect veterans with services they need, is also part of these efforts.</p> <p>Ashton Stewart, coordinator with SAGE Vets Program, an LGBT veterans advocacy group created for the purpose of helping veterans who had been less-than-honorably discharged due to their sexual orientation, supported the legislation.</p> <p>“SAGE wholeheartedly supports the discharge characterization upgrade assistance legislation.” Stewart said. “We believe that taking this step will bring profile to the important issue of LGBT service members wrongfully discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.”</p> <p>Vadim Panasyuk, Senior Veteran Transition Manager at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, added to the concerns about the bills, saying that if DVS were to provide legal advice concerning discharge upgrades it may complicate things for veterans and nonprofits.</p> <p>“There are already processes in the nonprofit sector that will help veterans upgrade their discharge status free of charge,” Panasyuk said. “IAVA is concerned that passage of these bills could create confusion among the nonprofit and veterans community. DVS may be better served to complement these existing services rather than competing or duplicating them.”</p> <p>The larger problem, according to both Culhane and Kent Eiler, Project Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project, is the lack of qualified lawyers in the field of veteran law.</p> <p>“The demand for able, experienced accredited representatives is vastly outstripped by the demand of veterans who need assistance,” Eiler said.</p> <p>According to Sutton, so far in 2018, 105 veterans contacted DVS about discharge status. However, both Eiler and Culhane expressed that this number is not representative of the actual need. Eiler mentioned that those who come to the City Bar Justice Center are often put on an eight- to ten-month waiting list, while Culhane said that the Veteran Advocacy Project has had as many as 650 veterans waiting at a time just for the non-profit to investigate the merit of their case. Culhane said in just under two years, 500 veterans had contacted her association seeking assistance with a discharge upgrade.</p> <p>With only two members of the Council remaining by the time the last panel of activists testified, Brannan brought the meeting to a close, with the fate of the bills unclear -- they can be voted on by the committee at a future meeting, amended and reheard by the committee, or laid over indefinitely.</p> <p>Meyer, who was the last to give testimony, representing the American Veterans for Equal RIghts’ New York Chapter, expressed that having heard the testimony given at the meeting, his thoughts on the bills had changed. However, his feeling that LGBTQ veterans needed to be repaid for their service even in light of unjust treatment, remained.</p> <p>“Someone is going to have to decide who is going to help them, who is going to rectify this, it’s as simple as that,” Meyer said.</p> <p>

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Fostering Feeder Schools Will Improve Diversity at the Specialized High Schools 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7841-fostering-feeder-schools-to-improve-diversity-at-the-specialized-high-schools Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41541458224_4763c6f367_z.jpg" alt="students" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>students (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The public education system in New York City remains one of the most segregated and unequally resourced school systems in the country, reflective of segregation and inequality in other areas of our civic life.</p> <p>That segregation is starkly obvious in our specialized high schools. In a city where two out of three public high school students are black or Latino, it is unacceptable that they comprise only 10% of the student body across all eight of our elite high schools.<br /> <br />Much has been made recently of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, from the admissions process. The plan is to replace it with a more holistic assessment of achievement based on students’ classroom grades, scores on state standardized English and math tests, and potentially other criteria yet to be determined. But the lack of diversity in our specialized high schools is not a function of the admissions process alone.<br /> <br />The city’s specialized high schools <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/06/02/mayor-bill-de-blasio-new-york-city-will-push-for-admissions-changes-at-elite-and-segregated-specialized-high-schools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">draw from just 21</a> of the nearly 600 public middle schools citywide. The two Brooklyn City Council districts that we represent factor into this discussion in important ways, and help us draw a path toward improvements to our school system and more diversity at our elite high schools.<br /> <br />Three of these 21 feeder schools are located in the city’s 43rd City Council District in south Brooklyn, with nearly a quarter of all students admitted to specialized high schools coming from School Districts 20, 21, and 22. The schools in these communities are exceptionally diverse, with a majority of students coming from first and second generation immigrant families -- white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike.<br /> <br />District 16 in central Brooklyn, where schools are 77 percent black and 18.5 percent Hispanic, is a different story. There is not one feeder middle school in District 16, which decades ago had enhanced academics that sent hundreds of students of color to the specialized schools. In fact, until 2015, District 16 schools did not offer the advanced level courses and programming known as “gifted and talented.”<br /> <br />It took pressure from local elected officials forced the Department of Education to provide many majority-minority school districts access to the kind of enhanced academics that provide a pathway to the specialized schools. Despite representing over two-thirds of our public school population, black and Latino students make up <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/03/31/with-diversity-still-dismal-at-specialized-schools-new-york-city-officials-and-parents-shift-focus-to-gifted-programs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only 27% of those enrolled</a> in gifted and talented programs. But even now, the enhanced academics are poorly resourced.<br /> <br />To be sure, improving the admissions process to ensure greater diversity in our specialized high schools is critically important. Expanding access to a great education for minority communities already facing obstacles to their achievement is necessary if we are going to provide equality of opportunity for all New Yorkers.<br /> <br />High-stakes, standardized tests like the SHSAT are poor indicators of students’ potential for success. However, the test is not in itself the problem, and need not be eliminated in order to increase opportunity and diversity. But even with additional methods of assessment, the reality of unequal resources and underinvestment in certain schools would mean improving diversity at our elite high schools will still be a significant challenge.<br /> <br />When you consider that <a href="https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/media/users/sg158/PDFs/Pathways_to_elite_education/PathwaystoAnEliteEducation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearly 60% of the middle schools</a> that sent students to specialized high schools were in districts that had gifted and talented schools that required a test for admission, it is evident how decades of unequal investment in enrichment for students of color might be the most significant contributing factor to the city’s problem of diversity in specialized high schools.<br /> <br />Barring state intervention, the students who receive a qualifying score on the SHSAT will continue to be those who have access to test prep and other educational enrichment that most black and Latino students do not.<br /> <br />Today, the National Society of Black Engineers offers test prep to youngsters in District 16 schools to prepare them for tests like the SHSAT. This programming should be expanded, not just to succeed on a test, but to teach how to succeed in life. We must give students enriching experiences that make them connect with learning and foster critical thought and engagement. And we have to do more to create parent awareness and interest in gifted and talented programming.<br /> <br />But it is not enough simply to offer gifted and talented programs and call it a day. The programming provided must be adequately resourced and targeted at the students who are currently underrepresented.<br /> <br />Our colleagues in the City Council agree that the city must restore the funding for enhanced academics in black and Latino communities. As recently as 1989, Brooklyn Tech, for example, was 51 percent black and Latino. As enhanced academics for high-potential students was eliminated in those communities, the percentages of students of color decreased to the point we are at today. We know students, whether in southern or central Brooklyn, can compete successfully if given the resources. They have done it before. They can do it again.<br /> <br />Ending the SHSAT without providing adequate funding and a commitment to educating all students equitably will do nothing to adequately resolve the lack of diversity in our schools, specialized or otherwise.<br /> <br />*** <br />Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/robertcornegyjr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@RobertCornegyJr</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p> <p>Note: this column has been corrected to reflect that in&nbsp;1989, Brooklyn Tech was 51 percent black and Latino, not 67 percent as originally stated.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/41541458224_4763c6f367_z.jpg" alt="students" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>students (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The public education system in New York City remains one of the most segregated and unequally resourced school systems in the country, reflective of segregation and inequality in other areas of our civic life.</p> <p>That segregation is starkly obvious in our specialized high schools. In a city where two out of three public high school students are black or Latino, it is unacceptable that they comprise only 10% of the student body across all eight of our elite high schools.<br /> <br />Much has been made recently of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, from the admissions process. The plan is to replace it with a more holistic assessment of achievement based on students’ classroom grades, scores on state standardized English and math tests, and potentially other criteria yet to be determined. But the lack of diversity in our specialized high schools is not a function of the admissions process alone.<br /> <br />The city’s specialized high schools <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/06/02/mayor-bill-de-blasio-new-york-city-will-push-for-admissions-changes-at-elite-and-segregated-specialized-high-schools/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">draw from just 21</a> of the nearly 600 public middle schools citywide. The two Brooklyn City Council districts that we represent factor into this discussion in important ways, and help us draw a path toward improvements to our school system and more diversity at our elite high schools.<br /> <br />Three of these 21 feeder schools are located in the city’s 43rd City Council District in south Brooklyn, with nearly a quarter of all students admitted to specialized high schools coming from School Districts 20, 21, and 22. The schools in these communities are exceptionally diverse, with a majority of students coming from first and second generation immigrant families -- white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike.<br /> <br />District 16 in central Brooklyn, where schools are 77 percent black and 18.5 percent Hispanic, is a different story. There is not one feeder middle school in District 16, which decades ago had enhanced academics that sent hundreds of students of color to the specialized schools. In fact, until 2015, District 16 schools did not offer the advanced level courses and programming known as “gifted and talented.”<br /> <br />It took pressure from local elected officials forced the Department of Education to provide many majority-minority school districts access to the kind of enhanced academics that provide a pathway to the specialized schools. Despite representing over two-thirds of our public school population, black and Latino students make up <a href="https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2017/03/31/with-diversity-still-dismal-at-specialized-schools-new-york-city-officials-and-parents-shift-focus-to-gifted-programs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only 27% of those enrolled</a> in gifted and talented programs. But even now, the enhanced academics are poorly resourced.<br /> <br />To be sure, improving the admissions process to ensure greater diversity in our specialized high schools is critically important. Expanding access to a great education for minority communities already facing obstacles to their achievement is necessary if we are going to provide equality of opportunity for all New Yorkers.<br /> <br />High-stakes, standardized tests like the SHSAT are poor indicators of students’ potential for success. However, the test is not in itself the problem, and need not be eliminated in order to increase opportunity and diversity. But even with additional methods of assessment, the reality of unequal resources and underinvestment in certain schools would mean improving diversity at our elite high schools will still be a significant challenge.<br /> <br />When you consider that <a href="https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/media/users/sg158/PDFs/Pathways_to_elite_education/PathwaystoAnEliteEducation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">nearly 60% of the middle schools</a> that sent students to specialized high schools were in districts that had gifted and talented schools that required a test for admission, it is evident how decades of unequal investment in enrichment for students of color might be the most significant contributing factor to the city’s problem of diversity in specialized high schools.<br /> <br />Barring state intervention, the students who receive a qualifying score on the SHSAT will continue to be those who have access to test prep and other educational enrichment that most black and Latino students do not.<br /> <br />Today, the National Society of Black Engineers offers test prep to youngsters in District 16 schools to prepare them for tests like the SHSAT. This programming should be expanded, not just to succeed on a test, but to teach how to succeed in life. We must give students enriching experiences that make them connect with learning and foster critical thought and engagement. And we have to do more to create parent awareness and interest in gifted and talented programming.<br /> <br />But it is not enough simply to offer gifted and talented programs and call it a day. The programming provided must be adequately resourced and targeted at the students who are currently underrepresented.<br /> <br />Our colleagues in the City Council agree that the city must restore the funding for enhanced academics in black and Latino communities. As recently as 1989, Brooklyn Tech, for example, was 51 percent black and Latino. As enhanced academics for high-potential students was eliminated in those communities, the percentages of students of color decreased to the point we are at today. We know students, whether in southern or central Brooklyn, can compete successfully if given the resources. They have done it before. They can do it again.<br /> <br />Ending the SHSAT without providing adequate funding and a commitment to educating all students equitably will do nothing to adequately resolve the lack of diversity in our schools, specialized or otherwise.<br /> <br />*** <br />Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/robertcornegyjr" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@RobertCornegyJr</a> &amp; <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@JustinBrannan</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p> <p>Note: this column has been corrected to reflect that in&nbsp;1989, Brooklyn Tech was 51 percent black and Latino, not 67 percent as originally stated.</p>
Added Scrutiny of City’s Delinquent Contracting Practices 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7748-added-scrutiny-of-city-s-delinquent-contracting-practices Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cm-stephlevin-ant-reynoso.jpg" alt="cm stephlevin ant reynoso" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Levin (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The new city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> does not do enough to address the tremendous backlog of city contracts with nonprofit groups that have been left languishing by city agencies, the groups say. This comes after a recent <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a> from the city comptroller that shows 81 percent of new and renewed contracts were registered retroactively, meaning after their start date, last fiscal year. Human services were the most affected, with more than 90 percent of contracts in this category submitted retroactively to the comptroller’s office by city agencies, half of them late by six months or more.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council recently agreed to a $89.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Though it continues to increase spending at various city agencies that rely on human services nonprofits, there is no accompanying deal to address the rampant contracting delays across city agencies.</p> <p>The problem of contract delays affects cash flow and services to the public, and also compounds other issues, such as contracts not accounting enough for overhead expenses, that together contribute to a financial crisis for many organizations that the city contracts with to provide vital services from homeless shelters to after school programs.</p> <p>“It needs to be a priority of this administration to fix the backlog in contract registration and also the significant amount of contract amendments that are pending from investments the city made last year: money that was announced on July 1 of 2017 that providers still have not gotten in June of 2018,” said Michelle Jackson, spokesperson for the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group (HSASG), in an interview last week. The group, which consists of nine associations and represents some 2,000 human services provider organizations in New York City, will be testifying at a City Council <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=605915&amp;GUID=E847EE2B-9412-4205-B4B2-D7FE144D23D8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">oversight hearing</a> on the issue at City Hall this Thursday, June 21. “There really needs to be a focus on getting all of those amendments and registrations up to date,” Jackson added.</p> <p>The delay in the city’s procurement process means vendors -- predominately nonprofits in the human services sector -- are forced to either fund their own work while they wait for the city to register and approve their contracts, or delay starting operations entirely. For providers waiting to have their contracts renewed, Jackson said, “they have to just keep operating the service because you don’t just send all the kids home, you don’t kick everyone out of the shelter. It’s not like a construction project where you can just wait to get all your documents signed…Nonprofits are taking a real fiscal and legal liability by waiting for these contracts.”</p> <p>It’s a system in “dire need of reform,” according to Comptroller Scott Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, Stringer’s spokesperson added: “One of city government’s most important jobs is delivering services to New Yorkers in need – that’s why fixing the city procurement process is urgent and essential. Providing services to our most vulnerable residents depends on our ability to execute social service contracts expediently.”</p> <p>The next step in addressing the issue is this week’s hearing of the City Council Committees on Contracts and General Welfare at City Hall, which will be co-chaired by Brooklyn Council Members Justin Brannan and Stephen Levin, the respective chairs of those committees. The “process has to be sped up,” Levin said.</p> <p>“These providers are operating at significant deficit and often we engage with providers that are doing a lot of the work that we would like to see providers do, and they are doing it on their own fundraising,” Levin told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The backlog is also putting pressure on the city’s Returnable Grant Fund, a revolving fund providing interest-free loans to nonprofits. February testimony from Acting Chair of the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, Dan Symon, to the City Council was referenced in the comptroller’s report, claiming the Fund processed 751 loans for nonprofits in fiscal year 2017 as a “direct result of delayed contract awards.” The combined total of these loans was $149.9 million.</p> <p>“We need to make sure we are providing services equitably across the board,” Levin said. “That when you go to shelter you’re not just lucking out in getting into a good provider or a provider that’s has the ability to raise significant money versus a provider that can’t. That’s not an equitable system.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio and his administration were widely criticized following the release of Stringer’s report, with questions raised about the progressive mayor’s commitment to human services organizations and their clients. The issues raised by the comptroller’s report are longstanding and nonprofits groups and their supporters <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6266-city-approach-to-nonprofit-contracting-questioned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">have been lobbying city government to improve the process for sometime</a>.</p> <p>In a statement to Gotham Gazette last week, a City Hall spokesperson said the mayor’s office has been working to reduce contracting backlogs and that model budgets -- a system introduced this year designed to increase rates for providers funded below what is considered the ‘model’ to deliver appropriate service -- will help these departments fulfil their administrative duties to outside contractors. &nbsp;</p> <p>“We’ve invested more than a quarter-billion new dollars annually in our shelter provider partners to address decades of disinvestment and reform outdated rates they were paid for many years,” the spokesperson said. “We have also been working closely with these vital partners to resolve inherited contracting backlogs, implement model budgets for the first time ever, and address any outstanding challenges they may have to ensure they can deliver the services our neighbors in need deserve as they get back on their feet.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Due to this work in resolving contracting issues, the City Hall spokesperson said this year is the first time in recent memory that providers will be operating with registered current contracts. As of May 2018, 97 percent of fiscal year 2018 contracts are registered and active, with only one contract still at the comptroller’s office and another contract pending provider budget submission.</p> <p>According to the comptroller’s report, the seven city agencies that contract for the majority of human service programs are: the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Education (DOE), Department of Youth &amp; Community Development (DYCD), Department for the Aging (DFTA), Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Human Resources Administration (HRA), and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).</p> <p>All of these departments submitted more than half of their registration and renewal contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year. DHS and HRA submitted 100 percent of these contracts retroactively, and the DOE was at 99.8 percent of registration and renewal contracts submitted after their start date. In HRA’s case, more than 60 percent of retroactive contracts were submitted to the comptroller’s office more than six months after the contract was due to start.</p> <p>Despite the backlog, some departments are set to receive less funding in fiscal year 2019 than in the current, soon-to-end fiscal year, according to the city <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/erc4-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">budget</a> that was released on Monday June 12.</p> <p>DYCD, for example, is receiving about $121 million less in funding via the city budget this financial year, yet of 859 registered or renewed contracts it received last year, 795 (92.5 percent) were submitted retroactively, according to the comptroller’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/running-late-an-analysis-of-nyc-agency-contracts/#_ednref1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report</a>. Similarly, DOHMH is allocated $112 million less in fiscal 2019 than it was in 2018, and of 314 new and renewed contracts it handled last fiscal year, 265 (or 84.4 percent) were submitted after their start date.</p> <p>When asked if the budget has allocated enough resources to these city agencies that are struggling with contracting, Council Member Brannan said: “This is something we intend to discuss at the hearing on the 21st, both from the administration side as well as what the providers think. I am committed to working with the Speaker, Administration, as well as the Comptroller, to ensure we are processing contracts in as swift a manner as possible so that vital services are not being jeopardized due to procedural snafus that can be remedied.”</p> <p>“I hope that through our hearing we can shed light on the administration’s progress implementing model budgeting across different agencies as well as seeing how the providers are faring with model budgeting,” Brannan added. &nbsp;</p> <p>DHS and the DOE, which respectively submitted 100 percent and 99.8 percent of contracts retroactively to the comptroller’s office last year, are both receiving an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. According to the city’s preliminary budget, DHS is receiving more than $183 million in additional funding compared to the current fiscal year and DOE is budgeted an additional $1.2 billion.</p> <p>Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Council Member Levin said the Council’s preliminary budget hearing with DHS dealt largely with where the increased funding is going and he is confident the additional funding will help the agency in improving contract delays.</p> <p>“In our preliminary budget hearing with DHS, we did talk a lot about where a lot of the increased funding is going and they spoke a lot about the model budget contract,” Levin said. “So we’re expecting that it should be able to be covered in the significant increases in budget year-over-year in DHS. I have every expectation that they’ll be able to be covered it for sure. And if they’re not, there’s opportunities to do budget modifications.”</p> <p>“We need a system that’s set up that can afford the services that we need to provide for over 60,000 people in shelter ...” Levin continued. “We need to make sure that the providers are funded enough so that they can provide adequate services.”</p> <p>Comptroller Stringer's report makes two recommendations for improving the processing of contracts within city agencies: to stipulate deadlines for every agency that handles contract applications and to implement a transparent tracking system for vendors to follow their applications through the process. But the report also describes an extremely cumbersome system, weighed down in bureaucracy, in which up to five departments sometimes will handle a contract before it reaches the comptroller’s office -- the only agency with a deadline, which is 30 days -- where it is ultimately approved or kicked back to city agencies for more processing.</p> <p>“What we’re looking at now is 100 percent late registration [from some departments] and what’s going to happen today and tomorrow to get that fixed?” Jackson, of the Human Services Advancement Strategy Group, said, adding that while she “absolutely agrees” with the comptroller’s recommendations, “a tracking system and a timeline are not going to fix the backlog” already in existence.</p> <p>The HSASG is calling for a “SWAT Team” to immediately help clear the backlog, as well as allocation and recognition of this in the budget. Jackson said the group is asking for an additional $200 million to human services, not only to fix the contracting delays, but to also go to areas such as benefits, insurance, and occupancy costs.</p> <p>“A lot of these contracts don’t have cost escalators, and obviously in New York City rent goes up every year (a lot of expenses go up), and there’s not a way to capture that,” Jackson said. “Of course we were disappointed to not see further investment in the sector but we appreciate it’s a long-term investment that needs to be made.”</p> <p>Brannan said he “supports the recommendations” laid out in the comptroller’s report and that he is “working with the Comptroller’s office to come up with potential legislative fixes that would provide for agencies to process city contracts within a much more reasonable period of time.” He said he’s spoken to the Mayor's Office of Contract Services about next phases in rolling out the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal (PASSPort), saying it “in theory should significantly reduce procurement delays.”</p> <p>The spokesperson from City Hall also said the planned updates to PASSport will “make it easier for agencies to order and pay for goods off centralized contracts.” The system, which was initially launched in August 2017, will be updated with “phase two” in 2019 and “phase three” will launch approximately one year later to “enable online bidding and invoice management for all agencies,” the spokesperson said. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York City isn’t the first city to require urgent and comprehensive procurement reform. A 2005 report by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) on fixing that city’s similarly “slow and burdensome” contracting system provided the administration with a range of recommendations that might be applicable in New York City today. These included, not only fixed deadlines for every department and a transparent tracking system, but also recommendations to increase public information and awareness of the city’s contracting system; allow simultaneous review by agencies; develop clear and explicit procedures for fast-tracking contracts; and use a post-audit approach to test compliance by departments, instead of every single contract moving through the comptroller’s office.</p> <p>There is no indication of any other measures being taken to address the contracting backlog in New York City, though the City Hall spokesperson said: “We are continuously looking to improve our practices to also realize timely procurement.”</p> <p>More ideas will likely be raised at Thursday’s Council hearing, but for those in the nonprofit sector, the fiscal year 2019 budget was the perfect place for the city to demonstrate its understanding of, and commitment to solving, the problem. “We would have liked to see it in the budget, even if it was just a statement about how to get all this money out the door,” Jackson said. “I think there needs to be a real recognition that this is a priority to fix the registration process and it needs to happen right away.”</p> <p>

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Brooklyn City Council Member Setting Early Foundation for Speaker Run 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-04-12T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7610-brooklyn-city-council-member-setting-early-foundation-for-speaker-run Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/justin_brannan_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="justin brannan city council" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.</p> <p>He’s at the governor’s mansion <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/965376267775303682" target="_blank" rel="noopener">discussing</a> the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966828470633484288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">posing</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966826842966708224" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photos</a> with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/958028916710674432" target="_blank" rel="noopener">speaking with</a> the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.</p> <p>He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/977662531715108864" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigning</a> for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.</p> <p>All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.</p> <p>The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.</p> <p>It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/5-city-council-members-eyeing-2021-speakership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by City &amp; State</a> earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.</p> <p>Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.</p> <p>“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”</p> <p>Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.</p> <p>The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”</p> <p>Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.</p> <p>Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.</p> <p>“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.</p> <p>Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”</p> <p>None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.</p> <p>Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”</p> <p>There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”</p> <p>In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.</p> <p>Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”</p> <p>He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”</p> <p>He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/justin_brannan_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="justin brannan city council" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Council Member Justin Brannan (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Member Justin Brannan is everywhere.</p> <p>He’s at the governor’s mansion <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/965376267775303682" target="_blank" rel="noopener">discussing</a> the state’s efforts to empower women- and minority-owned businesses. He’s meeting with the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council about the city’s construction industry. He’s at the Chinese-American Planning Council’s 53rd anniversary celebration, <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966828470633484288" target="_blank" rel="noopener">posing</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/966826842966708224" target="_blank" rel="noopener">photos</a> with Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, state Assembly members Peter Abbate Jr. and Yuh-line Niou, and fellow Council members. He’s talking police-community relations with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill. He’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/958028916710674432" target="_blank" rel="noopener">speaking with</a> the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He’s at union rallies, nonprofit galas, senior centers, PTA meetings and parades.</p> <p>He’s being interviewed on television and photographed at City Hall, and he’s developing more and more of a social media presence, showcasing both his travels around the city but also his focus on constituent services in his district, praising his colleagues, chronicling his subway struggles, and sharing song lyrics. And, he’s <a href="https://twitter.com/JustinBrannan/status/977662531715108864" target="_blank" rel="noopener">campaigning</a> for Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party leader with outsized influence in other parts of government.</p> <p>All that in the last two months, part of a frenetic start for a Council Member who has only been on the job since January, though he has been involved in city politics for much longer. And those activities haven’t gone unnoticed as Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat, is emerging very early on as a potential contender to be the next Speaker of the City Council.</p> <p>The Council Speaker, arguably the second-most powerful elected official in the city, is chosen internally by members every four years, in a process that is less-public facing and more backroom-dealing. In 2021, the next city election year, 36 Council members will be term-limited, portending a sea change in the 51-member legislative body and giving incumbents, who usually sail to reelection, a leg up in the speaker race. Brannan seems to be following the playbook of current Speaker Corey Johnson, who started making moves for the speakership early in his first four-year term.</p> <p>It is, of course, far too early to tell what the field of candidates will look like, which is why Council sources are reluctant to speak openly. But the buzz around the Council threw up the same names over and over. Besides Brannan, other potential contenders -- all of them Democrats -- include Bronx Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Queens Council Members Francisco Moya and Adrienne Adams, Manhattan Council Member Carlina Rivera, and Brooklyn Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. The list, save for Brannan, who seems to be the most active, is the same as that <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/5-city-council-members-eyeing-2021-speakership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">reported by City &amp; State</a> earlier this year. Some seem to have better odds, given their prominence on the Council and their relationships with the powerful Queens and Bronx Democratic county committees.</p> <p>Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn, covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He has a deep well of experience, as a former chief of staff to his predecessor, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and as intergovernmental affairs director at the Department of Education. He founded the Bay Ridge Democrats and served as its president. He’s also been a professional musician.</p> <p>“You can see that he’s been out there, in other Council members’ districts and all over the city, so he might be taking a cue card from Corey Johnson’s playbook,” said a Council source who wished to remain unnamed. The source noted that though it will be an “open field” of candidates in 2021, the names that are popping up early are because of their relationships with county committees. “I think people are trying to get a sense of how to play the game...so it’s early to put money on a particular candidate.”</p> <p>Another source with knowledge of Brannan’s moves noted that he has the advantage of being one of the few members who will be returning to the Council. “The fact that there’s only a handful of members coming back in four years sort of narrows the pool because...unless people would be OK with another two-term speaker, the next speaker is going to be one of the people that’s coming back,” the source said. Brannan, if reelected, would be serving his second and final term, as would the other contenders previously mentioned.</p> <p>The source also noted that Brannan has made relationships over the last few years that will be beneficial down the line. “I think Justin’s always had, whether it was through the Bay Ridge Democrats or whether through campaign work he did, he’s always had those relationships,” the source said. “When he goes to the boroughs, it’s not like he’s introducing himself for the first time.”</p> <p>Those relationships, including with Crowley and labor union leaders, will largely determine how the speaker race shakes out. The other members on the list of contenders have their own strengths and connections as well, and the speaker race often comes down to powerful stakeholders compromising in support of one candidate, taking into account a wide variety of factors.</p> <p>Council Member Salamanca chairs the powerful land use committee and is a product of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Salamanca’s office did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Council Members Moya and Adams are closely aligned with the Queens Democratic County Committee and its powerful boss, Rep. Crowley, who played kingmaker in the election of Johnson as speaker, in partnership with others, especially state Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx Democrats. Moya has the added bonus of having worked in the Assembly with Crespo.</p> <p>“I’m sure this makes for great debate among all the political junkies out there, but the speakership is more than three years away,” Moya said in a statement. He insisted his focus is on his community, particularly on affordable housing, reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, and protections for workers in the building industry. “There will be a time and place to talk about the speakership but that’s a long ways away,” he said, not denying interest.</p> <p>Stacey Yearwood, a spokesperson for Adams said the Council Member would not comment on being a speaker contender “as it is premature.”</p> <p>None of the six potential candidates denied an interest in being the next speaker of the Council.</p> <p>Council Members Rivera and Ampry-Samuel are viewed as rising stars in the Council and have have both been given prominent committees to lead -- hospitals and public housing, respectively. Rivera also received considerable support from Johnson in her election to the Council; they represent neighboring districts. Rivera declined to comment. Ampry-Samuels said in a statement, “My focus right now are the constituents of the 41st District and the residents of public housing.”</p> <p>There’s no one predictable path to the speakership. “I think it’s hard because there’s been so few speakers that to go back and look historically how a speaker gets made, it’s different every time,” said the second Council source. “There’s the wisdom that Queens and the Bronx never make their own person the speaker, that would mean that Salamanca and Moya wouldn’t be the speaker. But who knows? There’s a lot of dynamics. There’s also the demographic dynamics. If we have a white mayor, chances are Justin’s not gonna be the speaker. If we have a black mayor, maybe there’s a chance there.”</p> <p>In this last speaker’s election, there was vocal indignation that yet another white man was going be elected to a powerful seat in city government -- both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer are white men, Public Advocate Letitia James is a black woman. There were calls for electing a speaker of color, including from black and Latino Council members who were running for the seat themselves. All that could change, as the source noted, if the citywide seats aren’t occupied four years from now by mostly white men.</p> <p>Brannan is coy about his plans, even if they seem transparent to others. “It’s April 2018!,” he said with a jovial laugh, when asked outside City Hall whether he was making an early move for the speakership. “It’s barely four months into my first term and I’m just laser-focused on being a good Council member for my district. Having succeeded a guy that was in office for a long time, I’ve got a lot to prove. So that’s my number one focus.”</p> <p>He added, “It’s fun and flattering to be mentioned in that circle [of speaker potentials]. I think this new crop of my colleagues are all very talented and very smart. To be mentioned with this class is great.”</p> <p>He conceded that maybe another white man may not be the way the Council will look to go and that diverse representation is sorely lacking in the legislative body. “Bottom line is that it’s gotta be someone that’s qualified for the job...I’ve already said in my Council seat, I would love nothing more than to be succeeded by a woman. So those things are important to me too. I’m certainly not blind to those dynamics but it’s just so far away.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-23T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7436-city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/38866913345_afd4b05a3e_z.jpg" alt="38866913345 afd4b05a3e z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.</p> <p>New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.</p> <p>Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.</p> <p>“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7357-council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government" target="_blank" rel="noopener">request</a> for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year. &nbsp;</p> <p>Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”</p> <p>Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.</p> <p>After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”</p> <p>Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.</p> <p>Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7419-new-city-council-committee-chairs-have-plenty-on-their-plates">New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates</a>]</p> <p>The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.</p> <p>Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”</p> <p>Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.</p> <p>Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter. &nbsp;</p> <p>Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.</p> <p>In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.</p> <p>Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards &amp; Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx-city-councilman-andy-king-accused-sexual-harassment-article-1.3698395" target="_blank" rel="noopener">investigating</a> an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.</p> <p>Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.</p> <p>Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.</p> <p>Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.</p> <p>Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility.&nbsp;"The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."</p> <p>Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of &nbsp;Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.</p> <p>Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”</p> <p><em>Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.</em></p> <p>

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.</p>