Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

District 13: Improving Education and Reforming the Department of Buildings

Education and reform of the New York City Department of Buildings are two key issues that I hope to address as an incoming member of the New York City Council.

As a product of the public school system and a public school parent, I want to build upon the recent reform of the school system and assess the effectiveness of changes made to date.

While I support the mayor's initiative to end social promotion, I want to make sure that improvements in test scores are not just sufficient enough to move a youngster on to the next grade, but can be sustained in future years through follow-up and mentoring. In particular, we must look at what happens when children enter the intermediate school years and recognize that their experience during these years often dictate their success in high school as well.

Any discussion about the future of public education must also include the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, in which a court ruled that New York City schools are entitled to more funding. While we await further action on the lawsuit, the City Council must effectively oversee the allocation of resources, because additional funding is not the sole answer to the problems plaguing our schools.

Meaningful oversight by the legislative branch is needed to assure accountability. We must listen and work with teachers, supervisors, support staff and parents. I know what to look for when I visit a school, and I intend to visit all the schools in my district and use my knowledge to assess school tone and learning environment.

Too many schools in my district are still overcrowded. We have high schools with 4,600 students, and elementary schools where children with special needs are forced to hold class in the hallways. This is unacceptable. Crowded classrooms have a direct impact upon academic results. We need more than portable trailers; we need long-term solutions.

I believe we call upon our schools to do so much because they often provide the stability and structure many children cry out for and may not receive at home.

I believe we must stress character education with specified learning strategies for each grade. It is important that we build on basics - not just reading, writing, and arithmetic - but respect for each other, brotherhood and positive socialization. We must teach them at a very young age what is right, what is wrong, and how to know the difference.

I also want to restore meaningful adult education programs because I realize that learning is an on-going process. As someone who returned to Queens College and received my Masters Degree in Urban Studies in 2001, I can attest to the fact that more and more adults see continuing education a priority. It is important that community-based initiatives provide training in computer literacy, resume writing, and job training, and that certificate based programs be expanded or established where they do not exist.

Overdevelopment is a serious issue in the Bronx. In recent years, single-family homes have been torn down, and three-family homes have been put up in their place. New buildings are often built without adequate parking and without thought for how they affect our schools, roads, and mass transit, and how they change the character of our neighborhoods.

One of the problems lies with the New York City Department of Buildings, which too often does not enforce existing zoning regulations. I firmly believe that the buildings department can do better.

Currently, the Buildings Department allows architects, who are hired by developers, to approve their own new construction permits with no review by a Buildings Department plan examiner through a process called self-certification. Effectively, this process allows developers to approve their own new plans with no oversight by the Department of Buildings. We must eliminate this practice.

As district manager of community board 10, I found time and time again that too many applications were flawed. By challenging many of them, we successfully reduced developments that would have placed an even greater strain on infrastructure and the character of residential blocks. As a policy, self-certification is wrong.

We must intensify our efforts to professionalize the buildings department and provide them with the expertise needed to enforce the zoning resolution before and after a permit is granted. I want to take a look at each of the borough offices and review their staffing levels, because these offices deal most directly with the public. It is their operation that directly impacts on communities throughout our city.

I also want to advance pending downzoning proposals, which would limit the size and density of new construction for neighborhoods in my district such as Ferry Point, Pelham Bay and Zerega.

James Vacca represents City Council district 13, which includes the Bronx neighborhoods of Morris Park, Pelham and Throgs Neck.


Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: New York Left Hits Wall in Primaries, Points to Reasons for Optimism
New York Left Hits Wall in Primaries, Points to Reasons for Optimism
Gotham Gazette: Rethinking Economic Development in the Post-Covid World
Rethinking Economic Development in the Post-Covid World
Gotham Gazette: The Forgotten History of Latino Politics in New York
The Forgotten History of Latino Politics in New York
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast