Elections Matter

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By now, it has become a familiar theme: weekly protests against some aspect of Mayor Michael  Bloomberg’s draconian schools policy and his suddenly austere budget proposals. Community groups, school advocates, parents, students, blogs, newspaper editorial boards and local politicians host rallies throughout the city to protest school closings, charter school placements in public school buildings, teacher layoff threats and cuts to essential city services. Protests against Bloomberg’s school policies have taken on a life of their own.  Many players behave as if they didn’t know what Bloomberg would do. Especially the Council members whose vote allowed Bloomberg to violate two (now three) referenda on term limits.

The first thing Bloomberg did was name Joel Klein, an anti trust lawyer, as Chancellor. Klein’s tenure can be summed up as a series of experiments. Under Klein, the central DOE administration was changed at least three times, causing problems for parents seeking specialized services for their children.
School safety personnel were absorbed into NYPD, with the predictable result being the criminalization of normal student behaviors.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer, Jr. was allowed to implement a financial incentive program in 62 NYC schools (as well as Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C). That incentive program would pay students for good grades and improved study habits. The teacher’s union derided the program, stating at-risk students shouldn’t be paid to learn. The program was quietly discontinued, as was another program that gave cell phones to students as incentive. Fryer found that financial incentives for good grades or test scores did not work as well as incentives for reading books. He went on to publish his findings in “Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence From Random Trials,” April 8, 2010.

Bloomberg broke up big high schools and replaced them with smaller ones – as many as four in one building. Teachers at former large high schools who were not hired at the new smaller ones were “excessed” – assigned to school buildings as expensive substitutes or required to do clerical work.  Despite a successful resolution of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that mandated smaller class sizes, the numbers of students per class has increased.

Under Bloomberg/Klein, the numbers of teachers of color has decreased from about 20% to 10%, and is expected to decline further as more new charter schools hire young, inexperienced, inexpensive white teachers. The call has already begun for salary increases for these new teachers.

Bloomberg successfully bought off the teacher’s union with a 25% salary increase and a 25/55 pension plan that was supposed to encourage expensive, experienced teachers to retire early and was supposed to cost nothing to taxpayers. In exchange, the UFT declined to make an endorsement for mayor in the 2009 election.

Now “Education Mayor” Bloomberg is threatening to lay off thousands of teachers and calling for the end of tenure because of a manufactured budget crisis and high, under funded pension costs.  Bloomberg refused to pay home day care workers back wages they won as a result of federal intervention; instead he imposed insurmountable regulations which forced many of them to close, leaving a dearth of much-needed day care for working mothers of young children.

In 2002, the City Council, prompted by constituent complaints, passed legislation which would prohibit the City of New York from doing business with financial institutions that engaged in sub prime mortgages. Bloomberg vetoed. Council overrode the veto. Bloomberg took the Council to court and won on behalf of his Wall Street cronies. Unchecked, Wall Street banks and the investment firms – needing sub prime mortgages to feed credit default swaps and derivatives – continued funneling wealth from ordinary homeowners until the meltdown at the end of President Bush’s 2nd term in 2008. Saved by the $700 billion taxpayer-funded TARP program, Wall Street has been recording record profits every year since. Yet, because of Bloomberg’s resistance to the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes, the city and state are experiencing record budget deficits. New York should be in better financial shape than the rest of the country due to Wall Street. Because of Bloomberg and his ilk, we are not.

At the other end of the housing spectrum, Bloomberg promised to reduce the numbers of NYers living in homeless shelters. Paradoxically, the numbers of homeless families and individuals has increased. During his campaign for a third term, Bloomberg rescinded Section 8 housing vouchers that had already been allocated.  Meanwhile, Bloomberg saved many developers from bankruptcy by allowing empty, unsold units and whole buildings to be used as luxury homeless shelters. Bloomberg’s message to luxury shelter dwellers: “Don’t get comfortable.” Now the administration is threatening to eliminate Advantage, a rental assistance program that helps families leave the shelter system.  During the fight over a living wage for jobs generated from the proposed development of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx – a project that required millions in tax breaks for the developer – Bloomberg said the minimum wage should be abolished. Apparently, no wage is too low for a day’s work in Bloomberg’s world.

On one of his regular Friday radio programs on WOR, Bloomberg announced, “We love rich people,” as if no one else counts. Too many Council members and other elects are now protesting school closures, cuts in vital services, and layoffs.

Too many council members who voted for Bloomberg’s third term did so for their own self-interest: their own third term. Charles Barron voted against extending term limits but ran for his own third term. Darlene Mealy voted for overriding term limits while in her first term. Veteran politician Al Vann voted in favor of the term limit override. (To her credit, Letitia James voted against allowing Bloomberg to run for a third term.) Local council members Vann, Mealy (and Barron) were so busy conducting their own campaigns, they and their supporters could barely make a credible case to voters for choosing candidate Bill Thompson over Bloomberg. Chair of the council’s Education committee Robert Jackson also voted in favor of Bloomberg’s third term, and should have known better, having led the decade-long Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In his own third term, Jackson continues to be a vocal opponent of Bloomberg’s education policies.

They all should have known better. As voters in Wisconsin have painfully learned, elections matter.”