News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Yorkers protest education cuts

Teachers, students and others are horrified at the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mid-year budget cuts to public education as the state faces a $3 billion budget shortfall-and they're fighting back.

The Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition of more than 230 organizations of parents, children's advocates, schools, teachers and others, is organizing people to contact their representatives as well as to attend hearings sponsored by the legislature. Under Governor David Paterson's (D) plans, public schools across the state would be hit with a whopping $686 million mid-year cut.

At an October 23 meeting in Syracuse, AQE members broke pencils during the meeting to symbolize "the state's broken promise" to public schools. Because so many people showed up to speak against the cut, the meeting went on for nearly six hours.

Revenues have been lower than expected, leaving the state with a $3 billion budget shortfall. Paterson has called a special meeting of the State Senate and Assembly to discuss his plans, which include $1.3 billion in cuts to local governments, health and education. The rest is to be made up, mainly, of extraordinary borrowing from the state's rainy day fund.

In higher education, Paterson proposes slashing $53 million in funding to the City University of New York alone. These cuts, as well as proposed cuts to health care, public schools and municipalities, all require legislative approval. However, millions of dollars have already been cut at state agencies, where the Governor doesn't need to seek legislative approval. He has already ordered an eleven percent cut, amounting to $90 million, to the State University of New York.

Mid-year cuts are considered to be the most devastating, because institutions have already made their budget based on projected funding.

Across New York City, protests have erupted at various CUNY campuses, and have included students, professors, city school teachers, labor unionists and others. Organizers of the various campaigns include the United Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the New York State United Teachers; United University Professionals and the Professional Staff Congress, which represent professors at SUNY and CUNY respectively; the New York Public Interest Research Group; student organizations other labor unions and community residents.

At Hunter College, an October 28 demonstration brought out hundreds of people. "Now is the time we should be supporting schools, now is the time to be building schools," NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin told the crowd.

Education advocates point out that the proposed cuts are on the heels of tens of millions of dollars in cuts to education in the past year, as well as a tuition hike. They are demanding that there be no cuts to education going forward, and that the legislature roll back Paterson's cuts to SUNY.

"Students are already being squeezed into overcrowded classes, missing out on courses we need, and paying more for school," said Chris McCall, NYPIRG's higher education project leader.

Similar actions are being proposed to fight the proposed health care and municipal cuts.

Others have suggested that there should be no cuts at all. Suggested ways of increased savings include cuts in spending that benefit only the wealthy and big corporations, such as: the ending of subsidies for "industrial development zones," (saving the state $4 billion), reducing the number of governmental units down from the current 10,000 , the ending of subsidies and tax breaks to developers of housing for those above the median income ($3 billion) and other such measures.

Proposals for increased revenues include a one percent surtax on people making over $1 billion yearly (there are 60 such people in New York City alone, meaning a possible billion dollars in revenue), a one percent stock transfer surtax on those with net assets above $500,000 (another billion dollars) and other proposals.

PHOTO: A student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where NYPIRG kicked off its campaign against budget cuts, holds a "CUNY withdrawal slip" for $53 billion.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demonstration demands end to Bloomberg education policies

NEW YORK - About 200 people turned out to an outdoor rally on Sunday sponsored by Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, to protest current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's handling of the city school system.

At the rally, NYC Kids PAC, formed in September, took the opportunity to announce their endorsement for Thompson. The group was founded because "we need elected representatives who take their responsibilities to our kids seriously and act on them when it counts."

"It's time to open the doors of schools and let the parents back in," Thompson told the cheering crowd. "Let teachers teach. Joel Klein must go."

Klein is the current schools chancellor. Critics of the Bloomberg administration, which appointed him, point out that Klein has no background whatsoever in education, and, they argue, runs the school system like a for-profit corporation. The call for his ouster drew cheers from the crowd and chants of "Joel Klein must go."

The issue of public education has been a major point in the election. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars to paint a picture of himself as a mayor who's essentially saved the city school system.

But according to NYC Kids, Bloomberg is twisting the facts. A pamphlet distributed at the rally by the group notes that "the U.S. Department of Education says reading scores are flat since 2003, [but] Bloomberg claims that ‘reading scores are up 28 percent.'"

Further, says NYC Kids, Bloomberg cut new school construction by 60 percent, though half of city schools are officially over capacity. "Class sizes increased by the largest amount in ten years" in 2008, and "even Giuliani built more seats per year than Bloomberg."

Another fact the PAC put forward: no bid contracts under the Bloomberg administration have increased by a whopping 50,000 percent since 2001. In his position as city Comptroller, Thompson has uncovered millions of dollars of waste and corruption within the city's Department of Education, a great deal of which was in the form of no-bid contracts.

"Latino and African American kids are being left behind," Dr Luis Reyes, who worked in the schools, told the crowd. Thompson, he said, wouldn't allow this to continue.

Bloomberg has condemned Thompson handling of the school system when he was the president of the Board of Education, before mayoral control came into being. Thompson countered Bloomberg with his own words: when he was fighting for mayoral control, the current mayor said that the system itself was to blame for the troubles of city schools because "no one is in charge."

If no one was in charge, Thompson argues, and the system itself was to blame, it is deceitful and self-serving for the mayor to criticize Thompson.

Many have come forward to defend Thompson's record at the now-defunct Board of Education. They argue that the then-president, given the position he was in, did an excellent job fighting to reform the system and restore accountability.

Asked by a reporter whether he favored mayoral control of the schools, Thompson said that he did, but "the question is ‘Who is the mayor?'"

But Thompson also calls for changes in the way the Department of Education is run. The changes would allow for more input by the city council, which is closer to city residents, as well as from parents and teachers.

New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly's Committee on Higher Education, told those gathered that "the kids of New York cannot afford four more years of overcrowded classrooms, unavailable gymnasiums."

Bill Davis also contributed to this article.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

New York bias attack points to rise in anti-gay violence

New Yorkers were horrified at the recent near-fatal beating of Jack Price near his home in the College Point neighborhood. Though the two men thought to be the perpetrators are now in custody, and at least one of them is facing charges of a hate crime, many activists and leaders say that way more must be done to combat anti-gay violence in this city.

Price, who identified his attackers after the beating, is currently in a medically induced coma at New York Hospital as he is being treated for cracked ribs, a lacerated spleen, collapsed lungs and a broken jaw.

The attackers were shown beating the man for a long period of time on a nearly empty street. Twice he seemed he would be able to break free, and twice he was pulled back for more beating.

"It is horrible incidents like this that remind us that we must all stand together against those who inflict such harm," said current city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is also the Democratic candidate for mayor.

Thompson reiterated a point that is central to his campaign: unity of working New Yorkers against all forms of bigotry and oppression is to the benefit of everyone, saying that "we must work so that our city is one where all people - no matter their sexual orientation, ethnicity, immigration status, or any characteristic - feel safe in all communities. My thoughts and prayers go to Mr. Price as well as to his family and friends."

City Council member and almost certainly the city's next Comptroller John Liu called the crime "absolutely atrocious." An ally of Thompson, Liu has built a strong relationship with the city's GLBT community, as well as trade unions, the African American, Latino and Asian communities, and white liberals.

While anti-gay violence is far from unknown in this city, even in neighborhoods considered to be gay enclaves, this beating, which was captured on surveillance cameras, has shocked people for its extreme brutality.

"You get tired of doing these press conferences," Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council said. "When someone is attacked for being who they are and for being proud of who they are, there is no other explanation for that attack than hatred and bigotry."

Quinn was joined at the press conference by State Sen. Thomas K. Duane, Democratic city council nominees Kevin Kim and Yen Chou, as well as Liu and others.

According to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs, incidents of violence against LGBT people increased by two percent from 2007 to 2008, "continuing the trend of a 24 percent total increase in 2007." National trends are far worse. "Bias-related murders were at their highest rate since 1999 with 29 known anti-LGBT murders committed in 2008. Reports of violence in Milwaukee increased 64 percent and Minnesota and Chicago saw increases of 48 percent and 42 percent, respectively."

In a darkly ironic twist, Price was nearly murdered on October 9, the day before the national march for GLBT rights in Washington, D.C., and President Obama's historic speech to the Human Rights Campaign in which he pledged to end the ban on gays serving in the military.