Princeton Approach to Setting Priorities is a Model for New Leaders

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Joseph StefkoElections bring change – an opportunity to “reset” the policy agenda. Any newly elected governing body brings with it new policy priorities – some collective priorities shared by multiple members, and some unique ones espoused by individual officials.

The key challenge of any new governing body is effectively managing those priorities. Doing it well positions a new government to deliver results; failing to do so invites distraction to the governing process, treating all issues equally and encouraging less-than-strategic governance.

The challenge was magnified in Princeton, New Jersey this year. Its transition to a new governing council in January coincided with the launch of a newly consolidated municipality, the state’s most significant in more than sixty years. Thus in Princeton, the new ideas and priorities that typically accompany new governing bodies existed alongside consolidation-related issues and transition matters that, in some cases, required more urgent attention. Read more »

Monroe Community College Tackles Skills Gap

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerWorkers cast adrift by technology. Last week we learned that the economy added 236,000 jobs in February. Better than a sharp stick in the eye, to be sure. But it still isn’t enough. Average job growth over the past six months has been about 190,000. At this rate, it will take the economy 5 years to absorb the increase in the ranks of the unemployed since 2007, plus new workers entering the labor force. And don’t forget the 8 million working part time who would prefer full time employment, 3.6 million more than in 2007.

How do we square persistently tepid job growth with the other big economic news of the week, that the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit new highs? Why can corporate profits be strong while employment growth remains weak? This brief essay will address only one of the many reasons: This recovery has simply left many workers behind. Read more »

The Marva Collins Quest: Replicating Successful High Poverty Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerIn 1975, Marva Collins founded Westside Preparatory School in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, a place of persistent and concentrated poverty. Renamed Marva Collins Prep, the school targeted disadvantaged students, many of whom had been classified by the public school as learning disabled. She was able to spur them to achieve at levels comparable to students in high income neighborhoods. Collins’ success was profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1979 and became the subject of a movie in 1981 starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman.

This example (and others like it) proved that concentrated poverty, while predictive of low academic achievement, does not assure it. The Holy Grail of education reform has been the “pursuit of Marva Collins.” For many years, it appeared that you couldn’t replicate Marva Collins’ success without Marva Collins—i.e. someone who combined unusual gifts of charisma, dedication and energy with exceptional teaching and leadership ability. Read more »

Imagine a Very Different Public Library

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

If you live in Monroe County NY, and especially if you reside in Rochester, you have an immediate opportunity to weigh in on what you want your public library to be. Take a brief survey, developed by CGR, about how to shape Rochester Public Library’s future: www.cgr.org/RochesterPublicLibrary .

Kirstin PryorJust what do we want from a bricks and mortar public library in our digital age? Just over half of Americans, age 16 and up, visited one in the past year, according to the most recent Pew Internet & American Life national survey, and 91% of visitors called libraries an important part of their community.

Further, they said they value, in order of importance, books to borrow, reference librarians and free public access to computers and the Internet. Clearly, most of the traditional aspects of libraries—that quiet hush, the many stacks, the quintessential librarian, and (for some decades now) the rows of computers, matter to a great many of us.

The question communities everywhere are grappling with is how to balance the traditional library with digital world realities. What used to require a reference librarian is now often a quick Google or Wikipedia search. Many of our book recommendations come from booksellers’ “customers who bought, also liked” features or Facebook posts. And countless books, articles and newspapers that used to be print only are now downloadable to e-readers and smartphones. Read more »

NYS Waits a Decision on Fracking

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerOn Jan. 3, the Gannett News Service Albany Bureau reported on a draft environmental impact statement from 2012 on high-volume hydrofracking (http://goo.gl/F2bjy). The state Department of Environmental Conservation assessment concludes that “by implementing the proposed mitigation measures identified and required in this (report), the department expects that human chemical exposures during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern. Thus adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations. When spills or accidents occur, the department has identified numerous additional mitigation measures … so that significant exposures to people and resources on which they rely are unlikely.”

DEC officials told Gannett that these findings were preliminary and did not constitute “final DEC policy.” Fair enough-this is a draft.

Yet these findings are consistent with the text of a briefing paper on high-volume hydrofracking from the Environmental Defense Fund, which concludes: “In short, natural gas could be a win-win benefiting both the economy and the environment-if we do it the right way. The right way means putting tough rules and mandatory environmental safeguards in place that protect communities and reduce methane pollution.” See http://goo.gl/NbiUP. Read more »

We’re on a Long Trek to Fix Urban Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner

The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk underscored the gap in educational outcomes between the nation’s disadvantaged and the rest of society, while challenging the nation’s confidence in the entire K-12 educational system by unfavorable international comparisons. We have made little progress in closing either the gap between America’s rich and poor, or the gap between our students and those of other nations.

Since 1983, we’ve been looking for a quick fix solution, the one Big Thing that would close these gaps. This is ultimately fruitless. Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas seems to have taken this lesson to heart. As noted in a recent City Newspaper interview, he studiously avoids the temptation to predict speedy, miraculous success by imposing bold new policies bundled up with a clever name. Read more »

Glad That Election is Over? Now it’s Time to Vote Again!

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Paul BishopNew York Fire District Election Day for FIRE DISTRICT commissioners is Tuesday, December 11. Surprised?  You are not alone.  In 2010, only 20 people showed up to vote in the Monroe County Town of Brighton’s fire district election. The year before, only 19 voted in the county’s Town of Henrietta. These elections have a real impact on fire district tax rates, but few people vote in them.

By submitting Freedom of Information Law requests to several Monroe County towns in my own community, I was able to secure voter turnout for a number of fire district elections held in the past 3 years. Average voter turnout across these districts was under one-half of one percent—fewer than 5 of every 1000 registered voters cast ballots. Unlike the election day that just passed, there is no “Get Out the Vote” effort attached to fire district elections—these elections are little noted, unless there is a specific financial issue such as bonding for a large purchase. Read more »

Reducing Uncertainty when Voters Consider Dissolution

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerSeveral proposals to dissolve village boundaries were on the ballot last week. Voters in the villages of Malone (Franklin County) and Chaumont (Jefferson County), both rejected the idea. The Village of Lyons (Wayne County) embraced it, although by a very narrow margin (and absentee ballots, when counted, could change the vote).

Most village dissolution votes fail to gain the support of voters, putting Malone and Chaumont with the majority. Should these voters have chosen to dissolve these villages? Not being a resident of either community, we at CGR don’t have a voice in the decision. In fact, having studied the issue in both, we can make a case on either side. Our role is to lay out the facts to the best of our ability—informing the voters and empowering them to make their own decisions.

At issue in these votes is a possible loss of identity, and some loss of local control—the power to enact laws and to provide village residents with the services they alone vote to support. Village residents remain voters and taxpayers in the surrounding town and will look to their town for a continuation of needed public services. In exchange for giving up some autonomy, residents expect a smaller tax bill. Read more »

Change Is Coming, Higher Education

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerIn 1940, fewer than one in twenty Americans had a college degree. Now it’s better than one in four[1]. Fueled by a flood of American soldiers returning from WWII’s European and Pacific theaters, the GI Bill sparked an explosion in college enrollment that continues to this day.

Higher education boosts productivity and pay. The earnings gap between those with and those without a college degree is dramatic. According to the Census, individuals 25 or older with bachelor’s degrees earned nearly $22,000 per year (80%) more than those with only a high school diploma.

But what does college cost?

College pricing rivals health care in opacity—most students receive some form of “aid.” Just as in buying a car, few pay the “manufacturer’s suggested retail price.” Bloomberg Businessweek reports that 94% of students in NYS private colleges & universities receive some form of financial aid[2]. Even in public colleges, two-thirds receive aid (in addition to the outright state support to the institution).

The College Board conducts an annual survey and reports that published tuition grew 52% from 96-97 to 11-12 while tuition net of aid (including federal tax credits) rose 22% over the period, suggesting that colleges and universities are increasing the “sticker price” at the same time that aid is also rising.[3] Using the College Board’s figures on net tuition and fees, students beginning four year degrees in 2011 will pay an average of $52,000 in tuition over four years in private schools and about $10,000 in public schools. Many pay more and many pay less, of course. Consider, too, the cost of room and board—another $35-40,000—and foregone earnings. Read more »

Irreconcilable Differences: The Problem of Health Care

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Journal of the Monroe County (NY) Medical Society.

Kent GardnerHealth care is different from other goods and services.

  • As a wealthy society, we aren’t willing to limit access to care based on ability to pay (at least entirely).
  • Caveat emptor—let the buyer beware—fails in the face of complexity: The patient (the “buyer”) is often incapable of understanding what is appropriate or necessary and must rely on the provider (the “seller”) for essential advice.
  • The pace of technological change outstrips our capacity to set limits on what constitutes adequate care.
  • Public policy, operating through payment schema and regulation, is a blunt instrument, influencing the marketplace in both intended and unintended ways. Read more »