Redistricting in New York: Same Process, Same Outcome – So Far

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergDespite pledging in 2010 to reform the process of drawing new lines for state legislative districts, lawmakers instead employed the usual process where they themselves make the maps. And the results, released a few weeks ago, were entirely predictable: The proposed maps would likely enhance the current partisan dominance in each house.

In Rochester, this preserves what is an unnecessary fragmentation of the City of Rochester into multiple state Senate districts—three in the current map and four under the proposed maps. It seems indisputable that the interests of an aging urban center and its residents differ sharply from those of suburban or rural communities. The current and proposed maps significantly dilute the voice of the City and its residents. Adding a fourth district leads to an even more curious outcome: the reconfigured District 61 puts the University of Rochester, one of the key drivers of the Greater Rochester economy, into the same district as the University of Buffalo. And the new lines for District 59 places RIT into another Erie County-dominated district. As Tom Richards, Mayor of Rochester, observed at the recent Rochester redistricting hearing, the state’s new economic development model is a competitive one—while we may have common cause with Buffalo in Washington, we certainly compete with Buffalo in Albany.  See the City’s analysis here.

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What to do with Failing Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika Rosenberg

Closing failing schools and replacing them with new–hopefully better–schools is at the heart of the Portfolio Plan strategy in place in the Rochester City School District. It sure sounds appealing, especially to those who have long felt that education is a world shielded from the consequences of failure. But does it work?

The answer is critically important, not only for the obvious reason that we all want effective schools for children, but also because closing a school necessarily means dismantling a school community. Perhaps that community was dysfunctional, unhealthy, even dangerous, but it was still the daytime home for the students and staff members in it.

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Taxes, salaries and benefits must be on the agenda

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergDespite the scale of the state’s financial problems, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo and the wizards in the Department of Budget could probably find ways to paper over them for a few years and hope an eventual rebound in revenues will eliminate the need to inflict any real pain.

But to be considered truly successful, Cuomo should embrace the challenge of putting the state, local governments and schools on a path toward a long-term stable financial future. Read more »

Discuss the Property Tax Cap

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergShouldn’t we at least talk about the notion of capping school property taxes?

A recent poll found 74% of New Yorkers think it’s a good idea. A commission appointed by our previous governor recommended it after several months of study and more than a dozen public meetings around the state.

And yet, the state Legislature is poised to adjourn for the year without seriously considering the idea. There were no legislative hearings on the commission’s report, and Gov. David Paterson couldn’t even get his bill to cap property taxes introduced in the Legislature.

Whether or not you think capping school property taxes is a good idea (full disclosure: I do), what does it say about our legislative process that an idea with such broad appeal addressing a problem that is clearly impacting on millions of New York residents isn’t taken seriously by our lawmakers?

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Focus on Graduation Rates

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

It seems you can find out just about anything you want to know about schools in New York — at least when it comes to searching for data.

The state provides information collected from the school districts on everything from attendance to suspensions to dropouts to graduation to test scores. You can find out the demographic breakdown of the student body and how many students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Now, with the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, the state goes beyond reporting aggregate test scores to give the pass rates for subgroups, including low-income and minority students.

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Legislative Lessons for a New Governor

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

The regularly scheduled session of the New York State Legislature ended this year with no last-minute deals, a lot of unresolved issues and bitter recriminations from Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

It wasn’t that much different from legislative sessions past, except that in some years lawmakers are able to cobble together more in the way of 11th hour agreements. The bitterness is generally part of the package for whatever matters weren’t resolved.

Except, of course, that Spitzer as a first-term governor had promised to change everything about how Albany operates. That might have produced visions in some people’s minds of a well-oiled legislative machine proceeding in a productive and orderly fashion toward the end of its work.

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No More School Taxes – Just Kidding!

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

There wasn’t much press coverage statewide of a recent big decision by the state Senate – all but one of its 62 members voted for a bill to eliminate school property taxes.

What?! Isn’t this a huge deal? School property taxes are the bane of many a homeowner, and the Senate wants to get rid of them. Shouldn’t that be front-page news from Buffalo to Long Island?

It seems many in the Capitol press corps chose to let this story go by because the legislation is what’s known in Albany parlance as a “one-house bill.” That is, it doesn’t have a sponsor in the other house (the Assembly, in this case), and it’s not going anywhere, practically speaking.

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The Maze of Educational Accountability

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Nearly half of schools in New York were recently recognized by the state Education Department as high performers. Why that was so was not immediately clear from the news coverage of the event.

Most of the stories repeated the language from the Ed Department’s news release. The schools were designated, they said, “for meeting all applicable state standards and showing adequate yearly progress in English and math for two years.”

OK, but what are the state standards, and what constitutes “adequate yearly progress”? I decided to find out. Now I understand why the reporters didn’t bother trying to explain the answers in the space allotted by their newspapers.

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Albany’s Old and New Deal-making

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Just how many men (and women) should be in the room when state leaders try to negotiate a budget, or anything else?

For years, we New Yorkers have been complaining about Albany’s “three men in a room” custom, which brings together the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate leader into a back room to negotiate deals out of the public eye. The sense has been that these three make all the decisions in secret, and legislators and the public have nothing to say about it.

Even before Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office, leaders began making small changes in this practice, occasionally gathering for public leaders’ meetings covered by the press. Spitzer has taken the changes a step further, inviting the leaders of the minority parties in each house and a few other legislators to take part.

The result was a session on May 16 described by reporters present as full of sniping, fingerpointing, grandstanding, taunting and giggling. At one point, Spitzer felt it necessary to assert his authority by saying, “This is my room and we’re going to play by my rules.”

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The Challenge of Campaign-Finance Reform

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Talks on reforming New York’s campaign-finance system recently fell apart in Albany. No surprise there. Of all the possible government reforms, campaign finance could be the most unpopular among legislators, perhaps running even with nonpartisan redistricting.

The reason is obvious. These two powers – to raise buckets of campaign cash and to draw the borders of legislative districts (including those you want and excluding those you don’t) – form the heart of incumbent power in the Legislature. Getting them voted into law by those very same incumbents will be a neat trick.

Yet Gov. Eliot Spitzer promised during last year’s campaign to work to fundamentally change how state government works, and in the past week he has made a slew of proposals following through on that pledge. Not only did he propose to lower various types of campaign contribution limits, he also proposed legislation to overhaul the court system and to revamp election law, including, yes, establishing a redistricting process independent of (though influenced by) the Legislature. (He also introduced a bill to allow marriage between gay people – it was a busy week.)

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