Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NY Times: Union-Friendly Maverick Leads New Charge for Charter Schools by Sam Dillon...

Union-Friendly Maverick Leads New Charge for Charter Schools - New York Times:

LOS ANGELES — Steve Barr, a major organizer of charter schools, has been waging what often seems like a guerrilla war for control of this city’s chronically failing high schools.

In just seven years, Mr. Barr’s Green Dot Public Schools organization has founded 10 charter high schools and has won approval to open 10 more. Now, in his most aggressive challenge to the public school system, he is fighting to seize control of Locke Senior High, a gang-ridden school in Watts known as one of the worst in the city. A 15-year-old girl was killed by gunfire there in 2005.

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city’s teachers union by welcoming organized labor — in contrast to other charter operators — and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools.

Educators and policy makers from Sacramento to Washington are watching closely because many believe Green Dot’s audacious tactics have the potential to strengthen and expand the charter school movement nationwide.

“He’s got a take-no-prisoners style,” said Jaime Regalado, the director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “He’s channeled the outrage of African-American and Latino parents into the public space in a way that’s new.”

Charter schools are publicly financed but managed by groups separate from school districts. Most other major charter organizations have focused on opening easier-to-run elementary and middle schools, not taking over devastated high schools.

Mr. Barr says, “We want systemic change, not to create oases in a desert.”

And while most charters have nonunion teachers and are often called union busters by opponents, Mr. Barr, a former fund-raiser for the California Democratic Party and co-founder of Rock the Vote, prefers to work with organized labor. Teachers at Green Dot schools have a contract, though one less rigid than at other Los Angeles schools.

Mr. Barr’s posture, as well as promising results at some of his schools, has attracted teachers to his side, even while splitting the larger teachers union, some of whose officials have been fighting him tooth and nail. Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, is working with him to put a Green Dot school in the South Bronx.

That alliance embarrassed United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents some 40,000 teachers. A. J. Duffy, its president, said in an interview that his union had allowed work rule waivers for some Los Angeles schools, but had erred several years ago by ruling out an arrangement with Green Dot.

“We could have and probably should have organized the Green Dot schools,” Mr. Duffy said. “They started with one charter school, now have 10, and in short order they’ll have 20 schools in Los Angeles, with all the teachers paying dues to a different union. And that’s a problem.”

The union representing Green Dot teachers, Association de Maestros Unidos, has a 33-page contract that offers competitive salaries but no tenure, and it allows class schedule and other instructional flexibility outlawed by the 330-page contract governing most Los Angeles schools.

Andrew J. Rotherham, who worked in the Clinton White House and is co-director of Education Sector, a research group in Washington, said, “Green Dot is mobilizing parents in poor neighborhoods and offering an alternative for frustrated teachers, and that’s scrambling the cozy power arrangements between the school district and the union to a degree not seen anywhere else.”

Mr. Barr has not just used his charters to challenge the district. He is also an ally of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who has also battled the Los Angeles school district, seeking mayoral control.

The district superintendent , David L. Brewer III, met with Mr. Barr several times last spring to discuss his proposals for Locke, but those talks broke down.

“Mr. Brewer has said he continues to be interested in partnering with Green Dot,” said Greg McNair, who leads the district’s charter school division.

Green Dot is part of a new wave of nonprofit, high-performing charter chains that have grown rapidly with philanthropic financing, in Green Dot’s case especially from the Broad and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundations. Others include the Kipp Schools, in 18 states, and Achievement First, with 12 schools in New York and New Haven, said Ted Mitchell, head of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a San Francisco group that works with several chains.

Mr. Mitchell said that only Green Dot was mounting such an aggressive challenge to the local school board. “Many charter organizations try to induce different behavior by providing examples of good new schools,” he said. “But only Green Dot is trying to provoke a school district to behave in radically different ways.”

Some people voice skepticism about Green Dot’s methods. Clint Bolick, a lawyer who has represented many charter schools, said: “If union bosses start patrolling their hallways, that’ll be the death knell of charters, as it has been for public schools. There has to be a genuine perestroika for Green Dot’s approach to work.”

Tactics aside, the chain has had promising results. An early high school that Green Dot founded, Ànimo Inglewood, has raised the percent of students proficient in math by 40 points since 2003, and 79 percent of its students from the class of 2006 went on to college. Green Dot keeps enrollment in its high schools below 525. Incoming freshmen who need it remedial tutoring get it, and thereafter pursue a college-prep curriculum.

Three years ago, Mr. Barr negotiated with district officials about overhauling Jefferson High School, a dropout factory in downtown Los Angeles. When the talks bogged down, Mr. Barr concluded he needed clout.

Green Dot organized a parents union, and its members, buttonholing neighbors in supermarkets and churches, collected 10,000 signatures endorsing Jefferson’s division into several smaller charter schools.

Mr. Barr marched from Jefferson High with nearly 1,000 parents to deliver the petition to district headquarters. The authorities refused to relinquish Jefferson, but the school board approved five new charters, which Green Dot inaugurated last fall, all near Jefferson and drawing students from it.

Green Dot’s recent organizing suggests that many teachers are as frustrated as parents.

Locke, designated a failing school for much of a decade, is awaiting its fourth principal in five years. This spring, Mr. Barr drew up a charter plan and began meeting with teachers to explain it. He envisioned using the Locke campus for smaller schools that emphasize college prep and give teachers more decision-making authority.

He invited Frank Wells, Locke’s principal, to tour a Green Dot charter in May, a day on which Education Secretary Margaret Spellings would be visiting. Before parents, teachers and the secretary, Mr. Wells denounced the district as using Locke as a dumping ground for incompetent teachers.

“I went to Locke thinking I could turn it around, but I ran into a brick wall,” Mr. Wells said.

On May 7, teachers began circulating a petition endorsing Green Dot’s plan for Locke, and more than half of Locke’s 73-member tenured staff members signed. Bruce Smith, an English teacher who gathered signatures, said most young teachers were eager to sign; older teachers were reluctant.

“Among the people who opposed us, nobody said, ‘The district is doing a great job here,’ ” Mr. Smith recalled. “It was mostly, ‘What about our job security?’ ”

The district authorities accused Mr. Wells of fomenting the revolt, dispatched guards to escort him from the building, and dismissed him, Mr. Wells said. Binti Harvey, a district spokeswoman, declined to discuss Mr. Wells.

A decision by Locke’s teachers to break with the district would be an embarrassment for the school district and the teachers union. Both began lobbying the teachers. Last month, the district rejected Green Dot’s petition, saying 17 teachers had withdrawn their endorsement, leaving it without the majority necessary to comply with a charter conversion law.

But a newly elected board of education is to reconsider the petition in August.

Mr. Barr says that if he does not win the chance to use the Locke campus for his new charter schools, he will surround it with Green Dot’s next 10 charter schools, which are to open nearby in 2008, supported by a $7.8 million donation from the Gates Foundation.

“If the district doesn’t work with me, I’ll compete with them and take their kids,” Mr. Barr said.

NY Times: Focus on 2 R’s Cuts Time for the Rest, Report Says by Sam Dillon...

Focus on 2 R’s Cuts Time for the Rest, Report Says - New York Times:

Almost half the nation’s school districts have significantly decreased the daily class time spent on subjects like science, art and history as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind law’s focus on annual tests in reading and math, according to a new report released yesterday.

The report, by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington group that studies the law’s implementation in school districts nationwide, said that about 44 percent of districts have cut time from one or more subjects or activities in elementary schools to extend time for longer daily math and reading lessons. Among the subjects or activities getting less attention since the law took effect in 2002 are science, social studies, art and music, gym, lunch and recess, the report said.

The report, based on a survey of nearly 350 of the nation’s 15,000 districts, said 62 percent of school districts had increased daily class time in reading and math since the law took effect.

Within a year of the law’s implementation, teachers and their associations were reporting that schools and districts were suggesting or requiring that they spend more time on reading and math to improve test scores, and that they cut back time spent on other disciplines.

The narrowing of the nation’s elementary school curriculum has been significant, according to the report, but may not be affecting as many schools as previously thought.

A report that the center issued in March 2006, based on a similar survey, gave one of the first measures of the extent of the narrowing trend. It said 71 percent of districts had reduced elementary school instruction in at least one other subject to make more time for reading and mathematics. That finding attracted considerable attention, with many groups opposed to the law decrying the trend.

The law’s backers, including Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, argued that the intensification of English and math instruction made good sense on its own because, they said, students who could not read or calculate with fluency would flounder in other subjects, too.

The center’s new report raises the question of how to explain the considerable discrepancy between last year’s finding, that 71 percent of districts had reduced instructional time in subjects other than math and reading, and this year’s, which gives the number as 44 percent.

Jack Jennings, the center’s president, said in an interview that the discrepancy was a result of a change in the wording of the questionnaire. Last year’s survey asked districts to say whether they had reduced instructional time in subjects other than reading and math “to a great extent,” “somewhat,” “minimally” or “not at all.” Districts that reported even minimally reduced instructional time on other subjects were included in the 71 percent, along with districts that carried out more substantial changes, Mr. Jennings said.

This year, the center listed English/language arts and math as well as social studies, art and music, science and other subjects on the survey, and asked districts whether class time in each had increased, stayed the same or decreased since the law’s enactment. In a second column, the survey asked districts to indicate the number of minutes by which instructional time had increased or decreased.

Districts that made only small reductions this year, 10 minutes a day or less, in the time devoted to courses other than reading or math, may have chosen to report that instructional time had remained the same, Mr. Jennings said. On last year’s survey, the same districts may instead have acknowledged reducing the time, while characterizing the reduction as minimal, he said.

According to the new survey, the average change in instructional time in elementary schools since the law’s enactment has been 140 additional minutes per week for reading, 87 additional minutes per week for math, 76 fewer minutes per week for social studies, 75 fewer minutes for science, 57 fewer minutes for art and 40 fewer minutes for gym.

In a statement, Secretary Spellings said the report’s scope was “too limited to draw broad conclusions.”

“In fact,” she said, “there is much evidence that shows schools are adding time to the school day in order to focus on reading and math, not cutting time from other subjects.”

Monday, July 23, 2007 Impeach George Bush to Stop War Lies, Deaths

Impeach George Bush to stop war lies, deaths |

by Jimmy Breslin
Sunday, July 22, 2007

I am walking in Rosedale on this day early in the week while I wait for the funeral of Army soldier Le Ron Wilson, who died at age 18 in Iraq. He was 17 1/2 when he had his mother sign his enlistment papers at the Jamaica recruiting office. If she didn't, he told her, he would just wait for the months to his 18th birthday and go in anyway. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School at noon one day in May. He left right away for basic training. He came home in a box last weekend. He had a fast war.

The war was there to take his life because George Bush started it with bold-faced lies.

He got this lovely kid killed by lying.

If Bush did this in Queens, he would be in court on Queens Boulevard on a murder charge.

He did it in the White House, and it is appropriate, and mandatory for the good of the nation, that impeachment proceedings be started. You can't live with lies. You can't permit them to be passed on as if it is the thing to do.

Yesterday, Bush didn't run the country for a couple of hours while he had a colonoscopy at the presidential retreat, Camp David. He came out of it all right. He should now take his good health and go home, quit a job he doesn't have a clue as to how to do.

The other day, Bush said he couldn't understand why in the world would some people say that millions of Americans have no health insurance. "Why, all they have to do is go to the emergency room," he said.

Said this with the smirk, the insolent smug, contemptuous way he speaks to citizens.

People, particularly these politicians, these frightened beggars in suits, seem petrified about impeachment. It could wreck the country. Ridiculous. I've been around this business twice and we're all still here and no politician was even injured. Richard Nixon lied during a war and helped get some 58,500 Americans killed and many escaped by hanging onto helicopter skids. Nixon left peacefully. Mike Mansfield of Montana, the Democratic Senate majority leader, said on television that the Senate impeachment trial of Nixon would be televised and there would be no immunity. That meant Nixon would have to face the country under oath and if he lied he would go to prison. He knew he was finished as he heard this. Mansfield said no more. He got up and left. Barbara Walters, on the "Today" show, said, "He doesn't say very much, does he?"

The second time the subject was Bill Clinton for illegal holding in the hallway.

This time, we have dead bodies involved. Consider what is accomplished by the simple power of the word impeachment. If you read these broken-down news writers or terrified politicians claiming that an impeachment would leave the nation in pieces, don't give a moment to them.

It opens with the appointing of an investigator to report to the House on evidence that calls for impeachment. He could bring witnesses forward. That would be all you'd need. Here in the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon came John Dean. His history shows how far down the honesty and honor of this country has gone. Dean was the White House counsel. Richard Nixon, at his worst, never told him not to appear or to remain silent in front of the Congress. Dean went on and did his best to fill prisons. After that came Alexander Butterfield, a nobody. All he had to say was that the White House had a taping system that caught all the conversations in the White House. Any of them not on tape were erased by a participant.

The same is desperately needed now. Curious, following the words, an investigator - the mind here sees George Mitchell and Warren Rudman, and you name me better - can slap a hand on the slitherers and sneaks who have kept us in war for five years and who use failing generals to beg for more time and more lives of our young. A final word in September? Two years more, the generals and Bush people say.

Say impeachment and you'll get your troops home.

As I am walking in Rosedale, on these streets sparkling with sun, I remember the places I have been in the cold rain for the deaths of our young in this war. Rosedale now, Washington Heights before, and the South Bronx, and Bay Shore and Hauppauge and too many other places around here.

And in Washington we had this Bush, and it is implausible to have anyone who is this dumb running anything, smirking at his country. He sure doesn't mind copying those people. On his PBS television show the other night, Bill Moyers said he was amazed at Sara Taylor of the White House staff saying that she didn't have to talk to a congressional committee because George Bush had ordered her not to. "I took an oath to uphold the president," she said.

That president had been in charge of a government that kidnapped, tortured, lied, intercepted mail and calls, all in the name of opposing people who are willing to kill themselves right in front of you. You have to get rid of a government like this. Ask anybody in Rosedale, where Le Ron Wilson wanted to live his young life. His grave speaks out that this is an impeachable offense.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

NY Times: Chancellor Answers Critics on School Financing Data by Jennifer Medina...

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Seeking to placate critics who want details of how the city’s schools will use an influx of new state money, Chancellor Joel I. Klein released figures yesterday that showed District 27 in Queens as the big winner, receiving more than $14 million. Much of the money — $10 million — will go toward reducing class size.

New York City won increased educational aid this year, the result of a legal battle over school financing. Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislators agreed to a plan that sent an additional $1.03 billion to schools, with about $700 million coming from the state and $300 million from the city.

A portion of the money — $258 million — must be used for set goals like reducing class sizes, improving teacher quality and increasing instructional time. The city, like other school systems statewide, must submit a plan to the state for approval. The legislation also requires that the districts spend the money “predominantly” on schools that show poor performance or have large clusters of low-income students.

The city this month said that it would use nearly half the funds to reduce class sizes. Detailed figures released by the city yesterday showed how much extra financing school districts and individual schools would receive, but still did not specify where class sizes would be cut. Critics say the distribution raises the question of whether schools that are relatively high-performing are getting too much of the money.

“There is certainly going to be a lot more back and forth, because this just is not going to fly,” Meryl Tisch, a member of the State Board of Regents, said of the city’s plan. “The point of this money is to drive it to those kids who need it the most.”

But Chancellor Klein has adamantly defended the plan, saying that nearly every school in New York City has a number of students in poverty or at risk of failure.

“You’ve got to look at this in the real world and in the big picture,” the chancellor said. “There are students with needs everywhere, and we have to give money to all students, not just some students.” He said that the money has been directed to schools with high poverty rates and that the “overwhelming majority” of the money would be spent there.

The plan is unlikely to quiet those who say that the city is not focusing the new funds on the city’s lowest-performing schools. Critics yesterday pointed out that District 2 on the Upper East Side, one of the highest performing districts in the city, is getting more than $6 million.

“We believe that the money was intended to serve the lowest-performing students in the neediest schools,” said Geri Palast, the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a group that sued the state for more money for New York City schools. “This just isn’t that, as far as we can tell.”

Other districts getting large influxes of new funds are District 9 in the Bronx, $8.6 million, and District 10 in the Bronx, nearly $9 million.

Even within districts, the distribution of funds varies widely. In District 27, in Queens, Public School 124 in Ozone Park will receive about $525,000. A few miles away, Public School 108 will receive more than $1.4 million in new state money, more than any other city school. But in both schools, more than two-thirds of the students perform at grade level and about 70 percent of the students are at the poverty level. While P.S. 108 will receive far more money, lower-grade classes there are already smaller than at neighboring P.S. 124. — an average of 21.8 students compared with 23.5.

The plan was submitted to Albany late Monday night after a week of public hearings. It will set the stage for negotiations with the State Education Department, which has until mid-August to approve the plan.

Forbes: Spitzer Said to Seek More Racetrack Bids

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"NEW YORK - The pool of entrants in a hotly contested bid to operate three upstate New York race tracks may get bigger, according to a report on Wednesday.

Governor Eliot Spitzer is looking for new proposals for the franchise that runs the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks, according to a report in the New York Daily News.

Spitzer has previously suggested the franchise could be split, with one group running racing and another running video slot machines at Aqueduct and Belmont.

A call to Spitzer's office seeking comment was not immediately returned.

The New York Racing Association currently operates the franchise, but its contract expires on Dec. 31.

NYRA is looking to keep the tracks, but has faced competition from Empire Racing, Excelsior Racing Associates and Capital Play.

Empire Racing's members include Churchill Downs Inc. (nasdaq: CHDN - news - people ), Magna Entertainment Corp. (nasdaq: MECA - news - people ), Delaware North Cos., Woodbine Entertainment Group and Scientific Games Corp. (nasdaq: SGMS - news - people )

Steve Wynn, chief executive of Wynn Resorts Ltd. (nasdaq: WYNN - news - people ), is part of Excelsior's team. Others in the group include Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust (nyse: VNO - news - people ) and Richard D. Bronson of The Bronson Cos."

Times Ledger: CDEC 27 Revs up for Restructuring by Howard Koplowitz..

Times Ledger - CDEC 27 revs up for restructuring:

Members of Community District Education Council 27 agreed Monday to double their meetings to twice a month in October and November to brace for confusion stemming from the city Department of Education's restructuring taking effect in the upcoming school year.

Under the restructuring, the city's 10 regions will be eliminated and principals will have these options:

¥Designate their school as an "empowerment school," where principals have autonomy over their school budget and curriculum,

¥Team up with not-for-profit or for-profit organizations that will supply the school with support services or

Join one of four Learning Support Organizations, which will be headed by four former superintendents who will have their own support resources.

Newly appointed CDEC 27 member Margaret Kearns-Stanley said one of her children's schools informed her of which option it had chosen while other schools were not as forthcoming.

Other CDEC members said parents may be confused or will simply not know which route their child's school has chosen.

"I envision the worst and the worst is [the CDEC] will have a lot of parents calling you next month," said David Hooks, a council member who made the suggestion to double up on the meetings in October and November. "I envision a lot of problems."

"I'm concerned about how the children are going to make this adjustment and how the teachers will make this adjustment... there are a lot of questions out there. We need to do whatever we can to allay those fears."

There are six returning members to the CDEC this year and five new additions. CDEC 27 President Andrew Baumann asked the newly appointed members why they decided to join the council.

Far Rockaway resident Coralanne Griffith-Hunte, a new coucil member who has three children attending public school, said she wanted to be a conduit between schools and parents.

"There is such a disconnect between the parents and their children's education," Griffith-Hunte said.

John Patrick Larkin of Rockaway Park, also a new council member, said he "just wanted to better the situation for the children in the district, including my son."

"I wanted to make sure parents have a say in their child's future," he said.

The district covers Howard Beach, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and the Rockaways.

In other business, Baumann said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is scheduled to meet with council presidents Aug. 1 at Public Advocate Betsy Gautbam's office.

Baumann said Gotbaum's office was chosen as "neutral territory" because he said council presidents felt intimidated to speak during meetings at the city DOE's headquarters.

"People in the Department of Education would be sitting behind us e-mailing their bosses on their little BlackBerries," Baumann said.

New York Times Blog: 18-Year-Old G.I. From Queens, Killed in Iraq, Is Laid to Rest by Sewell Chan...

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Pfc. Le Ron A. Wilson, an 18-year-old from Queens who was one of the youngest American servicemen to be killed since the war in Iraq began in 2003, was buried today in Farmingdale, on Long Island, after a funeral Mass at Christ the King Church in Springfield Gardens, Queens, The Associated Press reports.

Private Wilson was killed on July 6 when his Humvee was hit with a roadside bomb on patrol in Baghdad. Trained as a weapons mechanic, he was assigned to Third Infantry Division but had volunteered for a weeklong patrol with the 3-7 Cavalry. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

In a dispatch today from Iraq, The Daily News reports on the sorrow of Private Wilson’s fellow soldiers. They said Private Wilson, who is survived by his mother and a 5-year-old brother, grew up poor and believed he could provide for his mother through a career in the military:

“She had a wonderful son,” said Spec. Blake Blann, 22, of Texarkana, Ark., who was Wilson’s roommate at Fort Stewart, Ga. “He was always doing the right thing and making sure everyone else was, too.”

Private Wilson’s father was from Trinidad and Tobago and served in its military. Private Wilson enlisted at age 17, which required his mother’s permission, shortly after graduating from Thomas Edison High School. NY1 reports on the memories of some of Private Wilson’s friends from New York, and WCBS-TV quotes his aunt, Anne Marie Charles, describing him as “a loving child.”

Jim Dwyer is writing a column for The Times, to be published on Wednesday, about Private Wilson’s funeral.

NY1: Report: City Public Schools Raking In Million In Private Funds

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City public schools are reportedly raking in private contributions.

The New York Post says the city school system cashed in about $80 million in donations for fiscal year 2007.

The paper says about $34 million of it came from the non-profit organization Fund for Public Schools. The other $46 million came from grants provided by other non-profit groups.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30th, the fund reportedly received more than 700 gifts, including donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and The Broad Foundation.

NY1: Funeral Held For Queens Soldier Killed In Iraq

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Motorcycles roared onto 145th Road in Brookville Tuesday, leading the funeral procession for 18-year-old Private Le Ron Wilson, who was killed in Iraq on July 6th when his vehicle hit an explosive device.

"He was a great kid, always outgoing, always willing to do anything., really fun to hang out with,” said Wilson’s friend Vernon Cruz.

"Someone so young, so close to us, who hung out with us, you know, this happens, and you don't know how to take it, you just gotta keep moving forward, that’s about it,” said another friend Daniel Rafael.

Hundreds of mourners made their way into Christ the King church to remember Wilson, who came to New York from Trinidad at the age of 11.

For his 17th birthday, he asked his mother to sign enlistment papers for the army, and she did it.

He joined up after graduation from Thomas Edison High School.

"We all told him not to go, but he still went,” said Wilson’s aunt Anne Marie Charles. “That was his choice."

Wilson followed in the footsteps of his father, a Cadet Force Major in Trinidad.

"I'm very proud of him. I don't want his name to just be a name hanging on a wall. I want him to live on,” said Wilson’s father Lawrence Wilson. “I've been promised by a couple people that they're going to do whatever they can to keep his name living on and that's what I hope. I'm going to fight every fight possible to ensure that his name lives on. He didn't die for no reason. He died for a cause.”

Le Ron Wilson was posthumously awarded the Good Conduct, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals.

Wilson will be buried with full military honors at Long Island National Cemetery.

NY1: Critics Argue Against Klein's Class-Size Reduction Plan by Michael Meehan...

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July 20, 2007

Come September, city schools are supposed to get a huge cash infusion when the state makes good for shortchanging city schools for decades. But now, some advocates are worried the city's Department of Education will not spend the new money in the best way for school kids. NY1 Education reporter Michael Meenan filed the following report.

Creating smaller classes is supposed to be a big part of how the city spends hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state aid. It's a requirement mandated by Albany, and it can't come too soon says one high school student.

"If it's like 32 students, the class goes like out of control,” said student Jose Araujo. “It's too many students for the teacher."

School Chancellor Joel Klein agrees that students do better when classes are smaller. But he says he has already shrunk classes. He maintains there's now an average of 25 students to a teacher in city high schools and in the early grades it’s even lower.

Klein says he wants to target $141 million of the new state money for further class-size reduction, especially in middle schools where many classes are 30 kids or more per teacher.

But the teacher's union says classes need to be 20 kids per teacher and Klein's class-size reduction plan, based on school-by-school reviews, falls way too short.

"It was not supposed to be an amalgam of what principals wish lists were, school by school, and they put it together and give it to the state,” said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Klein argues that principals know best.

"We've got some schools where they're going to put two teachers in a class of 30,” said Klein. “They may not have the room to break up the class into two of 15. That's class-size reduction, maybe not in the view of some who want 20 in every class, which is not a real-word view in our context."

To prove how serious it is about reducing class sizes, the DOE says it's going to send in a team of specialists to 72 schools in September to teach administrators how to reduce class sizes.

The DOE is letting the leaders at one Chinatown junior high, where there are 30 students per class, decide what to do. But the group that brought the lawsuit that forced the state to provide the cash infusion says Klein's approach risks losing a chance for real class-size reduction.

"We need to get to a greater level of specificity beyond saying there will be coaching and supportive services,” said Geri Palast of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The state education commissioner has the final say on whether or not the DOE's class-size reduction plan meets their approval. A decision is expected in mid August.

-Michael Meenan

NY1: Councilman Gallagher Lays Low Amidst Allegations Of Rape by Molly Kroon...

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It's been a rough couple of weeks for Queens City Councilman Dennis Gallagher as accusations swirled that he raped a woman in his Middle Village neighborhood. Friday, Gallagher and his attorney answered some questions about the allegations. NY1’s Molly Kroon filed the following report.

City Councilman Dennis Gallagher has been laying low these days, refusing to come out of his Queens home he shares with his wife and two children to talk to a reporter.

He spoke to a NY1 reporter through the door.

"I have faith in the system,” said Gallagher. “I feel in the end I will be vindicated and I just ask that people don't jump to any conclusions."

Gallagher is facing some serious accusations – a woman who lives just a few blocks from the councilman says he raped her earlier this month. Authorities say that Gallagher met the woman at a neighborhood bar, Danny Boys, just steps from his family's home and less than a mile away from his district office on Metropolitan Avenue.

The woman alleges that Gallagher raped her in an office upstairs. Police searched the building for evidence the following day.

Gallagher has since given DNA samples to the police, but his attorney, Stephen Mahler, says he is innocent.

"He vehemently denies any criminal wrong doing," said Mahler.

The Queens district attorney would not comment on the case, but sources say a grand jury will be convened to look at the evidence – and could come back with a decision next week.

Mahler, however, downplayed the significance and said his client would not testify if called.

"It's really indicative of nothing that you're having a grand jury investigation," said Mahler.

Still, the allegations have shocked many in the community.

"He's with his family all the time,” said one local resident. “That's all he cares about, his family."

"Personally, I can say he's like the best guy in this whole neighborhood,” said another. “I can say that."

Gallagher was first elected back in 2001– one of just three Republicans on the council. Before that, he was chief of staff for former Council Minority Leader Tom Ognibene and was an investigator for the state Crime Victim’s Board.

Whether he's absolved of the allegations or not, Gallagher's attorney fears that the councilman’s reputation – and career – may be tarnished.

"I think all public officials are fearful of that,” he said. “Even private individuals, people not in public life, are fearful of such taint. It's something that is hard to undo it once it's done."

The full City Council meets next Wednesday. The question is if Gallagher will be there, as well.

-Molly Kroon

NY Daily News: Bird spurs bid to protect park by Rachel Monahan...

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Brooklyn bird watchers are atwitter over a rare visitor that they hope will persuade city officials to rethink plans for a waste transfer station in southern Brooklyn.

A western reef heron, more common to West Africa or the Persian Gulf and only seen half a dozen times in North America, touched down in Dreier-Offerman Park last week.

Local friends to the feathered kind hoped it would serve as their spotted owl, forcing the city to take a different line on protecting the area for local fauna and exotic visitors.

Chief among the concerns are plans for a nearby marine waste transfer station - part of a citywide compromise approved by the City Council last summer but that still requires state permit approval.

Putting the trash site near the Gravesend park makes no sense, said Ida Sanoff, chairwoman of the Natural Resources Protective Association.

"If we change one brick in this structure, it's possible the whole ecosystem will crumble," she said of the stressed urban environment.

Opponents of the project said that insecticides and pesticides - required to kill off mosquitoes and rodents attracted to the trash - in turn will poison the birds that feed on both or leave them with fewer sources of food.

The city Sanitation Department did not return several calls seeking comment.

Assemblyman William Colton (D-Bensonhurst), a vocal opponent of the waste transfer station, was delighted by the arrival of the wading bird - slate gray, with yellow feet and a white throat. He said it would be a bad idea to put a transfer station near habitat for such a rare bird.

And Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society, said any place that can attract such a bird is sure to be worthy of preservation.

"I'd really like to come see it," said Butcher, who has seen 700 species of birds, but not the western reef heron.

Legally required preservation, however, is generally triggered only by birds both native to North America and on the endangered species list, he noted.

Whatever may come of the transfer station, bird watchers were excited.

It's the "best sighting" ever in the park, Brooklyn Bird Club President Peter Dorosh wrote in an e-mail.

"There's no denying it's a real thrill," said Alex Wilson, 48, of Bay Ridge, who was the first to officially identify the bird.

Courier-Life Publications: Heron-worship in Brooklyn by Gary Buiso...

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It’s the avian equivalent of a Honus Wagner baseball card—and it’s arrived in Brooklyn.

A rare Western Reef Heron was spotted this week in Calvert Vaux Park, just north of Coney Island Creek, the first recorded sighting of the creature in New York State.

The news sent bird enthusiasts flocking to the waterfront location, hoping to capture on film what some described as a once-in-a-lifetime bird.

The Western Reef Heron is native to Africa and India. No one is sure how the bird made it this far, and there is some speculation that it is the same bird that was spotted last year in Maine and New Hampshire.

Bay Ridge resident and birder Alex Wilson was first to spot the medium-sized heron with distinctive yellow feet, just the third time the species has ever been spotted in North America, according to experts.

Still, he admitted, “I was excited for sure.”

The bird is so uncommon in these parts, it wasn’t even in the field guide Wilson was carrying.

He quickly alerted fellow birders, who posted the news on e-mail groups and on websites devoted to the popular hobby. “This is a bird that doesn’t belong here and is not expected here,” Wilson explained.

On Monday, the bird returned, wading in the water at low tide, searching for food. Western Reef Heron dine on fish, crustaceans and mollusks.

Shane Blodgett, a licensed tour guide and bird enthusiast from Ditmas Park, noted that the Western Reef Heron is not known as a long-distance migrant, further deepening the mystery of how it managed to make it to Brooklyn.

He said one theory is that the bird could have been brought across the ocean via the same weather patterns that form hurricanes.

“For it to show up anywhere in North America…it’s quite a happening,” Blodgett continued. “This is once in a lifetime.”

The bird’s arrival is not without some controversy.

Feathers might be ruffled, as “[s]ome experts think that the bird is [actually] a dark morph subspecies of the Little Egret,” Wilson noted.

©Courier-Life Publications 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

NY Post: Sex-Rap Pol: 'I'll Be Vindicated' by Frankie Edozien...

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July 17, 2007 -- In his first public comments about the allegations of a sexual assault made against him by a 52-year-old grandmother, Queens Councilman Dennis Gallagher proclaimed his innocence yesterday.

"Unfortunately, under the advice of counsel, I am unable to discuss the false allegations made against me," the Republican lawmaker said.

"I will say that I am fully confident that the truth will be heard and I will be vindicated."

His statement was released through his lawyer, Stephen Mahler.

In two interviews with The Post, his alleged victim, a grandmother of two, said the 43-year-old councilman approached her in a Middle Village watering hole and sexually attacked her after driving her to his office.

She said prosecutors have told her not to disclose the details. Gallagher, who has been a councilman since 2002, added: "I just hope the public doesn't rush to judgment before all the facts are heard."

No charges have been filed as the evidence is being reviewed by a grand jury. Springsteen Concert Aids Music Education for Needy Kids in NYC by Patrick Cole... Muse:

July 16 (Bloomberg) -- The next Bruce Springsteen may have the original to thank.

Music for Youth, bolstered by a Springsteen tribute concert that raised $150,000 for the foundation, is giving $350,000 to 14 music education programs for underprivileged students in New York City.

Springsteen, who grew up and lives in neighboring New Jersey, made a surprise appearance at the Carnegie Hall concert in April and sang ``The Promised Land'' and ``Rosalita'' with guest artists such as Ronnie Spector and Pete Yorn. Springsteen also donated an unspecified amount to Music for Youth, a division of UJA-Federation of New York.

``Bruce's philanthropy and his music are a beacon to people,'' said Jon Marcus, Music for Youth's director. ``They respect him as artist, and the performers were just thrilled to pay tribute to his music.''

Among the programs receiving $25,000 grants are the New York Pops' Salute to Music, which provides free Saturday music lessons to 125 junior-high school students; the Harlem School of the Arts, which helps needy music students attend college, and the Young People's Chorus of New York City.

The Bloomingdale School of Music, Bronx House Jewish Community Center Music School, Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy and Opus 118 Harlem School of Music also will receive money.

``This grant really helps support a program that's costly to run,'' James Johnson, executive director of the New York Pops, said in an interview. Johnson said the money will cover about a third of the $75,000 needed to provide weekend classes this year.


Opus 118 Harlem School of Music provides after-school instruction in voice, violin, guitar and piano to about 150 children. Philip Willis, the program's executive director, said the grant will fund scholarships for students who can't afford to pay $1,000 for the lessons.

``There's virtually no one here who is paying full price,'' Willis said in an interview.

Music for Youth, founded in 1995, is trying to fill the gap left by the cutting of music classes in public schools. In the 2001-02 school year, about 75 percent of third-graders in U.S. urban areas received weekly music instruction, down from about 85 percent when they were first-graders, according to a U.S. Department of Education study published in 2006.

``Schools choose not to offer music because they don't understand how important music education is,'' said Charles Feldman, Music for Youth's chairman and vice president of writer-publisher relations at BMI, which represents composers and publishers. ``If children learn how to play a musical instrument, it helps their cognitive ability.''

Music for Youth receives support from leading record labels, including Arista, EMI and Capitol.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at .

10 Are Accused of Scheme to Fake College Transcripts - New York Times

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Touro College’s former admissions director and former computer center director and three New York City public school teachers have been indicted on charges that they took part in a scheme involving fraudulent transcripts, the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said yesterday.

He said those defendants were among 10 people indicted in a “cash for grades scheme” in which students’ transcripts were altered and transcripts and degrees were created for people who had never attended the institution, including the three city teachers. The teachers were said to have bought falsified master’s degrees from Touro that helped in their promotion and their certification.

Mr. Morgenthau said the former admissions director, Andrique Baron, and the former computer center director, Michael Cherner, had worked with an intermediary, Vladimir Diaquoi, who was said to have collected payments from the teachers and delivered forged transcripts to them. The district attorney said that people paid $3,000 to $25,000 for the false or altered transcripts.

Mr. Baron was arrested in March and Mr. Cherner was arrested this month, the district attorney said, adding that both had been suspended from their jobs. The teachers and one other defendant, a Touro student, were arrested this month. Four others, including three former students, were still being sought.

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Mr. Cherner hung up after an interview was requested. Mr. Baron’s number could not immediately be located. Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the teachers had not contacted the union. At this reporter’s request, Mr. Davis left a message for one, seeking comment, but the message was not responded to. He said he was unable to reach the other two at all.

The district attorney said that at least seven transcripts were tampered with from January through March of this year, but added that his office had found alterations affecting transcripts dating to 2003. And he said the office found indications that at least 50 other transcripts had also been tampered with this year.

Mr. Morgenthau said the investigation was continuing, adding that he believed that hundreds, maybe even thousands, of transcripts may have been fabricated or altered.

Franklyn H. Snitow, a New York lawyer representing Touro, said, “We are doing our due diligence to determine the scope of these problems,” but “we don’t believe that the numbers reached the hundreds or thousands.”

The district attorney said Touro discovered the problem and reported it in February to the police, who referred the case to the district attorney.

Touro said in a statement yesterday that it was cooperating with the investigation.

“This conduct was confined to what appears to have been a betrayal of trust by persons with responsibility for the integrity of the record-keeping, and only because we had certain controls in place were we able to identify the wrongdoing and bring it to the attention of law enforcement,” the statement said.

Touro, a Manhattan-based independent college that describes itself as operating under Jewish auspices, has more than 23,000 students, about half undergraduates.

Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, said the three teachers charged — Florence Constant, Renee Rene and Ghislene Joseph Julmice — were still on the payroll but were not working this summer. She added that they would be reassigned to positions outside the classroom until the charges were resolved, and dismissed if found guilty. She said that Ms. Constant and Ms. Rene were both tenured and could not be dismissed without a hearing.

Ms. Constant, who taught at the Queens School for Career Development and earns $64,333 a year, worked as a paraprofessional from 1988 to 1998, and then as an uncertified teacher from 1998 to 2003. She was appointed as a teacher in September 2003, and then had five years to earn a master’s degree.

Ms. Rene, who taught at Public School 233 in Queens, started as a paraprofessional in 1987, became a regular substitute teacher in 2001 and was appointed a special education teacher in 2003. She earns $60,889.

Ms. Julmice, who worked most recently at P.S. 243 Weeksville School in Brooklyn, was a paraprofessional from 1996 to last February, when she was appointed a special education teacher. Her salary is $42,512.

Ms. Feinberg said the Education Department’s human resources office conducts background checks, “but if the higher education officials are in collusion, it’s hard to find out.”

NY Magazine: The Most Influential People in Education...

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"The Influentials: Education"

Joel Klein
Chancellor, New York City Department of Education

John Sexton
President, New York University

Arun Alagappan
Founder, Advantage Testing, Inc.

Randi Weingarten
President, United Federation of Teachers

Robert Hughes
President, New Visions for Public Schools

Geoffrey Canada
CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone; founder, Promise Academy Charter School; and co-chair, Mayor’s Special Commission on Poverty

Clara Hemphill

NY Daily News: Quotas are Out, So Does Nikita Get In? by Tanyanika Samuels...

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When the U.S. Supreme Court recently restricted the use of racial quotas in public school admissions, Nikita Rau's family rejoiced.

The Brooklyn sixth-grader, who is of Indian heritage, had been rejected from an elite school in Coney Island because of such quotas.

In light of the Supreme Court decision last month, the Raus were hopeful that the city Education Department will quickly reverse Nikita's case.

"It was very encouraging," said her father, Dr. Anjan Rau, a vascular surgeon.

City education officials said they are now reviewing the city's two race-based admissions programs, but the Rau family is running out of patience - and time.

"If they don't make a decision soon, we'll go to court and compel them to take action," said lawyer Joseph Tacopina, adding that the legal battle could come in as little as two weeks.

Nikita, 11, has been denied a place at Mark Twain Intermediate School although she outscored some of her white counterparts on the admissions test.

Mark Twain is one of only two city public schools that admits students according to court-ordered racial quotas. The other is Louis Armstrong School in Queens.

A 1974 federal court ruling calls for Mark Twain's student population to be 60% white and 40% students of color. But as the demographics of the area have shifted, critics say the requirement has given whites an unfair advantage.

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-Brooklyn, S.I.) is among those who have challenged the policy. "We send the wrong message when we tell students they cannot attend the school of their choice because they are the wrong color or ethnicity," he said.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has also come out against the racial quota rule, calling it "anachronistic."

Nikita does have options, however. She has been accepted into the prestigious Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences in Sheepshead Bay and may enroll there in the fall, her parents said.

NY Sun: Klein's Spending Plan Meets Opposition - by Elizabeth Green...

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The city schools chancellor could face a showdown tonight as he sends Albany a final proposal for how the city will spend an influx of new state funds.

Chancellor Joel Klein is scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy on the same day he turns in the proposal, which details the city's plans for the first batch of more than $5 billion won in a decade-long lawsuit battle that concluded last year.

Heeding a call for accountability from Governor Spitzer, state lawmakers demanded the funds be spent on five specific goals, which the city has to demonstrate it is targeting in a document known as a Contract for Excellence.

Parents, teachers, lawmakers, and some of the lawsuit's original plaintiffs decried the city's first draft of the contract at hearings across the city last week, arguing it does not meet state requirements. They pointed to a class-size reduction plan they characterized as meager and $17 million slated for a testing program.

The draft said the testing program will improve students' "time on task," one of the state regulations' five goals. Its class-size plan called for reductions of as much as 0.8 students a class next year, but it did not specify changes in school construction plans.

How can DoE reduce class size without creating more classrooms?' a City Council member who was also the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's original plaintiff, Robert Jackson, asked at a hearing.

Department of Education spokesmen would not say whether the final plan includes revisions. A member of the Panel for Educational Policy, Patrick Sullivan, said a senior department official told him Friday that the plan has been revised, but he said he has not seen any specifics.

Mr. Sullivan said he plans to condemn the plan tonight, as he did at a hearing last week. He complained that the panel, an oversight board that has voted on policies such as Mayor Bloomberg's push to end social promotion and the city's new school funding scheme, will have no say over the contracts.

A department spokesman, Andrew Jacob, said the panel gets no vote because state regulations do not specifically require one.

'They don't want a vote because it might be embarrassing,' Mr. Sullivan countered. 'But accountability needs to be a two-way street.'

The final plan is being sent today rather than yesterday, the original deadline, because it is a business day, Mr. Jacob said."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Queens Chronicle: Bidders Donations, Dealings Probed by Joseph Wendelken...

Queens Chronicle - Bidders’ Donations, Dealings Probed:
Members of the firms eyeing the state’s racetrack franchise have given generously to Albany decision-makers and have extensive ties to offshore, unregulated wagering houses, the state’s inspector general confirmed last week.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer called for the inspector general to report on the integrity of the bidders seeking to control the franchise, comprised of Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park, Belmont Park Race Track on the Queens-Nassau border, and Saratoga Race Course, located upstate. The request for the report, released on July 2, accompanied Spitzer’s pledge to place integrity at the center of the bid-awarding process. Excelsior Racing, Empire Racing, Capital Play and the New York Racing Association, which currently runs the franchise, are vying for the new contract.

According to Inspector General Kristine Hamann, the New York State Temporary Commission on Lobbying inquired into flights provided by Richard Fields to then Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and then Senate Minority Leader David Paterson between February 2006 and January 2007. Fields is one of Excelsior’s principal investors. As a result of the inquiries into the plane trips, which brought Spitzer to gubernatorial fundraisers in three different U.S. cities, the governor-to-be’s campaign returned $103,871 to Fields.

Other members of the Excelsior team also forged relationships with state leaders, donating over $150,000 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee, headed by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and the Spitzer-Paterson campaign between 2002 and 2007.

Report authors wrote of the well-documented relationship between Bruno and former Empire Racing board member Jared Abbruzzese. Abbruzzese has been subpoenaed in the federal government’s investigation into Bruno’s business dealings. Abbruzzese donated over $150,000 to Bruno-controlled campaign committees and last March allegations surfaced that Bruno steered $500,000 in state funds toward Evident Technologies, an Abbruzzese-owned company.

Empire’s political action committee made sizable donations to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee and to Spitzer’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Attorney General Spitzer’s 2002 reelection campaign received $10,000 from a New York Racing Association board member.

Although investigators found no dubious lobbying measures taken by Capital Play, Karl O’Farrell, its only shareholder, owns an Australia-based rebate shop. Several representatives from the three other bidding firms maintain business relationships with rebate shops — offshore-based gambling brokerage houses that guarantee to return a percentage of every bet to a bettor. Because they don’t require identification from bettors, many of whom wager over the Internet or through telephone calls, many drug dealers use them to launder money. Although not illegal, some rebate shops, such as O’Farrell’s, are blocked from doing business with New York’s race tracks.

Report authors described as “noteworthy” the move by four Empire investors to divest themselves from the firm when it became known last March that they would be subject to extensive background checks and have to swear to the accuracy of questionnaires answered.

Investigators cited stakeholders from each firm who did not disclose, among other things, their involvement in pending lawsuits, their holdings in certain companies and their outstanding tax liens. Others didn’t provide complete tax returns or disclose their relationships with others in different racing or gaming entities.

Working in conjunction with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Police, three private firms — Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Thacher Associates — headed the investigations.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) said that she found connections between bidding firms and rebate shops disturbing, but added that she doesn’t believe that campaign donations will sway the bid-awarding process. Pheffer said that many past Spitzer and Bruno donors may harbor business or legislative interests somewhere in the state. “That doesn’t mean that Bruno and Spitzer could be bought,” she said.

State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights), who served on a Spitzer ad hoc committee on the future of horse racing in New York, said: “I’m not surprised that people in New York are doing business.” But he added that he did not believe donations to Albany lawmakers would affect the selection process.

A Spitzer spokesman did not return messages seeking the governor’s response to the inspector general’s report and comment on the possible effect of campaign donations on the bid-awarding process. In a statement he released upon receiving the report, Spitzer said: “Today, with the IG’s (Inspector General’s) release of its Integrity Review ... one of the important predicate steps in the selection process has been completed.”

Earlier in the year Spitzer vowed to select a firm before the legislative session closed on June 21. Although some expect a decision to come this summer during a special session in Albany, Spitzer faces an absolute deadline of Dec. 31, when the New York Racing Association’s current contract with the state expires.

Photo: Michael O'Kane

©Queens Chronicle 2007

NY Daily News: Victims of '06 Queens Blackout Have No Faith in Con Edison by Lisa L. Colangelo...

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Sunday, July 15th 2007, 4:00 AM

Every time the temperature rises and a heat wave smothers the city, Ardian Skenderi crosses his fingers and hopes his Astoria restaurant won't lose power.

He's still reeling from last July's prolonged blackout, which cut power to 174,000 residents of western Queens. Many were without electricity for more than a week.

The blackout hit Skenderi hard. It cost his seafood restaurant, Taverna Kyclades, about $20,000, he said.

"You have to throw everything away," he said, referring to the thousands of pounds of fresh fish he carefully keeps on ice.

Astoria residents and merchants endured the worst of the blackout that began July 17, 2006.

They said the Bloomberg administration and Con Edison ignored their pleas for help. By the time Mayor Bloomberg showed up in the neighborhood and set up a command center, residents and store owners had suffered for days in the sweltering heat without help or hope.

"Last year we took care of ourselves," said Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria).

Gianaris worked with community groups and Council members Peter Vallone Jr. and Eric Gioia to get ice, water, generators and other emergency supplies to their western Queens districts.

"We have to be prepared to do it again this year," Gianaris said.

Con Ed officials have said they are doing everything they can to prevent another long-term blackout. And the utility giant has changed the way it keeps track of customers who lose service.

"We know we damaged our credibility with many customers, and we are working hard to rebuild it," said Con Edison spokesman Michael Clendenin. "We're committed to providing the best service that we can every day, and we've made the infrastructure investments to prove it."

City emergency management officials told the Daily News that they are tracking blackouts on their own rather than counting on Con Ed to figure out how many New Yorkers are without power.

After last year's Queens blackout, Harry Panagiotopoulos shelled out $4,000 to buy a generator for his Igloo Café on 31st St. He figures he lost well over $10,000 in inventory, and even more in business because of the power failure.

"We were down the entire time," he said. "We starting giving away ice cream. I felt like we were completely abandoned."

Merchants were eligible for up to $7,000 in reimbursements from Con Ed. But most said it didn't come close to making up their losses.

Panagiotopoulos is trying to safeguard against another blackout. Along with the emergency generator, he has bought several battery-powered fans.

But he admits he won't be able to keep his café completely open if there is a blackout.

"We're all expecting it to happen again," he said with a sigh.

Across the street, Alex Poulos remembers the chaos and broken promises.

"They kept saying the power would be back on tonight, tonight," said Poulos, who owns Soho, a café that he was forced to close for days. "The city should have given us generators after the second day."

Newsday: Diary - Fighting to Save History by Merle English...

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In the early 1920s when the Rockaways was a popular summer resort for the city's middle- and working-class families, thousands of bungalows covered a large swath of the peninsula. Today, urban renewal and a changing landscape have contributed to leaving fewer than 200 of the largely single-story, three-bedroom structures.

The remnants are mostly clustered between Beach 24th and Beach 26th streets and the three blocks from Seagirt Boulevard to the boardwalk in Far Rockaway.

Some, decrepit and vacant, are among the peninsula's dwindling pockets of blight. Others are owner-occupied or rented.

But as a building boom sweeps across the Rockaways and developers replace bungalows with taller, wider, oceanfront structures, efforts are under way to protect and preserve the endangered structures.

Artists, lawyers and other professionals from Manhattan are buying and restoring bungalows; some as year-round residences, others as summer retreats. Jeanne DuPont, 39, a costume designer for films, and her husband, John Nishimoto, a graphic designer, are among the latter. The couple live in the West Village.

Two years ago, they purchased a bungalow on Beach 25th Street. It cost $130,000, compared with about $90,000 the houses fetched when they were first built.

"I just saw the architecture, and I thought it was amazing," DuPont said. "A lot more people like myself are coming out to save them."

DuPont started the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance in the hope of helping to protect the bungalows from developers' bulldozers.

"Mine was in horrible shape," she said. "It was the worst on the whole street; now it's the best. You can do a lot with these things. It's just that a lot of people don't have the vision or the money."

More than 20 years ago, Richard George - an artist who lives in a bungalow on Beach 24th Street - founded the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association of Far Rockaway for its stated purpose.

George, the president, purchased several of the wood, brick and stucco homes, which feature hipped or gabled roofs and front porches, and is renovating them. One is an arts studio and gallery. His mother, Carmela, also an artist, owns bungalows as well.

George believes a documentary, "The Bungalows of Rockaway," that Manhattan filmmakers Elizabeth Logan Harris and Jennifer Callahan are filming for public television will be "a plus for our area."

Like DuPont, Callahan, 42, also a writer and a researcher for documentary film companies, and Harris, 45, a producer and writer as well as filmmaker, were struck by the bungalows' style.

"I couldn't believe these little bungalows were part of New York architecture," said Callahan. "I thought walk-ups, high-rises, chrome and glass."

Harris said, "I grew up going to the sea in North Carolina where they had cottages from the '40s and '50s. I was taken with them [the bungalows], because they are somewhat similar."

A work-in-progress screening of the film is scheduled for Oct. 24 at the Museum of the City of New York. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, whose office provided some of the project's funding, said the film will "evoke fond memories from many residents of Queens."

As for today, Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, said, "We're working with the Department of City Planning and the community to come up with zoning that would not allow large buildings there."

DuPont is encouraged. She said, "I hope that somebody does try and protect this community."

Boston Globe & NY Times: Jack Kerouac - Retracing 'On the Road' 50 years Later...

Boston Globe: Retracing 'On the Road' 50 years Later...

Chapter 1 - Lowell, Mass

Chapter 2 - Iowa and Nebraska

Chapter 3 - Wyoming, Utah and Nevada

Chapter 4 - California

NY Times: When ‘On the Road’ Was ‘On the Subway’ by Mitch Keller...

SIXTY years ago this week, Jackie Robinson was playing his historic first season with the Dodgers, the Yankees finally lost after 19 straight victories and Perry Como topped the Billboard charts with “Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba (My Bambino Go to Sleep).” Reports had recently come out of Roswell, N.M., that a rancher had found the wreckage of a flying saucer.
Associated Press - Jack Kerouac in 1962.

That Thursday, July 17, an unknown writer named Jack Kerouac, who loved baseball but preferred Charlie Parker to Perry Como and two-lane blacktops to outer space, left his mother’s apartment in Ozone Park, Queens, and set out on one of the best-known journeys in American literature. Then 25, he was heading west across the country in what became the opening trip in his classic novel of the Beat Generation, “On the Road.”

Kerouac experts like John Sampas, the executor of his estate, and the historian Douglas Brinkley say there is no record of Kerouac’s earliest movements that day. In all probability, though, his journey began at the elevated train station at Liberty Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park. There, according to Joe Cunningham, a subway historian, he would have boarded a train consisting of six old wooden cars and taken it to Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn. Then he would have transferred to the A train — which did not, at that time, extend to Ozone Park — and taken it into Manhattan.

By his own account in “On the Road,” Kerouac’s next train was the West Side IRT, which means he would have switched to it at Fulton Street, dropping another nickel into a coin box to activate the ponderous wooden arms of a 1940s-style IRT turnstile. Changing from the IND to the IRT cost an extra nickel in those days. Tokens were not yet in use, and it was still a year before the original nickel fare went up to a dime.

Kerouac’s immediate destination was 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, his ultimate destination San Francisco. In a letter to a friend three months earlier, he had said, “My subject as a writer is of course America, and simply, I must know everything about it.”

Ten years later, when the book finally came out in September 1957 — its 50th anniversary is one of this year’s big literary events — Kerouac became a national celebrity.

To hip young Americans and others who loved the freedom and exuberance they found in his book and his new, loose, often jazzlike way of writing, Kerouac was a liberating hero. To his detractors, including many established reviewers, his book depicted what they saw as the decadence and perversity of the dope-smoking, hard-partying, rat-race-phobic Beat Generation, whose founding members, in addition to Kerouac, included the poet Allen Ginsberg and the writer William S. Burroughs.

At the time of his trip, Kerouac, who had grown up in Lowell, Mass., and dropped out of Columbia University, was working on his first novel, “The Town and the City,” which would be published in 1950. In “On the Road” the character of his mother was changed to an aunt, Ozone Park became Paterson, N.J., and the author gave himself the name Sal Paradise.

On his way to San Francisco, Kerouac planned to stop in Denver to see friends he had made in New York, most prominent among them Neal Cassady, a former juvenile delinquent who would become a counterculture demigod as the character Dean Moriarty in “On the Road.”

Kerouac had met Cassady late the previous year. The highly intelligent but educationally deprived son of a Denver hobo, Cassady had a turbocharged personality, manic energy, big-screen looks and, as a serial car thief and reform-school alumnus, a practiced eye for the main chance. He would exert an enormous influence on Kerouac’s writing.

The IRT subway car that Kerouac boarded that day in July was probably grimy black from the steel-on-steel dust that built up on subway cars in the years before mechanized washing, and was outfitted with yellowish rattan seats, overhead fans and functioning windows. According to Mr. Cunningham, it had probably been in service since before World War I.

KEROUAC’S train emerged from the underground part of its journey at Dyckman Street in Upper Manhattan, 11 stops from 96th Street, and traveled the remaining six stops on elevated tracks, as it does today. The view out the window was one Kerouac knew well: After graduating from Lowell High School in 1939, Kerouac, who came from a working-class family, had spent a year at the elite Horace Mann School for Boys in Riverdale, the Bronx, before enrolling at Columbia, and had made the long commute there each day from the home of his mother’s stepmother in Brooklyn.

Just before it crossed the Harlem River Ship Canal, the train took Kerouac past Columbia’s football stadium at Baker Field, a sight that almost certainly stirred some emotion in him. Kerouac had been an accomplished scholastic football player and had wanted to play for Columbia, but a broken leg his freshman year basically ruined that dream, a development that Ann Charters, one of Kerouac’s biographers, said “remained always a crushing personal defeat.”

In those days, the end of the subway line at 242nd Street and Broadway, adjacent to Van Cortlandt Park, was a busy trolley hub. Descending the stairs from the elevated station, Kerouac boarded a trolley and took it into Yonkers, then changed to another one and took it, in the words of Sal Paradise, “to the city limits on the east bank of the Hudson River.” Then he started hitchhiking up the Hudson.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Kerouac/Paradise wanted to go west, yet he was traveling due north. This was because Kerouac, in studying his maps, had liked the looks of “one long red line called Route 6” — U.S. Route 6, which runs from Provincetown, Mass., 3,000 miles west to California — and had settled on the idea of taking the road all the way to Denver.

Unfortunately, to pick up Route 6 he had to go up to the Bear Mountain Bridge, some 40 miles north of the city. Worse, once he got there he discovered that little traffic passed through that semi-wilderness, and while waiting futilely for a ride, he got drenched in a thunderstorm.

Enraged at himself, humiliated by his “stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America,” Kerouac ended up taking a bus back to New York and then another one all the way to Chicago. In “Chi,” after he had rested up and “dug” the city, he took yet a third bus to the suburbs to escape the urban traffic, and finally began hitchhiking to Denver.

That November, Kerouac was back home in Ozone Park, working again on “The Town and the City” but now possessing lots of material for the book that would make his name. He lived 12 more years after “On the Road” appeared, dying in 1969 at age 47 from internal bleeding caused by years of stupendous drinking. His muse, Cassady, gave up his own tortured ghost in 1968 after being found unconscious beside some railroad tracks in Mexico, just shy of his 42nd birthday.

NY Post: Race-Bias Flap in Elite High School Test Prep By Chuck Bennett...

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July 16, 2007

A free course offered by the city Department of Education to train students to ace admissions tests at elite public high schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech has been quietly enforcing separate standards for blacks and Latinos compared with whites and Asians for the past decade, The Post has learned.

Asian and white students had to be "free-or reduced-lunch eligible" to qualify, according to department guidelines - meaning a white or Asian student from a family of four with an annual income above $37,000 was too rich for the program.

Black and Latino students had no such family-income requirements.

Stanley Ng said his Chinese-American daughter was denied an application for the 16-month program two years ago, when she was 11. Ng's income was over the threshold, but he said race scuttled his daughter's chance to apply.

"I was told that the Specialized High School Institute was already overrepresented with Chinese," Ng said, citing a conversation with an Education Department official last year.

"There is no way they could have found out about my [financial] status until I filled out an application."

Blacks and Latinos, combined, make up just 6 percent of Stuyvesant students and 25 percent of Brooklyn Tech kids, while Asians account for 56 percent of students at Stuyvesant and 49 percent at Brooklyn Tech.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling - saying race can't be used to decide which public schools kids attend - could wind up changing the rules for the institute.

"The [institute] was created to help prepare low-income and underrepresented minority students for the specialized-high-school entrance exam. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision, we are reviewing the eligibility criteria," said Education Department spokeswoman Melody Meyer.

NY Daily News: Bodega Owners are Under Siege, but Mike Fiddles by Albor Ruiz

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"How many more bodegueros will have to die before the mayor and the NYPD take action?"

The question, asked by José Fernández, president of the 7,000-member Bodega Association of New York, begs for an immediate answer.

After all, for many months bodegueros have been easy targets for thieves and murderers who seem to act with insulting impunity.

"The crime wave against bodegas is back after a period of relative tranquility," Fernández said. "And this time it is happening in places where we never before had this kind of problem, like Queens."

It is ironic that it is bodegueros, usually well-liked and supportive of the community, that are the ones being so viciously victimized. Of course, the fact that the criminals have been getting away with murder does not help.

According to Fernández, 17 bodegas in Queens have been robbed in a 30-day period. Tragically, last month, storeowner Bolívar Cruz was assassinated by robbers who shot him in the head. The crime that took the life of the 56-year-old Dominican immigrant and father of eight occurred on June 11 at his store, the Kennedy Mini-Market in South Ozone Park.

"He was a good man, my son," Ofelia Espinal, Cruz's 75-year-old mother, told the Daily News. "He worked too hard."

"No one has been caught, and there are no suspects in Bolívar's killing," an exasperated Fernández said. "Our stores are under siege. Bodegueros are living in terror because they feel that they are not getting adequate police protection. Crime against bodegas does not seem to be a police priority."

And this, Fernández insists, must change.

"We are only asking two things: adequate police protection, and for authorities to put an end to the impunity with which these criminals operate," he said.

New York cops are still investigating Cruz's murder.

Fernández declares himself puzzled by Mayor Bloomberg's inaction on Operation Safe Store. This was a program to place security cameras and 911 warning systems in bodegas located in high crime areas.

It was launched with much fanfare by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004, at a time when, like today, the number of bodega-related murders and robberies had increased alarmingly.

But security cameras were only installed in 10 stores in a pilot program that was proclaimed a success. Yet according to City Hall, Operation Safe Store has been extended to a total of only 33 bodegas of the more than 10,000 that exist in New York.

According to Fernández, after four years, the city has not lived up to its commitments. The Safe Store program is still paralyzed, he said, as if the mayor had forgotten about it.

"But if he thinks that solving these crimes is not a priority, he has the wrong agenda," Fernández said of the mayor. "If small business owners are not safe, New York cannot be called a safe city by any stretch of the imagination."

Fernández and the Asociación de Bodegueros have asked Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for an urgent meeting.

"They haven't called us back," a clearly worried Fernández said.

The mayor's press office had this to say in a written statement:

"The mayor is concerned about crimes against bodega owners, and considerable police resources are devoted to investigating crimes against bodega owners and employees, including a pattern of robberies that has been identified in Queens."

Well, that's good news. But the beleaguered New York bodegueros need the criminals caught and their stores protected. Not one more of them should die.

Queens Chronicle: Advocates Work To Put Life Back Into A Graveyard by Theresa Juva...

Additional info: Prospect Cemetery Association

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The symphony of buzzing insects and warbling birds is the soundtrack to the story of Prospect Cemetery. Founded in 1668, the 4.5-acre graveyard in Jamaica is the final resting place of the borough’s most famous families.

But today, the memory of the Van Wycks, Sutphins and Merricks and Revolutionary War veterans have disappeared underneath thick and thorny vegetation that has become an overgrown manifestation of time and neglect.

“I’ve shed enough tears over this to float a battleship,” said Cate Ludlam, whose ancestors are buried in Prospect, which is located on the York College campus.

In the mid-1980s, Ludlam was contacted by a local resident who discovered the famous headstones while rescuing puppies in the wild brush. Ludlam soon learned her relatives were not only buried in Prospect, but that the chapel located on the grounds –– ohe Chapel of the Sisters Ж was built by her ancestor, Nicholas Ludlam, after his three young daughters died.

Interested in revitalizing the site, Ludlam reached out to other descendants and re-organized the Prospect Cemetery Association, a group of descendants that was originally given responsibility of the site, but disintegrated in the years after it was formed in 1879.

The response was lukewarm, and membership dwindled; in 1996, Ludlam pulled weeds and raked the grounds in an effort to restore it herself –– until the monsters of poison ivy and tall grass eventually reclaimed it.

Focus shifted to the chapel where cooperation among the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, the Landmarks Conservancy and the Prospect Cemetery Association led to a movement to save the designated city landmark, also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

By 2002, fundraising efforts began for the renovation of the chapel, which had sat vacant for years.

The groups secured more than $600,000 from state and national preservation funds and Borough President Helen Marshall’s Office. The project will revamp the interior of the chapel, including the floors, and plumbing, heating and electrical systems. An additional $399,000 was spent on the overall site and a pedestrian walkway was built on 159th street in front of the chapel linking the college campus to the Long Island Rail Road. A sturdy exterior fence was also installed to keep vandals away.

In April, ground was broken on the chapel improvements and is expected to be completed by the beginning of next year.

Karen Ansis, a member of the Prospect Cemetery Association and the Landmarks Conservancy, has been working on gaining funds for the cemetery. In June, she applied for a $500,000 state grant that is set aside for properties on the national registry.

She said the overhaul will cost $1.1 million and the complexity of the problem –– damaged tombstones and vegetation unearthing markers or completely obliterating them Ж makes the restoration especially costly and difficult, much like an archaeological dig, she explained.

She noted the group will seek the additional $600,000 from private donors and local elected officials.

Ludlam said restoring the graveyard is the last piece in the project to make the site a community epicenter.

“The grounds are the history,” she said. “This is the history of Jamaica. This is the history of the United States. This is what freedom is all about.”

She said she wants visitors to someday be able to wander the graveyard and be enthralled with the stories that lay in it.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said of the possibility the graveyard will eventually be filled with life. “I feel failure is not an option.”
©Queens Chronicle 2007

NY Post: Flunk My Kid by Chuck Bennett...

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July 16, 2007 -- Staten Island mom Deanna Hassell wasn't shocked when her son flunked the seventh grade. What shocked her was his promotion to the eighth grade.

"Are you kidding me? Is the Board of Education kidding? How does a kid with a 60.53 average pass?" she asked.

"He should be held back! If children are not getting the education they need now, when they get to high school, they are going to drop out."

So, the 35-year-old full-time mother of three has taken the unusual step of demanding that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein order her son to repeat the seventh grade.

All year, Hassell warned her 13-year-old son, Anthony Raimo, that he would be left back unless he buckled down.

Anthony paid her no mind. He never did homework. He clowned around in class. He missed 55 days of school - more than one out of four - simply because he refused to go.

Still, none of it stopped him from squeaking by at IS 51/Edwin Markham School in Graniteville.

In a fortuitous twist for Anthony, the new criteria to end "social promotion," which went into full effect this year, actually worked to his benefit. For the first time, seventh-graders were promoted on the basis of just two end-of-the-year tests - not their year's worth of schoolwork.

He scored a 2 out of 4 on tests in both math and reading. Out of a maximum of 800 points, he got a 608 in reading - 599 was passing. In math, he got a 643 - 610 was passing.

"Ha, ha, I passed. I told you so," Anthony recalled telling his mom.

He doesn't even have to go to summer school.

"The message is you don't have to go to school. You take the two tests, and if you pass, that's it," Hassell said.

She called administrators at IS 51 demanding to know how her son could not be left back. After all, he failed every class but math, chorus and gym.

An assistant principal told her their "hands are tied" because Anthony passed the standardized tests, Hassell said.

Principal Emma Della Rocca did not return calls for comment.

The Department of Education said principals have discretion in holding back students who are not ready for the eighth grade.

Robert Tobias, who was director of assessment and accountability for city schools from 1988 to 2001, warned against forcing kids to repeat grades.

"It sounds to me like this kid is bored. Holding him back could be the worst thing to do because it would exacerbate the problem," said Tobias, who now studies testing policy at New York University.

Hassell, however, believes repeating the seventh grade will be the best lesson for Anthony.

"I don't deserve all this. This is embarrassing," Anthony said

Hassell said, "Without an education, he is going to be nothing. He's going to end up being stuck [working] at McDonald's."