Presentation of Budget Highlights Becomes Town Hall Meeting
By Clifford Michel
Ten minutes after a representative from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office was scheduled to present highlights from his Executive Budget on February 3, murmur and confusion spread across CSI’s packed Williamson Theatre.
“When is this supposed to start?” one student grumbled.
Dr. Fred Naider, the College of Staten Island’s Provost then addressed the crowd.
“One of the biggest parts of education is to discuss discourse,” said Naider, who also holds the title of Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Today you’re going to talk to people who, on the state level, have a tremendous amount of power and influence and at the state level they particularly requested that students be present.”
There was a visible change in the audience following the statement as well as when Cuomo’s representative arrived five minutes later.
The active crowd at the Center for the Arts spoke out against various policies during an hour long town-hall style presentation.
Helen Foster, Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights, summarized and provided a brief analysis for each of the proposals. Titled the “2015 Opportunity Agenda,” Foster went over the Governor’s 66 proposals for the upcoming budget, which will be negotiated upon by the state legislature.
Professors placed a sign in the front row from PSC-CUNY, a union for the university’s professors and staff, which set the tone for the first question asked.
Students prodded about the funding of CUNY 2020, a challenge grant initiative started by the state in 2020 to incentivize CUNY colleges to help expand economic growth.
CSI received $15 million in funding for a Big Data Center from CUNY 2020 in its first year.
While allocations for this year’s funding is not yet known, Foster left plenty of reasons for enthusiasm amongst audience members.
“As far as I know the funding for CUNY 2020 has not changed or altered,” said Foster. “And actually for this proposal the funding has increased due to incentives.”
CUNY professors haven’t had a contract since October 2010 and have been protesting for raises ever since.
The union has been protesting for a contract and has constantly repeated that they haven’t received a fair deal.
CUNY Chancellor James Milliken also testified to the state legislature in early February to ask for funding for retroactive pay for the professors.
“CUNY is very concerned about the fact that the city does not seem to be paying attention to at least some of the needs that the university has to sign the contract,” said Naider. “It is very difficult to maintain a competitive faculty with the pay structure that we have.”
Another hot button issue was Governor Cuomo’s plan to put more emphasis on teacher evaluations and to further professionalize the teaching profession.
Cuomo’s plan includes paying full SUNY or CUNY tuition for top graduate candidates who commit to teaching in New York, a residency program, and a $20 million fund for teachers, which will allow teachers to earn up to a $20,000 raise if they’re deemed highly effective.
The controversy lies within the heaviness of the evaluations. Half of the evaluations will be based on state test scores and the other half will be based on evaluations (35 percent based on an outside observer and the remaining 15 percent based on a direct supervisor).
Teachers unions and educators have harshly criticized the Governor’s renewed emphasis on teacher evaluations.
“Why is the Governor basing evaluation of teachers on test scores again? There is an invalid measure, they don’t tell us anything,” said Ruth Silverberg, a Professor at CSI’s School of Education. “They harm English language learners, and they harm kids coming from homes where they that don’t have the same kind of literacy backgrounds.
“Those are the kids that are getting hurt, those are the kids who need teachers who are going to advocate for them. Yet there’s nothing in the Governor’s education agenda that honors that role of the teacher. It’s strictly focused on the standardized test scores and I don’t understand that,” Silverberg continued.
Foster will report noteworthy comments made during the presentation to the Governor’s Office.
Governor Cuomo, who has been rumored to run for President in 2016, toed the line that democrats have been echoing for the past year in his proposals: income inequality.
To combat this, Cuomo is urging the legislature to raise the minimum wage and provide student loan relief amongst five other agenda items.
In the wake of the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the Governor has prioritized multiple criminal justice reforms that surprisingly had more teeth than those offered by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The Governor has proposed seven solutions to improve police community relations, which people in town hall meetings and editorials across the country have been advocating for.
The agenda calls for a state-wide effort to recruit more minority officers and appoint a reconciliation commission specifically for improving relations.
It also includes the creation of an independent monitor–the Governor’s office used a retired judge as an example–to review cases where an unarmed civilian dies. The monitor would have access to grand jury files and could recommend to the Governor if a special prosecutor should be put in place.
He has also recommended to raise the age for prosecuting a minor as an adult to 18 and remove New York from the short list of two states that doesn’t have the legal authority to do so.
Other proponents of the budget proposes tax cuts for small business and property tax relief for homeowners and renters.
Starting a wide range of upgrades to state infrastructure, such as MTA properties, airports, seaports, rail hubs, roads, and bridges.
Continue funding to Regional Economic Development Councils, which is structure to create jobs throughout the state, and have them work with community colleges.
Cuomo also wants to double the state’s venture capital fund to $100 million to help kick start job creation and a $1.5 billion competition to aid in upstate New York’s recovery.
Moderate increases to environmental agencies were also proposed to expand protections of key agricultural properties, the reach of the environmental protection fund, and the launch of a clean energy business.
The legislature is expected to adopt a budget in March and the fiscal year will begin April.