Welcome back, and I hope that you all had a wonderful summer. My staff and I have been busy working with the community, addressing constituents' concerns and working with the many important not-for-profit organizations who are attempting to improve our quality of life.
Apartments at PS 186 Ribbon-Cutting Scheduled for October
I was recently invited to take part in a walk-through visit to the site of the former PS 186, which is in the late stages of conversion into affordable apartments as well as the new home of the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem, who are one agency involved in the project. At the time of our visit, most of the work had been completed and, from what I am told, families are beginning to move into the apartments. It is very exciting to reflect on the fact that, after decades of disuse and 20 years of effort, this beautiful building will be the home of generations of hardworking families.
Above left, Council Member Mark Levine, two young members of the Boys & Girls' Club, Executive Director Dominique Jones and Assemblyman Farrell pose. Above right, an exterior view of the former PS 186 showing the 1901 building's beautiful architectural details.
Preparing for Back-to-School Season in Manhattan
As we prepare to send our young learners back to school tomorrow, September 8, I would like to use this report as an opportunity to begin a conversation about what is being done to improve public schools here at home in the District and in the State Capitol in Albany where decisions are made that shape how over a million New York City public school students are educated.
New Tools, More Resources for Educators and Students
In my April 2016 report to you, I gave an overview of the historic financial commitment to education that was made in our budget for State Fiscal Year 2016-2017. To recap, the budget provides nearly $25 billion in education funding, makes available more resources that students and teachers need, and closed a funding gap that began in the aftermath of the recession of 2008.
Education Must Remain a Top State Priority
Our State Constitution requires by law that a sound, basic education be provided to all. We are all aware that this does not always happen, and despite our best efforts challenges remain. Some schools remain weak despite the existence of programs designed to help them by providing extra funding and oversight, and charter schools remain a controversial alternative to the public, private and parochial schools we all know and remember from the days of our own schooling.
Mayoral Control, Pre-K Are Working
While many have criticized Mayor de Blasio for the way he has run our City, I believe he deserves great credit, getting the Universal Pre-Kindergarten program off the ground and continuing to expand it year after year. In the past, Albany offered special funding to previous mayors to help pay for more and better early childhood education programs, but our offers were always refused. Setting up a Pre-K program is not as easy as hiring a teacher and putting a group of four-year-old children in a room. It is a complicated effort, more so than many people grasp.
If existing classroom space is available for Pre-K programming, and that is not always the case, the rooms themselves must be outfitted to be a good fit for small children. Teachers must be found and trained to teach to engage the abilities of these young minds and set them on a path to a long, successful academic career. It is a tall order and I commend the Mayor's efforts.
Critics Bash Public Schools, But Offer No Real Solutions
Some of the critics I mentioned above, who include editorial writers I will not name here, say that the Mayor and his staff have mishandled mayoral control of City schools and do not deserve to continue running them. In fact, I read an editorial last month that called the City's summer school program a "sham." Isn't it strange how their criticisms are always vague and play to parents' fears but avoid mentioning the hard data about student achievement City Hall is required to gather to understand and improve how our children are being educated?
Mayoral Control Critics Distort Reality
When the Mayor appeared before members of the Senate this spring to argue for a three-year extension of mayoral control, he spoke in great detail. His critics belittle the Mayor's grasp of the facts and figures of our public school system, and describe a contentious meeting between the Mayor and his rivals in the Senate that day. But that isn't what happened. For close to three hours, the mayor and his schools chief politely and calmly spoke and answered questions, making a compelling argument proving that what he is doing is working and explaining how the teachers' unions and individual educators are bending over backward to help young people learn.
In the end, the Mayor's stewardship of our schools and the 1.1 million students who attend them was extended by only one year. Because of this, unlike his predecessors, in the spring of 2017 he will be forced to drop what he is doing and make another trip to Albany to and appear before the Senate to essentially beg to be allowed to do the job we hired him for. As we
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Back to the future! As you will see below, I attended the 2014 groundbreaking for a new Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement building on 153rd Street which will contain a day care, affordable housing and social service offices. I am pleased to announce that the future is here and the project is complete. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, June 22.
This important new facility, which I was very pleased to support, is located at 260-266 West 153rd Street and will contain a 10,000-square-foot day care and 51 units of affordable housing, eight of which will be set aside for families who had been homeless.
Back to the Future: in November 2014, Assemblyman Farrell (center) takes part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a new HCCI affordable housing building on 153rd Street.
Residences at PS 186 to Open Summer 2016
Also following up on the latest news on affordable housing in the District, I am pleased to announce that the renovation of the former PS 186 is nearing completion and should be complete this summer. The project's managers stated last year that the 79 apartments would be filled by lottery. Please visit PS186living.com for more information.
Assembly Bill Would Extend Mayoral Control for Three Years
Senate Support Sought as Session Comes to an End
In my last report, I detailed Mayor de Blasio's testimony in Albany before a State Senate panel considering an extension of mayoral control of City public schools. Since that date in early May, the Assembly has passed a bill that would extend mayoral control for three years, a length of time for which Governor Cuomo has signaled his support.
As we approach the scheduled end of our Legislative Session on June 16 as well as the expiration of the existing mayoral control law later this month, it is critical for the education of our young learners that the Senate Majority cease its' politically-motivated efforts to hold up this legislation and allow the Mayor to freely and properly manage New York City public schools.
Speaker Heastie: Students Must Have "Every Opportunity to Succeed"
Speaker Carl E. Heastie, in an official statement to the press released after the Assembly passed our mayoral control bill in May, said that "It is our responsibility to give (students) every opportunity to succeed and Mayor de Blasio has shown himself to be a committed and enthusiastic steward of that mission." I agree entirely with the Speaker's assessment.
Mayor de Blasio recently, and correctly, declined the opportunity to speak at a second hearing on mayoral control, announcing that the second hearing was nothing more than a political trap and had Chancellor Fiorina testify in his place. It is increasingly clear that the Senate Majority, whose members mostly represent Upstate communities, care more about hurting the Mayor politically than they do to fulfill their obligation to provide a sound, basic education for all.
Greater Transparency and Accountability in Public Schools
Under Mayor de Blasio's administration, the City's education system has been successful in increasing transparency and accountability while encouraging greater parental involvement in their children's education. The Mayor's tenure to date has seen greater on-time graduation rates, better student performance on State standardized tests, and an overall more stable foundation to the City's large and diverse public education system.
Perhaps most important of all, Mayor de Blasio's administration is helping to end the much-criticized practice of moving less-than-capable teachers out of classrooms and into the "rubber rooms" where teachers sit idle all day while collecting a paycheck for doing no work. The Mayor has, instead, helped guide over 1,000 unsuitable teachers out of classrooms and into other lines of work. For all these reasons and many more, mayoral control must be extended without delay.
In closing, while I'm sure I will see many of you at community block parties, I hope that you all greatly enjoy your summer break, and I look forward to updating you in the fall. In the meantime, please feel free to visit my Web site at assembly.state.ny.us for the latest news from Albany and the goings-on here at home in the District.
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Farrell addresses questions relating to changes in the Gap Elimination in the Assembly Budget Proposal. E.203