Month: June 2017

Excerpts of Gerald Benjamin’s 06/08/17 Public Comment on RUPCO’s Landmark Place/Alms House/300 Flatbush Ave Project

The Alms House in Kingston is a handsome building. It is a testimonial to the city’s compassion, its commitment to the poor and to the idea of inclusion and community. It is very special that the proposed repurposing of the building sustains its use in accord with a redefined but still strongly identifiable social mission. Too many such buildings have been demolished or allowed to fall into disarray in our county – e.g. The Ulster County Poorhouse in New Paltz – diminishing our connection to our historic legacy. This wonderful city hall in which we meet today manifest’s Kingston’s understanding of the value of preserving its great architecture as working spaces, experienced and employed. You need to act again in accord with those values.

The social purpose of the proposed use of the Alms House – a building I know well from its time as a home for county offices – is essential and extraordinarily challenging. The need – still largely unmet – for affordable housing in our county and especially in Kingston is well documented in several studies, cited on the RUPCO website and confirmed by work we are doing in our research center at SUNY New Paltz now. The excessive proportion of income renters must spend for housing draws resources from other essential daily family needs – like food and clothing – diminishing their quality of life and opportunities for their children.  Continue reading

Down to Four NYS Test Days: Progress, But We Can Do Still Better

Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects, The Benjamin Center

KT Tobin, Associate Director, The Benjamin Center

Officials at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) just announced that, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the ELA and math tests for grades 3-8 will be administered over two days for each subject, instead of three. The one third reduction of the traditional six days of testing for ELA and math combined, to four days, is a step in the right direction.

We demonstrated in our 2015 study titled Time on Test that the three-day administration meant that students were sitting for these tests for approximately 9 hours; the total time lost to instruction rose to approximately 19 hours when administration of the tests was factored in. We commend the NYSED and Regents for listening to, and then acting on, a primary concern of parents regarding the testing: that students are sitting too long for tests and that valuable instructional time is lost.

But we believe that there is a way to shorten even further the length of time dedicated to testing and restore the opportunity for instruction that is lost due to it. We have argued previously that the NYS 3-8 assessments are not needed for individual student evaluation. NYS school districts assess children throughout the school year in Common Core-aligned curriculum. This allows students’ strengths and weaknesses to be identified – and acted upon – in a timely fashion during that school year. Parents, teachers, and students receive this information, and respond to it, all year long. The purpose of the NYS 3-8 assessments, then, should be to measure institutional performance, to provide school and district based accountability.

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Trust Democracy to Restore Democracy

There will be a statewide referendum question on the ballot this fall – required every 20 years – asking New Yorkers whether we should call a state constitutional convention. Our Jacksonian forbearers, the 19th century leaders who provided us with this regular opportunity to review the fundamentals of our governance, proceeded with a profound faith in democracy. Theirs was a very American – a very New York – belief in the possibility for progress and improvement.

The decision to provide this opportunity was realized in practice. During the 19th century conventions were routinely called once in a generation – in 1801, 1821, 1846, 1867, and 1894 – to revise, renew, and reform the way New York State was governed. From any single value perspective, the results were not pristine, but each time a convention convened our forbearers were, in some measure, affirmed in their faith in democracy.

In the 20th century we had 3 conventions: in 1915 and 1938 called by the people, and 1967, called by the legislature. All did, or proposed, some good things. But then we stopped. The half century since our last convention is the longest without such a gathering in New York State history.

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New York IS a Referendum State — In Local Government

This post, written by Dr, Gerald Benjamin, was originally published in Rockefeller Institute of Government’s blog. It is reposted here with permission.

After receiving a consultant’s report that the town’s highway garage was unsafe and near collapse, the governing board of the northeastern Onondaga County town of Cicero voted earlier this year to replace it. The estimated cost was $9,894,353. The decision had been avoided in the past, the need was great, leadership was willing, and the time seemed as ripe as it was likely to get. Town finances had been stabilized; Cicero is not among localities identified by the state comptroller as under “fiscal stress.” Interest rates are still low, especially for municipalities.

The plan was to borrow the money for the garage over 30 years. The average price for a house bought in Cicero in 2015 was $175,696. Without figuring in recent effects of changes in values, the annual tax impact of the project after the first year on this average priced house would come to $42 annually (about an initial 4 percent increase in a homeowner’s yearly town taxes). Things seemed all set. Continue reading

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