My introduction to politics came through the public school system. All three of my daughters attended New York City public schools. When my first daughter entered kindergarten, her class was severely overcrowded and her school faced $200,000 in annual budget cuts. I knew from day one that I would have to be involved in a significant way.
As a working parent, I went from class mom, to PTA president, to member of the Community Education Council District 2. I raised over $3 million in funding for our public schools for school yard and bathroom renovations, science and computer labs, technology and a new library. To ease overcrowding, I organized a team of parents to canvass the neighborhood to find a new school site, which would eventually become PS 281 – The River School.
I am proud of the work I have done, but two decades later the problems public school children and parents face have only increased. Our schools are overcrowded, underfunded, and divided along race and class lines.
We must demand excellence and equity in our public schools. Our future depends on it. As City Council Member, I will fight for three major changes: (1) smaller class sizes, (2) more professional support for teachers and administrators, and (3) desegregating our public school system.
(1) SMALLER CLASS SIZES
New York City public school classes are overcrowded, and the problem is only getting worse. A record 670 schools have what labor contracts call “oversize classes,” up from 660 last year. In 2007,city officials followed state law in setting average class size goals of 19.9 students for K-3rd grade, 22.9 students for 4th-8th grade, and 24.5 students for 9th-12th grade. The Education Law Center’s recent report shows that 800,000 kids – representing nearly 80% of city students – were enrolled in classes that exceeded those limits in the past school year.
This crisis is unacceptable. Teachers cannot give students the time and attention they deserve when teaching in overcrowded classes, and students inevitably fall behind. Years ago, I organized parents to find a new school site to ease overcrowding. We did this because the Department of Education failed to lead. District 2 – and all New Yorkers – deserve a City Council Member who will step up, and take the initiative to find and build new school sites.
This problem has a clear solution, but City Hall lacks the political willpower and focus to get the job done. As the next City Council Member, I promise Council District 2 that this will always be a top priority for my office.
(2) PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS
I believe that schools should be held accountable, but the city must provide the resources necessary for schools to succeed. While the city’s use of a data management system to track test scores, student progress, and graduation rates was well-intentioned, too much focus on test scores has limited real learning. The quality of our education should not be based on how students perform on standardized tests – it should be based on a quality educator’s evaluation of the student. Obsessive focus on test scores oversimplifies education and devalues the learning process.
Instead, we should invest in a strong support system for our teachers. If we are going to hold our teachers to the highest standards, then we should provide them with the necessary resources and professional development required to meet those standards.
I believe for the sake of our teachers and our children, we must fully implement the Contracts for Excellence (C4E). Current C4E funds support class size reduction efforts and other specific program initiatives, including “Time on Task” (programs focusing on students who may require additional or increased individualized attention), teacher and principal quality initiatives, middle and high school restructuring, full-day pre-K programs, and model programs for English language learners. Despite this funding, class sizes continue to rise. It is crucial that the Department of Education be held accountable and make sure that funding is allocated prudently and appropriately for class size reduction.
Most importantly, we have to involve our educators in the decision-making process and recognize that they are the field professionals – not our elected officials. We need input from our teachers to ensure that their voices are heard.
New York City prides itself on its diversity and progressive values, and yet we have one of the most deeply segregated school systems in the country. This is nothing short of moral failure on the part of our elected leaders.
Decades of academic research suggests that socio-economic integration is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to improve academic achievement for low-income children and children of color. High-poverty schools tend to have fewer resources and more trouble attracting and retaining qualified teachers. Peer effects are important as well – including the educational benefits provided by a diverse student body, and political and financial resources provided by higher-income parents.
We need to focus on the socio-economic factors that are driving segregation. At the very least, public schools should reflect the socio-economic makeup of their own school district. Currently, the mayor and the Department of Education have not done enough to confront segregation in our schools, blaming the problem on housing distribution. As the next City Council Member, I will actively support efforts to rezone schools in order to make our public schools more equitable and to reflect the neighborhoods that they serve.
It is critical to communicate to public school parents that this is not a zero-sum game. It is in the interest of every child to integrate. We need leaders who are willing to challenge higher-income parents to believe in public schools and fight the legacy of racial segregation in our city.
Not all communities oppose integration. In fact, some have taken it upon themselves to address segregation. Community Education Council District 1 was awarded a Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program grant in 2015 (the SIPP grant) “intended to promote socioeconomic diversity and avoid racial isolation in a way that is equitable and fair to all students and practicable to implement.” And yet, despite years of research and advocacy, the Department of Education has refused to implement the grant. Elected leaders need to stand with parents willing to challenge the status quo, and fight for the support and funding necessary to make a change.
There are also real hurdles to racial integration built into New York City public schools that could change. Screening tools used by public high schools to select “merit-based” candidates often inadvertently screen out children of color. These include standardized test scores, school work portfolios, and interviews. If our “merit-based” system is segregating our schools along racial lines, then we must reconsider the evaluation tools used. As long as our schools are unequal, there is no true meritocracy in the system.
THE AFFORDABILITY CRISIS
There is no question that New York City is facing a serious and unprecedented affordability crisis. It is the first issue on nearly every voter’s mind – young and old, low-income and upper-middle class. If we do not act, our city could become a place where only the absolute wealthiest can survive.
To address the issue, we need to do three important things: (1) build more affordable housing units and strengthen rent stabilization laws to keep people in their homes, and (2) introduce new laws to protect small businesses from unfair rent increases and harassment.
(1) INCREASING AFFORDABLE HOUSING STOCK
Despite considerable public investment to stimulate the production of housing that is affordable to low and moderate-income New Yorkers, the supply of publicly-subsidized housing meets the needs of only a fraction of the people in these income groups. To do this, we must end unaffordable tax exemptions for real estate developers, and demand that they invest in the communities they impact.
For the past decade, the city has been losing affordable housing units. Since 2007, over 172,000 apartments have been deregulated. Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan from 2014 aims to “build or preserve” 200,000 units, with only 80,000 of those units falling under the “build” category. This current plan comes up short. We must aggressively add to the affordable housing stock to keep up with demand.
We are giving away far too much to real estate developers in the form of tax exemptions like 421a, which cost the city billions of dollars in tax revenue each year and produce woefully few affordable housing units, particularly units for the lowest-income renters. We would be better served by keeping the revenue from tax exemptions, and using it to build new affordable housing units that would not be at risk of becoming market rate after the 25-35 year tax exemption period.
The status quo for New York City Democrats is to publicly condemn development, while privately allowing developers to do as they please. This strategy wins elections, but short changes New Yorkers. Real estate developers are radically altering the needs of neighborhoods, and leaving the city scrambling to fill the gaps. The result is overcrowded schools and underfunded services.
To fix this, the City Council must exact more from developers. When developers come into a neighborhood and build, they are adding more residents, who will in turn require more services from the city. The City Council should require that developers invest in the community that they are changing. This means more money for schools, parks, renovating local transportation hubs, like subway stations and bus stops, or contributing funds to non-profits directly serving the community.
(2) PROTECTING SMALL BUSINESSES
The City Council must do more to protect small businesses. For the past 30 years, we have been losing many local neighborhood businesses due to excessive rent increases and tenant harassment.
The first step we must take is to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). The bill has been kicking around City Hall since 1988, and currently has the votes necessary to pass, yet the speaker and mayor refuse to bring it to a vote. The legality of the act has been a point of contention for years. However, a 2010 commission determined that the act was legally sound. As the next City Council Member, I will vocally support the bill, and demand that it be brought to a vote.
The SBJSA is only the first step. We must enact stronger commercial tenant protection laws, similar to the laws we have for residential tenants, in order to protect businesses from price gouging and landlord harassment. We also need to explore how the city itself is overburdening small businesses. To provide relief for small business owners, we need to review regulations to determine their necessity.
QUALITY OF LIFE
The New York City Council is one of the most hyper-local forms of representation. As such, I believe it must be a priority for Council Members to protect and enhance the quality of life in their neighborhoods, and provide responsive and effective constituent services.
My campaign priorities include reducing our homeless population, fighting overdevelopment that undermines the character of a neighborhood, cracking down on unreasonable construction noise, enhancing community policing efforts, and funding projects that improve neighborhoods, such as park improvements and trash and rat reduction.
As a member of the advisory board for the 30th Street Men’s Shelter, I have worked as both a concerned community member and an advocate for the homeless.
A specific solution to combat the city’s homelessness problem is to introduce a program to provide short-term rental assistance and services. The purpose is to get people housing quickly and efficiently, and for people to stay put. The research shows that this program is less expensive, and participants are homeless for a shorter amount of time than those who find shelter with transitional housing.
Additionally, we need to make sure that we combat the cycle of homelessness by ensuring that there is a proper plan in place for people leaving the shelter system. Building supportive housing on NYCHA property, instead of implementing the current “NextGen NYCHA” plan (an in-fill development plan to essentially privatize this property with 99-year ground leases) would be an important next step.
(2) REDUCING STREET NOISE
The crush of development and noise at all hours of the day and night, without regard to the impact on our families and neighborhoods, is unfair. The City is too quick to greenlight projects and permit the most disruptive kind of construction. As the Council Member, I will prioritize a more balanced approach to development that protects the integrity of our neighborhoods, and holds developers accountable for unfair noise pollution.
I support mass transit improvements and expansion; more real-time information for commuters; L train rider alternatives; bicycle-free sidewalks; Midtown tunnel traffic and noise relief.
I support the promotion and protection of human rights, including LGBTQ rights, women's rights, children's rights, civil rights, disability rights, and minority rights; gender identity and expression as protected classes; protections against religious discrimination; social and economic justice for seniors.
I support protections for immigrants seeking services and assistance with citizenship and residency applications; immigration reform; sanctuary city protections; health and adult literacy initiatives; language access services.
I support funding for senior centers; increased SCRIE and DRIE awareness and application assistance; senior tenant harassment protection; health, wellness and legal services; fraud and abuse protection.
I support expanding investment in the city's arts and artists, including independent theater and performing arts; creating affordable arts/performance space and artist live/work housing; investing in arts education, facilities and equipment in all public schools; building educational arts partnerships; increasing the city's Percent for Art program.