Council member James Sanders, Jr. provides opening remarks at the town hall meeting on education.
Members from community organizations, businesses and city agencies came together last Wednesday, May 1, for a town hall meeting hosted by City Council member James Sanders, Jr. The meeting was called to address a wide range of problems affecting the schools in District 27. The number one issue on the minds of many at the meeting was the enormous cuts in education, proposed in Mayor Bloomberg's budget, which will hit the Rockaways particularly hard.
"New York City stands in front of a $5 million deficit, and we must address it. We cannot allow the mayor to make these cuts in education, and jeopardize the future of our children," said Sanders.
The council member was flanked by several leading figures in the field of education. Panelists included Eva Moskowitz, Chairperson of the New York City Council Education Committee; Robert Jackson, Co-Founder for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity; Stephen Greenberg, President of Community School Board District 27; Charlotte Brown, Chancellor's Parent Advisory Committee; and Jean Desravines, Office of Community Partnerships Parent Education and Outreach.
The panelists did not mince words when discussing the seriousness of the budget cuts, and how the children in low-income sections of the district would suffer.
Panel members included (left to right) Robert Johnson (CFE), Stephen Greenberg (CSB 27), Sanders, Eva Moskowitz (NYCCEC), Jean Desravines (OCPPEO), and Charlotte Brown (CPAC).
"If you think it looks bad now, I'm going to tell you that it's going to get a lot worse come September. We must stand up now to address the problems in our community. Tomorrow is too late," stated Brown.
Greenberg, a native of the Rockaway community, was visibly shaken when he talked about how 750 two-family housing units are being built in Rockaway, but there will be no place for children to go to school due to the drastic cuts.
"It's important that we voice our opposition to the cuts in our district. We cannot afford to be silent on this issue. Too many kids are going to be hurt with the reduction of services and programs to this community. We have to speak out," Greenberg pleaded.
Sanders took a moment to acknowledge Robert Jackson, whose organization filed a lawsuit against the state of New York, under "Fiscal Equity", and won. The suit claimed that more tax money was going to the state than was coming back. In other words, if $10 million was collected in taxes, the suit claimed only $7 million was going back to the city, which meant the city was being cheated out of $3 million dollars, which could be earmarked for education. After proving his case, and nine other claims that were challenged by the state, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jackson's organization on January 10, 2002. Governor George Pataki is appealing the decision.
Many came out for the town hall meeting hosted by Sanders.
"The case was a difficult one. It took us a while, but we stood firm and never gave up because building schools and hiring teachers takes lots of greenbacks, and we were determined to get that money back," claimed Jackson.
Desravines, speaking on the importance of maintaining summer school programs, was very angry about the district cuts.
"Did you know that 40 percent of kids improve their grades as a result of summer school? The program works, and contrary to what many people think, it is a program that we need to maintain. We need you, as parents, to reinforce the importance of summer school," said Desravines.
Assemblywoman Michele Titus also voiced her opposition to the mayor's cuts in education, but she noted that the community has a responsibility to take matters into their own hands in opposing his plan.
Lassell Holliday, speaking on behalf of youths in the community, expressed his displeasure over the closing of a computer and education center in Far Rockaway. "This was a great place for kids to go and learn. Now they are on the streets, and there is a fifty-fifty chance that they will get into trouble. We need the center," he said.
"It's fine for all of us to sit up here and talk about what we, as elected officials, are going to do to address this problem, but unfortunately you cannot expect the city council, or anyone else, to fight your battles. We have to come together and stand strong as a community. We also need massive voter registration drives because voting can change the tide," said the Assemblywoman.
Council member Sanders stated that this was the first of a series of town hall meetings on education that would be held in Rockaway.
"I will stay on top of this issue. I will not let our children suffer as a result of this budget. I ask that you all join me in this fight. I'm good, but I cannot do this alone. This is going to take a community effort," stated Sanders.