2005-02-25 / Columnists

Simon says...

Lew M. Simon
Lew M. Simon

From the Desk of Lew M. Simon, Democratic District Leader, 23 rd A.D. Part B

It’s been quite a trying two weeks since our last column. On Ash Wednesday the Brooklyn Diocese announced the closing of two schools in the district I represent, St. Virgilius, which is located in Broad Channel and St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr located in Ozone Park.

We have been spending long hours attending meetings in the two communities brainstorming on ideas to increase enrollment and fundraising. Both of these schools have a long, close relationship with the families they serve. They seemed like one big, happy family.

Broad Channel, the home of St. Virgilius, is a small community comprised of hardworking families.Many of the families are related. St. Stans is made of different ethnic groups including Polish, Spanish and Guyanese. Both share the goals of giving their children a great Catholic school education which consists of small class sizes, dedicated faculties, high standards of education and above average standard test scores.

100% of their graduates qualify for high school. Many have received full scholarships to Catholic high schools. At this time District 27 public schools are running at over 120% of capacity, leaving no room for these children. P.S. 47 in Broad Channel has many grades closed out. In Ozone Park many children are being bused miles away because their local school is overcrowded.

We support the parents and faculty of both schools in their efforts to keep their doors open. We have provided them with information on applying for universal pre-K programs which would bring additional pupils and revenue into their schools. We provided them with a copy of a successful grant we had written so they can apply. We put St. Virgilius in touch with the  Office of Pupil Transportation so that they could increase enrollment by busing Rockaway students to their facility. I have agreed to lend my expertise and hands on approach to assist in fundraising for both schools.

At this time St. Virgilius has a 30 day stay to provide a business plan. As we are writing the Vicar, Msgr. Michael Hardiman is meeting with the St. Stan’s representatives.

During this whole disaster which is threatening to destroy Catholic education, Congressman Anthony Weiner has been advocating for the parents by holding a number of meetings and press conferences and opening his doors to the parents from the endangered schools. On Saturday the Congressman took a major leadership role by hosting a summit of all 26 schools slated to close in the Brooklyn and Queens diocese.

This was a chance to network together as a group and have questions answered by Msgr. Hardiman, Vicar of Education. As one of the strongest questioners, I asked  for a year’s reprieve due to the fact that the  school community was not notified of the closing until Ash Wednesday. Not one of these schools was given a specific list of findings of the problems of their schools and how to correct them. When I asked for the year’s reprieve to correct matters of enrollment and finance the Vicar said they have only 30 days after meeting with him individually.

The Congressman later said I had the word of the day. A number of key things came out of this meeting. The parents suggested a meeting to reevaluate medical coverage offered to the teaching staff and administrators. They would try to locate more reasonable sources of medical insurance. They ae also looking for ways to reduce the cost of fuel, lighting and food.

It was quite obvious that the Vicar was very nervous. It was also obvious that he would not take responsibility for the declining enrollment in the schools in the last 5 years. Some parents lost their jobs due to 9/11. Democratic District Leader Ralph Profetta of Brooklyn took on the Vicar about the cost to the Church of legal settlements along with a number of other issues.

I also told the Vicar that I take a hands on approach in my district and try to never miss a meeting. I recalled attending a meeting at St. Stan’s in October where the diocese came to discuss putting together a 5 year plan for education. What happened?

Hats off to Congressman Anthony Weiner for having the persistence and fortitude to assist us in these difficult times.  We look forward to doing everything in our power to keep the doors of these schools open.

On Friday morning we attended a union summit in front of the Ocean Grande Condominium being built at Beach 116 Street and the Boardwalk in Rockaway Park. These condos sell from $300,000 to over $1,000,000. The purpose of this meeting was to prepare for union picketing against this non union scab developer. Each and every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. we urge all union members, non union members, community residents and activists to show up on the line. This was organized by Mike Apuzzo, Organizer for Plumbers Local Union 1. 

Other union leaders involved include Austin McCann, Business Representative of Local 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Joseph McDonald, Business Manager, Local Union 137, Stone Derrickmen and Riggers Iron Workers, Joseph Farrell, President and Business Representative, Iron Workers, Local 361, William (Bud) Hoffman, Business Agent, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, Local 12, Kevin Kelly, Business Agent, International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Local 46, Robert W. Stark, Vice President and Business Agent, International Union of Elevator Construction, Local 1, Joseph giordano, Business Manager, Drywall Tapers and Painters of Greater N.Y., Local 1974, Paul Tyznar, Business Representative, Local Union 45, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Dennis Milton, Business Agent, Local 580 Ornamental and Architectural Iron Workers, Walter McKenna, Vice President, Local 14, Operating Engineers, John Norbury, Local 79 Business Agent and President of the Queens Board of Trade and Chris Kelly representing Business Agent John Harkin Dock Builders Local 1456.

We are urging everyone to unite and fight for union rights. Please attend where you may see the rat displayed on Beach 117 th Street.

We are saddened by the death of Betty Ingrassia, loving mother of Maria Catanese. This loving, kind lady was one of the nicest, sweetest women you could ask to meet, Her sudden death must have meant God needed a special angel for a major job up in heaven. Our sympathy goes out to the family.

Our next Atlantic City trip is on Saturday March 12. The cost is $32 with $25 returned. We leave at 5:30 and return at 8 AM. Call 945-1216. for reservations.

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