2010-07-16 / Columnists

Beachcomber

At the same time that school budgets have been cut and teachers excessed and fired, the Department of Education’s central office has ballooned 70 percent since Bloomberg took control over the agency. The number of central office employees, the great majority in the office that controls testing and the flow of information that comes from the testing, rose to 2,268 in 2010 from 1,332 in 2003. At the same time, the salaries of those who work in the central office rose by 79 percent. The Office of Accountability, which had eight staff members in 2003, now numbers 79. The Division of Human Resources grew by 80 percent and the Office of Legal Services and Labor Relations grew by 129 perent over the same period. During those years, the number of staffers actually dealing with children has fallen by 17 percent.

While nothing is official, word is that Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and State Senator Shirley Huntley have worked out a deal for the Broad Channel Volunteers that would finally provide them with a new firehouse. You might remember that money for the new facility on Cross Bay Boulevard was funded several years ago by then- Senator Hillary Clinton and Representative Anthony Weiner, but the city refused to take responsibility for the project because the FDNY said that the services the Volies provide are not critical. Now, however, under Pheffer’s plan, the state DOT would take responsibility and the firehouse would be built under the aegis of the state’s Dormitory Authority. If all goes right, the governor should approve the plan in the next two week, and then the Volies can move forward with the construction.

When we first saw the artist’s rendering of the new buildings planned for the site next to the water treatment plant, we thought “Quonset Huts,” because that’s what they are. The huts were used extensively during World War II and for years thereafter because they were cheap and went up quickly with no experience needed. Anybody who served in the military in the three decades after WW II will remember them, but perhaps not so fondly. They will be used as storage buildings for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The re-engineering of Cross Bay Boulevard from three lanes to two from the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge to Broad Channel has already started to have a negative impact on Rockaway residents. We received two calls last week from people complaining that they could not get through the town on Monday evening, July 5, because traffic was backed up from the first traffic light in the town all the way back to the Wildlife Sanctuary. When the Department of Transportation first proposed the changes as a safety measure, locals warned the agency that terrible traffic jams would be the consequence of the change, and their predictions seem to have come true.

It all comes down to how you read the judge’s decision in putting a halt to the phase-out and closing of Beach Channel High School and 18 other city schools. A Department of Education spokesperson says that the fact that the agency cannot close BCHS without going through the entire public process again does not mean that it is restrained from placing a new school in the building. The UFT and BCHS staff argue that the court ruling means that the entire process, both the closing of BCHS and the placement of the Rockaway Park High School of Environmental Sustainability, must stop until the process is completed once again.

FDNY is warning that opening fire hydrants without using the free spray caps that are available at all firehouses is not only illegal, but dangerous as well. The lower water pressure caused by the open hydrants can put lives at risk if there is a fire and the powerful force of a fully-opened hydrant that has no spray cap can easily injure a young child. Any adult over the age of 18 can request a free spray cap from a firehouse.

The Department of Parks and Recreation reports that the July 4 weekend saw “huge crowds” coming to both Rockaway and Coney Island. “More than 2.4 million visitors went to the city’s 14 miles of beach over the weekend,” said Adrian Benepe, the agency’s commissioner. It’s interesting to note that the agency does not actually count all the people who come to the beach. They count the number of several “representative” beaches and then extrapolate the number to come up with a total.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents the west end of the Rockaway peninsula, got married last week to his fiancée, Huma Abedin, who is an executive assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ex-President Bill Clinton officiated at the ceremony. There is no word on where the couple spent their honeymoon.

A group of angry Rochester (New York) residents drive six hours to the office of State Senator Malcolm Smith in Rosedale to give him a piece of their collective mind. It seems that Smith has been pushing hard and twisting arms to get the Senate to pass a bill allowing that city’s mayor to take over the public schools. The parents and teachers who came to Queens were not satisfied when Smith was not at his Rosedale office, so they drove to his Manhattan office. He was absent there as well, so they took their banners and went back upstate.

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