2012-03-09 / Columnists

Beachcomber

The participatory budgeting process set up by City Councilman Eric Ulrich allows local residents to decide how $1 million in discretionary funds will be spent. There will be an open vote later this month in which any local resident can choose from among ten alternatives. As we expected, those with an agenda – the environment, education, art, etc., have taken over the process, but some interesting ideas have come out of the process. One local wants to use the money so that the Department of Traffic sets up a traffic flow computer to regulate the traffic on Rockaway’s major arteries. Another wants to use the money to take down the bay wall at Beach 126 Street so that residents have access to the bay. A third wants sculptures to beautify the beach. A fourth, more kayak landings. You get the picture. The Department of Education, in its infinite wisdom and understanding of education, wants teachers to stop using pronouns in their writing. While there is no set rule set forth by the bureaucrats, there is a policy in place to reduce the use of the pesky pronouns. We have heard of some schools where teachers reject academic papers if they are replete with the no-no’s. Tim Clifford, a teacher and writer, says that he puts “We, the people” on the chalkboard and asks kids to rewrite the line without the pronoun. He does the same with “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” The students came up with “How much does the person asking the question love the person that the questioner is asking?” Not quite as poetic. In the same vein, there is a nationally-known writer trying to do away with semicolons and exclamation marks, which he says are unnecessary.

While teachers and parents struggle with what to make of the rankings of public school teachers made available to the press under court order last week, officials in Albany are moving to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There are a number of public employee groups that are protected by law from making information about them public – police, firefighters and others. Now, a number of state legislators want to extend that protection to teachers as well. That’s probably a good idea, because the rankings were specious at best and many believe that their dissemination was just another shot across the bow by the mayor, who badly wants to do away with public unions.

Whenever the city sets quotas – excuse me, I mean productivity goals because there are no quotas – on public workers, there is going to be mischief afoot. That was proven once again last week, when several sanitation officers were seen on street cameras giving environmental tickets to homeowners for no reason other than they had a quota to make. One worker gave a homeowner a ticket for mixing recyclable and regular garbage without even opening and checking the bags. Another gave a ticket for having the garbage on the curb too early when there clearly was no garbage at the curb at that time. The same is true of Traffic Enforcement Officers, who must give a certain number of tickets or lose their weekends off and their day tours. How about cops with parkers and movers? Or teachers, with the push to pass a certain percentage of students or get an unsatisfactory rating. It’s all the same game and it’s got to end.

The decision to allow a developer to build an out-of-size yeshiva and dormitory in Bayswater, surrounded by one and two-family homes, once again shows how little power the community, the borough president and the community board have when it comes to projects that the city and its mayor want to build. The community organization voted no, the community board voted no, the borough president said no, and yet the Bureau of Standards and Appeals, the ultimate vote, gave the developers permission to build the facility. Why? The mayor and his Orthodox Jewish backers wanted it badly.

The city will soon begin to charge already cash-strapped non-profits for picking up their garbage. Colleges, churches, museums, Jewish centers and other organizations will soon have to pay for the pickups that were, until now, free of charge. The charge will apply to every institution that has a tax exemption. The Department of Sanitation has said that it could raise $17 million in fees when the plan goes into effect.

West end parents with students in the high elementary grades can breathe a sigh of relief. The community education council voted last week not to approve a new DOE Middle School Choice program that would have opened choice seats in schools such as the Scholars’ Academy and PS 114 to children off the peninsula at the same time it would have sent west end kids far off the peninsula for their middle school education. The CEC had the guts to stand up to the DOE bullies and say no.

With another baseball season right around the corner, Yankee fans can rejoice over the new lineup and the pitching rotation, made better with off-season acquisitions. On the other side of the blotter, you have the Mets, who basically lost their best players and now face certain extinction before the season starts. There are those in Rockaway who urge that fans should boycott the Mets games this year, hopefully forcing the Wilpons to sell the team and bring in new owners who have some money to build a strong team.

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