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For Some, Teaching Cuts Are Bad News – but No Surprise

For Some, Teaching Cuts Are Bad News – but No Surprise

By Alice Speri

End of semester examinations and summer vacation aren’t the only things on teachers’ and parents’ minds at P.S. 86 Kingsbridge Heights School in the Northwest Bronx. Prompted by cuts to the state budget leaving the city $5 billion short, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today plans to further trim the public school system budget.

While schools are not the only institutions affected by the cuts, they are among those that will be hit the hardest, as some 6,700 educators’ jobs will be lost when the measures come into force in September. This number includes 300 teacher’s aides.

On Thursday, teachers and parents enjoying ice cream outside school were just learning about the latest cuts, but the news hardly surprised them.

“The first thing they do is cut services for children and the elderly, it’s very archaic the way they always attack the weakest members of society,” said T. Pannell, who teaches kindergarten through third grade and whose daughter is also in kindergarten at the school. Pannell added she is not worried about her own job and praised the principal of Kingsbridge Heights for his management of the school’s budget, but she said she is more concerned about the broader implications of the trend.

Kingsbridge Heights School is one of the largest public schools in the nation. (Speri/BronxInk)

Kingsbridge Heights School is one of the largest public schools in the nation. (Speri/BronxInk)

“It’s not a matter of making cuts but of being more efficient,” she said. “They are all in a ‘this has to go’ mentality, rather than ‘this has to be tightened,’ whether it’s with schools or with public housing.”

Pannell added that concern will grow even further when teachers and parents realize the scale of the cuts.

“Are we going to feel this? For sure,” she said. “But to see how much we are going to feel it we’ll have to wait until September.”

While some cuts seem inevitable, many agree there should be other ways to get around the problem.

“Personally I’d never get into the ‘the sky is falling and we’ll have to have layoffs’ mode,” Dee Alpert, publisher of The Special Education Muckraker, wrote in an e-mail. The website is devoted to special- education issues. Alpert suggested instead that little is being done to ensure greater efficiency. “I’d scream like mad about the well-documented fraud, waste and corruption and demand to know exactly what’s being done to end it.”

Being on the receiving end of the bureaucratic knife is not new to New York City’s public schools, and while many acknowledge that times are hard for everyone, they express concern and frustration that children always seem to be the first to pay the price.

“We don’t need any more school cuts, we have too many kids cramped in these classrooms,” said L. Delacruz, a sixth-grade teacher at Bronx Middle School 206, whose son is a third-grader at Kingsbridge Heights. Delacruz said that teachers and staffers alike are already overwhelmed as it is with one teacher often having as many as 30 students in each classroom. “That’s a lot of kids,she added.You can’t get them to learn anything.

Class size has been an increasingly pressing issue in the city’s overcrowded schools.

“Class sizes are growing at an accelerating pace. Now we face the prospect of losing 6,000 teachers, as the student population grows,” said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the number of students per classroom. “Together that is going to mean increases in class sizes to their largest in 20 years.”

Haimson added that the city’s money is wasted on bureaucracy and contradictory measures.

“The Department of Education is spending $5 million on recruiting and training new teachers,” she said. “And at the same time they want to lay off 6,000 teachers.”

Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, agreed.

“These cuts are particularly problematic in the city, which has spent the last three, four years really hiring new high quality teachers,” he said.

Others turn to those city agencies that were saved from the cuts to try to understand why schools are suffering so badly.

While Bloomberg had originally planned to cut 892 officer positions from the already downsized police department, he decided to leave the police untouched.

“Now the police is not getting cut because of all these terrorist threats,” said Delacruz, who admitted she wouldn’t know where to suggest cuts that would minimize damage to New Yorkers. “We shouldn’t see any cuts at all,” she said.

But the decision to cut teachers over police officers may have less to do with terrorism and more to do with financial interest, some suggest.

“This is a fiscal decision, police starting salaries are just much lower than ours,” said Mary Paranac, a fifth-grade teacher who has been working at Kingsbridge Heights for three years.

Mary Paranac with some of her students at Kingsbridge Heights School in the Bronx. (Speri/BronxInk)

Mary Paranac with some of her students at Kingsbridge Heights School in the Bronx. (Speri/BronxInk)

Paranac added that she is especially worried about the criteria for these cuts, a concern raised by many. Some have suggested using test scores to determine layoffs, while others recommend the decision is based on seniority, though both methods leave teachers fearing for their jobs.

“I’m concerned about how this is going to happen,” Paranac said, adding that she thinks the cuts are likely to affect new teachers in the Teach for America program or other young teachers who have been on the job for only one or two years. Like other teachers, Paranac praised the Kinsgbridge Heights principal for his devotion to his staff, but said many Bronx schools are not as fortunate. “I have many friends who are scared about the safety of their jobs,” she said.

Laying off teachers based on seniority may affect the quality of the teaching, some fear.

“I think the research suggests that there is no systematic relationship between experience and effectiveness in the classroom,” said Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, who opposed cuts by seniority and also suggested that the correlation between class size and quality of learning is not as strong as many believe. “The problem is that we are going to have a reduction in teachers’ quality,” he said.

While some laid-off teachers may be able to find employment elsewhere, many end up leaving education altogether.

“My sister-in-law was a teacher in the East Bronx but she was laid off with the last cuts,” said Esly Griffin, a young mother of two, at Kingsbridge Heights on her way to pick up her 8-year old son. “Now she works in a hotel. But that’s not her job. She went to college to be a teacher.”

Additional reporting by Sunil Joshi and Shreeya Sinha.

Posted in Education, Northwest Bronx, Politics0 Comments

Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Bronx residents line up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)
Bronx residents lined up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)

Story by Shreeya Sinha, Lynsey Chutel and Sunil Joshi

While the national jobs figure for March indicated that the country is on the path to economic recovery, the employment picture in the Bronx was not so sanguine. Unemployment in the borough remains several points above the national average, and thousands of residents are still unable to find work.

For more coverage of Bronx job hunters, click here.

Above the bustling business hub of 149th Street and Third Avenue, rows of almost 50 people sat on Thursday in a cordoned-off waiting room in the Workforce 1 office, looking for help from the Bronx branch of the citywide employment agency.

This was Veronica Eaddy’s second time at the “one-stop employment center.” With a soft round face under thick waves, in a casual jeans and T-shirt, Eaddy, who asked that her full name not be used, doesn’t look her age at 42. But the string of jobs she has tried her hand at reveal a long struggle with unemployment. “I’ve been through many systems where a job has been promised and nothing happened,” Eaddy said.

Nationwide, there may be reason for optimism after the jobs report revealed that the depressed economy may be turning around. The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Friday that 162,000 jobs were added to the national economy, though the nationwide unemployment rate remained steady at 9.7 percent. But an increase in the national jobs number does not necessarily correlate to an increase in the number of jobs in the Bronx, said James Brown, an analyst with the New York Department of Labor. “There’s not a one-for-one increase,” he said. For Bronx job-seekers like Eaddy, economic struggles are still festering.

“You pretty much need a master’s degree to pick up the garbage,” said Eaddy, who feels that living in the Bronx has been a disadvantage for her. She’s spent the last seven years looking for a full-time job. Unemployment in the borough soared to 14 percent in January, well above the national average. Hunger and poverty are stark realities in the borough that is already struggling to compete with a higher-skilled workforce.

“That doesn’t bode well for the Bronx, which has a pretty high percentage of the local workforce that doesn’t have high levels of educational attainment,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a research firm.

About half of Bronxites work outside the borough, Brown said. Many of these jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors are not only low-paying but largely dependent on consumer spending, which has sunk deeply in the recession. Analysts are hopeful that consumers will grudgingly start spending. Consumer spending picked up for the sixth month running in March.

“A lot of establishments are closing,’’ Eaddy said. “There aren’t many jobs that you could get if you come straight off school, like low-skilled jobs. And most of them can be pretty crap.”

Arthur Merlino, manager of Workforce 1, has worked in the labor market for 48 years, crisscrossing labor offices across the city’s five boroughs. After two years managing the Bronx branch, he admits that the borough poses a specific challenge. “This is a real serious time,” said Merlino, his eyes closing as he spoke. “I’d say, experientially it’s been a very difficult couple of years.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has made economic development and job creation a priority but critics have accused him of costing the Bronx thousands of jobs at a mall he opposed at the Kingsbridge Armory. Diaz opposed the project on the grounds that it would not provide Bronxites living wages. The City Council voted against the mall.

Franck Strongbow, associate director of the James Monroe Senior Center agreed with Diaz. After he spent eight months living “between a rock and a hard place,” Strongbow lived paycheck to paycheck when he was 25 years old trying to make ends meet. For him, a job is all about dignity. “What the borough president was saying was, “Let’s start with affordable living range because people should be paying an honest day’s labor.” According to the Center for Urban Future, 42 percent of the Bronx workforce is making less than $10 an hour.

The payroll company Automatic Data Processing said this week that U.S. employers cut 23,000 jobs in March, dampening expected forecasts ahead of Friday’s job report. Much of the nationwide growth in March was in temporary government jobs, particularly by the Census Bureau, which hired 48,000 temporary employees, according to the Department of Labor, including enough staff for four Census offices in the Bronx.

Elsewhere, there are signs of life in the borough’s jobs market. A coalition of construction workers in the Bronx said it has seen employment opportunities tick upward in March, with more activity on job sites. While the overall number of new building permits issued in the Bronx during the first three months of the year is down from 2009 — 44 to 18 — there were eight new building permits issued in the Bronx in March (up from four last year), according to the Department of Buildings. Richard Rodriguez, an administrator for United Hispanic Construction, said that his labor coalition was able to connect more workers with jobs in March, particularly with a new development on 163rd Street in Morrisania.

Despite the real-estate market’s more than two-year struggle, prices in Manhattan remain high, fueling new development in the outer boroughs, said Ken Margolies, director of organizing programs at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations. But while Margolies noted the signs of improvement, he cautioned against unbridled optimism. “The key thing about the news,” he said, “is that, by and large, the new jobs that are being created pay less than the ones that are being lost.”

The manufacturing sector is another industry that saw accelerated growth in March, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group. In February about 11,000 jobs were created, the largest increase in almost four years. Other sectors like health care have also done well, especially after President Obama’s health care plan passed. In March, 27,000 new health care jobs were added to the national economy, according to the Department of Labor.

That’s where Eaddy hopes to try her luck. She’s optimistic that the health care reform will revitalize jobs in this sector. “Since there was such a push going on in public health, I think that a lot of jobs are going to start that I want to get into while the getting in is good,” she said. Eaddy is trying to secure a voucher from the New York State Department of Labor that will cover a six-month-long Medical Billing and Coding course at Hostos Community College. Waving a manila folder on Thursday, with the college brochure inside, she checked that she had all her documentation. She had been waiting for move than an hour for her 4 p.m. appointment.

While she waits for a steady job, Eaddy decided to start her own business. “Splendidly Me,” a cosmetic business that she runs out of her East 180th Street apartment, supplements her income. When she is not teaching customers how to make coconut oil or twist their hair, Eaddy is pinning her long-term hopes on the health care industry.

“Now I have to come back,” she said, “but this time I’m doing something smart with a marketable skill so that I can have some leverage.”

Posted in Money0 Comments

In the Bronx, Paterson’s Troubles Highlight Sports and Politics

Reporting contributed by Derek Simons, Ian Thomson and Rania Zabaneh

The allegations that Gov. David Paterson lied about scoring free tickets to the 2009 World Series fueled the chatter of the day on Thursday, and in the borough where the Yankees earned the World Championship, some weighed in on the convergence of sports and politics, and the soaring price of Yankee tickets.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat, is a baseball fan who said that he had attended one of the World Series games and that he had paid his way to attend. But Dinowitz, who says that “everybody should pay for tickets,”  agreed with countless Yankees fans who complain that the price of tickets puts the Bronx Bombers’ games out of reach for many.

Yankee Stadium -AP

Yankee Stadium -AP

“That’s another reason why I don’t go to too many games anymore,” he said. “When I was a kid you could get tickets at the bleacher for $1.”

Former Yankees public relations director, Marty Appel, said 30 years ago a box seat cost $3.50.

“The price jump has been enormous, but it really suggests that baseball does a better job of marketing itself and is more attractive,” he said.

Paterson may face criminal charges after the State Commission on Public Integrity ruled that he lied under oath about soliciting five free tickets, which had a face value of $425 each, according to The New York Times. The case was turned over to the Albany County prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general for further investigation.

Dinowitz addressed the political firestorm currently surrounding Paterson.

“I think that the governor should do his job,” Dinowitz said. “He hasn’t been accused of any crimes or hasn’t been indicted. There’s a lot of talk, and I don’t think someone should be hounded from office simply because there are accusations out there.”

Twenty-five-year-old Yankees fan, John Stover, bartends at the Yankee Tavern and says Paterson’s actions were unfair.

“You see it time and time again,” Stover said. “People use their positions to get things for free. I don’t have anything against the guy — I don’t really follow his policies. It’s not the first time somebody’s done it.”

Several other local politicians said they didn’t go to the World Series games.  State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who is a Pentecostal minister, said: “I don’t like baseball. I go to church.” City Councilman James Vacca’s press officer told the Bronx Ink, Vacca “would not go if he was given tickets. He’s not a baseball fan.”

State Assemblyman Michael Benjamin said he had watched the games at home on television. Chuckling over the phone, Benjamin said his office sometimes gets calls from constituents hoping to get free tickets.

“We have to write back saying, ‘No, Assemblyman Benjamin is unable to procure tickets for the World Series Games,’ ” he said. To those really persistent fans, he said he is more direct: “Those are the sorts of things that get officials in trouble.”

The ticket scandal comes in the wake of a damaging report by The New York Times that revealed that the governor might have intervened in a domestic abuse case involving a top aide, David Johnson, who attended the World Series game with the governor.

On Thursday, Paterson’s communications director Peter Kauffmann, resigned. In a statement he said, “As recent developments have come to light, I cannot in good conscience continue in my current position.”

On Thursday night, the Rev. Al Sharpton was scheduled to meet at Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem to discuss with other politicians the governor’s political future.

Paterson also got some support from a small group of African-American law enforcement officers who gathered in Harlem to defend him today.

Red Sox fan Joseph Palladino joked that the Yankees might be behind the mess surrounding the governor, but later took on a more serious tone about what Paterson’s latest problems say about ticket pricing in professional baseball.

“Is this another sign of pricing out the lower and middle classes?” he said. “Do you need to know someone to get a ticket?”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Politics, Sports0 Comments

Corrections Officer Sentenced to Probation in Sex Abuse Case

The 6-foot-3-inch muscular defendant entered the court in a beige trench coat. His hair closely shaven in a buzz cut, Dominick Labruzzi checked his phone and yawned loudly while the court proceedings began. Intermittently his defense attorney, Benedict S. Gullo Jr., took him outside the courtroom to hash out the final details of the plea bargain he took on Dec. 15.

It was a no-fuss delivery of a three-year probation sentence Thursday at the Bronx Supreme Court as Labruzzi, a former captain with the Department of Corrections at the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center at Rikers Island, accepted his punishment.

Accused of sexual abuse by a dozen inmates between the ages of 16 and 19, Labruzzi never went to trial. In the plea bargain, the 32 charges against Labruzzi were dropped except one: Endangering the welfare of a child.

“All charges accusing him of sexual abuse will be dismissed once he’s sentenced,” Gullo said. “It will say on his record that he did not touch the private parts of the inmates.” In addition to probation, Labruzzi will not be allowed to enter the homes of his clients, a component of his new sales job.

Gullo claimed that the case against his client was weak.

“A lot of times inmates retaliate because they don’t like the captain,” he said. “All these complaints are from people who have a criminal record.”

In 2006 the city’s Department of Investigation released a press statement about the investigation into the abuse cases against Labruzzi:

“Labruzzi allegedly took the eight inmates on 10 separate occasions to a secluded, locked area within [the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center]. Once there, Labruzzi allegedly inappropriately touched the inmates’ genitals through their clothing, forced them to disrobe, asked them to stand or squat before him, and fondled some inmates’ genitals or buttocks.”

Labruzzi declined to comment and offered no final words on the case to Judge John S. Moore of State Supreme Court in the Bronx.

Gullo said that two of the inmates who filed charges against Labruzzi were deported. The prosecutor, Assistant Bronx District Attorney Alexandra Militano, declined to comment.

But Judge Moore did have the last word before accepting the deal reached by Militano and Gullo:

“The department does recommend jail,” he said. “There are reasons also why ultimately there is a plea bargain.”

“Although we did not make it mandatory,” he added, “counseling and a sex offenders program can be imposed by the Department of Corrections.” Neither of these options were imposed on Labruzzi as part of his probation.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime0 Comments

VIDEO – NYPD Stats Show Crime is Down but in the Bronx, Shootings Continue

About 200 people gathered at Community School 67 in a call for peace. Re-enacting the story of Samantha Guzman’s death in 2006 community members stepped up to give individual testimony to the violence they had experienced or perpetrated, including Guzman’s mother who hoped her daughter’s story would help save lives.

Reported by Shreeya Sinha and Mamta Badkar. Statistics provided by Edward Talty Gang Prosecutor for the Bronx District Attorney.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime1 Comment

VIDEO – National Unemployment Falls, in the Bronx a Different Picture

Video by Rania Zabaneh

The national unemployment rate fell last month to 9.7 percent, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. In the Bronx, however, where unemployment climbed to 13.9 percent in January, economic recovery seems more distant to the thousands of Bronxites struggling to find work. Another measure of the borough’s tough times comes from a recent study noting that it now leads the nation in hunger.

Carlos Martines is a regular at the Department of Labor “Workforce 1” job center in the Bronx, and he’s desperate to find some work to support his family.

“I’m late on my rent, bills. It’s hard, its very hard,” he said. “You know my son depends on me, you know it’s hard, very hard right now. There are no jobs.”

The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate in New York City.

Arthur Merlino, the community service manager at the Department of Labor in the Bronx, says certain factors have made the Bronx extremely vulnerable to the recession.

“I think that in the Bronx approximately 40 percent of the population is at the lower income standard,” he said. “And I think there are a good number of them who have various kinds of employment barriers including a lower level of education than prevails in the rest of the city. And I think that’s a major factor.”

Another hopeful statistic in the jobs report is in the manufacturing sector. About 11,000 jobs were created, according to the report, the largest growth in almost four years.

But Ken Margolies, director of organizing programs at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations, said that job creation in manufacturing might not affect New York City as much. “One of the reasons why manufacturing has been leaving New York City for years is that the real estate is more valuable for other things,” he said.

National statistics also showed that construction continued to suffer, as businesses grappled with the recent crisis in the commercial estate market. In an effort to find a sector that might create jobs, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. recently secured a $4 million federal grant to create green jobs in the community.

This comes after the borough president opposed the now-defeated re-development of Kingsbridge Armory on the grounds that the proposed mall would not create living-wage jobs.

“In order for our borough to get out of this long slide of unemployment, we need to fight against poverty, to educate and train our residents to become a skilled work force, to ensure that when companies come to do business here, those new jobs are offered to Bronxites,” he said in an emailed statement.

But Margolies, who worked with the community organization, is cautious about the green-job approach. “It’s really kind of early to know whether it will be a bigger boom or not,’’ he said. A lot depends on whether the government would subsidize it to create a lot of work in those areas.”

Even Americans who have jobs are feeling the slump. The underemployment rate, which counts people who have given up looking for work and part-time workers, has steadily risen over the past year to almost 16.5 percent nationwide, according to the Labor Department’s report.

Francis Ayalah works in part-time retail and says she works the hours of a full-time employee. “There’s nobody hiring full time,” she said.

State Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, says he sees people like Ayalah every day. “In my office here in the South Bronx, I have people coming in daily looking for jobs,’’ he said. “I’m pretty sure the economy will recover, but how do I tell that to someone who doesn’t have a job?” He breathed a deep sigh on the phone.

“President Barack Obama promised to create jobs, and he has failed” he said. ” If the president doesn’t create jobs, I’m sure us Democrats will lose seats because the nation is turning away from Democrats.”

Daniel Martin hung out on the street corner of East 175th Street and Eastburn Avenue, explaining that he lost his job last year as a window installer. Friday he was searching for better prospects. “I filled out applications at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, without any luck,” he said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Money, Multimedia0 Comments