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Pol Position: State lawmakers to decide on Mayoral Control

The debate over mayoral control of New York City public schools remains a hot-button issue in Albany, as the Adams administration continues its push for a four-year extension. Adams has had a lot on his plate–in addition to his efforts to revive New York City following two years of the COVID-19, efforts to increase public safety amid a surge of gun violence nationwide, and efforts to construct affordable housing amid a homelessness crisis, he also found himself confronted with criticism from parents, students, and teachers regarding the mask mandates and COVID vaccination requirements.

But not all was lost. During his tenure, Adams helped restore funding for Gifted & Talented programming, introduced Asian American history into school curriculums, and helped usher a deal with Albany lawmakers to turn on speed cameras 24/7.

Mayoral control gives Adams the authority to hire and fire the Schools’ Chancellor along with nine of the 15 members on the Panel for Education Policy. It is a policy that has been around for the last twenty years, and yet despite support from Gov. Hochul, state lawmakers have indicated they may look to reduce the extension to a single year.

According to Chalkbeat, last month, Adams joined Chancellor David Banks for a rally on the steps of City Hall to plead his case with state legislators to continue and grant the administration the authority to oversee the city’s school system.

“The chancellor and I have laid out a bold new vision for our children and for the families that attend our public school system,” Adams said. “This is the first time in history where we have two men who grew up in the public school system with two different experiences — one dealing with a learning disability, another dealing with the Gifted and Talented program.” State Senator John Liu also told Pix11 News that while Adams will likely keep mayoral control, he expects changes to strengthen the ability of parents to give input and could even allow lawmakers to hold Adams accountable over his performance.

“The likely outcome will be a system in which the mayor still has control, and therefore, we can hold him accountable for school success or failure, but a system that also provides a meaningful mechanism to bolster parental input,” Liu, who chairs the Senate’s committee on New York City education, told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “That is the main issue — that parents feel they have no way to engage, that their suggestions and complaints aren’t even heard.”

Although it seems likely that state lawmakers will approve the revised extension, there are a number of issues facing the nation’s largest school system that still need to be addressed.

One key concern is chronic absenteeism in schools. Thanks largely to the pandemic, the rate of absenteeism over the past year has reached its highest level in over twenty years. Student enrollment is down, class participation is down, and keeping teachers in the City school system has been a struggle.

Another major concern is parent involvement. Several parents are in favor of returning control of city schools to the state in light of recent decisions by the Department of Education Chancellor Banks. The recent dismissal of District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto and District 24 Superintendent Madelene Chan had parents in a frenzy over Adams-controlled DOE, which they feel did not consider the input of parents before making such a major decision. DOE officials have since stated that they plan to allow the Superintendents to reapply for their jobs, despite the likelihood that they will be replaced.

However, some say that the effort of the Adams administration to be more inclusive has been an improvement from years past.
With mayoral control set to expire, New York State lawmakers have until the end of session to decide on Mayoral Control.

One Percent for Parks

Pols, advocates call for historic investments in parks

By Evan Triantafilidis

[email protected]

Elected officials and parks advocates joined forces in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Monday to call for historic investments into the city’s parks.

New York City Councilman Shekar Krishnan unveiled his five-point plan to bring new public green spaces to NYC, which includes funding the Parks Department with $1 billion in annual maintenance, the creation of a Parks Construction Authority and to upgrade playgrounds in every zip code.

Krishnan, who also chairs the council’s Committee on Parks and Rec, said that areas in Queens have some of the least amount of green space in the city. The councilman’s own neighborhood of Jackson Heights, for example, ranks second-to-last in the city when it comes to park space per capita.

“The issue of parks in our city is a social justice issue,” Krishnan said. “It is a public health issue.”

Krishnan and other lawmakers from Queens urged the Mayor to allocate one percent – or $1 billion – of the city’s near $100 billion budget for the upkeep of the city’s parks. Despite signaling his support for a “percent for parks” plan during his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams has only allocated a half-percent, or just short of $500 million, to the department in his first preliminary budget last month.

“This is the one-percent plan that advocates from across our city have been fighting for for so long,” Krishnan said. “We cannot afford any less for our parks.”

Krishnan’s plan also aims to repair a “fundamentally broken capital process” with the creation of a Parks Construction Authority. He compared the concept to the School Construction Authority, which was created in 1988 to take over control of capital projects from the city’s Board of Education.

“We had a school built for the School Construction Authority at a rapid pace with P.S. 398,” Krishnan said. “Whereas Travers Park with the Parks Department took 10 years to build. The difference is clear. We need a capital process that funds our parks that allows building efficiently and makes sure that we can quickly get more green space in our city.”

Krishnan also cited the cost of bathrooms at Marcus Garvey Park in Elmhurst reaching about $4 million, and still aren’t fully accessible.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards called Krishnan’s vision, which includes planting 1 million more trees by 2030 and to provide waterfront access for all, an “ambitious” plan.

“This is a borough of parks, from Flushing Meadows, to Alley Pond, Cunningham Park, to Roy Wilkins and beyond,” Richards said. “But for entire communities in Queens, especially in Councilman Krishnan’s district, and in my former district in Southeast Queens, having extensive green space is a dream not a reality.”

“Show us the money. We want $1 billion in this budget now,” he said.

Both Krishnan and Richards spoke to the point on how the pandemic pushed people to outdoor public spaces, calling the green spaces crucial for public health and recreation.

“It’s easy to socially distance in a massive park like Flushing Meadows or Alley Pond Park, but families in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst did not have that luxury,” Richards said. “Not only did they not have anywhere to go with their kids pre-pandemic, they didn’t have safe options to go to during the pandemic. And that’s not only unacceptable, it is insulting.”

Council Members Robert Holden, Linda Lee, Sandra Ung, Mercedes Narcisse and Lincoln Restler all spoke in favor of the five-point plan.

Restler said that a $1 billion investment into the city’s park is exactly what is needed, offering his support for the Parks Construction Authority.

“We need to make sure that our money is going to be well spent, because typically now if you give some money to the Parks Department four years later, for $4 million, you might get one bathroom,” Restler said. “It’s preposterous. The Park Construction Authority is the way to go, modeling on the great work that the School Construction Authority does to actually see our resources delivered for our communities.”

Queens native runs NYC Marathon for a good cause

When the first New York City Marathon took place in 1970, a six-year-old Ceil Witherspoon watched runners cross the Queensboro Bridge from her window in Queensbridge Houses.
In awe of the runners’ dedication, stamina and tenacity, the marathon is something that’s fascinated Witherspoon for her entire life. But at the same time it felt unattainable due to her asthma, limited athletic experience and discouraging comments from others.
This year, Witherspoon went against all odds and achieved her lifelong dream of running in the New York City Marathon.
For some, the normalization of mask wearing during COVID-19 is a hassle, but for Witherspoon it was a blessing in disguise that inspired her to enter.
“Keeping my mask on helped with my asthma because I wasn’t inhaling any of the pollen, dirt or leaves,” she said. “This year, my lungs are completely protected and I got the breathing under control.
“A lot of people don’t know how to properly use a mask and breathe, so I found myself showing them,” she added. “I haven’t had a major asthma attack, I haven’t had to go to the hospital and I’m in perfect shape to do this.”
In addition to teaching people how to breathe again, Witherspoon actively shares her knowledge about food through her work with City Harvest, the city’s largest food rescue organization.
She was one of 75 City Harvest volunteers who ran the marathon with a goal of raising $250,000 to continue the organization’s effort of providing New Yorkers with nutritious food.
Witherspoon works at City Harvest’s Mobile Markets, in which she helps distribute fresh produce and participates in cooking demonstrations to educate visitors about how to utilize the ingredients in beneficial ways.
“One thing I like about City Harvest is that I get to pass on what I know to people,” she said. “Oftentimes when we’re giving away food, people don’t know what to do with it, they’ve never seen it or tried it before. I love telling people how to cook spaghetti squash or yams, plantains or potatoes.
“I’ve always liked to help people, but I’ve never had the outlet to do it,” Witherspoon added. “City Harvest lets me do it.”
Self-described as having zero athletic training in her early years, Witherspoon truly began to build her endurance in 1990 after she was hit by a city cab.
To bounce back from her injury, she walked to her job on 83rd Street in Manhattan from her Long Island City residence every day.
Eventually, she realized she could bike the 3.5-mile distance (where she still works today), which was what sparked her passion for bike riding. Witherspoon combined these two skills to train for the marathon
“I get up at five in the morning, walk the dogs, walk around my neighborhood for a mile or two and repeat it,” she said. “According to how you figure out the mileage, I’ve been biking 10k in a day and walking about 5k in the mornings, so I think I’m pretty good.
“I know I’ve got this,” she added.
And she was right. As one of the last runners of the day, Witherspoon crossed the finish line after 11 hours.
She attributes her achievement to her daily routine , along with the help of a bottle of water, three Life Savers and two Tylenol.
Witherspoon said that she’s had to deal with people underestimating her abilities, suggesting that her knees or body type might prevent her from completing the marathon.
“I’m not the skinniest person in the world, but I have a lot of stamina,” she said. “They don’t see that.
“If someone thinks they can’t do something and has people telling them they can’t, thank them for their opinion, but don’t believe them,” Witherspoon added. “The worst that could happen is you fail.”

You can donate to Witherspoon’s cause here.

City vaccine mandate goes into effect

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Key to NYC vaccination mandate for indoor dining, entertainment and fitness began on August 17. Enforcement will begin, with a multi-agency coalition, on September 13.
“New York City has one mission: defeat the delta variant and build a recovery for all of us,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Key to NYC sends a powerful message that vaccination will unlock our city’s potential, and we’ll stop at nothing to save lives and keep New Yorkers safe.”
The city will conduct an aggressive outreach and education campaign, including a $10 million multi-platform paid media campaign. This campaign will include radio, TV, digital, social, subway live boards.
Approximately 600 canvassers will be going door to door for affected businesses with the goal of reaching every zip code in the city in the next three weeks.
Indoor entertainment venus affected include movie theaters, music and concert venues, museums and galleries, aquariums and zoos, professional sports arenas, indoor stadiums, convention centers, exhibition halls, performing arts theaters, bowling alleys, arcades, pool and billiard halls, recreational game centers, adult entertainment, and indoor play areas.
Indoor dining establishment affected by the mandate include restaurants, catering halls, hotel banquet rooms, bars, nightclubs, cafeterias, grocery stores with indoor dining, coffee shops, and fast food/quick service with indoor dining
Indoor fitness facilities affected include gyms, fitness centers, fitness classes, pools, indoor studios, and dance studios
Places excluded from this mandate include dining where food is consumed offsite or outdoors only. Businesses that choose to remove indoor seating entirely are not subject to the mandate.
Other exclusions include residential and office buildings, childcare programs, pre-K through grade 12 public and non-public schools and programs, senior centers, churches hosting Sunday potlucks or similar events, community centers, charitable food services, and catering at someone’s home
People excluded from this mandate include children under the age of 12, and anyone entering for a minimum amount of time required for a limited purpose, such as bathroom use or picking up or placing an order.
Other people not required to comply with the mandate include performing artists who do not reside in New York City and are not regularly employed by the entity, professional athletes or members of professional sports teams who do not reside in the city but enter a premises for the purpose of competing, and individuals accompanying performing artists or a sports team or professional athlete as part of their regular employment and who do not reside in New York City.
Contractors who do not reside with in the five boroughs are also excluded.
Each Key to NYC business should consider appropriate reasonable accommodations, mindful of the purposes behind this policy and public health.
There are multiple ways to show proof of vaccination. These include a photo or hard copy of a CDC vaccination card, NYC COVID Safe App, New York State Excelsior App, official vaccine record, or a photo or hard copy of an official vaccination record of a vaccine administered outside the United States.
Affected small businesses with questions can contact the Department of Small Business Services hotline at 888-SBS-4NYC (888-727-4692), 311, or go online at nyc.gov/keytonyc.
Penalties for failure to comply after September 13 start at $1,000 and can reach $5,000 for repeated violators.
“The Key to NYC will unlock many of our favorite activities,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Vaccination makes every activity safer and this is a common-sense precaution to keep patrons of gyms, restaurants and indoor entertainment healthy.”

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