Tag Archive | "government"

Refuse the Test Movement Growing on the East End

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Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

Parents bring their children to the Sag Harbor Elementary School at the start of the school day. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

A grassroots movement of parents who say the government is taking the creativity out of learning—and doing so in impractical ways that help neither students nor schools—is growing statewide and across the East End, with many parents refusing to let their children sit for the tests the state uses to judge public education.

Advocates for local control of education were outraged when Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through sweeping education reforms as part of the New York State budget last week (see related story), which include further linking teacher and school performance with student performance on tests written by a private company, Pearson, rather than educators.

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) sent parents a letter last week clarifying its position on test refusal.

According to the letter, TASH “strongly supports a parent’s right to advocate for his/her child and refuse the New York State ELA and Mathematics assessments in grades 3-8. As a collective body, TASH believes that the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers and lifelong learners who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to live good and purpose-filled lives. We believe that the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice. TASH opposes the over-reliance on high-stakes testing that is currently being pushed by both the federal and New York State governments because this testing has not been used to further instruction, help children, or support their educational needs. These commercially prepared assessments are not transparent and teachers, parents, and students are not permitted to discuss the content or to know which questions students answered incorrectly.”

These tests are administered over the course of several weeks each spring in addition to other state-mandated tests throughout the year. Last year, the State Education Department administered the tests on the new federal Common Core curriculum before providing lesson plans or textbooks. This year, schools are more familiar with Common Core, but unions and school boards alike have expressed concern over the connection of a teacher’s or administrator’s employment with a test that doesn’t take into account outside factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students or parents, or what a teacher does in their classroom aside from drilling students for the test.

Parents can “refuse the test” by writing a letter to their child’s school requesting their child be excused from the tests. When other students are taking the test, those who have excused are provided with another space to be so as not to disturb the testing.

Shona Gawronski has had five children attend Sag Harbor’s schools, and this year she is  refusing the test for her youngest two, a son in fourth grade and a daughter in seventh grade, as a form of activism in support of strong public education.

“I’ve been a parent [in the Sag Harbor School District] for 18 years and I’ve seen such a…decline in not the quality of the teaching but the parameters in which the teachers can be creative in their teaching,” she said. “Everything is evolved around these state tests—math, science and reading—and not so much the arts and…the more creative aspects of education.”

Tim Frazier, principal at the Southampton Intermediate School, said that, as of the start of the April break last Friday, about 10 percent of his students had refused, and he expects that number to increase by test time next week.

Aside from the political message it sends Albany, the movement to refuse the tests could have big implications on the performance of teachers and schools. Often, the students refusing to take the test are those who will do the best.

“Those scores will be reflecting the performance of my school and the performance of my teachers, so it’s really not a good place to be as an administrator at a public school right now—especially if a high percentage of students refused to take the test,” he said.

“There are so many other factors that go into making a ‘highly effective’ or highly performing teacher than just how…students do on a test score,” he added. “The state minimizes it to look at just that number instead of looking at all the other factors.”

Many teachers don’t actually teach the subjects being tested and are evaluated based on students they have hardly any contact with. A special education, technology or health teacher will get a score linked to how their students do in English language arts and mathematics.

But with the bill already passed and the governor showing no signs of changing his mind, advocates for education say refusing the test as their best option.

“When Washington, D.C., linked 50 percent of teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, teacher turnover increased to 82 percent, schools in communities with high poverty rates showed large or moderate declines in student outcomes, and the combined poverty gap for D.C. expanded by 44 scale-score points, causing poor students to fall even further behind their affluent peers,” said Anthony Chase Mallia, a seventh grade mathematics teacher at Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor. “It is time to begin to acknowledge that the accountability movement has failed.”

 

The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor is inviting those seeking more information on test refusal to attend a forum on Thursday, April 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers’ Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor. For more information on test refusal and other commonly asked questions, visit the New York State Allies for Public Education website, nysape.org.

League of Women Voters to Host Discussion on Voting Issues

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By Tessa Raebeck

The League of Women Voters will sponsor  program on voting regulations in New York State and debate their merits on Monday, July 14.

The discussion, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Hampton Library, located at 2478 Main Street in Bridgehampton, will focus on two issues: term limits and ballot access.

Anne Marshall and Carol Meller, co-chairs of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters’ voter services committee, will lead the discussion. League of Women Voters chapters across the state are studying these issues and the league plans to come to a statewide consensus on whether they are beneficial or harmful to New York voters by the end of the fall.

The discussion on ballot access will explore the practice of “fusion voting” and the New York State statute “Wilson-Pakula.”

“Fusion voting,” or electoral fusion, is an arrangement where two or more political parties list the same candidate on a ballot, resulting in a cross-party endorsement and pooled votes for that candidate. The practice enables minor parties to influence election results and policy by offering to endorse the candidate of a major party.

The “Wilson-Pakula” statute allows candidates to appear on the ballot of a different party than their own with the permission of party officials.

The discussion on ballot access will also consider the rules by which New Yorkers are permitted to vote in state primaries and compare that eligibility to different procedures used in other states.

The second discussion on term limits will focus on the question of whether there should be a cap on the number of years elected officials and state legislators in New York State can serve.

For more information on the voting issues presentation, visit lwvhamptons.org or call (631) 324-4637.

Update: Stein and Schroeder Sweep to Victory in Sag Harbor

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Heller_Sag Harbor Village Board Elections 6-17-14_0475_LR

Robby Stein and Sandra Schroeder congratulate one another after being elected to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday night. Michael Heller photo

 

 

By Stephen J. Kotz

Incumbent Robby Stein was the top vote getter on Tuesday to win reelection to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees with a total of 308 votes.

Sandra Schroeder, a former village administrator who last year challenged Brian Gilbride for mayor, came in second place with 270 votes.

John Shaka, a member of the group Save Sag Harbor, who has become a familiar sight at the Municipal Building, where he has been an advocate for a traffic calming project, missed out on a seat, receiving a total of 219 votes. Former Trustee Bruce Stafford received 124 votes.

In North Haven, Mayor Jeff Sander, incumbent Trustees Dianne Skilbred and James Davis, and first-time candidate Tommy John Schiavoni, who all ran unopposed, were reelected.

“I’m just so thrilled,” Ms. Schroeder said on Wednesday morning about her election. “I’m really a happy camper about that today.”

The newly elected trustee said she looked forward to getting to work, and said she did not expect to have any problems working with her fellow board members.

“I can work with anyone,” she said, adding that people run for office because they have a sincere desire to make the village a better place to live. “It’s not a personal thing, it’s issues,” she said. “You don’t have to agree on everything to get along.”

Mr. Stein said he was pleased to be the top vote-getter. “I feel I can continue the work I’ve started,” he said. “I look forward to working with Sandra on the board.”

“I’m really proud of the campaign we ran,” said Mr. Shaka. “We ran on the issues and got the news out.”

Although he said he was disappointed that he failed to win, Mr. Shaka said, “The good news is that Sag Harbor has two really good people going in who will take care of the business of the village.”

It took about an hour for the results to be announced as election workers first cross-checked 43 absentee ballots against voter registration rolls and counted them individually before announcing the results from voting machines.

A crowd of about 40 people who had gathered at the Sag Harbor Firehouse on Brick Kiln Road waited quietly for the results.

“I had a wonderful life last week and I will again next week,” said Ms. Schroeder as she waited. “I’m really hoping to be elected, but if not, I’m not going away.”

When it became clear she would be one of two winners, a small group of supporters who had gathered around her cheered. Mr. Shaka, a first-time candidate for village office, offered his congratulations to the winners. Mr. Stafford left shortly after the results were announced, offering a “night, night” to those nearby.

A total of 511 votes were cast. Four write-in votes were cast, with two for Scott Smith and one each for Mary Anne Miller and Margaret Bromberg.

North Haven Village Clerk Georgia Welch said a total of 97 ballots were cast, 92 by machine and five absentee ballots.

Mr. Schiavoni received 89 votes; Mr. Sander, 88 votes; Ms. Skilbred, 87 votes; and Mr. Davis, 86 votes.

Ms. Welch, who said North Haven had about 700 registered voters, described turnout as good for an uncontested election.

“It is nice to be officially elected,” said Mayor Jeff Sander who completed the unfinished term of Laura Nolan. “I hope the fact that no one opposed us is indicative of how people think we are doing.”

Mr. Sander said he looked forward to working with Mr. Schiavoni and added that he would miss Trustee George Butts who did not seek another term.

 

 

More information on the Sag Harbor candidates can be found by clicking here.

For more information on the candidates in North Haven, click here.

East Hampton Holds off on Aviation Fuel Hike

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A resolution to double the fuel fees at the East Hampton Airport was tabled by a unanimous vote of the East Hampton Town Board on Thursday, June 5.

Cindy Herbst, of Sound Aircraft Services read a statement about the fee being raised from 15 cents to 30 cents a gallon. She said that her company had had no time to prepare for the increase, and that she thought a 5-cent increase with six months notice was more appropriate. Margaret Turner, the chairwoman of the East Hampton Business Alliance,  aired similar concerns on behalf of other businesses.

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said that he was “sensitive to the amount of the increase in one year and the need for reasonable notice.” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc recommended that the board table this issue and come back to review it after further discussions.

The fee hike had been recommended by a subcommittee of the town’s budget and finance committee as a way to help wean the airport from the need for Federal Aviation Administration grant money.

Septic Rebates Stalled

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by Stephen J. Kotz

The Sag Harbor Village Board on Tuesday tabled a proposal to launch a pilot program to offer rebates for septic system upgrades after questions were raised about how the program would be funded and who would qualify for the rebates.

Trustee Robby Stein, who is typically the most vocal member of the board in supporting anti-pollution measures, questioned who would qualify.

“My concern is we’re not subsidizing the 1 percent,” he said.

“I question why myself, as a Main Street resident, would be subsidizing people who own waterfront homes worth millions of dollars,” added former Mayor and Trustee Pierce Hance.

Although Mayor Brian Gilbride said he wanted to allocate $50,000 to the project, much as Southampton Town did with a similar program last year, Mr. Hance argued that the way the law was written there was no spending cap. He also said the board should determine whether the septic rebate program should really be a top priority for the village.

Trustee Ed Deyermond asked where funding would come from, and Mr. Gilbride said it would be taken from a surplus fund of more than $1 million that the village has on hand.

“I applaud the village for taking this on,” said Bruce Tait, the chairman of the Harbor Committee, “but I was actually shocked that the harbor committee wasn’t informed.” He said because the village has a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, it might qualify for state aid.

The village program would provide rebates limited to between $2,500 and $3,000 for the replacement of old septic systems that were installed before 1981.

The board tabled the discussion until next month.

Value of Montauk Beach Work Debated

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By Stephen J. Kotz

A new economic analysis by East Hampton Town of a proposed beach stabilization project for downtown Montauk has calculated that the project’s value in total economic benefits would be more than double the amount projected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

First Coastal Consulting Corporation prepared the report at the request of the town and estimated that saving the ocean beach in the downtown Montauk area would be worth an estimated $238.9 million. URS, a consulting form that undertook a similar study for the Army Corps, estimated that the project would provide an estimated $103.9 million in economic benefits.

The finding lends support for Montauk to receive significantly more relief than what the Army Corps has already committed to the hamlet, the town stated in a press release on Monday.

The Army Corps’ latest proposal calls for only half of the Montauk project to be built this fall. A more extensive project is proposed to be built under the greater Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study two years later.

“Without the construction of a feeder beach, the emergency project as currently proposed places Montauk in a vulnerable position,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.

Since the economic analysis is key to the Army Corps’ justification for this project, Supervisor Cantwell has urging the Army Corps to build a much more substantial project in Montauk as soon as possible.

Pitching Playground Project

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By Stephen J. Kotz

The North Haven Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday agreed to seek proposals to replace equipment at the village playground.

The board discussed whether the playground should be expanded or remain its current side, but made no final decision. Deputy Mayor Dianne Skilbred and Village Clerk Georgia Welch will continue to seek out various proposals to improve the 20-year-old playground.

The board also passed resolutions improving the village’s annual stormwater management report to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the village’s annual auditing expenditures.

Ms. Welch presented several options of alternative machinery that might be leased to clean village Southampton Town is supposed to provide the equipment on a yearly basis, the clerk said, but North Haven is not scheduled to have its drains cleaned by the town until late August.

The meeting was George Butts’s last as a village trustee; he thanked his fellow board members for their hard work and dedication.

East Hampton Online Code Enforcement Complaint System

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By Stephen J. Kotz

The East Hampton Town Enforcement Department will offer an online form that offers the public a new way to file code-violation complaints online for submission directly to a code enforcement officer.

This new process can be used to report such violations as overcrowding, illegal summer rentals, the operation of businesses in residential zones, building without building permits, illegal dumping, illegal signs, litter and debris, for example. Noise complaints, however, should still be directed to the Town Police Department at 537-7575.

To access the form, visit the Town’s website, ehamptonny.gov. In the right column, click on “Ordinance Enforcement,” and then “Complaint Form.”

Once the form is submitted, the sender will receive written confirmation regarding the complaint submission. Town officers will then conduct an investigation of each complaint and will follow up with complainants regarding their determinations.

The public may still lodge complaints of code violations in the traditional manner—by calling Code Enforcement at (631) 324-3858, the Fire Marshals Office at (631) 329-3473 or the Building Department at (631) 324-4145 or by visiting one of these departments in person at 300 Pantigo Place.

East Hampton Sets Alternative Energy Goal

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By Stephen K. Kotz

The East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday voted to set a goal of meeting 100-percent of the community’s electricity needs with renewable energy sources by 2020.

“Energy efficiency improvements and solar rooftop systems can save homeowners several of thousand dollars a year while building local solar farms can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease revenue for the town,” said Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release.

In response to several LIPA/PSEG-Long Island requests for proposals, the town has already selected a number of proposals from solar developers for large scale solar farms on town-owned land. Looking further ahead the Town Board also set a goal of meeting the equivalent of 100 percent of communitywide energy consumption in electricity, heating, and transportation with renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

“Our everyday lives are impacted by the effects of global warming. We owe it to the children of East Hampton to do something about climate change and air pollution caused by fossil fuels,” said Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby.

The move comes as the area has seen an increase in summer peak demand for electricity and PSEG Long Island began installing unsightly transmission lines which have become a point of public contention and legal action. The 100 percent goal was prompted by a unanimous recommendation from the Town’s Energy Sustainability Committee and builds on a Comprehensive Energy Vision document, adopted by the Town last October, which called for establishing specific energy efficiency and renewable energy goals and timelines.

“Establishing goals for renewable energy is the lowest hanging fruit in sustainable energy practices since the technologies have advanced sufficiently to be efficient and cost effective,” said Frank Dalene, chairman of the town’s Energy Sustainability Committee.

Hope for “Zone Pricing” Law to Lower East End Gas Prices

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By Stephen J. Kotz

The New York State Assembly Committee on Economic Development has approved legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. that strengthens New York State’s Gasoline Zone Pricing Law originally enacted in 2008.

“This legislation would end the unfair practice of ‘Big Oil’ companies establishing arbitrary prices for gasoline based upon geographical location without regard to cost,” Mr. Thiele said in a press release. Historically, big oil companies have charged higher prices on the South Fork as well as other areas such as Westchester County without regard to cost. The law passed in 2008 was a first step to reduce the differential in gas prices based on geography. However, the State Attorney General’s Office has requested amendments to permit him to more vigorously enforce the law.”

Mr. Thiele said he hoped for a vote on the legislation in the full Assembly by the end of June. The Assembly passed the bill in 2012, but it failed to pass the Senate. The bill is now sponsored in the Senate by State Senator Ken LaValle.