Monday, April 19, 2010

BOA Meeting Report - 4/19/10

The April 19th regular BOA meeting opened with Alderman Jerry Antunes (12-D) giving the annual Black & Hispanic Caucus State of the City Address.  He opened asking for a moment of silence for the families and victims of the recent gun violence in New Haven.  His address mentioned that violent crime must be eliminated, gun noise should not be the norm, TV news should not only focus on crimes being a fact of life.  He also suggested that the Q House "void" should be filled, gun buyback programs are only "token" effort, kids should trade their game boxes for little league and visits to the Peabody Museum, and that parents should be more involved and this responsibility is not solely the City's.  The address also asked for more youth jobs to stimulate the mind and have a career path.  He concluded with a few policy ideas including having a progressive housing policy, getting more people to work, keeping more money in the City vs. sending it up to the State, that home owners are "tapped out" property tax wise, and there should be policies to make life better and life's burdens lighter.

Regular business commenced after Antune's half an hour address with a roll-call vote putting forth a BOA resolution to add its voice to the US Conference of Mayors call to President Obama at the United Nations conference in May 2010 to initiate good faith multilateral negotiations on an international agreement to abolish nuclear weapons by 2020.  All Alders present except DePino (18-R) and O'Sullivan-Best (11-I) voted for this resolution.

Next, several items given favorable recommendation by the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee (I'm Vice-Chair) passed unanimously including: Ordinance Amendments from DPW regarding commercial waste collection, disposal, site cleanliness and dumpster regulations; authorization to the City Engineer to continue to engage their consultant for support services for the replacement of the State Street Bridge; approval of a sign for Bespoke Restaurant; and the approval of a Sister City agreement with between New Haven and Tetlanohcan, Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Next, three items given favorable recommendation by the Finance Committee were unanimously approved including: filing the City's monthly financial report for 1/10, the authorization for the current management company of Alling Memorial Golf Club to continue management, and the fee components to the new DPW commercial waste and recycling ordinance amendments.

The fees and ordinance amendments regarding commercial trash and recycling are new policies that will ensure more compliance with the City's flow-control ordinance and State mandated commercial (and residential w/ more then 6 units) recycling laws.  This will also enhance City revenues thus reducing tax burden, protect condo and apartment residents and commercial entities from being overcharged by private waste haulers, and give these entities access to City recycling services.

Then it came time to approve the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) after much work and a favorable recommendation from the joint Community Development/Human Services committee.  This plan was 211 pages and allocated millions of dollars of grant money to many applicants.  There was however one contentious grant decision.  That was the committee's decision to decrease a grant that funded a Park's employee, union position to oversee the Open Spaces and Community Gardens.  While several committee members and other Alders thought it fair to decrease this position's salary/benefits since many grants were similarly reduced.  However, because it was reduced to below the bargained range of the position, the position would effectively be eliminated.  After more debate on the issue including testimony in favor of the long time city employee and the job itself, the sufficient money was reallocated as the amendment to do so passed with only four votes against.

Seemingly last, after that lengthy debate, was a vote to, on behalf of the Tax Abatement Committee, place a 30-day moratorium on residential tax foreclosure actions to force compliance from the City's Tax collector to follow an BOA order from last year to notify Aldermen of pending actions.  It also is to provide some more assessment of the Assessor's Office policies with regard to aggressive assessments.  This passed after this moratorium on "all" tax foreclosure actions was amended to just "residential."

Then, as the meeting seemed like it would come to a close, Alderman Goldson (30-D) moved the Resolution from the Mayor to establish a Charter Revision Committee.  This item on the agenda had been "passed over" by the Majority Leader's prerogative.  BOA leadership and the Administration wanted more time to try to get support for the Aldermanic Affairs committee's favorable recommendation to name and establish a Charter Revision Committee that could perhaps get a couple items on the Nov. 2010 ballot including 4-year terms for the Mayor and BOA.  After much discussion and debate, the item failed as many Alders did not care for the process that led to this particular list of committee members nor their directive(s).  The BOA will again take up forming a Charter Revision Committee after "budget season" and before the end of the State mandated every-10-year period which ends in 2011.

Friday, April 9, 2010

BOA Meeting Report - 4/7/10

This regular meeting, moved by a few days due to the Easter & Passover holidays, saw many new items communicated to the Board which will most likely head to Committees as assigned by the BOA President, Carl Goldfield.  There was also action on several items including a few added late thus included as Unanimous Consent items or addressed by "suspending the BOA rules."  These are "normal" procedures, however, they warrant additional scrutiny as these items have not gone through the "regular process."  The main issue of concern is the BOA is being asked to take action without much time to analyze, gather info, ask questions, etc.  Often, matters are indeed straight forward and/or due to time constraints need to be addressed under these "exceptions" to the usual rules and procedures. Almost every meeting there are items presented this way.  However, members can legitimately have concerns with having to act (vote) on an item when questions haven't, or even can't be, answered.  These issues were addressed by several Aldermen at this week's meeting.

Business began, unanimously passing a resolution to support proposed US House legislation for a Jobs for America Act.  Aldermen Rodriguez, Blango & Paca submitted this resolution to support H.R. 4812 - which you can learn more about here.  Mostly symbolic, this support could help with the passage of Federal legislation that could send money to New Haven.  Next, several new items were communicated and will most likely be distributed to Committees by President Goldfield.

First Readings were noted for several items which will be voted on at the next meeting.  This includes the Aldermanic Affairs favorable recommendation of a list of people to be appointed to establish a Charter Revision Committee, CSEP's (I'm vice-chair) favorable recommendation of Ordinance Amendments to go along with the Finance's Committee's favorable recommendation of Fees for new policies related to DPW's flow-control for waste and recycling hauled by private contractors within the City limits, as well as DPW to begin offering fee-based pick-up services for recyclables to commercial and large residential (+6 units) entities.  Also the renewal agreement with the management company for Alling Memorial Golf Course will be before the Board at the next meeting.

Then, the Board voted on a few items coming up as "Second Readings" and thus having moved through the "normal process."  However, despite favorable recommendations from Committee, several Aldermen were concerned that their questions could not be answered by their colleagues nor was there representatives for these items available. However, despite legitimate concerns, colleagues after much discussion, did vote unanimously to approve Tax Abatements  for four senior City residents, and for the continued abatement (with presumed State reimbursement) of taxes for the Tower One housing property (18 Tower Lane down town).  Also with favorable recommendation from the Public Safety Committee, and no additional questions nor concerns from members, the Board unanimously approved the application and acceptance of Federal FEMA grant money for a new Fire Boat and another Federal grant (SAFER) for money to fund nine firefighter/paramedic vacant (through attrition) positions.

Next, came the controversial last minute item(s) from the Board of Education.  While the item itself was not necessarily that controversial, that it was added at the last minute and forced people to make a decision with little time to analyze frustrated several members.  Also, frustrating was no one from the BOE was available to answer questions.  Ultimately, after much discussion, the Board did act on this item - a contract - that had three parts.  One's decision had to be made primarily based on the letter from Superintendent Mayo stating that this contract approval has " funding being requested..." and that "...the funding for these contracts will come from the existing approved school construction capital accounts..."  Alderwoman Jackson-Brooks, whose ward the Roberto Clemente & Hill Central schools are in, also asked for support.  However, she was also critical of the Administration for not being available nor for allowing the BOA more time to study this contract which requires BOA approval to go forward.  The contract(s) (3 separate ones) are for the purchase, installation and maintenance of an energy saving fuel cell to be installed at these schools.
The full board then did unanimously (except for one nay on the maintenance contract piece - Goldson) approve the contract(s).

The meeting ended soon thereafter, however, several of us (including me) asked for more discussion between meetings, amongst members, amongst the administration, and with staff.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Education Committee Workshop 4/1/10

April 1st, the BOA's Education Committee (I am a member) met and held a Workshop (open to public but usually no public testimony heard) to get a briefing from NHPS on "School Change."  Asst. Superintendent for Portfolio and Performance Management, Garth Harries and NHPS COO, Will Clark briefed the committee and answered questions.  While the school district has held many meetings to inform the community, answer questions, and get input, BOE staff had not formally chatted with BOA members in awhile on the subject of their efforts on implementing "School Change."  This was a good opportunity for BOA members to hear from Harries and Clark and to have a dialogue.  The BOA's main oversight role over the BOE is the annual appropriation of operating funds.  However, many Aldermen have heard from their constituents that in addition and in conjunction with their financial oversight that it would be great to get updates and check the progress of the reform/change initiatives.

The briefing included sharing the main goals of School Change: close the performance gap of New Haven students and the rest of the State in 5 yrs, cut the drop-out rate in half, and ensure every graduate has the academic ability and financial resources to attend and succeed in college.  There are three major strategies to achieve these goals: Community, Talent (teachers & administrators), and having a "Portfolio of Schools."  This "Portfolio" idea comes from the realization that a completely centralized, district-wide management is not appropriate for the diversity of the City's many schools.  The schools are thus evaluated individually and "graded" into three Tiers.  This "tiering" is accomplished with new and developing assessment criteria which initially relies heavily on test performance (because that's what has been emphasized by the State & Fed) BUT also looks at individual student growth measured against the student's peer group.  The available data has been plotted and from this chart seven schools have been tiered in as pilot schools to begin school change.  Edgewood and Davis are Tier 1, Daniels & King Robinson are Tier 2, Barnard is a Tier 3 (Improvement), and Brennan-Rogers and Urban Youth are Tier 3 (Turnaround) schools.  The Principals from these schools were also introduced and provided a brief introduction to their plans and hopes.  The tiering will differentiate the level of Autonomy and Accountability Continuum.  These pilot schools are making their new management plans to be submitted for approval by the BOE and the district by early May.  Curriculum, Assessment, Governance & Policies, Behavior & School Culture, External Partnerships, Professional Development, Staffing, School Calendar and Schedule, and Budget are the main components that each school will analyze and incorporate into their reform/change plan.

This is obviously a very brief summary of School Change.  I have attended many meetings and briefings so far, and I'd be happy to answer any and all questions, please call or email.  With vested interest and your interests in mind, I will be active in the oversight and collaboration required to help implement School Change that will truly benefit our kids.

Please find a lot of information including the Grading ("Bubble") Charts, documentations, survey results, printed versions of School Change presentations, etc. on the School Change website: Main Page and Documents/Charts Page.

NHPS Plot ("Bubble") Chart (at or above proficient)
NHPS Plot ("Bubble") Chart (at or above goal)