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Borough hosts State of the City address

A lowering of property taxes, eliminating city sales tax on clothing and footwear, and further revamping of the city’s school system highlighted Mayor Bloomberg’s 2007 State of the City address delivered this week. The speech was delivered before a packed New York City College of Technology auditorium at 285 Jay Street. “The sound fiscal policies of the past five years have allowed us to prepare for the future by putting money away for retirees health care and now to lower taxes and put money back in the pockets of our residents,” said Bloomberg of his plan to slash property taxes five percent. “To that end, my administration will cut taxes for hard working New Yorkers by $1 billion. This will pump money back into our neighborhoods, create jobs, help small businesses and decrease the burden on homeowners,” he added. Bloomberg said eliminating city sales tax on clothing and footwear will save New Yorkers $110 million annually. Additionally, Bloomberg said he will continue the $400 property tax rebate, and reduce the Unincorporated Business Tax and give further tax credits to small business owners. Regarding the revamping of city schools, the big news was the mayor’s announcement that regional offices will be eliminated, thus streamlining bureaucracy and saving money that will be redirected to classrooms. Originally, the regional offices—consisting of a handful of school districts in each office—were envisioned as supervisory bodies meant to link district personnel and parents to the city Department of Education’s (DOE) Tweed headquarters. Immediately after the offices opened, parents criticized them as another bureaucratic mess, allowing administrators and region staffers to say, “I don’t know,” when asked questions about specific districts or schools. “When we had a problem, I didn’t find that the regional staff was especially helpful,” said Jim Devor, recording secretary for District 15’s Community Education Council. “The regions became a mechanism to avoid accountability all together.” To support his statement, Devor cited an administrative shakeup that rocked his daughter’s school, P.S. 58 at 330 Smith Street, last spring. Accused of condoning cheating on standardized exams, the school’s then-principal resigned but a replacement was not appointed for two months. And during that time, parents received contradictory information about the status of the position from district, region, and Tweed staffers. “I very early on went to the regional superintendent and said it’s nuts for our school not to have a principal for two months and basically she said that’s not my call, it’s the chancellor’s,” Devor recalled. “But when he came around, he said no, that’s the region’s call.” With that in mind, Devor said the elimination of regions is “for the best.” Additionally, Bloomberg said principals will be given broader powers to determine what tools to use for support services, and the 32 school superintendents will have expanded roles and report directly to the chancellor. In regard to teachers, Bloomberg said the city will work with the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) to bring more accountability to the process of awarding tenure, and principals will be expected to evaluate new teachers and support their professional growth. “Restructuring the school system was vital to improving performance, and today graduation rates are at a 20-year high and reading and math scores are up dramatically,” said Bloomberg. “But we have more to do and the proposals I am outlining for this year will make certain that our schools continue to get better and that our students are better prepared to compete in the global economy of the future,” he added. In local development issues, Bloomberg noted the Brooklyn economy is booming resulting in the borough’s unemployment rate being cut almost in half in the past four years—from nine percent in 2002 to 4.7 percent today. Bloomberg also promised a comprehensive rezoning of Coney Island in the year ahead as well as a major renovation of the New York Aquarium, and completion of the education museum in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Weeksville Historical Society. Additionally, Bloomberg championed the newly created Downtown Brooklyn Partnership to further promote business and the arts in the downtown corridor, and the construction launch of the $4 Atlantic Yards project. “Building on successes—sound fiscal policies, innovative policy strategies, the overhaul of our education system, the most expansive rezonings in decades, and programs to reduce crime and fight poverty—we can continue on to make New York an even better place to live and work,” said Bloomberg. “We’ve come too far to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to continue to advance policies and goals that will continue our city on its upward trajectory,” he added. —Michèle De Meglio contributed to this story.

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