The Civic Scene: Thompson takes stand against city Education, Building Depts.

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On July 23, city Comptroller Bill Thompson held a meeting at the Hillcrest Jewish Center in Fresh Meadows. The room was filled with homeowners, parents, teachers, legislators and their assistants.

Thompson distributed a fact sheet which listed his basic points: tell the truth about school performance, fire city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, get back to basics instead of teaching to tests, put the public — i.e., parents — back in public education, end the privatization and deregulation of our public school system and design public school choices that work.

City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) spoke about outside contractors being awarded no-bid contracts worth about $2 billion. Rob Calores, chairman of Community District Education Council 26, believed Klein was ignoring the current city Department of Education law.

Thompson answered questions and made comments, which drew applause from the audience. Thompson was a member and president of the former Board of Education in the 1980s and ’90s. He believed total student achievement should be measured, not just test scores.

Thompson did not believe principals were well-qualified, since some only attended the Principal’s Academy and had little or no teaching experience. Principals are given a budget to run the school and have to cut expenses. People applauded when it was said there is too much cruelty in the system, with some principals making teachers cry due to their observations and ratings techniques.

Other questions concerned financial transparency and the need for an independent testing authority. It was believed the dropout rates and graduation statistics seem too good to be true. It seems Regents standards are also being lowered using a curve. We must have an educated workforce to be able to compete in today’s global economy.

The subject of credit recovery was brought up. It is the new way of giving graduating students missing credits so they have the basic 40 credits to graduate. Students can take hours of instruction after the regular school day or do a specific project to make up a missing course. If students failed a course or two and has the other graduation qualifications, it might be good to let them make up work. The problem is there is no uniform rules for credit recovery.

Some teachers in the audience complained supervisors micromanage them and that they have to follow a script regardless of whether students absorbed information or are confused. Parents wanted the ability to speak with officials as to why they feel a school is doing poorly.

In mid-July, Thompson gave his views on how to solve the failures of the city Department of Buildings. This is another topic of concern for Queens residents. Civic associations constantly complain about the failure of the DOB to stop the building of illegal apartments. It is interesting Thompson, a mayoral candidate along with Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is stressing this issue.

Thompson stated at that July press conference that his office had made audits and found that in 2008 the DOB could not solve 40 percent of the building complaints nor could it perform two-thirds of field inspections because inspectors could not gain access to private property where citizens complained there were illegal conversions. In 657 cases, the DOB did not conduct follow-up visits to ensure occupants had adhered to vacate orders. Under the present rules, the DOB inspector makes two attempts to gain entry and leaves notices asking the owner to make an appointment for an inspection. If there is no reply, the case is closed.

Borough President Helen Marshall had joined Thompson at his press conference, where he asked for the legal power to fine owners who do not grant access to an inspector, implement weekend and nighttime inspections and have a greater effort to make it easier to obtain search warrants to gain access to properties where there were complaints of illegal building.

For years, I have asked the DOB to publish the names of those fined who have paid their fines to the city and corrected the illegal activity as a deterrent to others. Unfortunately, we rarely see who is punished. Marshall had commented that perhaps we need state legislation to make it easier to gain access to a disputed property.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: School concerns and illegal building concerns are active topics this election year.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Good solutions to these problems are hard to obtain.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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