Leaning on each other
What ties Ossining, Port Chester, Glen Cove, Riverhead, and Westbury together?
These school districts north of NYC and on Long Island are part of a coalition called the Harmed Suburban Five that is asking for more school funding.
The coalition is tagging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Long Island and suburban state senators in hundreds of dollars worth of Facebook ads boosting their effort. The ads are paid for by the Ossining school district, according to Facebook’s archive of political ads.
Ossining Union Free School District Superintendent Ray Sanchez tells The Point that his district reached out to other similar districts who agreed to band together.
The common denominator? Over the past 10 years, the districts had seen 15 percent or more increases in student enrollment, 30 percent or more increases in the number of English language learners, 25 percent or more decreases in the Combined Wealth Ratio, which measures community wealth, plus relatively high rates of free or reduced-price lunch applicants, according to Sanchez.
Sanchez says his district has seen more enrollment, including of Hispanic students, and he is anticipating a $4.5 million deficit.
In Glen Cove, Superintendent Maria Rianna relayed a similar experience: 64 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch as opposed to roughly 40 percent when Rianna arrived six years ago.
All of the school districts would see funding increases in Cuomo’s executive budget, according to a spokeswoman for the governor.
But the ad campaign echoes attempts by supporters of overburdened NYC schools to increase their own budgets under the state’s complicated funding formulas. The disbursement of money, of course, is now being debated in Albany during the budget process, and Sanchez says his and the other districts want a “tier” for these districts alone that addresses some of their funding needs.
“I'm in crisis mode right now,” he says.
Jerry Wolkoff has been trying to get his massive Heartland Town Square project built for more than 15 years.
And though he’s closer to the finish line than ever, he’s now bogged down in two court cases — his lawsuit against Suffolk County over the legislature’s refusal to move a bill forward that would allow him to connect the 9,000-unit project to the Southwest Sewer District, and another action filed by project opponents over the Islip Town Board’s first-phase approval in 2017.
All of which would be ample reason for Wolkoff to question the wisdom of all the political contributions he’s made over the years — nearly $600,000 in Suffolk County alone since 2005. But he says he has no regrets.
“I think at the time that they’re good people, forget about Jerry Wolkoff’s job, they’re good for Long Island,” Wolkoff told The Point. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican. If I think you’re going to do something good, I give.”
The top recipient of Wolkoff’s largesse by far has been the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, which has received at least $457,500 since 2005. Its Republican counterpart got $41,500. Others getting Wolkoff’s cash include County Executive Steve Bellone (at least $70,000), his predecessor Steve Levy ($7,500), former Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan ($9,000) and current Supervisor Angie Carpenter ($3,100).
Wolkoff rejects the characterization of this as a pay-for-no-play result. And, as feisty as ever at 82 years old, he said he’s not going away.
“I wouldn’t be Amazon and give up. I don’t give up,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing to do. If politicians don’t think so, eventually, they won’t be there.”
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The political forces are mobilizing
A day after President Donald Trump released a budget that didn’t include new funding for Gateway, the project that would, among other things, replace the crumbling rail tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey beneath the Hudson River, Sen. Chuck Schumer gathered key players from both states at a meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss next steps.
Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, along with New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, attended, as did representatives from the Gateway Development Corp., Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as officials from both governors’ offices.
For about an hour, the group discussed moving Gateway forward despite Trump’s proposed budget, which also cuts key budget streams, like Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor account.
Trump’s opposition to Gateway has seemed personal at times, part of a feud with Schumer. But Gateway also has been used as a bargaining chip, what Schumer himself called on Tuesday “political ransom.”
Supporters, however, said they’re not going to play that game.
“They’re not trading Gateway for anything,” a Schumer spokesman told The Point. “The president can’t delay this forever. It’ll inevitably become his fault if the tunnels collapse.”
The meeting came a day after Reps. Pete King and Josh Gottheimer held a news conference at Penn Station, pushing their legislation that would force Trump administration officials to come up with an emergency plan in case the train tunnels fail. King said the effort is a way to “put them on the spot.”
Last week, Schumer proposed a new strategy that would involve legislative action to allow the two states to continue work on Gateway, by requiring that the federal government reimburse them later.
If only all the talk about Gateway was enough on its own to fix the tunnels.
Randi F. Marshall