Thursday, May 16, 2002

Changes Needed for Hockey to Return?

oday the O-D ran an editorial stating that changes were needed to the Utica Aud before professional hockey would return -- that more money would have to be spent on the building. Their logic runs something like this: We've had 4 hockey teams come and go in the last 10 years ... The Aud "looks foreboding from the outside" (their opinion) and "isn’t particularly charming on the inside" (again their opinion) ... ergo, the condition of the building must be making the teams fold and keeping the fans away. Really?

In the same editorial the O-D admits that the arena was upgraded for the Devils 10 years ago (yet the Devils still left). Furthermore, O-D admits there is a successful promoter prepared to place a team in the Aud NOW. These pieces don't seem to logically fit with their theory. [The real reason for the failures is probably traceable to our poor economy with less discretionary income available to fans -- and fewer fans -- but this would admit to the failure of local policy makers who seem to include the O-D editors]

Essentially the O-D really seems to be saying: "We've failed for the last 10 years .. let's not run a risk of failing again ..."

With that kind of attitude no progress will be made! The worse that could happen is that area hockey fans will have a couple more years of professional hockey. What's so bad about that?

One suspects the O-D may be discouraging professional hockey to protect the vested interests of their "friends" at Utica College.

This is the old story in Oneida County -- the well connected use the taxpayer's $$$ to their advantage -- and keep away anyone new that might offer some competition.

The O-D is right ... Changes ARE Needed:


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The "Safe Schools" Project -- What's the real intent?

The UCSD has launched another expansive project with the help of a federal grant -- The Utica Safe Schools/Healthy Student Partnership. The purpose stated in the incorporation certificate is, essentially, to help kids who may be exposed to/prone to violence. UCSD documents posted on-line, however, imply that the project is much larger in scope. The project involves the establishment of a new bureaucracy that is independent of the control of elected officials, the creation of vast databases with unprecedented collection and sharing of personal data about students and their families, the creation of its own law enforcement unit (including a SWAT
team) and the use of school district resources to
funnel students and their families to the services of "partner" agencies.

Rather than places of learning, schools apparently are to become marketing tools to ensure a steady flow of clients (and government funds) to "partner" agencies -- further fragmenting and diluting time and effort directed toward academics. Since a sound education usually results in higher family incomes
and fewer social problems, you have to question the wisdom of this -- we could wind up with more problems that we began with.

The extensiveness of the programs, the data collection and sharing, and what appears to be intrusion into private family life, almost gives the impression that a separate government is being formed -- one that is not subject to democratic rule.

The manner in which this program came about and is being implemented also raises questions.

(1) Government agencies can only exercise those
powers provided by statute. There is nothing in the NYS Education Law that authorizes the UCSD to form a not-for-profit corporation to administer a program -- but they did it anyway. Why?

(2) Public funds will be administered by a
corporation that is controlled by a separate board of directors unelected by the public. Why was this form of administration chosen?

(3) The corporation's board of directors initially was to include Superintendent Lowengard and Board of Education President DiMeo. This was later expanded to include School Board Members Pellegrino and LaPolla in return for their support. Why did the discussions of this take place during an Executive Session of the School Board -- out of view of the public -- when the the Public Officers' Law does not authorize executive sessions to discuss such topics?
Doesn't this create a potential conflict of interest for these persons with the school district?

(4) Inspite of repeated promises by Board Member
Pellegrino to have (a) the actual Grant Application and (b) the study by Ms. Mammone that persuaded him to support the project published at the UCSD Website, why are they still not there months later? Why is the public being denied the information used by their elected officials?

Going through the documentation that already is
available on-line (particularly "goals and objectives") should raise more concerns.


Given the lack of public debate by the School Board, I come back to my overriding question:

What's the REAL intent?

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Monday, May 13, 2002

The Millenium Project -- Who benefits?

Last fall Utica's local newspaper, the O-D, gave a ringing endorsement to the Millenium Project, calling it "progressive education" and a "Giant Step." Please excuse me, but given the experimentation and lack of results produced by "educrats" over the last 30 years, why should we expect anything different for 37 million more of our dollars? Project descriptions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. And the few details given - after some "critical thinking" - are troubling!

The Project will create 4 themed "houses" to "personalize" education. Students have always completed a "core curriculum" that is "personalized" by electives - so what makes the Project better? Perhaps there will be more "specialized" coursework. The Project's segregation is new, with "finance/business" types going to one "house," the "science/techs" to another, "health" to a third, and "human/public services" to a fourth. What will be the result? Expect health providers that are illiterate in broad science/technical issues, scientists who don't understand the impact of their discoveries on society, and public servants who don't have a clue about their effect on business. The logical result of encouraging students to specialize before they develop a broad knowledge base in common with others is a fragmented society -- one unable to communicate with itself.

Students must select their "theme" before entering high school. Given the difficulty a lot of college students have in picking their major, asking an 8th grader to do so seems rediculous. Forcing an 8th grader to make what may be a career-determinative choice before we've given him or her a solid foundation of knowledge is unjust. The choice will likely be made or strongly influenced by "counselors" who can only have limited knowledge of each student's true potential. The end result: Many will wind up in jobs they hate, and without a strong broad foundation that would otherwise enable them to easily retrain for something different.

Each house will have its own administrative and support staff to create "smaller schools." While there may be some studies that suggest smaller schools can help student achievement, it is the subject matter presented and how it is taught that is more important. This is where the real beneficiaries of the Project become apparent. In an era where public funds are becoming scarce, we are spending 37 million dollars to create a facility that will require administrations in quadruplicate -- ensuring that more funds will be required for administrators and support on an annual basis. Administrators and support staff don't teach. The end result will be a more expensive system with no return for the investment.

Class and "work place learning" will be connected through "focused" courses and "mandatory internships." This begs the questions "What workplace?" "What is the focus?" "Who will get the interns?" Workplace learning is labor intensive specialized learning. It is what normally happens when one starts on the job. Since this is going to happen anyway -- with the student's first "real job," which might not even exist in this area -- what purpose is served by a "mandatory" internship? Time in high school is precious -- the last opportunity for many to take purely academic pursuits. The time should not be wasted by forcing students to take jobs they don't want.

Don't expect the Millenium Project to accomplish anything for the students. Do expect it to create jobs for those already milking the system.


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Utika's step backward ...

Utica (Utika?) took a giant step backward this week with its major newspaper, the Observer-Dispatch, eliminating anonymous postings on its internet forum. While the O-D is certainly within its rights to do this, it has a chilling effect on free-speech.

There are various reasons why posters choose not to reveal their identity. While some may have evil intentions, the majority do not. Some may be public employees who would like to "blow the whistle" on wrong doing without jeopardizing their job. Others may want to debate issues with their friends without destroying good friendships. Still others may want their ideas judged by their content rather than by the reputation of the poster. It has been said that anonymity may be the greatest form of altruism.

Although there are anonymous posters who abuse the priviledge, most do not. And of the few who have made inappropriate postings .. many get retracted when others point out the error of their ways.

Given that the Syracuse newspapers and the New York Times -- with much larger readerships than the O-D -- allow anonymous postings on their websites, there clearly is no good journalistic reason for the O-D to forbid them.

The O-D has long been perceived as the organ of the Utica area "elite" -- the "movers and shakers" who act behind the scenes to ensure that their "vision" is implemented (assuring themselves of power and their cronies of high standards of living). Of course, we have seen where the "vision" has gotten us.

The entity who should be screaming the loudest for open government -- who should be going to court when government boards go into illegal executive sessions or fail to disclose information under FOIL -- is strangely silent ... except, of course, when it is necessary to serve its "vision." The entity knows that knowledge is power, and that the easiest way to control people is to control what they know. The entity now moves to ensure further control over the populace by eliminating anonymous postings.

It is only through (1) comprehensive knowledge by the people, (2) the free flow of ideas, and (3) political leadership with consensus building skills that this area will progress. The newspaper should provide #1 -- anonymous forums will encourage #2 -- and maybe, if more people become involved through ##s 1 & 2, the leaders for #3 will emerge.

The O-D's action demonstrates what's been suspected all along ... they are more interested in playing politics than reporting it.

Fortunately ThePulse is an available alternative ... I hope Vito advertises this forum and people come together here to discuss the issues.