Monday, April 27, 2015

Refugee Lawsuit: A Helping Hand, Biting the Hand, or Something Else?

Utica has had a stellar record of being a welcoming haven for immigrants and refugees for at least a century -- so much so that the United Nations has called Utica the "Town that Loves Refugees." School doors have been open to such a variety of peoples that forty-two languages are spoken in Utica's schools! Utica can be proud of the stories of refugees who found success locally. These inspiring stories remind us of our own immigrant forebears to whom we owe so much.

So it came as quite a shock to learn from WKTV that the Utica School district is being sued for (allegedly) illegally denying refugee youth an education.  The OD also had an article. How is this possible in a school district renowned for its diversity?

A "helping hand?"

The complaint, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and its Central New York affiliate on behalf of six students and "others similarly situated,"
"challenges the Defendants’ policy and practice of excluding limited English proficient (“LEP”) immigrants aged 17-20 from Thomas R. Proctor High School (“Proctor High School”) in Utica, N.Y. . . . [1]
It alleges that
. . . For the last 8 years, Defendants have been excluding LEP immigrants (primarily refugees) over 16 years of age from Proctor High School, the only high school in Utica, and diverting them to alternative education programs.  . . . [3]
And it seeks
. . . an order requiring Defendants to enroll LEP immigrants aged 17-20 in Proctor High School if the immigrants want to go to high school, are residents of the Utica City School District, and have not yet turned 21 years old [among other "Relief" requested].
The suit claims, with specific reference to NY Ed Law 3202 (1), that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21 or earn a high school diploma, that it must be the student's choice to attend an alternative program, and that  
For the last eight years, however, the Defendants have been robbing immigrant students of that choice." [4, emphasis supplied]
Wow!  The Utica school district "robs" immigrant students of "choice" -- and the "civil liberties" attorneys are lending a helping hand make sure that the students have this "choice?"

The complaint gives details of the students' ages, the countries they came from, the hardships they sustained, their native languages, the fact that they are "LEP," and their hopes and dreams (of being a doctor, nurse, teacher, engineer).  Every single one of them has spent 17 years in an overseas refugee camp, i.e., virtually their entire life in a world vastly different from Utica. Other than to mention that one student had been taught unspecified subjects at the camp, the complaint is totally silent on the students' educational achievement. The complaint's silence on this point makes it safe to assume they are uneducated.   But these students -- or rather, their lawyers -- insist they be able to attend high school which is grades 9-12.

Let's assume that all the allegations in the complaint are true. What happens if the plaintiffs get their wish? Assuming no language barrier, how well would students who are probably 8 to 10 years behind their peers in content learning and with little exposure to our culture do in a high school classroom?

For any student to be successful in a high school course, the student needs to have mastered the prerequisites. Without the prerequisites, the time spent in class is wasted.  Worse, frustration may set in that leads to behavior problems. It is not unusual for alternative settings to be created for such students -- and such are the best placement for them.

Now add (1) a language barrier and (2) lack of cultural context on top of (3) a lack of formal education. Allowing such students to attend regular high school classes rather than the district's alternative programs designed to teach English and cultural awareness would cause more harm than good. Some might call it educational malpractice! Should lawyers be aiding vulnerable, illiterate students to make bad choices?

Biting the hand?

While we can be proud of Utica's cultural diversity, the volume and variety of immigrant students taken into Utica schools has placed  financial burdens on local taxpayers -- taxpayers who are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in the nation. Now they will be burdened with the cost of a lawsuit, spending money on lawyers rather than education.

Regardless of the requirements of "the law," considering all that Utica has done to make refugees feel welcome, some Uticans will view this lawsuit as a "slap in the face" or as "biting the hand that feeds you" - a demonstration of ungratefulness, dissatisfaction, and sense of "entitlement" by newcomers. Over time, this could lead to a change in attitude and lead to Utica becoming a less-welcoming place. It would be a tragedy if that happens because that would represent a change in Utica's character.

While there are always those among us (immigrants and non-immigrants alike) who have that "sense of entitlement" and will institute lawsuits to assert "rights" on the flimsiest of pretexts to make a point (especially when someone else pays the bill), from what is known about these plaintiffs this does not seem to be the case.  Simply put, they are too new to America,  too unfamiliar with our customs, and too involved in learning how to survive to worry about an alleged "right" to attend Proctor High School. No, this lawsuit is not their "biting the hand." Rather, they are being prodded to do this by others with an agenda.

Something else?

The fact that a press release was issued and media contacted before the school district was even served with the complaint reveals a calculated effort to create a media buzz before the District could intelligently respond.  That does not demonstrate a sincere desire to solve a problem, but, rather a desire to play to public opinion.

The claim that the district was "robbing" the students of choice is unnecessarily inflammatory language that similarly evinces a desire to play to public opinion rather than solve a problem.

The complaint misstates NY Ed Law 3202 (1).  That provision does NOT state that individuals have the right "to attend the high school within their district" until they turn 21. Rather it states that  that such students are "entitled to attend the public schools maintained in the district in which such person resides without the payment of tuition.

How schooling of LEP students is to be accomplished is prescribed by NY Ed Law 3204 and regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Education there under.  The complaint implies that Utica is not in compliance with NY law, mentions only one regulation pertaining to bilingual education, but then fails to demonstrate that the regulation even applies (see pleading #57).  [The NYCLU attorneys should read section 3204 thoroughly. Subdivision 3(a)(3) regarding courses of study will probably send some of them into orbit!]

If the Utica district does not comply with NY Law, why is not NYCLU working through the NYS Department of Education instead of proceeding directly to federal court and wasting that court's valuable time?  Did they not hear of the concept of "exhaustion of administrative remedies?" NYCLU Staff attorney Desgranges is quoted by WKTV as saying “Across the state, school districts are refusing to enroll young people who are immigrants or limited English proficient, instead placing them in inappropriate or inadequate programs.” If this is a state-wide problem, it would seem that the appropriate course of action would be to go after the state, not Utica.

Mr. Desgranges then goes on to state that Utica has an obligation to educate "all young people, including undocumented immigrants and refugees." The complaint also references an obligation to the undocumented.  While that may be true, what does that have to do with this lawsuit?

Or is the NYCLU trying to pressure Utica to accept an expected wave of undocumented immigrants? Such has been reported to  be on the president's agenda.

Lastly, is it just coincidence that one of Utica's student immigrant success stories, who's bio reveals an amount of activism and political connection, also happens to be on the board of the suing NYCLU Central New York  chapter?  Nah . . . must be coincidence.

The lawsuit is neither a helping hand, nor biting the hand.  It's something else: a political agenda.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Are More OC Taxpayer Dollars Taking Flight???

According to a Rome Sentinel Article, the O. C. Legislature is about to consider a 10 year lease to Freeman Holdings, a/k/a Million Air, of 5,500 square feet of terminal building at Griffiss "International" Airport for roughly $100,000 a year.
Utilities like heat, electricity and water are paid by the county.
Interesting.  Are other tenants of Oneida County also given taxpayer-paid utilities?

The car rental desk and flight school paid rent at their old locations and will continue doing so in their new locations on the second floor of the terminal building.
But ...
Under the management contract, Freeman did not have to pay rent for its old space because it was in what was considered a transitional location, awaiting a permanent one, explained Candido.
So, the County clearly gave preferential treatment to Freeman in that other tenants paid rent for their old space but Freeman did not.

Interesting thing, that management agreement, regarding the "transitional location," in Section 4 (A) . . .
". . . it is anticipated that said relocation of the FBO Offices will occur in the spring of 2009 . . . " 

So what the OC Board of Leg. is doing now was something they were told was anticipated to be done in 2009? It is now 2015, SIX YEARS LATER!  That means that Freeman has been using County Facilities, rent free, for six years longer than the OC Legislature was led to believe when it originally approved the agreement with Freeman back in 2008! 

It is unknown why it took so long to get to this point, or who was ultimately responsible to get us to this point.  There are probably plenty of excuses which may or may not be good ones.  What is not excusable is that an unforeseen delay was something that could have been provided for in the original contract, but was not, and that as a result, the taxpayers have have not received rent for the use of county facilities for six years.

According to the Sentinel, the county executive's chief of staff Mr. Candido . . .
said the lease amount was based on a study of new construction rentals and market rates in the surrounding area.

Given the sloppiness of the manner in which the Management Agreement has been carried out thus far, the Board of Legislators may want to see the evidence supporting Mr. Candido's assertion before approving of this lease.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cuban-NY Trade? Babalooooo-ney!

Gov. Cuomo is Cuba-bound today to encourage trade with that nation. Per the Post Standard. . .
Kevin Ellis, of Cayuga Milk Ingredients, and Hamdi Ulukaya, of Chobani, are going with the Democratic governor on a two-day trip . . . .
Why is Chobani going? Greek yogurt is expensive.  Do they really think that people from Cuba, a country that can barely feed its people, can afford NY yogurt? Or cheese?

Interestingly, also in dairy news today, CNY Central is reporting that the Heluva Good Cheese packaging plant -- a plant that has been open in Sodus since 1925 -- is closing. But . . .
HP Hood says customers will not see a change in the availability in the product. . . .
Since the product will still be available, it is going to be packed someplace other than Sodus, NY, but CNY Central fails to report where.

If current market conditions make it difficult to package dairy products in New York, and current market conditions make it difficult to purchase dairy products in Cuba, market conditions suggest that products will be produced in Cuba and sold in New York rather than the other way around. This will allow New York corporations to take advantage of the almost "slave wages" paid to Cuban workers and high prices paid by NYS consumers.

Look who else is lining up at the gate for Havana per the Post Standard:
Others include leaders from JetBlue, MasterCard, the Plattsburgh International Airport, Pfizer, Regeneron, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and and Infor. State representatives include Empire State Development Corp. CEO Howard Zemsky, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.
Travel, technology, developers and politicians.

Now how could New York State possibly benefit from trading with impoverished Cuba?

Looking at the who's who going, it looks like certain elite New Yorkers hope to cash-in developing Cuba's potential as a travel destination and place to manufacture pharmaceuticals -- just like people did years ago with Puerto Rico.  At least with Puerto Rico, the money wasn't propping up a dictatorship and in theory is still in our country.

These people are looking out for themselves, not the average New Yorker.

Whether we have Republicans or Democrats in office, we seem to repeat our mistakes: Allowing our corporations to send jobs overseas to places that oppress their people like China, Vietnam, and Venezuela -- allowing those countries to build their economies or militaries on our dime -- while also allowing the corporations to take advantage of our market's prices.  And the politicians making this happen get enriched by the corporations.

New York State is practically Cuba already, with a well heeled urban elite running things to their benefit while everyone else become serfs. Trading with Cuba will only seal the deal.

There is a pre-revolucion Cuban export that we all can enjoy.  But trade with Cuba now is Babalooooo-ney!

For another take on this story, check out CNYTruth.

Pardon Our Dust . . .

Will be experimenting with some new formatting options which may result in the blog looking unusual for a short time.  Pardon our dust.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Welcome "cnytruth" . . .

Blogs dealing with local issues seem to be falling by the wayside.  (I am going to have to do some serious spring cleaning of my Blogroll because many on the list are no longer active).

Anyway, it is nice to see a new blogger picking up the effort:  "cnytruth" which promises to expose "the millstone of waste, corruption and lies in the Upstate NY liberal wasteland."

 Welcome, cnytruth!

There is more than enough material to keep us all busy . . .

Friday, April 17, 2015

Accoutrements of Success. . .

Today's OD presents another example of the "build it and they will come" fairy tale: Expansion of high speed Internet can help region stay competitive.
“Access to high-speed Internet is critical to ensuring that all New Yorkers can reach their full potential in today’s technology-driven world,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. . . . 
Internet providers are being offered matching funds if they opt to expand into areas with no service, or improve service in places that already have it. Providers often are reluctant to extend service into sparsely populated areas because there might not be enough customers to recoup costs.
The problem with the OD's headline is that it assumes that we are already competitive. With among the highest sales tax rates in the nation, highest property tax rates in the nation as a percentage of property value, highest utility rates, highway tolls, and onerous regulations that have driven literally tens of thousands of people and countless businesses from our region in the last 40 years, can anyone seriously argue that we are competitive?  

Economically competitive areas DO have high speed internet  . . . they also have bustling airports with regularly scheduled airline service . . .  symphony orchestras . . . museums, libraries, theaters, zoos,  etc., etc.  -- because they are economically successful -- not because the taxpayers paid for them.

We once had all these things, and still have some of these things, because we were once economically successful.  But that is the past.  And slowly but surely, as the "old money" gets spent, we are losing these accoutrements of success -- and not obtaining new ones -- because we are no longer successful.

Repeat: "Providers often are reluctant to extend service into sparsely populated areas because there might not be enough customers to recoup costs."

The OD speaks of internet providers, but it is the same for water lines, sewers, roads, airports, and virtually any other service that you can think of.  If the costs cannot be recouped, why should the taxpayer (or water/sewer/utility user) be forced pick up the costs for those it is uneconomical (or "unsustainable") to serve?   That would require higher taxes and fees . . .

And That would make us LESS competitive. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

There Are No Shortcuts . . .

Per WKTV: Left, right ally against Cuomo's Start-Up NY
In a statement Wednesday, the coalition says Start-Up NY should be shut down pending a detailed audit following a report showing that so far the year-old program has created 76 of the nearly 2,100 jobs promised over five years in return for tax breaks.
Seventy-six jobs created with how many millions of tax dollars spent just to advertise this fiasco?  Even 2,100 jobs would be a drop in the bucket state-wide.

Start-Up New York rightly recognizes that one of New York State's main problems in attracting employers is its high rate of taxation.  So the program offers a 10 year tax break from all taxes.

But why would businesses flock to New York State for a special program when they would be better off in another state with generally lower taxes and operating costs? . . . in another state with more economic freedom?

If New York wants to beat the competition, it must at least offer the same degree of economic freedom as its competition, not as a special program, but as a matter of long term policy. But that would require rethinking state and local government -- shrinking it in an intelligent way -- to do and spend less.

The problem for Upstate NY is that our policy is made from the perspective of Manhattan where money is plentiful.  

For more than half a century, this huge region — once the nation’s breadbasket and a manufacturing capital — has been losing jobs, dollars and people. . . . 
Weather was certainly a contributing factor. . . . 
But other states — New Hampshire, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Colorado — have similar weather and have not seen mass evacuation. The difference is that upstate New York is tethered to New York City, whose residents overwhelmingly support higher taxes, stricter regulation and bigger spending than the national averages. Those policies are blamed for upstate’s economic woes by many in the region. 
“Basically what you’ve got in New York is a state tax code and regulatory regimen written for New York City,” says Joseph Henchman, vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation in Washington. “Legislators say, `Look, New York is a center of world commerce. Businesses have to be here. It doesn’t matter how high we tax them.’ I hear that a lot. But when you apply that same logic to upstate, the impact is devastating.”
The answer for Upstate NY isn't "Start-Up NY." Rather, it is granting Upstate NY a degree of freedom from the tax-and-regulate attitudes and policies fostered by the NYC Metro area.   That requires detailed planning. There are no shortcuts.