to the Top
week, the state could scramble to change its relationship
with charter schools, for $700 million from the White House
In anticipation of the state Legislature’s upcoming fight
over legislation to remove the cap on charter schools in New
York, Albany Common Councilwoman Cathy Fahey brought forth
her own nonbinding resolution at Monday night’s Democratic
On Jan. 19, the state will hit the deadline for seeking up
to $700 million in federal funding as part of President Obama’s
$4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative. This initiative is
a considerable carrot, designed to bring cash-strapped states
into line with the White House’s education agenda. Along with
other regulations, states must demonstrate a positive approach
to charter schools. Currently, New York has a cap on charter
schools, which limits their number to 200—roughly half of
what the cap would need to be for the state to qualify for
This past fall, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) and Sen.
Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) introduced legislation designed to curry
favor with the Obama administration. The proposed legislation
would lift the cap on charter schools in the state, as well
as allow charter schools to run prekindergarten programs,
increase the school year by a month and consider student test
scores in teacher tenure decisions, among other effects.
Fahey said that she doesn’t want to see the state lose money,
but she doesn’t believe that allowing more charter schools
into Albany is what her constituents want.
has more than its fair share of charter schools,” said Fahey.
“So, the idea was to get a message to the state Legislature
that Albany is in kind of a unique situation. If they lift
the cap on charter schools, there really needs to be something
put in place so that there aren’t any more charters approved
in the city of Albany.”
have 12 charter schools, and it is more than any other school
district in New York state, percentage-wise, given the number
of students,” she said.
Charter schools are costly for the district, as there is a
set cost per student that the district must pay, and the taxpayer
must provide additional monies for social workers, nursing
services and transportation, said Fahey. “They are really
Assemblyman Jack McEneny and state Sen. Neil Breslin have
each introduced legislation in an attempt to ease costs of
the charter schools, which Fahey said will reach $30 million
next year. “We have gone from a school district of 12 schools
to a district of 30 in nine years,” she added.
asked for funding relief,” said Fahey, as well as greater
accountability and transparency into the operations of charter
McEneny said that he shares Fahey’s concerns over how charter
schools are funded and their lack of transparency. He has
been “vehemently opposed,” he said, to the expansion of charter
schools, especially in the city of Albany. He has put forward
multiple pieces of legislation designed to reign in charter
are a number of people, including the president of the United
States and the governor of New York, as well as a number of
legislators who are in favor of raising the cap so that there
can be more charter schools. If the force is so great that
it is going to happen, my job is to try to make an exemption
of those districts that have been saturated. And Albany has
this experimental system supposed to be the majority instead
of the minority?” McEneny asked.
The Legislature is expected to resume debate over Hoyt’s legislation
next week, in an effort by some to secure the federal money.
Gov. David Paterson has said that he now supports lifting
the ban, after initially rejecting the notion. State Senate
Majority Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) has voiced
his support for more charter schools.
of Albany residents turn out to show their support for the
Washington Avenue YMCA
More than 400 people poured into the large auditorium at the
main branch of the Albany Public Library on Tuesday evening
to attend a town-hall meeting regarding the uncertain future
of the downtown branch of the YMCA. The large crowd stretched
out into the hall and out to the bookshelves. The facility,
located at 274 Washington Ave., which has been an integral
part of the community for more than 50 years, is presently
in danger of closing down due to low membership and a deteriorating
building. Made public only a couple of weeks ago, news of
the prospective closure has already caused widespread reaction
among concerned community members and local nonprofit groups
for whom the facility provides invaluable services and space.
J. David Brown, CEO and president of the Capital District
YMCA, attempted to address the concerns and issues, which
have become rampant in the last two weeks, while introducing
his plan to save the Washington Avenue branch.
The meeting was moderated by Corey Ellis, recent Albany mayoral
candidate and former common councilman, and the roster of
speakers included community members, Y members, advocates
from other organizations in Albany with whom the Y has relationships,
and even a brief cameo by Mayor Jerry Jennings.
While the topic was obviously an emotional one for many, the
meeting became notably rowdy only on one or two occasions,
when unsatisfied attendees demanded clarification or asked
questions out of turn. There were some conspicuous omissions
on the part of the CDYMCA, namely Brown’s reluctance to comment
on the lack of communication within the community over these
last crucial years. Communication, community members said,
that could have led to action and resolution much sooner.
The meeting ended with several tentative plans and strengthened
community support. Brown agreed to meet with the YMCA Joint
Strategic Task Force that has recently been set up with the
goal of saving the downtown facility.
many members and downtown residents value the Y so deeply
that organizing last night’s meeting and the task force have
been pretty effortless,” said Chris Mercogliano, task force
member and community activist. “Everything has come together
despite the Y’s blatant attempts to use the holidays as a
shield. The bottom line is that there is a wealth of energy,
expertise and creative thinking within the membership and
the surrounding community—more than enough, we are convinced,
to figure out how to make the Y sufficiently sustainable.
Unfortunately, until now the Y’s response has been primarily
defensive. They say they have already tried all of the ideas
the task force is proposing and nothing has ever worked. From
where I stand, the negative mindset is the biggest problem
Mercogliano and his wife, Betsy, have been key forces in the
flurry of organization and effort that has taken place over
the last two weeks.
Enlisting the support of Jennings, who has agreed to renew
his lapsed membership, the task force is looking into the
possibility of gaining access to three nearby parking lots
as a way to solve the pressing parking issue. They also plan
to move forward on a membership drive that they call “much
more comprehensive than the one the Y has announced,” launching
a citywide campaign in an effort to draw in the membership
numbers that Brown has said will be necessary for the facility
to remain open.
Brown’s plan focused solely on increasing membership, something
that he clearly looked to the community to help to achieve.
In order to keep its doors open, the downtown YMCA would need
a membership of 2,550 households by April of this year and
3,550 by December. If those numbers are attained, Brown said,
they will begin to look at the options of renovation or rebuilding.
Failure to attain these goals, he said, will “result in immediate
Brown said that the facility was currently running at a deficit
of $400,000 a year, and the CDYMCA would be able to absorb
only up to $100,000 in annual losses, numbers that have been
confirmed by other members of the CDYMCA board.
Brown stressed the Y’s commitment to the community, pointing
to statistics that certainly seem to underscore his point.
Ninety percent of the 468 children that use a downtown YMCA
facility every day do so for free. The CDYMCA provided $400,000
in financial assistance to youth and families, hosted 330
kids in summer camps this year alone, and runs numerous programs
in local schools. Plus, Brown added, 90 percent of the downtown
Y’s activities actually take place outside of the Washington
Those numbers quickly lost any emotional significance for
the community, who heard speaker after speaker extol the virtues
and necessity of the facility itself.
Marsha Penrose, executive director for Next Step, a treatment
program for women, said that to close the building would be
“a tremendous loss to [her] agency and the women who use it
on a daily basis,” adding that Next Step would have nowhere
else to go.
Khaliq Harrison, a 19-year-old representative for the Albany
Gang Prevention Program, spoke strongly about the impact of
the teen program.
teen night, that’s another body on the streets,” he said.
“We’re not dealing with an ordinary generation. If we shut
down the Y, the crime rate is going to increase and you can
Citing the extensive use that his organization makes of the
building, Scott Velie, from Hospitality House, literally pled
for the facility’s survival. “Please, we’ve got to do whatever
Representatives from Parsons Center for Children and Families,
and St. Catherine’s Center for Women and Girls Inc. joined
the public outcry. There was even a letter from a 6-year-old
child, who said that the Y makes her “feel safe” and that
she would “feel bad” if it closed.
not here to fight,” said Brown. “I know some of you are upset,
and you should be. And you should defend your neighborhood.
We’re asking for your help. We’re not saying we’re going to
Mayor Jerry Jennings delivered his 16th State of the City
Address on Monday night. It was a brief, somber event, with
the mayor rehashing much of the doomsaying that shaped his
budget message months earlier. Albany is faced with decreasing
revenues and ballooning expenses, the mayor said, and stands
to lose millions in state aid in 2011, including $8 million
in PILOT payments on the Empire State Plaza. He said he will
be convening a task force of city employees and elected officials
to help plan for the financial shocks that 2011 has in store
for the city. He will also be seeking help from an outside
firm to perform a management audit, which will be used “as
a blueprint” during the difficult budgeting process for 2011.
loose ends this week-