a building in the heart of a community: St. Anthony’s
Church in Albany. Photo by Chris
A neighborhood activist leads
an effort to transform a historic church into a community
By Shawn Stone
idea, Gabrielle Becker says, came from a place most people
don’t have much interest in or awareness of. “It came from
the imagination,” she explained. Becker is talking about her
dream—about to become one step closer to reality—of turning
the vacant St. Anthony’s Church, located at the southeast
corner of Madison Avenue and Grand Street in Albany’s Mansion
neighborhood, into a community-oriented arts center. Becker
has signed the agreement papers with the church’s owner, the
Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, and is waiting for the diocese
to finalize the agreement.
The recent Bard graduate explained that the idea of a community
arts center really took hold when she was a freshman in college.
Unlike most students who have no interest in returning to
the place they grew up to live and work—it’s viewed as “dorky,”
she laughed—Becker wanted to live in, and give something back
to, the inner-city community she grew up in.
The summer before her senior year at Bard, Becker started
to take action. First, she went to neighborhood artists and
asked if they would be interested in volunteering in this
effort; all said yes, Becker noted. Then, she went around
the neighborhood with a petition, collecting more than 200
signatures of residents supporting the idea of an arts center.
The church has been empty since the early ’70s, when a declining
population forced its closure. The Roman Catholic Diocese
was attracted, Becker said, by her vision of making the building
once again a central part of the community.
It won’t be an easy task. While the roof is in good shape,
much work will need to be done on the structure’s heating
a great building, St. Anthony’s,” said Elizabeth Griffin,
executive director of Historic Albany Foundation, adding that
“of all the churches, it is by far the easiest to reuse.”
St. Anthony’s, Griffin continued, has a distinct advantage
over many other abandoned church buildings in Albany, including
St. Joseph’s in Arbor Hill: It isn’t just one large, European-style
nice about St. Anthony’s,” Griffin said, “is that on the Madison
side, you have a door that goes into a full basement that
probably has 8-, 8-and-a-half-foot ceilings. You really have
two full levels of useful space.”
Becker said she hopes to rent out the basement to a nonprofit
agency that will share the community-oriented spirit of the
proposed arts center. At first, she resisted the idea of renting
out any of the space, but was persuaded by the economic realities
of the situation—and some sharp advice from her advisors.
said, ‘God will provide,’ and they said, ‘Well, no, he won’t,’”
Becker said she is getting help and support from many people
in the neighborhood, including architect Christine Frombgen
and the Mansion Neighborhood Association’s Tom McPheeters.
The first meeting of the board of directors of the nonprofit
corporation being formed to own the church was held at the
Free School last Thursday (June 26). (The Free School building,
just around the corner from St. Anthony’s at 8 Elm St., has
a connection to the church—it was the parish’s former school.)
The first thing on the agenda is raising the full $10,000
to pay for the church in the next six months. Then, the harder
task of raising a minimum of $150,000 to fully renovate the
Becker is enthusiastic, and looking forward to a summer of
writing grant proposals. And she extended an invitation to
anyone interested in getting involved the effort: “If you’re
15 or 45 or whatever and want to be involved, you’re welcome.”
to Pay More
SUNY hits students with 28-percent
By Jennifer Schulkind
to the dismay of students, the State University of New York
Board of Trustees voted on Monday to approve the tuition increase
proposed by Chancellor Robert L. King. The vote means a $950,
or 28-percent, increase for in-state students; and a $2,000
hike for out-of-state students.
Led by Chairman Thomas Egan, the board voted 11-1 for the
increase, making tuition $4,350 a year for in-state undergraduates,
$10,300 for out-of-staters. The lone dissenter was Stephanie
Gross, a junior at SUNY Oneonta. As the president of the State
University Student Assembly, she is the only elected member
of the board of trustees. The vote came less then a month
after her election.
represent the students, and they cannot handle this tuition
increase,” said Gross. “Students today are paying for the
students of yesterday.”
Gross said she would prefer a more “rational” approach that
increases tuition gradually over several years. She said that
the amount of the increase is more than families can plan
ahead for, and charged the board with not trying to find other
ways of getting revenue while simply shifting the burden completely
Chancellor King’s recommendation, which is less than the increase
recommended by Gov. George Pataki, reflects SUNY’s fear of
losing students. If too many students, especially out-of-state
students, are driven out by the increase, it could leave SUNY
with a large deficit, acknowledged SUNY spokesman David Henahan.
However, prospective students continue to show strong interest
in the SUNY schools. The number of applications for fall 2003
is ahead of the previous year, as is the number of accepted
students who have sent in deposits to hold their places, indicating
a possible increase in enrollment. However, the official number
of students enrolled cannot be calculated until the fall.
think SUNY is a great system, but it’s a public college,”
said Miriam Kramer, higher-education coordinator with the
New York Public Interest Research Group. “The burden to fund
the colleges should fall on the state, not the students and
NYPIRG thinks that $950 is an enormous increase and is concerned
with students and their families’ ability to pay, said Kramer,
who attended Monday’s vote.
After the 1995 SUNY tuition increase of $750, enrollment decreased
by 8,000 students over three years, but rebounded quickly
SUNY officials blame the national recession and Sept. 11 for
its budget deficit. The trustees followed the direction of
the New York State Legislature, whose budget deficit left
little for higher education, according to Henahan, who added
that SUNY needs a stable year-to-year operating budget, which
is funded by tax dollars and tuition. Cost controls on personnel,
travel, and purchasing have been initiated to curb spending.
York state was presented with a fiscal crisis not seen since
World War II,” said Henahan. “All state agencies including
SUNY received less state tax support.”
Gov. Pataki, who took office in 1995, the same year the last
SUNY tuition increase was enacted, proposed a $1,200 increase,
but settled for the Legislature’s $950. Originally, he had
also wanted to cut the Tuition Assistance Program by a third.
These proposals met with student protests at the Capitol last
January. (Ultimately, TAP’s budget was not cut.)
The increase in tuition does not affect campus fees, which
cover technology and health services, student activities,
etc. Tuition pays for the instructional budget, which is mostly
professors’ salaries. Henahan emphasized that SUNY is raising
tuition to maintain educational quality.
The board of trustees has been considering this issue for
the last six months in a serious of public and private sessions.
This included a trip to the New York State Legislature joint
fiscal committees and public-comment sessions, which were
thought by many critics to be inadequate.
Twenty-nine state-operated campuses will be affected. This
excludes the 30 community colleges and the statutory colleges
at Alfred University and Cornell University.
was dealt a difficult card by the governor,” said Kramer.
“[The issue] should have been advocated more by students to
find ways to fund it.” Students will have to work more, take
out more loans, or leave school, Kramer said.
already too expensive,” said Robert Rawlins, a sophomore at
SUNY Stony Brook. “It should be made more affordable to those
whose parents can’t afford to pay.”
State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi alluded to possible budget
deficits for the coming fiscal year, which Kramer speculates
will mean further tuition increases next year as well.
God Can Give You a Head Start
bill would dismantle federal program for disadvantaged youth,
shifting it to the states—and opening it up to faith-based
Goldberg, I’m very sorry, but because you’re not a born-again
Christian, Fire and Brimstone Ministries is terminating you
as a teacher in the Head Start program. However, if you receive
Jesus Christ into your life as your personal lord and savior,
I’m sure we could reinstate you.”
Situations like this hypothetical one could become reality
in several states if a bill before the House of Representatives,
the School Readiness Act of 2003 (HR 2210), becomes law. The
measure, which is backed by the Bush administration, would
dismantle Head Start as a federal program providing disadvantaged
3- and 4-year-olds with educational and health-care services
and shift it to the states in the form of block grants. The
states could then combine their own preschool funding with
the federal money. The White House contends the move will
enable Head Start to better coordinate with state programs,
but critics say provisions in the bill strip it of crucial
civil-rights protections. As a result, participating religious
organizations could fire teachers not belonging to their faith,
and also forbid parents of children in the program from becoming
volunteers on the same grounds. Current law bans hiring on
the basis of religion in the program.
Responding by e-mail to a request for comment, Shin Inouye,
legislative media liaison for the American Civil Liberties
Union, said, “Head Start was created to ensure that teachers
were put in classrooms; it was not about permitting government-funded
religion. If this bill passes, we will see qualified teachers
get fired, simply because they cannot pass federally sanctioned
religious tests. Our elected representatives need to . . .
dismiss this misguided attempt at government-funded religion.”
Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for the Separation
of Church and State, echoed Inouye in an e-mail, saying, “There
is absolutely no reason for this administration to encourage
religious discrimination in Head Start. Although Head Start
is sometimes located at churches and sponsored by religious
groups, it is not a religious program. It contains no religious
content and is designed to serve children from various religious
and philosophical backgrounds. Head Start does contain an
income test—that is, it is designed for low-income families—but,
as a government-funded program, it is not permitted to contain
a religious test. The only qualifications Head Start teachers
should be required to meet are related to education and professional
ability. A qualified teacher should not be excluded from the
program on the basis of an irrelevant point like religion.
Allowing groups to discriminate in this manner does a disservice
to children in need. It amounts to taxpayer-supported religious
discrimination. It is simply wrong.”
Head Start has benefited approximately 20 million children
since its inception in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B.
Johnson’s Great Society. Last year, its paid staff of 190,000
plus 145,000 volunteer teachers’ aides and chaperones served
900,000 children at 2,500 locations. In addition to its preschool
programs, Head Start offers job training and opportunities
to needy families. All this has made it a target for conservatives
opposed to such federally managed programs.
The bill to overhaul Head Start, which is up for reauthorization,
was sponsored by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), chairman
of the House Education Reform Subcommittee. The Bush administration
originally had wanted “religious hiring rights” for Head Start
programs in all 50 states, but the subcommittee settled on
a pilot program involving eight states. On June 19, the House
Committee on Education and the Workforce passed it by a 27-20
vote along party lines. It now awaits a vote by the full House.
Although Rep. Castle did not return calls requesting comment,
CNN quoted him as saying, “Faith-based organizations cannot
be expected to sustain their religious mission without the
ability to employ individuals who . . . practice their faith,
because it’s that faith that motivates them to serve.”
The National Head Start Association (NHSA), a private not-for-profit
organization representing the program’s staff, volunteers,
and the children it serves, also opposes the bill and has
accused the White House of attempting to silence it with legal
intimidation. According to the NSHA’s Web site (www.nhsa.org),
the group received a letter in early May “from a U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services official warning all local Head
Start staff and parents/volunteers of possible civil and criminal
penalties” if they spoke out against the bill. In response,
the NHSA filed a lawsuit on June 11 in the U.S. District Court
for the District of Columbia charging that the First Amendment
rights of the parties threatened by the HHS letter had been
violated. The suit says, in part, “Such a threat necessarily
has a chilling impact on the non-profit Head Start community.
Because of this, the Hill letter has made parents and staffs
of non-profit Head Start grantees afraid to communicate their
opinions concerning the proposed legislation, to Congress