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Winter 1992
 
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Credibility Gap

Steven Craig's forceful question in your Autumn 1991 issue, "Where has the city's money gone?" could as well have been addressed to Albany: "Where has the state's fiscal credibility gone?"

As Doug Schoen, the well-known political consultant, put it to a group of friends, "In no other state would there exist such a gap between the leaders and the people on [the] issue of cutting taxes and increasing spending." Later he explained that if such a gap occurred in another state, its duration would be short. The public, he said, would be alerted to the discrepancy by a vigorous campaign for the governorship or a series of fighting commentaries in the newspapers. Seeing themselves held to account, legislative and executive leaders would recognize that the public will not tolerate the inevitable one-shot revenues, rollovers, borrowing, and other gimmicks that such inconsistent policies cause.

Even in New York, five years of this fiscal chicanery should have been a legitimate news story. Reporters could have pointedly asked their state legislators and the Governor five or ten years ago why they support the nation's most costly (by a multiple of two) Medicaid program without insisting on fundamental reform. Readers would also have enjoyed reading their answers about why the state was "selling" such institutions as Attica prison, Interstate 84, and Aqueduct race track to balance budget expenditures.

The fiscal behavior of the state's leaders has been so transparently bad for the past five years that there are dozens of opportunities for such stories. And it would not have taken many such stories to create an informed, presumably aroused public.

I once described such an opportunity to a gathering of the state's newspaper publishers. They had invited me to outline the elements of the fiscal crisis at their annual meeting on March 4, 1991. I told them that in 1987 when tax cuts and spending increases were simultaneously scheduled, I became alarmed. So starting in January of that year I mounted a campaign--saying that you cannot have tax cuts (which I generally favored) unless they are accompanied by spending restraint. I reported that deep structural deficits were being created, and that the fiscal stability of the state was dangerously eroding. I expounded this message for two-and-one-half years to editorial boards and every chamber of commerce and taxpayer group in the state and in letters and reports to the Governor and Legislature, all accompanied by press notices and releases. Then I told the publishers the unfortunate but accurate punchline--namely that we knew of virtually no newspapers that carried this story.

Members of the press themselves have pointed to lost opportunities.

* Bob Laird, the deputy editorial page editor of the Daily News, in an op-ed column this August, said, "The New York City media have almost completely ignored a real and important story"--my lawsuit against the Governor to block a shabby state borrowing.

* Ray Kerrison, writing in the New York Post in October, said, "Two weeks ago Regan released an audit of a state government program [wasteful staffing patterns in the state mental health system]. The findings ... should have hit the front pages, instead they hardly caused a ripple."

* This November Wayne Barrett reported in the Village Voice on the manipulation of the funds of the Municipal Assistance Corporation (MAC), which took place "unencumbered by even one line of news coverage in any daily about Regan's latest analysis of MAC practices."

The events of each budget crisis are routinely reported, but the facts underlying the chronic fiscal bind only rarely so. A 13-year veteran of the Legislature told the Buffalo News on November 29 that "the [fiscal] problem hasn't been addressed because we always--through a number of what can best be described as ruses--got by." He must wonder why he was not asked each year by the press about the "ruses," just as an increasingly frustrated public wonders why the fiscal crisis seems to repeat itself.

Edward V. Regan
State Comptroller
Albany, N.Y.

School-Based Management

Stephanie Gutmann's article on New York City's School-Based Management (SBM) reform ["Fernandez's Quick Fix," Autumn 1991] points out a number of real problems with implementing school restructuring in New York City, but it doesn't explain well enough what this reform is all about or that it is far too early to tell whether it has succeeded or failed.

Actually, the problems were well foretold by 25 inner-city principals who were asked what would be needed to make SBM work, as part of the Principals Speak project. In more than one hundred hours of interviews, these principals warned of virtually all of the issues Ms. Gutmann now raises: the need for clear goals, strong leadership, parent involvement, real partnership with all participants, etc. But they also made clear that this would be a long and difficult process in a school system so deeply entrenched in a different way of operating.

Our analysis of their testimony in the light of current research on school restructuring convinced us that, to be effective, SBM has to be based on more than just an effort to make sure that schools are "well-managed," as Ms. Gutmann's article suggests. It has to be based on a clear understanding that its purpose is "transformative," i.e., part of an effort to reach far higher levels of learning for children and a shift to collaborative roles and relationships to achieve these new levels.

David S. Seely
The Principals Speak Project
College of Staten Island
Staten Island, N.Y.

School-based management is, we believe, a foundation for instructional reform. The Chancellor needs now to insist on an educational focus for SBM, and accept teams and start-up strategies that differ from his model. He needs to complement his offer of autonomy to some schools with the standards, guidelines, and reduction in regulatory and contractual constraints necessary to make it work.

Ms. Gutmann's closing exhortation (let everybody go to the one school in New York she seems willing to say is good and "embarrassed colleagues be damned") misses the obvious point. Choice is great only if there are lots of great schools to choose from; SBM in its fundamental form aims to let individual schools find their own greatness. We don't see the wisdom of trashing a reform tool with this kind of potential before New York has had a chance to give it an honest try.

Jeanne Frankl
Executive Director
Public Education Association
New York, N.Y.

Jobs for the Homeless

Dennis Hirsch ["Workfare for the Homeless," Autumn 1991] calls for the city to challenge the right to shelter required under the Callahan v. Carey decree and to deny shelter to employable homeless who do not participate in employment and training programs. This proposal is predicated on the belief that a lack of motivation caused by living in the harsh environment of city-operated shelters is the most significant barrier residents face in reentering the employment market.

Contrary to Mr. Hirsch's assertion, the number of immediately employable homeless people is no greater today than it was in the early Eighties. Although there are many homeless individuals who would be able to live independently and reestablish community ties if they were able to obtain jobs and some social supports, many more have physical and mental barriers which must be overcome before they can work on employment skills.

The homeless system in New York City reflects the failure of many other national and local service systems to address the problems caused by the closing of state mental hospitals, the rise in substance abuse, the lack of affordable housing, the shrinking economy, and the weakness of the educational system. Many of our clients have lived through a succession of negative life experiences which have left them disconnected from themselves and isolated from the mainstream. Often they have not had the satisfaction of succeeding either in school or at work. Many have turned to alcohol or drug use; some have become or have been mentally ill.

A jobs program alone is not the answer. In order to address all of these issues comprehensively, a broad continuum of services is necessary. Furthermore, delivery of such services must occur in an atmosphere of dignity and compassion if they are to be truly effective. The New York City Five Year Plan for Housing and Assisting Homeless Families addresses those needs by expanding on a range of services which we have attempted to develop within the existing shelter system, and by proposing to house these service programs in smaller buildings designed specifically for this purpose and operated by experienced community-based service-providers. Only by offering the range of services to break through employment barriers can we reach the point where we can consider requiring enrollment in employment programs as a prerequisite to shelter.

Jeffrey L. Carples
Executive Deputy Commissioner
New York City Human Resources Administration
New York, N.Y.

Mr. Hirsch's errors of both law and history concerning the right of the homeless poor to shelter in New York should not obscure his central theme. Shelters that breed dependency, such as those run by the Dinkins Administration, are indeed "horrible."

By definition a quality shelter is one that both preserves human life and-as quickly as possible-moves people out of shelters to permanent housing and, whenever practical, self-sufficiency. Nothing in the Callahan court orders undermines these objectives.

The problem with New York shelters since 1980 has been the means by which the city has complied with its court-ordered obligations to provide shelter. Simply put, there is no way out other than a return to the streets. For most of New York's homeless men and women there are neither jobs nor job-training programs. Any job paying subsistence wages is jumped at by the overwhelming majority of homeless, employable people. A public-works program paying homeless people (or other poor New Yorkers) a subsistence wage would be turning away applicants within hours.

Failure of the shelter policy is not limited, as Mr. Hirsch implies, to the employable homeless. No person, regardless of disability, should be relegated to a shelter for more than the briefest time. But when there are no drug-treatment slots available, and no psychiatric care available, and no remedial education available, emergency shelters inevitably become permanent refuges. That is bad for shelter residents, bad for taxpayers, and bad for the city. It can be changed, but not with the naive imposition of an unarticulated workfare qualification for receiving shelter.

Offer a way out of shelters. For some the route out is a job, for others psychiatric or substance-abuse treatment, for others literacy training. Until we make the offer of a way out, abstract posturing about the motivations of shelter residents is beside the point.

Robert M. Hayes
O'Melveny & Myers
New York, N.Y.
(Editor's note: Mr. Hayes is the attorney who represented the homeless plaintiffs in Callahan v. Carey.)

It is certainly true that many of the one-third or so potentially employable single adult homeless in the city shelters are willing to work; the problem is that they lack skills to qualify them for jobs that pay a living wage. Training programs that would open opportunities for higher-paying jobs or help many to become "job ready" are in very scarce supply. Faced with these obstacles, it is little wonder that many who are otherwise motivated become "shelterized" and suffer "loss of hope and will."

Fortunately, this pattern has begun to change somewhat: The federal Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) has been refocused to target the "economically disadvantaged," and federal funding for development of low-income single room occupancy apartments has been dramatically increased.

As significant as this change in federal direction may be, however, the funding must be effectively used through local government if anything meaningful is to reach the homeless promptly. Unfortunately, there are already some signs that this may not be happening. A recent request for proposals issued by the city's Department of Employment excluded most voluntary agencies with programs providing job training for the homeless, thus frustrating the JTPA refocus. The city administration is opposing a City Council initiative to revise the city's building codes and regulations to stimulate SRO development, including new construction, by both private developers and nonprofit groups.

Our time would perhaps be better spent in ensuring that this promising federal redirection is properly implemented at the city level, rather than fiddling with a largely anachronistic legal decision which will not result in any additional jobs or job training for the homeless who can work.

Peter P. Smith
President
Partnership for the Homeless
New York, N.Y.

The Right Track

"Reform New York Racing? A Saratoga Perspective," by James MacGuire [Autumn 1991], captures the charm, beauty, and excitement of the Saratoga summer Thoroughbred meet, regarded by many as the finest thirty days of racing anywhere in the world. His history of New York Thoroughbred racing is equally captivating and for the most part accurate. However, no matter how many times it was written that NYRA turned down the management of OTB in the early 1970s, this is just not a fact.

I completely agree with Mr. MacGuire's assessment that, by common consensus, OTB has been "an administrative and fiscal disaster." As important, the author recognizes that the state's multibillion-dollar racing industry that employs more than forty thousand people across the state is in deep trouble, which can be overcome through fundamental changes in marketing. Such measures are currently under consideration in Albany, so I hope our lawmakers have read Mr. MacGuire's article.

Ogden M. Phipps
Chairman
The Jockey Club
New York, N.Y.

 

 


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