2001-04-18 / Political Page

Gianaris Pushes Dem Schools Funding Plan

By John Toscano

New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy (l.) and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris discuss school finances at budget hearings in Albany.New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy (l.) and Assemblymember Michael Gianaris discuss school finances at budget hearings in Albany.

The annual budget battle in Albany between Governor George Pataki and Democrats in the Assembly is on once again and one of the main issues, as in previous years, is how much money will eventually be allocated to New York City schools.

Discussing the Assembly’s education plan, Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he’s pushing hard for the measure because it will help alleviate classroom overcrowding, bolster universal pre-kindergarten, and provide school kids with up-to-date computer technology.

Gianaris said the plan would give $3.4 billion to New York City schools for fiscal years 2001 and 2001. "That means our schools would receive $1.7 billion over what they received last year," Gianaris added.

Under the plan, the schools would receive $91 million for instructional computer technology aid, which would be a $34 million increase over last year, Gianaris pointed out. It also leaves in $660 million which Pataki has cut, Gianaris said, pointing out that these funds were part of a program which had begun to reduce class sizes and make universal pre-k available to every child.

"It’s essential that the state keep its promise to reduce class size, recruit and train highly skilled teachers and ensure every child has access to pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten," Gianaris summed up.

LOWEY CLOSES LOOPHOLE: A loophole exists under current law that says food manufacturers do not have to identify the products used in natural or artificial flavorings, coloring, spices and food additives, Congressmember Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Queens) stated last week.

The veteran lawmaker means to close that loophole, she said, because it is of particular concern to persons maintaining religious, health or cultural dietary guidelines because these additives often contain derivatives of meat, poultry, other animal products such as insects and allergens.

Lowey pointed out that every day "millions of Americans are unable to obtain accurate, reliable and thorough information from food labels, posing serious health hazards for them."

Jewish families who rely on food labels to ensure that their kitchens are kosher are stymied, Lowey said, because they cannot be absolutely certain their kitchens are completely kosher. And seven million Americans who suffer from food allergies have a serious problem, she added, citing statistics which show "150 Americans die each year due to the ingestion of allergenic foods, a potentially fatal health hazard."

Responding to industry claims that allergenic sources and meat and poultry products in flavorings are too small to be listed, Lowey said, "We have a right to know what we are eating." Therefore she submitted her Food Ingredient Right to Know Act. "It is time for Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to act," she declared.

VALLONE GRILLS FD: Under questioning from City Council Speaker Peter Vallone last week, Fire Commissioner Tom von Essen admitted his department had not adhered to its own guidelines when it bought a radio system that failed to perform properly.

Vallone, referring to a City Council staff report, pointed out to von Essen that the department had agreed in 1980 to consult with firefighters’ unions before buying any new products that affected firefighter safety. The commissioner admitted the department hadn’t done so in the case of the faulty radios. After the devices almost caused the death of a firefighter at a Richmond Hill blaze, they were withdrawn from service with the promise that they would not be returned to use until they had been thoroughly tested and approved.

In another clash with the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Vallone stopped short of outright opposition to Giuliani’s plan of selling the Off Track Betting system to a private company.

Vallone pointed out the privatization plan might come up short in assuring continuation of the city’s $30 million annual take from the wagering system and would imperil about 2,000 jobs. He also expressed concern that community fears of noisy and unruly behavior by OTB patrons near schools and houses of worship would become prevalent and go unheeded.

"To a great extent those problems have been relieved, but with a new outfit running it, I have no idea what control we would have," Vallone stated.

"COOL IT," SAYS HOPE: State Democratic Party Chairperson Judith Hope and other top party officials feel Pataki can be defeated next year if he runs for a third term, as seems likely. Buttressing this feeling was a recent poll showing both Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller H. Carl McCall, two prospective opponents of the governor, improving their standings against him.

Hope, sensing a no-holds-barred primary campaign by Cuomo and McCall which might leave deep scars and weaken the ultimate candidate’s chances against the governor, has formed a Committee On Primary Campaign Conduct to monitor the 2002 McCall-Cuomo campaigns. Hope says she discussed forming the new watchdog panel with the two candidates and both endorsed the idea.

SIDEWALKS AT LAST: A block that time seems to have been forgotten as far as putting in sidewalks has finally made dirt roads a memory. Councilmember John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights/Woodside) announced last week the sidewalks had been installed along 72nd Street between 41st and Woodside Avenues. The modernization project was good news to local students at nearby James B. Colgate School (P.S. 12) and a day school operated by St. Jacobus Lutheran Church. Members of the church also welcomed the newly paved sidewalks.

"This block was left behind when sidewalks were installed decades ago on surrounding blocks," Sabini said. "With these new sidewalks, the block has at least been ushered into the 20th century." Sabini made the sidewalks possible by securing $285,000 for the project in 1994.

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