THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 9, Issue 24 – January 26, 2015
We’re now in the middle of budget time for both the State and the State University of New York. Last Wednesday, I left Canton at 5:00 AM for a trip to Albany. The temperature was -7 when I left, and as I drove through the Adirondacks it only got colder, reaching a low of -18 along the way. After Long Lake, the temperature started up again as the sun came up, and by the time I reached I-87, it had gone into positive territory.
I got to Albany at about 9:00 AM, drove downtown to Empire Plaza, and started looking for a parking spot, since I had an appointment to meet one of our legislative colleagues, Assemblymember Deborah Glick (Chair of the Higher Education Committee) at 10:15 AM. Normally, it’s not too tough to find one there, but later that day, the Governor was giving his budget address, titled “New York State of Opportunity”, so there were a lot more people there than normal, including a lot of press, and the parking was scarce. I circled the area a few times and finally found a spot a few blocks away at a meter. The meter only took quarters and dollar coins, but amazingly enough, I had a dollar coin and a few quarters, which bought me about an hour and a half. I got to my meeting at 9:30 and Assemblymember Glick was able to see me early. She had visited SUNY Canton in the past and was very familiar with our programs. After a very pleasant and informative meeting, I got back to the car just before the meter ran out.
I checked into the hotel, though I had to wait a little before the room was ready. I dropped my suitcase in my room and walked back to Empire Plaza (about a 15 minute walk) to go to the Governor’s speech. The speech was at 1:30 PM, but I had to check in and get my credentials and then go through security, and I wasn’t sure how long that would take. I went into the underground corridor that goes into the Convention Center and joined the line of other people waiting to have their credentials checked. After about 15 minutes, the line started moving and we were let in. Who is the first person I saw at the entrance of the Convention Center? June O’Neill, the Chair of Potsdam’s College Council (and wife of Ron O’Neill, the Chair of our College Council).
After exchanging hellos, things went pretty quickly, because they had a large room to get the credentials, with different lines for last names beginning with A-C, D-F, and so on. They quickly found my name, I got my “green” tag (which allowed me a special seat—not general admission), and went into another room (staffed by about a dozen people) to check my coat. After that, I had to go through security. I took off my coat, emptied my pockets, put them in a bin, and went through the metal detector, which was quiet, but buzzed about five seconds later. They sent me back and I walked through again, and exactly the same thing happened. It turned out that the guy scanning the bins was causing the buzz—he had noticed a London policeman’s whistle on my keychain (which I picked up way back in 1991, when I first went to London, and has been on my keychain ever since). He told me he had to confiscate it. When I asked why, he said “because you could use it to create a nuisance”. He apologized, but said he had to take it and I wouldn’t be able to get it back.
I went into the main arena and asked the ushers where I should sit, pointing out I had a “green” tag. They took me to the general admission seats on the far right side. I thought that was wrong, but then spotted Dr. William Murabito, SUNY Morrisville’s President, and sat next to him. After about 15 minutes, we were told we were in the wrong section and directed to one a little closer to the center. I knew that was the right place, because the seats had the names of the person who should be sitting there taped to them, and I promptly found my name (right next to Dr. Murabito’s seat!).
People slowly filled in, and everything but the center section of the arena was filled by 1:25 PM. During the wait, I had a chance to talk to President Kristine Duffy (SUNY Adirondack) about some areas our two colleges might work together on.
An announcement was made saying “in exactly five minutes, the speech will begin, so please take your seats”. Five minutes came and went, and after about 25 more minutes, an announcement was made saying “in five minutes, the speech will begin”. Five minutes later, the members of the state Supreme Court came in and were applauded, and then there was another pause. After about 10 more minutes, the members of the state Assembly and the state Senate came in. The stage party was introduced by the Lieutenant Governor, and then Governor Andrew Cuomo came in and began to speak.
The speech itself lasted about 90 minutes and noted many successes over the past year, which put New York in its best shape in 20 years. It had both serious and funny moments, laying out the Governor’s main priorities and how they would be realized. There were also some controversial moments, dealing with P-12 Education and with the Community Colleges. You can read or listen to the entire speech (and see the PowerPoint he presented) by clicking here.
The major points in the speech were:
- The State will maintain its fiscal discipline (spending increases of less than 2%).
- Small business taxes will be cut from 6.5% to 2%, and property taxes by $1.7B for middle-class homeowners. Tax relief would also be extended to renters.
- Infrastructure: Republic and Stewart airports will be made tax-free zones. Thruway tolls will not rise next year. $500M will be invested to expand broadband, mainly upstate.
- Steps are being taken to make SUNY and CUNY colleges engines for job growth. Additional funding ($50M) will be provided for SUNY 2020 and CUNY 2020. A venture fund of $100M will be created to help entrepreneurs in New York.
- Reforms need to be made in the Community Colleges to make them “training centers” and linking them to employers in the various regions of the State.
- Upstate New York economic development: Regional Economic Development Centers will continue to be emphasized. Buffalo (which was NY’s biggest economic problem) has now turned around. Funds to support agriculture ($50M) in the Hudson Valley and Southern Tier. $20M will be devoted to green companies in the Southern Tier. $65M will be invested in railway and port hubs (including Ogdensburg). $50M will be invested to modernize the State Fair. More land will be bought for Fort Drum, and Rte. 26 will be improved. Tourism will continue to be emphasized.
- A global export-import bank will be established for the state, and trade delegations will go to major trading partners. New York will be one of the first states to trade with Cuba.
- The minimum wage will be raised to $10.50 ($11.50 in New York City). The procurement goal for minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses will be raised to 30%.
- The State’s P-12 education system needs dramatic reform. 32% of prospective teachers failed a 12th grade literacy test. Full tuition will be paid for SUNY or CUNY graduate program applicants if they will commit to teaching in NY for 5 years. The current teacher evaluation system is baloney—98.7% of the teachers are rated effective, but only 38% of the students are college ready. 50% of teacher evaluations will be based on state (not local) exams, and 50% by outside evaluation. Tenure will only be granted after five years of effective performance. Highly effective teachers will get a $20,000 bonus. Ineffective teachers will be helped to improve, but school districts will be able to remove teachers after two “ineffective” ratings.
- If a school fails for three years (178 failing schools in NY), it will be taken over by another school district, a not-for-profit, or a turn-around expert. More money isn’t the answer. The state average is $8K per student, $12K in high needs districts, in many failing districts it is $16K, so the money has already been spent with no change. 100 more charter schools will be added to the state cap. Add $365M for Pre-K funding, and spend $25M on a pilot to extend it to three year olds.
- The current state formula has P-12 funding going up 1.7% ($377M). If these reforms are adopted, funding will be increased 4.8% ($1.1B).
- 16- and 17-year olds will no longer be sent to adult prisons—a separate set of facilities will be developed for them.
- Criminal justice system needs to be more color-blind. A statewide reconciliation committee will be set up between police and community. More minorities recruited onto police. Race and ethnic data will be collected on police actions. Replacement vests and body cameras provided to keep police safer. An independent monitor will be created for any case when a civilian dies in a police action and no true bill is issued by a grand jury. The monitor can recommend a special prosecutor.
- Implement “Yes Means Yes” sexual violence policy like SUNY’s in private colleges.
- Increase homeless budget by $403M.
- Since P-12 would be getting considerably more (assuming the reforms the Governor recommended are implemented) and since the State’s share for Medicaid would rise by 3.6%, all other areas are essentially flat funded.
After the speech, I walked over to Lark Street, where my favorite Indian restaurant (the Jewel of India) is located, and had my first meal of the day—I hadn’t had a chance to eat earlier. The samosas, tandoori chicken, and aloo ghobi (potato and cauliflower) were delicious! I went back to the hotel room and relaxed for a bit. Lenore VanderZee (our Executive Director of University Relations) was driving down to Albany and called (using speaker—no hands!) to do some strategizing for some meetings we were having with legislators the next day.
On Thursday, we met with several members of the State Senate, both to introduce ourselves, and to ask for their support with several of SUNY Canton’s budget and program priorities. The meeting included Senator Patty Ritchie (Chair of the Agriculture Committee. She represents Canton and Watertown), Senator Joseph Griffo (Chair of Energy and Telecommunications, Chair of State-Native American Relations. He represents Potsdam, Rome, and Utica), Senator Kenneth LaValle (Chair of the Higher Education Committee. He represents eastern Long Island), and Senator Betty Little (Chair of the Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee. She represents Plattsburgh and the north-east of the state). The senators were all very interested in what we were doing, and gave us some excellent advice on how best to move forward. The meetings lasted all morning, with one in the afternoon. We then worked on a funding proposal for some of our proposed academic programs. At about 6:00, we went to dinner at a very nice Thai restaurant (the Sweet Basil) on Delaware Avenue.
Friday began with a breakfast in honor of the Chancellor Nancy Zimpher at the Egg (Albany’s Center for the Performing Arts). This was followed by the Chancellor’s State of the University Address, held in a full theater in another location in the Egg. The following major goals were described:
- Increasing the number of graduates with a post-secondary credential to 150,000 by 2020. Currently, the number of graduates is about 93,000.
- Putting a SUNY college counselor in every high school in the state.
- Investing in a success equation: ACCESS + COMPLETION = SUCCESS, where allowing for greater student access to higher education (also targeting adults without a degree), and taking the steps necessary for them to complete their education will lead to success for the students, colleges, and the state.
- Increasing the focus on graduating students in four years, citing Buffalo’s “Finish in Four” program as a best practice.
- Implementing SUNY Excels, a set of metrics by which SUNY will measure how we are doing and if we are improving. She called on all of us to be able to prove that our state funding is being used effectively.
Chancellor Zimpher thanked the Governor for his support, especially focusing in on the increase in funding for SUNY 2020, a set of challenge grants to elevate SUNY as the catalyst for economic development in the state.
After the address, Lenore was able to leave for Canton, but the SUNY Presidents met for lunch with various people from SUNY Central to discuss the State and SUNY budget more in detail, and to lay out some strategies for achieving our goals. This was followed by a meeting for new Presidents, where various intra-SUNY funding opportunities were discussed. We finished up around 3:30 PM, after which I was dropped back at the hotel, got my car, and drove back to Canton. I got home about 7:20, just in time to take Mark to get a pizza at Sylvia’s.
Over the course of the semester, we’re going to be discussing much of the above: defining some metrics to measure ourselves against, reviewing and improving our strategies for retention and graduation, implementing our own “Finish in Four” program, putting some teams together to work on grants, and completing work on our first round of new program proposals. I’ll be going to Albany and Washington frequently to talk to our legislative colleagues about the great things that are going on at Canton, about some new directions we’re pursuing, and to try to secure additional funding for our efforts. At the same time, I’m going on several alumni visits in Florida and later, in Arizona. It’s going to be a busy time!
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s trivia contest dealt with numbers. Our winner was Christina Lesyk. Others getting all five right included Rhonda Rodriguez, Jeff Ray, Robbie Gittings, Janel Smith, and Terri Clemmo. Here are the correct answers:
- Curly, Larry, and Moe. The THREE Stooges.
- Nickname for the Beatles. The Fab FOUR.
- Movie starring Jack Nicholson about him being transferred from a prison to a mental institution. ONE Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
- Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. The SEVEN Deadly Sins.
- Vladimir John Ondrasik III’s stage name. He’s a singer who’s top 40 hits include “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”, “100 Years” and “The Riddle (You and I)”. FIVE for Fighting.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
This week’s challenge deals with military ranks—every answer has a rank in it. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- This Marvel super-hero carries a shield. Steve Rogers is his secret identity.
- Steven Spielberg movie about the WWII D-Day invasion, and the search for the last surviving brother of four servicemen.
- Longest running American soap opera still in production, it premiered in 1963. As of January 23, 2015, it had 13,229 episodes.
- 1958 movie about a backwoods rube who is drafted into the army. It launched the careers of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts.
- The character’s name for the Stalag 13 commandant in Hogan’s Heroes.