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Candidate Survey

Please return by August 15, 2017 to info@nyckidspac.org

Candidate full name

Robert J. Rodriguez

Website

NewYorkersforRobertRodriguez.com

Staff contact and e-mail

Louis Gonzalez, Louis@theadvancegroup.com

Phone number

212.239.7323

Running for what office

New York City Council – District 8

 

 Governance

Many New York City parents feel disenfranchised by the current system of mayoral control over public education and feel there are insufficient checks and balances. About two thirds of voters agree, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.  Would you support changes to the system to give parents more voice in decision-making and/or provide checks and balances to the current system?

Which of the following changes to what is now called the Panel for Education Policy (the de facto Board of Education) would you support?   Please check as many as you like.

Yes

No

  • A directly elected Board of Education

X

  • A reconstituted Board of Education with a majority not appointed by the Mayor

X

  • Community Education Councils (CECs) selecting parent representatives to the Board of Education

X

  • Board of Education members with set terms, who cannot be fired at will by the mayor

X

  • The City Council having checks and balances over DOE policies as they do with other city agencies (municipal control)

X

Which of the following measures to ensure that parents and community members have a voice in their children’s schools would you support? Check as many as you like.

Yes

No

  • Expanding the powers of Community Education Councils, including the approval over school closings and co-locations

X

  • Restoring the authority of School Leadership Teams (SLTs) to develop school based budgets

X

  • Allowing school based committees or SLTs to select principals

X

  • Supporting the hiring of a DOE Ombudsperson to investigate and settle parent complaints

X

Do you have other proposals to provide a stronger parent voice and/or checks and balances in school governance?

Overall, it is important to make sure that parents have an actual say in the education of New York City children. I would propose that there be parent representatives at every decision-making point that are not simply “advisory” in nature, but a decision-making representative.

Additionally, I would advocate to make sure that all meetings at the NYC DOE are open and provide for public comment to help provide checks and balances to NYC school governance.

Testing

Another important issue is standardized testing, test prep, and the use of test scores to evaluate schools, students, and teachers. What is your position on this matter? 

Would you support:

Yes

No

  • A teacher evaluation system not linked to test scores

X

  • Requiring that the Chancellor communicate to parents that they have a right to opt their children out of standardized testing without penalties to the students or their schools

X

  • Making admissions to all public schools based on more than test scores, including Gifted programs and the specialized high schools

X

Resources and equity

NYC schools have never received their fair share of funding from the state and many are still struggling with budgets below their Fair Student funding levels, despite surpluses at the state and city levels.  Class sizes have risen sharply, particularly in the early grades, where they remain at among the highest levels in more than 15 years.  At the same time, the NYC Chancellor has said that her main concern is that class sizes can be too small. A legal complaint has now been filed against the DOE with the state about its failure to reduce class size and comply with the Contracts for Excellence law. How would you go about guaranteeing the rights of all students and providing them with an equitable opportunity to learn?

More specifically would you:

Yes

No

  • Support full funding of schools at originally agreed upon CFE levels

X

  • Ensure that DOE comply with its original Contracts for Excellence class size reduction plan, to reduce class size in all grades

X

  • Require that NYC reduce class size, particularly in struggling schools

X

  • Support the creation of an office dedicated to school integration with a Deputy Chancellor whose sole responsibility is school desegregation and integration

X

  • Re-evaluate the school budgeting process, including Fair Student Funding formula, so that resources are distributed equitably and sufficiently among our schools

X

How would you ensure that children are provided with a well-rounded education, including art, music, science, and physical education, and how would you fund this?

Teaching to the test means that teachers are only focused on teaching test taking strategies instead of making sure that students understand the concepts of critical and creative thinking. A well-rounded education requires our schools to teach more than test taking skills, but also an appreciation to the arts, music, science, physical education, health, among so many other things. Therefore, I would make sure to advocate for a baseline of funding each budget period to curriculum focused on these type of skills. I would also fight to require schools to highlight how they have incorporated these skills in their curriculum.

How would you go about developing and supporting measures to attract and retain experienced and high-quality teachers?

To make sure that we attract and retain high quality teachers, we need to make sure to elevate the teaching profession. That means treating teachers like professionals and making sure that teachers are well compensated. We should look to ideas like Math for America, which encourages teachers to stay in the classroom, provides young teachers with mentors, and compensates teachers above their regular teacher salary.

How would you ensure equitable distribution of resources so that every school has what it needs to provide a high quality education to all its students?

Equity is about making sure that every student has the ability to be successful. In many cases, that means that some students will require more resources than others. If a student has special needs, that student should have the resources to make him/her achieve their potential. Therefore, I would advocate for a funding model that focuses on the needs of individual students, rather than our current general funding system in place.

NYC is one of the most segregated school systems in the nation.  What are your plans for integrating our schools? Please be specific.

A diverse classroom is a classroom where students learn best. Therefore, I would hire a Chief Diversity Officers for both the New York City Department of Education and the City of New York whose sole purpose is to make sure that we put diversity first. Additionally, I would continue to fight for culturally responsive teaching, which insures the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning.

DOE data reveal that more than 40 percent of special needs students in NYC are not receiving their full services or only partially receiving their mandated services or appropriate classroom placements.

How would you ensure that all students with disabilities receive their services more promptly?

We need to hire more special education teachers so that the workload for our specialists are reduced. By increasing the number of special education focused support, we can then support all students with disabilities.

 

Any other comments on resources and/or equity?

It is also important to make sure that we advocate not just the City-level, but make sure that our State is accountable to funding our education system. My work in the State Assembly has given me direct experience in state level education policy making and funding. I have and will remain committed to ensuring that the State make good on its mandate for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to fully fund our schools at levels that give kids the technology, teachers, facilities, and curriculums to be successful.

School facilities

Overcrowding is a chronic and ever-worsening problem in NYC schools.  The city has underinvested in school facilities, resulting in most students attending schools in overcrowded and/or substandard conditions.  Expanded Pre-K, eliminating trailers, reducing class size, and implementing community schools with wrap-around services all require even more space. The Mayor’s plan to create hundreds of thousands of new market-rate and affordable housing will likely contribute to even more overcrowding. And yet the current capital plan does not have enough new seats to keep up with future enrollment growth, not to mention reducing class size according to DOE’s own estimates.  

 

Do you support any of the following measures?  Please check all that apply.

Yes

No

  • Mandate that the city annually release transparent needs assessments for new school capacity that take into account current overcrowding, loss of seats through TCU removal and lapsed leases, and enrollment projections

X

  • Require that developers provide space for schools in overcrowded areas or pay “impact” fees into a fund for school construction.

X

  • Reform the zoning laws so that schools must be built along with new housing.

X

  • Fully fund the capital plan so that all the projected need for seats is funded

X

Do you have any other proposals to address school overcrowding?

I support the creation of new facilities and schools in my district to decrease school size. My proposal to address overcrowding would include mandating that any rezoning require zoning for school facilities and buildings as well as reviewing existing spaces to help convert buildings to school buildings.

Charter Schools and Privatization

Charter schools are growing fast and now take more than $1 billion from the DOE’s budget and an increasing amount of space in our schools. There are also serious questions about whether they are complying with the law when it comes to providing due process for suspensions and students with disabilities, and enrolling and retaining equal numbers of high needs students.  

Would you:

Yes

No

  • Support the continued expansion of charter schools

X

  • Advocate for repealing the law requiring that NYC pay for charter school facilities or provide them with space inside DOE buildings

X

  • Enforce the provisions in the 2010 charter law that before charters are renewed or allowed to replicate, they must show they’ve enrolled equal numbers of high needs students, i.e. ELLs, SWDs and free lunch students

X

  • Support measures that require that the State Education Department and/or SUNY post statistics on every charter school’s suspension, enrollment and attrition rates, including for students in each of the high-needs categories

X

  • Support measures that require that charter schools be more transparent and post their board meeting times, board minutes, budgets etc.  

X

  • Oppose the Education Investment Tax Credit bill, which would award tax credits to wealthy donors who give to private and parochial schools  

X

There is also growing concern about the lack of transparency and number of contracts provided to for-profit vendors, and contracts awarded vendors with a history of corruption, abuse and/or mismanagement.

 

Would you:

Yes

No

  • Have the NYC Comptroller or his staff provide comments on contracts before they are approved by the PEP

X

  • Require more transparency for each proposed contract including the release of detailed information about each at least a month before the vote of the PEP

X

Any other comments on charters and/or privatization?

In their inception, charter schools were developed as laboratories for experimenting with new methods that could be scaled and replicated broadly in public schools. They were conceived as teacher-led schools that welcomed all students including those with the highest needs. If they are utilized in this way, they serve the broad interests of the NYC public school system and education as a whole. Unfortunately, in many cases, they have been coopted by corporate education, which has led to them competing rather than complementing public schools, and has created a separate standard of accountability, transparency and student fairness.  My vision for charter schools is a return to the original intent where charter schools serve as an incubator for methods towards a vision of a better education in NYC.

Additionally, we must make sure that charter schools are set to the same standard as traditional public schools and that transparency be paramount to their operations.

Open-ended questions 

Please summarize your record in public education as an individual, advocate or policymaker.

As a product of the public schools in East Harlem’s District 4, I understand that when it comes to our schools, students have to be the top priority.

As an Assemblymember, I worked to highlight the lack of technology in our schools in his report “Uptown Upgrade.” In Albany, I fought hard to eliminate the barriers that surrounded K-12 education. These actions resulted in a budget that prioritized education and increased foundation aid, including a $50 million increase in aide for community schools. I have also remained focused on making a higher education available to more young men and women, sponsoring legislation that would enable students to automatically apply to SUNY and CUNY.

As a Councilmember, I will continue to be a strong supporter for teachers by making sure they have the resources, training, and equipment necessary to give each student the education they deserve.

Please describe the ways in which you have demonstrated responsiveness to parental or community concerns

In addition to making sure that parents are welcome to my Assembly office for any concerns. I also understand the importance of creating legislation to help support parental and community concerns. Most recently, I am the lead sponsor of a bill on culturally responsive teaching professional development (A04710). We need to make sure that our teachers incorporate culturally responsive teaching pedagogy into classrooms. Culturally responsive teaching promotes critical thinking and cultural competencies needed to successfully function in a diverse democratic society.

What would be your top educational priorities if elected?

  • Making sure the City uses the $783 million in funding from the State from the Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance technology in schools
  • Increasing after school and summer programming
  • Creating an easier pathway to college through an automatic application program for state high school students into SUNY and CUNY as well as a college mentorship program for first generation college students

Is there anything else you would like to share?

As an individual who grew up in East Harlem, I understand the importance of education. I benefited from a great New York City public school education and I want to make sure that every child gets the same opportunity.

My record on education initiatives is highlighted by the co-sponsoring of bills in Assembly that include:

  • A13 - Enacts the "New York state YouthBuild act"
  • A445A - Prohibits school districts from disallowing home-schooled students from participating in district interscholastic sports
  • A1348 - Requires the replacement of lighting ballasts and lighting fixtures in buildings in New York City constructed between 1950 and 1978 that are used as schools
  • A1356 - Requires certain text-books to reference the Sea of Japan as also the East Sea
  • A1480 - Requires the certification or training of teachers, administrators and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders
  • A3064 - Establishes a career and technical education (CTE) diploma
  • A3953 - Requires the commissioner of education to make recommendations to the board of regents relating to instruction on preventing child sexual exploitation and abuse in grades K - 8
  • A4333 - Enacts the "Learning for Work" act
  • A5782 - Relates to certain contracts regarding bus drivers and bus drivers' assistants
  • A6062 - Requires courses of study to discourage cyber bullying for pupils in grades five through nine
  • A6373 - Directs the commissioner of education to study and report on the provision of services to public school students in grades 8 through 12 by guidance counselors

I am going to continue to fight for every student if elected to New York City Council and I hope to get the opportunity to partner with Kids PAC to make sure we are doing the best for our children.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.