FROM THE MAYOR’S DESK ...
One of the biggest complaints citizens have about government is inefficiency. And too often, they’re right. Governments – much more so than private sector businesses – tend to get stuck in old ways of doing things. As a result, many governing structures and systems long outlive their usefulness. In New York City, we’re looking at the way we do things with fresh eyes, and last week, we succeeded in reforming two inefficient systems that were causing delays, draining tax dollars, and keeping two of our city’s greatest assets – our schools and our parks – from being as great as they really can be.
The first key reform involves our public schools. On Thursday, we reached an agreement with the teachers union that resolves what has long been one of the most divisive issues plaguing our school system: how to fix the disciplinary process for teachers who have been accused of wrongdoing. Right now, when teachers are removed from the classroom for multiple poor reviews, or allegedly breaking the law, they wait for their cases to be resolved in what’s called a ‘Rubber Room.’ There are some suspended teachers who have been sitting around in these rooms for as long as seven years. And during that time, they’ve been able to collect their salaries and watch their pensions grow.
These ineffective holding areas keep good teachers, who were wrongly removed, from re-entering the classroom. And they keep bad teachers, who are guilty of misconduct, on the public payroll. This outrageous practice is costing taxpayers some $30 million a year. It’s an absurd waste, particularly at a time when steep budget cuts might force us to lay off some of our hard-working teachers. I’m pleased to say that by the end of this year, we plan to make Rubber Rooms a thing of the past. Our agreement with the teachers union will allow us to speed up the arbitration process for teachers accused of wrongdoing. And suspended teachers will no longer be sitting around and collecting a paycheck for nothing. Instead, we’ll put them to work in administrative offices.
The second major reform we achieved last week involves Governors Island, a 172-acre island that’s been described as the ‘sleeping beauty’ of New York Harbor. Over the years, the City and State have together invested over $150 million in Governors Island. And those investments are making the island more attractive to visitors. In 2005, only about 8,000 people visited the island; last year, Governors Island received more than 275,000 visitors.
Now, thanks to a new agreement with New York State, we can finally begin to realize the island’s full potential. Last Sunday, the State agreed to transfer control of the island to the City. That will allow us to move ahead quickly with our plan to create 87 acres of new parks on Governors Island – a key link in the necklace of parks we’re creating around New York Harbor.
Over the past eight years, we’ve worked hard to instill greater accountability in our public schools, and reclaim our waterfront for all New Yorkers to enjoy – and last week’s reforms will help keep that progress going.