DNAinfo: Former White Castle Office Site May Become School, Officials Say

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By Katie Honan

The neighborhood may get something it’s been craving at the site of the former White Castle regional office, officials announced.

The School Construction Authority is in contract with the new owners of the site at 69-01 34th Ave. to acquire the land and eventually build a 450-seat elementary school, they said.

Once the process is completed, the building should open by September 2019, according to officials.

SCA officials presented their plan to the land use and education committees of Community Board 3 Tuesday, and the project is currently in the middle of a 45-day comment period before official approval for the purchase is obtained from the city.

Kenrick Ou, the director of real estate services for SCA, said the availability of the space was shared with them by City Councilman Danny Dromm.

“What’s driving this is need,” Ou said, noting that District 30 is the second most overcrowded in the city.

The former White Castle office building was purchased by a developer last November for more than $5 million, and would eventually become apartments, the broker said last fall.

Dromm, who had been working with the SCA to add more schools, said the new plan was “exciting.”

“It’s such wonderful news for all of us,” he said. “Apartments would have added to overcrowded schools.”

The school, if approved, will be four to five-stories high and have 450 seats from pre-K through fifth grade, including at least 4 dedicated pre-K classes, Ou said.

They haven’t started the design process yet, but would try to match the look of houses nearby and find a “cohesive way to compliment the neighborhood,” he said.

Once they gain approval from the city council and the mayor, they’ll begin environmental impact studies and will eventually demolish the building.

In addition to the new school, Ou said the SCA is eyeing the upper floors of the fire-damaged Bruson Building on 37th Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets as potential space for universal pre-k classes.

The building could not accomodate a full school, but they are in talks about adding some classes there, he said.

The SCA will present the new school plans at Community Board 3’s general meeting on Thurs, May 21 at 7 p.m. at the Louis Armstrong Middle School, 32-02 Junction Blvd.

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Queens Gazette: Dromm Welcomes First Pakistani Muslim CB 3 Member


Councilman Daniel Dromm welcomes Agha Saleh, the founder of the non-profit SUKHI NY, to Queens Community Board 3. He is the first Pakistani- American Muslim to be appointed to Queens Community Board 3.

Councilman Daniel Dromm welcomed Agha Saleh to Queens Community Board 3. He is the first Muslim American of Pakistani heritage to be appointed to the board.

Saleh grew up and lived as a young man in Pakistan. In 1996, he gave up his career as a chemical engineer, after a long fight against industrial pollution, incorrect chemical waste disposal and unsafe environments for industrial workers, and moved to the United States. He now lives in Astoria and works in Jackson Heights.

Among Saleh’s many milestones, he proposed and hosted a Community Board meeting in public at Diversity Plaza for the first time in New York City history. He has marched in the St. Pat’s for All Parade in support of LGBT equality rights since 2001.

A human rights activist in Pakistan, Saleh has continued that devotion here in New York, along with his wife, Shazia Kausar, and his daughter, Fatima, founders of the non-profit, SUKHI, Social Uplift through Knowledge Hope Initiatives. SUKHI partners with NYC DOT to maintain Diversity Plaza and organizes the diverse programming for the plaza at 74th Street and 37th Road, which ranges from Tibetan celebrations to holiday tree lightings, book giveaway days, presidential debate viewings, and more.

Saleh is also a member of the steering committee for Building Bridges: Bringing Together Government and the Muslim and Sikh Communities representing SUKHI New York as a member organization.

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Queens Courier: Queens parents decide to ‘opt out’ kids from state testing

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

By Angy Altamirano

Parents across the city are coming together this week to stand against standardized testing and the effects it has on their children.

Starting Tuesday and running through Thursday, students are scheduled to have to take the English Language Arts (ELA) test at schools throughout the state. The following week, students are scheduled to take the math standardized test.

Parents and education advocates have spoken against the tests, saying it brings too much pressure onto students and is not being properly used to evaluate the students, but rather to assess teachers. This has led some parents to forbid their children from taking the tests, and the schools have been prohibited from taking any action against those parents.

“I’m here as the chair of the [City Council] Education Committee to call into question the validity of these tests and the reason these tests are being given, and actually question why they are being used the way they are being used,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, who on Tuesday stood with parents who have decided to have their children opt out of taking the tests. “These tests actually are not tests to show our children’s strength, they’ve become tests to make our children look like failures.”

Having served as a teacher for 25 years, Dromm added that he is not opposed to tests being used as “one piece of a child’s overall evaluation” but he believes that too much time is spent on taking and preparing for these tests.

“We have heard stories about children who have collapsed under the pressure, who get sick from the pressure, who wet their pants from the pressure of these tests. This is not what education should be about,” Dromm said. “I do not believe that our students should be used as guinea pigs in the governor’s battle against teachers.”

Danny Katch, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, decided to have her opt out of the exams last year and believed the decision served as an educational experience for his daughter because it showed her about standing up for what you believe in.

Katch also said he is not opposed to tests, but the standardized tests do not come from the teachers or schools. Instead, they are being used as a form to evaluate teachers rather than assessing the students.

“If you tell teachers that 50 percent of their evaluation is going to be based on two standardized tests, then you are going to believe that most of what the kids are going to be doing all year is preparing for those standardized tests,” Katch said. “If you want to improve our schools it’s not about shoving more tests down their throats, it’s about improving the resources that they need and they deserve.”

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Chalkbeat: De Blasio signs bill requiring annual special education reports

By Sarah Darville

Parents and advocates will have access to new data about how well the city is serving its special-education students next year, thanks to a new city law.

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill, which requires the Department of Education to produce an annual special-education report, on Monday. He was flanked by City Council education committee chair Daniel Dromm and Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the Department of Education’s deputy chancellor in charge of special education.

The annual reports will detail how long students wait to be evaluated and to receive services, as well as the percentage of students whose needs are being partially and fully met across the city and in each of the city’s school districts.

The reports will also break down those statistics by students’ race, gender, grade, English language learner status, and free or reduced-price lunch status, which advocates have said will provide a better look at exactly who is receiving required special-education services and where schools, or the city, are falling short.

“This will help us to determine what changes are necessary to create better, more responsive special education services and ultimately, benefit many thousands of students,” Dromm said.
The city’s first report will be released in February 2016 and will include statistics for the 2014-15 school year. Subsequent reports will be released each November.

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Legislative Gazette: NYC council members trek to Albany to push public schools agenda

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By Richard Moody

A caucus of New York City Council members is showing state level officials where they stand on education issues in this year’s budget.

On Wednesday, members of the city council’s Progressive Caucus, including Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the Education Committee, came to Albany asking state legislators to adopt a budget that provides funding mandated by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, excludes additional resources for charter schools, leaves the charter school cap at current levels and provides more local control over the city’s schools.

“We are deeply concerned as council members about the governor’s lack of commitment to provide adequate funding to our public school system,” Dromm said. “The state owes [public schools] about $2.6 billion in funding. We need that funding because, without [it], we will not be able to provide an adequate education.”

Earlier this month, the Assembly proposed an increase to education funding by $1.8 billion, and soon after, the Senate proposed a $1.9 billion increase. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his Executive Budget to increase funding by $1.1 billion, with stipulations that the Legislature pass reforms he proposed as part of the budget, including placing failing schools into receivership.

The Massachusetts receivership model takes failing schools and hands over control to an expert or program for turning schools around.

“We’re also deeply concerned about the governor’s proposal to place our schools into receivership,” Dromm said. “We need and want local control over our schools. We have always believed that in New York City. We do not believe that the state knows better than the local folks.”

Cuomo’s Executive Budget would extend the New York City mayor’s control of the school system which is set to expire this year.

“We’re not here to tell the folks in Utica or Buffalo or Schenectady how to run their cities. We’re simply here to ask for the ability to control our own destiny in New York City,” said Councilman Mark Levine.

Dromm said the Senate and the governor are taking the wrong approach to fixing the public education system by lifting the charter school cap and increasing funding for charter schools. “You cannot improve our public school system simply by funding charter schools. We need adequate funding for our public schools and opening charter schools is not going to help that problem.”

Read more here.

Times Ledger: Dromm urges Albany to give $2.6B to city schools

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By Sadef Ali Kully

The Community Education Council for District 28 hosted a legislative networking event last Friday where principals, parents, school superintendents, and elected leaders met in Jamaica to present resources and address the state education budget.

The state education budget proposal, a $1.1 billion increase, includes raising tenure to five years and increase in the state’s role in teacher’s evaluations. Cuomo also wants to raise the charter school cap by 100 schools, put $100 million towards tax credit for private school, and establish a state-takeover model that could affect teachers working in more than 90 of the city’s lowest-performing schools. Cuomo’s overhaul of the education system has led to aggressive actions such as threatening to withhold funding from the budget.

“It is essential that we reach out and seek whatever we need for our schools,” said Dr. Vera Daniels, president of the CEC for District 28, which covers schools in Jamaica, Forest Hills, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.

The keynote speaker for the event was Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who was a teacher in the public education system for about 25 years before he joined the City Council.

“I survived my experience with the Department of Education and I am hear to speak about it,” said Dromm, jokingly. “One thing that I learned as soon as I walked into those doors was when the principal said to me to get the parents as your allies. I have to say parents were always there for me.”

Dromm, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Education, addressed concerns that parents, principals, and teachers have had across the city.

“The total education budget oversight is a little over $38.5 billion. Almost half of the city’s budget goes to education. That is a tremendous amount of money – that’s more than some countries,” Dromm said. “But we still desperately need the $2.6 billion from Albany.”

He addressed conflicts with charter schools, LGBT students, guidance counselors for college preparation, state funding, school trailers, school networks, and the celebrated return of arts program in public school

In attendance were Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest); Frank Guilluscio, district manager for Community Board 6; Adrienne Adam, chair of Community Board 12; state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach); and state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica).

Read more here.

New York Daily News: (EXCLUSIVE) City lawmaker demands that charter schools show how they use tax money

Councilman Daniel Dromm noted that charter schools 'receive over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds and we don’t know what’s going on.'

By Ben Chapman and Lisa Colangelo

A lawmaker is asking the city’s charter schools to hand over paperwork showing how they use millions of dollars in tax money. And they have five days to do it.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Education Committee, said he is troubled by the “lack of transparency and accountability” of charter schools.

“They receive over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds and we don’t know what’s going on,” Dromm, a Queens Democrat, told the Daily News on Monday.

Dromm sent a letter to all 197 charter schools in the city asking them for copies of their committee board minutes and fraud prevention policies. He also asked if they would voluntarily submit to the city Conflict of Interest Board to examine relationships between school board members and developers.

Dromm’s action comes after The News reported in November that an analysis by the Center for Popular Democracy found more than $28 million in questionable spending and probable financial mismanagement in 95% of the charter schools examined by state auditors since 2002.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York Charter School Center, dismissed Dromm as an “attack dog” for the United Federation of Teachers, which is opposed to charter schools.

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Times Newsweekly: Rescued Cat Needs Home

by Anthony Giudice

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High-climbing cat Dorothy Gale (above) is looking for a loving family to adopt her.

After being stuck in a tree three-stories high, a cat was rescued on Dec. 20, 2014 outside of Newtown High School in Elmhurst.

The one-year-old cat, now named Dorothy Gale was noticed by animal activists on Dec. 17. Annet Artani, singer/songwriter and founder of Miney’s Rescue of Love which she runs out of her home in Flushing, was contacted about the cat being stuck in a tree for a day.

Artani decided to take action to get the high climbing kitten down. After getting in touch with more animal rights activists a ladder was brought to the tree, but “the ladder was too small, it was impossible. Something must have spooked her to go so high up in the tree,” Artani said.

When attempts to reach police and fire departments failed a member of the Elmhurst community reached out to Council Member Daniel Dromm for help.

“Recently, we received a call from a constituent in Elmhurst stating that a cat had been stuck in a tree for three days. I am an animal rights activist and knew we had to help,” Dromm said. “We immediately started making calls to bring Dorothy Gale to safety. I’m glad we helped.”

After three days of sitting in the tree Dorothy Gale was finally brought down by Fire Department Battalion 46.

Since being rescued from the tree the kitten was brought to a veterinarian office where she was given her shots and deemed healthy.

Efforts to find out if Dorothy Gale had previous owners has gone nowhere. Signs were placed and the story has gained “plenty of media attention, someone would have noticed,” Artani said.

Dorothy Gale has been living with Artani since the rescue. “No body was prepared to bring her anywhere. So I brought her back with me,” Artani said.

The animal rights activist thanked Dromm for his support in rescuing the cat when others might not have. “I feel like he is one of the good guys,” Artani said. “He wanted to send support, it shows how in touch he is with the community. We want people like that in the city council.”

When asked where the cat got her name Artani said “I named her. I like to give my animals names with personality. Dorothy Gale was found at the top of the highest tree so she is overdramatic. So I gave her a dramatic name.” She is named after Dorothy from the classic film “Wizard of Oz.”

Artani is still looking for someone to adopt the frisky feline. “She’s a friendly little thing,” Artani said of Dorothy Gale. Dromm also wants to see the kitten go to a nice home, saying, “now, we hope someone can give her a nice, warm, permanent home.”

Anyone interested in adopting Dorothy Gale can contact Artani at 1-347-924- 5707 or fonoula28@aol.com.

Visit Times Newsweekly here.

Western Queens Gazette: Tour Unkempt LIRR Overpass, Demand Improvements


(L. to r.); Christian Cassagnol, district manager, Community Board 4 Queens; Councilmember Daniel Dromm; state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky; Rosemarie Daraio, president, COMET Civic Group; and Geraldine Walsh, treasurer, COMET Civic Group.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing); Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights); Christian Cassagnol, district manager, Community Board 4 Queens; Rosemarie Daraio, president, COMET Civic Group; and Geraldine Walsh, treasurer, COMET Civic Group, toured the 55th Avenue/Elmhurst Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) overpass with LIRR and Department of Sanitation officials to discuss the unkempt conditions and demand immediate improvements to address the situation.

“This site must be cleaned and made safe for pedestrians,” said Stavisky. “There is no substitute for an on-site visit to see conditions first-hand. Councilmember Dromm and I will continue to monitor the problem.”

“Quality of life issues are vitally important to the growth, strength and happiness of the community,” said Dromm. “Monday’s walk-through hopefully marks the start of a stronger commitment from the LIRR to keep their property clean. I thank the railroad, Senator Stavisky, the Department of Sanitation and the many community activists for working on this issue.”

Gotham Gazette: New Term Limits Legislation Headed to City Council, for Community Boards

By Kristen Meriwether

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The New York City Council will once again see a bill on term limits introduced, although this one is not likely to be as controversial as the last time.

On Wednesday Council Members Danny Dromm and Ben Kallos will introduce legislation to impose a six-term limit for members of Community Boards, capping tenure at 12 years. Currently, community board members can serve as many two-year terms as they wish, so long as they continue to be approved by their respective borough president.

“Communities change and I believe Community Boards should change also,” Council Member Dromm said by phone Tuesday evening. “I applaud those people who spend 30 or 40 years on a Community Board, and I thank them for service. But I do think we need to move things around.”

The bill would not affect members currently on the boards, only those elected to a first term on April 1, 2016 or after.

“Many more New Yorkers should have the opportunity to serve on their local community boards and share their valuable perspectives,” Council Member Kallos said by email Tuesday. “I want to create a culture of mentorship and knowledge-sharing, so residents who have been on for a long time can help train new members as they move to an informal role.”

The city’s 59 Community Boards represent slightly smaller areas of the city than city council districts, of which there are 51, and focus largely on qualify of life issues. But Community Boards also play a vital role in the land use process (also known as ULURP). Developers must see their projects passed through Community Boards before getting them to the City Council. The Boards are the first line of defense for projects and often the best place to negotiate things like affordable housing, park space, or schools in exchange for development.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer served on Community Board 7 in Manhattan for years before being elected to the City Council. During her time on the Community Board, she said the Board heard numerous highly complicated land-use proposals. Brewer, who is not supportive of the bill, said the veteran board members with years of institutional knowledge were vital.

“The expertise on that board is what enabled us to get 500 units of affordable housing [for Riverside Center],” Brewer said by phone Tuesday. “Without [the veterans’] land use experience we would have been overwhelmed by the developers.”

She argued that if a board member was not fulfilling their duty then they should be removed from the Board. But she warned, “Without that kind of expertise, the developers will have a field day.”

Kallos argued term limits don’t have to be an end to participation on the Boards for members.

“Residents who have served a long time on the boards as well as community groups with knowledge and expertise can and should continue to mentor and train newer members, so that more individuals can have the chance to join the boards and serve their communities,” Kallos said.

Dromm said he understands it takes a while to understand the process and structure of the Community Boards which is why the bill is looking at a possible tenure of 12 years, not the eight years imposed on elected officials (he was quick to reassure he had no intention of changing term limits for elected officials).

While institutional knowledge is certainly useful, Dromm said, new people bring new ideas—and that’s not always a bad thing. He pointed to 2001 when 37 of the 51-member city council body were elected to be freshmen due to term limits. He said the new group came in and navigated the city through one of the worst periods in New York City history.

“It is important to have people with some institutional knowledge, but I do feel like 12 years is enough on the Community Boards and that others should be given the opportunity to have input in the direction of the community,” Dromm said.

For more visit the Gotham Gazette here.