A few weeks ago we were contacted by a public school teacher questioning why I was pursuing a charter school for dyslexic students, and wondering aloud if this was an attack by me on public education and unions.
I immediately wrote back: An attack on public education and unions? By me? Are you kidding? Clearly you have not paid attention to my career, at all.
As we finalize our submission of this year’s capital allocation requests, my erstwhile budget guru Marie LaFrancesca, who has been by my side every day since I was first elected to public office, apprised me that we were reaching a pretty impressive milestone. It seems that with this year’s allocation to our local schools, we will top the $100 million mark in funding educational projects during our tenure in public office.
You don’t need to say it, because I’m well aware of it: this is taxpayer money and didn’t come from my personal bank account - I get it. I always have. That’s why I have always taken very seriously the privilege of allocating taxpayer dollars, and that is why I have tried to ensure your money was used in the best possible way, helping as many Staten Islanders as we could, while achieving the biggest impact possible.
I also hear the critics questioning how the Department of Education, with a budget of almost $30 billion, along with a capital plan in the billions, could convince local elected officials to spend precious resources on an education system that has an ever-expanding budget but who never seems to have enough money. I share the frustration - but I am also left with only two choices. I can either respond to principals, teachers and parents whose schools have specific needs, or ignore them and tell them to wait on the central DOE.
With the resources at my disposal, I have chosen to address those needs I thought were critical to empowering educators to teach their students as effectively as possible.
Lastly, I hear the haters who say “All politicians get money to hand out, so no big deal.” Let me take a moment for a laugh before I continue, because I’ve found that laughter allows me to deal with some of the ignorance better than getting angry would.
I would offer this: I was a Republican in a super minority within the City Council, so I willfully and painstakingly decided to build coalitions and bridges when others did not. I nurtured those relationships until they were genuine friendships, and these relationships allowed me to bring home an outsized share of available funds back to our community. I make no apologies for having served in an era when there was one solitary process in city government that allowed me to ensure that Staten Island was finally treated BETTER than fairly. Today, those in the Council have eviscerated the powers of the Speaker, made every Council Member “equal” in capital and discretionary allocations, and unfortunately over-democratized the body – but that doesn’t change what I was able to accomplish.
I brought back a lot of money for Staten Island and that wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. And I will take a momentary victory lap for having the values and sensibilities to know that money for technology and libraries was money well spent; for realizing that every dollar we allocated to our schools was a dollar invested in the critical effort to mold a classroom full of students who were ready to excel on the next level; and for doing what I could to move them along the path to become responsible, accountable and productive Staten Islanders. There will never be too many of those, I can assure you.
I have always believed you didn’t need to have a student in the public school system to root for good schools, or to recognize what it means to each of us personally that these schools excel in creating young adults who are ready for the next steps in life.
Make no mistake: $100 million of your money has helped to do just that.