Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unfounded Calls of Racism, Stupid City Government, and a Dead Child...

Today I’d like to tell you a tragic tale involving a dead 13-year old girl, a yellow school bus, a bad public transportation system, a tractor trailer, a school administration that is more concerned with appearances and political correctness than student safety, and a court system which city lawyers openly abuse. It will not end well, I promise you, and I can also guarantee that at the end of it all you’ll be shaking your head in stunned disbelief that so-called responsible adults could be this stupid, petty, and well, irresponsible.

Our story begins two years ago, when the New York City Board of Education (three lies for the price of one) began looking for ways to cut it’s budget without firing the 2,000 or so teachers currently held in so-called ‘rubber rooms’ awaiting termination or criminal prosecution, thus pissing off the local education unions, whilst still giving the appearance of being both fiscally responsible and fair to racial minorities.

Given that combination of political requirements, it’s not surprising that Educational Establishment (an oxymoron if ever there was one) came up with a politically-biased solution that cost a young girl her life.

It all has to do with appearances, and false accusations of racism, plain and simple.

You see, I live on Staten Island, the Forgotten Borough of New York City. It is a place that City Government tends to think of as a cash cow and a dumping ground for projects that no other borough -- with their decidedly greater populations and more vocal ‘community organizer’ types -- just won’t take, such as Landfills, Wind farms, prisons and infectious disease wards.

Wikipedia describes Staten Island as a ‘suburban community’, and it once was, but it is so no longer. What it has become is a 12-by-7 mile bonanza of property taxes for a City that can concern itself with your salt intake, but then not give a shit about whether or not your community has adequate sewers and storm drains, public transportation, hospitals, or schools. There are 500,000 people shoehorned onto this over-developed island which is always last on the City’s ‘To-Do’ list, but always first on ‘People We Can Raise Taxes On’ list.

City Officials just absolutely love the property and income taxes they can collect here (amongst the highest in all of the United States!), but they just can’t see their way to spending any of it here. Probably because the island typically votes republican, and most of us are gainfully employed. There’s far more money and political power in (created by politicians in the first place) poverty than there is in the catering to the needs of the Middle Class who pays for it all, you see.

Four consequences of this attitude are:

1) The Road System on this island is a joke. Many of the main arteries still follow their meandering, pre-Revolutionary War-era paths from days of yore – in some cases, they still follow the routes they took during the days of the Dutch Settlements (pre-1660!) and these are often narrow, crowded with vehicular traffic, and lacking in adequate safety features (traffic islands, traffic lights, stop signs, or crosswalks). You’ll find the roads in a perpetual extremely-poor state of repair (the 12’-long-by-three-foot-deep-pothole-full-of-frozen-water-on-every-corner capital of New York!), and many basic services – like sidewalks along busy streets – are simply missing, and no one in City Government gives a shit. I can’t tell you how many stories of ‘Person-struck-and-killed-by-car-in- neighborhood-without-sidewalks’ stories there are every year in the Staten Island Advance, the local newsrag. It’s easily in the double digits.

Remember, this is supposed to be 21st-Century New York City.

2) Public Transportation is seriously lacking, and what is available is often unreliable, hardly goes where it needs to (the Transportation Plans which brought it here dating to the 1960’s, and only begun in earnest in the 1980’s), and under-utilized since decades of abject neglect of the transportation system has created a cult of the automobile that would rival that to be found elsewhere in the United States. This may be the only place in all of New York City where your trip to the ‘Corner Store’ often requires a journey by car that will take you a mile or more from home, and take 30-40 minutes because of traffic.

3) Schools are in seriously short supply. Since most of the available land (even City-owned land) has been parceled off and sold to developers (we need more overpriced Mother-Daughter townhouse/condos on this island like we need a plague of locusts), or goes to more Parks and Nature Preserves (which we need like a hole in the head. 1/5 of Staten Island is State-or-Federally-protected Wetlands, bird sanctuaries, parks, national monuments, and so forth), less space is available to build schools. Especially middle schools. The last new High School, for example, built on Staten Island (in the early 1980’s) was originally designed as a minimum-security prison -- in a residential neighborhood -- that only became the ‘new’ New Dorp High School because of the near-violent outrage that sprang from a community that wasn’t even asked if it would want a prison in it’s backyard, nor told until the very last minute that one was even being built.

4) What schools we do have are generally placed far apart, and are poorly served by public transportation, requiring more yellow bus service than might be normal for children who live in the other boroughs where there are more schools and more transportation options available.

Yellow school bus service in this borough is a necessity if children are to get to and from school safely and in a timely fashion. In fact, Yellow School Bus service for Staten Island schoolchildren from kindergarten to Middle School had been a standard for over four decades, courtesy of a political class that once understood the unique nature of the problems here, and a federal judge who granted Staten Island a waiver when parents in the other boroughs claimed that Staten Island kids were receiving a benefit that children elsewhere weren’t getting. The majority of these complaints, incidentally, were based upon race. At the time, the majority of Staten Island public school kids were white.

And if anything ever screamed ‘Racism’ way back when, it was the idea of white, middle class kids being chauffeured to and from a school three miles away when minority children had to walk, often only just a few blocks. Go figure.

The accusations of racism in Bus Service have never completely gone away, and those who have yelled ‘Racist!” the loudest and most persistently, I can promise you, have never stepped foot upon this isle to see the truth for themselves. Then again, people who make their livings shouting ‘Racist!’ and extracting government money for it are very often never really concerned with truth, nor care about the consequences of their actions, so long as a politician scratches his particular itch.

To give you some idea, my nephew Mikey is one of those children who was eligible for Yellow Bus Service. Let me tell you what he has to do to get to and from school, and maybe this will illustrate the problem for you.

Mikey’s school is approximately 4.6 miles from his own front door. Without a school bus, Mikey has limited options. He could walk to and from school, having to cross at least three major arteries which local drivers treat like the Indianapolis Speedway, dodging distracted by text-messages or putting-on-their-makeup-in-the-rearview drivers for whom simple things like proper use of turning signals, red lights, traffic lanes, No Right on Red signs, and pedestrian traffic are crippling inconveniences which conspire to keep them from their quest to be the first to the next red light at 65-mph-in-a-35 zone. It’s like a for-real game of Frogger.

This is mostly a cultural problem, exacerbated by poor road planning, construction and maintenance. To illustrate these issues for you, it is not uncommon for private individuals around here to pool their OWN money to build their OWN speed bumps on their school-zoned streets, because the City won’t, citing the excuse of expense. The City, however, has absolutely no trouble finding the funds to remove those privately-financed speed bumps – often in the dead of night --just as soon as it discovers them.

Option Number Two is that Mikey can walk eight blocks to the Staten Island Railway Train (a misnomer which consists of two tracks travelling in opposite directions that serves approximately 1/6 of the island’s population on any given day), take it four stops, and then have to walk 10 blocks from the station to school, both ways crossing busy (sometimes blind because of the curves or overgrown park/wetland) intersections without crossing guards or responsible drivers.

Option Number Three is take a City Bus, requiring a three-block walk from home, a transfer, and then a six block walk from the nearest stop. This requires, incidentally, about 45-60 minutes, so that he’d have to leave home at 6:30 to ensure he got to school anywhere near 8:00, due to the numerous stops (buses here stop at nearly every block for some reason), traffic and irregularity/unreliability of service.

Option Number Four is to take another City Bus which leaves him closer to school (after a transfer to another route), but which goes two miles out of his way in order to get him there, and probably takes closer to 90 minutes, all told.

You can see the problem.

So, the Board of Education, in a cynical effort to have it both ways -- paying lip service to the concept of financial responsibility, while pandering to the louder elements of the “Everything in Creation is Racist!” brigade -- decided it was time to end Yellow School Bus service for Staten Island (White) Middle Schoolers. Two years ago, the City claimed that doing so would save an estimated $2 million per year, which is a joke when you consider the NYC Board of Education is capable of finding more ways to waste $2 million a week without even breaking a sweat.

Local government (our Borough President) went right to the courts to stop this plan and to have the waiver granted 40+ years ago guaranteeing school bus service upheld. The judge in that case let the waiver stand, and then asked the Board of Ed to turn over its internal documents and e-mails related to the decision to stop service. What he got was a mess of blank and/or redacted paper, and an injunction against his upholding of the original waiver issued by a judge in a different borough after the Board of Ed went judge-shopping in (more-liberal) Brooklyn. Another judge, a state appellate judge, told the Board to go and pound sand, upheld the waiver, and squashed the injunction, and bus service was restored.

However, the Board of Ed is nothing if not persistent – and willing to waste that potential $2 million savings on more lawyers – had the service stopped once again by yet another judge, claiming the Original Waiver violates the ‘spirit of’ the 14th Amendment, despite any practical considerations. The court fight continues to this day.

Which brings us to the tragedy that is 13-year-old Aniya Williams. You see, she was run over by a great, big, fucking tractor trailer on a busy thoroughfare in an industrial area as she crossed a street -- one without a City-provided school crossing guard, despite the fact that it’s in a fucking school zone, and it was the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL -- in an effort to catch a city bus home, and thus spare herself the 40-60 minute wait for the next one.

There are two ironies here:

1. This young lady was entitled to Yellow School Bus service under the Old Waiver, which would have picked her up in front of the school, and dropped her off mere yards from her own front door, if not for all the legal wrangling and false accusations of racism in bus service.

2. Aniya Williams happens to have been African-American.

For the sake of $2 million dollars (probably $10 million now after the legal fees are all counted up), and to quiet the uninformed noises that came from the full panoply of ‘advocates’, ‘community organizers’, ‘community groups’, ‘education watchdogs’, public unions and all the other busy-body organizations and individuals who typically speak out of their collective asses, a child is dead. The only saving grace here is that more children aren’t dead, because on any given day there are probably going to be 50 more Aniya’s, racing for a city bus that runs on an irregular schedule so that they won’t have to walk 4 miles home, and who are forced to do so because a City Government that can’t count, but which can pander to anyone with an uninformed complaint and wants to monitor your caloric intake, just doesn’t get it.

This post also appears at the Insane Asylum.

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