Turn all schools into Beacon centers, Parker says
State senator sponsors bills to change education system
Thirty-three of New York City’s schools are Beacon Schools, functioning as community recreation centers at night, and on weekends giving kids a chance to play basketball, take computer classes or learn how to dance. But one Brooklyn lawmaker says all public schools should be turned into Beacon schools.
State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Flatbush-Midwood-Park Slope) has introduced two bills aimed at changing the city’s educational landscape.
One bill would create a public-private partnership that would allow for state funds to be used to pay to keep school buildings open during after-school hours, while at the same time allowing private enterprises to sponsor Beacon School programs where kids could get homework help, play sports and take part in drama classes and other enrichment programs.
“If we did that, we would get rid of our gang problem in a generation,” Parker told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. Beacon Schools give youngsters a place to go and give them a chance to feel like they belong, according to Parker.
It would also benefit parents as well, he said. Under his plan, Beacon Schools would offer job placement services, English-language lessons and other forms of assistance to adults.
Parker has also sponsored the Parental Involvement Leave Act, a bill that would require employers to give parents 17 hours more than the usual family leave time, to allow parents to become more involved in their children’s schools. The legislation would help working parents, he said.
“Parents are catching hell just to keep a roof over their heads,” Parker said.
Education was just one of the topics Parker, 48, discussed during a wide-ranging interview with the Eagle at Junior’s Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn.
Arriving at Junior’s fresh from his morning run, Parker ordered a cup of fresh fruit and talked about the state budget, affordable housing, jobs and the ever-colorful doings in Albany.
Parker, a veteran lawmaker, was first elected to the state Senate in 2002, representing the 21st Senate District.
He said he sees his role in the state budget process as one of getting funding for local communities and making sure the monies are distributed fairly. The state budget, approved by the state Legislature in April, is $150 billion.
“It’s about getting money into the budget and getting money out to bring back to New York City, to Brooklyn, to Flatbush, to Park Slope,” he said.
To that end, he was able to secure funding for cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Cultural institutions are important to the borough, he said. “They add to the quality of life. They provide an access to education for young people. And jobs are associated with that,” he said.
Parker said he is particularly proud of his role in obtaining millions of dollars toward the costs of renovating the Loew’s Kings Theatre.
“It’s the crown jewel of Flatbush,” he said. “I grew up in this neighborhood. I used to pass that theatre every day, seeing it shuttered. Now, you have headliners like Diana Ross and Josh Groban playing there,” he said. The beautifully restored theatre provides an emotional lift for audiences, according to Parker. “When you go in, you don’t feel like a second-class citizen,” he said.
In the recently completed term, the Legislature renewed rent stabilization laws and approved a new version of the 421-A law, a statute under which developers are given tax breaks. Parker said he wasn’t happy with the outcome. “I wish we could have gotten a better deal for renters,” he told the Eagle. “Developers have an edge in the process now.”
Parker was also upset by the failure of the Dream Act to pass the State Legislature. “It’s a common sense bill,” he said of the bill, which would have provided financial aid to undocumented immigrants attending college.
“Injustice ticks me off,” he told the Eagle. “When people ask me, ‘Why are you so angry?’ My answer is, ‘Why are you not angry?’”
New York City has a serious housing problem, according to Parker, who said the city is affordable only for those with money or those poor enough to qualify for assistance. Meanwhile, working people suffer, he said.
“We need a redefinition of affordable housing. Workforce housing, that’s what we need,” he said, adding that the city and state must find ways to make housing more affordable to working New Yorkers who make too much money to qualify for existing forms of assistance.
On jobs, Parker said there needs to be recognition of where jobs are being created. Small businesses create the vast majority of jobs in the city and state. “The economy has moved from Wall Street to Main Street,” he said. “It’s Flatbush Avenue, Church Avenue and Nostrand Avenue.”
The private sector has to be encouraged to create more jobs, he said.
To help jump-start business creation, Parker helped bring a Small Business Development Center to Brooklyn College in 2006. The center, which received funds from U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y,) and then-U.S. Rep. Ed Towns, is still operating. Among its many services, the center helps business owners apply for loans from the Small Business Administration.
“They do everything from soup to nuts,” Parker said. “You can walk in there with a dollar and a dream and see your dream come true.”
But government also provides jobs, he noted. “The largest employer in the city of New York is the city of New York,” he said, adding that a large municipal work force is necessary. “We can’t pretend you can run a city with four people.”
He was pleased that Mayor Bill de Blasio has reached contract agreements with many of the city’s unions. “You can’t neglect the municipal workforce,” he said.
Parker called the so-called feud between fellow Democrats de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo “much ado about nothing.”
People “don’t understand the depth of their relationship,” Parker said.
The mayor “has done a great job as an advocate and a cheerleader,” and has accomplished a great deal during his time in office, according to Parker, who pointed to universal pre-kindergarten as an example of a de Blasio triumph. “Pre-K is a game changer,” he said.
As governor, Cuomo has to deal with the needs of all parts of the state. He also has to deal with a Republican-controlled state Senate, Parker said. “He doesn’t run the whole government,” he explained.
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