Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cuomo Approaches Teacher Evaluations With Same Illiteracy He Uses For His Economic Development Programs

It's been quite the couple of weeks for Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, who likes to spend his days finding new ways to torture Bill de Blasio, found himself on the end of some of his own torture in the form of state and federal audits of some of his signature economic development programs as well as a legislative hearing that laid bare the failures of another one of his signature economic development programs.

First came state audits conducted by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli which were critical of Cuomo's economic development program compliance and accountability mechanisms:

The governor escalated yet another feud with yet another fellow Democrat after an unrelated press conference in the Bronx this afternoon. Responding to a series of unflattering summertime analyses of his signature programs, Cuomo bashed DiNapoli’s two-decade tenure representing parts of Nassau County in the Assembly and argued that history discredited the comptroller’s assessments.
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The governor did not specifically attack any particular proposals the comptroller voted on in Albany but insisted the Assembly had been “part of the problem” and had “basically abandoned upstate New York.”

Cuomo’s slap at DiNapoli was a reaction to the comptroller’s findings earlier this month that the New York Power Authority, which was supposed to dispense power to struggling nonprofits and entrepreneurs at discounted rates under the governor’s Recharge NY program, had made numerous errors when assessing applicants’ eligibility. This meant noncompliant entities got cheap electricity from the state anyway, while groups that qualified for the program were barred from participating.

The governor appoints the power authority’s entire board.

That audit followed the comptroller’s July takedown of the Empire State Development Corporation, another Cuomo-controlled public-private venture, and its Excelsior jobs program. DiNapoli found that the development corporation had repeatedly handed out large tax breaks to companies without obtaining the necessary documentation to corroborate their eligibility or productivity.

Cuomo claimed DiNapoli's audits were not quantifiable but were instead "opinions":

“What you’re getting in an audit is that person’s opinion, right?” the governor said. “Sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree, because it is only an opinion.”

Except that the state audits weren't "opinions":

The comptroller’s audits of Recharge NY and the Excelsior program were, in fact, based on numbers and hard data his office obtained from the NYPA and ESDC, from the businesses they worked with, and on eligibility requirements Cuomo’s own initiatives established. A DiNapoli spokeswoman refused to respond to the governor’s personal attacks.

“The reports completed by our professional auditors speak loudly for themselves,” said Jennifer Freedman, communications director for the comptroller.

Nice work by the governor there to take an audit based on numbers and hard data from Cuomo-controlled entities like NYPA and ESDC and turn them into "opinions", eh?

Later on, Cuomo tried a diversionary tactic to defend against the state audit findings:

Facing numerous analyses showing his signature jobs programs misallocated resources and put few New Yorkers to work, Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued today that any such assessments are only a matter of political point of view.

Speaking after an unrelated event in the Bronx, the governor defended his attacks last week on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who released unflattering audits of two Cuomo programs this summer. The governor again insisted that those findings were just DiNapoli’s opinions, opinions which are open to debate given the comptroller’s history as an assemblyman from Long Island.
“I said these are matters where people give their opinion. I have certain opinions that are my opinions. I believe in marriage equality, right? I believe in $15 as a minimum wage. You could not believe—there are assemblymen who don’t agree with me, there are senators who don’t agree with me on the minimum wage. And if they write a report, they’re going to say my minimum wage idea was a bad idea, because they disagree with it. And that’s fine—that’s democracy. And assemblymen take positions during the course of their tenure. And some people support minimum wage, some people don’t support minimum wage. Some people don’t support economic development. There are people in the Assembly who say there is no economic development possible, leave it to the private sector. So you get opinions,” the governor said. “It’s a matter of opinion on many of these issues, and there’s no right or wrong. That’s why we have elections; that’s why we have debates. Donald Trump thinks one thing. Hillary Clinton thinks another thing.”


How any of this commentary was relevant to the Observer’s specific question about DiNapoli, a well-known liberal Democrat, is unclear. The audits the comptroller’s office produced had nothing to do with gay marriage or with the state’s new pay floors, but with Cuomo’s Recharge NY and Excelsior programs.

Of course none of that nonsense Cuomo spewed about the minimum wage or gay marriage had anything to do with the questions about the state audits and Cuomo's lame defense that they were "opinions."

Rather this nonsense was pure diversionary tactic - "Hey, look over there!  Gay marriage! Minimum wage hike!  Whee!  Yayy Cuomo!" - not a reasoned defense of his economic development programs to the scathing audit findings.

And again, as Will Bredderman at the Observer shows, DiNapoli's audits were anything but opinion:

Recharge NY, run through the Cuomo-controlled New York Power Authority, was supposed to dispense power to struggling nonprofits and entrepreneurs at discounted rates. But DiNapoli’s auditors found NYPA had made numerous errors when assessing applicants’ eligibility—meaning noncompliant entities got cheap electricity from the state anyway, while groups that qualified for the program were barred from participating.

The governor appoints the power authority’s entire board.

That audit followed the comptroller’s July takedown of the Excelsior jobs program, run through the Empire State Development Corporation, another Cuomo-controlled public private entity, and its Excelsior jobs program. DiNapoli discovered that the development corporation had repeatedly handed out large tax breaks to companies without obtaining the necessary documentation to corroborate their eligibility or productivity.

The comptroller’s audits of Recharge NY and the Excelsior program were based on numbers and hard data his office obtained from the NYPA and ESDC, from the businesses they worked with, and on eligibility requirements Cuomo’s own initiatives established.

But hey, what's some hard data and numbers taken from Cuomo's own entities when you can be diverting with some nonsense about gay marriage?

Cuomo tried a similar nonsensical defense with a federal audit this week that found New York State wasted $22 million dollars in Sandy funds:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed President Barack Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development today for alleging New York mishandled $22.4 million in hurricane relief funds from Washington—insisting that his administration understands federal law better than Obama’s.

Cuomo, a Democrat who headed HUD during the Clinton administration, lashed out at an audit by Obama’s inspector general for the agency while addressing the press after an unrelated event in the Bronx this morning. IG David Montoya’s office found that Cuomo’s  Office of Tourism and Marketing did a poor job meeting the requirements of the block grant money it received in the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

But the governor argued that Montoya and his staff don’t understand HUD rules.

“Some federal person, entity, did an audit. We believe they misread the law, and misread the regulations, about how the funding should be spent, and so we’re contesting their opinion,” he said, boasting of his administration’s response to the disaster. “During Hurricane Sandy, we expended billions and billions of dollars, literally. In the handling of the emergency and the construction and the aftermath, trying to get people to come back to the effected communities. So I’m very proud of what the state did.”

So what did the federal audit find?

In particular, Montoya’s auditors discovered that the state handed millions for marketing and promotions to the Empire State Development Corporation—a Cuomo-run public-private organization—and the city of Long Beach on Long Island without first obtaining an independent analysis of the costs of their respective programs. It also determined the state did not get sufficiently detailed budgets from either ESDS or Long Beach on how the federal dollars would get spent.
“State officials did not always establish and maintain financial and administrative controls to ensure efficient and effective program administration,” the audit report reads. “We attribute these conditions to State officials not placing sufficient emphasis on ensuring compliance with all procurement requirements.”

Montoya’s office brushed off Cuomo’s criticism.

“We believe that the audit speaks for itself, period,” said spokesman Darryl J. Madden. “Throughout the audit process the state was given ample opportunity to comment on our findings and results.”

Another scathing audit, this time federal, but same lame defense tactic from Cuomo - the audit's bullshit, it wasn't done right, we did everything we were supposed to do, etc.

But notice, Cuomo never uses any facts, figures or hard data in his defense against these audits - all we get are personal attacks and diversionary tactics.

The audits came on the heels of a legislative hearing that took another signature Cuomo economic development program to task - the infamous START-UP NY program:

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top economic-development official on Wednesday bemoaned a wave of skepticism surrounding Start-Up NY, a state program that created just 408 new jobs in its first two years despite a $53 million advertising campaign.

Over more than two hours of questioning, a bipartisan group of state Assembly members grilled Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky about the much-debated jobs program at a hearing Wednesday on the state's efforts to boost its economy.

Zemsky was defiant as lawmakers repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the Start-Up program, which allows qualifying businesses to operate free of state and local taxes for a decade if they set up shop in pre-determined zones, mostly at State University of New York campuses.

He repeatedly characterized Start-Up as a single "tool" in the state's economic-development "toolbox" and suggested criticism of the program is outsized and unfounded.

...
 
Cuomo and state lawmakers approved the Start-Up program in 2013, and the state spent $53 million promoting it with television advertisements in and out of state in 2014 and early 2015. The governor referred to the program as a potential "game-changer" and "catalyst for economic development" in upstate New York.

Empire State Development, which oversees the program, faced significant criticism after it was three months late in releasing a required annual report on Start-Up's progress.

That report, which was ultimately released on the Friday evening ahead of the July 4 weekend, showed the program created 332 new jobs in 2015, on top of 76 in its first year. The legally required information on Start-Up was confined to a few pages and a footnote within a broader report on the state's economic development program.


$53 million dollars, 408 jobs - but the Cuomo administration defends the program, calling criticism of the program outsized and unfounded.

Let's see, $53 million divided by 408 is $129,901 a job - yeah, that's quite an achievement in economic development.

How anybody defends that kind of program with a straight face is beyond me, but that's what you have to do if you're a member of the Cuomo administration and you've got all these failures on your hands and independent officials and/or entities scrutinizing them (as opposed to the Cuomo shills Cuomo is used to having prop up his record for him.)

In addition to all of this, the criminal investigation into another Cuomo economic development program, the Buffalo Billion Project, continues apace, with one former Cuomo crony, Todd Howe, reported to have dropped a dime on other Cuomo cronies, including former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros.

When the indictments in that case come down, Cuomo will be the subject of another scathing expose into his economic development program expertise, this one at the hands of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, but I'm sure we'll get defense tactics out of Cuomo similar to the one's detailed above here.

Which brings me, finally, to my point about teacher evaluations here in New York State under Governor Cuomo.

Not so long ago, Cuomo claimed the old teacher evaluation system in New York State was too easy for teachers, not enough teachers were being declared ineffective and the whole thing needed an overhaul.

So, overhaul it got, though no one is quite sure what the overhaul has in it - Cuomo used the same numerical illiteracy he uses in his economic development programs for this new "scientific" teacher evaluation system.

And the best catch is, budget funds for schools are tied to the whole mess: 

School districts are still on the hook to evaluate every teacher, the results can still be used to make decisions about educators’ futures, and a 2015 law is about to require a host of new rules. And with just days left in this year’s legislative session, it’s becoming clear that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has little desire to see that change.

“This is a major issue that is right now going ignored,” State Senator Todd Kaminsky said. “People are saying it’s a time-out and it’s not.”

The strange situation came about because legislators passed a law overhauling the state’s teacher evaluation system last year to put more emphasis on state tests — and then education policymakers walked it back, banning state test results from being used altogether.

Lawmakers were responding to Cuomo’s view that too many teachers were earning top ratings. The state education department was listening to a growing movement of educators and parents upset about the growing influence of state tests.

In the end, the state education department decided teachers would get two evaluations. Next year, one will include state test scores but have no consequences. The real evaluations will use different metrics and can affect teacher tenure and firing.

Within those frameworks, districts and their teachers unions will have to agree on key details and those negotiations are ongoing.

“We are working with districts across the state to support their efforts as they complete their contract negotiations and to provide them as much flexibility as possible within the law,” State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

But many had hoped that lawmakers would agree to scrap the universally unpopular 2015 law by now, making it unnecessary for districts to negotiate the details of the two new plans at all. So far, that hasn’t happened — and since there are just three days left in the legislative session, few think change is on the way.

“The big hangup is obviously the governor’s office,” said Assemblyman Edward Ra, who supports repealing last year’s law. “It really creates a little bit of a mess for everybody.” (Officials from Cuomo’s office did not say whether the governor would support changes to teacher evaluations.)
Now, it’s up to school districts like New York City to work out the details of new evaluation plans with their teachers unions. Barring a big change in the next few days, they are facing a tight timeline: They need an agreement by Sept. 1 or they risk losing state funds.
 
What a mess - a Cuomo-created mess - and yet, somehow this child-man remains in power, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, issuing idiotic attacks and lame defenses when those expenditures are scrutinized, and continuing on to do more an more damage to the state.

One thing is pretty certain from all of this:

We have yet to get an independent audit of Cuomo's education policies that he's imposed on the state via the budget process (including teacher evaluations), but you can bet that if/when we get one, it will be as scathing as the ones we got on his economic development programs.

8 comments:

  1. Cuomo is clearly in dire need of a new PR team if this crap is all they can come up with. So now an audit is merely an opinion. Some like vanilla ice cream and others prefer chocolate. Data, however, is imperative when nailing teachers to the wall particularly when they teach high needs students in low income neighborhoods. Teacher drive by evaluations based on arbitrary rubric criteria are objective. Teachers are to be held accountable for all of society's ills while incompetent politicians spending outrageous sums of tax payer dollars should continue to skate.

    Abigail Shure

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