When the State Court of Appeals ruled recently that Albany’s school-funding formula is unfair to New York City’s public-school students, Governor George Pataki seemed overjoyed. He welcomed the decision, he said. “It’s a positive opportunity for us to focus on education, on the classroom, on the teachers, on the kids,” he said. Oh, yes, Mr. Pataki was pleased, indeed. He added that the decision would help “make sure that every single kid gets a good-quality high-school education.”
To hear the Governor’s rhetoric, you’d never know that he had used every legal means at his disposal to prevent this welcome turn of events. The state has bitterly opposed challenges to the funding formula, even though the state constitution demands that students be provided a “sound basic education.”
In defending itself against a lawsuit filed by a group called Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Mr. Pataki’s government argued that past disparities in funding no longer existed. The city has about 37 percent of the public-school students in the state and, in the last few years, it has gotten about 37 percent of the state’s education funds.
That simple formula, however, does not take into account the special needs of the city’s public schools. As should be obvious to everybody, including the Governor, the public schools of central Brooklyn, the South Bronx and upper Manhattan have problems and issues that simply do not exist in Scarsdale or Garrison. Giving the city a proportionate share of state funding doesn’t fulfill the state’s mandate to provide a sound education to all its students. As Chief Judge Judith Kaye wrote in the court’s decision, in “the case of New York City, student need is high.”
But the city’s spending, on a per-pupil basis, is not as high as elsewhere in the state, a circumstance that no doubt comes as a shock to professional city-bashers in Albany. The city spends $11,494 per student per year; the rest of the state spends $12,107.
Mr. Pataki is correct in asserting that the decision presents a new opportunity to fix the city’s broken public schools. It is infuriating, however, to realize that his administration resisted this opportunity. Indeed, if Mr. Pataki had his way, the Court of Appeals would have sided with the state and denied the city’s public-school students this measure of justice.
Chief Judge Kaye asserted that the state’s schoolchildren-even those from low-income families in New York City-are constitutionally guaranteed not equal funding, but “schools that provide a sound basic education.” New York City schools do not deliver on that right, in part because of the state’s funding formula.
The court also ruled that the state must provide its children with a basic education through high school. That should seem obvious, but until the court’s ruling, the state believed its obligation stopped at eighth grade. That is simply scandalous.
Mr. Pataki could have conceded this obvious point years ago and settled this lawsuit. Instead, he fought it-and when he lost, he tried to claim it as a victory. That would seem to meet anyone’s definition of hypocrisy.
Clarence Norman: Newest Slimemeister On the Block
The egregious hacks who run the Democratic Party in Brooklyn are offering us a rare view of how the borough’s finest legal minds become judges: The would-be judges pay homage-and perhaps something more tangible-to the party and its leaders.
Assemblyman Clarence Norman, the chairman of the Kings County Democratic Committee, presides over a corrupt, venal and outrageous system of choosing Supreme Court justices in his borough. Some of the system’s secrets have been spilled in recent weeks because of the atrocious behavior of several judges, especially a grubby jurist named Gerald Garson, who has been indicted for accepting money and gifts in exchange for fixing child-custody and other civil cases.
An investigation into the Brooklyn judiciary is now underway, and it’s clear that there will be more appalling headlines in the near future. The justice system in downtown Brooklyn is a sewer.
Presiding over it is Mr. Norman, who, as the Democratic Party chair, essentially hand-picks Supreme Court justices in his borough. In theory, it’s the voters who decide on candidates for the Supreme Court-but in practice, the Democratic Party’s nominees always win. Supreme Court campaigns in Brooklyn are really no different than presidential elections in Cuba or in pre-invasion Iraq. That makes Mr. Norman an influential figure for politically connected lawyers in search of black robes and special license plates. So if his minions tell judicial candidates to employ certain people or companies for outrageous fees, the candidates do so. Their careers, after all, are on the line.
There’s a growing sense that we have seen only a glimpse of the slime that covers the Brooklyn Democratic organization. It turns out that Mr. Norman’s political clubhouse received a payment of $245,000 from Mark Green’s failed Mayoral bid in 2001. The money was meant to pay for campaign-related expenses, but there have been suggestions that the money may have been used for other purposes. (A lawyer for Mr. Norman says the Brooklyn boss hasn’t a clue about how all that money was spent.)
Prosecutors from the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes are looking into Mr. Norman’s spending habits, particularly his use of a party credit card. Press reports indicate that Mr. Norman may have used the card illegally to buy $130,000 worth of personal items like clothes and shoes.
There seems little question that the money Mr. Green’s campaign sent to Mr. Norman’s clubhouse was misused. That alone suggests the kind of outrageous operation Mr. Norman runs in Brooklyn.
Mr. Hynes has an important and potentially explosive inquiry on his hands-one that may lead to the biggest municipal scandal since the disgrace of Donald Manes, Stanley Friedman and Meade Esposito in the 1980’s, and one that may transcend judicial misconduct. If there is any justice-real justice, that is, not the sort of thing meted out in Kings County-some of the city’s worst hacks are finding it tough to sleep these days.