Rough Times for GOP and City School District

Politics, education and an Obama heckler made headlines this year

  • A big shout-out to Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre for her greeting to President Barack Obama Aug. 22 at Henninger High School. Ramsey-Lefevre, a Syracuse Peace Council activist, stood on the bleachers and hollered for the president to free Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier freshly convicted of espionage. By her side, one-time Green Party congressional candidate Ursula Rozum silently held a smuggled sign calling for Manning’s release. Obama, standing at the lectern under the basketball hoop in the Henninger gym, appeared flummoxed by the outburst and took more than a minute to regain control of his audience. Manning–born Bradley, a male–changed her first name to Chelsea the night before the presidential visit, after Rozum had already written “Bradley” on her sign in black magic marker.

President Obama in Syracuse. (Michael Davis photo)

  • Obama did not grant Manning a pardon, but he did throw a lifeline to Rep. Dan Maffei (D-Syracuse) by giving the congressman’s former rival, Ann Marie Buerkle, a cushy position with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Buerkle, a staunch opponent of government regulation, will get $155,000 a year to attend four meetings in Washington, D.C., and Maffei will avoid having to debate her next year. Maffei has twice been elected on Obama’s coattails, and twice lost in non-presidential years. We’ll see who the Republicans put up against him.
Anne Marie Buerkle

Anne Marie Buerkle. (Michael Davis photo)

  • Whoever the Republicans endorse, don’t expect the designee to get the nomination without a primary. The local version of the party of Lincoln has been unable to get the dwindling party faithful to endorse its choices for city and countywide office for the past few cycles (remember Otis Jennings and Dale Sweetland?) and couldn’t even find anyone to run against Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, except Ian Hunter, who they were willing to go to court to keep off the ballot.
  • Aside from the president’s visit, this was arguably the worst year ever for the Syracuse City School District. Teachers are feeling under assault, test scores and graduation rates remained flat, minority students suspended out of proportion to their numbers and the poor introduction of the Common Core standards created an uproar among parents and teachers both. The under-reported story of the school district is that thousands of kids go to school every day, are taught by competent and capable teachers and go on to lead successful lives. For most, the under-parented and disruptive few are obstacles but not barriers to learning. Quiet heroes labor in classrooms and outside programs like OnPoint for College and Hillside Work/Scholarship Program to get kids back in school and keep them there.
Sharon L. Contreras

Sharon Contreras, Superintendent of Syracuse City Schools (Michael Davis photo)

Meanwhile, the divide in educational achievement between city and county continues to track with our growing income and wealth disparities. The district continues to play musical chairs with administrators and to find new names for failing schools while the state ignores a court order to provide the money necessary for every child’s education.

  • And right next door to the Syracuse New Times’ office on 1415 W. Genesee St., we discovered a highly successful high school that, it turns out, is like more than 100 charter schools nationwide: run by Turkish immigrants well versed in the sciences and dedicated to high-stakes testing. Could it be that we have run the city so far in to the ground that we are now seen as a missionary land for well-meaning Muslims?

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