Volunteers sought to help schools with slashed budgets

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We need to address … what are we going to do when schools are shut down,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy. He asked of students, “Are they going to be home learning or out on the streets … continuing this awful violence?”

ALBANY COUNTY — Friday, on the eve of Labor Day weekend, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy urged county residents to celebrate safely while the state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced there is “a daunting path ahead for the state to climb back to pre-recession employment levels.”

Statewide, DiNapoli said, 28 percent of jobs lost through the pandemic in March and April have been regained through July. “For New York City, the picture is even more troubling,” said DiNapoli; the city has regained 17 percent of its lost jobs.

DiNapoli also announced that the New York State and Local Retirement System employer contribution rates for the State Fiscal Year 2021-22 will increase from 14.6 percent to 16.2 percent of payroll for the Employees’ Retirement System and from 24.4 percent to 28.3 percent of payroll for the Police and Fire Retirement System.

For several years, employer-contribution rates had remained flat or decreased.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create uncertainty in the financial markets and hurt Main Street,” DiNapoli said in a statement, releasing the rates, “we are fortunate that our state pension fund entered this uncertain time as one of the strongest and best funded in the nation. We manage the fund to withstand tough challenges so that our public workforce can be confident their retirement benefits are secure. Keeping the plan well-funded has helped improve New York’s credit rating and avoided the budget problems faced by states with poorly-funded pensions.”

At his Friday morning press briefing, McCoy noted that Alaska and Montana have been added to the list — now at 33 — of states and territories where a travel advisory is in effect. People traveling from those places have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in New York State.

He urged residents, rather than traveling out-of-state, to explore areas of New York State. “Get out there and explore the area around you,” he said.

McCoy projected a chart of daily positive tests for COVID-19, which began with the first case in March. Blue arrows pointed out the spikes in cases following Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July weekend.

“What’s on my mind right now is Labor Day weekend,” said McCoy. “We want people to enjoy it  … We have to do the right thing”

McCoy went on, “I know you’re going to want to have cookouts. I know you’re going to want to gather. Do it six feet apart,” he said.

He had earlier reiterated the advice to wear masks, wash hands, and cough into arms.

 

Schools

McCoy spoke on Friday both of local colleges, which have already opened for classes, and of public schools, which are about to reopen.

He said that The College of Saint Rose, Maria College, Siena College, and the University at Albany had “done a great job” preparing plans to reopen. He also said that “hundreds of students tested positive” at Oneonta so the governor sent in a “SWAT team” but “unfortunately shut it down.” There will be no in-person classes at Oneonta this semester.

“A lot of people complained last weekend,” McCoy said of UAlbany students gathering. “President [Havidán] Rodríguez got on top of that … Kids got suspended or were asked not to come back to school,” said McCoy.

Over the summer, a party of about 200 college-age students on Hudson Avenue in Albany led to close to 50 cases of COVID-19. At that time, the university was not suspending students but, rather, urging them to come forward to be tested so the course of the disease could be traced.

“They’re showing no signs or symptoms and they’re spreading it,” said McCoy on Friday. “We’re going to stay in this holding pattern if people don’t do the right thing.”

With public schools reopening, Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat representing the Capital Region, on Friday held a press conference with education and labor leaders, calling for immediate action to support schools.

In May, the Democratic House of Representatives had passed a fifth stimulus package, which the Republican Senate rejected, that included aid for schools and for state and local governments. The HEROES [Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions] Act would deliver about $1.3 billion in local government funding to Capital Region communities as well as $58 billion for America’s public schools.

Twenty-percent in New York State aid to schools is being withheld, which amounts to some $174 million in budget cuts to schools in Tonko’s district, he said.

“Families across our Capital Region found out this week that their kids won’t be learning in person this year, not because we can’t figure out how to teach them safely, but because our local budgets have been depleted by this ongoing global pandemic and they don’t have the resources to open their doors,” Tonko said in a statement, calling upon the Senate “to act immediately to advance this rescue plan to protect our children and their future.”

McCoy said on Friday that an initiative is underway in Albany for volunteers to help the schools. 

“They got cut … real bad,” he said of schools. “They are scrambling to reimagine.”

McCoy had had Kaweeda Adams, superintendent of Albany City Schools, speak in July about her plans for reopening, which have now been drastically cut as scores of workers are being laid off.

“We need volunteer organizations now more than ever,” said McCoy on Friday. “We need parents to help out, teach.”

Students in the upper grades in the Albany City School District will now have no in-person classes; rather, they will be learning entirely remotely.

“We need to address … what are we going to do when schools are shut down,” said McCoy. He asked of students, “Are they going to be home learning or out on the streets … continuing this awful violence?”

Albany has had more than 100 shootings this year.

McCoy urged county residents, “especially people out of work” to avail themselves of “a unique opportunity” to help schools.

Anyone who is interested, he said, can go online to ServeAlbany.org.

Volunteers would work with one of 12 local not-for-profits, including the Boys and Girls Club of Albany, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Southend Children’s Café, The Wizard’s Wardrobe, Mission Accomplished, Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Capital Region Sponsor A Scholar, Tru Heart, Albany Police Athletic League, Girls on the Run, and Literacy Volunteers of Rensselaer County.

Also on Friday, New York State United Teachers continued to call for masks to be worn at all times indoors during the school day. The teachers’ union had sent a letter to the state’s health commissioner last week, asking that mask-wearing be mandatory.

Failing a statewide directive, NYSUT is now asking county governments to mandate such a policy for school districts in their jurisdiction. Some districts, such as Guilderland, already require that as part of their plan. Other districts’ plans don’t require masks in classrooms, where desks are spaced out, but only in situations such as passing between classes in hallways.

 

Newest numbers

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s fourth straight week with a COVID-19 infection rate below 1 percent.

The rate for the Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, was 1.1 percent for Thursday. Other regions with rates at or over 1 percent are: Long Island, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, and Wesern New York — the highest at 1.6 percent.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the North Country again has the lowest rate at 0.4 percent.

“The governor takes pride we’re less than 1 percent right now with everyone we’re testing and we are testing at higher numbers,” said McCoy on Friday. “It does show for the most part that people are doing the right thing.”

As of Friday morning, Albany County has 2,563 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019, an increase of 13 cases since Thursday.

Five of the new cases had close contact with people who were infected with COVID-19, two are healthcare workers or residents of congregate settings, and six did not have a clear source of infection detected at this time.

Currently, 420 residents are under quarantine, a drop of 20 since Thursday.

The five-day average for new daily positives ticked up to 10.2 from 8.8. Albany County now has 57 active cases, up from 54 a day ago.

So far, 9,950 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,506 of them had tested positive and recovered.

Thirteen county residents remain hospitalized with two of them in intensive-care units. The county’s hospitalization rate remains at 0.5 percent.

McCoy reflected on the era when Albany County had had fewer than six residents hospitalized with COVID-19 and said of the new numbers, “That is alarming.”

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 133.

More Regional News

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  • The moratorium on evictions is in effect until Jan. 15. The new law keeps in place all protections of the Tenant Safe Harbor Act for residential tenants who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic; it also adds protections on commercial evictions.

  • Governor Kathy Hochul

    Governor Kathy Hochul, on Monday, Sept. 6, said that the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, has designated COVID-19 a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health under the HERO Act, requiring all employers to implement workplace safety plans.

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