A day after going to Albany to lobby for a tax increase that does not have the governor's support, Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a Bronx after-school program to highlight the benefits of his proposal.
The mayor applauded middle school students in a dance class and was given a T-shirt and sweatshirt by two students. M.S. 331, the Bronx School of Young Leaders, is in Morris Heights. De Blasio said his plan to raise the income tax on residents making over $500,000 a year would enable all middle school students here and throughout the city to attend after-school programs between 3-6 p.m.
He said the programs provide a safe and valuable outlet for adolescents while helping their families.
"We're all working longer hours," he said. "After-school programs give them some peace of mind."
Much of de Blasio's campaign for the tax increase has focused on his plan to expand pre-kindergarten. In shifting gears to talk about middle school students he appears to be broadening the appeal of his plan. He noted that the city lost 30,000 after-school slots in the past few years because of budget cuts.
But he acknowledged he has less than three months to convince the legislature, whose budget is due April 1, to raise the tax in an election year.
"Now begins the real work," he said, adding, "Three months is an eternity in the budget process."
He said he was convinced he has strong support among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. While Senate Republicans support his goals, they - like Governor Andrew Cuomo - are not on board with raising taxes.
De Blasio was joined in the Bronx by Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who said well-run after-school programs are educational as well as social because they provide homework help and tutoring.
Fariña made her own pitch to parents earlier in the day, when she attended a morning meeting of her Parent Advisory Committee. She said she is planning an all-day parent conference in the spring with workshops on topics such as how to help your struggling student at home, and how to look at the Common Core standards without so much anxiety. She even suggested giving out a list of TV shows, such as "The Backyardigans," that parents could watch with their children to help kids improve their vocabularies.
Fariña said her top priorities in the new post are strengthening communication with parents and improving middle schools. She said she is tackling the latter pledge by visiting 20 middle schools that are doing a good job, scheduling them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She began by checking in on I.S. 88 in Brooklyn and has since visited M.S. 223 in the Bronx and spent part of Thursday at M.S. 327, also in the Bronx.
She said the schools were chosen for their parent involvement, or strong dual-language program, not on test scores.
"I want to find 20 schools that have a very strong strength that I can write about," and tell other schools what she saw. This way, teachers and principals can see them in action. "We're going to have one-day-a-month visitation."
With reporting by the Associated Press