State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) started her career as a teacher, but she wouldn’t want to be one today because of mayoral control of city schools.
That comment from the former social studies teacher touched on one of several topics covered, ranging from education to co-op assessments, during a sit-down with the Queens Chronicle staff on Friday.
Stavisky, 73, started out teaching in Manhattan and went on to work for two years at Edison High School in Jamaica. She is no fan of mayoral control of schools and hopes it will not be renewed in three years.
“It was approved by the Legislature, but I’m beginning to think it was wrong to give the mayor control,” she said, noting that “People wanted an alternative because the school boards weren’t working either.”
She said it will be up to the Legislature to come up with an alternative plan when mayoral control expires in 2015.
Stavisky vehemently opposes teachers “teaching to the state tests,” saying that’s no way to learn. “It’s become no child left untested,” she said. “The results haven’t been good and teachers should be teaching.”
She also opposes closing low-performing schools and replacing them with smaller boutique schools. “What they are doing is replacing one principal with four,” Stavisky said. “Students need smaller classes, good teachers and an involved PTA. Replacing the school doesn’t solve the problem.”
She is a proponent of teacher evaluations, saying they are needed, but that teachers should have due process to appeal: “Teachers are not receiving the respect they deserve.”
The senator is vice chairwoman of the Senate minority conference, ranking minority member on the Committee on Higher Education and a member of the Education Committee.
On the higher education level, Stavisky believes the state Tuition Assistance Program geared to schools in the state needs to follow increases on what students must pay. “Tuition goes up a small amount every year so students know what to expect,” she said. “SUNY and CUNY schools are still very affordable.”
Last year, the senator actively fought the city’s co-op and condominium assessment hike, which in one case in northern Queens — the complex where she lives — amounted to 147 percent over the previous year. After much pressuring from elected officials and rallies by residents, the city backtracked and eventually capped the increase at 10 percent.
“We are working with the city to come up with a solution,” she said “We can’t have a repetition of last year.”
Stavisky is now hoping to get a bill passed that would prohibit smoking in private passenger cars, vans or trucks when minors younger than 14 years old are present. The penalty would be a $100 fine.
“We are trying to get it out of committee in the Senate. It already passed in the Assembly,” Stavisky said. “It will help children because secondhand smoke is damaging to them.”
Five other states and Puerto Rico have passed similar legislation.
Last week, the senator joined other elected officials in the Electchester area of Flushing, calling for a landlord not to push out Key Food in favor of a CVS drugstore. “A landlord can do what he likes, but my constituents are entitled to have a place to shop,” she said. “We don’t need another drugstore at that location; there is one across the street.”
The company could not be reached for comment.
She claimed the owner, Vita Realty, was making the change but not raising the rent, because property values increase with a drugstore “and banks like that.”
On politics, she refused to comment on the proposed redistricting plan that would place her and state Sen. Tony Avella in the same district and had little to say about the position of her son, Evan Stavisky, who runs the Parkside Group, a political consulting firm.
Although Evan Stavisky lives with his wife in Rockland County, he is a Democratic district leader in Flushing’s 26th Assembly District. All the senator would say is that he has a co-op in Flushing. “I’m not responsible for him,” she added.
The 16th Senate District she represents covers a broad swath of northern, central and eastern Queens, ranging from a piece of Astoria to much of Flushing, from Woodside to Oakland Gardens.