Many substitute teachers depend on the work for their primary income. They can’t afford the risk of retaliation. Maia Hibbett
Long-term subs stay with the same classes and can serve like full-time teachers. New York City schools misclassify them — so their pay doesn't reflect that.
By Teddy Ostrow

When the Queens public school where she was working assigned Antonietta Auriemma to seven classroom sections, she realized something was wrong.

Between January and June 2023, Auriemma, a substitute teacher, filled in for two different teachers on long-term leaves of absence, on top of extra classroom periods as needed.

According to her handbook, she should have been classified as a “long-term sub” — and qualified for the requisite pay and benefits.

New York municipalities used to keep the surplus from foreclosed homes sold at auction. Then the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Tune in to Radio Catskill’s interview with our Report for America economic development reporter Arabella Saunders.

The city Department of Education instructed schools to exclude nearly all substitute teachers from Covid leave benefits. Maia Hibbett
The state established Covid leave to compensate employees who fell ill during the pandemic. One group of essential workers has been unable to claim it.
By Teddy Ostrow

Shane Lorenzen finally caught Covid days before Christmas in 2022.

A substitute teacher in New York City, he knew the state offered paid Covid leave to public employees — a key protection for essential workers put in place early in the pandemic. But when he asked his school payroll secretary about it, she informed him that as a sub, he didn’t qualify.

Like thousands of substitutes, Lorenzen helped prop up the city’s education system throughout the pandemic. He signed up in March 2020 to staff one of the education centers for the children of healthcare professionals, transit workers, and other frontline employees when regular schools were closed to other kids. During the omicron wave in January 2022, he was in the classroom as thousands of teachers went on sick leave.

When Lorenzen tested positive himself, the denial of paid leave felt like a slap in the face. He tried to insist — and was asked not to come back to his school.

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The Court of Appeals has heard far fewer criminal cases in recent years — but the trend may be reversing. Darren McGee / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Some Court of Appeals judges are far more likely to grant requests to hear appeals than others, a New York Focus analysis found.
By Sam Mellins

If you’re looking to appeal your criminal case to New York’s top court, your chances come down to a roll of the dice.

Each request for the Court of Appeals to reconsider a lower court decision is randomly assigned to one of the court’s seven judges, who then unilaterally decides whether to hear the case. Some are much more likely to say yes than others.

Led by a new chief judge, the court appears to have shifted left on criminal issues, with several closely divided recent cases breaking in favor of defendants. Now, defense lawyers are watching to see whether the court will also hear more of their clients’ appeals, after former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore oversaw a dramatic shrinkage of the court’s criminal caseload. Occasionally, lower court judges send cases to the Court of Appeals, but DiFiore sought to curtail this practice, too.

Irwin Rosenthal asked: Why does the bottle bill fail every year?

First, some context: Under a longstanding state law meant to incentivize recycling, New Yorkers pay a five cent “deposit” when they buy certain canned or bottled drinks. If you return the bottle, you get the deposit back (and the store or redemption center gets a 3.5 cent “handling fee” for processing the return).

The deposit amount hasn’t budged since the program was set up 40 years ago. Back then, 5 cents were worth a lot more — about 15 cents in today’s dollars. The handling fee hasn’t been increased for fifteen years, either. That means that the incentive to recycle has steadily weakened over time.

For years, lawmakers have introduced a bill to double the deposit, increase the handling fee, and expand the law to cover more beverages. It polls fairly well. Environmental groups, pointing to New York’s overflowing landfills, strongly support it. So do redemption centers, suffering from a wave of closures.

Now, your question. Why does it fail every year? The expanded bill has faced widespread industry opposition: restaurants and other retailers say they don’t have the space to store returned bottles, and beverage distributors, on the hook for the handling fees, warn that they’ll pass on the increased cost to consumers.

Perhaps as a result, neither Governor Andrew Cuomo nor Governor Kathy Hochul have backed it, and the legislature hasn’t prioritized it. (In 2019, Cuomo backed an expansion of what beverages were covered, but not the size of the deposit, but his proposal failed.) The bill would likely have to pass through the state budget process, over which New York Focus readers know the governor exerts substantial control.

But there are signs the bill is gaining momentum. Last year, the Senate included it in its budget proposal. In January, more than 300 business, environmental and civic groups asked Hochul to include it in her executive budget. (She didn’t.)

Asked whether the legislature would include the bill in their “one-house” budget proposals next month, New York Public Interest Research Group executive director Blair Horner said, “Hard to say, but we’re trying!” 

New York Focus climate reporter Julia Rock


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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