Tag: New York Times

Quick Fix: Want Better Schools? You Might Have to Pay More for Your House, Make a Longer Commute

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Thursday, March 30, 2017 || By Local News Curator || @maywoodnews

The New York Times’ “The Upshot” blog has developed an interesting interactive graphic that shows the correlation between the price of homes (per square foot), the quality of schools (based on grade-level proficiency) and the average commute time of residents within a given school district.

The authors of the post, 

“There are many factors in a home price, of course, but economists have estimated that within suburban neighborhoods, a 5 percent improvement in test scores can raise prices by 2.5 percent. And for many cities, this is largely the pattern — prices rise with school quality. But there are some districts that break this pattern: schools that deliver on quality with homes that are relatively cheap.

Using home price data from Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, and school quality data based on test scores from the Stanford Education Data Archive, we developed a set of charts that look at school quality, home price and commute.”

You can read the entire article here. Below, we’ve extracted information available in the graphic that’s relevant to the Chicago area, particularly four local school districts.

For instance, Bellwood District 88, where residents pay $80 per square foot for housing, students perform 1.9 grade levels below average. The average commute time is less than 30 minutes.

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Maywood Looks to Make Washington Blvd. Pothole-free by 2020

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Washington Blvd., above | Google Earth || Bottom left: The street during roadway improvements made between 2nd and 9th Ave. in 2015. | File

Saturday, March 4, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

During a March 1 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, the Maywood Board of Trustees unanimously voted to direct village staff to apply for a county grant that could be the first step in a last push to finish resurfacing a remaining stretch of Washington Boulevard that’s badly in need of repair by 2020.

That grant preparation and talk of other street improvements are in anticipation of an infusion of federal infrastructure funding that might be available in the future.

Although village officials didn’t go into details about when, or in what specific form, that federal funding would come, local officials nationwide are positioning themselves for a possible infusion of cash in the wake President Donald Trump’s election. During his campaign, the president promised to deliver a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

According to policy experts and pundits, however, the president hasn’t publicized any details about the plan since taking office. Late last month, the New York Times editorial board wrote that “Republican sources sources told the news organization Axios […] that the White House wouldn’t unveil an infrastructure proposal until 2018.”

Local officials, however, are still taking steps to prepare for federal funding whenever, and however, it comes available.

During the March 1 meeting, Maywood officials said that they plan to seek $200,000 in county grant funds to spend on the design phase of a major Washington Blvd. enhancement project, which would make the project “shovel-ready” in the event that federal funding starts trickling down.

The grant is an aspect of the long-term transportation plan adopted by Cook County — the first in 75 years. After the plan’s adoption, the county’s Department of Transportation and Highways formed an $8.5 million pool of funds that would “cover the cost of planning and feasibility studies, engineering right-of-way acquisition, and construction associated with transportation improvements sponsored by local and regional governments and private partners,” according to the program’s website.

The program, also called Invest in Cook, is designed to help fund improvements that “are consistent with the five priorities” outlined in the county’s transportation plan, including the prioritization of modes of transportation that are alternatives to automobiles and the enhancement of the Cook County region’s “role as North America’s freight capital.”

During the March 1 LLOC meeting, Assistant Village Manager David Myers said that he and his staff attended a workshop on the county grant and an informational session on grant opportunities held recently in Bellwood and sponsored Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district encompasses most of Maywood.

Washington Blvd. is under village jurisdiction and is classified as a federal urban route, which means that it qualifies for federal funding. The resurfacing of a portion of the roadway, from 2nd to 9th Avenues, was completed in 2015.

Village officials said that it would cost an additional $3 million to complete the rest of Washington, from 1st to 21st Ave., that still needs to be resurfaced and enhanced. The federal government would pay around $1.2 million of that total. Officials said that they’ve been unsuccessful in prior attempts to secure funding for the much-needed improvements.

Myers said that Washington is a thoroughfare that connects multiple suburbs. One key criteria in the list of qualifications for the county grant is that the proposals benefit the region and not just a single municipality.

Myers added that the possible addition of a bike lane along Washington Blvd. could position the village to receive “extra credits” for being consistent with the county’s transportation priorities for the region, which include making infrastructure more amenable to alternative modes of transportation.

Other roadway priorities 

Myers said that village officials identified two other roadways in Maywood that might qualify for county funds to help pay for capital improvements. The roads — which include 19th Ave., from Oak St. to Madison St.; and Madison St., from First Ave. to the Des Plaines River — represent areas that are among the most concerning for village officials.

“The first thing on my list was Madison, from First to the bridge,” said Myers during last week’s LLOC meeting.

The total cost of that improvement project total more than $730,000, with around $550,000 coming from federal sources, village officials project.

Mark Lucas, an engineer with the village’s contracted firm Hancock Engineering, said that the village could secure a significant portion of funding for the Madison St. improvements from a grant from the North Central Council of Mayors and the Madison St. TIF fund. If the village can secure federal funding, construction on that stretch of road could be completed by next year.

The other problematic stretch of roadway, 19th Ave., from Oak to Madison, would cost over $2 million to fix, according to village officials. The federal government would cover around $1.2 million, with the village chipping in just over $800,000.

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A stretch of 19th Ave. in Maywood. | Google Earth 

Lucas said that 19th Avenue, which is currently designated a local roadway, could qualify as a federal urban route, opening it up to federal funding. The process, however, could take  up to 18 months, he said.

Village officials said that they recommended that Washington Blvd. be considered for the Invest in Cook grant, over the two previously mentioned capital projects, because “a major factor holding the project from proceeding is having a dedicated source of funds to complete it,” Lucas noted in a Feb. 22 memo.

“I am 100 percent on board with the Washington corridor,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon at the March 1 LLOC meeting.

“I think it makes sense,” he said. “It will be a long time coming for that particular area. It goes along with the completion of all those other major corridors like Madison and St. Charles. So many times, I hear people say that you know when you’ve reached Maywood, [while] driving down Washington Blvd because of the potholes you hit. We’re almost there, let’s finish the work.”

Myers said that village officials are currently working on the county grant, the deadline for which is March 15. VFP

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Unsurprisingly, District 89 Sixth Graders Lag Way Behind Rich Students, Study Shows

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A New York Times graphic, based on data compiled by researchers at Stanford, showing a correlation between socioeconomic status and academic performance among sixth graders throughout the country. | Screenshot

Friday, April 29, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

An April 29 New York Times article, seizing on recent research out of Stanford University, paints in vivid, data-rich detail what many people, by now, simply intuit.

On average, sixth graders at District 89 schools performed more than five grade levels lower on reading and math tests than sixth graders in Lexington, Massachusetts between 2009 and 2012.

More locally, D89 sixth graders performed nearly four grade levels lower than their counterparts in River Forest District 90 — where children performed nearly three grades ahead — and in Oak Park District 97 — where they performed nearly two grades ahead.

The reason for the discrepancies aren’t shrouded in mystery.

The median family income in District 89 during the years in question was $47,000, according to the Stanford study. The district’s student population is 55 percent Hispanic and 41 percent African-American. In Lexington, the median family income is $163,000 and the student body is 59 percent white and 33 percent Asian/other.

In Oak Park, the median family income was nearly $100,000 and the student population was around 56 percent white and 13 percent Asian/other. In River Forest, median family income was more than $180,000 and the student population was 76 percent white and 10 percent Asian/other.

Most other public school districts across the country, the data shows, are governed by the same stubborn dynamics of race and economics. There are two axes on the Times’s beautifully rendered graph. The horizontal axes reflects parents’ socioeconomic status while the vertical axes reflects grade-level performance on reading and math tests relative to other public school districts.

As is expected, there’s an undeniable correlation between the median family income and academic performance. As the Times notes:

“What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

“Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

“These schools can face a myriad of challenges. They tend to have more difficulty recruiting and keeping the most skilled teachers, and classes are more likely to be disrupted by violent incidents or the emotional fallout from violence in the neighborhood. These schools often offer fewer high-level classes such as Advanced Placement courses, and the parents have fewer resources to raise extra money that can provide enhanced arts programs and facilities.”

Perhaps somewhat less surprisingly, however, is this graph:

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The Times:

“Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides andKenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools.” VFP

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In honor of the late Lennel Grace, a tireless Maywood advocate for clean paths, sidewalks and streets, attend this year’s annual Illinois Prairie Path Cleanup, Saturday, April 30, 8:45 a.m. to 12 p.m., starting at 11th Avenue and Prairie Path, in Maywood. RSVP JoAnn Murphy, so she can plan accordingly.

Operation Uplift to host April 30 reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon

West TownOperation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.

“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth,  community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.

The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.

It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.

Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.

For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email operationupliftinc@gmail.com. VFP

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In Honor of Dr. King, A Defense of Black Men

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A Jan. 16 panel discussion in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King at Hope Tabernacle Community Church in Forest Park turned into a lively discussion on the state of black men in America. | Michael Romain 

Saturday, January 16, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

More than 100 people from across the western suburbs and Chicago gathered at Hope Tabernacle Community Church in Forest Park on Jan. 16 to reflect on the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was the previous day.

Bishop Reginald Saffo, pastor of United Faith Missionary Baptist Church and president of United Faith Christian Institute and Bible College in Maywood, hosted the event. He said he wanted to highlight the multidimensional aspects of King’s message.

“I believe that it is essential to show that there was another aspect to Dr. King,” he said. “He was an academic and a preacher as well, but he had a whole lot to say. We wanted to capture his emphasis on education and policy-making.”

But what was partly a commemoration of a glorious past was also a candid discussion on the present state of African-American males — those human beings who have acquired an almost unicorn-like mythology in the American public’s imagination and not in the least because they are, like that made-up creature, the products of other people’s fictions. And that could be, in part, due to their absence.

“For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men,” notes a 2015 New York Times article. “The remaining men – 1.5 million of them – are, in a sense, missing.”

Among cities, Ferguson, Missouri has the largest gap between black women and black men. In Ferguson, there are 40 “missing black men for every 100 black women.”

The gap, the Times claims, is largely due to early deaths and prison. Futhermore, the gap “barely exists among whites.” There is only one missing white man for every 100 white women.

At the Jan. 16 event, however, a panel of actual black men — representing both themselves and the millions who are, for all intents and purposes, voiceless — pushed back against what might be considered to be the myth of their total absence.

Dr. Dennis Deer, a psychologist and president of Deer Rehabilitation Services, Inc., said on the West Side of Chicago, where he lives, there are ample mentoring programs.

“There are some black men who are grabbing young, black brothers and pulling them forward,” Deer said. “It happens every single week, or two or three times a week. Young brothers, some of them fathers already, are being taught how to take care of their children, because some of them are fathers already. We just gave a young man clothing for his two-month baby, because he didn’t have any clothes. This stuff is really happening in the community.”

Jesse “FX” Ingram, a retired Maywood Police officer and security administrator at Proviso East High School, said he’s a constant presence in the hallways.

“I talk to children in the school everyday,” the 63-year-old said. “I’m in the hallway everyday. I’m 63 and God blessed me to still be moving. I engage them. We have to be responsive to children. We have to keep talking to them and giving them information when we talk to them. We can’t be afraid of them.”

Proviso East Principal Dr. Patrick Hardy related his own experience of ‘being present.’ His mentee, he said, was not at the event, because the young man was busy with his preparation for law school at the University of Missouri. For black men, absence doesn’t always mean prison or early death, Hardy indicated.

“There are programs that are going on,” said Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley, who was in the audience. “In fact, the reason why I was delayed was beause I was at a mentoring program hosted by Rep. [Emanuel “Chris”] Welch.”

But audience members didn’t steer around the brutal reality they said is nonetheless prevalent in many black communities.

Mike Burries, an audience member who fielded a question to Hardy and his co-panelists, was blunt about what he considers to be the fragmented nature of many community programs and services designed to address the myriad problems with black youth.

“I realize there are a lot of people in our community who are doing a lot of stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff being done, but I’m going to keep it real with you. The reason we’re here is because nothing is being accomplished. And the reason nothing is being accomplished is because we know where we’re at, but we don’t know where we’ll be. What are we doing to bring us together so we can stop talking about what black boys are not doing and what kids in school aren’t doing?”

Talley reinforced Burries’s critique, noting that he’d like to see more coordination among various services and organizations.

“There are a lot of programs, but I wish that we, as African-Americans, would coordinate more,” he said.

Barbara Cole, the founder of Maywood Youth Mentoring, agreed and recommended a series of action steps, such as putting together a sign-in sheet with contacts of people who would be willing to volunteer with local youth.

“The problem is bigger than all of us and nobody’s single program is going to solve it,” she said.

“The biggest need that I see with the 1,870 students that i get to work with everyday doesn’t involve anyone in this room unless you’re one of my parents and that is the lack of parents,” Hardy said.

“I don’t know how to solve that. I don’t agree with the idea that it takes a village to raise a child,” he said. “The Bible says children obey your parents. When I call home, I need a parent to answer the phone.”

“Nobody has all the answers, but if we come together collectively, we can probably … get some things done,” said Mark Jones, one of the panelists, who echoed some of Cole’s recommendations.

Some of the panelists’ closing comments began coalescing around King’s message of love and justice.

“None of you truly believe until you wish upon your brother what you wish upon yourself,” Ingram said, quoting a religious proverb.

Alexis Spearman, a student at Walther Christian Academy and one of the event’s panelists, quoted King directly.

“We will not be satisifed until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” she said. VFP 

Congressman Davis Votes Against Toxic $1.2 Trillion Spending Bill

Congressional Vote ImageA govtrack.us infographic illustrating the vote breakdown on the omnibus spending package that narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday.

Friday, December 12, 2014 || By Michael Romain

The bill, which narrowly passed the House, handicaps key government agencies and further corrupts the country’s campaign finance system – but it averts another government shutdown

In yet another case of political brinkmanship that has come to characterize modern-day Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion spending bill with less than three hours to spare before the second government shutdown in two years would have taken effect.

The bill, which narrowly passed the House 219-206 – 57 Democrats voted in favor of it – should be enough to keep the federal government running into next year, but it comes at a major cost to the common good. U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th), who represents much of Proviso Township, Oak Park and the West Side of Chicago, voted against the spending bill.

Sneaked into the bill by conservatives were “two regressive ‘riders’ aimed at warming the big-money hearts of donors who leave Congress increasingly vulnerable to special-interest corruption,” as a New York Times editorial stated yesterday.

One rider would increase the limits on how much individual donors can give to political parties from $97,200 to $777,600. The Times calls this the “coup de grace” for the McCain-Feingold law’s ban on large party donations.”

Another rider is similarly toxic, in this instance to a critical piece of the Dodd-Frank reform law that passed in the wake of the recent economic meltdown caused by reckless, runaway speculation by “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street banks.

“The rider would effectively put taxpayers back on the hook to cushion the banks’ losses in risky derivative deals,” the Times notes.

In addition to those riders, the bill also calls for more budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service—all while ensuring that large corporations in the oil, gas and finance industries (which are major Republican and Democratic donors) are much freer to run roughshod over the environment and the lives of all but the wealthiest citizens and consumers.

And yet, President Obama’s White House has begrudgingly been lobbying members of Congress to pass the bill in order to prevent another government shutdown. The bill’s provisions, though, have so incensed Democratic lawmakers, that many on Capitol Hill have taken to calling it a “cromnibus” spending package,” according to a Politico report.

Although the Senate passed a temporary two-day funding bill that would avert the government shutdown which would have started at midnight today, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that the Senate may not pass the “cromnibus” until Monday. VFP

Cost of Coverage Under Affordable Care Act to Increase in 2015 — New York Times

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Screenshot 2014-11-17 at 10.34.09 AMA map of affordable care rate increases across the country. Graphic by the New York Times based on data analyzed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Monday, November 17, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

BEFORE YOU READ: Don’t Forget, this Saturday, November 22, from 11 AM to 4 PM, Operation Uplift & the West Town Museum of Cultural History will be holding their 12th annual Bake Sale and Holiday Bazaar to raise funds for great causes. 

Individuals covered by insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act could potentially face a significant uptick in the cost of their plans — “in some cases as much as 20 percent” — according to the New York Timeswhich analyzed data  made available recently by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

According to the Times‘ analysis, the cost hike in Cook County for those using “lowest-priced silver plans will increase by 10 percent of more.”

As of October 2014, overall enrollment in both the regular ACA program and in CountyCare, Cook County’s version of the ACA for low-income individuals, was about 179,000 in Chicago and about 160,000 in the collar counties (excluding Chicago).

Nearly half of those enrolled were between the ages of 35 and 64. Thirty-one percent of all those enrolled were African American.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 at 11.01.28 AMData extracted from the Illinois Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). Chart by State of Illinois. 

“The new data means that many of the seven million people who have bought insurance through federal and state exchanges will have to change to different health plans if they want to avoid paying more — an inconvenience for consumers just becoming accustomed to their coverage,” the Times article notes.

The data was made available hours before the ACA’s federal insurance exchange was to open to consumers looking to sign up for coverage for 2015.

“Consumers should shop around,” said Marilyn B. Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that operates the federal insurance exchange for three dozen states.

“With new options available this year, they’re likely to find a better deal,” she told the Times. Below is an ACA enrollment FAQ prepared by the New York Times: VFP

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Still Drowning: ZIP Codes in Hillside, Melrose Park Listed Among 395 in US with Highest Proportion of Underwater Mortgages

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Saturday, November 8, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

This article is sponsored by Villegas Headstones and Monuments – Support them because they support us.

Despite claims of a recovery, many places around the country are still reeling from the pain of the housing crisis

A May 2014 article in the New York Times, entitled “What Housing Recovery?” noted that, although frequent “reports about rising prices suggest that tens of millions of people whose homes lost value just have to wait until the recovery reaches their neighborhood to life them out of crisis” — the grand total of the nation’s owner-occupied housing is still $3.2 trillion less than what it was in 2006.

That reality of a stalled recovery was reinforced by a study released earlier this year by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, which claims that “more than 10 million Americans live in the 395 ZIP codes where between 43 and 76 percent of homeowners are underwater” (a homeowner is underwater when she owes more on her property than it’s worth).

Two of those ZIP codes are in Hillside and Melrose Park. The two Proviso Township suburbs are among 47 other ZIP code areas in Illinois — including Aurora, Berkeley, Cicero, Joliet and Romeoville — that are on the “hardest-hit” list.

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By comparison, in Chicago, which had several ZIP code areas ranked among the “hardest-hit,” 30 percent of the homes are underwater.

“In 146 of the 395 hardest-hit ZIP codes, African-Americans and Latinos account for at least half the population,” the study claims. Moreover, it pointed out that many underwater homeowners are locked into predatory adjustable rate mortgages, with interest rates that will skyrocket at some point in the future, leaving these homeowners even more likely to default.

The study also found that large institutional investors, such as hedge funds, investment firms and large banks, have been purchasing residential properties in these hard hit ZIP codes, typically at basement bargain prices, and artificially pushing up the market value of these homes — making them unaffordable to rent, much less own, for the people in those communities who need habitation the most.

The Haas Insitute lists a series of policy recommendations to mitigate the host of problems affecting “hardest-hit” ZIP codes. They include:

  • “Loan holders — banks, government-sponsored enterprises (i.e. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are regulated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, FHFA), and investors — should reduce the principal on underwater mortgages to current market values.”
  • “If loan holders are unwilling or unable to reduce the principal on underwater mortgages to current market values, they should allow these loans to be purchased by publicly-owned or nonprofit entities that are willing to restructure them with fair and affordable terms.”
  • “Local municipalities should use all options at their disposal to facilitate the goal of resetting mortgages to current market values, including the use of ‘reverse eminent domain’ (the program proposed by Richmond, California and elsewhere) to acquire mortgages in order to restructure them with fair and equitable terms. VFP

To read the full study, click here

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