Apr 17, 2009 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Once a SFD Deputy, Lance Denno now looks at-Large
Lance Denno knows a lot about fire fighting and public education. Retired after 30 years with the Syracuse Fire Department, he still carries the aftereffects of a building collapsing on him 15 years ago, covering him with a pile of bricks. The Nottingham High School graduate calls his time in the SFD a career second to none.
His wide-ranging knowledge of the issues confronting the Syracuse City School District has resulted from more years than he can count, studying, observing, and participating as a concerned volunteer. He is optimistic about the economic development needed to bring stability to the school system, and the community as a whole, but sees a need for reform of the local industrial development agencies.
The current 5th District Common Councilor sat to talk about the issues important to him as he wages a campaign for a Democratic ballot line in this fall’s citywide race for Councilor-at-Large. And while they were mostly educational, afterward he reflected, “There are a million other issues. Public Power. We need a competent contract attorney to review the franchise agreement with Niagara Mohawk (National Grid), which is over 100 years old. The devil’s always in the details, but the city should be able to establish a cooperative purchasing authority.”
Denno also focused on the franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable, currently up for review. “With Verizon interested in becoming competitive,” he said, “it opens up the opportunity to expand Public Access programming and open up a channel for the school system and one for broadcasting government meetings.”
He noted that the state agrees that something needs to be done with Route 81, either renovation or demolition.
“Whatever happens,” he said, “it should end south of Brighton Avenue. Tearing it down could create a boulevard with commercial potential to foster significant economic development on the Southside.”
Given your extensive experience with the city school system, what specifically could you accomplish in that area in four years as a Councilor-at-Large?
One of the critical functions right now is to build bridges between City Hall, both the Council and the administration, and the school district, both the Board of Education and the superintendent’s office. That’s absolutely critical. You see newspaper reports on lack of coordination of policy between the school district and City Hall. The Joint School Construction Board in one place this plays out with regularity. If I’m successful in this at-Large race, I would ask for an appointment to the board. I attend most, if not all, of the JSCB meetings, because I want to be fully prepared to step into that appointment if it becomes available.
What does the current economic crisis mean for the JSCB, and the future of the city in general?
The economic crisis impact on the JSCB project is hard to judge because it’s moving constantly in both directions. For instance, the collapse of commodity prices could result in a tremendous savings in terms of the price of copper. If you’re rebuilding all the plumbing facilities in a school, you’re going to save a lot of money on the price of copper compared to a year ago. At the same time, because of the turmoil in the financial markets, there is always a question of timing of bonding. It becomes that much more complex when the economy is unstable. It makes it hard to estimate ahead of time. One of the points of contention between the school district and the general contractors has been the amount of conditional funding they have been building in for unknown expenses.
Clearly, the other side is the dramatic cuts in school district funding coming from Albany. As a result of the campaign for fiscal equity and the AQE court settlement, the political settlement not the legal settlement, made a commitment of an additional $80 million, a recognition by the state that their financial commitment to the Syracuse City School District, is $80 million per year. And although they acknowledged that it was short $80 million, they did not come up with $80 million per year to address that. They came up with a program to be implemented over four years of approximately $20 million per year. We are two years into that program, and now we’re being stopped at that point. I believe that this is temporary, but it makes a $25 million difference in terms of revenue coming into the city school district from Albany this year.
So the impact is dramatic.
You have three announced opponents for two at-Large seats on the ballot. Does the Democrats’ voter registration edge mean the primary will be the real election?
That depends, to a large extent, on the candidates the Republicans come forward with. I have no idea who those candidates might be. I’m focused on presenting to the voters my issues for their judgement.
What do you think are the issues the voters really care about?
Well, I think first and foremost public education. Citywide, that is recognized as a critical issue, because it is both a matter directly of educating out children and preparing them to grow and develop, but it’s at the same time a critical economic driver. If we cannot maintain a solid body of middle class families in the city, we lose in terms of the economic viability of our communities. Obviously with housing stock, tax base and other drivers in the community, it’s one of the biggest problems we have faced over the years, and one that I believe we are beginning to turn. This is a big area, and it doesn’t turn on a dime. But I think we are gradually steering a course that has more long-term viability.
Can you point to specific examples of the turning?
First and foremost, head and shoulders above anything else, is the Say Yes program. This is, to use an overused term, transformative. It holds the promise, not only of college education for city high school graduates, but it holds the promise of being qualified, when you get out of high school, to go to college It doesn’t start with that, with a college tuition benefit. It starts with the supports in kindergarten for children who come to school less prepared than some other students might. It is a program that is coming to town, not only with a financial commitment, but with a proven track record in other communities of being successful under extremely difficult circumstances.
One of the reasons I am optimistic about the success of this program is because they take a long term view. They do not expect to hold out the promise of college tuition, and all of a sudden some kid in tenth grade changes his life. If that happens, great. But they understand that the kid in tenth grade is 15 years old and his emotional, psychological development is that of a fairly mature young person, and you need these supports throughout the development process.
The JSCB program is really an opportunity to bring to Syracuse over the next at least 12 years, the resources for what modern buildings should have for education, the technology. It shows the students in the buildings that their community values them.
When I took a tour of Seymour school about a year ago I was just amazed at the apparent effectiveness of incorporating the school into the social environment of the community. It’s a truly dual language approach, and a tremendous resource for everyone in the community, whether their native language is Spanish or something else.