Size Matters: Advocating for New York History

Since my emergency post of April 22 a lot has happened.

1. MANY/Museumwise held its annual conference
2. APHNYS held its annual conference at the same time
3. The NYS Board of Regents met
4. Gov. Cuomo created a New York Education Reform Commission
5. Gov. Cuomo’s &#8220Path Through History&#8221 initiative scheduled a meeting for May 21

Let’s see if it is possible to make sense of some of these developments. Read more

Late-Breaking: Failed Tests and the NYS Regents

The New York State Board of Regents will be meeting on Monday and Tuesday, April 23-24, in Albany. The meeting overlaps with the Museumwise/MANY conference in Albany which I will be attending and the Public Historians meeting in Long Island which I will not be able to attend since I already had registered for the Albany meeting. Communication and planning among the various groups leaves a lot to be desired. Read more

Social Studies Curriculum Revisions

During the recent spate of posts on this site regarding the New York State Social Studies curriculum revision, some commentators asked whom to contact. The person is charge of this initiative is Dr. Lawrence Paska, Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction, NYS Education Department, 89 Washington Avenue, Room 318 EB Albany, NY 12234. 518-474-5922. [email protected],gov Read more

Brodsky Praises Regents Collection Sales Reform

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, now Senior Fellow at Demos and the Wagner School at NYU, has released the following statement in response to the New York State Board of Regents enactment of deaccessioning regulations which closely track his legislative efforts over the past ten years:

“The regulations adopt the principle that museum collection should not be monetized for the purposes of operating expenses and assert the public trust and the public interest with respect to museum collections.

This is an extraordinary moment in the cultural history of the state. The Regents, under the leadership of Merryl Tisch and Committee on Cultural Education Chairman Roger Tilles, have vindicated fundamental cultural values, and help preserve New York’s museum collections for future generations. New York is again leading the nation and the world as new economic realities endanger museum collections everywhere. Repeated attempts to deaccession collections in order to pay bills has been a painful and repeated reality. It sets forth rules that permit institutions to function but protects the public interest in collections that the public has helped assemble.

The heart of this struggle has been to prevent the selling off of collections for the purposes of operating expenses. That principle has long been asserted by the museum community itself and groups such as the American Association of Museum Directors and the Museum Association of New York, have been stalwart and uncompromising in their principled positions. This victory would not have been achieved without their leadership.

It is important to note that the regulations leave with individual museums the decision about what to collect and what to deaccession. What the regulations do is assure that the current economic crisis will not result in a massive shift of publicly accessible art into private hands.

Our legislation would have extended these principles to all New York museums. There remain a handful of legislatively chartered institutions that are not subject to Regents supervision. I urge them to explicitly adopt these principles even as the Legislature continues to consider how best to set one uniform standard for all New York museums.

New York is the cultural capital of the world. We enjoy the generosity of private donors and philanthropists, huge numbers of semi public and public institutions, and the populous that supports and enjoys its thousands of museums. This action today by the Board of Regents will assure New York’s continued leadership and preeminence. My special thanks to my colleagues Matthew Titone and Steve Englebright who continue to lead this legislative effort, to MANY Director Anne Ackerson, to Michael Botwinick, Director of the Hudson River Museum and Vice President of MANY, Regent James Dawson, the staff of the Department of Education, and to the thousands of involved and passionate New Yorkers who insisted that our collections be protected.”

A pdf pf the rule can be found here.

Illustration: Gleyna, or A View Near Ticonderoga. The 1826 Thomas Cole painting held by the Fort Ticonderoga Museum which faced the possibility of selling a portion of it’s collection in recent years.

History Canceled:Regents Eliminates History Assesments

The New York State Board of Regents voted to approve two sets of strategies to achieve cost reductions in the state assessment program at its full Board meeting in Albany this week. History educators will no doubt be appalled at the elimination of 5th and 8th grade Social Studies examinations, which include the history curriculum. The two plans were laid out in a press release:

* If the State budget includes the $7 million that the Regents have requested for the assessment program, the Board approved a cost reduction of $4.25 million to be achieved through reduced reliance on educational specialists in developing tests ($1.25 million), discontinuance of paper-based scoring materials for examinations ($.60 million), elimination of component retesting for high school Math and English exams ($1.6 million), and elimination of 5th and 8th grade Social Studies examinations ($.80 million).

* If the State budget does not include the $7 million that the Regents have requested, or a final State Budget is not in place by August 1, 2010, the Board approved additional reductions of $6.1 million to further offset the deficit. These reductions would be achieved by eliminating Grade 8 second language proficiency exams ($2.0 million), eliminating August administration of Algebra II/Trigonometry and Chemistry high school Regents exams ($.8 million), eliminating all high school Foreign Language exams except for Spanish and French($1.2 million), an immediate end to translation of state assessments into Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Korean, and Russian while continuing translation into Spanish ($.75 million), and eliminating January high school Regents exams ($1.4 million).

Should additional funds be included in the P-12 budget the reductions listed last in the priority order above would be the first to be restored.

&#8220These were tough decisions made in light of the State’s difficult financial situation&#8221 Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said, &#8220Foremost in our consideration was the concern we heard from stakeholders across the State that the cuts to the assessment program made to achieve savings should not have an impact on high school graduation.&#8221

Background on these decisions was also provided in the press release, as follows:

The State Education Department’s expense to operate the assessment program continues to rise in light of the State’s fiscal crisis as a result of several factors including: inflation, the addition of examinations, increased cost of testing vendor contracts, and the need for more test security. Based on the Executive Budget, SED projects a deficit of approximately $11.5 million in available funding in 2010-11 for P-12 programs, including the assessment program. The Regents have requested $7 million in additional State funds for the assessment program from the Legislature. The State Education Department has limited ability to address the P-12 deficit by redirecting federal or state funds dedicated to specific purposes by title or statute. SED will explore further internal cost reduction strategies to eliminate the remaining deficit of $1.1 million in the P-12 budget.

Full details of the cost reduction strategies the Board of Regents approved are on the web.

A webcast of the full board meeting of the Board of Regents is also available online.

Fort Ticonderoga Financial Crisis May Spread

The Associated Press is reporting that the New York State Board of Regents, which oversees museums in the state, may change their policy to allow museums to sell their collections in order to pay back debt. The change is a result of Fort Ticonderoga’s recent financial troubles. Here is a clip from the story:

The state Board of Regents started working on an &#8220emergency amendment&#8221 to the rules governing how museums can manage collections because it appeared that Fort Ticonderoga, a historic site and museum in northern New York, was on the verge of bankruptcy, said James Dawson, chairman of the board’s Cultural Education Committee&#8230- State rules currently require museums to use the money from such sales only to buy other works or enhance their collections.

The emergency amendment would allow museums to sell off works to pay down debt if they can show that they have no other way to raise the money and would otherwise go bankrupt. The museums also would only be allowed to sell the works to another museum or historical society in New York.

The Board was to have taken up the amendment at a meeting Monday but Dawson — who represents northern New York on the Board of Regents — said he withdrew the proposal Thursday, partly because Fort Ticonderoga was able to raise enough money to stay out of bankruptcy court.

The plan has come to light just two weeks after the National Academy in Manhattan (not subject to the Board of Regents) sold off two Hudson River School paintings. Other cultural institutions in the state are also facing financial hardships that have been reported here at the New York History blog, including local libraries and Amsterdam’s Elwood Museum. Last month Fort Ticonderoga laid-off four employees and closed an office building (BTW, the Smithsonian is also facing financial hardship and recently cut salaries).

It was announced in July that Fort Ticonderoga faced financial ruin after Deborah Mars, a Ticonderoga native married to the billionaire co-owner of the Mars candy company Forrest Mars Jr., bailed on their long-time support for the fort just before completion of the new $23 million Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. The Mars paid for nearly all of the new building’s construction but left before it was finished leaving Fort Ti about two million dollars in debt. When the building bearing their name opened, they didn’t show.

Other options that have been floated include applying for new short-term loans, a new capital campaign to raise $3 million to $5 million, asking the state for a bailout or to take over ownership of the fort, selling of some of the fort’s property or collections or closing for an indefinite period until the finances are sorted out.
Coincidentally, Ticonderoga was also considering selling a Hudson River School painting, Thomas Cole’s 1831 &#8220Ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.&#8221

According to the Associated Press:

Anne Ackerson, director of the Museum Association of New York, said her group was among those opposing the idea of allowing museums to sell their collections to pay debts. While it might be a short-term fix for some museums’ financial problems, it might dissuade others from seeking other solutions when money gets tight, she said.

The Board of Regents rules governing the sale of museum holdings were established in the early 1990s when the New York Historical Society faced financial problems.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Queens Democrat who chaired an investigative committee at the time, said he was happy to hear the Board of Regents had withdrawn the emergency amendment proposal but remained concerned that they might still try to tweak other parts of the rules that define what qualifies as part of a museum’s collection.

Brodsky said he urged the Regents to hold off on making any changes until after a more thorough review involving museums, the Legislature and others with an interest.