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October 1, 1999 

Business must continue urging pro-growth policies in New York; We must also support stronger schools for our kids.

By Peter I. Bijur

Editor's note: Peter Bijur, chairman and chief executive officer of Texaco Inc., was elected chairman of The Business Council Sept. 22. This column is excerpted from remarks he made that evening to members at The Business Council's Annual Meeting.

New York's business community must strengthen its advocacy for New York's renaissance-because much remains to be done to strengthen our comeback.

Many issues require The Business Council's attention; but as I talk with our members from Buffalo to Long Island, two stand out.

The first issue concerns our children. What could be more important to them than the schools that are teaching tomorrow's workers, managers, and entrepreneurs?

New York schools can and must get better, and business in New York must redouble its commitment to making that improvement possible.

New York's schools have made progress but the schools in New York need the continued strong advocacy of The Business Council.

You no doubt remember that The Council strongly supported New York's tough new academic standards that all schoolchildren must meet to earn a diploma.

And, again with Business Council support, New York has lowered, ever so slightly, its institutional barriers to charter schools. By operating outside school-system rules and bureaucracies, charter schools will make possible innovations in teaching and learning.

There is more that business must do to help our schools do their job.

Business must be firm . . . and public . . . and loud . . . in support of the academic standards. And we must be equally firm in support for the resources which are needed to do the job. To provide the money for extra help with summer school, after school, and readiness-to-learn programs.

Inevitably, more students will repeat courses and grades. This may lead to an outcry to lower standards.

For our kids' future-and for our future prosperity-New York must not retreat from high standards. New York's schoolchildren are more than equal to this challenge.

Business must also urge creation of more charter schools. This year, there are a handful statewide. There can and should be more. Every New York student benefits when more schools are freed from hardened bureaucracies and made more accountable for results. In New York right now, charter schools are the best current hope for that freedom and accountability.

Beyond tough standards, we must insist that all students have a chance to learn in schools that put childrens' needs ahead of the traditions of the education establishment. Teachers must be a part of the plan.

The second major concern I hear about over and over again is New York's property taxes. They are too high. The Public Policy Institute showed this starkly in Just the Facts, The Institute's annual compendium of key competitiveness indicators. New York State property taxes per capita are by far the nation's highest, more than twice the national average.

Local property taxes are an insidious political problem because they are often driven up by mandates imposed by Albany. The Public Policy Institute will soon release a major report on this problem. The Business Council and others will then develop a new legislative agenda to try to push for mandate relief that will put sane property tax levels within reach.

Once again, success will be possible only if we work together to persuade New York to do the right things. Together, with each Business Council member contributing what it can to the effort, we will see progress on the things that mean the most to us.