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My View: May 3, 2006

By Jeff Berkman

Orange County Community College has provided educational opportunities, employment training and cultural enrichment programs for all members of our community for over 55 years.  Preparations for securing and expanding the college to keep pace with rapid population growth are in order. 

Working to expand the college in both Middletown and Newburgh is exciting and worthwhile, provided that the process is open and offers fair opportunities for public involvement.  The much heralded college expansion in Newburgh has been accompanied with closed door meetings, lack of full legislative input and insufficient disclosure of impacts on the main campus in Middletown.   We seek to change the direction of this flawed process and offer the following points for public consideration.

  1. It makes good business sense to expand the O.C.C.C. extension center in Newburgh, particularly since the Kaplan Foundation seeks to donate $10 million dollars toward that effort.  Larger facilities with more classes would augment needed educational opportunities and could assist city efforts with needed economic development for Broadway.  However, it is not yet clear that a “new college” with independent degree conferring capability is in the best financial interests of the taxpayers of our county.  Certainly, this has not been proven.

    Orange County taxpayers are currently paying well above the 1/3 financing commitment for community college expenses that the state envisioned when the system was established.  Several legislators are reasonably apprehensive that paying for two campuses may outstrip our ability to maintain current levels of support.  We have legitimate concerns about additional administrative costs and redundant service which would lead to higher tuition.  We must not push educational costs beyond the reach of the very people we intend to service. A largely expanded satellite may prove to be a more cost effective endeavor.
                           
  2. Expansion plans should include unfinished projects in Middletown such as the long planned “Gilman Center for International Studies” at the college library.   College and county officials must commit to completion of this project.  Public use of Tuckerman Hall and the Kleiner Building at the Middletown Psychiatric Center should be considered.

    A multi-use auditorium for theatre and arts programs should be built at the Middletown campus.  The taxpayers will be better served  if this facility is constructed at the college rather than adjacent to the jail site in Goshen.

  3. O.C.C.C. provides space and support for the Liberty Partnership Program for 240 students in the Newburgh School District.  This important program helps “at risk” youth to stay in school.  Middletown kids are no less deserving.  A pilot program for 50 students for Middletown should be implemented based on need.  This will reduce the high school dropout rate.

Effective government requires boldness of action coupled with clarity of purpose.  While the Newburgh expansion concept for O.C.C.C. is bold, the County Executive and college officials have not been clear in explaining the impacts on the main campus in Middletown.  A better idea is to open the process so that all legislators and interested citizens may contribute and are respected for their input. 

We remain hopeful that by working together we can develop a strategy for balanced college growth that will unite communities; and bring forward a plan benefiting the people of Orange County.

Jeffrey Berkman    
Orange County Legislator 20th dist.

Tom Pahucki           
Orange Co. Legislator21st dist. 

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Jeffrey Berkman
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