Hempstead school district focuses on grades, curriculum

Raising the graduation rate and student test scores, improving the curriculum, stabilizing the system’s financial position and addressing overcrowding are among top priorities the Hempstead school district plans to tackle this school year .

The goals were outlined in an updated action plan the district submitted to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia as it moves into its second year with special adviser Jack Bierwirth, named by Elia to help turn around the largest K-12 system in Nassau County.

“We work every day to fulfill our motto of ‘Students first’ and we are confident that our priority list reflects that commitment,” school board President LaMont Johnson said in an emailed statement. “We know we have a lot of work to do, but having a game-winning plan is the first step to getting there.”

Bierwirth, a veteran Long Island educator, was appointed by Elia in fall 2017. In his role as “distinguished educator,” he serves as a nonvoting board member, assessing difficulties in the 8,000-plus student system and reporting back to the commissioner.

On Oct. 2, Elia extended Bierwirth’s appointment for a second one-year term and called on the Hempstead school board to “develop a revised action plan to address significant areas of concern and ensure they are priorities of the district.”

The plan, created over the last few weeks by the five-member board and Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong, also outlines what the board would like Bierwirth to work on with them for the remaining 11 months of his appointment.

The state Education Department on Monday confirmed its receipt of the plan and said it is being reviewed.

Bierwirth, noting the board’s “excellent discussion” of the action plan, said, “I was very glad to see the board come together and spend a lot of time focusing on the priorities that need to be addressed over the next year. I really appreciated all of the time and attention given to instructional issues.”

Developer plans 265 apartments, retail around Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink

An Indianapolis developer plans to transform the block around the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink station with a $70 million development adding 265 apartments and 34,000 square feet of retail.

The Bi-State Development Board of Commissioners on Friday voted to proceed with the project. The Bi-State-owned parking lot at the northwest corner of Forest Park Parkway and DeBaliviere Avenue along with the drop-off lot on the east side of DeBaliviere Avenue are targeted for new apartment and retail buildings.

The privately owned strip mall to the north of the Bi-State parking lot is also part of the project, slated for a four-story, 106-apartment building with 16,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The Bi-State parking lot will be turned into a six-story building with 108 apartments and almost 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. Metro’s drop-off lot across the street would become a five-story, 51-apartment building with 5,000 square feet of street-level retail. Plans also call for public art and streetscape improvements.

“We are excited to partner on a project that will completely transform the area around one of Metro’s most popular transit centers and bring new resources and amenities to the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood,” Bi-State President and CEO John Nations said in a statement.

Pearl Cos. Principal Jeff Tegethoff said his firm made an “unsolicited” offer for Bi-State real estate and has been working for months on a deal. Pearl has site control over all the real estate, including the strip center owned by DeBaliviere Community Center LP, Tegethoff said.

MetroLink will share some of the 342 parking spaces planned for underground garages in the development and have, “at a minimum,” as many as it does now on the surface parking lot, Tegethoff said.

Tegethoff, a St. Louis native whose firm has recently embarked on several major developments in the region, said the project will be “catalytic” and “change the narrative for public transit in St. Louis.”

Other than downtown MetroLink stops, the Metro Landing senior living development in Swansea and the recently built Sunnen Station Apartments near a stop in Maplewood, the Forest Park-DeBaliviere station would be one of only a handful of the region’s light rail stops immediately surrounded by dense residential development.

Joel Fuoss, principal at St. Louis-based Trivers Associates Architects, which is designing the project, said he commuted on MetroLink for 10 years and tried to design the development from a commuter’s perspective. Unlike many MetroLink stops, a “prominent” residential neighborhood surrounds the Forest Park-DeBaliviere stop, he said.

“It’s in a really great spot for this to happen and to have a developer who’s really tuned in to the urban fabric and what’s going on in other cities … you add those things together and the willingness of the partners who have been involved and you see stuff like this happen,” Fuoss said.

The project still needs final approvals from St. Louis and the Federal Transit Administration. The structure of the deal is still being finalized, so it wasn’t immediately clear whether Bi-State would sell its lots to Pearl Companies outright or lease the land to the firm. But the neighborhood has already expressed its support for the proposal.

The Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood plan, adopted by the city last year, envisions the MetroLink parking lot being “developed into something more substantial,” said Brandon Sterling, executive director of the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Council. He said the neighborhood hopes “the project will be something the whole region will be excited about.”

Located on the northern edge of Forest Park, the development would also be on the recently opened Loop Trolley line, which runs between the Delmar Loop and the Missouri History Museum, in addition to MetroLink.

“We understand we’re right smack dab in the middle of it all. We’re surrounded by some of St. Louis’ best amenities,” Sterling told the Post-Dispatch. “We really want to show off the neighborhood and have a project that serves as a great entry point and an anchor. It’s time.”

Pearl hopes to begin construction by the third quarter of 2019 and complete the project by the end of 2020.

“Pearl has recognized the opportunity to bring national focus to St. Louis by transforming the existing Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station and adjacent retail center into a catalytic transit-oriented development,” Tegethoff said in a statement. “The result will have lasting impact on St. Louis for generations.”

Fed study of labor participation finds U.S. at full employment

The U.S. labor market doesn’t have much more room to tighten, according to a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that examines trends in the number of Americans who are either working or looking for jobs for clues on remaining slack.

“Our estimates indicate that the aggregate labor force participation rate is at its trend as of 2018,” the regional Fed bank concluded in an Economic Letter published Monday. “Combined with the low unemployment rate, this argues that the U.S. labor market is operating at or beyond its full potential.”

Labor force participation measures the share of people aged 16 or older who are either in work or seeking employment. It started declining in the U.S. around 2000 and the trend accelerated during the 2007-2009 recession, though the rate has since steadied.

The gauge offers a hint of where the economy is operating relative to full employment: if it had room to increase, that would give employers a wider pool of potential candidates to hire and the labor market would be less tight than the jobless rate alone suggested.

Central bankers care about that because an overly-tight labor market could spur higher wage gains that eventually show up as unwanted inflation. U.S. unemployment is currently 3.7 percent, the lowest level since 1969, though inflation remains at the Fed’s 2 percent target.

The study noted that the labor force participation rate since 2015 had stabilized around 62.8 percent. After examining the underlying changes in the U.S. population, including in terms of aging and of educational attainment, it concluded that this level represents the long-run trend level of labor force participation. The study also predicted this would decline about 2.5 percentage points over the next 10 years.

“Almost the entire projected future decline is driven by population aging,” the authors wrote.