Asked by the News on election night last November about an agenda for her term on the Board of Aldermen, newly inaugurated Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 said simply, “Education will be important.”
Now, almost three months later, Plattus — having received her first commission assignment at a board meeting Tuesday and having had some time to get to know her colleagues — is offering the first hints of what issues she may attempt to tackle over the next two years. But, cautious as ever, she is offering little in the way of details — at least until committee assignments are announced by the end of this week.
Among her immediate priorities, Plattus said, will be education and public safety and the launching of a new constituent-service Web site.
“That includes [programs] aimed at college prep and college affordability,” she explained. “At the other end of the spectrum, I’m thinking about pre-K and school readiness.”
Throughout her uncontested campaign and into the beginning of her term, Plattus has chosen to speak only in general terms about her plans and goals, preferring instead to reach out to alumni and other aldermen as she formulates her ideas. But once committee assignments are decided — and her actual responsibilities on the board are more clearly delineated — she said she will be better able to articulate her goals to her constituents.
In the meantime, colleagues on the board say Plattus is already at work, even if not yet in ways visible to students.
Newly elected Ward 15 Alderman Joey Rodriguez, who will serve on the new Youth Commission with Plattus, commended the alderwoman for speaking up at Tuesday night’s board meeting about an agenda item marked “leave to withdraw” — a designation usually used to dispose of items that have already been dealt with in some other capacity or are no longer relevant — that called for the development of a comprehensive youth plan for the city. While some on the board may have been content to let the issue be addressed elsewhere, Rodriguez said, Plattus was among those who insisted that the board recommit the issue.
“Some of us on the black-Hispanic caucus felt differently. Rachel felt differently,” Rodriguez explained. “She worked with us to send it back to committee.”
He said the move will allow for more discussion and input on how best to proceed with designing the city’s youth programs.
Plattus said she intends to focus on youth and education-related topics. Even though she will not serve on the School Readiness Council, which looks at ways to improve education performance by focusing on the six-and-under age group, Plattus said she hopes to attend council meetings in an unofficial capacity.
Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar, one of two aldermen on the council, said he and Plattus have discussed early-childhood-education issues at length.
“We talked about a number of programs to get to the kids we aren’t really reaching,” Lemar said. “Seventy-three percent of kids attend some form of pre-K school program, and we want to get that number up to 85 or 90 percent.”
Among the ideas is a proposal for individualized “baby bonds,” which would be given to children at birth and would appreciate over time to pay for New Haven children’s educations. Lemar said one possible goal he has discussed with Plattus and others is the creation of so-called “promise” scholarships, which would guarantee that students who graduate high school in good standing would have the financial support to attend college, thus giving them the incentive to work harder.
Public safety will also be a top priority both for herself and for other city leaders, Plattus said. She pointed to the implementation of the Police Executive Research Forum’s report, which calls for a reorganization of the New Haven Police Department following the arrest of several of the department’s narcotics-unit officers last spring.
“I think the Board of Aldermen does have a real chance to make change for kids in New Haven, for schools and for neighborhoods,” Plattus said, referring to programs for at-risk teenage youths in New Haven.
The creation of the Youth Commission coincides with a structural reorganization of the city bureaucracy to create a full Department of Youth that will, among other things, coordinate after-school and mentoring programs sponsored by the city.
While the commission will likely work on implementing already existing youth programs, Plattus said, members are approaching the forum with an open mind about developing new ideas.
Rodriguez said he thinks Plattus’ interest in early-childhood education complements his own interest in youth programming for older students.
“It’s a good one-two punch, if I must say,” Rodriguez quipped.
Plattus also said a new Ward 1 Web site will be up within a month, allowing students to ask questions, submit complaints and — once in a while, she said with a chuckle — note “something good.”
She said she hopes to create workgroups that will allow students to join her in designing and implementing goals for the community. Plattus said she wants the relationship to be a two-way street.
“[Ward 2 Alderwoman] Gina [Calder], [Ward 22 Alderman] Greg [Morehead] and I will have a couple events on campus, maybe bringing people from surrounding neighborhoods to campus,” she said.