NEW YORK - The Vulcan Society, an organization of black firefighters, and The City of New York were back in court this week when the city wanted to charge $54 for the new Fire Department entrance exam, a whopping 80% increase over the last time the exam was given just four years ago.
The judge said no, and also found a way to help the "limbo class" who took the last exam but who'd be too old to take the new one have another shot at becoming firefighters, according to a Village Voice report.
The Vulcan Society, who are intervening in the federal government's lawsuit against the city, was not happy about the increased fee.
"At a time when we are doing everything we can" to increase minority applications, FDNY Captain Paul Washington of the Vulcans said, "and people are really struggling, this isn't going to help" more black and Hispanic people take the exam. The fee would create yet another barrier to doing something about the fact that white people make up about 35% of the city's population but over 90% of the FDNY's ranks.
The City's counsel said that Washington's concern that the $54 filing fee would keep certain people from taking the exam was "probably true." But it said it would suppress all people, and not just "black people." The City didn't seem to think this was a bad idea, though. While the Vulcans and the federal government argued that the NYPD's one time use of a free entrance exam had helped it to achieve a far more diverse police department (now "majority minority"), the City argued that that test was an experiment in "failure." More minorities and applicants in general signed up to take the free NYPD exam, the City said, but only 24% of those who signed up actually showed up to take it. To them, it was "a waste of money."
The plaintiffs didn't argue that the new FDNY exam -- which is being created by testing experts jointly selected by the Vulcans, the Feds and the City, and is being developed with input from all of them -- should be free.
Even Washington admitted that some fee separates the serious from the unserious. But they were concerned that, at $54, FDNY exam 2000 would be the most expensive of the city exams, which had nearly doubled in price since 6019 was given in 2007. Considering black people have not fared especially well in the past four years, they didn't understand why the City was choosing to create yet another stumbling roadblock.
The City argued that their administration code dictates that entrance exams must be tied to the starting salary for the jobs for which they screen. So, since starting firefighters earn more than starting cops, the FDNY exam will always be more than the NYPD's. Also when the FDNY starting salary was much lower four years ago, the filing fee was less.
But outside of court, Captain Washington said the city doesn't have to charge more. He says the commissioners of the FDNY and DCAS (the Department of City Administrative Services) had indicated to him that they were open to lowering the fee. So he didn't understand why Mayor Bloomberg was digging in his heels.
Judge Garaufis asked, at one point, why, if a job was important to you and you were willing to pay $30 to take the exam for it, why wouldn't you pay $54? Ornery and mildly cranky, as he's often seemed on the bench in this case, he looked at the fee from all sides. What would be wrong with having no fee at all, he also wondered aloud. He grilled the City on how much the exam would cost to give. When they replied $49 a person, he yelled that at $54, the City will be making "a profit!"
Garaufis also wanted the City to publicize the exam as much as possible. "The mayor has a radio program. Maybe he should advertise" the test there, he suggested, to laughter in the Court. "I could give him a script. Or he could provide his own."
Later, though, he told the City that they'd never recoup the money they spent giving the exam, and that wasn't his problem. He is clearly exasperated with having to force the City, repeatedly, to do something about a problem that they seem to find every way to exacerbate. Garaufis wants to see as many people -- of all races -- take the next exam, and if "that's 50,000, I'll consider that a great success." The City may not agree from a financial point of view, he conceded, but "the City found the money for the libraries, the firehouse and the senior centers. They'll find the money for this. I'm sure."
The City wanted an answer on what they could charge, so they could open the filing period for the new exam 2000 tomorrow, July 13, leave it open until September 13, and then give 2000 in January, 2012. Last evening, Garaufis issued an order saying that, as it was for 6019, the fee for 2000 will be $30.00.