Likely Mayoral Contenders Suggest Improving Bloomberg’s Leadership of Schools
None of the likely contenders in the 2013 race for New York City mayor said Monday that they would lobby to scrap mayoral control of the city’s public schools in favor of the system it replaced in 2002: 32 neighborhood school boards with oversight and hiring powers.
But each of those likely to run for City Hall next year offered careful critiques of how they would improve upon the Bloomberg administration’s stewardship of the school system, as they faced off at a candidate’s forum in Upper Manhattan.
The forum, hosted by the Web site GothamSchools.org and Manhattan Media, was an hourlong discussion on a main topic in the election among five likely candidates — all Democrats but one, Tom Allon, Manhattan Media’s president and chief executive, who switched to the Republican Party last month.
There was no outright sparring among the five, but Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, cast perhaps the most critical view of the past decade of school stewardship, saying he saw a lack of progress, particularly in the second and third terms of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
“I think our school system is largely stalled right now,” said Mr. de Blasio, who repeatedly stressed the need for more parental empowerment as well as increased transparency in a host of education policy decisions.
By contrast, Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, said progress had clearly been made in the past decade, though she said that more was necessary. While echoing the need to “bring parents in, in a very real way,” Ms. Quinn said she saw too much vitriol between the administration and the teachers’ union.
“We also have to find a way to dial down the tone of the rhetoric, and high volume, as it relates to discussions with the teachers’ union,” she said. “That isn’t serving anyone well; it’s only separating us, and we can’t focus on the whole child if we are separated ourselves.”
One contentious issue, the Bloomberg administration’s allowing charter schools to operate inside district school buildings, highlighted the political fault lines the candidates must navigate. Charter schools, while fiercely unpopular in some quarters, are welcomed in many low-income neighborhoods — but the candidates want votes from both sides.
Mr. Allon, for instance, who has criticized some of the Bloomberg administration’s policies, was careful to speak of the virtue of charter schools as laboratories for reform. Mr. de Blasio said that parents had a sense of being ignored on the issue, and that the process for co-locations was “not democratic.” Ms. Quinn said that co-locations of schools, whether charter or not, should continue.
On specific policy proposals, those on the podium offered a grab bag of ideas.
John C. Liu, the city comptroller, said he would employ more guidance counselors, with an aim of getting more children through to earn college degrees. William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller, said the next chancellor must be an educator and said he would put “a moratorium on school closings.”
Mr. Allon said he would eliminate testing in grades one through five and make science and foreign-language instruction mandatory in elementary schools. Ms. Quinn said the power over the school system, in oversight and legislation, should be granted through the City Council and not lawmakers in Albany. She said too much classroom time was being used to prepare students for tests. And she said that the next mayor must change the tone by ceasing to vilify teachers.
In the crowd, at a theater of Fordham Law School, were scores of parents, educators and advocates, but not Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, whose backing is seen as important because it has 200,000 members and is organized. This year, several of the candidates in the approaching contest can boast of long relationships with Mr. Mulgrew, and each will be forced to confront the reality of his endorsement plans at some point next year.
After the debate, Mr. Thompson said that if the bright lines between candidates’ positions were not yet stark, “as we go through this, in the month to come, I think you’ll probably see more differences between all of us.”
Zakiyah Ansari, a parent leader at New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a citywide coalition representing thousands of parents, students and teachers, said in a statement that most New Yorkers were thirsting for a new direction for public education. “The 2013 mayoral race will be an education election, and for countless voters it will be a major referendum on Bloomberg’s many failures in education,” she said in a statement.