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Mayoral candidates: Bloomberg years a bust

Reform ideas discussed at UFT Spring Education Conference

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (foreground left) and Vice President for elementar Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (foreground left) and Vice President for elementary Schools Karen Alford question the six mayoral candidates who took part in a forum at the UFT Spring Conference on May 11 at the New York Hilton.

The candidates for mayor took turns criticizing Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies at a forum held by the UFT at its annual Spring Education Conference on May 11.

Answering questions from UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford, as well as from union members, the candidates — five Democrats and an independent — took aim at several of the mayor’s cornerstone education policies, including the use of letter grades for schools, the closing of schools, support for charter schools and emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests.

Only independent candidate Adolfo Carrion Jr., the former Bronx borough president, stated that he would continue the mayor’s grading system for schools without changes and raise the cap on the number of charter schools.

In discussing how the school system’s governance structure should be changed, the candidates contended that local districts and superintendents needed to be re-empowered. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn got big applause when she said that the DOE should do away with networks.

Agreeing with the union that the mayor should not have a majority of appointees on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which votes on important decisions like school closings and co-locations, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson said the mayor should only appoint six of the 13 members of the PEP.

“If it’s sound educational policy and I can’t convince one other person to join us, then something’s wrong,” Thompson said.

All the candidates also skewered the mayor for allowing all municipal workers’ contracts to expire and setting aside no money for raises. The UFT’s last contract expired in October 2009.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the mayor had become “increasingly irresponsible” in his third term. “We are facing a fiscal crisis because the mayor over the last four years did not take care of these contracts,” de Blasio said.

Quinn also split with Bloomberg on a number of issues. She said that standardized testing should play a “minimal” role in evaluating teachers and that she would not raise the cap on the number of charter schools that can be opened in the city.

However, on other issues, Quinn hewed closer to the mayor’s policies, saying that community education councils should “in some cases” not have veto power over co-locations in their school districts and that the next schools chancellor need not “necessarily” be an educator.

The candidates were unanimous in criticizing the Bloomberg administration’s track record with parents.

City Comptroller John Liu, a public school parent, criticized the administration for its condescending attitude toward parents.

“This is an administration that believes it knows everything under the sun,” Liu said.

Former City Councilman Sal Albanese, a retired school teacher, described the mayor’s school closing policy as “a disaster,” saying that closing schools “should be the last resort, not the first resort.”

The candidates also blasted Eva Moskowitz, the controversial founder and director of the Harlem Success Academy chain of charter schools.

“It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place,” de Blasio said to loud applause from the 1,500 union members who packed the ballroom at the New York Hilton.

Quinn contended that Moskowitz’s attack on unions when she was head of the Council’s Education Committee “ripped us apart.”

The Republican candidates, Joseph Llota and John A. Catsimatidis, declined the union’s invitation to participate.

Watch the full forum >>

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