Whoever wins the Democratic primary for mayor, the candidate will likely be more sympathetic to public school parents and to the unions representing teachers and principals than Mayor Mike Bloomberg has been. That's the message from a candidates' forum on education sponsored by the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the union representing principals and assistant principals, at Baruch College on Wednesday.
The Democratic candidates--Council Speaker Chris Quinn, Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Comptroller John Liu and former comptroller Bill Thompson--all criticized Bloomberg's dismissive attitude toward parents and his tough-guy stance on the unions. (Also on the panel was publisher Tom Allon, who recently became a Republican to run for mayor. The other Republican candidates, former MTA chair Joseph Lhota and Gristedes owner John Catsimatidis didn't attend.)
The candidates criticized the mayor's policy of closing failing schools (which forces unionized teachers and principals out of their jobs) and said struggling schools should get support instead. Liu, Thompson and DiBlasio called for an outright moratorium on school closings while Quinn suggested school closings should be used only as a last resort. DiBlasio and Liu reminded the audience that they are public school parents; all the candidates said they would put less emphasis on standardized tests and suggested that they would be more responsive to parents' concerns. Quinn described her efforts working with parents to find a new bullding for the Clinton School in Chelsea; Allon touted his work opening the Frank McCourt School on the Upper West Side.
The candidates agreed more than they disagreed, but did try to set themselves apart in response to questions by the moderators, Liz Willen (an Insideschools blogger and editor of the Hechinger Report) and NYU professor Pedro Noguera.
--DeBLasio called for higher taxes on the rich to pay for full-day pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and afterschool programs for middle school children.
--Allon, a former teacher at Stuyvesant High School, proposed better teacher training and said he was the only candidate who knew what it was like to teach five classes of 35 students each day.
--Liu, who moved to the United States from Taiwan at the age of 5, said New York public schools allowed him to pursue "the American Dream."
--Thompson said his work as former chairman of the Board of Education gave him a unique perspective.
--Quinn said that the city had successfully avoided teacher layoffs as a result of her negotiating skills.
The candidates touted their public school credentials: Thompson graduated from Midwood High School; Liu from Bronx Science; Allon from Stuyvesant. DeBlasio's son attends Brooklyn Tech. Quinn joked she wasn't smart enough to get into Bronx Science--but the truth is she grew up on Long Island.