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Teachers Network in the News

Article courtesy of The New York Times.


Four Democratic candidates and a lone Republican seeking to unseat Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the November election took turns criticizing his education policies at a teachers' forum yesterday, and even though they are also running against each other, they displayed minimal discord on proposed solutions.

The forum hosted by the Teachers Network, a nonprofit education organization, concentrated on topics from standardized testing to retaining experienced teachers to securing new aid from the state. Each candidate, speaking in the auditorium at East, Side Community High School on East 12th Street, was given 20 minutes to answer written questions. The candidates used most of their time to attack the rnayor, and in their responses often echoed one another.

The sharpest criticism came from Council Speaker Gifford Miller, who has made public education a centerpiece of his campaign, he called the current situation "unacceptable," saying that students and parents must endure schools with 75-year-old windows and rising violence, while teachers are micromanaged all the way down to the position of their bulletin boards.

He said that Mr. Bloomberg had failed to make education a priority and spent too much time promoting a stadium on the West Side.

"This mayor has failed to fight for the money," he said, referring to the billions in aid that a Manhattan Supreme Court justice, Leland DeGrasse, has ordered the state to spend on the city's schoolchildren. "He spends most of his time up in Albany talking about the football stadium when he should be talking about the needs of our schools."

Gov. George E. Pataki has appealed Justice DeGrasse's ruling, and Mr. Miller said that in the meantime, the city should do whatever is necessary to build new schools and reduce class sizes. "In the end of the day, our kids don't want to hear excuses," he said.

The Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields, said that in addition to building schools, she would, if elected, find a way to more efficiently manage population shifts among districts. "It will also be important to do some surveys and studies assessing where we might be able to increase enrollment in some schools while riot overburdening other schools," she said.

Another candidate, Congressman Anthony D. Weiner of Brooklyn, said school budgets must take precedence over development. "Don't believe the hype when people say, 'Oh, the stadium is completely separate, the 7 line is completely separate,'" he said. "We are competing for scarce resources."

Even the Republican candidate, Thomas V. Ognibene, seemed to agree with his Democratic counterparts and focused much of his time on what he described as the mayor's mismanagement. Mr. Ognibene, the former City Council minority leader, distinguished himself from the others only when he said that he favored school vouchers, which earned a few boos from the 100 or so teachers in the auditorium.

Like Mr. Miller and Mr. Weiner, Fernando Ferrer said the mayor was offering to spend money on a stadium instead of schools. He called on the city to expand money for after school programs and accused Mr. Bloomberg of conducting education policies in the manner of a corporate executive.

"The New York City school system is not a subsidiary of Bloomberg Inc.,” he said. “It is a school system and you can’t run it that way.”

Mr. Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president, also questioned the mayor’s promotion policies. Last week, education officials said that 23,163 fourth graders, or 30.1 percent, had received letters warning that they could be held back if their performance did not improve.

He said in an interview afterward that the number of struggling fourth graders showed that Mr. Bloomberg had let down the children, "They had three years to make magic in the classroom," he said, "I believe they failed.”

Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, who appeared on behalf of Mr. Bloomberg, spoke before most of the candidates and seemed to anticipate such criticism. He said 3 percent more letters, some 26,053, were sent out to fourth graders last year, an indication that progress is being made.

"In a two and a half year period of time, I think we have been able to accomplish a lot," he said. "At the same time, we know we have a long way to go.”



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