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,"
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.”