Eva Moskowitz, a frequent critic of the teacher’s union and the leader of a booming charter school network known as Success Academy Charter Schools, described a forum held on May 11th, sponsored by the teacher’s union and attended by several mayoral candidates, as, “sad” and indicative of how “desperate” candidates are for a U.F.T. endorsement.
The six participating candidates, all of whom were Democrats, except for one independent, said they would depart radically from the approach of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in leading the public school system. Several candidates pledged to scrap Bloomberg’s signature policies, including his A-through-F grading system for schools and his support for housing charter schools inside existing school buildings. Bloomberg was also criticized for failing to reach an agreement on a labor contract with the city’s municipal unions, and the fact that the city’s teachers have been without a contract since 2009.
The candidates emphasized their affinity for unions throughout the forum that Howard Wolfson, a top Bloomberg aide, called a “PanderPalooza.” Christine Quinn mentioned that her father was a shop steward. Sal F. Albanese, a former city councilman, said that he had spent many years as a teacher in public schools and was a union member, while Bill Thompson noted that his mother was a teacher.
Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, called Bloomberg “irresponsible” and said he was confident that if elected mayor, he could work out a deal with the union. He praised the leadership of Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union and moderator of the forum, comparing him to Albert Shanker, legendary leader of the union from 1964 to 1985.
Quinn took the opportunity to try and shed her “Bloomberg 2.0” moniker, saying a plan to evaluate teachers partly on the basis of test scores should have a sunset clause, so that it could be reconsidered after several years.
William C. Thompson Jr., a former comptroller, said that the mayor should not appoint a majority of seats on the Panel for Educational Policy, the 13-member board that approves contracts and major policy decisions.
“If it’s sound educational policy and I can’t convince one other person to join us, then something’s wrong,” he said.
On the issue of Moskowitz’s charter schools, and the city’s role in aiding the expansion of these mostly non-unionized institutions of learning, the candidates all agreed that Moskowitz’s anti-union rhetoric was harmful.
“That’s exactly the kind of attitude we need to move away from,” Quinn said about Moskowitz, drawing applause from the crowd of several hundred teachers.
Quinn admitted, however, that she felt it was sometimes permissible to place charter schools inside traditional school buildings without the approval of local school boards –an idea with which the other candidates disagreed.
On Twitter, Wolfson derided the pandering of the candidates to the union, writing, “If you believe the demands of the U.F.T. and the needs of children perfectly align, you will love the candidates running for NYC Mayor.”
Ironically, Wolfson was somewhat echoing the words of the late union leader to whom de Blasio compared Mulgrew, who said, “It is as much the duty of the union to preserve public education as it is to negotiate a good contract.”
One wonders what the candidates would say to a room full New York City public school students, if they were old enough to vote.