NYC mayoral candidates vie for UFT support

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, center, answers a City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, center, answers a question about teacher retention in low-income areas during a forum on education alongside fellow NYC mayoral candidates at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan. (Feb. 26, 2013) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

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Six mayoral candidates battling for the endorsement of the United Federation of Teachers pledged Saturday to rid the school system of many of the policies put in place by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Appearing at a 90-minute UFT-sponsored forum, the five Democrats and an independent, former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion Jr., earned the loudest applause when they rebuked the mayor and boos and hisses when they even hinted approval of Bloomberg's approach.

"What's broken here is, if you have a mayor who is disdainful of teachers, dismissive of parents, and a chancellor who never even educated a child, is it any surprise that morale is shot to hell?" Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said.

De Blasio was answering a question prodding the candidates to vow not to repeat one feature of Bloomberg's tenure: None of the last three chancellors he hired has been a teacher.

All the candidates at the forum held at a midtown Hilton, except City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, pledged to hire only an educator.

Quinn's answer -- "Not necessarily, and I hope I get to explain that" -- was met with groans from the teachers. Her explanation -- that she wouldn't rule out an effective, forceful advocate to be chancellor, such as Obama administration Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- drew boos from the crowd of about 1,000.

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Since Bloomberg took control of the schools from the now-defunct board of education a decade ago, he has closed schools deemed failing, increased the use of testing in teacher ratings and dramatically boosted the number of standardized tests students must take.

In response to the criticism, Bloomberg spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said: "When the UFT ran the school system, our schools were notorious for their dysfunction, violence and corruption. Now, New York City is nationally recognized as an incubator for education reform."

Bloomberg's would-be successors all agreed the schools tested students too much. Quinn said teacher job performance reviews should rely less on standardized tests and more on input from fellow teachers.

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Comptroller John Liu called for more testing, but only by classroom teachers doing pop quizzes.

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson touted his tenure as head of the board of education and said teachers deserve respect. "The demonization needs to stop," he said.

The other participant was former Councilman Sal Albanese, a former teacher. Republicans Joseph Lhota and John Catsimatidis were invited but did not attend, said UFT spokeswoman Alison Gendar.

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