Brooklyn Mayoral Forum on Education
Last night my wife, kids and I attended a mayor's forum in Brooklyn focusing on education. The context is that the NYC schools are underfunded, overcrowded, decaying and having difficulty retaining teachers. Something like half of teachers leave after less than 5 years...after our school system trains them. They leave because we don't pay them as well as the suburbs and we make them teach bigger classes with fewer supplies and less freedom of how to teach. Our schools are in trouble.
Our daughter faces the junior high application process. When I was a kid, you were guaranteed a space in your local school. That is no longer the case. All kids must compete to get the few slots in good schools and many kids do not get any of their choices. They are left without knowing for months which school they will attend. Fifth graders are now expected to go through a process that rivals the stress of college applications. Children have to go on Prosac because of the stress. This hellish process is Bloomberg's answer to the lack of good schools. If we only have a few good schools, make all the kids compete for those few good schools and the rest are out of luck. How very corporate of Bloomberg! Somehow the idea of simply making all schools good escapes him.
What about money? Albany, according to court orders, owes us money. Pataki tries to give NYC less money per student than he gives to upstate school districts. The courts have declared that he is wrong but he is appealing. Add to this Bloomberg's preference for using our tax money to build stadiums and luxury hotels and high cost housing than for using it to keep firehouses open or improving our schools.
Pataki and Bloomberg area destroying New York City, and their destruction of our schools will have the longest lasting impact.
So last night the Working Families Party, Congressman Major Owens, and some education advocacy groups (the Alliance for Quality Education) held a mayoral forum to give parents and students the chance to question the mayoral candidates. First of all, Bloomberg wasn't there. He didn't even send a representative. He didn't even send his regrets. The message I get from this is that Bloomberg doesn't care about parents or children or education.
By contrast, all of the Democratic candidates came or sent representatives. Virginia Fields, a candidate I very much want to hear speak, unfortunately couldn't make it. But she sent a representative to talk with us and address our questions. Freddie Ferrer, Anthony Weiner and Gifford Miller all came personally. I want to say that I very much appreciate the fact that they came personally. It sends a message that they are interested in the voters. All of them spoke well, were knowledgeable about the issue and had good ideas. This reinforces my recent feelings that our crop of Dem candidates for mayor really are good. The idea I used to have that they weren't interesting and had no chance was wrong. I like all of the candidates who came.
I have met Gifford Miller before and liked him. He has always put education first in his speeches and at the mayoral forum on education he was the most passionate of all the candidates. He also gave the most details about what he thought was needed. He outlined what we need for good schools--small class size, more and better teachers, improved school infrastructure, and improved school security. He proposes to pay for it not only by forcing Pataki and Albany to pay us the funds they owe us (which he admits could take years) but also by maintaining the surtax on families that earn more than $500,000 a year. This surtax already exists but is due to run out. He proposes retaining it and using the money for improvement of education. The advantage to this is that it is an existing surtax, so we can know how much it will yield.
Freddie Ferrer was the candidate I have been most negative about. I was soured on him by the nasty fiasco that he and Mark Green indulged in last time around that allowed Bloomberg, a weak candidate at best, to win. I have had a hard time forgiving either Mark Green or Freddie Ferrer for their selfishness and childishness in the last mayoral election. Well, my feeling has softened. I liked Freddie Ferrer at the education forum. He did not come off either nasty or childish the way he has in past elections. He seems to have matured since 2001. He was slightly more condescending than the other candidates and seemed more focused on long-term education issues rather than the current crisis, but what he said was very fundamental and very correct. His answer to our current education crisis is to build more schools and pay teachers more. Period. Again, I feel that it won't address the immediate crisis, but he is right. These are the two most fundamental things that NYC needs for its schools. Everything else is secondary. So I liked the way he cut through everything and focused on these two most important issues. His proposal to pay for it (again, in addition to forcing Pataki and Albany to pay NYC the money they owe us) is to impose a half-cent surtax on stock trades. I am not sure about this proposal. It seems like a basically good idea, but I think there might be some problems with it. For example, should ALL stock trades have the same surtax? Even penny stocks? I guess it still is only half a cent, so maybe it is a painless and reasonable way to raise money.
Anthony Weiner came late because he rushed in from a vote in Washington, D.C. I was very impressed that he considered the views of Brooklyn parents important enough that he rushed from DC to our forum. He was also very personable (perhaps moreso than either Miller or Ferrer) but I had some trouble hearing him because our son, Jacob, was getting fussy and I had to take him outside for part of the speech. Nevertheless, Weiner's proposals were similar to those of Miller, but his proposal for paying for it (other than forcing Pataki and Albany to pay NYC the money they owe us) is to create a new top tax bracket. Currently the top is an income of $500,000. He wants to create a top bracket of $1 million income and increase their taxes and use that income for education.
Overall I like our candidates for mayor. They all are considerably better than Bloomberg.