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Joe Lhota Spars With Democrats Over Merit Pay, School Closures at Debate

By Jill Colvin | February 27, 2013 1:55pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — Republican mayoral contender Joe Lhota wants to give teachers a pay boost for everything from improving kids’ test scores to teaching in low-performing schools.

The former MTA chairman outlined his education agenda at a policy forum with his fellow candidates at the Central Synagogue on the East Side Tuesday night, where the sharp differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates were on full display.

“There is no reason why teachers are all treated identical,” said Lhota, who appeared far more confident than during his first debate appearance last month.

“They should be having teachers compensated [based on] not just how long they’ve been there, but how well they do," he argued. “It should be based on performance, and it should be based on how difficult the subject matter is...how difficult the school is."

He pointed to Newark, N.J., which offers merit pay to teachers, as a prime example of what the city should be doing.

”Under no circumstance should Newark be leading the charge,” he said.

He also defended the Bloomberg's administration's controversial policy of closing struggling schools and voiced his support for charter schools — putting him on a crash course with the Democratic candidates, including City Comptroller John Liu, who sparred with him at the forum.

Lhota's fellow Republican contender, supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, made his debate debut at the forum. But he appeared to flounder, side-stepping some questions and offering few policy specifics other than his plan to increase vocational options so that kids can train to become high-paid electricians and plumbers.

After the debate, Catsimatidis told DNAinfo.com New York he thought his debut went well, and brushed off criticism about his answers.

“I’m a CEO. I hire specific people," he said. "I don’t have to be specific, OK?”