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GOP Mayoral Candidates Vow to Improve City Schools

By Colby Hamilton | August 9, 2013 4:43pm | Updated on August 9, 2013 5:30pm
 From left to right, Republican mayoral candidates Joe Lhota, George McDonald and John Catsimatidis participate in a debate on August 9, 2013.
From left to right, Republican mayoral candidates Joe Lhota, George McDonald and John Catsimatidis participate in a debate on August 9, 2013.
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NEW YORK CITY — The three Republican candidates for mayor outlined their visions for improving the city's school system just days after the city released test scores that were sharply down from last year — but stopped short of directly criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his track record since taking the helm of the Education Department.

“Ten percent of the children are college ready [in the city schools]. That means 90 percent aren’t,” Doe Fund founder George McDonald said. “So if you’re making an investment of your own household budget, and you were getting these kind of failing returns, you would do something differently.”

Supermarket magnet John Catstimatidis aligned himself more closely with the outgoing mayor, saying he thinks “Mayor Bloomberg has done a good job on our educational system," while adding, "We want to make it even better” with expanded physical education, arts and music programs.

Ex-MTA chief Joe Lhota questioned the volume of controversial standardized testing city schoolkids currently undergo, adding, “We need to focus on all parts of not only their body and their mind, to make sure our public schools are training our students for the 21st-century economy."

Lhota added that the system needs more charter schools, saying “It’s the mayor’s job to give them the professional development and the training necessary so they make our children the smartest kids in this country."

McDonald said that a whole-scale revamping of the school system was more important than simply aiming for high test scores.

“I think that we need more charter schools. I think that we need longer days, longer weeks, longer years, because we’re not a farming economy anymore,” McDonald said.

“These new tests were just thrown into the system,” Catstimatidis said, suggesting that better training and hiring practices for teachers would help improve the educational system.

All the candidates blamed the union for the conflict over teachers, not the individual teachers themselves.

“It’s not [the teachers’] fault at what’s going on in the education system,” Lhota said, echoing the sentiment of his two opponents. “If you want to demonize someone, demonize the teachers union, where they treat them all the same.”

Lhota also blamed the UFT for stalling contract negotiations until a new administration took over, leaving teachers in the lurch.

“I don’t blame the mayor,” Lhota said. “It takes two to tango in any negotiating situation.”

Catsimatidis, however, gave Bloomberg a share of the blame for not handling the contracts before leaving office, accusing the mayor of “kicking the can down the road.”