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Mayoral candidates unite to target Bloomberg's school policies

A press conference about the city’s school closure policy looked a lot like a campaign stop for four men eyeing 2013 mayoral runs.

Four leading mayoral candidates — Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and former comptroller and 2009 mayoral runner-up Bill Thompson — spoke at the event on the steps of City Hall. The press conference was organized by the Coalition for Educational Justice, a nonprofit that has spearheaded protests against many of the 25 closures proposed this year.

Flanked by advocates and parents, the men echoed concerns outlined in a report CEJ released last week about the inclusion of students with special needs in new small schools. (That report responded to a report by an independent research firm that found the schools had increased students’ chances of graduating.) The candidates all said the Bloomberg administration had been too quick to close schools without trying other interventions and had “warehoused” high-needs students in schools that are now facing closure.

They also demanded that the city release details about what happened to students who had not yet graduated when their schools closed — information that is required by law to come out tomorrow.

But they stopped short of explaining how they would do things differently if they became mayor and gained control of the schools. The closest anyone got was Stringer, who took aim at an Achilles’ Heel for Bloomberg: the way the Department of Education engages parents and communities.

Referring to the backlash against school closures, Stringer said, “You can get your point across if you realize that mayoral control gives an opportunity to work with people.”

Absent from the lineup was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, seen as Bloomberg’s pick to succeed him. She was invited but was not able to attend, according to a CEJ representative. A spokesman from Quinn’s office distributed a press release that praised the city’s small schools but said they were “no magic bullet for transforming schools.”

“I am also concerned that high-needs students get the education they deserve in this city, and look forward to hearing about Chancellor Walcott’s plan to hold schools accountable for enrolling equal amounts of students with high needs,” she said in a statement. Walcott told selective schools earlier this month that they would have to accept more students with disabilities or risk having them enrolled by the department.

The press conference comes a day before the city is required to release data about what happened to students who were enrolled in phase-out schools last year the day the schools closed their doors for good.

Department of Education officials said that information would be released tomorrow in accordance with legal deadline set by the City Council. But in response to the press conference, the department released a snippet of the data to be unveiled tomorrow.

They said 189 students who remained enrolled when 15 schools completed phasing out last year transferred to 90 schools established enough to receive a city progress report. Of those students, 44 percent wound up at a school with an A or B on the city’s progress report and 37 percent transferred to a C-rated school. Nearly 20 percent of the students wound up in a school rated D or F, making it eligible for closure, and 19 students transferred to schools that were already in the process of closing.

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