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Thompson and de Blasio back out of FES forum at last minute

When parents from charter schools around the city grill mayoral candidates about their education views this evening, two expected candidates won’t be there.

The campaign of Bill Thompson, the former comptroller, told Families for Excellent Schools today that he would not be able to make the forum, which is one of the first times that charter school advocates will get a chance to ask questions of the candidates. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also backed out of attending the forum at the last minute.

FES, a group that is trying to mobilize the parents it works with to play a role in the mayoral election, had previously announced that Thompson  and de Blasio had confirmed their attendance.

The last-minute lineup changes come as candidates gear up for a conversation that could be uncomfortable for those who, like Thompson and de Blasio, have declared opposition new charter schools and to school co-locations, a controversial space-sharing arrangement that has allowed charter schools to flourish under the Bloomberg administration.

According to FES’s press advisory about the event, charter schools and co-locations are chief among the topics that parents will be asking the candidates about today — and the advisory makes clear what answer the group hopes candidates will provide.

“The discussion will address issues important to families with children in public schools, including: school safety; the role of charter schools; preparing students for success in college; and whether schools should co-locate in the same building, as more than 800 schools are co-located across the city,” the advisory says.

Getting a favorable response is likely to be a challenge, even with the depleted lineup. Comptroller John Liu and former City Councilman Sal Albanese have all said they would impose a moratorium on co-locations. And both Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have said that the co-location process should be conducted more sensitively.

The teachers union, too, has said that it opposes co-locations that are done without approval of the local school district’s elected parent council.

The union is due to endorse a candidate next week, and Thompson and de Blasio are seen as top contenders. (Earlier today, Thompson called on the city to restore discretionary funding for teachers, a pet issue for the UFT. He is also seen as one of the candidates who is most palatable to supporters of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.) But a union official dismissed the idea that candidates might have made the decision based on the union’s preferences.

“We’ve not talked to any of the candidates about the forum, and it is up to them whether they go or not,” the official said. “Not our call.”

The mayoral candidates have appeared together at dozens of forums on wide-ranging topics this year. But this is not the first time that a mayoral candidate has dropped out of an education forum shortly beforehand. Last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn skipped a forum hosted by ParentVoicesNY and moderated by Diane Ravitch, each vocal critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.