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Candidates slam Bloomberg school plans that they may inherit

Mayoral candidates spent Tuesday criticizing a slew of controversial space-sharing proposals that they’d have to inherit if they are elected to succeed Mayor Bloomberg.

“I just find it incredibly arrogant,” Bill Thompson said of the plans while campaigning with the city teachers union this morning in Queens.

Though Bloomberg has just four months left in office, he’s approved or proposed 54 school siting plans that wouldn’t take effect until at least the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, more than eight months after his administration vacates office. The Panel for Educational Policy, which Bloomberg controls, approved 25 of the plans earlier this year, and the Department of Education on Friday released proposals for another 29 plans that will be voted on next month.

Nearly 900 of the city’s 1700 schools now share space inside buildings as part of an arrangement known as “co-locations.” At least 100 charter schools share space with traditional public schools, which supporters say has helped expand the number of school options that parents have to pick from.

Many proposals, they say, are pushed through with little input — and often despite opposition — from local communities.

Friday’s proposals reignited ire from opponents who see the moves as an overreach of Bloomberg’s authority.

“Mayor Bloomberg is trying to tie the hands of the next mayor and it is wrong,” said Natasha Capers, a spokeswoman for New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which opposes many Bloomberg policies.

Thompson and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, another candidate, renewed long-standing calls to put a moratorium on co-locations and vowed to halt any of the plans slated for 2014 and beyond.

“I’m not going to let him make those decisions today for me tomorrow,” Thompson said. “I’m going to make my own decisions.”

De Blasio said he’s already found significant problems with the proposals. He said that the building capacity in many of the plans would exceed 100 percent.

“I will rescind those proposals that have clear negative impacts on schools and communities, and retain those that are essential to the system as a whole,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Despite their criticism of mayoral control under Bloomberg, both candidates have stopped short of pledging to cede any decision-making authority to local parent councils, legislative action that the teachers union supports.

Bloomberg’s plans have already prompted a lawsuit from the union. On Tuesday, union chief Michael Mulgrew said that the new proposals would be added to their complaint.

“Every time they announce another one, we’re just connecting it to the lawsuit,” said Mulgrew, who joined Thompson this morning to greet teachers on their first day back in schools. “It’s beyond arrogant at this point.”

Speaker Christine Quinn, another frontrunner for the Democratic mayoral primary, has said she supports co-locations, arguing that the arrangement is vital for charter schools.

Quinn did not respond to requests for comment.

Adam Muhsen, a biology teacher at John Adams High School, one of Thompson’s campaign stops this morning, said that he was voting for Thompson because his candidacy would signal a departure from Bloomberg’s education policies.

“As a teacher, the last thing we want is Christine Quinn,” Muhsen said, citing Quinn’s close ties on school policy to Bloomberg.

[See video from Thompson’s visit to John Adams High School below.]

Bloomberg broadly defended co-locations today in response to the candidates’ criticism, citing a study released last week that showed students who attended small high schools opened in the last decade had a better change of graduating.

“I don’t know what people are thinking about when they think things aren’t going in the right direction,” Bloomberg said.

Bill Thompson speaks to teachers about his approach to improving struggling schools. from GothamSchools on Vimeo.

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