NEW YORK - About 200 people turned out to an outdoor rally on Sunday sponsored by Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, to protest current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's handling of the city school system.
At the rally, NYC Kids PAC, formed in September, took the opportunity to announce their endorsement for Thompson. The group was founded because "we need elected representatives who take their responsibilities to our kids seriously and act on them when it counts."
"It's time to open the doors of schools and let the parents back in," Thompson told the cheering crowd. "Let teachers teach. Joel Klein must go."
Klein is the current schools chancellor. Critics of the Bloomberg administration, which appointed him, point out that Klein has no background whatsoever in education, and, they argue, runs the school system like a for-profit corporation. The call for his ouster drew cheers from the crowd and chants of "Joel Klein must go."
The issue of public education has been a major point in the election. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars to paint a picture of himself as a mayor who's essentially saved the city school system.
But according to NYC Kids, Bloomberg is twisting the facts. A pamphlet distributed at the rally by the group notes that "the U.S. Department of Education says reading scores are flat since 2003, [but] Bloomberg claims that ‘reading scores are up 28 percent.'"
Further, says NYC Kids, Bloomberg cut new school construction by 60 percent, though half of city schools are officially over capacity. "Class sizes increased by the largest amount in ten years" in 2008, and "even Giuliani built more seats per year than Bloomberg."
Another fact the PAC put forward: no bid contracts under the Bloomberg administration have increased by a whopping 50,000 percent since 2001. In his position as city Comptroller, Thompson has uncovered millions of dollars of waste and corruption within the city's Department of Education, a great deal of which was in the form of no-bid contracts.
"Latino and African American kids are being left behind," Dr Luis Reyes, who worked in the schools, told the crowd. Thompson, he said, wouldn't allow this to continue.
Bloomberg has condemned Thompson handling of the school system when he was the president of the Board of Education, before mayoral control came into being. Thompson countered Bloomberg with his own words: when he was fighting for mayoral control, the current mayor said that the system itself was to blame for the troubles of city schools because "no one is in charge."
If no one was in charge, Thompson argues, and the system itself was to blame, it is deceitful and self-serving for the mayor to criticize Thompson.
Many have come forward to defend Thompson's record at the now-defunct Board of Education. They argue that the then-president, given the position he was in, did an excellent job fighting to reform the system and restore accountability.
Asked by a reporter whether he favored mayoral control of the schools, Thompson said that he did, but "the question is ‘Who is the mayor?'"
But Thompson also calls for changes in the way the Department of Education is run. The changes would allow for more input by the city council, which is closer to city residents, as well as from parents and teachers.
New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly's Committee on Higher Education, told those gathered that "the kids of New York cannot afford four more years of overcrowded classrooms, unavailable gymnasiums."
Bill Davis also contributed to this article.