Two days after Mayor John DeStefano Jr. proposed to increase school choice and to toughen educational standards, school system administrators and union officials were taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the plan’s prospects.
DeStefano’s proposals would permit parents to decide which public schools their children attend, continue the proliferation of magnet and charter schools in the city, and close and reorganize schools that fail to meet stringent performance standards.
New Haven Board of Education spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan DeCarlo was cautiously optimistic in her appraisal of the plans.
“Issues such as school choice were trends we already had in motion, and we applaud the mayor for wanting to continue them,” DeCarlo said. “Many of his ideas still need to be considered, so it’s premature to take a stand on them.”
DeStefano can wield much power over the schools because the mayor appoints the school board in New Haven, unlike in many other municipalities where board members are elected.
In his State of the City address Monday, DeStefano also targeted what he referred to as the “bureaucratic monopoly” of New Haven’s school system, with much of the derision targeted toward the New Haven Federation of Teachers Local 933.
At a Tuesday meeting between city administrators and union officials, DeStefano said the current contract’s slanting of their pay scale toward veteran teachers has been a deterrent to younger, more adept teachers who want to teach in the city. Teachers countered by questioning the standards by which schools would be subject to reorganization.
Union president Patricia Lucan was unsure how serious DeStefano was about his proposals, but was confident the mayor will include the union in the process.
“The mayor’s suggestions are a political play to get attention that has worked,” Lucan said. “Many of these proposals can’t solve anything without the union’s input.”
Lucan added there is no malicious intent on the part of either side despite past contract battles.
Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez, a DeStefano campaign supporter, said the mayor’s plans are a continuation of programs already improving education in New Haven.
“Many people think the mayor is campaigning against his record, but his plans are saying ‘it’s working, let’s expand on them,'” Gonzalez said. “We want to take existing pockets of excellence and improve on them citywide.”
Gonzalez added that creating competition between schools through the choice program would likely solve disparities in quality from school to school.
Republican mayoral candidate Joel Schiavone ’58 blasted DeStefano’s record with the city’s school system.
“DeStefano has had the school board in his hands, but the last seven years have been wasted,” Schiavone said. “He’s ruined a whole generation of children.”
Schiavone said the mayor’s attempts to cut the number of small schools in New Haven would be detrimental to education in New Haven.
“In larger schools, kids can slip through the cracks,” Schiavone said. “The emphasis should be on small neighborhood schools where the staff knows all the students by name. This creates a sense of community.”
Schiavone added that DeStefano’s proposals advocating school choice and stricter performance standards were conceived by Republican governors across the country, and were also present in President George W. Bush’s education reform plan.