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De Blasio softens stance on charters

By Rich Bockmann

In the final stretch before Albany decides which direction to take on issues like pre-K and charter schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to find some common ground on both sides of the devisive charter school debate.

The immediate fate of these controversial matters will be sealed – at least in part – when the marathan negotiations over the state budget produce a concensus. The deadline for the new budget is April 1.

De Blasio made an indirect reference to three charter schools his administration pulled the plug on — including one in southeast Queens — during a speech at a Manhattan church over the weekend.

“We made some decisions in the last weeks striving for fairness, but I have to tell you I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city,” de Blasio told the congregation at the Riverside Church in Morningside Heights during Sunday service. “So let me start to right the ship now.”

The mayor has been on the receiving end of a pro-charter campaign blitz ever since he made the decision last month to pick a fight with long-time rival Eva Moskowitz and boot three of her Success Academy charter schools from space promised in public school buildings by the Bloomberg administration last year.

Print and television ads extol the virtues of charter schools, framing the issue as one of equality among public school students and painting de Blasio as absolutely anti-charter.

But despite nixing three co-locations — including a Success Academy proposed at August Martin High School in South Jamaica — the de Blasio administration allowed more than a dozen to go forward, including a Success school planned at IS 59 in Springfield Gardens.

Speaking at the Riverside Church, the mayor alluded to an existing Harlem Success Academy he evicted from a school serving special education students when he said he would find space for the charter school’s students.

“There’s a charter school with 194 children. It’s a good school doing good work and we are going to make sure those 194 children have a good home this year, but we will not do it at the expense of our special education children,” he said. “And that false choice has been set up as part of a broken system and a broken dialogue and it’s time to start ending that kind of dysfunction — not pitting one against another.”

De Blasio tried to shift the discussion to a broader one of education reform, saying that instead of arguing over charter schools vs. public schools, the focus should be on raising all children, pointing out that fewer than 20 percent of students reach standards by the time they are in the third-grade.

“Somehow when we consider the education of our children, when we as a society engage in a discourse about the needs of our children, somehow we too easily pull apart,” he said. “It becomes routine. It becomes even unknowing. We disconnect. We don’t communicate the way we could.”

“What can unify us is that sense of urgency that we can’t accept the status quo. The answer is not to save a few of our children only,” the mayor continued. “The answer is not to provide an escape route that some can follow and others can’t. The answer is to fix the entire system.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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