In State of the City address, Michael Bloomberg picks school fight

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MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to make improving New York City schools one of his most prominent goals during his last two years in office, devoting the bulk of his State of the City address Thursday to education.

“The work of school reform, as difficult as it can be, is still far from done,” he said.

In the speech, given at Morris High School in the Bronx, Bloomberg pitched radical ideas about how to keep great teachers and ferret out ineffective ones. Among the boldest of his suggestions was to give high-performing teachers $20,000-a-year raises. He also said he wants the city to pay student loans up to $25,000 for college graduates who commit to long-term teaching in New York City public schools.

Bloomberg also vowed to continue making stricter standards for the teacher tenure system. In June, he said, the percentage of teachers receiving tenure was 57 percent, a drop from 97 percent before he started reforming the system, he noted.

The mayor also made it clear that he would pursue the goals with or without support from one of his most powerful and long-running adversaries, the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union.

“We expect the UFT will support the Department of Education in this effort,” he said. “But if not, there are other ways to achieve it.”

UFT president Michael Mulgrew slammed Bloomberg for his speech, saying he “seems to be lost in his own fantasy world of education.” Mulgrew said the mayor has “mishandled” schools already and warned that proposals like a merit-based pay system require union negotiation.

Mulgrew wasn’t alone. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also criticized Bloomberg’s do-it-alone tone, which he said left out parents and principals.

“Mayor Bloomberg can’t improve city schools by himself,” he said. “This speech did nothing to forge those partnerships.”

But the mayor’s speech was not completely serious: Bloomberg introduced himself with a comical video that showed him hailing a livery cab, now newly legal under a plan he pushed for.

Inside the car, he passed Department of Transportation head Janette Sadik-Khan cycling past in a bike lane, another city improvement he lauded in the address.

Wants to raise minimum wage

Many were also surprised Thursday when Bloomberg made the call to increase New York state’s minimum wage. The mayor asked Albany legislators to raise the rate, now at $7.25 per hour. “The genius of the free market is not always perfect,” he said.  The minimum wage, Bloomberg said, needs to be “high enough so people can get by on it without having a negative economic impact.” 

Other goals

Education isn’t the only thing on Bloomberg’s list. For 2012, he also promised to work on:
   
Attracting new companies to Grand Central Terminal
Helping 9,000 unemployed veterans in the city get jobs
Building new affordable housing in Hunter’s Point South in Queens and Harlem
Completing construction on Williamsburg’s McCarren Pool
Bringing Wi-Fi to 12 city parks
Requiring delivery cyclists to have identifying clothing
Making it easier for foreign tourists to get travel visas to come to New York City
Adding cameras to NYPD’s counterterrorism program

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro


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