Dec. 16, 2011, 12:26 a.m.
By Anna M. Phillips
New York City’s mayoral election is two years away, but charter school leaders and advocates are already sizing up candidates to see whose feet fit the education reform loafers.
For charter supporters, it is not an obvious choice. Of the three Democratic politicians who appear to be the early front-runners, each has an easy relationship with the city’s teachers’ union. Worse still for charter supporters, most of the candidates have no ties to charter advocates or the philanthropists who support some of the schools.
Michael T. Duffy, a former city education official and now managing director of Victory Education Partners, figured that at the least, he would begin by putting all of these people in the same room with the candidate he is enthusiastic about, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.
On Wednesday night, members of the charter school world, as well as the technology start-up world, gathered in a honey-colored apartment on the Upper East Side to query Ms. Quinn, raising more than $15,000 for the candidate. Ms. Quinn’s remarks, her aides insisted, remain off the record. But the advocates in attendance spoke more openly on Thursday in interviews, expressing what is on their minds as they look ahead to 2014, when they will lose a mayor who has given them space in public school buildings at no cost and hardly questioned their raison d’être.
Many of the advocates believe the charter school movement cannot survive without Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg‘s policy of having charter schools share space in public school buildings. Without this policy, the schools would have to seek out and pay for private space on their own, leaving some of them with fewer dollars to spend on students than traditional public schools.
“Co-location is essential,” Mr. Duffy said. “And I think another fear is that there might unreasonable costs imposed on them for occupying the space they do.”
The mayoral candidates will have to “put a stake in the ground about co-location,” said Josh Morales, a co-leader of Bedford Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School, who said he was also looking for candidates to explain how they would improve the city’s process for identifying places to establish charter schools and make a commitment to increase public services in the outer boroughs.
“We wind up being social workers in so many different ways,” Mr. Morales said. “We have parents asking for jobs, asking us for legal advice sometimes, and we’re not qualified for all that.”
Morty Ballen, the executive director of the Explore Schools network, which has three schools in Brooklyn, said he was most concerned about what he called “the fractured relationship” between charter schools and traditional public schools.
Over the last several years, the screaming matches at meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy and recurring protests against co-locations have unnerved many charter school advocates, who hoped their schools were on a path to acceptance. The person responsible for making peace would be the schools chancellor selected by the next mayor, another source of curiosity for charter school advocates.
A day after meeting Ms. Quinn, several charter school leaders said she was the most charter-friendly candidate of the contenders. Others said it was too early to tell, and some doubted the candidate’s passion for public education.
“I feel like that’s the most positive I’ve heard anyone be,” Mr. Ballen said. “At the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily name her the education reform candidate.”
Anna M. Phillips is a member of the SchoolBook staff. Follow her on Twitter @annamphillips.