Alternately feisty, folksy and fuming, Mayor Giuliani used his State of the City address yesterday to pledge a “full-scale revolution” in city education including adding a month to the school year and junking open admissions at the City University of New York.
In his fifth annual speech, the mayor declared war on the slackers of the educational bureaucracy targeting lazy students, inept principals, rock-bottom standards and never-ending bi-lingual and special-education programs that he called a roadblock to reform.
But the mayor saved his most scathing rhetoric for CUNY, which he slammed as “this disaster” responsible for a historic “destruction of standards” and an embarrassing and “plummeting graduation rate.” The only solution: End CUNY’s 27 years of open admissions and establish entrance exams and tough graduation requirements, he said.
Giuliani, savaged in the mayoral campaign for being slow to crusade for educational reform, made it clear he wants to go down in Big Apple history as the education mayor. His call for expanding the school year to 200 days from 180 will cost a whopping $ 800 million to $ 1 billion a year in the city, officials said.
The mayor also vowed to revamp bi-lingual education radically by making it last a year or two at most per student. He also wants to reform special education to return tens of thousands of students to mainstream programs.
Also on the drawing board: wiping out tenure for principals and replacing it with performance-based, three to five-year contracts and killing “social promotions” for students who aren’t academically prepared to move to the next grade level.
“The answer to the problems of the public school system is not fear and it’s not anger,” Giuliani said. “The answer is a full-scale revolution.”
His bombshell about CUNY drew support and objections from VIP guests at his speech.
Dennis Walcott, a former Board of Education member and current president of the Urban League, said he opposes eliminating open enrollment because “it sends a very dangerous signal to people that we don’t want you.” He said the focus should be on improving academic standards at the high school level to prepare students for CUNY.
Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Queens) also opposed doing away with open enrollment because “you’d be shutting out a generation of kids” who haven’t been prepared for college by the high schools and grade schools.
Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari supported Giuliani’s call for entrance exams for CUNY admission. He said, “What’s happening there today is an absolute disgrace. The public is picking up the tab for a system that is broken down totally.”
Gail Nayowith, executive director of the Citizens Committee for Children, a nonprofit watchdog group, said of the proposals for the city public schools: “The mayor is willing to challenge these bogeymen, which everybody has sort of been afraid to do. And it seems to be working. . . . But when the city, state and federal legislative agendas get developed, we’re going to see if the city is willing to throw its weight behind these initiatives.”
Vallone said he supports the proposal for expanding the school year because it would give “a much better chance of success to the average child.”
Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew said he agreed with Giuliani’s proposals for the public schools. But he noted that to accomplish the changes, “Laws are going to have to be changed.”
The mayor spent much of his 92-minute speech on the attack, firing away at welfare abusers, incompetent caseworkers and deadbeat dads, as well as school bureaucrats, as he trumpeted key national Republican themes that seemed to propel him to the political right at the dawn of his second term.
And Giuliani was clearly playing to a national GOP audience west of the Hudson when he stood in the well of the City Council chamber, raised his voice, spread wide his arms and declared, “People are watching us. They are looking at us closely, and they are watching us.
“Let’s give them four years now that exceed the last four years and let us have that great celebration, well into the next millennium, where everybody, everywhere, looks at New York City!”
He dubbed New York the “comeback city” and vowed a tidal wave of initiatives to make his changes permanent, saying, “If you think that I’ve run out of enthusiasm for the job because I’m a lame duck, watch out!
“This is my chance to do all of the things that I was too timid and restrained to do in the first administration.”
But two key subjects were curiously missing from his address:
He didn’t say a word about his crackdown on jaywalking, which enraged New Yorkers when he proposed it Monday.
And he barely mentioned his championing of immigrant rights, which plays well with ethnic New Yorkers and Democrats but poorly with Republicans outside the city an audience he increasingly is seeking to court.
It was a vintage Giuliani performance as he plunged, Oprah-style, onto the City Hall red carpet, repeatedly asking the 450-member audience to applaud his police commissioner and deputy mayors for their “excellent work” and issuing an in-your-face call to Gothamites to razz and heckle deadbeat dads.
Giuliani urged people to confront ne’er-do-well pops in their neighborhoods by saying, “You know something, you’re a bum!” as part of a new crusade to foster responsibility toward children. Another line the mayor told New Yorkers to trot out was, “You’re not a man if you don’t support the children you bring into this world.”
The mayor didn’t say whether his advice could have public safety consequences.
Relaxed and at ease, Giuliani even borrowed a line from his favorite movie, “The Godfather” a flick that has attained cult status at City Hall to describe the latest skirmish in his raging war with the Port Authority.
“It’s not personal, it’s business,” Giuliani deadpanned in describing why he is seeking to wrest control of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports from the PA. “Honest, it really is.”
He called for a citywide referendum asking voters to ban New York from renewing the agency’s lease on the airports after it expires in 2015.
“This is an absolutely great city, and it’s a wonderful time for us, because we can now build and we can create,” Giuliani said. “And we can create monuments to the future of the city. We weren’t able to do that four years ago.”
Giuliani also proposed:
Responding to the most serious allegations of child abuse and neglect with a new SWAT team of 250 specially trained cops and child welfare caseworkers.
Forcing deadbeat parents who skip out on child support to join city workfare programs or face imprisonment.
Merging the city Health Department with the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services.
STATE OF THE CITY AT-A-GLANCE
Expand the school year by one month for all public school students.
End open enrollment at the City University of New York, replacing open admissions with tough entrance exams and higher standards.
Revamp bi-lingual and special education programs, returning as many students as possible to mainstream and English-speaking classes.
Abolish tenure for school principals, replacing it with performance-based, three to five-year contracts renewable by the schools chancellor and district superintedent.
End “social promotions” for children who are not academically prepared to move to the next grade level, starting by extending the school year for third-graders to prepare them for fourth grade.
Require welfare recipients with minor disabilities to participate in specially designed work in exchange for their benefits.
Fund a stadium for minor league baseball team on Staten Island.
Hold a referendum asking voters to ban New York from renewing the Port Authority’s lease with Kennedy and LaGuardia airports when it expires in 2015, paving the way for a city authority to run the airports.
Reward child welfare workers who get advanced degrees and do their jobs well with merit-based promotions.
Require deadbeat PARENTS who owe child support payments and say they can’t find work to work for the city’s Work Experience Program.
Buy health insurance for as many as 300,000 uninsured workers employed by