In a State of the City address signaling no retreat from the tough-love style of governing that won him a second term, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called yesterday for striking changes to New York City’s school system, from extending the school calendar by a month to requiring that high school students either graduate in five years or continue their education at night and on weekends.
These measures, which need approval from either the city’s Board of Education or the State Legislature, reflected the tenor and substance of a 90-minute speech delivered with the panache of a veteran talk-show host to an audience poised to clap at every pause.
The Mayor was so comfortable with his view of the city’s future — one in which bilingual education is de-emphasized and sales taxes are cut, in which work replaces welfare and city employees advance because of performance and not seniority — that he often strayed from both the lectern and his 47-page text to mingle among City Council members and invited admirers.
Mr. Giuliani indicated no significant departure from his first term, no hint that he felt any need to recreate himself if he were to pursue higher office. In fact, the message seemed to be that the second four years of the Giuliani administration will be much like the first: abrasive if you’re a critic, decisive if you’re a fan.
“If you think that I’ve run out of enthusiasm for this job because I’m a lame duck, watch out!” the Mayor, who is limited to two consecutive terms, said in closing. “This is my chance to do all of the things that I was too timid and restrained to do in the first administration.” Then, with his listeners rising in applause, he strode from the City Council chamber, but not before he triumphantly slapped the upraised hands of Deputy Mayor Randy L. Levine in a gesture more common among victorious athletes.
In truth, the Mayor is not required by state law or the City Charter to deliver anything called a “state of the city” address — only to provide the City Council with a summary of the affairs of the city. Nor does he have the power to put into effect, single-handedly, many of the initiatives that he detailed. For example, Mr. Giuliani said the City University should end open enrollment and adopt an entrance exam, but the Governor, not the Mayor, effectively controls the CUNY system.
Still, the annual address has historically been seen as a chance for mayors to talk uninterrupted before a bank of television cameras in a setting of pageantry. And many officials noted that the Republican Mayor had seized the somewhat contrived moment for all it was worth. The only interruption was caused by a spontaneous shout of praise from Alfonso C. Stabile, a Republican Councilman from Queens.
If the speech included one constant theme, it was that the children of the city, whether in a classroom or in a broken home, need greater attention from their government and their elders. Some aspects, Mr. Giuliani said, could not be addressed by government alone; for example, more than half of the children born in the city last year were born out of wedlock.
But Mr. Giuliani said other issues could be addressed, particularly in the schools. He became the latest in a long line of public officials to call for an end to social promotion, which means that children graduate to the next grade regardless of whether they passed examinations showing their proficiency. Instead, he said, third graders who lag behind will be given a few more weeks to improve; otherwise, they will be held back.
Social promotion “may sound right, it may be kind, but it’s cruel,” he said.
“Because if you don’t deal with the problem at an early enough stage,” he said, “then at a much later stage it’s not only an educational problem, it’s a problem of lack of self-worth, it’s an emotional problem, it’s a lot of other things.”
In fact, the Mayor said, the school year should be extended for all students by a month — from 180 days to 200 days — so that they could compete better with students from other countries. “It’s going to be difficult to do,” he acknowledged. “It’s going to cost a lot of money to do it. But I’m going to ask for help from the Governor and from the State Legislature.”
He also urged the Board of Education to end its practice of allowing students to remain in high school until they are as old as 21. That, he said, can create emotional problems and raise safety concerns. He said he would prefer establishing a five-year graduation requirement.
Mr. Giuliani also renewed his call for an end to tenure for principals. “Is it a job-security system for the managers of the system, or is it a system that’s going to insist on accountability and excellence for children?” he asked. “Which is it? It cannot be both.”
After the address, the city’s Schools Chancellor, Rudy Crew, embraced most of the Mayor’s ideas, calling them “the right issues.” But questions of necessary approvals, as well as the cost of these suggestions, are still being explored. And the Chancellor, who is a close ally of the Mayor’s but is not his appointee, stopped short of fully endorsing Mr. Giuliani’s plan to scale back bilingual education. “We are going to have to work through that,” he said.
Sandra Feldman, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, also endorsed most — but not all — of the Mayor’s educational proposals. “We support extending the school year, to give students more help in meeting higher standards and teachers more time for professional development,” she said, “but parents and school staff must have the option to voluntarily participate. The proposal to force high school students out more quickly, however, seems to fly in the face of giving kids who need it more time to meet tougher standards.”
The Mayor also emphasized that children need protection beyond the classroom walls. In again trumpeting his plan to rechristen the city’s welfare centers as “job centers” — the mention of which prompted sustained applause — he said the city would be assigning parents who fell behind in their child-support payments to workfare. “And if they don’t want to do that,” he added, “we’re going to put them in jail.”
Mr. Giuliani even injected some old-fashioned street vernacular into the day’s pomp by calling on residents to approach those who neglect their children and saying: “You know something? You’re a bum.”
It was through the subject of children that the Mayor also managed to talk about public safety, the theme that has most defined his public life. He cited the recent murder of a teen-age girl in Queens — by a man recently paroled from prison — to call again for a state law that would end parole. He also called for legislation to make public the currently sealed records of juveniles convicted of repeated violent and drug-related crimes.
As is often his custom, the Mayor credited the Police Department for the drop in crime and for injecting a sense of safety in the city’s streets. And, as is also his custom, he segued from praise for the police to criticism of those “professional police bashers.”
Another favored topic of the Mayor’s is workfare. City officials say they are now exploring a plan in which caseworkers would be rewarded — perhaps with merit raises — for helping their clients find work. The Administration for Children’s Services is beginning a similar plan, in which caseworkers can advance based on job performance and the pursuit of a graduate degree in social science. The plans require negotiations with union officials who indicated yesterday that they are not about to support them. Details like these will be hashed out in the weeks to come, in boardrooms and on the telephone. Yesterday was a day for generalities, not specifics — of plans for a baseball stadium on Staten Island, for a sports complex in Brooklyn, for a renovation of City Hall Park.
And when Mr. Giuliani’s political supporters and employees filed out of City Hall at the end of the speech yesterday, they enthusiastically reviewed his performance, clapped one another on the back and went their separate ways. Some were so excited that they crossed Broadway by jaywalking — about the only mayoral peeve to go unmentioned all day.