Our community found itself at the epicenter of the fight to protect and preserve public education, while also fighting for the real reforms that would improve our schools.
On a cold January day nearly ten years ago, I found myself walking up and down East 79th Street in Manhattan, home to the private residence of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I walked alongside parents, children and educators from across our city, all holding personal stories close to their hearts about how Bloomberg’s policies ravaged their schools and communities.
My school, PS 15 in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, was the place I had called home since 2001. Our school was, and remains, a community committed to educating the whole child; responsive to the children and families we serve. It has a rich history, including surviving the crack epidemic in the 1980s and the loss of its beloved principal, Patrick F. Daly, to gun violence in 1992, while he was searching for an absent student in a housing project nearby. We were an “A” school by Bloomberg’s own measures and we were recognized for closing the achievement gaps for both economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.
Yet all that offered no immunity when our school became one of the first targets for a “co-location,” installing a charter school in the same building as a public school. This wasn’t just any charter school. It was an education corporation run by Spencer Robertson, the son of hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson. The elder Robertson had donated generously to Bloomberg’s education initiatives and was, like the mayor, a national player in promoting the corporate school “reform” agenda — pushing high-stakes testing, closing public schools, co-locating charters with well-performing schools and attacking teachers’ unions, while cutting funding to our public schools.
Today, both public elementary schools in Red Hook struggle under the weight corporate school “reforms” that Bloomberg advocated for.
While Bloomberg sent his own children to lavish private schools that downplayed testing and boasted of experienced educators and small class sizes, he mounted propaganda campaigns, promoting a myriad of destructive policies for public schools, including dismissing the benefits of small class size and experienced educators, expanding charter schools and slashing school budgets. The New York State legislature essentially gave him free rein for all this when it approved mayoral control of city schools in 2002.
Our school community soon found itself at the epicenter of the fight to protect and preserve public education, while also fighting for real reforms. After a struggle that included suing for the right to protest on Bloomberg’s East 79th Street block, which the mayor had deemed a no-First Amendment zone (we lost the case when a federal appeals-court judge mysteriously retracted his decision in our favor), we fended off the charter-school invasion of our building.
It was not a clean victory, however. The charter left our building with the help of $26 million allocated in capital funds to build its own school in Red Hook. In Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor, more than 200 public schools were either closed or had charters co-locate with them.
Today, both public elementary schools in Red Hook struggle under the weight of Obama-era corporate school “reforms” that Bloomberg advocated for. Insufficient funding and a host of imposed-from-above policies by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) hinder our ability to provide what we know and research tells us would most benefit our students and community. This is also Bloomberg’s legacy.
A city DOE official told me a few years into Bill de Blasio’s term that they likened Bloomberg’s legacy to a rotting onion. Just when they thought they had peeled back enough layers to begin making progress, another rotten layer would reveal itself. Bloomberg didn’t just impose policies that hurt our public education system. He created an apparatus that made it nearly impossible to reverse those policies. A President Bloomberg would no doubt imprint these failed and harmful initiatives nationally.
Like Donald Trump, Bloomberg believes his money elevates his worth and knowledge. Like Trump, Bloomberg has no problem using his power to impose unpopular and harmful policies on communities he does not live in. Like Trump, Bloomberg would use his money and power to use and abuse his office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and would put forth a vision and plan that benefits the wealthy and those who fervently believe in market-driven policies and practices. Unlike Trump, Bloomberg has the money, power and experience to get much more done. That terrifies me.
From his perch on 79th Street, Michael Bloomberg, currently the eighth richest man in the world, terrorized communities like mine and imposed market-based systems where they have no place. We cannot allow the fear of Donald Trump, and quite frankly, a fear of Bernie Sanders among some Democrats, to lull us into the idea that a Bloomberg presidency would bring anything but a continued nightmare for those who need change the most.
Julie Cavanagh is an assistant principal at PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She previously served as a special education teacher at PS 15 from 2001-2017.
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