Hosted by the educational nonprofit Zone 126, the forum delved into issues such as school space, homelessness and district diversity. The forum provided the candidates a chance to talk about their platforms and priorities.
For Councilman Costa Constantinides, leading Borough Hall means having the opportunity to invest tens of millions of dollars every year in science labs and solarizing school buildings.
“The borough president can help transform Queens when it comes to education,” he said.
Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said he would focus on building new schools to help alleviate overcrowding. Retired NYPD Sergeant Anthony Miranda said he would also use the position to make class sizes smaller.
“There’s been an insufficient response to the needs of our schools,” he said. “We need a better system for all of our children.”
Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman said she would address funding disparities in the borough. As a longtime member of the Community Education Council for District 29, Hyndman said she fought for resources to build up classrooms, technology and playgrounds.
“In every community, in every part of Queens, every child should receive a good quality education,” she said.
Councilman Donovan Richards, who currently leads the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said he would make sure schools place more of an emphasis on counselors, rather than on cops.
The city’s school system has more than 5,000 school safety agents, but fewer than 3,000 counselors and social workers, which Richards said is “not what we need in this borough.”
The councilman said he also wants to see more “restorative justice” in schools, noting that in underprivileged communities, students are suspended at a higher rate.
“Your zip code should not determine whether you receive a quality education,” Richards said. “As borough president, I will put my money where my mouth is to ensure that our children have a fighting chance.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, meanwhile, said he wants to use the position to empower parents.
“I would hire organizers so parents can have the power they deserve so their children can succeed,” he said.
On the issue of chronic absenteeism, while the candidates all agreed on getting to the root causes of the problem, they offered different solutions.
Constantinides said asthma keeps students home 10 to 30 days a year, and pledged to fight “dirty fossil fuels that make our kids sick.” The councilman also said he wants a borough-wide transportation plan, and would give the MTA a list of demands.
Hyndman said in speaking to principals, she learned that many immigrant parents take their kids back to their home countries for long periods.
Her solution would be to have translators at every school, including at PTA meetings, and to make sure parents have an orientation of what to expect at the beginning of each school year.
“We also need to bring back attendance awards,” she said.
Miranda called for creating safe school environments where students are “encouraged, not criticized.” He also wants to engage parents more directly.
Richards, meanwhile, said one of the root causes of absenteeism is the lack of permanent housing, citing the 110,000 students who are living doubled-up or in homeless shelters. Van Bramer called for “holistic wrap-around services” for students, especially for those who may have problems at home.
“Bullying is one of the worst things that makes school less desirable,” he said. “It’s critical that every school is safe for every child.”
At the forum, candidates were also asked for their positions on charter schools. Constantinides responded that he does not support “large charter schools,” which he said has issues with transparency and accountability.
Instead, he said he would look to keep funding public education and supporting local public schools.
“Those big schools don’t need help,” he said. “It’s our students who need the most help.”
Crowley also agreed that lawmakers should “build public schools first.” Van Bramer added that the “corporate charter entities” are often at odds with organized labor.
He also believes that, in some cases, charter schools “cherry-pick their students” by not selecting students with specific needs.
“That’s part of the problem and part of the inequity,” Van Bramer said. “I do not want them in Queens.”
Miranda, whose children have attended both charter and public schools, said he also doesn’t want unfunded public schools. But he acknowledged that parents are not going to “wait around” for public schools to improve.
“We look for the best school possible,” he said.
Hyndman said her district has two charter schools, two of which are co-located with public schools. While she understands that parents want choice, she disagrees with co-location of schools.
“For schools to thrive, we have to have buildings that are stand alone,” she said. “There’s a constant battle between administrations, who’s going to have classrooms or the yard. That disparity affects learning.”
Richards agreed that co-locations don’t work. He said children in public school often feel inferior when they see the resources that charter schools have.
“A lot of charter schools are not taking as many kids with IEPs,” he added, echoing Van Bramer’s concerns. “We need to make sure they do that and hold them accountable.”
The special election to fill the seat vacated by Melinda Katz when she was elected district attorney will be held on March 24.