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Syracuse Mayoral Forum: Candidates on Quality of Education in the Syracuse City School District

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syrgov.net

The four candidates for Syracuse mayor acknowledge the city's future hinges on the city school district on many levels, from reducing poverty to attracting families. But they each have different perceptions on how schools are performing. Republican Laura Lavine is calling for mayoral control of the district. The career educator and administrator says it's what voters ask about the most.

“People want good schools. Who wants to buy a house in the city of Syracuse right now, with young children, because of the schools? We have to turn this around, and the way to do it is with mayoral control," Lavine says.

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Republican candidate Laura Lavine talks mayoral power as a way to improve control of the school district.

But Independent Ben Walsh says not so fast. He knows a 60% graduation rate is not acceptable, but it is progress that needs to be celebrated.

“We’re headed in the right direction. The school board is engaged, and this not the time to press the reset button; this is not the time to try a new strategy. We’re headed in the right direction," according to Walsh, "not fast enough. We need to keep pushing in that direction and my role as mayor is to support what’s working.”

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Independent candidate Ben Walsh acknowledges the progress made in running the city district's schools while addressing the improvement that still needs to be made.

The Green Party's Howie Hawkins says what isn't working is de facto segregation within schools by both races and class, which continues to hold back low income minority students.

“When you mix up middle- and lower- class kids, the conformity is – kids like to conform – they come up to middle class standards, and so the expectations of those kids change. That’s been the record, and I think if we don’t address that, all this other stuff is marginal to the core problem," says Howie Hawkins.

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Howie Hawkins, Syracuse City Mayor Green Party candidate, recognizes the role economic issues play in holding back developments in the school district's efforts.

Meanwhile, Democrat Juanita Perez Williams sees the district as diverse, and doing the best it can despite the odds:

“We have a low graduation rate, and quite frankly, much of that has to do with poverty. Our school systems are very effective, but they are weighed down by the very struggles of families and children.”

Outside of mayoral control the, the mayor traditionally has very little influence over a dependent school district. The candidates spoke at a forum yesterday organized by CenterState CEO.

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Democratic candidate Juanita Perez Williams says that other external issues, like poverty, play a bigger role in slowing down progress on education in Syracuse than the school district board itself.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.