New Haven Mayoral Candidates Debate School Issues

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Seven New Haven mayoral candidates squared off in a debate Friday evening. They’re all looking to replace current Mayor John Destefano Jr., who is stepping down after 20 years of service to the Elm City.

Our own Fox Connecticut reporter Ayana Harry moderated the debate.

Kermit Carolina, Alderman Justin Elicker, Henry Fernandez, state Sen. Toni Harp, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, Sundiata Keitazulu and Matt Nemerson are all running for the position of New Haven mayor.

Education was a key topic. Currently 64 percent of New Haven public high school students don’t graduate on time. Only one-third of all New Haven third graders are reading at grade level.

“A school district cannot be the place we take care of our friends,” said Henry Fernandez.

Fernandez said if elected as mayor he wants to sit on the Board of Education.

The city has taken steps to improve its public schools. It implemented a teacher and principal evaluation system, but everyone said more needs to be done.

“Yes we have to talk about alternatives for kids, but we have to talk about the foundation and we’ve done a poor job,” said Rep. Holder-Winfield.

Alderman Justin Elicker calls it a birth to prison pipeline. He is focused on changing that by holding administrators accountable.

“I’ve been a strong advocate for a hybrid partially-appointed, partially-elected Board of Education,” he said. “At least two members on the board would be elected so we can put more pressure on institutions.

State Sen. Toni Harp is currently serving her eleventh consecutive term. She said the answer is more than having an accountable school system; it’s about having a successful school curriculum.

“It’s really important that the tools that our schools have and our teachers have, have been measured and are proven to work and are evidence based,” she said.

All candidates say they agree with a public school choice system that allows parents to choose between magnet, charter and neighborhood schools.

The Democratic primary is set for September.

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