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Accusations After Bloomberg Thwarts Miller on Class Size

By Winnie Hu

Late last month, Council Speaker Gifford Miller joined teachers and students on the steps of City Hall to announce that he would seek to place on the November ballot a referendum that would limit class sizes in public schools.

But now a commission appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has cut short Mr. Miller's efforts by supporting two other referendum questions - on managing city finances and creating an ethics code for administrative law judges - that will take precedence this fall.

The Charter Revision Commission, which is led by Ester R. Fuchs, a special adviser to the mayor, moved to adopt the referendum questions during a regular public meeting on Tuesday night. Under state law, referendum questions recommended by the mayoral commission must be put on the ballot first. Because the commission did not move to adopt Mr. Miller's proposal, it will not appear before voters until 2006.

The proposal had sought to amend the City Charter to require that at least 25 percent of any money generated by a court order requiring the state to improve city schools be spent to bring class sizes into line with those elsewhere in the state.

More than 70,000 people have signed a petition circulated by a group called New Yorkers for Smaller Classes, a coalition of parents, civic groups, unions and educators.

Mr. Miller, who is running for mayor and has sought to score points with voters on education issues, suggested on Friday that the commission's decision was politically motivated. "Charter revision commissions should be used to meet serious challenges to the city's constitution, not to advance the mayor's politics," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller added, "If the mayor is serious about fixing our schools, then he should support our referendum, which has more than 70,000 signatures from New Yorkers, instead of putting issues on the ballot that are better dealt with by legislation."

Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary, dismissed Mr. Miller's charges. "It's amazing that the speaker could make that charge with a straight face," Mr. Skyler said. "His voter-friendly class-size proposal is pure fantasy and would be impossible to implement."

Mr. Skyler added that the commission consisted of "nonpartisan government experts" who had proposed "responsible measures to make sure New York's budget remains balanced and strengthen ethical standards in government."

Lillian Rodríguez-López, the chairwoman of New Yorkers for Smaller Classes, expressed disappointment on Friday over the commission's decision not to include a referendum question on class sizes on the ballot.

"Our coalition intends to pursue every option to ensure that this proposal is presented to voters," she said. "We will continue our efforts until small class sizes are a reality in all New York City public schools

— Winnie Hu
New York Times




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