Top candidates sound off on education

By JACK SPILLANE, Standard-Times staff writer

This article appeared on September 28, 2005 in the Standard Times

NEW BEDFORD — Education has somewhat taken a back seat to issues such as public safety, union contracts and management style in the early going of the 2005 mayoral election.

But concerns about the quality of the city’s challenged public school system are also frequently on the lips of the candidates.

One candidate has made the city’s 33 percent high school dropout rate part of a slogan meant to illustrate New Bedford’s problems. Another has proposed giving college graduates an industry-assisted stipend if they take a job with a city company.

he Standard-Times asked each of five candidates actively campaigning a series of questions about issues that relate to education.

The preliminary election is Tuesday.


Mr. Lang said he believes the current school system is performing at a “very mediocre” level.

“It used to be said that New Bedford High was the best big high school east of the Mississippi.”

New Bedford test scores are near the bottom of the state and the high dropout rate is “completely unacceptable,” he said.

Mr. Lang said he would emphasize teaching positions over administrative bureaucracy.

“You can say we’re building new schools, but unless we have the appropriate portion of teachers and kids in the classroom, it doesn’t mean you have good schools,” he said.

Art, music and health classes should be at a premium level rather than recommended for cuts as they have been in the past, he said. Gyms, school theaters and clubs should be open after schools.

The mediocrity of the school system is directly tied to the city’s crime problem, he said.

“I want the schools to be the alternative to street life so that kids don’t define themselves by being tough on the street.”

He said the city government should fully fund the schools to the state’s mandate.

He is concerned that the MCAS scores don’t measure real achievement or teach kids to think critically.

He said he will stress discipline so a minority of problem students don’t ruin the system.

Mr. Lang said the superintendent should be given a chance to improve the system for a clear period of time and then evaluated.

The quick construction of the Keith Middle School, after additional environmental contamination was found near the site, was driven by the mayor’s re-election campaign, he asserted.

“I’m not going to put kids’ health and safety in jeopardy in any way to politicize the school building program.”