New Pro-Union Group Jumps Into Mayoral Race

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This was a busy week for the public school unions, with the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators facing off in court on Wednesday with the Education Department over the removal of teachers from 24 schools, and Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott poking the teachers' union on Thursday by announcing his intention to buy out unsatisfactory teachers.

While they duke it out at the policy level, the unions are also hoping to kick it up on the political front, and a new coalition of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups will announce its intention to weigh in on the 2013 mayoral race, Michael M. Grynbaum reports on Friday in The New York Times.

The coalition, to be announced on Friday, is a direct response to another well-financed political group, StudentsFirstNY, which was formed this year as a counterweight to critics of the administration’s stewardship of the city’s schools, and is led by former schools chancellors of New York and Washington. The new coalition will be called New Yorkers for Great Public Schools.

All signs show that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's education policies on matters like school closings and charter schools will be a large focus of the mayoral candidates in next year's race. In March, Fernanda Santos and David W. Chen reported on how the likely contenders have been courting Michael Mulgrew, the teachers' union president, in the hopes of getting his support.

To counter that activity, StudentsFirstNY announced its intention to weigh in with a huge war chest, financed largely by hedge fund managers and venture capitalists, of $10 million a year. And now New Yorkers for Great Public Schools is hoping to deliver the cross-punch to that group.

Jon Kest, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, who is one of the prime organizers of the new coalition, said on Thursday that his opponents had been “amassing a small fortune to try and buy the support of mayoral candidates with a massive advertising campaign.”

In a news release, the new coalition described itself as waging “a David vs. Goliath grass-roots campaign” against allies of the mayor.

That description did not sit well with Micah Lasher, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, who wrote in an e-mail to The Times that his group was “a union for students, fighting for a quality teacher for every child” -- and that the unions did not always have students' interests at the top of their list of concerns.

So they are off. And like the "super PACs" that are playing such a huge role in the presidential race, these big-money, school-based political entities could be determinants in the mayoral race. At this point, only the city's stop-and-frisk policies have as much potential to motivate voters -- and thus dominate the words and deeds of the mayoral contenders.

As they say in the newspaper business, TK -- more to come.

Gotham Schools's Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of Friday's education-related news.