To Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, the city's policy of closing schools and replacing them with new ones is akin to the movie "Groundhog Day."
"We're going to be back here next month, we're going to be back here in six months, the kids will not get any smarter, the system will not get any better," he told a cheering throng of activists on the steps of City Hall Tuesday.
A week before the city's Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on plans to close or shrink 25 more schools, Mr. Stringer and three other politicians whose names are frequently mentioned as likely 2013 mayoral contenders joined a handful of education advocates in speaking out against the policy. Each had a quip ready for the assembled media.
"To too many people at the Tweed building, they think closing schools is a panacea," said the Public Advocate Bill De Blasio.
The former city comptroller and 2009 Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson said, "closing a school should be a last resort, not a first resort."
"It's almost gone to the point where the number of school closures is almost seen as a sign of success or progress," added Comptroller John C. Liu.
City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn noted in a written statement distributed at the rally that 11 of the 25 schools on the closing list this year are small schools that have opened since 2005.
"This reminds us that there is no magic bullet for transforming schools," Quinn said. "I am also concerned that high-needs students get the education they deserve in this city and look forward to hearing about Chancellor Walcott's plan to hold schools accountable for enrolling equal amounts of students with high needs."
The politicians joined representatives from Advocates for Children, Class Size Matters and New York Communities for Change in citing data finding many of the schools that are to be closed, or which are already in the process of phasing out, have disproportionately high percentages of students with special education needs, overage students and others considered at risk.
However, the Department of Education dismisses accusations that these students are being warehoused -- a critique made last year by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
City officials insist that they want to close these schools because they are doing a poor job of preparing these students academically, compared to other schools with similar populations.
“Our strategy of replacing large, failing high schools with new small schools has led to historic gains in graduation and college-readiness rates among traditionally underserved communities: black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities," said the Education Department's chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suransky. He was referring to a study of about 100 small schools by the research organization MDRC.
"High-needs students deserve better schools, not more excuses, and we refuse to go back on a strategy that improved thousands of lives in neighborhoods long neglected by the system,” he said.
Arguments like that meant little, however, to Juan Pagan, whose 19-year-old daughter attends Legacy School for Integrated Studies in Manhattan. Approximately 25 percent of the school's students have disabilities and more than 7 percent are in segregated "self-contained" classes.
Mr. Pagan claims the school has suffered from budget cuts and lost a social worker who helped his daughter. He had choice words for the mayor's education strategy.
"It's actually a system that pounces upon our children and uses them as expendable pawns in their game to set schools up to fail, and then to use that as an excuse to shut them down," he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education is scheduled to release data Wednesday tracking students who graduated from schools that were phased out, in compliance with a new City Council law.