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Queens Chronicle

On schools and soda, the mayor overreaches

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Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:30 am

Both in the court of public opinion and in an actual court of law, the ruling this week was that Mayor Bloomberg has overreached again.

It’s hardly surprising for someone who’s at the top of both the financial and political worlds, serving his third term as New York’s mayor and having about $27,000,000,000 in personal wealth. But that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to get away with it.

In one case — the planned ban on soda and other sugary drinks in servings larger than 16 ounces — he won’t, at least for now. Justice Milton Tingling saw to that when he ruled that the prohibition is illegal, arbitrary and capricious (whatever your thoughts on the ban, can we all agree it’s ridiculous to impose it on a mom-and-pop corner bodega while the 7-Eleven across the street is exempt? The judge thought so, and so do we).

The city of course is appealing the ruling, and what higher courts might say is anyone’s guess. But we contend that while the mayor was well-intentioned in getting the Board of Health to impose the rule, Tingling’s ruling was correct.

At the same time, it’s a fact that people should stop drinking soda and other beverages that are essentially liquid sugar, at least in mass quantities. The stuff just isn’t good for you. It has zero nutritional value. All it does is contribute heavily to the growing obesity epidemic, which is causing all kinds of societal problems and costing taxpayers dearly. To the degree that he wants to highlight the dangers of binging on soda and other such drinks, the mayor is correct.

Another area where he’s correct on broad principle but wrong in execution is his ongoing effort to remake the city’s education system. Some schools are in serious trouble, and experimenting with alternative models and offering choices are great ideas. But we’re as tired of the perpetual battles over closing schools, renaming schools and collocating schools as students, teachers and parents are. These cannot be the only ways to improve education.

And yet here we are again this week, with a raucous Panel for Educational Policy hearing on school closures going on until about 1 a.m. because so many people vociferously oppose Bloomberg’s plans to shutter another 50 schools citywide and establish new ones in their buildings. We suppose we should be thankful that only two schools in Queens are on the chopping block this year.

Of course, students at those schools — two of the four institutions at the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights — and their parents aren’t thankful at all.

Along with the closures, the city is planning more collocations of schools. At IS 204 in Long Island City, the DOE would have college-age students in “14th grade” in the same building as 12-year-olds. That’s a terrible idea.

And since the courts blocked another plan of the mayor’s last year (sound familiar?), to close Flushing and Newtown high schools, among others, his answer this year are collocations that are likely to squeeze out the existing schools.

Another awful plan that’s underway is what seems like the willful dismantling of the Gifted and Talented program at PS 122 in Astoria, where the number of G&T classes is being cut from 11 to three. Of course parents of gifted students are furious. And they’re right to be: Advanced students need to be challenged or they can become disinterested in school and rapidly develop serious problems.

Whether it’s schools or soda, the mayor takes good intentions too far and needs to be reined in. The results are unnecessary expenditures of the public’s energy and money without the societal improvements he sought in the first place.

In other words, a waste of time.

Welcome to the discussion.