By Kate Taylor and Anna M. Phillips
Brushing aside criticism of his longstanding policy to close poorly performing schools and replace them with new ones, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that the city would open 54 new schools in the fall, many of them in spaces vacated by schools being closed.
“Students and parents deserve top-quality school choices, and we’re going to continue to ensure that they have even more of them,” the mayor said at a news conference, which was held in the library of Washington Irving High School, one of the schools being closed.
Earlier in the day, the issue of school closings was drawn into the fray of mayoral politics, when several expected mayoral candidates criticized Mr. Bloomberg’s policies.
William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller and a 2009 Democratic candidate for mayor, called the closing of schools a “shell game” and a “Ponzi scheme,” and urged the State Legislature to issue a moratorium on such closings.
Two other possible candidates, Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, did not call for a moratorium but said that they would like to see fewer school closings.
The three were speaking at a forum at New York University, where a group critical of Mr. Bloomberg’s policies released a report showing that the 23 schools targeted for closing this year had higher proportions of special-education students, students who were over age for their grade and students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, as well as lower proportions of students proficient in math and language arts, than the city’s school system as a whole.
One expected candidate, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a frequent ally of Mr. Bloomberg’s, did not attend the forum. In a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, she said she had decided not to attend because she opposed one of the recommendations in the report, which called for the city to select a group of struggling schools that would receive additional support. She described that as a throwback to a 1990s initiative whose success has been questioned.
By this fall, the Bloomberg administration will have closed, or will have begun phasing out, 140 schools since 2002 and will have opened 589 new ones — many of them small schools that share space in old school buildings. Teachers at closed schools cannot be fired, but they are often not hired by the new schools, and can wind up as substitute teachers for years before finding permanent positions.
The new schools generally have higher graduation rates than the schools they replace, and their students score better on exams. But critics, including the teachers’ union, argue that the reason the new schools appear to be superior is that their students have fewer challenges, like poverty and special needs.
However, the mayor and the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, pushed back sharply against that argument on Tuesday.
“The student bodies of these new schools mirror those of the schools they replace,” the mayor said, “with similar percentages of black and Latino students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.”
According to Education Department data, in 2011 the percentage of students with disabilities at new schools opened by the Bloomberg administration was 15.2, compared with 10.7 percent at schools citywide. The percentage of English-language learners at the new schools was roughly equivalent to the percentage citywide; the percentage of black and Latino students was significantly higher at the new schools.
The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, noted in a statement that 9 out of the 23 schools targeted for closing this year had been created by the Bloomberg administration since 2002.
“We intend to fight to make sure these new schools get the supports they need,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “Nearly 40 percent of the schools on the current closing list were created by Bloomberg, and we’d hate to see him try to close these at the same rate before he leaves office.”
Of the 54 schools being opened in the fall, 24 will be charter schools and 30 will be regular public schools. Most of the new schools will fill space either being vacated by closing schools or in currently underused school buildings. Only 10 of them will be new school spaces.