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Campbell Brown critiques New York's schools & political system, in Business Council speech

Karen DeWitt
Protestors outside a speech by charter school advocate Campbell Brown.

Charter school advocate Campbell Brown, speaking at the state’s annual business council meeting, took both state politicians and teacher unions to task for what she says is a failing public school system.  

The Former CNN and NBC anchor  did not mince words when she assessed the performance of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying his education policies are “confused and irrelevant," and saying he should replace his schools chancellor. She did not spare state politicians in Albany, condemning them for failing to approve a bill to make it easier to fire abusive teachers, saying they do too much “wheeling and dealing.”

“This is a screwed up system, it’s a corrupt system, and it’s failing,” Brown said, to applause. “The other side, as you know because they’re outside that door, is nothing if not relentless in keeping control over it.”

The protesters that Brown referred to were approximately 200 teachers union members, who held a demonstration outside the hotel entrance. Many carried signs, including a life-sized cardboard cut out of  Brown as a puppet. Several protestors also took to boats, and the teachers union even chartered a plane to fly overhead with a banner warning that Brown is “bad for schools."

John Parisella, a school psychologist at Burnt Hills Ballston Lake Central School District, came with Sharon Philner, with the Scotia Glenville schools teachers association to protest. They say Brown has a right to speak, but they also have a right to be heard.

“She has a right to say what she has to say, but we also have a right to protest the things that she does say,” said Philner.

“She speaks for powerful people who have a much greater influence than the typical people on the street, even the professional educators,” said Parisella , who says the charter school groups give large campaign contributions to politicians, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

NY State Unitd Teachers President Karen Magee told the crowd that Brown is a front for billionaires and her agenda is not in support of the public schools.

“The future of democracy is at stake,” said Magee, who said people who are not educators and don’t send their children to public schools should not be speaking for the public school students.

“Shame on them,” Magee said.

Brown accuses the teachers of creating a distraction, and she calls their charges absurd.

“I’m raising questions and they’re legitimate questions,” Brown said. “And it’s unfortunate that people want to shout down the questioner, as opposed to engaging in a conversation about how we fix things.”

Brown called charter schools a “beacon of hope” and said there is no compromising with politicians and opponents who want to limit the number of new charter schools.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.