Candidates focus on the classroom during Cleveland’s second mayoral debate

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Seven candidates were face to face on the same stage Tuesday evening, trying to convince voters to choose them to replace outgoing Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. 

They participated in the second of two debates as voting in the mayoral primary gets underway.

Tuesday was the first day of early voting for the Sept. 14 primary election. The seven candidates responded to pre-taped questions from city residents.

Candidates weighed in on how to improve the city’s school system and help students who fell behind during the pandemic catch up.

State Sen. Sandra Williams said a priority will be making sure all families have access to high-speed internet.

“An intensive, targeted approach for remedial education for the students that have been left behind. I also believe and I’ve always believed that we should have school tutoring before school, after school and on the weekends for those students who have fallen behind,” said Williams.

Ward 7 Councilman Basheer Jones said his focus would go beyond the classroom.

“What we have to do is make sure we are investing in wrap-around services for our children. The fact that 85 percent of student achievement has nothing to do with the school you go to, but with the problems that you bring,” Jones said.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he thinks the school district’s budget should be adjusted and wants to implement a lead testing program for families.

“That is one of the major impediments to children learning. I’m going to see the administrative costs cut in the Cleveland Board of Education because they’re twice what many major school districts are and put the money back into the classrooms,” Kucinich said.

Non-profit executive Justin Bibb said there should be more investment in teachers.

“We’ve gone from an F to a D in just ten years and that’s not good enough for me, so number one, we need to address the learning loss that we’ve seen in this pandemic. I believe that requires more high dosage tutoring and mentoring year-round for all of our children,” said Bibb.

Former city councilman Zack Reed callrf for more cooperation between schools and families.

“We’ve got to go into these schools and talk to the teachers, talk to the parents and see what kind of relationship can we build. We’re never going to be able to go to the next level in the city of Cleveland unless we build a world-class, first-class educational system in the city of Cleveland,” Reed said.

Other topics discussed included environmental issues, transportation, job creation and the economy.

City Council President Kevin Kelley said the city needs to do more to match employers with potential employees.

“We have unemployed and underemployed people within the same square mile of these institutions. That is not a condition that we should accept. We need to make sure that we are working with industry, with labor, with the schools to train our citizens for the jobs that are available,” said Kelley.

Attorney Ross DiBello is calling for an end to tax abatements.

“To worry about gentrification displacement, we’re gonna do rent caps, right… Even if you don’t get displaced, you can’t be asked to pay 35, 40, 45, 50 percent of your income towards your rent, so we want to revitalize every neighborhood, all 34,” said DiBello.

The debate was sponsored by IdeaStream Public Media, in partnership with the City Club of Cleveland.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in next month’s primary will go head to head in the general election in November.

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