Chancellor Walcott speaks to a parent on the first day of school

Between school visits today, reporters grilled Chancellor Dennis Walcott about the biggest issues the Department of Education faces today.

Most of his answers tread familiar territory: When asked about the pool of teachers without permanent positions, which has grown, he suggested the same policy solution that former chancellor Joel Klein called for on his way out the door.

But in a few cases Walcott broke new ground. Asked about the city’s testing of schools for toxic chemicals, which he vowed to accelerate after the city precipitously closed a contaminated Bronx school this summer, the chancellor said all schools have come back clean. But testing is still ongoing at the majority of leased sites, he said.

Read on for the highlights.

On the New York Times poll about parent satisfaction:

Ten years ago, people would not even be able to take a poll like that. The mayor didn’t have control. The mayor said, ‘I want to be held accountable.’ When we encounter parents and staff throughout the system, they’re excited about what’s happening in our schools. They want what is better for their students and we want that as well. As the mayor took over we have expanded our schools. More choice than ever before, more options for our parents. People are voting with their feet as far as going to quality schools. The poll is just a poll.

On PCBs and other toxins in the schools:

We set aside roughly $800 million to deal with the remediation of light ballasts and PCBs that may be contained in there. If we find an actual leak we’ll replace it. We are the only school system in the entire country that has set this agressive 10-year plan. Now we will notify parents when we find an environmental problem in the schools, and we will notify them right away. … We are on target, and we said we are going to prioritize our elementary schools first, 11 of remaining 31. We got the results of all 11, and all 11 are fine.

On the volume of families at school enrollment centers:

On average in the past we serve roughly 45,000 students who are either new to the city, [or] coming in from a different country. … Each case is different. … By the beginning of next week all students who are at different centers now will have their schools. Many are already in their schools where they should be.

On budget cuts:

I’m very confident in the leadership of our schools. The reality is our budget is not as strong as it was before.

On parent engagement:

You’ll hear me talking about family and parent engagement frequently this year. Jesse Mojica is working with not just our parent coordinators but our families, making sure we have a very engaged program with our families, making sure they’re getting information about Common Core and how we expect parents to step up to the plate as well.

On ATRs still without permanent school positions:

We worked that out with the UFT. A lot of the excessed teachers have been hired by schools, and our goal is to have as few ATRs as we can. But at the same time we have a group of ATRs who have been in the ATR pool for years. We’re still paying their salaries. … It’s easy what could be done. After a certain period of time if they don’t get a job, they have an ability to say goodbye to the system, and we have the ability to say goodbye to them.