photo (1)
CUNY Institute of Education Policy head David Steiner spoke with mayoral candidate Sal Albanese this morning.

Long-shot mayoral candidate Sal Albanese has a proposition for the city’s labor unions: Let me change your pension plans, and I’ll give you retroactive raises.

“What I would propose in exchange for retroactive pay is reforming our pension system,” Albanese said today at a forum at Hunter College. “I want the unions to allow me to reform the pension system. We have a clunker of a system. It’s not modern.”

One of the next mayor’s first responsibilities will be to negotiate new contracts with the city’s municipal unions, including the United Federation of Teachers. Mayor Bloomberg has allowed the contracts to expire, and many unions say they plan to push for back pay for their members once they get to the negotiating table.

Albanese said offering the back pay, which Bloomberg says the city cannot afford, is possible if the unions agree to other changes to their benefits. Albanese cited a Toronto pension system as a model for reform, saying that it outperforms New York City’s. If New York City’s system functioned as well, he said, “we would save about $2.5 billion a year.”

Albanese made the comments at the latest forum held by the CUNY Institute of Education Policy this morning at Hunter College. David Steiner, New York State’s former education chief, is hosting mayoral candidates to let them explain how they would run the city’s schools.

Albanese’s plan to save money on pensions is important because he has expensive ideas for the city’s schools, outlined in detail in his “Smartest City in the World” plan released last week. (A former teacher and City Councilman, Albanese gave GothamSchools a glimpse into his plans in an interview in June.)

The heart of the plan focuses on early childhood education. If elected, Albanese says he would open pediatric wellness centers for children ages 0 -3 in all five boroughs. The pediatric wellness centers, according to Albanese, would allow doctors, educators, and parents to create quality learning environments for their children — environments that he said he hopes will erase gaps between children growing up in low-income areas and their wealthier peers.

Acknowledging the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children Zone’s “Baby College,” Albanese said he would establish universal pre-kindergarten and consolidate Head Start and preschool programs under one city agency called the Department of Early Learning.

“It’s clear to me is that, one thing we aren’t doing as a city and a country, with the exception of isolated cases, is we aren’t focusing on is early intervention,” Albanese said.

Steiner asked how Albanese would cover the costs of the early education project, which he the candidate pegged at $500 million a year. Explaining his pension reform plan, Albanese took aim at a proposal by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who vaulted into frontrunner status in today’s Quinnipiac poll, to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 to pay for pre-K and after-school programs. The tax plan is “unrealistic,” Albanese said.

The Albanese education plan calls for the city to offer coding classes and bring more technology into the classroom.  Albanese also wants to invest in the New York City teaching corps, by creating one-year teacher residencies during college students’ senior years. Then, when new teachers begin their careers, they will be paired with an experienced teacher for two years so they can receive consistent feedback about their teaching practice.

“I based my educational philosophy on my own experiences as a student in the New York City public schools, and also as a teacher,” Albanese said. “I spent 11 years as a public school teacher. I understand education from the ground up.”