Boston City Council candidates clashed on extending the school day, sparred over closing firehouses, and wrestled with whether they would vote to approve a hefty police contract.
Four of eight contenders for four citywide seats—Ayanna Pressley, Michael Flaherty, Martin Keogh and Annissa Essaibi-Goerge – met for an online debate streamed live on Boston.com.
The other contenders, immigration attorney Jeffrey Michael Ross, former Elizabeth Warren campaign aide Michelle Wu, current council president Stephen Murphy, and ex-neighborhood coordinator Jack Kelley, squared off on Monday.
Essaibi-George, an East Boston High School teacher and small-business owner, said as councilor she would oppose extending the school day, noting that it may not be ideal for enriching the education Boston students.
“There is an appropriate amount time that a kid should spend in school learning,’’ said Essaibi-George. “There’s an appropriate amount a time that they should spend after school in an enrichment activities. … We need to make sure they have time with their families.”
Flaherty, a former council president seeking a return to the government body, said he supports a longer school day and a longer school year, but said they would cost money. He blasted the School Department for spending millions transporting schoolchildren across the city, money he said could be better spent on improving academics and schools.
“Where are we going to get the dough?’’ Flaherty asked during the informal debate. “We spend more money into fuel, maintenance repairs, windshield wipers, brake pads. That should money should be directly in the classroom. That has to happen. And it has to happen now.”
Keogh, a West Roxbury resident and lawyer, said he supports a longer school day but added that teachers should be compensated for working longer.
“I would not have [an extended day] without teachers getting paid,’’ he said. “What to do with do with time – sports, arts, music? You want to keep off the streets and out of trouble.”
Pressley, a councilor at large who is seeking a third term on the council, cited huge gaps in education across the district. “Whatever we are going to do, we have to make sure it is districtwide and every child has access to those opportunities,’’ she said.
She spoke out in favor of a longer school day and a longer school year but stressed that the city must ensure that every child is getting is quality education.
“Because that is at the crux of every issue we talk about – public safety, a prepared work force. Everything comes back to education,” Pressley said.
The candidates were also split on whether they would support an arbitrator’s decision to hike police union pay 25.4 percent over the next six years. Essaibi-George and Keogh said they would support the contract. Pressley said she is leaning no and has questions on the matter that she’s asked for answers. Flaherty said he would vote against the contract in its present form, adding that it does not contain language for mandatory random drug and alcohol testing that is included in the firefighter’s contract.
Three of the candidates said they would keep all firehouses open, and Pressley said she would study the issue. The Globe reported this year that 60 percent of the department’s calls were medical- or service-related, and just 8 percent were for fires.
The candidates also said that despite uncertainty over a Suffolk Downs casino, they think the vote on the casino vote should proceed as planned on Election Day, Nov. 5.