Kenyon McGriff, a Sayre High School senior, last week posed a question to the candidates running for mayor of Philadelphia.

"Are you interested in real school safety, or just locking students up?"

The candidates will have a chance to answer in writing, through a survey, and in person, at an April 12 forum sponsored by the Philadelphia Cross City Campaign for School Reform, a coalition of student and education groups.

The survey and forum are ways to make education - and the problems besetting city schools - defining issues in the race, coalition members said during a news conference Thursday in Center City.

"Education has not been an important enough issue for far too long," said Marcella Gibbs, who attends Kensington High School.

McGriff said the schools are not safe despite having plenty of cameras, metal detectors, window bars and school police officers. What are needed, he thinks, are smaller classes and buildings and more qualified teachers and counselors.

William Elkins-Crosby, a senior at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School, said his new school is not living up to its name.

"I cannot use an instrument from 40 years ago that's all rusty. It's not going to sound the way it's supposed to," he said. "I feel disrespected."

The students have asked the candidates to return the surveys by March 5. The responses will be made public, the students said. The forum is set for the evening of April 12 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, N. Broad and Mount Vernon streets.

The survey asks candidates how they would tackle the drop-out problem, support the small-schools movement, ensure financial equity among schools and work with other politicians to draw funding to the schools.

The Cross City coalition member organizations are ACORN, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, Good Schools Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, the Education Law Center, Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, and the Philadelphia Education Fund. *