Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Discussion of Black's Appointment Dominates PEP Meeting
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's choice of publishing executive Cathie Black dominated Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, even though the Bloomberg administration insisted the panel was no place for such a discussion.
Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, one of the few board members not appointed by the mayor, introduced a resolution requiring the panel to be the body that asks the state for a waiver enabling Black to take office. Candidates without specific education credentials need to demonstrate they have other extraordinary qualifications, and Bloomberg maintains Black fits that description because she's a "world class manager."
Sullivan said having the panel request the waiver would provide more transparency given "the enormous outpouring of outrage and concern" about Black's appointment, even though the panel is controlled by the Mayor. But the Department of Education pointed to a letter from State Education Commissioner David Steiner saying the Mayor could request the waiver directly because he's in charge of the schools.
While Sullivan's proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, it did lead to a public debate as a handful of politicians, parents and teachers addressed the panel to speak out against Black during the meeting at Brooklyn Technical High School. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who appointed Sullivan, said the selection of a chancellor should follow a baseline process "beyond going through one's personal address book," in a reference to Bloomberg. He said New Yorkers should "get to know this chancellor up close and personal with a full vetting process" and that a review by the Panel for Educational Policy would provide that role.
City councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn also testified that while Black's resume is impressive, it's "a long list of nothing when it comes to the job she's applying for now." Williams is sponsoring a resolution to be introduced in the City Council Wednesday calling on the state education commissioner to deny Black a waiver.
Parent Laura Curran of Brooklyn told the panel she also felt that Black wasn't qualified. "I know there's a deep fiscal crisis in the city," she said. But she added that she wants an educator to oversee the inevitable budget cuts and called Bloomberg's pick a "slap in the face" to parents. About 15 teachers wearing orange makeshift capes and calling themselves the Real Reformers sang a rap against corporate control of schools.
Chancellor Joel Klein addressed the uproar shortly before the meeting. He told reporters he had full confidence in Black's ability to manage the school system. The Department of Education also released the names of three supporters of Black who had written letters on her behalf: feminist Gloria Steinem, former Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Steinem pointed to Black's leadership in a male-dominated industry.