Panel Rejects Black, Now What?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg appoints Cathie Black, as Joel Klein steps down (Edward Reed/WNYC)

Mayor Bloomberg's controversial pick for schools chancellor has run into serious trouble. An advisory panel has voted against granting a waiver to publishing executive Cathie Black. The waiver would have allowed Black to take the job despite lacking the right education credentials. The panel's vote was 4-to-2. Two other panelists said they didn't want to decide "at this time." Now, it's up to State Education Commissioner David Steiner to make a final decision on Black's future - and he's already indicated he won't rubber stamp the mayor's request. WNYC's Beth Fertig explains.

Tell us about how the vote went down yesterday and what it means.

The eight panel members met for two hours inside a boardroom at the state education department's office on Park Avenue South. Reporters weren't allowed inside so all this information came afterwards when the chair of the panel, Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman, read a statement to us and she took no questions. But what she said was this: Education Commissioner Steiner laid out the three options, they could vote yes, no or "not at this time." He also told them he preferred the latter, adding that he was open to having the application submitted again in a way in which Black is joined by a Chief Academic Officer type of person, someone responsible for education side of things and who would have some autonomy. Steiner ultimately decides so now that the panel's rejected the mayor's request it looks like he's saying come back again with an educator to work with Black. But he hasn't written his decision yet.
We've been hearing a war of words over Cathie Black for weeks now -- opponents says she's not an educator. The mayor says her management skills at Hearst Magazines and USA Today will make her a good chancellor. Is there any indication what swayed the advisory board?

No they won't talk. But with four people voting no, and two others preferring to wait they apparently weren't persuaded. The state statute requires superintendents or chancellors in NYC to have a license, or a master's degree or three years teaching experience. She had none of that. So we can only speculate about why they rejected her. And this is all speculation. There was tremendous opposition to Black from parents and teachers and politicians who wanted an educator. Over 13,000 people signed a petition opposing her. Mayor Bloomberg fought back with a political campaign, lining up powerful business leaders and former mayors and women to support Black. And then yesterday a poll came out showing more than half of the registered voters surveyed thought Black didn't have the experience to be chancellor -- and among public school parents it was even higher, two thirds didn't want her.
Weren't there concerns about conflict of interest on the panel -- about their connections to Mayor Bloomberg and that they'd rubber stamp Black's appointment?

Yes, three worked for the current chancellor Joel Klein, including one woman he wanted to elevate to deputy chancellor but couldn't because the state said she lacked the credentials. So that's why some speculated the deck was stacked. Then fourth panel member, Louise Mirrer, who heads the New York Historical Society, came under scrutiny because her museum received almost half a million dollars in donations from the mayor. There were a lot of stories raising concerns about their ties in The New York Times and other media. It's possible they felt need to show independence after Bloomberg lobbied so hard and they came under scrutiny. But I'm told they're all respected educators who are independent thinkers.

It seems like the mayor put the state education commissioner in a difficult situation, by picking such an unconventional Chancellor. What was David Steiner's dilemma?

Steiner was caught off guard, he's the education commissioner and Bloomberd didn't give him any heads up about this unconventional choice of chancellor. And Steiner has to follow the state law. It looks bad to give a waiver to someone with no experience, he'd have to answer to the state board of regents. By offering this possiblity of accepting Black if she's joined by someone who knows education Steiner is trying to compromise. But that undercuts the mayor's argument that Cathie Black's managerial experience is so good she can be chancellor by relying on other educators surrounding her. It also ties her to this academic leader, whoever it is. What if they leave? How would that work? Former Chancellor Harold Levy, who got a waiver 10 years ago because he was a lawyer, said that's like giving someone a driver's license and then making sure they have two drivers in the car. He thinks it's unweildy. But Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told me she thinks it's completely reasonable and that two leaders can work in tandem if one is responsible for instruction and academics and one runs the overall agency.

Commissioner Steiner is expected to make a decision soon -- how much of an indication did you get yesterday about what that will be?

He said he was mindful of the holiday, but we dont' know, that could mean today or maybe next week. He hasn't made his official decision and he has to put that in writing. The real question then is what the mayor will do. Will he elevate one of the deputy chancellors? Will this be acceptable to him? He's invested a lot of political clout in Cathie Black -- it will be interesting to see how he takes this. So far City Hall has been silent.


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Comments [6]


She couldn't teach in NYC

May. 11 2013 05:05 PM
flea bag from thge lone star state

how are you going to let somebody that doesnt have the right schooling in a position like that? in that case ex cons should be allowed to run for presideint. but you know what they say its not what you know its who you know!

Nov. 24 2010 12:59 PM
Rob Caloras from Little Neck

Dr. Steiner's proposed compromise would not stem the criticism regarding Ms. Black. The appointment of an education advisor is useless unless there is a mechanism for this advisor to have some control over Ms. Black's decision process. Otherwise, it is too easy for Ms. Black to announce she has been advised by person, and is setting a policy despite such, without mentioning what the advice by the education advisor was. In a similar vein, the State Law mandates that Community District Education Councils advise the Chancellor regarding policies that affect education policy in their District. This law has been mostly ignored, and when adhered to, no meaningful action was taken in response to that advice. Maybe the compromise is a way for the Mayor to save face by using it as an excuse to withdraw Ms. Black's waiver request due to impermissible meddling by Dr. Steiner.

Nov. 24 2010 12:27 PM
parent from NYC

I think that the panel was cautious. BB has to get his way at any cost although the public ed is a dangerous ground; BB and Black will try to make their way no matter what. My big worry is that our billionaire Mayor has no concern for public opinion and that the media is giving him far more credit than he deserves; The idea of C. Black in the Board of Ed because of her management skills is unconvincing; it shows that there is no interest to improve chances for low and mid income children to have access to standard education given the struggles and further cuts on the way; As for C Black, aside of her business expertise what are her moral values? Was Black ever interested to do public good? How did she demonstrate that she cares for the community? I do not think that she has done anything to bond with public before or in the future; we do not need heartless business in our public schools because after all what values will children learn going forward?

Nov. 24 2010 12:02 PM
Diana from The Bronx, NY

Chancellor Klein's argument that the first reading program he introduced that failed was at the recommendation of his deputy chancellor for instruction precisely underscores the need for a chancellor with an education background. He would have known if it was an effective program based on his own experience and knowledge about teaching and learning. The fact that he has 6 deputy chancellors (not all are educators, by the way, and all earning 6 figure salaries) also points to a top heavy organizational structure that doesn't have adequate expertise in education, instead treating the system like a corporation, focusing solely on results. A chancellor should be able to discern effective instructional strategies and discuss the merits with pedagogical personnel and other superintendents to determine what would work best for the school system.

Nov. 24 2010 10:47 AM
Laurie from Upper West Side

What kind of vote is "not at this time?" Are you sure those panelists were actually voting and not just saying no thank you to a cup of coffee? Did you say Steiner wants them to add a Chief Academic Officer to the application? That sounds suspiciously like a Chancellor to me. If they want two people to fill the job of one outgoing chancellor then those two new people should share one salary, one desk, one phone, one staff. Furthermore, if the chancellor's office has money to spare on hiring, I'd like another teacher in my kids' school so that we can reduce class size or even hire a school librarian.

Nov. 24 2010 10:06 AM

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