Opponents of Cathie Black Consider Legal Action

Mayor Bloomberg's decision to accept a compromise proposed by State Education Commissioner David Steiner means publishing executive Cathie Black is expected to receive the waiver she needs to become schools chancellor Monday. Black lacks the right education credentials for the job and Bloomberg has argued, unsuccessfully, that her management experience at Hearst Magazines and USA Today make her exceptionally qualified for the position.

Education Commissioner Steiner's decision to grant the waiver is based on Black's decision to elevate deputy chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky to the post of Chief Academic Officer. Polakow-Suransky has a masters degree in education from Bank Street College, and has spent 15 years in the school system as a teacher, principal and most recently as a deputy chancellor in charge of the A-F rating system for the city's schools.

One group of opponents says the proposal does nothing to change the fact that Black has no education experience, and threaten to take the matter to court. Carmen Applewhite is a teacher and member of the Coalition for Public Education and was angered by the plan.

"If you go for surgery and the administrator of the hospital tells you that the doctor never went to medical school but he got a waiver, but we're going to get someone to stand in the operating room and read a manual while he cuts you open, I don't think anybody would accept that," said Applewhite. "That's what you're asking us to accept."

She was joined by others on the steps of Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of the Department of Education, who say they've found no legal precedent for the arrangement between Steiner and Bloomberg.

"What we will do in the days to come is take a look to see whether or not this situation has arisen, anywhere in any of the other 49 states," said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. "And then, and only then, once we have a comprehensive understanding of the issues, will we make the strategic decision of whether to go to court or not."

Department of Education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz wouldn't comment on the legal questions raised by the parents and politicians, but said, "It's time to put politics aside and recognize that it's in all our kids' interest for Cathie Black to succeed as our next Chancellor."

Elsewhere in the city, some residents following the story said the arrangment would result in a confused chain of command.

"I think having co-chancellors is not a good idea," said Tom Keenan, standing outside his Sunnyside home, "simply because having a school district of this size, trying to manage it with two people, they'll end up lacking the leadership needed to send it in any given direction."

Nearby, Maura Hopkins took a different approach.

"Why would they appoint somebody with more experience than she has on the lower level, and give her the top job?" she asked. "It doesn't make sense."

But another neighborhood resident, small business owner Drew Randolph, liked the idea of Polakow-Suransky acting as Chief Academic Officer.

"If he has experience and they work together as a team, it would be better on her behalf, you know," said Randolph. "Obviously she does know what she's doing. She probably doesn't have the most full experience as someone else would have. But if she has somebody helping her on the side, that can go along with her, it's definitely a go."