Commissioner Picks Panel to Consider Walcott as Schools Chancellor

State Education Commissioner David Steiner named a ten-member panel Tuesday to consider whether to give Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott the waiver he needs to serve as New York City Schools Chancellor following Cathie Black's resignation last Thursday.

The panel members will receive the application and supporting documents provided by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Steiner will meet with them in Albany Wednesday to provide guidance about the questions they should consider in reviewing the materials, according to the state education department.

"The commissioner will carefully review and consider the advice he receives from the panel," the department said in a statement. "He will then apply the law to the facts presented" and render a decision.

The department said the commissioner is "mindful of the need for prompt action."

Black also needed a waiver because she lacked a superintendent's license and was given one on the condition that she appoint one of the deputy chancellors, Shael Polakow-Suransky, as Chief Academic Officer.

Deputy Mayor Walcott continued his high-profile media roll-out by heading to Albany Tuesday to meet with leaders of the Assembly and Senate. 

"When he was appointed, he committed to working with the legislature and partnering with them to improve the education of our children,"said Mark Botnick, a spokesman for the mayor in Albany. "Today is not about lobbying on any one issue per se, rather building on an already existing meaningful and working relationship."

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron wants lawmakers to revoke the mayor's right to pick a schools chancellor, saying Walcott's not qualified.

"He's never been a superintendent. He's never done the three years you need for teaching. He's only done the two in kindergarten," said Barron, a frequent critic of Bloomberg's education reforms. "We want a chancellor who's qualified, that doesn't need a waiver and that can rescue us from this failing policy."

Walcott emerged from his meetings Tuesday telling reporters he planned to treat Albany as "the sixth borough" once he's chancellor.

He announced that the city will be able to build almost 12,000 more classroom seats now that Albany has restored $1.75 billion to its capital budget.

"Today was a day to say thank you and just reintroduce myself in hopefully my new hat," he said.

Walcott said the city is still looking to eliminate a total of 6,100 teaching positions through layoffs and attrition. Though Albany's budget has been passed, he said he hopes to convince lawmakers to let the city save money through various types of mandate relief such as pensions and special education lawsuits.

Legislators have bristled in the past at the Bloomberg Administration's approach to education, complaining their constituents have felt ignored by the city when schools are opened and closed. Walcott offered a friendlier ear when he said, "I will be there to respond to questions on a regular basis."

He said he would be "very open" with those who support and oppose what the city does "especially parents."

The ten panel members appointed by the state commissioner are:

  • James N. Baldwin, the state education department's Chief of Staff and Interim Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education
  • Rebecca Cort, the state's Associate Commissioner for Special Education
  • David Lavallee, Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs for SUNY
  • Susan D. Phillips, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs for SUNY Albany
  • Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, Superintendent of the Enlarged City School District of Troy
  • Frank Munoz, the former Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Professions in the NY State Ed. Dept.
  • Deborah Shanley, Dean of the School of Education at Brooklyn College
  • Marilyn Terranova, Superintendent of Schools of Eastchester Union Free School District
  • Mark Vivacqua, District Superintendent of Herkimer, Fulton, Hamilton, Otsego Counties BOCES
  • Janice White, Superintendent Saratoga Springs School District

With reporting from Karen DeWitt in Albany