When Mayor Michael Bloomberg named Cathie Black the successor to Joel Klein as chancellor of the Department of Education (DOE), voices of dissent were expected.
But not like this.
The outcry against the selection of Black, a businesswoman with no real experience in education, is increasingly being questioned by parents, education activists, teachers and their union, and politicians.
But the DOE seems to be mainly ignoring or rejecting public concerns.
In a statement to the AmNews from the DOE’s communications office–no official spoke directly with the paper–officials expressed their understanding for dissenting voices and equated the current selection with Joel Klein’s selection eight years ago.
“We understand that people are anxious about change–in 2002, there was very similar criticism of both the mayor’s selection process and his choice of Joel Klein,” the statement said. “Eight years later, Joel is widely acknowledged to be a transformative figure in public education. So the idea that someone from outside the education field can’t be successful here is just false–history has proven otherwise.”
Assemblyman Keith Wright spoke out on the issue recently on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.”
“I think the process was skewed totally,” Wright said. “Just because someone knows Bloomberg doesn’t mean they can run a school system of 1.1 million kids.”
Black’s appointment to the chancellor’s job isn’t a done deal, however. Because of her lack of experience, she will need a waiver from David Steiner, the commissioner of education, and there is broad political support for Steiner to reject Bloomberg’s nominee.
State Senator-elect Tony Avella wrote a letter asking Steiner to not grant a waiver for Black.
“While I’m sure that Ms. Black is a very well-qualified executive in the magazine industry, the top executive in the New York City school system should be an educator,” Avella wrote in his letter. “Ms. Black’s own admissions that she has had no experience in union negotiations and sent her own children to private schools further disqualifies her for this position.”
Ilene Williams, a retired New York City school teacher, agrees with Avella’s assessment–especially when it comes to union issues.
“You’re going to have more complaints from teachers, and it’s gonna go to the union, and I could be wrong, but I see a strike coming on,” she said. “All of the teachers may not join, but I see a strike coming on. Even with the recession, I think people are going to be stressed and something has to give. There are still enough teachers in the system that know what a strike can do to New York City’s school system.”
Black does have her supporters. Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, wrote a counter letter to Steiner advocating a waiver so Black can take her official position as school chancellor.
“Many see the appointment of Ms. Black as an unconventional choice. We see that as a good thing,” read the letter. “Even with all of the gains made during Chancellor Klein’s tenure [another unconventional choice], no one should be willing to accept the status quo of New York City’s schools.”
“The mayor has demonstrated sound judgment and strong principles when it comes to education,” continued the letter. “His choice for chancellor should be upheld.”
And in an odd political pairing, David Dinkins signed a letter with Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch supporting Cathie Black. In a letter sent to State Education Commissioner David Steiner on Thursday the three mayors lobbied Steiner for a waiver for Black
“It is clear that Ms. Black certainly has an extraordinary track record of managing large organizations through trying circumstances,” the letter said. “We believe that Mayor Bloomberg’s faith in Ms. Black’s competence and her proven history as an outstanding executive is, in and of itself, reason enough to grant the necessary waiver.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has real concerns and reservations about Bloomberg’s choice. He pointed out that Ms. Black has neither public sector nor education experience. ” We need a public process that includes parents before moving forward, said De Blasio. “The right response (from Ms. Black and the mayor) would be to go the extra mile and speak out. The reality is this is a huge challenge, and the public needs a reassurance that she is the right choice.”
He also said the state commissioner should review carefully her qualifications before granting her a waiver.