Sunday, November 21, 2010

Panel on Pick for Schools Has Close Ties to Bloomberg

New York State’s top education official on Friday named an advisory panel of eight experts, at least half of them with strong connections to the Bloomberg administration, to help him decide whether to approve Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s controversial choice to run the city’s school system.
Three panelists selected by David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner, worked as senior officials at the city’s Department of Education.
One of those three now works at a foundation that was, for many years, the vehicle for Mr. Bloomberg’s personal charitable donations.
A fourth panelist is the head of a museum that has received almost half a million dollars from Mr. Bloomberg in donations since he took office.
The eight panelists share deep experience in the education field as academics and administrators. It is precisely the kind of experience that Mr. Bloomberg’s choice for chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, lacks.
Mr. Steiner must decide whether to grant Ms. Black a waiver from state law requiring leaders of school districts to have substantial education credentials and experience.
Citing the prerogative of mayoral control over the schools, the Bloomberg administration has argued that she is a “visionary” with experience in managing large and unwieldy organizations, as well as a familiarity with dealing with customers who are not always happy.
But critics of Ms. Black’s selection, including many opposed to mayoral control in the first place, say that her appointment, which was a closely guarded secret until just minutes before the announcement on Nov. 9, demonstrates that Mr. Bloomberg is tone-deaf to the voices of parents and teachers who want an educator in the top spot.
The panel is scheduled to hold its first, and probably only, meeting on Tuesday in private in New York City. Education officials say that only the panelists, the commissioner and staff members will attend.
While it is not clear when Mr. Steiner will make his decision, many people expect that he will do so shortly after the Thanksgiving break, or well before Joel I. Klein, the current chancellor, departs at year’s end.
The chairwoman of the panel is Susan H. Fuhrman, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University. Three panelists are in charge of sizable urban school districts: Andrés A. Alonso, the chief executive of the Baltimore school system and a former deputy chancellor under Mr. Klein; Jean-Claude Brizard, the superintendent in Rochester and a New York City native who has been a teacher and principal and was a top aide to Mr. Klein; and Bernard P. Pierorazio, the Yonkers superintendent and a former top official at that city’s highly regarded Saunders Trades and Technical High School.
In an interview, Mr. Brizard said, that he would keep an open mind.
“I’m anxious to see Cathie Black’s credentials, and I’m interested to know what her vision is,” he said. “I don’t believe you need to be an educator, but you certainly need to understand what the goals are, and how the system works.”
The other panelists are: Ronald F. Ferguson, a Harvard economist who focuses on the achievement gap between minority students and white students; Kenneth G. Slentz, a top aide to Mr. Steiner at the State Education Department; Louise Mirrer, president and chief executive of the New-York Historical Society, which has received regular donations from Mr. Bloomberg, and a former top official at the City University of New York; and Michele Cahill, a vice president at the Carnegie Corporation of New York and a former senior educational policy adviser to Mr. Klein.
When asked about the panel, Stephan Ellenwood, chairman of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Boston University and a former colleague of Mr. Steiner’s there, said that he would have expected more panelists to come from academia.
“I don’t know how he got this list,” Dr. Ellenwood said. “It surprises me. The membership of it seems quite uneven.”
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat who has long been critical of Mr. Bloomberg’s education policies, questioned the panel’s makeup, saying, “It appears that the deck has been stacked in favor of granting the waiver in a manner that will further undermine public confidence in the appointment of Ms. Black.”
But Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city teachers’ union, said, “All of these people have heavy-duty backgrounds and success in education, so obviously David Steiner is clearly looking at this from the educational side, as he should be.”
One panelist, Ms. Cahill, has personal experience with the waiver issue.
As one of Mr. Klein’s most trusted aides from 2002 to 2006, she played a crucial role in reorganizing the school system and developing new schools, and was the driving force behind new programs for students most at risk of dropping out. But in 2004, she was denied a state waiver to serve as deputy chancellor, because while she had a dozen years of teaching experience and a master’s degree in urban affairs, she lacked traditional education supervisory credentials.
She now works at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic organization, as director of urban education, and said it was important to find someone to continue what Mr. Klein started.
“I think that the next chancellor of the school system has to present a commitment to the kind of reform that has resulted in the positive outcomes that have happened in New York City at this time,” she said.
She said she did not see her time working for Mr. Klein as a conflict. “People will assume what they want to,” she said. “I have a 40-year record on education. I have had many professional positions, and I have worked with more than 30 school districts throughout the country.”
Still, it was widely known that Mr. Bloomberg, until recently, made his charitable gifts to hundreds of arts and cultural groups through Carnegie.
But George Soule, a Carnegie spokesman, said Friday that “there was no intersection whatsoever” between Ms. Cahill and that money, which he described as having come from “an anonymous donor.”
Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.

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