Is Cathleen Black an “Exceptionally Qualified Person” As Required By Law? Opposition Grows As Friends and Opponents Question the Nominee’s Fitness

The commissioner, at the request of a board of education  or  board
  of  cooperative  educational services, may provide for the issuance of a
  certificate as superintendent  of  schools  to 
exceptionally  qualified
  who  do  not  meet  all  of  the  graduate  course  or teaching
  requirements of subdivision one of this section, but  whose 
  training   and   experience  are  the  substantial  equivalent  of  such
  requirements and qualify such persons for the duties of a superintendent
  of schools.
The New York State Department of Education requires credentials for all professionals working in public schools. The requirements for teacher certificates are detailed and the department has no provisions for waivers and only will extend time limits for those serving in the armed forces, except for the position of superintendent.
If a board of education requests the issuance of a “certificate as superintendent” to a person who does not possess a certificate the commissioner appoints a committee made up of  persons from within and outside the department. The committee makes a non-binding recommendation to the commissioner whose decision is final.
In the 1980’s Deputy Mayor Robert Wagner’s application was denied, the last two city superintendents, Harold Levy and Joel Klein received waivers.
The state law  requires the commissioner to ask: how do we define “exceptionally qualified persons?,” and , does the candidate possess “exceptional  training and experience [that] are the substantial equivalent of such requirements and qualify such persons for the duties of a superintendent of schools?”
In 2002 newly elected Mayor Bloomberg asked the commissioner for a waiver in order to appoint Joel Klein, the new governance law had just been become law.
Read the entire decision here
The commissioner appointed an eleven member committee, six state employees, (superintendents and deputy commissioners) and five “outsiders,” (a university education dean, a college president, vice president of IBM, etc.) The committee voted 8-3 to recommend the granting of the waiver.
In his decision commissioner Mills wrote,
… my analysis must recognize that the [governance law] Legislature intended that the Mayor select the Chancellor . I have also considered a job description provided by the Mayor …
Mills muses about Klein’s unique qualifications for two pages,
* led complex organizations in both public and private sectors,
* initiated several controversial antitrust cases … [in a] period of high stress and public scrutiny and achieved results,
* demonstrated … the ability to identify and assess complex problems and strategies to resolve them.
* …[Klein] was trained to confront multi-dimensional problems in matters often outside his experience, gather data and information, rapidly master the subject matter, and apply his analytical skills to achieve a desired result.
* As Deputy White House Counsel, Mr. Klein faced complex policy and strategic issues on a national scale.
* … he is an effective communicator, and that he is experienced in human relations – abilities necessary for schools chancellor.
* Mr. Klein worked as a staff attorney with the mental Health Law Project … work in this arena provides him with some knowledge of the needs of children and families from different backgrounds and circumstances.
* Mr. Klein has some teaching experience …
Mills, in granting the waiver relies on the 2000 waiver approving Harold Levy,
“substantial equivalence need not mean that, item for item, [the candidate’s] qualifications match precisely each regulatory requirement. Rather, it means that, when taken as a whole, in the judgment of the Commissioner, [the candidate’s] qualifications have prepared him to do the job of superintendent of New York City schools.”
He concludes, “Mr. Klein will have the support of a team of experienced educators who will report directly to him and help to create and implement policy to educate the children of New York City.”
The Klein waiver opposition was within the committee with few public objections. The current tsunami is not surprising, the mayor’s manipulation of the law to ensure a third term and his personal injection of over a hundred million dollars into his campaign angered voters and Mr. Klein has become the symbol of unregulated arrogance.
Opposition is growing: an online petition campaign, advocacy organizations, parents, the City Council Education Committee chair, and, perhaps the entire Council are challenging the Cathleen Black appointment. (see NY Times article here)
The opposition objects to the private nature of the appointment, no search, no transparency, no role for the public, and, the candidate’s total lack of any experience or involvement with public schools.
The decision falls upon commissioner David Steiner.
If he denies the waiver he alienates the mayor.
If he approves the waiver he diminishes himself in the eyes of the educational community, both parents and teachers as well as the electeds.
The core question is whether the commissioner should approve a manager, with no educational experience, who will depend upon underlings for educational advice, or require that a person knowledgeable in the issues of education who can seek managers to carry out these policies.
The mayor sees running a department of the city as a question of management, although with few exceptions he has chosen deputies with extensive experience in the department that they lead. His selection of a fire commissioner with no experience in the fire department but was a skilled manager did not go well.
The commissioner faces a “lose, lose” decision.
Meryl Tisch, the leader of the Regents, who have no statutory role in the process, travels in the circles of the mayor, chancellor Klein and nominee Black, most aver that Tisch’s “whisper” to Steiner will prevail.
On the other hand as an outsider Steiner was a critic of the education establishment and as commissioner navigated his way through the Albany and Washington thicket: he negotiated a charter school law, a new teacher evaluation law and garnered the big prize, Race to the Top hundreds of millions.
Will he convince Ms. Black to seek an appointment as ambassador to the Vatican?
Stand up to the mayor and reject Ms. Black?
Approve the waiver and absorb the barbs?
Will the gepetto in Gracie Mansion be able to pull Mr. Steiner’s strings?
Ms. Black, no matter her success in the world of media lacks the knowledge and experience to lead the NYC school system. Her selection would besmirch her reputation and be an insult to the dedicated, hardworking teachers and supervisors in the system and an affront to the million children and their families.
It is insulting to think that a few days of study could substitute for a lifetime of experience.
Our children deserve better.

3 responses to “Is Cathleen Black an “Exceptionally Qualified Person” As Required By Law? Opposition Grows As Friends and Opponents Question the Nominee’s Fitness

  1. “…who do not meet all of the graduate course or teaching

    I would not understand that to mean that a candidate might have NONE of the graduate course or teaching requirements. And the question arises as to whether one can conceive of a significantly LESS qualified person than Black? It is (only very mildy) amusing to try to envisage such a less-qualified person.


  2. The Mayor wants to “rule” by decree, not govern. (There should be a one waiver per mayor rule!). The Mayor thinks everything is best run like a business. He’s had eight years and it doesn’t work that way. The “business” of education is not business. Teaching is an art. The love of learning trumps the “bottom line.” I don’t care how good a manager Ms. Black might be, or how nice a person. She is not qualified; nominating her for the post is a slap in the face to the children and all New Yorkers. The DOE, the PEPs (and too often the Council) are rubber stamps for the Mayor. It’s time for the council and education commissioner to finally say, “no,” and put an end to his “governing” by decree and the notion that “corporate” is the role model for every endeavor.


  3. the mayor’s choices past and present for chancellor, implies that there are no outstanding educators who have outstanding managerial skill. i propose to the mayor, who certainly has great business acumen, perhaps if you hire a top notch educator to be ceo of bloomberg communications, your profits will be greater than imagined. why not? why not make “chainsaw” jack welch a brilliant ceo, head of health and hospitals corporation. if the hospitals are not functioning well, he could get rid of sick patients. or replace nurses with computer software managers who could program robots to provide nursing care? or, better yet, the engineers of olympus cameras, who manufacturer colonoscopes and their highly skilled tecnicians could give the mayor his next annual medical exam. this will lower the cost of heath insurance and doctor’s fees. please mr. mayor, try hard to find an outstanding educator who has the managerial and people skills, who can work in a collegial partnership with teachers and their union


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