Cathie Black Transition Blues
by David C. Bloomfield
There was no need for the high drama associated with Joel Klein’s resignation as New York City schools Chancellor. Every district in the country regularly faces these departures, yet it is rare for superintendents to quit or be fired mid-year, and usually when they do it is for critical health or ethical reasons. Six months notice is a minimum to allow for a methodical search and continuity through June. That neither the Mayor nor Chancellor foresaw this disruption demonstrates their misunderstanding of how schools really work.
Then there is the matter of the Mayor’s clandestine process for selecting Klein’s successor. Not only did he violate the spirit and perhaps the letter of Equal Employment Opportunity procedures, there was no public opportunity to meet the candidate, again standard fare in districts throughout the country. The usual first, softball question asked in any of these forums is about educational vision. Ms. Black has said she has none, an astonishing answer that would disqualify her in any serious public search. The Black firestorm is an example of why City Council advice and consent for Chancellor nominees is a necessary check on mayoral autonomy and will boost any eventual Chancellor’s chances of lasting success.
Of Ms. Black’s lack of qualifications, much has been written, with the final chapter now beginning before the State Supreme Court in Albany. I serve as an expert advisor to one team of attorneys challenging the certification waiver granted by State Education Commissioner David Steiner. The law requires a detailed finding that Black’s record is the “substantial equivalent” of criteria for State superintendent certification. Instead, the Commissioner ignored those statutory and regulatory mandates, writing only generally about Black’s managerial expertise compared to vague nostrums about educational leadership from a 2001 State report that has no force of law. Thus, Steiner’s rubber stamp of the Mayor’s selection ignored legal limitations, substituting an entirely subjective standard that eviscerates the statute and would arbitrarily permit virtually anyone to receive a waiver. Similarly, justifying the waiver based on appointment of a qualified deputy is absurd since all superintendents have credentialed subordinates. The statute includes no provision for this consideration.
The fight over the Deputy Chancellor is another sour note in the Cathie Black transition blues. According to my information, current Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern was first offered the job by Black and accepted. His appointment was then vetoed by higher ups but he was never informed until learning that Shael Suransky, once his deputy and now Klein’s accountability chief, was appointed instead. Palace intrigue and infighting do not serve our 1.1 million children. Neither do Black’s photo-ops and scripted statements since her waiver, including her promise of complete fidelity to the DOE’s present agenda. We need informed and agile leadership, not Joel Klein’s Stepford Wife.
The blues will not end until Black withdraws voluntarily or is forced by court order. Her proto-administration is fatally wounded. The best course is for Klein to stay through June (sigh) and for a public process to begin immediately.
David Bloomfield is the Chair of the Education Department at the College of Staten Island, CUNY