NEW YORK - A coalition of parents and educators has announced their opposition regarding the "compromise" that New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner has brokered with City Hall appointing Ms. Cathleen Black as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education with Mr. Shael Palakow-Suransky designated to serve as Ms. Black's Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer.
Parents, educators, and elected officials challenged the validity of such a deal and announced that they are considering legal action to ensure that Ms. Black's waiver is denied. Attorney Norman Siegel is working with the parents and attended the press conference on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse.
"This compromise is not a compromise at all, but a very transparent and flimsy fig leaf that will allow Ms. Black to be in charge despite a complete lack of qualifications for the job," said Mona Davids, President of the New York Charter Parents Association.
Lisa Donlan, a parent and President of Manhattan's Community Education Council 1 added, "The deal brokered by Commissioner Steiner and Mayor Bloomberg satisfies neither the requirements of law nor those of our public schools. By requiring that a credentialed 'number two' serve alongside Ms. Black, the Commissioner has underlined the need for a Chancellor who actually meets the standards for training, experience and education set forth in the law - and the law does not allow for conditional waivers."
The education and community leaders highlighted critical facts. Recent public opinion polls document that New Yorkers have opposed the appointment of Ms. Black by a 2-to-1 margin. More than 13,000 parents, educators, and citizens have signed petitions against the waiver. Most importantly, Commissioner Steiner's own advisory panel voted against granting the waiver.
"Rather than representing the people they serve, Commissioner Steiner and Mayor Bloomberg have dismissed democracy and highlighted the worst aspects of Mayoral control of schools through secretive back-room negotiations and an unacceptable outcome," stated Chris Owens, a parent and former Community School Board President in Brooklyn.
"The entire thrust of this administration's reforms has shown a lack of respect for education, educators, and parents. This appointment exemplifies and is the culmination of that lack of respect," said Noah Gotbaum, parent and President of Community Education Council 3 of Manhattan. "Why should the wishes of one autocratic billionaire supersede the needs of our children, the priorities of New Yorkers, and the wishes of stakeholders and the law?," continued Gotbaum. "Last week, Commissioner Steiner and his committee stated unequivocally that Ms. Black did not possess the legal qualifications to become Chancellor. Other than a backroom deal with the Mayor to circumvent the law, parents are asking what has changed over the past seven days?"
Parent John Battis echoed this sentiment. "Commissioner Steiner himself, plus six out of the eight members of his committee clearly stated that Cathleen Black does not have the adequate qualifications to be Chancellor. A back room deal with the Mayor to get around the law, with a 'Vice-Chancellor' acting as Ms. Black's tutor, does not magically provide the necessary qualifications nor does it do anything to change the Commissioner's own admission that Ms. Black simply isn't qualified for this important position."
William McDonald, from Advocates for Change in Queens, went further. "Hundreds of New York City students were retained because the state adjusted the standards," stated McDonald. "We were told that far too many of our students are not college ready. This is the time when you bring in the best qualified person to take the helm. The New York State Education Commissioner telling the Mayor that his pick for Chancellor needs a Co-Chancellor loudly states that the wrong person was selected. Mayoral Control should not mean that the Mayor can hire anybody regardless of their qualifications. The Chancellor of the New York City school system should and must be the educational leader of the school system. The Chancellor has to stand on her or his own merits, not on the deeds of someone else. I am requesting that the New York State Education Commissioner not give a waiver, but inform Mayor Bloomberg that he must have a public and transparent search for the best qualified person for Chancellor. New York City students, parents and communities deserve the best, because the best will not need a waiver."
Carmen Applewhite, New York City Public School Teacher and education advocate, continued, "To run the school system in New York City we must have a Chancellor with the proper credentials necessary to to do so. Mr. Steiner cannot approve the appointment of Cathie Black to such a complex position. If he does go forth with such a decision, Steiner will highlight the abuse of power by the Mayor's Office, and he will undermine the credibility of the New York City Department of Education and the legitimacy of the Office of the New York City Schools Chancellor."
Khem Irby, a parent in Brooklyn's District 13, put the current controversy in context. "I think we need to look at the track record of the Commissioners of New York State. The previous Commissioner granted Joel Klein a waiver. We're still suffering from the make-believe business model principals in some of our schools. Now we have another commissioner who is not strong enough to tell the Mayor that 'the children of NYC must have a qualified educator at the helm.' Ms. Black will not have the respect of the true educators and the students in our schools."
Ms. Irby continued. "If I get caught driving without a license and endanger myself and others, will the judge give me a waiver? Or do I need a licensed driver in the car with me? Commissioner Steiner should not continue in the same vein as his predecessor. The true message that he is sending, if he allows this, is, 'I don't care about the children of NYC.' How can Cathie Black uphold Educational Law when at the same time she is allowed to break it? This is not the example we want to have before our children in NYC."
"Ms. Black is not only unqualified, but Mr. Steiner and Mr. Bloomberg have usurped the law in order to push through a vision for our children and public education system that is contingent upon the leadership of business executives and the privileged few," said Julie Cavanagh, an educator in Brooklyn. "Our children deserve one qualified Chancellor who will deal with the tough challenges our public school system faces; they deserve a Chancellor who has their interest at heart, not the interest of wealthy millionaires and billionaires."