NEW YORK—Parents and educators from all five boroughs gathered on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Sunday to protest a deal granting a waiver to Cathie Black.
Black, who has a long history in the publishing industry and is currently the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, was appointed as current Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s replacement two weeks ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Because of her lack of education credentials, State Education Commissioner David Steiner has to grant her a waiver in order for her to fill the position. Klein, who was also selected by the mayor, required the same waiver when he was appointed to the office in 2002.
Bloomberg has defended his choice by touting Black's business accomplishments. He has said that city schools need a chief with skills outside of education and called for the law requiring the chancellor to have education credentials to be abolished.
Steiner announced last week that he would be more inclined to approve the waiver if another officer with education credentials was appointed as Black’s co-chancellor. Bloomberg has appointed Shael Polakow-Suransky to serve as senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer.
Mona Davids, president of the New York Charter Parents Association, says that as a parent she is vehemently opposed to this decision.
“Last week Commissioner Steiner and the panel unequivocally said that Cathie Black does not have the qualifications. We want a qualified chancellor, an educator at the helm of the largest public school system in the country,” Davids said. “This compromise is not a compromise at all. Cathie Black has never, ever attended a board meeting. I do not understand why the mayor continues to tout this lie that Cathie Black has the experience in serving on the board of Harlem Village Academies, where the parents, the educators, and community don’t even know her.”
Officials at the Harlem Village Academies told the NY Daily News that the board Black joined five months ago has no operational or governing authority over the school, that they have never met her, and that what little she has done consists of advising Deborah Kenny, the school’s CEO, on “management, leadership, and the development of a book.”
Khem Irby, a parent in Brooklyn’s District 13, says Black will not have the respect of the true educators and students in New York City schools.
“How can we allow this travesty to occur to 1.1 million children?” she asked. “We deserve better of this mayor. This is a joke and an insult to our intelligence as parents, that we would allow this to happen in New York City. New York City is at the forefront of education in this nation. There is no other city that does not have an educator at the helm.”
According to the Deny Waiver Coalition, over 13,000 parents, teachers, and citizens have signed petitions against the waiver.
“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,” said Lisa Donlan, parent and president of Manhattan’s Community Education Council 1.
Attorney Norman Siegel said that this move raises serious and substantial legal questions, and that Cathie Black does not meet the requirements necessary for her to serve as chancellor. He added that they are researching the origin of the waiver and are prepared to argue in court that the waiver is illegal and a violation of the education law.
According to Carmen Applewhite, a teacher and education advocate, if an educator is needed to share this position, he should be the one appointed chancellor, which would save the city $290,000 a year in payment to a chancellor who cannot do the job. She added that the issue has nothing to do with co-chairs or whether or not the mayor should be allowed to appoint who he wants for the position, but that to fulfill the position of chancellor one needs to know certain things.
Chris Owen, parent and former community school board president in Brooklyn, noted that numerous elected officials have voiced their opposition to the waiver.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement on the compromise and appointment of Polakow-Suransky as chief academic officer, saying that this job is what the chancellor should be doing.
“This power-sharing plan, if not fully transparent, could create confusion both inside and outside the Department of Education,” Stringer said. “Like all New Yorkers, I look forward to hearing Cathie Black’s views on these and other issues facing our public schools—as well as the way in which this arrangement will affect the educational future of more than 1.1 million students.”
In a continuation of this protest, the Green Party plans to organize current and former New York City teachers on Tuesday to apply for Black’s job at Hearst Magazines.