Last Thursday’s decision by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to end the tumultuous three-month tenure of publishing executive Cathie Black as the city’s schools chancellor will not have an impact on Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to have non-educators helm school systems in New Jersey.
Christie announced earlier this year a plan to allow the state to permit non-educators to get superintendent’s licenses, opening the possibility of business executives taking the helm of the school districts. The plan comes as Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker are seeking a new leader for the school system in the state’s largest city. The state Board of Education is scheduled to finalize Christie’s plan later in the spring.
Christie spokesman Sean Connor said “it would be a streatch” to connect Black’s tenure with Christie’s plan. He noted that the governor’s proposal includes a screening process for potential non-educator superintendents before they are given licenses. Details of Christie’s proposal were not readily available.
Black was given a waiver by New York Education Commissioner David Steiner before she took office Jan. 1 as schools chancellor. Steiner’s decision was conditional on Black appointing a chief academic officer as her top deputy. Steiner’s decision came after an advisory committee, chaired by Susan Fuhrman, the president of Teacher’s College at Columbia University and a former president of the Westfield Board of Education, voted against recommending Black.
Black was seen as a surprise pick for the chancellor’s post after Bloomberg’s first schools chief, attorney Joel Klein, stepped down at the end of last year after eight and a half years in office. Klein was the first schools chancellor under mayoral control of the New York schools. Black’s appointment was immediately greeted with criticism from parent groups and education groups, who said the former Hearst Magazines chairwoman did not have the education qualifications for the job and had sent her own children to boarding school in Connecticut.
Black was the third consecutive New York chancellor to require a waiver. Both of her predecessors, Klein and Harold Levy were attorneys, and her successor, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, also needs a waiver from the state. Klein and Walcott were both teachers early in their careers and Levy had been a member of the state Board of Regents, which oversees the state education department, before becoming chancellor.
Black’s 95 days in office were marked with a series of missteps, including her suggesting that birth control was the best method to reduce classroom overcrowding and making comments mocking parents who attacked her during a public hearing on school closures. Published reports said that Bloomberg aides had found Black lacking the understanding of education policy and four of Black’s eight deputies had resigned during her tenure.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), an education committee member and close Christie ally, said that Black’s tumultuous tenure and Christie’s plan should not be connected.
“You are talking about an isolated incident,” he said. “About one person who resigned.”
Kean stressed that the state needs superintendents with management skills and a passion of education in superintendent posts. When he appointed Black, Bloomberg stressed her executive experience, along with her service on the boards of Notre Dame and Trinity University, the board of a private boarding school and an advisory board of a Harlem charter school.
Hiring non-educators as schools chiefs has been a trend in big city school districts over the last decade. Chicago had three consecutive non-educators helm the city’s school system since 1995, including a former city transit chief and Arne Duncan, who stepped down from the Chicago post to become education secretary in the Obama Administration. Duncan’s predecessor, former mayoral budget advisor Paul Vallas, has helmed school districts in Philadelphia and New Orleans, in addition to Chicago. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) helmed the Denver schools before becoming a senator and after serving as the mayor’s chief of staff. The Los Angeles public schools named a former Colorado governor to serve as superintendent.
Kean said the benefits other states have seen in having non-educator school chiefs is behind his reasoning for backing Christie’s proposal.
“It creates a broader pool with the best people for the job,” he said.