Former Hearst Executive Cathie Black, Mayor Bloomberg’s selection as chancellor to run the 1.1 million children New York City school system, has begun her tenure despite the outrage expressed by parents and educators of the process and her lack of any experience or even any obvious prior interest in public education.
What’s been called a “done deal” is being railed against by parents and teachers who insist they will not let the decision stand. At a Tuesday press conference in front of the Tweed courthouse where the Department of Education is housed, members of the Deny the Waiver coalition voiced their vociferous opposition, intent to fight the appointment and announced their participation in a demonstration set for Thursday, December 2, on the Tweed Courthouse steps.
“We have not accepted the language, spirit or reality of the waiver granted by state Education Commissioner David Steiner,” said Chris Owens, District Leader, 52nd Assembly District, member of the NY State Democratic Committee and parent. “We believe that waiver was immoral, unethical and illegal. We declare collectively and individually that we are united in the belief that the largest education system in America should be led by a true educator and that Ms. Black should decline her appointment and the waiver.”
In an issued press release, the group says that the decision is apparently the result of a deal – brokered behind the scenes by NYS Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch – negotiated between City Hall operatives and the NYS Education Commissioner. The so-called “Black Friday Compromise” calls for Ms. Black, as her first act as chancellor, to hire a “chief academic officer” to serve as her senior counsel and as senior deputy chancellor for Curriculum and Instruction – all confirmed this evening in Steiner’s decision.
Noah Gotbaum, a parent from Manhattan and president of the Community Education Council for District 3 concurred, saying “We are here because we believe the waiver was granted not only unethically, but also illegally.” He noted that six days ago, Commissioner Steiner said Cathie Black did not have the qualifications to run the schools. “Now, six days later, he’s saying okay, as long as she has a co-pilot. That’s not good enough for parents.”
“We’ve been subject to nine years of business leadership in our school system. Our children are treated like test-taking widgets. Our schools are treated like assets to be sold and closed and our parents and teachers are treated as competitors. That’s not a system that we want to see redone with Cathie Black. We don’t want her to learn on the job for the next three years after spending the last sixty-six years showing no interest in public education or our kids.”
Our schools are not the fiefdom of Mike Bloomberg, they belong to all of us. We should do a national search to find the best candidate for our kids. That’s why we’re here and will be here on Thursday.”
Julie Cavanagh, a special education teacher from Brooklyn and member of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) insisted that Commissioner Steiner’s decision “is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on the teaching profession that I hold dear, and on public education. There are those with a clear agenda to privatize and corporatize our education system. They are doing this by usurping the law and putting a person into the chancellor’s chair a person who has never stepped foot in a public school classroom, as a student, as a parent, as an educator, or as an educational leader. That is unacceptable. Mr. Steiner has chosen politics over our children. He has given preference to a privileged few, rather than New Yorkers who oppose this two-to-one. Our children deserve and desperately need a chancellor who understands that they are not customers, nor are they data on a spreadsheet. We will continue to explore all legal options in this matter.”
Patricia Connelly, a parent from Brooklyn and past member of the Citywide Council on Special Education, said that “the moment Steiner’s decision hit the media yesterday, Monday, shortly before 5pm, I heard Regent Tisch telling parents that it was over. That in the best interests of our children, we should go back home, check their homework, make sure they go to bed on time, but we should let the educators get on with the business of education. Well, this mother from Brooklyn isn’t ‘over’. And I’m just one of hundreds of thousands of outraged parents in this city.” Connelly claims that “Commissioner Steiner could have hit the reset button and insisted that their be a credible search for the best possible candidate, but he chose political expediency over higher principle.”
She calls on parents to “say no to Black by any nonviolent means necessary. In the courts, on the streets, over the Internet. Parents, we must not let this stand.”
Carmen Applewhite, a founding member of the Coalition for Public Education spoke to the undemocratic way the selection was made. “I think what Steiner did yesterday sends a clear message to everyone that our vote doesn’t count, the taxes we pay don’t mean anything to anyone, as long as they can do what they want to do, pass the laws that they want to pass that benefit them.”
Applewhite, a veteran educator, says she does not have anything against Cathie Black, but asks Steiner to reconsider her waiver application because “the school governance law is being used as an abuse of power. They are not bringing parents or educators to the table. It’s insulting to administrators and teachers, those of us who have done the legwork to get our credentials, that we’re going to be working under someone who doesn’t have the credentials that we were required to have.”
Applewhite called on mothers and fathers to be at the demonstration voicing their objections. “Particularly the 1.1 million mothers, those who have incubated the children in their womb for nine months, who incubate them for their entire lives. We’re asking all to come out and let Mayor Bloomberg know that you will not hurt our children anymore.”
Owens said that the group is exploring all of the legal options, and that attorney Norman Siegel is working with the group to determine the best way to proceed, “but first we have to do the research.” He insists that a full search should be done to find the best candidates. “Such candidates must have proven track records as great educators and strong managers with a deep knowledge of urban public education and regard our schools as worthy centers of community life in need of investment and they must embrace our parents and teachers as vital partners in successful education of all of our children.”