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A clear abuse of power

Mulgrew rips mayor for excluding major stakeholders in naming Klein’s successor

UFT President Michael Mulgrew called Mayor Bloomberg’s secretive selection process in choosing the next chancellor of New York City public schools “a clear abuse of power” and “a missed opportunity” to move education forward for the city’s 1.1 million children.

Without consulting any major stakeholders, the mayor announced on Nov. 9 that he wanted publishing executive Cathleen Black to succeed Joel Klein, who is resigning on Dec. 31 to take a job at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

At the Nov. 17 Delegate Assembly, Mulgrew said the mayor badly mismanaged the process, triggering a backlash from parents and educators who were once again shut out.

Mulgrew told more than 200 parents attending the UFT’s Brooklyn parent conference on Nov. 14 that he was appalled that the mayor had spoken to no one and consulted no educational experts, not even the state commissioner of education or the chair of the state Board of Regents.

“With all the problems facing us,” he said, “a new chancellor coming into a political crisis is the last thing we need.”

At his urging, the delegates passed a resolution to fight for changes in the law to require a more open and transparent process for choosing chancellors [see story below].

Mulgrew emphasized the UFT’s willingness to work with any chancellor ready to move beyond the teacher bashing and testing mania that marked Klein’s term as chancellor.

During an interview on “Inside City Hall” on NY1 on Nov. 11, Mulgrew spoke of the need to move from the present narrow focus on tests and test prep to a broader, richer curriculum.

“Moving that agenda forward, no matter who the chancellor is, is where we want to continue to focus,” he said.

Mulgrew also said it was essential that the next chancellor rebuild relations with parents and the community.

“The community feels that they have been left out of the educational process, and it would be great, whoever the next chancellor is, if he or she can start involving community in a meaningful and respectful way,” he said.

Opposition to the mayor’s choice of Black has grown among parents, community groups and political leaders angered by the mayor’s failure to consult and concerned about Black’s lack of qualifications.

Because Black has neither the required education credentials — she has only an undergraduate degree — nor the necessary three years experience in schools, the mayor had to request a waiver from State Education Commissioner David Steiner. State law permits waivers to be granted for “exceptionally qualified persons.”

Steiner has appointed an advisory panel to review Bloom­­berg’s case for Black and make a nonbinding recommendation.

Mulgrew expressed complete support for Steiner based on their collaborative efforts in winning $697 million for New York State schools in the nationwide Race to the Top grant competition and in working together to create a broad-based teacher evaluation process last spring.

“He understands education,” Mulgrew said.

The two prior chancellors, Klein and Harold Levy, also needed waivers, but critics say Black’s qualifications are slimmer. She has no connection to public schools; she herself attended parochial schools in Chicago and her two children attended private boarding schools in Connecticut.

State Sen. Tony Avella as well as a group of city council members have urged the commissioner to deny the waiver.  Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio have blasted the lack of public input and transparency in the selection process. More than 10,000 New Yorkers have signed an online petition opposing Black’s appointment.

In a six-page letter to Steiner, Bloomberg compared the public school system to a corporation with a 135,000-member work force that needs an able chief executive. Black has spent four decades in the publishing field, the last 15 years as chief executive of Hearst Magazines, but she has only managed nonunionized workers.

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