Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Cathie Goes to School
Upon emerging from the school ten minutes later, Ms. Black immediately demonstrated the acute business acumen for which Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed her. “What an inefficient use of space!” she exclaimed. “Why, you can squeeze a awful lot more kids in there and make teaching them much more cost effective.”
The Chancellor-to-be belied her detractors’ concerns that she would be insensitive to the needs of parents. “The parents I met all told me they want smaller class size,” she said. “Well, I saw a lot of places in there that are much smaller than the classes they’re using; closets, boiler rooms, even bathrooms. I guess it takes a business person to figure out that we can give their parents what they want by putting the kids in those rooms, while saving the big classrooms for Eva, like Mike said for me to do to.”
A tale of two cities; Cathie Black, are you ready for some real live public school parents?
Wonder how many of these partygoers in her social set send their own kids to NYC public schools?
Meanwhile, public school parents throughout the city continue to be outraged. See today's Times blog, where parent Nicole Bush asks her about privatization and overcrowding at this morning's photo op in the Bronx. Of course, Black has no response. This is what's called learning on the job.
Join us on Thursday to protest the waiver!
Yesterday, Commissioner Steiner approved a waiver for Cathie Black, a magazine executive, to become our next Chancellor, despite a total lack of educational qualifications.
For more on the approval, including the fact that the mayor has consistently overstepped the law when it comes to our schools, see today’s Times. What can we do?
- Join the new Deny Waiver Facebook page, and keep up with the latest news and developments.
- Join with parents across the city in the Deny Waiver Coalition on the steps of Tweed this Thursday, December 2, at 4 PM, and wear red to show your outrage. Here's a flyer. Post this event on your Facebook page and invite your friends and colleagues.
We’ve had eight long years with our schools run by a non-educator. Class sizes have risen sharply, our children have lost art, music and science, test prep has replaced learning, and the results? Black and Hispanic students have fallen even further behind their peers in other large cities, and we are the only city in the country where non-poor students actually score worse on the national tests than in 2003.
It’s time to start fighting back. Join on Thursday, and spread the word! Above is a flyer you can post and hand out at your schools.
Monday, November 29, 2010
By Trashing NYS Law, Steiner Plan Will Open the Floodgates for “Management Executive” School Superintendents
State Education Commissioner David Steiner’s plan to grant an education qualifications waiver to Cathleen Black as NYC Schools Chancellor will, if effectuated, render moot the current NYS law mandating those requirements. The precedent he will be setting and the message he will be sending to school districts throughout NYS and across the country would be both revolutionary and crystal clear: the door is open for school districts and school boards to follow the corporate executive management model and hire anyone they wish to run their schools.
NYS Education Law Title 4, Article 61, Section 3003, Subdivision 1, could not clearer on the required qualifications for a school superintendent in any district with population greater than 4,500 residents:
Qualifications of superintendents. 1. No person except one in possession of a valid superintendent's certificate prior to July first, nineteen hundred seventy-one shall hereafter be eligible to the position of superintendent of schools, deputy superintendent of schools, associate superintendent of schools, assistant superintendent of schools or other superintendent of schools or member of a board of examiners in a city school district or as a superintendent of schools in a union free or central school district having a population of more than forty-five hundred, or eligible to appointment to the office of district superintendent of schools in this state, who is not eligible for a superintendent's certificate issued by the commissioner in accordance with the following requirements:
a. He shall be a graduate of a college or university approved by the commissioner and in addition shall have completed sixty semester hours in graduate courses approved by the commissioner; and
b. At the time of his appointment each shall have completed three years of teaching experience satisfactory to the commissioner in public or non-public schools.
Mr. Steiner is now proposing to circumvent this law and grant a waiver (NYS Education Law 3003, Subdivision 3) to Cathie Black on the grounds that she will be given a strong number two person with education background and experience. In this instance, the #2 would be Shael Polakow-Suransky, already a deputy chancellor in the NYCDOE and already on the DOE management team, already available as an adviser to the under-qualified new chancellor. Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s appointment as an assistant chancellor is being mocked as a “fig leaf” by NYC public school parents, a transparent effort to shore up Mayor Bloomberg’s weak waiver request, assuage his hurt feelings, and avoid the possibility of his wreaking wrath-filled revenge on Albany. Even Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the NYS Board of Regents could not seem to avoid inadvertently speaking the real truth at the heart of the matter, saying that, “The issue for us is, ‘Can we create credibility around this position?’” In other words, can we sell it.
Tamping down a mayoral hissy-fit may have seemed wise from Commissioner Steiner’s perspective, but in doing so he may well be inflicting untold damage on education nationwide. His plan will render the current law on school superintendent qualifications meaningless. Any school district in NYS could follow suit, choosing a “corporate management, non-educator executive” of their liking and seconding that individual with an educator along the lines of Mr. Polakow-Suransky. Once the waiver has been granted on those grounds to Ms. Black, how can the State Commissioner refuse to grant a similar, future waiver to any other district in NYS? The precedent has been established, and there would be no grounds for refusal as long as the two individuals combined to form a comparable “partnership candidacy” to Ms. Black’s and Mr. Polakow-Suransky’s.
It is hard not to take note of the fact that, at the height of the Cathie Black controversy, Mayor Bloomberg remarked that the state law on qualifications for school superintendents should be abolished. This was typical of the Mayor, who invariably lashes out with imperious and dismissive comments whenever he fails to get his way. Sadly, Mr. Steiner’s plan not only concedes on the Cathie Black waiver, it effectively gives the Mayor the very abolition of the law he so belittled.
Repeatedly (and foolishly) hailed as a national model of education reform by an easily duped media, NYC’s public school system will now serve as both precedent and model for leadership of the nation’s urban school districts. Commissioner Steiner’s decision will have single-handedly opened the floodgates for the au courant “business model” of schools management, to be led not be educators but by “management executives.”
Commissioner Steiner’s refusal to stand up to a billionaire mayor serves as a powerful object lesson for NYC’s children about money and power in our modern democracy; actions always speak louder than words. Even worse, in what can only be seen as a tragic irony, Mr. Steiner’s “compromise” will have reversed fifty or more years of educational practice and returned education to the long-discredited factory model, in which the nation’s children are seen as little more than look-alike widgets.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Parents are not giving up: no to the waiver!
Saturday, November 27, 2010
The Not-Quite-Good-Enough-Chancellor and her Sidekick?
Bowing to the painfully obvious, even the stacked panel assembled by Commissioner Steiner voted to deny Cathie Black the waiver she needs to overcome her utter lack of qualifications to be NYC's schools chancellor. But our very clever Commissioner had something up his sleeve: he gave the panel a third choice besides "yes" or "no": a co-chancellorship of sorts with someone who actually knows something about education. Bloomberg promptly submitted a revised waiver application, adding man with education credentials Shael Polakow-Suransky to help out the corporate exec formerly billed as the only person who could do the tough job of NYC schools chancellor.
What good can come of this scenario?
Looking through the very long list of things Suransky will be responsible for, one can’t help but ask: will there be anything left for Cathie Black to do besides wielding the budget ax? That certainly entails “difficult decisions” (as Bloomberg never tires of reminding us), but it’s hardly worth the highest salary in the city. Ms. Black should have the decency to cut her salary to $1/year, which she can certainly afford and will go a ways towards plugging that gaping “public interest” hole in her résumé (at the press conference announcing her appointment, Bloomberg actually talked about her husband’s public service, LOL).
And why is this new position--formally, Senior Deputy and Chief Academic Officer-- necessary? At the press conference, Bloomberg dismissed all questions about Black’s lack of credentials or prior interest in education by claiming she would rely on the formidable cadre of education experts put together by Klein, especially the deputy chancellors. Suransky is already a Deputy Chancellor and Chief Accountability Officer--why does he need a different title if Black was going to rely on him and the rest of her team (including presumably former Klein heir-apparent Eric Nadelstern) for all things education anyway? It's also worth noting that the very qualities that make a good CEO don’t make a good team player (that’s quite different from getting subordinates to work as a team); many companies have tried the dual-CEO route, often after a merger--–it doesn’t work. The Economist recently summed it up this way ("The Trouble with Tandems"):
Almost all these relationships have ultimately come unstuck. That should hardly come as a surprise because joint stewardships are all too often a recipe for chaos. Rather than allowing companies to get the best from both bosses, they trigger damaging internal power struggles as each jockeys for the upper hand. Having two people in charge can also make it tougher for boards to hold either to account. At the very least, firms end up footing the bill for two chief-executive-sized pay packets.
Why should we believe DOE is any different? Especially since the very logic of naming Cathie Black to lead it is that education should be run like a business?
Friday, November 26, 2010
The Powers That Be: A Lesson for the Children of NYC
The Powers That Be decided they wanted more terms in office despite the people's previous votes in favor of term limits, and they took what they wanted and laughed and said, "So what are you going to do about it?"
The Powers That Be created a separate oversight board to give an appearance of independent oversight and review and then filled almost entirely with their own never-dissenting members, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be said education wasn’t real unless it could be tested and measured, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be decided that teachers were the problem with education and that the answer was privatization and union-busting, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be organized and reorganized and re-reorganized the school system into total chaos, all the while distancing themselves further and further from the unwanted voices of public school parents, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be closed schools and moved children around like warehoused inventory and pitted parents and neighbors against one another, all on behalf of charter schools, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be created a data collection system that they only controlled and added to it a massive public relations staff so that all education data could be manipulated and selectively reported and spun to hide their lack of positive educational results, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be decided they could still tap the “education marketplace” for more money and formed an alliance with the most hateful publisher/broadcaster in America, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be went behind closed doors and selected one of the least qualified members of their club to run the school system, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be saw that a few individuals wanted to open the selection process for public input and comment and they got their batteries of lawyers to validate each other’s actions and quickly squashed that effort, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be saw that a tiny sliver of the public was roused from its sleep, so they circled their wagons in support of their chosen candidate and went on television and got their celebrities to be quoted in the newspapers and said you don’t really need to know anything about education to run a school system, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
The Powers That Be formed a commission among their past membership to create the appearance of an independent decision about the future of over a million children and then went behind closed doors to find a compromise that would mollify the public outcry without otherwise changing a thing, and they laughed and said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
And the people of New York stirred briefly on their couches, tossed down a couple more potato chips, and thumbed their channel changers so they could watch “The Biggest Loser” without the slightest sense of irony, and they laughed and said, “What time does ‘Dancing with the Stars’ start?”
The Powers That Be got their wish, since they had controlled all the strings that mattered all along, and they knew that no matter how outrageously they abused their power, all would still be well with their world, and they laughed and said, “So what’s next? Not that the people will be able to do a damned thing about it.”
Tone Deaf Mayor Turns Cathie Black Appointment into a Public Relations Train Wreck
If the recent uproar over Cathleen Black's appointment as NYC Schools Chancellor has shown anything, it has been the growing tone deafness of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The man who once ran roughshod over the city's term limits laws and then quite literally had to buy his way into a third term subsequently promised not to fall into the historical trap of third term ineffectuality. Yet he is now wearing out his welcome at an accelerating pace, doubling down on bad decisions and lashing out at everyone who disagrees with him. Well known for lacking the common touch, the Mayor has never seemed more distant from everyday New Yorkers and more tin-eared in his behavior.
The Mayor’s most recent spate of tone deafness began with his behind-closed-doors decision to appoint an unqualified magazine publishing executive to replace outgoing schools chancellor Joel Klein. Ms. Black was personally light years removed in almost every possible way to the lives of most public school parents: never attending a public school, sending her children to boarding school, never demonstrating the slightest interest in the issues surrounding public education during her professional career, owning houses on Park Avenue, rural-gentry Connecticut, and Southampton, sitting on a charter school board (whose meetings she had never yet attended) chaired by Rupert Murdoch, socializing with Oprah, having baby showers hosted by Marilyn Quayle, birthday parties in Tuscany, and so forth.
Even Ms. Black’s experience as a business executive felt tainted, far, far away from a real bricks and mortar, unionized, multi-site, multi-layered operation. And then there were those magazines: Cosmopolitan? O Magazine? Seventeen? Redbook? Town & Country? THIS was going to be the leader of our children’s schools? Still, all of these shortcomings might have easily been overlooked had Ms. Black offered the least educational or even just public sector experience. Her main qualification thus ended up looking like it was being a cocktail circuit friend of the Mayor’s.
The Mayor reacted almost immediately to the initial blowback on his choice by foolishly claiming he had conducted a public search and that Cathie Black was the best choice. Of course, no alternate candidates could be found, and even the normally stuffy NY Times did a tongue-in-cheek, online search (here and here) for anyone who would say they had been interviewed for the position. Incredibly, the only person who claimed to have been consulted about the new chancellor was Geoffrey Canada, the publicity-seeking-missile whose charter school advocacy is, for many New Yorkers, at the heart of their distaste for what they see as the Mayor’s destructive education policies. Mr. Canada’s input was hardly a soothing consolation, and he was quickly disappeared from the scene. Still, the Mayor’s people were fast losing control of the public conversation even as the Mayor was making demonstrably false assertions about “the process. “
Ms. Black herself only amplified the sense that the entire selection process was a cavalier handout from the Mayor to a social acquaintance. She refused to speak publicly or be interviewed, and then reversed herself for a single interview with the lighter-than-air Cindy Adams (simultaneously reinforcing a growing host of unseemly interconnections among Rupert Murdoch, Joel Klein, Ms. Black, and the Mayor). With Ms. Adams, Ms. Black positively gushed over how she had accepted the position after an hour’s breakfast chat with the Mayor and how her stomach had done flip-flops over the idea. Like Sarah Palin, Ms. Black suggested that she never blinked, never considered her lack of qualifications, never thought that the lack of public process would be the least bit objectionable. The story line looked more and more like “Mr. Tone Deaf Chooses Ms. Tone Deaf for Schools Chancellor.”
By now, the Mayor was well down the road to an absolute public relations train wreck. Within days after foisting an unqualified candidate on the parents of 1.1 million school children, he was publicly scolding the citizens of NYC for their opposition, asserting that they simply did not understand the true nature of the Schools Chancellor's job. His staff and PR machine fell in line, lashing out at the UFT and "the opponents of mayoral control" who, by inference, would attack anything the mayor did with schools and anyone he chose to lead the schools. Never in any of these verbal volleys and rationalizations were children mentioned by the "children first" mayor.
As public opinion gelled against Ms. Black, the Mayor’s PR machine went into high gear. They trotted out whatever supporters for Ms. Black they could muster: Gloria Steinem, Rudy Giuliani, Oprah, Ed Koch, Ms. Black’s husband’s employer (IIE), the presidents of her and/or her husband’s alma maters, and David Dinkins, among others. Perhaps the intent was to influence or pressure Commissioner Steiner, but the voices of this group of Cathie Black supporters were irrelevant to the citizenry. The Mayor could not muster a single supporter whose voice actually mattered to regular people when it came to their children’s education.
Ever one not to look for a second foot to stick in his mouth, the Mayor spoke out again, comparing Joel Klein to a pitcher who had just gone seven (very rocky) innings and Ms. Black to a “closer”, a la the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera. So education for the mayor was now just a ball game of limited duration, and what he expected from Ms. Black was to close out that game. In baseball, that means shut down the opposition, don’t let any new threats develop, keep things where they are. Just hold the line and finish what Joel has started. Nice analogy, just brimming with optimism and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
When the time came to petition the NYS Education Commission David Steiner for a waiver of the legally required educational qualifications, Mayor Bloomberg was beginning to realize that the unwashed masses were getting a bit too up at arms. The Mayor’s response was a classic doubling down on tone deafness: shutting down all public discussion via the Panel for Education Policy. The public be damned; he and he alone would submit the waiver, not the PEP, even though NYS law clearly states that waiver requests are to be submitted through the local board of education.
The Mayor was not going to permit any public forum that might allow some of the parents of those 1.1 million parents to have any voice in who would be leading their children’s schools. The Mayor lashed out once again, arguing that mayoral control means that he makes the decision, not realizing that his very imperiousness was a stick-in-the-open-wound reminder of how he had poured his own millions into the last election to prevent those same citizens from holding him accountable.
All of this was mere anticlimax to an absolute orgy of tone deafness on November 23, however. On that day, Commissioner Steiner convened an advisory panel that effectively rejected the Mayor’s waiver petition for Ms. Black by a vote of 6 – 2 (here and here). Bloomberg, ever the sorest of losers, completely ignored the voices of City Councilpersons, state legislators, and many thousands of unhappy citizens who signed petitions against the waiver. Instead, he lashed out like a child with hurt feelings, saying that the state law requiring waivers to be granted for under-qualified school superintendents should be abolished. Bloomberg of course failed to recognize the irony in his reaction, that the very law he wished to abolish was put in place to prevent behavior exactly like he had demonstrated in the previous two weeks.
Also on November 23, the Daily News reported that Ms. Black’s college transcript had been publicly released, but with the grades blacked out (no pun intended). Her grades in such courses as Introduction to the Sacred Script, Dogma of God and Creation, Theology of the Sacraments, and Liturgical Singing are apparently not in the public interest, yet public schools are publicly graded and the Mayor can hardly wait to release a similar form of grades on individual teachers. The DOE’s response as to why the grades were not being released as well was a Peewee Hermanesque “because we said so.”
Still on that selfsame day, Rupert Murdoch announced News Corps' acquisition of Wireless Generation, "a national leader in the new wave of education reform" as the NY Times put it. That news seems only mildly interesting until one notes that Wireless Generation is one of the DOE's (and Joel Klein's) leading partners in School of One, a technology-based, student-paced learning system that Klein himself has been actively promoting for the past two years and has reportedly been pilot testing in several NYC schools this year. Wireless Generation has also been one of the major recipients of negotiated (not competitively bid) contracts from Chancellor Klein for the hugely expensive ARIS system, a database that Bloomberg and Klein point to as one of their top educational achievements but which is routinely bashed by teachers as useless.
Since Joel Klein would be leaving the DOE to become a senior “education market” strategy executive for Mr. Murdoch, the revolving door sleaze was palpable enough as it was. Announcing the deal on the same day as the waiver rejection, and while Mr. Klein remained in his current Chancellor’s position, came across as Rupert and Joel blatantly thumbing their noses even further at the public.
The late-breaking Quinnipiac College poll, released the evening before Commissioner Steiner’s waiver panel met, reported the public’s strong dislike for Ms. Black as Schools Chancellor. It also showed the Mayor’s favorability ratings plummeting as his tone deafness continued to worsen.
No doubt his private response was that opinion polls should be abolished as well. Why stop the train wreck now?
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Our battle is not over! Sign our new petition to Steiner
Send a new message to Commissioner Steiner to reject Cathie Black's nomination --even if there's an educator as number two.
In what has been called a stinging rebuke to the mayor, the members of an advisory panel appointed by Commissioner Steiner voted today against granting a waiver to magazine executive Cathie Black to become NYC Schools Chancellor. They listened to the voices of parents, educators, and the majority of New Yorkers, who believe that she has none of the qualifications needed to lead the nation's largest school system. Yet our battle is not over.
Yet Commissioner Steiner has suggested that he may still grant a waiver for Ms. Black if the Mayor agrees to appoint an educator in the number two position. This is simply unacceptable. We need a seasoned educator at the helm, with a record of achievement in running and improving public schools.
That's why we're asking you to sign our new petition, which automatically sends a message to Commissioner Steiner, urging him to reject Cathie Black as Chancellor, and asking him to tell the Mayor to appoint a seasoned educator instead.Please forward this link to all your friends and colleagues, post it on your Facebook page, and keep fighting for our kids! And then have a great Thanksgiving.
Conflict of Interest? That's for the Little People
All pretense aside, Cathie Black's qualifications for the Chancellor's job boil down to the fact that she's a friend of Mike. He wants her real bad. No one else will do. So it's perplexing to say the least that Commissioner Steiner should stack his advisory panel with people whose professional and/or personal connections with Mike or his twin Joel render suspect their ability to voice an independent opinion on Ms. Black. But if there was a plan, it backfired--no waiver from that panel, at least not now. The bad publicity ("the fix is in" was pretty much the consensus) may well have stiffened some members' resolve to at least avoid embarrassment (I'd like to see a serious academic defend the notion that tireless selling of Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, House Beautiful, vel sim. is the "substantial equivalent" of a superintendent's license and a master's degree!). Still, I'm dumbfounded that Commissioner Steiner would pick the panel members without regard to well-established conflict-of-interest rules.
As a member of the Citywide Council of High Schools (CCHS), I can attest from my own experience--both in applying for the position and in seeking candidates for a more recent vacancy--that candidates for CECs and citywide councils are screened carefully and at length to avoid not just actual conflicts of interest, but also the appearance of even the tiniest bit of impropriety. It takes several weeks for DOE’s ethics office to investigate a candidate, and not just because these appointments aren’t a front burner issue for them. They really do investigate. I got not one but two phone calls from someone inquiring whether I receive any kind of compensation for my contributions to this blog (!) and emphasizing I was not to post as a CCHS member. There you have it: parent volunteers for powerless councils are screened more carefully than people charged with advising the Commissioner on whether an obviously unqualified person should nevertheless become NYC’s schools chancellor.
And I also know that DOE takes conflict-of-interest rules for PTAs very seriously—you need to tread carefully if your uncle owns the deli that supplies the bagels for parent breakfasts.
But all these bothersome rules are for the little people only. Let’s not forget His Imperial Highness sets the tone (or, the fish rots from the head, as some might say)—and he sees no conflict of interest in anything he does, including having deputy mayor Patricia Harris run the Bloomberg family foundation. And she didn’t even bother to get a clearance from the Conflict of Interest Board first, as the Daily News reported way back in 2007 (Cathie Black would understand, though—she's all for not asking permission if you already have your mind made up, according to one of her widely-quoted nuggets of business wisdom). And then there are the City Hall staffers who have been cleared by CIB to help with the Bloomberg foundation, using city resources, because it would “ultimately serve city goals.”
Nothing sticks to Teflon Mike and, by extension, to his friends. Though it stinks to high heaven.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Steiner's Stacking of Waiver Panel is Unethical
There was wide coverage this weekend and today of the unethical stacking of Commissioner David Steiner's waiver advisory panel with people deeply connected to Mayor Bloomberg. The panel was convened by Steiner to determine if job requirements should be waived for chancellor candidate Cathie Black.
Beyond the three individuals who formerly held senior posts in Bloomberg's DOE, the Times revealed deeply troubling and undisclosed conflicts of interest held by Louise Mirrer:
She has lobbied Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office for financing. She is chairwoman of an academy for which Mr. Bloomberg has helped raise millions of dollars. She runs a museum to which Mr. Bloomberg has personally donated $475,000. And she was the recipient of an award from Mr. Bloomberg two years ago at Gracie Mansion.Good government groups New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause New York criticized the composition of the advisory panel. Senator Eric Adams immediately called for Mirrer's removal (Times).
Earlier Daily News coverage here. WNYC sees the panel convened for Joel Klein was "larger and broader" here.
Updated Times coverage includes a disappointing defense of the panel composition from Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch here.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Come deliver the petitions with us, opposing the waiver for Cathie Black
We will be delivering over 12,000 petition signatures and thousands of comments to Commissioner Steiner, from parents and other concerned New Yorkers, about why he should deny a waiver to Cathie Black as NYC Schools Chancellor. Join us!
When: Monday, November 22 at 3:45 PM
Where: In front of Commissioner Steiner’s apartment at 200 E 87th St (betw. 2nd and 3rd Ave.) (Map here.)
The waiver will be considered by an advisory panel headed up by Susan Furhman, President of Teacher’s College, at a closed meeting on Tuesday. More info about this in the NY Times here: Panel on Pick for Schools Has Close Ties to Bloomberg
If you would like to let this advisory panel know how you feel about the waiver, you should feel free to email Dr. Furhman at SusanF@tc.columbia.edu
Saturday, November 20, 2010
UPDATED: Does the secret meeting of Steiner's waiver committee violate the state Open Meetings law?
Even more troubling, the panel will meet in secret on Tuesday, showing that the rushed and closed process that has marred Black's selection from the beginning continues unabated.
Yet the meeting of this committee may be subject to the NY State Open Meetings law. See here, from the NY Dept. of State FAQ on the law:
Who is covered by the Law?
The Open Meetings Law applies to "public bodies." That term is defined to include entities consisting of two or more people that conduct public business and perform a governmental function for New York State, for an agency of the state, or for public corporations, such as cities, counties, towns, villages and school districts. Committees and subcommittees of these entities are also included within the definition. Consequently, city councils, town boards, village boards of trustees, school boards, commissions, legislative bodies, and committees and subcommittees consisting of members of those groups all fall within the framework of the Law.
Since this committee is conducting both public business and a governmental function for the State Education Department, which is a state agency, the intent of the law seems clear that its meetings should be open to the public. This is especially the case since the appointing of such an advisory body is not discretionary on Steiner's part, but mandated according to the state regulations concerning the granting of any waiver:
Section 80-3.10.* Certificates for the educational leadership service.(b) (iii) Alternative route two, the certification of exceptionally qualified persons through screening panel review. The Commissioner of Education, at the request of a board of education or board of cooperative educational services, may provide for the issuance of a professional certificate as a school district leader (superintendent of schools) to exceptionally qualified persons who do not meet all of the graduate course or school teaching requirements in subparagraph (i) of this paragraph, but whose exceptional training and experience are the substantial equivalent of such requirements and qualify such persons for duties of a superintendent of schools.
Prior to the appointment of any such individual, the board must obtain the approval of the commissioner. In its formal request to the department the board must submit its resolution noting approval of the request, the job description, its rationale for requesting such certification of the individual, a statement identifying the exceptional qualifications of the candidate, the individual's completed application for certification, vitae and official transcripts of collegiate study. The certificate, if issued, will be valid only for service in the district making the request. The commissioner will refer the materials submitted by the board to a screening panel consisting of representatives of the department and appropriate educational organizations for review and advice.
What do you think? Should this committee meet in private? Leave a comment!
UPDATE: Over the weekend I emailed Robert Freeman of the NY Dept. of State, the expert on the open meetings law. Below is his response; it seems that holding this meeting in private does not violate the law; whether it is optimal as a matter of public policy is another question. Meanwhile, additional questions have arisen concerning potential conflicts of interest among the panelists, see today's Times here.
From: Freeman, Robert (DOS) [mailto:Robert.Freeman@dos.state.ny.us]
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2010 8:41 AM
To: Leonie Haimson
Subject: RE: question re open meetings law and SED screening panel
Judicial decisions indicate that an advisory body as described in the article does not constitute a “public body” and, therefore, is not subject to the Open Meetings Law. Even if the Open Meetings Law applied, the group could discuss the matter during an executive session under 105(1)(f) of that statute. The cited provision permits a public body to conduct a closed session to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal or a particular person or corporation.”
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.