Opinion: Education reservations

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

How many people remember Dan Domenech? He was named New York City Schools chancellor by a vote of the Board of Education after Rudy Crew left that position in 1999. His tenure lasted literally a few days.

That record was eclipsed last week with the announcement by Mayor de Blasio of Miami Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho to become the next chancellor. Mr. Carvalho inexplicably rescinded that agreement in less than 24 hours.

In the case of Mr. Domenech, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who did not much like him, pressured one of the members of the Board of Education to switch his vote and ultimately Harold Levy was chosen.

In those days, the seven-member New York City Board of Education made the selection of schools chancellor.

Two of those members were appointed by the mayor. Mr. Levy remained as chancellor until 2002 when new Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and all his successors) was granted authority to unilaterally name the chancellor. That person turned out to be the virtually unknown Joel Klein. It seems that Mr. Klein’s big virtue was agreeing with Mayor Bloomberg on the need to totally revamp education to be run like a corporate business similar to the professional world that Michael Bloomberg was accustomed to.

The selection of education chancellor in New York City, the largest school district in the country, has historically been problematic and very political.

Aside from the flash tenure of Mr. Domenech and the reneging of Mr. Carvalho, there was the strange appointment of Cathie Black to replace Mr. Klein in Mayor Bloomberg’s third term. Ms. Black was a corporate CEO and a close friend of the mayor. However, she had no background in education and was hampered by an erratic temperament. But Mr. Bloomberg was undaunted. He believed that any smart CEO could do the job. After a few months, it became painfully clear that he was wrong and out she went, replaced by a Bloomberg deputy mayor for the two-year remainder of his tenure as mayor.

And then there was Bobby Wagner Jr., a political friend of Mayor Ed Koch. His appointment as chancellor back in 1978 was nixed by the state education commissioner because of Wagner’s lack of requisite academic credentials. There were other problems. Rudy Giuliani cruelly taunted Chancellor Roman Cortines, who was originally appointed by Mayor David Dinkins in much the same manner that Donald Trump taunts Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the hopes of getting a resignation.

And who can forget the very capable Anthony Alvarado whose time as chancellor during the Koch Administration was aborted due to a scandal with his personal finances?

Arguably the two most critical appointments that a mayor makes are those of police commissioner and schools chancellor. Clearly the police commissioner needs to be a law enforcement expert and can lead a large organization and deal with the diversity of that job.

Over the recent years, New York City has been blessed with some great choices. Similarly, it should be a given that the head of our schools should be a person of stellar educational policy experience and impeccable personal probity, with the capacity to lead a complex school system of one million students and tens of thousands of employees.

However, it seems that the job of chancellor has been mired more in politics and personal agendas than in finding a really great educator who can lead and inspire our school system by dint of their example. It has been said that education policies have become political footballs in New York City and to some extent that is right.

Mayor de Blasio has now chosen Richard Carranza, who currently runs the Houston Texas School system to replace Mr. Carvalho. So here is my advice to the mayor: Give Mr. Carranza the independence and resources to lead without worrying about the politics of the mayor or anybody else. Let him use his experience in education to implement the best policies.

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