By Julie Shapiro and Olivia Scheck
MANHATTAN — The man who will decide the fate of Cathie Black, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial choice for schools chancellor, is convening a panel to evaluate her qualifications before making his decision.
State Education Department Commissioner David Steiner must grant Black a waiver before she can become the next schools chancellor, since she lacks the experience or training in education that is required for the position under state law.
But before Steiner decides whether to grant the waiver, he told a group of concerned public officials that he would convene a panel of experts to advise him in his decision, as was done in 2002 to certify current school chancellor Joel Klein, who also lacked the necessary experience for the job.
"As you know…the Commissioner is empowered to grant a waiver to an 'exceptionally qualified' candidate who does not meet all the graduate course or teaching requirements in law if he finds that the candidate has 'exceptional training and experience' which are the 'substantial equivalent' of such requirements," Steiner wrote in the letter addressed to Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and several other officials who expressed concern about Black's qualifications.
"I intend to convene a screening panel consisting of representatives of the State Education Department and appropriate educational organizations for review and advice."
Responding to the commissioner’s letter, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio lauded Steiner’s decision to form the panel in a Wednesday statement, calling on him to also hold a public forum, where Black might clarify her "vision for meeting the challenges facing our schools," before making his decision.
Bloomberg, who has not yet submitted an official application to Steiner for the waiver, also weighed in on the schools chancellor appointment during an unrelated press conference Wednesday afternoon, once again insisting that Black, a prominent magazine publishing executive, was qualified for the position.
"This woman has all of the credentials for this job…This is a management job," the mayor told reporters.
"I don't know everything about every agency I supervise," he added.
Bloomberg also noted that Black would continue to remain silent on her plans for the school system should she be certified as chancellor for the next couple of weeks.
The mayor said that his office would be submitting Black’s waiver application in the coming days, insisting that the delay was not a response to recent criticism.