By Jill Colvin and Michael Ventura
MANHATTAN — A state panel voted Tuesday evening against granting a special waiver allowing Hearst magazine executive Cathie Black to become schools chancellor — a shocking blow to the mayor, who has fervently defended his choice.
The eight-member panel, convened by state Education Commissioner David Steiner, voted 4-2 against Black receiving the necessary waiver to succeed Chancellor Joel Klein, state education spokesman Tom Dunn said.
The other two members voted for a third option, in which Steiner would return the waiver to the city and ask for another "configuration," such as appointing a "chief academic officer" who has experience in education to serve alongside Black.
Black, who was selected by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to succeed Klein, needs the waiver because she does not have the education experience the state mandates for the job.
The panel's decision is not binding and the final decision will rest with Steiner. But Steiner is favoring rejecting the waiver without the inclusion of some sort additional academic officer to guide her, Dunn confirmed.
It was not immediately clear when Steiner would announce his decision.
"I want to thank all of the members for the advisory panel for the seriousness of purpose which they brought to their evaluation of Ms. Black's qualifications for a school district leader's certificate. I will weigh their advice and insight as I consider the decision before me," Steiner said in a statement.
Steiner declined to answer questions as he left his office in Murray Hill, where the closed-door meeting was held.
The decision is a stunning blow for Bloomberg, who has repeatedly defended his choice amid intense criticism from parents groups, elected officials and other advocates who said the city needs a schools chancellor with a background in schools.
Hours before the panel's vote, Bloomberg continued to tout Black as "the right person to take us forward."
A spokesman for Bloomberg declined to comment on the panel's vote.
A Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday said most New Yorkers didn't think Black should be schools chancellor and favored someone with education — not business — training.
News of the panel's decision was greeted with cheers by those who opposed her appointment.
"The voices of the parents, teachers and the community have been heard," said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of education blog Class Size Matters, who delivered 13,000 signatures to Steiner’s apartment on the Upper East Side Monday evening urging him to deny the waiver.
But Haimson said she was disturbed by the idea of creating a second position under Black for someone with an education background.
"We need somebody running our schools who knows how to run schools," she said. "It's simply not good enough to put an educator in the number two job."
Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who had been sure the panel members — many of whom had close ties to the mayor — would rubber stamp the request, was thrilled with the news.
"He's now in the middle of a rock and a hard place," Meyers said of Steiner. "He has to deny it [the waiver]."
Meyers also slammed the idea of a "co-chancellorship" as "out of the question." He advised Black to "spare herself any further embarrassment" by immediately withdrawing her candidacy.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries issued a statement praising the panel's decision.
"The decision to reject the waiver application submitted by Mayor Bloomberg is a tremendous victory for the more than one million children in the New York City public school system," he said.
"While some progress has been made, the public schools remain broken and someone who lacks educational experience is not the relief pitcher our school children need at this time," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Bloomberg said the law requiring waivers for chancellors without education experience should be abolished.