By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — State Education Commissioner David Steiner has granted publishing executive Cathie Black a waiver allowing her to become the city's next schools chancellor.
In a 12-page decision released late Monday, Steiner argued that Black's record and resumé convinced him that she is qualified for the job, even though she has no experience in the field.
"Despite her lack of direct experience in education, I find that Ms. Black’s exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors, warrant Certification for service in the New York City School district," Steiner wrote.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial pick has drawn serious fire from critics who have blasted him for failing to pick someone with experience running schools.
But the waiver comes with stipulations. Under a deal reached between Bloomberg and Steiner late last week, the gaps in Black's resumé will be filled by an experienced education official, Shael Polakow-Suransky, who will serve alongside Black and will hold the titles of "senior deputy chancellor" and "chief academic officer."
Steiner notes matter-of-factly that Black "lacks evidence of knowledge" in a host of "critical areas" confronting New York City's public schools, including education standards, curriculum and turning around low performing schools.
Polakow-Suransky, who has the credentials Black lacks, will therefore be charged with supervising instructional programs and major educational policies. He will also "oversee all pedagogical matters" including the oversight of all deputy chancellors with educational responsibilities, the letter said.
Steiner noted that evidence of a "support structure" has been used as a factor in granting schools waivers before.
Bloomberg made clear earlier Monday that Black will be the boss of the city's school system despite her high-powered number two.
"There will be one person in charge. Make no mistake about that," Bloomberg told reporters before the waiver had been granted.
In a statement issued later Monday, Bloomberg praised the decision as "the right one for our kids and our schools."
He called on critics to rally around his choice and move on.
"It is now time to put politics aside and recognize that it is in the best interest of our children for Cathie Black to succeed as Chancellor," the mayor said. "The crucial work that lies ahead requires all of us to come together around our shared commitment to our children."
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew was also optimistic about a future under Black.
"Now that Ms. Black and Mr. Polakow-Suransky have been approved by State Education Commissioner Steiner, I hope we can move forward on the many challenges the system faces, including creating a curriculum that will give students a well-rounded education, new and better interventions for struggling students, and early action to turn around failing schools," he said in a statement.
But not everyone was heeding Bloomberg's call.
"Commissioner Steiner has done a grave disservice to the children of the New York City public school system," said Brooklyn State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who has been one of Black’s staunchest opponents, in a statement.
"Our schools deserve a qualified chancellor, not someone who requires a private tutor on the public payroll to make up for her deficient resume," he wrote.
Jeffries is now preparing to challenge the waiver in court and will file a suit before the New Year, a spokeswoman for the councilman said.
Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, who has also threatened to sue, blasted Steiner's decision as a "shocking capitulation to political expediency," and "a scam and a sham."
"I cannot imagine that David Steiner will sleep well tonight; he wrestled with his conscience and settled on a nightmarish scenario for the million-plus children in the New York City public schools — placing at the helm of the New York City public school system a person with zero educational credentials," he said.
The current chancellor, Joel Klein, is set to step down at the end of the year for a position at NewsCorp.
Black will spend the next weeks and month meeting with parents, teachers, officials and community leaders, Bloomberg said.