Controversial Proposal Moves Ahead, While BOE Delays Votes on Other Mandates

John Mooney | April 12, 2011 | Education
Administration still pushing to allow non-educators to fill school superintendent slots

The state Board of Education yesterday moved quickly — and quietly — to buy the Christie administration some time in its review of the state’s rules and regulations for school districts.

But one controversial proposal is moving ahead: the administration’s plan to ease the certification requirements for school superintendents that would allow non-educators into the field.

Yesterday afternoon, the board held a quickly assembled meeting, with all members calling in by phone, to adopt a resolution that extends the expiration date of key regulations coming before the board this year, including those for special education and vocational education. The board adopted the measure 7-0.

The resolution effectively gives the administration more time for its newly appointed task force to go through all the mandates faced by schools, with the intent of eliminating or consolidating those it deems wasteful or redundant.

Gov. Chris Christie created the task force earlier this month by executive order, asking it return its first recommendation by August 15.

The resolution had been up for consideration last week when the state board held its regular monthly meeting, but had to be put off for public notice reasons. At the same time, the board considered several key proposals, including the state’s new anti-bullying law.

On Hold

State board president Arcelio Aponte said those considerations could be put on hold as the task force does its review. He stressed it was not a moratorium on all new regulations, only a step that prevents any of these specific ones from lapsing while the task force completes its work.

“This just allows us not to have worry so much about the timing,” Aponte said in an interview afterward. “As they look into the regulations, they may see some that are redundant for school districts, and if there are ways to cut any redundancy, that is a good thing.”

Still, one measure is proceeding in the face of considerable opposition. Christie has proposed that low-performing districts be allowed – with the state’s approval – to hire leaders who are not certified as school superintendents.

A Super for Newark

Notable among the districts now looking for superintendents is Newark, which the state now oversees. The district is the center of a high-profile reform effort centered on the $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and others are currently considering candidates for the job, with Christie saying one would be chosen by the end of this month.

Cerf has not said whether any of the finalists are non-educators, but the administrative code which would allow that flexibility is moving briskly, with the next public hearing set for May 4.

Although the proposal appears to have support on the state board, some members and others have questioned whether the state wants individuals without school leadership experience to lead some of its most troubled districts.

Yesterday, State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver weighed in with a press release pointing out the failed tenure of now-former New York City schools chancellor Cathie Black, the publishing executive hired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who resigned last week after a tumultuous three months.

“New York City should be a lesson to us all that we run the risk of putting our children’s education in serious peril without someone with bona fide credentials at the helm,” Oliver’s statement read. “No matter how smart or successful a person may be in another industry, the education field can pose a serious learning curve.”

“Given the significant challenges we face right now, our most underperforming school districts do not have the luxury of time to wait for someone to adjust to these learning curves,” Oliver said.