1999-12-25 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

The search for a new district school superintendent has always been a contentious process.

There have been times in the not so distant past when the race card was played during the process by both sides of the coin.

Some school board members ran for office with a promise to keep "them" out of the job while others promised their community that "one of their own would get the job."

Politicians reared their oft-ugly heads, playing games behind the scenes to insure that this candidate or that would get the job. They were successful more often than not because they controlled the political process that the school board members needed to retain their posts.

In those days, the school board was the final arbiter of who got the superintendent’s slot, although some parents were involved in what was once called "Level I."

The rhetoric often got strange, down, dirty and downright racist. In the last go-around, for example, Reverend Norris of the Southeast Queens Ministers for Empowerment sent out a letter to board members likening Isaacs (who was not Jewish) to "Kosher food," while likening Margaret Bradley, who is black, to "Down home soul food." Isaacs got the job and Bradley went to another district as superintendent She lasted one year before she was fired.

Things are supposed to be different this year.

A screening committee made up of 14 parents chosen by their peers will review all of the applications and decide who to interview. The committee will set the criteria in line with the Chancellor’s many criteria. They will then interview and recommend "at least five candidates" to the school board.

The school board members can recommend their own criteria to the committee. They did that, but the committee rejected their criteria.

See what I mean about contentious?

At a recent school board meeting, board president Steve Greenberg said, "I am disappointed that the committee slapped us around." He then admitted that his was a "poor choice of words" and said that he was "disappointed that they rejected our criteria."

I liked the first way better, because it was more accurate.

The committee will first begin reading and rating the 37 applications this week. They started late because it took the chancellor more than a month to say that the committee was approved to begin its work.

According to some on the committee, the chancellor’s mandates make for "outrageous paperwork" that will lengthen the process considerably.

They hope to have all of the applications done and to interview at least 10 candidates sometime in the first week of January. The school board members may read the applications, but they have no vote in this phase of the search process.

They can, however, reject all of the candidates proffered by the committee and send it back to them for further deliberations and a new vote.

The committee expects to have the names to the school board by February 1 at the latest, although some said that an attempt would be made to get the board the names by mid-January.

The school board will then interview those people whose names were submitted by the committee.

They plan to hold a public forum so that the community can meet the finalists. The date and the format for that meeting have not been finalized and probably will not be finalized until after the holidays.

The board then has 30 days to interview the candidates, choose finalists and submit "up to four names" to the chancellor, who has the final say from among those submitted. He can, however, return all the names as being unqualified.

In a neighboring district, District 29, the chancellor put the entire process on hold because of political interference. The process is "under review" and it is expected that he will order it to begin all over again.

Should the committee turn the names over to the school board on February 1, as widely expected, then the board has until March 2 to let the chancellor know who they want. The chancellor has traditionally taken a month or so to make a decision in like cases, preferring to do his own interviews for candidates with whom he is not familiar.

You’ll notice that I have not named any of the 37 candidates who submitted applications for consideration. That is because, outside of one obvious candidate, I do not know who they are.

Their names are being kept secret by the committee and by the board until the finalists are chosen.

I have been tempted to file under the Freedom of Information Act to get the names, but they do not seem very important at this point. It is probably not worth the effort because the process will be over before a ruling on my filing could be made.

I believe that the public has the right to know who they are.

The central board, the local board and the committee do not agree.

The one obvious candidate is Matt Bromme, the acting superintendent. He has been acting since September and he probably will keep acting until the beginning of April.

At the last school board sunshine meeting, Rowena Schwab brought up the fact that I had said in this column that I did not think that an insider would get the job.

Steve Greenberg pointed out that my columns are just conjecture, and he is right.

My conjecture, however is based on conversations with lots of people, many of whom should know what’s going on.

It’s kind of like knowing that there is an invisible body in space by watching how the other known bodies act while spinning in their orbits. We know that the bodies exist even though we can’t see them because they attract other bodies that we can see.

I believe that the chancellor wants an outsider by watching how prospective candidates both outside and inside the district and politicians to see how they are acting. Their often peculiar behavior has led me to believe that an outsider will be chosen, but that is, as Greenberg terms it, pure conjecture.

Should an insider like Bromme get the job? There are pros and cons to any candidate.

Bromme is a strong candidate and he knows the district and its players. That is a plus. The fact that he knows the district as an insider is also a minus, depending how you look at it.

Some say that the district has failed and that Bromme, as a principal and as the CSA delegate, was part of that failure. They say that he has not moved to change the district office infrastructure and that most of the people in "Isaac’s failing administration" are still in place.

I don’t agree, of course. There are many good people who work at the district office. They were good when they worked for Isaacs and they remain good today. There are others who I personally would not allow remaining in place, but that is a personal choice and it need not be Bromme’s. His "first team" of Michele Loyd-Bey, Marty Weinstein and Rose Molineli seem to be taking the reins in hand and moving ahead to make the changes they deem necessary to move the district ahead. If anything, there is a feeling among school people that they are moving too fast and too aggressively.

There are others who want an insider because it would take an outsider at least a year to "get up to speed" and to begin to understand the district’s strengths and weaknesses, to find out "where the bodies are buried." That is very true.

On the other hand, there are those who say that the district needs a good cleaning and that "a new broom sweeps clean."

It is going to be an interesting few months. The best case scenario would be that the screening committee chooses its candidates early in January and feeds them to the school board. The school board chooses four of those candidates and sends their names to the chancellor. The chancellor knows them all and picks one quickly.

The worst case scenario is that the committee sends its candidates to the board, which rejects them and sends the process back to the committee. The committee refuses to choose new candidates and there is a stalemate.

The chancellor then comes in and picks whomever he wants for the job.

Either is possible and so is anything in between.

Keep tuned.

 

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