Saturday, December 25, 2010

After Hearing Lawyers Optimistic Cathie Black’s Waiver to be Overturned by Michael A. Harris - New York Government |

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A lawyer for parents challenging the appointment of Cathleen P. Black to be the next city schools chancellor says he’s optimistic his client’s will emerge victorious.
Lawyers for the parents appeared in court in an Albany court room yesterday arguing that Black lacks the required educational experience or academic credentials to serve as head of the nation’s largest schools system.
Judge Gerald Connolly did not immediately indicate when the court might rule, but Attorney Norman Siegel said he and other attorneys received an E-mail from the judge last night asking for cell phone numbers where they could be reached over the holidays. He said that makes him think that a ruling is likely to come next week, before January 3, when Black is scheduled to take over the reins.
Under state law and related regulations, school superintendents have to have a master's degree or higher, 60 hours of graduate work, a professional certification and three years of teaching experience. However, the education commissioner can grant a waiver to the "exceptionally qualified" candidate that has "training and experience that are the substantial equivalent of such requirements."
Lawyers argued that Education Commissioner David M. Steiner’s waiver of requisite education and experience was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore unlawful. Siegel acknowledged that Steiner has discretion, but that such discretion must be in compliance with the law.
Attorneys for parents and teachers say that there are two key legal issues in play – first that Black lacks a graduate degree, a requirement that he believes can’t be waived and second that the basis for the waiver was flawed because Steiner relied on the skills of others in deciding to grant the waiver.
“One of the overriding clouds over the court room was the right of public officials to act independently,” Siegel told “We’re not asking the court to second guess a public official; rather we’re simply saying that they have to act within the bounds of the law – when they fail to do so it’s the role of the judiciary to intervene.”
Siegel said he is optimistic that his side will emerge victorious, especially because the defendants conceded his key legal argument.
“Not only did David Steiner’s waiver say that Cathie Black would be relying heavily upon staff, but when asked about that by the judge, [Deputy Attorney General] Kelly Munkwitz conceded that point,” he said. “That alone could mean victory for us.”
Munkwitz, representing Steiner and the state, countered that Black has exceptional experience in dealing with large organizations, collaborating, leading, engaging diverse stakeholders, building relationships and managing facilities and money.
"What Ms. Black didn't get in the classroom, she got in the scope of her career," Munkwitz said.
Siegel, one of four lawyers fighting Black's waiver says that regardless of which side wins, he expects an appeal to be filed.