The day after Bill de Blasio’s landslide general election victory, he pledged to move quickly on what he called his administration’s two most important appointments: police commissioner and schools chancellor.
He took care of the former within a month, and on Nov. 25 he told reporters he’d have information about a chancellor announcement “in a couple more days down the road.” But six weeks into a transition period that is now nearing its end, educators are not only wondering who will be in charge of the school system on Jan. 1. They’re also asking, what’s taking so long?
“Everybody is going crazy,” CUNY education professor David Bloomfield said.
That anxiety has permeated the Department of Education’s offices at Tweed Courthouse, which houses thousands of central staff members, as well as the hallways of the city’s 1,800 schools, which let out today for the 12-day holiday break.
“We’re as interested in it as you are,” said Gary Nusser, assistant principal at M.S. 88 in Park Slope.
So why hasn’t de Blasio picked someone yet? The company line is that he still hasn’t made his mind up and that his deliberation is an illustration of the extreme care he’s putting into the decision—though that also echoes criticisms of his indecisiveness that have dogged de Blasio throughout his political career.
Some privately doubt the level of uncertainty facing de Blasio. Sources say they haven’t heard of a final decision, but that there is a sense that former deputy chancellor Carmen Farina will be the inevitable pick, a rumor that has been amplified by recent stories in the New York Times and the New York Post.
If that’s true, then why are they waiting so long to make the announcement? Originally, Farina told GothamSchools — and, we’re told, de Blasio’s team — that she wasn’t interested in taking the job. But she’s stopped saying that publicly.
Nusser and the rest of the M.S. 88 staff had a chance to gather some inside insight yesterday when Farina, a former superintendent of M.S. 88, stopped by for a three-hour visit to tour the school and observe lessons.
“You guys know as much as I do,” Farina said when asked about her candidacy, according to Nusser. “I’m just as much in the dark as you are.”
Another explanation for the delay could be that there is some behind-the-scenes work going on to secure additional people to take key positions in the education department. It’s unclear how much of the current cabinet will remain long after Bloomberg exits, since de Blasio signaled during the campaign that he wants a clean break from the current administration.
Many observers expected the announcement to come this week at the very latest. But the transition team’s plans might simply be more backed up than they anticipated.
De Blasio’s team had been planning a “major education-related announcement” on Dec. 16, according to an email sent out last week on behalf of Irwin Redlener and Jeffrey Sachs, two leading supporters of de Blasio’s new pre-K lobbying campaign, UPKNYC. The campaign’s launch, the only public event related to education this week, didn’t happen until Thursday.
At that event, de Blasio said that the decision would be coming soon. “I’m not going to jump too soon,” he said.
The delay leaves next week, a dead period in the news cycle when schools are closed and teachers and families are less likely to be looking for daily updates about who their chancellor will be when they return to school on Jan. 2.
The narrow window also calls into question the level of preparation that the next chancellor will have to take over immediately in the new year.
Much of the school system’s day-to-day operations, like school lunch delivery and school funding, will likely buzz along without too much disruption. And while Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s last day is Dec. 31, second-in-command Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, will stay on to lead.
But Polakow-Suransky, de Blasio and his next chancellor will face at least one immediate crisis: As many as 40,000 students could be without bus transportation on their first day back because the city’s largest school bus contractor is going out of business on Dec. 31, a bankruptcy tied to the city’s cost-saving decision to bid out new contracts without seniority provisions last year.
“I think it would have been beneficial to the person to have had more of a transition period,” said Veronica Conforme, former DOE chief operating officer. “They’re walking into a team that’s already built. Getting to know the folks is important and this person is not going to get a chance to do that.”
“The types of things that come in front of the chancellor every day are very urgent, everything from a student getting hurt over the weekend, to a school facility issue,” Conforme added. “There is not day where nothing happens.”