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On hiring issues, DOE acts as if mayor's control never expired

It may be a new day and a new system, but at Tweed the plan for handling mayoral control’s expiration is to act as though it never happened.

When Department of Education officials began considering what the system would look like if mayoral control expired, they envisioned anarchy. (At least when talking to the press.) An internal memo released to reporters described a complete breakdown of the power structure, such that no one would have the legal authority to hire or fire teachers.

That concern appears to have been cast aside. In the days following the law’s expiration, the DOE has tried to make as few changes as possible to the school governance system.

The issue at the heart of the confusion is the legal status of community superintendents.

“Without a community superintendent, schools may be unable to fill teaching and other vacancies or to fire employees who commit crimes and other misconduct,” said the memo circulated last week.

Today, the DOE maintains that superintendents do legally hold their jobs. It is even claiming that new ones can be hired. “We believe that we have the authority to appoint superintendents and we will continue to do so,” chancellor Joel Klein told reporters today.

The first test of this claim arrived today, as Klein vacated one of the superintendent seats by appointing Dov Rokeach, who led District 8 in the Bronx, as the top deputy to a newly appointed Chief Achievement Officer for Special Education and English Language Learners. Rokeach’s promotion means that the chancellor will have to appoint a replacement superintendent.

Klein’s authority to appoint a superintendent is legally ambiguous to say the least. The DOE memo argued that without school boards, the city’s superintendents could not obtain legal contracts. The state education law now in effect also declares that superintendents can only sign a contract with school boards — which do not exist, either.

Another issue is teacher hiring. DOE spokesman Melody Meyer said today that the DOE would follow the same procedures for hiring that it carried out under mayoral control.

The power to hire and fire teachers falls with superintendents. With their contracts now in question, hiring decisions could be vulnerable to a court challenge.

Yet the DOE may be safe from lawsuits, at least for the summer. The likelihood of anyone contesting a hiring is minimal. Firings are a different story, but state law prevents tenured teachers from being fired over the summer. That means the city could be safe — provided the Senate passes new legislation before the fall.

Klein said today that he hopes to see legislation passed in the next few days. Fielding questions about the legality of certain actions, he also told reporters that he doesn’t need to see “daily stories about how to fit a round peg into a square hole.” Sorry.

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