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De Blasio says he won’t put chancellor finalists ‘on display’

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said Monday that he would not publicize his top choices to head the school system, a year after promising a “public screening” process for schools chancellor.

The incoming mayor said he is seeking counsel from his transition committee – which includes public-school parents and advocates – and from others as he chooses someone to take over the nation’s largest school system in January.

But he said he would not subject his top picks to public scrutiny – a vetting process that some cities have adopted when selecting school chiefs and one that some New York advocates have demanded.

“We’re not going to have a beauty contest,” de Blasio said Monday during a press conference near City Hall. “We’re not going to put the different finalists on display.”

Some critics were quick to suggest that de Blasio’s stance seemed to clash with comments he made during an education forum for mayoral candidates (co-hosted by GothamSchools) in November 2012.

“We need a chancellor who is presented to the public and not just forced down our throat,” de Blasio said at the time, after critiquing Mayor Bloomberg’s surprise selection of Cathie Black as chancellor in 2010 as “mayoral control gone to an undemocratic level.” De Blasio added that he would seek candidates with backgrounds in education and would conduct a “serious, serious, public screening.”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and a frequent Bloomberg critic, said it would be disappointing if de Blasio backs off from that campaign-trail pledge.

“Of all the decisions he’s going to make, the selection of the chancellor is going to be the most important one,” Haimson said. “And it’s really important that that selection be made in a way that allows for public input.”

Haimson has circulated a petition that urges de Blasio to carry out his campaign promise to more deeply involve the public in school-system decisions. Specifically, the petition – which had about 540 signatures by Monday afternoon – says the top chancellor candidates should answer questions at town hall-style meetings, after which the public could submit their feedback to the mayor-elect.

Some observers argue that publicly screening potential school-district leaders might discourage candidates who are still employed elsewhere or who don’t want to submit to such intense scrutiny before they are guaranteed the job. Still, some city school boards involve the public in their school-chief searches.

For instance, the Seattle School Board polled the public before conducting a national superintendent search last year, while the Boston School Committee has said it will hold community meetings to compile a list of desired qualities in a new superintendent.

In New York, since the state agreed to grant Mayor Bloomberg control of the school system, mayors now have the final say in choosing the chancellor.

Bloomberg was criticized for choosing three chancellors – Joel Klein, Black and Dennis Walcott – who each required state waivers because they did not have the requisite education degree combined with several years’ teaching experience.

When Bloomberg sought a waiver for Black, a former media executive who resigned after 95 days as schools chancellor, then-Public Advocate de Blasio said Black should first answer questions in a public forum.

De Blasio said at the same 2012 forum that his schools chancellor would “definitely [be] an educator.”

Lis Smith, a de Blasio spokeswoman, said in an email Monday that in addition to his transition committee, the mayor-elect is also seeking input from “outside stakeholders” and from the public through the transition website.

“Mayor-elect de Blasio greatly values public input on who the next education chancellor will be – a point he made crystal clear today,” Smith said.