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Citing experience, Thompson rules out Tisch as schools chief

Bill Thompson squelched any rumors that the latest education heavyweight to back his mayoral campaign could also be his pick to run the school system.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who is chairing Thompson’s campaign, would not be a good fit to be the next New York City schools chancellor, Thompson said after an education forum in the Bronx Tuesday night.

“I don’t think that Chancellor Tisch is a lifelong educator,” Thompson said. “I think she’s got a job that she’s more interested in. I don’t think that she has any interest in the New York City job.”

Ever since Tisch announced she would become the Thompson campaign’s top fundraiser and advocate, there have been whispers that Thompson might reward her with the top spot in the education department. By ruling her out as chancellor, Thompson puts those rumors to bed. He also offers more clarity about the qualifications he would look for if he gets to choose the next schools chief.

Like most of the other Democratic candidates for mayor, Thompson has insisted that the next chancellor must be an experienced educator.

As the head of the Board of Regents, Tisch helps set statewide education policy and has herself been rumored to seek higher office. But Tisch, who has education degrees from New York University and Teachers College, taught only briefly nearly four decades ago, and in Jewish day schools, not public schools.

At the forum Tuesday, most of the Democratic candidates repeated their position that lengthy experience as a teacher, principal, or superintendent is a top priority for whomever they hire. The issue is especially significant because none of the last four chancellors — including all three under Mayor Bloomberg — were experienced educators. Cathie Black, Joel Klein and Harold Levy, whom Thompson helped hire when he was Board of Education president, never taught in the classroom. Current Chancellor Dennis Walcott briefly taught kindergarten in a child care center at the start of his career.

“I think it’s important to understand what goes on in the classroom — the dynamics between the child and the teacher that you only get from being there yourself,” said Sal Albanese, who taught in New York City schools for 11 years before running for City Council in the 1980s.

The one candidate who believes experience isn’t necessary is Christine Quinn. She defended the position on Tuesday.

“It’s not that I don’t believe that someone needs to be an educator, but I want to make sure that we have considered everyone potentially out there,” said Quinn, who has named Hunter College President Jennifer Raab as someone with strong credentials despite limited experience in the classroom. “So say someone is out there running a really great education not-for-profit and we know they’ve been effective. They might be a good person to consider for chancellor.”

Audience members, including many who were teachers, said they disagreed with Quinn.

“That drops her,” said Carmel Macklin, a teacher at Eagle Academy, which is run by the foundation that organized the forum. “Although I don’t have that much of a problem with this new chancellor, that’s a dicey area. Especially after the Cathie Black debacle.”