Chancellor Black: Time to lead

Much was made of new Department of Education Chancellor Cathie Black’s off-handed birth control joke at last week’s School Overcrowding Task Force meeting, and for good reason. The crisis that Lower Manhattan is facing as it pertains to the overcrowding of public schools is no laughing matter and should not be handled lightly.

That being said, we do not wish to further elaborate on Ms. Black’s poor use of words.

Who hasn’t said something they regret?

But it must not go unnoticed that she showed up to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s task force meeting unprepared. The fact that it was only her second week on the job is no excuse. When someone starts a new job it should be a no-brainer that they should bone up on all things related to the position, the major obstacles, problems and issues they will face, before they actually take the helm. 

When we heard that Ms. Black had never even seen Eric Greenleaf’s data on the overcrowding crisis currently facing this neighborhood, we were surprised, and disappointed. Mr. Greenleaf has spent countless hours, voluntarily mind you, preparing quantitative and qualitative data on the population boom and the obvious need for more Downtown public school seats. His latest projections show a need for 1,000 additional seats by 2015.

Ms. Black said she had Mr. Greenleaf’s data, but that it was under a stack of papers on her desk.

While her performance at last week’s meeting did not bode well, it’s still early. Her words and actions up to this date are not irreversible. Indeed, Ms. Black is now in the position to lead and to set a new course for the entire Department of Education.

So far this year two decisions have essentially been made on a unilateral basis by the Department of Education that show a lack of understanding of just how serious the overcrowding issue in Lower Manhattan is. The apparent move to relocate a school from Upper Manhattan to the space in the building at 26 Broadway and the giving of space in the Tweed Courthouse to an untested charter school illustrate the neglect that has been shown to Downtown’s plight.

Ms. Black must now lead the board of the Department of Education to address the overcrowding issue. The population boom in Lower Manhattan has been one of the great post-9/11 success stories. It is now up to Ms. Black to recognize this and mobilize the D.O.E. to support this growth. She can start by pressing to make sure we see a new school built on top of the Peck Slip post office. She can continue by taking very seriously the fact that sustaining Downtown’s post-9/11 residential revival will depend on planning and building infrastructure that supports its population growth.  

We do commend the new Chancellor for at least showing up to the meeting. Her predecessor declined numerous invitations to appear before the task force during his tenure. And we recognize the need to listen. But Ms. Black has no time to waste, as there is a long lag time between planning school seats and actually having students sit in them.  We’ll give Ms. Black a pass, at this early juncture, on her words. Her actions in quickly addressing the dire school situation in Lower Manhattan are what count.