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Editorial: A school district adrift

With only weeks to go before the opening of the new school year, School District 29 remains in limbo. City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy last week rejected the woman selected by the board to serve as superintendent of this district.

After a review of several candidates, the board chose Rhia Warren, the principal of IS 226 in District 27. In a letter to the board, Levy said he was rejecting Warren because she had never held a districtwide position and he was concerned "about her ability to assume and delegate responsibility."

The chancellor asked the board to submit the names of additional candidates. In the interim, Michael Johnson will continue to serve as administrator. Johnson was appointed by Levy after the very popular Celestine Miller was fired for delaying to report that an 8-year-old child had brought a loaded gun to school.

Levy's action raises several concerns. We cannot imagine how it is possible to successfully run an intermediate school in New York City without significant managerial skill. Although principals always come from the ranks of educators, and their hearts may always be in the classroom, these administrators spend nearly all of their time balancing budgets and class schedules, trying to make order out of impending chaos. It seems to us that the experience of running an intermediate school is ideal preparation for the job of superintendent.

Is Levy suggesting that only a bureaucrat or successful businessman like himself can handle the challenges of running a school district? Levy had no experience as an educator when he was chosen to run the nation's largest public school system. What he did have was enormous managerial experience that, coupled with a sincere interest in the education of children, has served him well. Nevertheless, he should not be fooled into thinking that only people in the business world have managerial skill.

Perhaps more important, we are concerned that the people of District 29 have been disenfranchised. Miller had the strong support of parents in the district and had shown on at least one occasion that she was willing to put her life on the line for her students. Then-Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew chose to remove Miller, despite strong opposition from School Board 29. Now Levy has struck again. The power to reject the expressed will of the local school board is something that any chancellor should use with great caution. The reasons given for rejecting Warren appear to be arbitrary.

Although the school board election system is horribly flawed, we recognize that to some degree these boards represent the community. They work for free and many are deeply dedicated to improving our schools. After such a group has gone through a rigorous review process, Levy should think carefully about rejecting their advice.

But what will happen now? Even if the SB 29 decides to take on the chancellor, they are no likely to win. On the other hand, the district cannot function forever with an interim boss.

We urge the chancellor, for the sake of the children in this district, to come down from his high horse and meet with this board with the goal of arriving at a candidate who will meet with everyone's approval. For far too long, this district has been adrift. Both the students and their teachers need to know that there is someone at the helm guiding this district to a brighter future.

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