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Judge Hears Arguments Over Incoming Schools Chancellor's Waiver

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After hearing arguments from both sides Thursday, a judge will decide at some point next week whether the state education commissioner had the right to grant Cathie Black a waiver to become the city's schools chancellor.

In the Albany hearings, arguments focused on Black's lack of a master's degree and little educational experience – both of which are qualifications for the chancellor's job.

The waiver was granted by State Education Commissioner David Steiner, and state officials have said it was based on other qualifications, including her experience heading up Hearst Magazines.

"She has the substantial cores of someone who had 60 hours training and three years' worth of teaching. Your Honor, she goes beyond that because she is the exceptionally qualified person," said Kelly Munkwitz, an attorney for the state.

Black was handpicked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last month, after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein he was leaving the post after eight years. Bloomberg then appointed Shael Polakow-Suransky, a deputy chancellor with educational experience, to serve alongside Black as a chief academic officer.

Two dozen parents and education advocates traveled to Albany Thursday to attend the hearing and show their opposition to Black. Many said the presence of a chief academic officer does not improve Black's qualifications.

"I think it's very cynical on the mayor's part to put someone with no educational experience, whose only real background is in managing for-profit companies," said education advocate Colette Pean. "She will not understand what needs to happen to make the system finally teach our children once again. She doesn't have experience in how to move the scarce resources to most benefit the children."

"Cathie Black's waiver application relies upon the appointment of a shadow chancellor in order to make up for the deficiencies in her resume and create the illusion of competence," said Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, who also attended the hearing. "[Harry] Houdini [the magician] would be proud, but the law should not tolerate such trickery."

Critics want Black's certification nullified and want Bloomberg to conduct an open and nationwide search for a qualified candidate.

The City Law Department issued a statement, saying, "We remain confident in our position that Chancellor Black's appointment was handled appropriately and is fully consistent with all legal requirements."

The judge is expected to render a decision by January 3, when Black is expected to begin her new job. Whatever the ruling, the losing side is likely to appeal.

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