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Chancellor Black's Wisecrack On School Overcrowding Falls Flat

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Parents are not laughing at a wisecrack made by the city's new schools chancellor over how to fix school overcrowding.

At a Thursday meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force, Cathie Black heard Eric Greenleaf, a parent of a student at P.S. 234, give his projections that by 2015, Lower Manhattan would not have seats for 1,000 students.

Greenleaf said, “These are kids that are already born. This isn’t a projection about what may happen."

Black joked in response, "Could we just have some birth control for a while? It would really help us all out.”

The incident was caught on video by the Tribeca Trib community newspaper.

Critics of Black say the former executive at Hearst Magazines, who does not have public school or teaching experience, is not qualified to be schools chancellor.

Julie Menin, chairwoman of Lower Manhattan's Community Board 1, was at the meeting and wanted to hear Black's vision on how to solve this problem, rather than a joke.

"One little joke isn't going to make or break the tenure of the chancellor. I think it speaks to a larger issue, the fact that people are concerned that she doesn't have a background in education," said Menin. "She is probably a great manager in her industry, but that doesn't translate into being a great manager of the New York City schools system. So the jury is still out."

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters was also at the meeting. She said she was more concerned about Black saying she faced a "Sophie's Choice" during the upcoming budget cuts in terms of which projects to kill. That was a reference to the book and movie, in which a mother in Auschwitz has to decide which of her two children will die.

"Either one in the larger context of the problems we're facing is not a big deal, if she shows she is serious about putting the right policies in place and listens to our concerns as parents about school overcrowding and class size,” said Haimson.

Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, a frequent critic of Black and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said such a joke after two weeks on the job is evidence that Black should resign.

"That's not a kind of joke that you should be telling. But to show her insensitivity, her lack of professionalism, she feels comfortable saying that," said Barron.

The Department of Education released a statement saying, "Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously, which is why she was engaged in a discussion with Lower Manhattan parents on the subject. She regrets if she left a different impression by making an off-handed joke in the course of that conversation."

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