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Surprise candidate for Regents board fuels speculation of re-election shake-up

Emergence of a surprise candidate for the state Board of Regents has spurred speculation that at least one incumbent member's bid for re-election could be jeopardized.

State Assembly members Monday held a last-minute interview with candidate Josephine Finn, a village justice in upstate Monticello who is a former associate professor at Sullivan County Community College.

Finn could not be reached by phone Monday at her office or home.

A vote by the full legislature on four seats on the 17-member Regents board is scheduled Tuesday.

Regents are largely insulated from day-to-day politics, and ousters of incumbent panelists are rare.

However, a growing number of parents and teachers opposed to the Regents' pursuit of testing and job evaluations stemming from the Common Core academic standards have called for changes on the board. Finn's insertion into the race by Assembly Democrats a day before the vote fueled speculation that a shake-up is imminent.

"If it's not, then it's odd that they brought someone in at the eleventh hour for an interview," said Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square), ranking minority member of the chamber's Education Committee.

Under the state constitution, annual selection of Regents is by the combined Assembly and Senate, meeting together. Assembly Democrats, who hold the biggest voting bloc, have controlled selections in recent years.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly speaker's office, declined to comment Monday afternoon on the upcoming election, saying lawmakers had not yet met in conference to discuss candidates.

Lawmakers and their aides, who asked that their names not be used, noted that Finn comes from the Hudson Valley area -- an indicator that Regent James Jackson is the most likely member to face a Finn challenge. Jackson, a former science teacher and principal elected to a three-year term in March 2011, represents that area.

Monday morning, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch chose Jackson to open the board meeting with inspirational remarks. Such remarks are a tradition at monthly Regents meetings.

Jackson delivered a ringing defense of Common Core standards, declaring that schoolchildren must receive "the highest caliber of educational support and services, which will prepare them for jobs, a career and college."

Asked later about his prospects for re-election, Jackson said, "It's not about me. It's not about the legislature. It's about the children and their preparation."

Other incumbent Regents standing for re-election are James Cottrell of Brooklyn and Wade Norwood of Rochester, both of whom serve at-large, and Christine Cea of Staten Island.

Maria Neira, a vice president of New York State United Teachers, the state's biggest teacher union, said her organization is "looking forward to there being some change in the voices" on the Regents board.

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