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State education commissioner resigns

Dr. David Milton Steiner smiles after being elected

Dr. David Milton Steiner smiles after being elected as New York state education commissioner and president of the University of the State of New York, at the New York Board of Regents meeting in Buffalo. (July 27, 2009) Credit: AP

After 18 months on the job, State Education Commissioner David M. Steiner Thursday announced his resignation effective at the end of the school year in July.

While no successor has been named, state sources say the likely replacement is Steiner's chief deputy, John B. King Jr.

King, a senior deputy commissioner, has served as point man in many of the state's ongoing efforts to strengthen teacher evaluation and student testing. King also has close professional ties to Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, which names commissioners.

Steiner, in a phone interview, noted some major achievements since taking over the Education Department in October 2009. Last summer, New York won nearly $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" money -- one of the largest education-improvement grants ever awarded any state.

"It's been extremely exhilarating and exhausting," Steiner said. He confirmed reports that he has been interviewing for other jobs -- among them, a policy post with a national think tank -- but declined to be more specific.

State education commissioners tend to serve long terms. Steiner's predecessor, Richard Mills, held the job 14 years. And the circumstances surrounding Steiner's announcement were unusual.

Thursday morning, Tisch responded to a question in a radio interview by saying Steiner was exploring other job options. Speculation had circulated in Albany for weeks that Steiner was chafing under Tisch's forceful direction of education policy.

But Steiner Thursday characterized his relations with Tisch as amicable, saying he had always intended to serve about two years as commissioner. He added that he had discussed with Tisch plans to seek another job several weeks ago, and that the two agreed Thursday to announce his departure, after word leaked out.

"Of course, transition is always unsettling," Tisch said in a separate interview. "But I think this is important for David's life."

Locally, school officials observed that Steiner's tenure, while relatively brief, included notable successes.

"While I would have preferred to see a commissioner stay the course . . . I don't think a change in the commissioner's position will significantly impact the road that the Regents are going down," said Henry Grishman, superintendent of Jericho schools.

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