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Two veteran Regents say they will not seek chancellor’s post

Chancellor Merryl Tisch speaks to members of

Chancellor Merryl Tisch speaks to members of the state Board of Regents during a meeting at the State Education Department in Albany on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Credit: Hans Pennink

Two veteran Regents mentioned as candidates for board chancellor said Monday in separate interviews that they will not seek the top post to be left open by Merryl Tisch’s departure, even as the board is in transition on major policies such as Common Core testing and teacher evaluation.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck and Lester Young of Brooklyn each said they are not pursuing the position. Tisch had earlier announced she would step down in March.

That leaves as the only avowed candidate Regent Betty Rosa of the Bronx, a former bilingual teacher, principal and superintendent in that borough. Rosa is one of a half-dozen Regents who have fought against a state law adopted last April that requires as much as 50 percent of teachers’ job ratings to be based on student test scores.

Several board members said privately Monday that other colleagues still are being discussed as possible successors to Tisch, and that it is too early to call a winner. The 17-member board is tentatively scheduled to pick a new chancellor and vice chancellor at its next monthly meeting on March 21 and 22.

Tisch, of Manhattan, has been an ardent advocate of the national Common Core academic standards adopted by New York and most other states, as well as links between those standards and tough new state tests and teacher evaluations.

Rosa’s candidacy has been strongly backed by parent leaders of a statewide test-boycott movement centered on Long Island, who say the current system puts too much pressure on students and teachers alike. Last spring, parents pulled more than 200,000 students statewide in grades three through eight out of tests in English language arts and mathematics — the largest such boycott in the country.

Rosa, in a brief interview Monday between Regents committee meetings, struck a conciliatory note, saying her policy interests are not limited to those supported by the opt-out movement.

“I’m just interested in taking the work that’s been done and taking it to the next level,” Rosa said.

Meanwhile, the State Legislature is preparing soon to choose replacements from among dozens of candidates for Tisch, current Vice Chancellor Anthony Bottar of Syracuse and Regent Charles Bendit of Manhattan. Selection is essentially controlled by the Assembly’s Democratic majority, because it constitutes the single largest voting bloc in the Legislature.

Bendit, like Tisch and Bottar, supported the move to higher academic standards. He announced last week that he would resign at the end of this month rather than serving out the remainder of his term, which extends into 2017.

Bendit, a partner in a Manhattan real estate firm, said in an interview that his decision to leave the board is business-related.

“The point is that over the last number of years, the amount of work we’re taking on has increased significantly,” Bendit said. “The pressure to be more involved personally has grown.”

The upcoming departures of Tisch, Bottar and Bendit, coupled with selection of three new Regents, signal a likely shift in the policy attitudes of the board’s membership.

The Regents exercise broad powers over public and private schools, colleges, universities, libraries and other educational and cultural institutions. The board, however, has faced criticism from many educators and parents in recent years that it has ceded too much authority to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over such issues as teacher job evaluations.

“Regents have a bully pulpit, and they have an obligation to protect education across the state,” said Alan Singer, a Hofstra University education professor and one of dozens of candidates for the board seat now held by Tisch. “They’re also in a position to stand up to the governor.”

Some significant change already is underway.

The Regents in December approved a four-year moratorium on the most controversial aspects of the teacher evaluation law, following recommendations by a Cuomo-appointed advisory panel. In addition, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who reports to the Regents, has announced plans for future tests that are shorter and untimed for some students.

Some parent leaders continue to push for more sweeping change, including outright repeal of the evaluation law.

State & Region