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Good Morning

Tension at home and in Puerto Rico

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, speaks

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, speaks to members of the New York state Board of Regents reviewing teacher evaluations, school district ratings and state school aid during a meeting at the State Education Department in Albany on Dec.10, 2018. Credit: Hans Pennink/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

Strained relations

The only shock about the resignation Monday of state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is that it came so soon. 

Tension between Elia and the Regents that had been building for more than a year hit a new peak at the board’s June monthly meetings. Elia and many of the Regents were at loggerheads over her plan to aggressively regulate all private and parochial schools, putting local school districts in charge of the oversight. Her blueprint spurred a lawsuit from those schools and led the Regents to decide they needed to take a firm hand in rewriting the regulations. Regents also riddled her with questions over the search and selection process for the senior deputy commissioner she put forward. Anita Murphy, who won confirmation by only one vote after seven Regents abstained, then refused the job.

And many Regents were furious that schools had been placed on state watch lists largely because of high opt-out rates, despite Elia saying those schools would not face repercussions.

Elia was the pick of a very different chancellor, stalwart education reformer Merryl Tisch, and got the job in 2015 when Regents were trying to calm red-hot controversies over the Common Core curriculum, testing opt-outs and teacher evaluations.

Elia was often aligned with her predecessor, John King, who left the post for a spot with the federal Department of Education on a wave of parent and educator fury.

But Tisch left a few months after tapping Elia and was soon replaced by Betty Rosa, a longtime New York City educator supported by the New York State United Teachers who was firmly at odds with Tisch on every hot-button issue. And each set of Regents appointments since, which come from the NYSUT-influenced State Assembly, have moved the board closer to the union’s highly critical point of view on state standardized tests, teacher evaluations tied to student growth on such tests and firm, traditional high school diploma requirements and other issues pushed by reformers. 

So what next? NYSUT, which is nearly undefeated in political battles over the past five years, is expected to have a big say in the selection of Elia’s replacement, which is likely to take about nine months. 

Education leaders who support the kinds of reforms NYSUT has battled clearly need not apply.

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Puerto Rico in crisis mode

Some New York City politicians are again turning their attention to the sixth borough of Puerto Rico, where Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló has been beset by protests calling for his resignation. 

People flooded the streets in San Juan this week, facing pepper spray and tear gas from police, after a round of federal corruption arrests including the former education secretary, and a scandal about Rosselló’s leaked group chat messages.

Those messages featured the governor talking boorishly, including about former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whom he referred to as a “whore” in Spanish for her criticism of Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez.

That local connection in addition to the larger turmoil caused  New York politicos State Sen. Gustavo Rivera and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to call on Rosselló to resign. 

Despite the relatively large Puerto Rican population on Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk politicians don’t tend to get as involved in island politics as their city counterparts, who sometimes have more familial or political ties to Puerto Rico. Such as city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who said Rosselló should leave and nodded to the “special place” that Puerto Rico has in his heart due to visits with his mom and stepfather Carlos Cuevas, the first Puerto Rican City Clerk in New York City. 

Meanwhile, City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., who tends to veer from his colleagues, didn’t mention Rosselló but noted that he hoped “no groups or individuals will cause further damage to any property during the protests or rallies in Puerto Rico,” so as not to affect tourism.

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Peace on Earth?

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Bonus Point

And the answer is...

In Tuesday’s Point item on that day in history, we noted that July 16, 1995 marked Amazon’s official opening as an online bookseller and we wondered whether anyone would know the first volume sold.

Here’s the answer: Amazon’s first sale was “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought,” by Douglas Hofstadter, a college professor and native of New York City.

You probably didn’t know that, but if you’re hankering to buy it, it’s still on Amazon -- at No. 63,853 on the company’s best-sellers list.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie