State education commissioner Elia resigns

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State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia has resigned.

Her resignation, announced by the Department of Education July 15, creates an additional level of uncertainty for an already unsettled Rochester City School District, which for months has faced the possibility that Elia could order a state takeover of the RCSD. 

Elia’s decision to leave the state education post closely follows the resignation of Jaime Aquino, the RCSD watchdog Elia named as a distinguished educator last year and who in November issued a scathing 60-page critique of the district and the city’s school board. 

MaryEllen Elia

Elia had pointedly hinted to RCSD officials that the state could take control of the district or hand it over to the city of Rochester if the RCSD did not adequately address Aquino’s more than 80-point list of recommendations. 

Elia rejected a response to the Aquino report that the RCSD turned in last February, calling it inadequate. The commissioner had yet to respond to a second response the RCSD turned in several weeks ago.

In the meantime, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has put forward a proposal to eliminate the city’s school board for no less than five years in favor of an undetermined new governance structure.  

In a letter to the Board of Regents, Elia cited the Education Department’s identification of the RCSD as one of the state’s most educationally challenged school districts and her appointment of Aquino as examples of steps by her administration to “address the individual needs of unique and vulnerable student populations,” but did not elaborate further. 

Elia plans to leave Aug. 31. The commissioner is stepping down to take another position, department spokesperson Jeanne Beattie says.

In a statement, Board of Regents chair Betty Rosa thanked Elia for her service but did not indicate how soon Regents might act to replace Elia. 

“We thank Commissioner Elia for her tireless and unwavering service to New York State’s children,” the statement reads. “Over the past four years, the Board and Commissioner Elia have made much progress to improve education for New York’s citizens. Together we have placed an emphasis on educating the whole child and worked to achieve equity in education for all. Commissioner Elia has been steadfast in her commitment to placing the interests of students first. We wish Commissioner Elia the best in her future endeavors.”

In a separate email to the Rochester Beacon, Rosa indicated that the RCSD is among the Regents’ top concerns.

“Not taking appropriate action would be a disservice to Rochester’s children,” Rosa wrote.

What that action might be is not clear. 

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