State’s interim education chief to exit

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New York’s interim commissioner of education is quitting.

Beth Berlin

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown announced Beth Berlin’s impending departure in an Oct. 18 joint statement. Berlin previously had served a five-month term as the department’s interim chief in 2015.

Slated for Nov. 15, her exit will come a scant two months after her former boss, MaryEllen Elia, stepped down as commissioner.

It’s not clear how the churn in the Department of Education’s top leadership might affect the Rochester City School District, which faces a $30 million budget shortfall, pressure from Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, a probe of its finances by the state comptroller’s office and a call by the state budget director for the city and the Department of Education to address the RCSD’s “chronic mismanagement and underperformance.” 

Whether the state might act to sideline the Rochester school board in favor of a state-appointed governing body remains an open question. Warren and Brown, a Rochester attorney, have previously proposed such a step and Elia had warned school board members that a state takeover of the district could be in the cards. 

In the upcoming election, eight city school board candidates are vying for four seats. Berlin’s exit will come 10 days after the November election concludes.

If past elections in the heavily Democratic city are a guide, the four winners of the June primary would be shoo-ins in the school board race. But candidates in this race include four anti-racism activists who have been highly critical of the current board and are hoping to best the party favorites, pulling in votes from the broader electorate as write-ins. Early voting begins Oct. 26 and polling wraps up Nov. 5.

In their Oct. 18 statement, Rosa and Brown said the Regents would name an interim chancellor on Nov. 15 and would kick off a search for a permanent education department chief at that time. In the meantime, they said, they would “as leaders of the Board of Regents (and) continue take a more active role in the activities of the Department during this time of transition.” 

While Brown has floated the idea of sidelining the elected city school board, Rosa has expressed concern over the RCSD’s state of affairs but has not definitively backed ousting the board.  

“Not taking appropriate action would be a disservice to Rochester’s children. We remain extremely concerned with the dire situation in the Rochester City School District and stand ready to work with all parties on a proposal that ensures that the status quo does not continue,” she wrote in a July email to the Rochester Beacon.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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