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Green To Head Schools in N.Y.C.

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Richard R. Green, who rose through the ranks of the Minneapolis public schools to become the district's superintendent in 1980, last week was formally hired as the first black chancellor of the New York City public schools.

But the calm and congratulatory atmosphere that surrounded last week's unanimous vote of approval for Mr. Green by the board of education belied the months of bitter debate and maneuvering that filling the top job in the nation's largest school district had produced.

In the period since Nathan Quinones, the previous chancellor, announced in August that he would step down at the end of 1987--six months before the scheduled expiration of his contract--virtually every major political figure in the state has weighed in with an opinion on who should succeed him.

And as state and municipal leaders tried to use their influence to meet the selection concerns of the city's numerous and deeply divided constituencies, each, in turn, suffered embarrassing setbacks. The fierce and highly publicized battling offered a prime example of why the New York City schools have been called the most politicized in the nation.

A Final Twist

The final twist in the lengthy and often bizarre selection saga began on Dec. 30, just two days before the board of education was scheduled to make its choice from among three candidates put forward by a board-appointed search committee. The candidates included Mr. Green and two superintendents of schools from Pennsylvania--Constance E. Clayton of Philadelphia and Richard S. Wallace Jr. of Pittsburgh.

Four board members, all appointees of the city's borough presidents, announced then that they wanted the board to expand the list of finalists to include three additional candidates not recommended by the selection committee.

The last-minute move represented a major setback for Robert F. Wagner Jr., the board's president and one of only two mayoral appointees on the seven-member body. The highly visible Mr. Wagner had already suffered criticism for the slowness of the chancellor search, and this overt challenge to the selection process he had designed put him in direct conflict with the dissenting board members.

The confrontation occurred just as the board was scheduled to interview Mr. Green, who was asked to leave the room when the borough appointees presented their demands.

The top candidate of the borough appointees was Bernard R. Gifford, dean of the graduate school of education at the University of California at Berkeley, who had served for several years in the 1970's as the deputy chancellor of the New York schools.

Mr. Gifford's candidacy was supported by several prominent offi8cials from outside the school system, some of whom expressed concern that none of the finalists had had experience in New York City. They included, among others, U.S. Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel, and Arthur Barnes, president of the city's Urban Coalition.

A 'Private' Conversation

But of all Mr. Gifford's backers, the one in the strongest position politically appeared to be Mr. Barnes's wife, Sandra Feldman, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the largest American Federation of Teachers affiliate. Her closest ally on the board, James F. Regan, was one of the four members who disputed the search committee's list of finalists.

In a phone call to Ms. Feldman the next day, Mr. Wagner reportedly threatened to quit his post over the dispute. Though the incident was cited in the New York Times, Mr. Wagner has repeatedly refused to comment on the phone call, saying it was a "private" conversation between him and Ms. Feldman.

Apparently, however, Ms. Feldman backed down. Mr. Green was approved in a preliminary board vote two days later by a 4 to 3 margin. The uft president was quoted as saying: "It was my pleasure to be able to save Bobby Wagner's job and get an excellent chancellor in the process.''

Vehement protests from the backers of a third candidate, Adelaide Sanford, a member of the New York State Board of Regents, failed to delay the board's approval of Mr. Green. But Ms. Sanford's supporters have threatened to call a student strike to protest the selection, and have even vowed to file a lawsuit on her behalf.

'Chaotic Environment'

Meanwhile, the situation Mr. Green will step into March 1 seems by no means stable. Many of the political figures who played roles in the selection drama have pledged in recent months to press for substantial changes in the school system. High on their agenda is a revamping of the role and structure of Mr. Green's new bosses, the board of education.

Early in the selection process, in fact, Mr. Green himself said, "I have no idea who would want to come in and be chancellor. It sounds to be a very chaotic environment."

As chancellor, observers say, his role in this and other major issues facing the system will be little more than lobbyist. The state legislature, they note, has broad authority to chart the district's future.

And in his state-of-the-state message on education last week, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo indicated that the authority might be rigorously exercised. He devoted the largest segment of the address to the troubles afflicting the New York City schools. (See related story on page 12.)

The Governor's legislative package includes a proposal to authorize a subsidiary of the State Dormitory Authority to assume responsibility for all new construction and major rehabilitation projects in the system. Reform of the city's school-construction procedures is a condition imposed for the district's receipt of $600 million in new construction funds made available by a surplus in another municipal agency.

In addition, Mr. Cuomo is backing a proposal to give the Mayor of New York City the power to appoint a majority of school-board members.

Other proposals supported by the Governor include a bill calling for a comprehensive study of the district's decentralized governance structure.

Alluding to the current power of the city's school-custodians' union, which has come under increasing fire this year, Governor Cuomo said that "to suggest that the physical operation of the school should be subject not to the direction of the principal but rather to the sole discretion of the school custodian is ludicrous."

In his address, he also advocated giving greater authority to school principals in the district. But he stopped short of recommending the abolition of tenure for principals.

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