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Cortines Named N.Y.C. Schools Chancellor in 4-3 Vote

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A divided New York City Board of Education last week named Ramon C. Cortines, a former superintendent of the San Francisco schools, to be the city's next schools chancellor.

Mr. Cortines, who had been awaiting confirmation as an assistant U.S. secretary of education, was selected over Gerald N. Tirozzi, a former Connecticut education commissioner.

Known as the "gang of four,'' the board members who voted in favor of Mr. Cortines are the same ones who voted to oust Joseph A. Fernandez. Their split with the other three members, two of whom were appointed by Mayor David N. Dinkins, has persisted despite pledges by Carol A. Gresser, the president of the board, to unify the group.

The search for a replacement for Mr. Fernandez was marked by an embarrassing setback for the board in July when its top choice at the time, Bernard Gifford, withdrew from consideration, changed his mind, and then withdrew his name again. (See Education Week, July 14, 1993.)

The search also was complicated by political considerations prompted by this fall's mayoral election. Mayor Dinkins stepped into the selection process in its final days by sending a letter to board members praising Mr. Tirozzi, who is white, and warning that race or ethnicity should not be a factor in selecting a chancellor.

That move, however, appeared to solidify the support for Mr. Cortines, who is Mexican-American. Two board members who supported him also are backing Mr. Dinkins's challenger, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"I'm concerned about the atmosphere that's been created around his appointment, the board's discord, and the concern by the parent and advocacy community that they were not included,'' said Beth Lief, the executive director of the Fund for New York City Public Education.

Of Mr. Cortines, she said, "I've been making calls and they say he is smart, a good manager, decent, and cares about children who have traditionally not succeded well in schools, particularly the limited-English-proficient population.''

Ms. Lief voiced confidence that Mr. Cortines would support the effort to open 30 new small schools this month, led in part by her group.

Although he retired last year from the superintendency in San Francisco, a bastion of liberalism, Mr. Cortines has earned a reputation as a moderate on many of the social issues that got Mr. Fernandez into trouble.

He has described himself as holding middle-of-the-road attitudes, with a middle-class value system.

'Not on the Fringe'

"He's not on the fringe on any of the social issues, although clearly he's responsive in almost all of them,'' said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "In many of the controversial matters that have come up, he's worked out pretty careful political solutions.''

Two frequently mentioned examples include dealing with homosexual students and making condoms available in schools--two of the issues that proved explosive for Mr. Fernandez.

Mr. Cortines objected to a plan for a school counseling program for gay students and reached a compromise with gay activists that included designating one teacher in each high school as a resource person for homosexual students.

And before the schools began making condoms available, he insisted that parents be allowed to keep their children from participating and that the value of abstinence be taught.

Mr. Cortines is widely respected in urban education, Mr. Casserly said.

"He's one of the brightest, most politically astute education leaders around,'' he said, "with a national Rolodex that has got to be 10 miles long.''

The new chancellor told The New York Times before his selection that he was attracted by the challenge of making urban education work. "People say New York can't be done,'' he said. "Well, I'm not willing to give up on our big cities.''

Mr. Cortines will begin the job full-time on Sept. 13 and will be paid $195,000 a year. He said his first priority would be completing emergency asbestos inspections of schools, which have delayed the start of classes. (See story, page 1.)

New Teaching Contract

One thing that will make his job easier is knowing that New York's teachers have finally settled on a new contract. The four-year agreement, announced last week, will raise top pay to $60,000.

Members of the United Federation of Teachers had threatened to strike this fall if they could not reach an agreement. They have been working under a contract that expired nearly two years ago.

The new contract, which will run from Oct. 1, 1991, to Oct. 15, 1995, will increase salaries by 9 percent over four years. The pact must be ratified by the union's delegate assembly and by the full membership.

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