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Education

Settlement Ends Crew’s Tenure As N.Y.C. Chief

By Robert C. Johnston — January 12, 2000 6 min read

Rudolph F. Crew’s tenure as the chancellor of the New York City schools officially ended last week when the school board ratified a buyout of his contract, culminating a rapid sequence of events that left the nation’s largest school system leaderless as the new year began.

Rudolph F. Crew

Following a lengthy Jan. 5 meeting, the board said it would name an interim schools chief by Jan. 12, though no candidates for the post had been officially revealed as of late last week. The board members will then conduct a search for a new chancellor, whom they hope to name by this spring.

Meanwhile, Mr. Crew, whose soured relationship with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani contributed to the leadership upheaval, announced last week that he would return to the Pacific Northwest to direct a new school leadership institute at the University of Washington. Mr. Crew, 49, was the superintendent of the 31,000-student Tacoma, Wash., schools before moving to New York in October 1995.

As the district’s 1.1 million students returned to school last week, Mr. Crew’s departure, which unfolded during the holiday break, raised a host of questions. Many observers wondered how the city will prepare for a summer school program that could see a dramatic increase over last year as Mr. Crew’s efforts to end the automatic promotion of students to the next grade, whether they’re ready or not, moves into full swing.

Others questioned the future of the 43 low-performing schools that Mr. Crew had taken into a special “chancellor’s district.”

“It was a failure in political leadership. This was a bad period of time [to change leaders], given how many intiatives we have in place to help at-risk kids meet standards,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the city’s affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. “To have this happen creates puzzling uncertainty.”

More immediately, observers pondered who, if anyone, would want Mr. Crew’s job. New York has had 11 chancellors in the past 20 years. And the current political waters in the city are as storm-tossed as ever.

For starters, Mayor Giuliani, whose term expires in two years, will have a strong hand, if not veto power, in the final choice for chancellor because he appoints two of the seven members of the central school board.

Then, if the Republican mayor runs for and wins a U.S. Senate seat next fall, the new chancellor would have to win the favor of a new mayor.

“What limits the pool right now is politics,” said Beth J. Lief, the president of New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Whoever gets courted now does not know the political landscape one month into the next school year.”

Trying to predict Mr. Crew’s eventual successor has become a popular topic for the city’s school and political analysts, though school officials declined last week to speculate on possible candidates.

“We’re not even looking at that now. Our job is to focus on the interim,” said board member Jerry Cammarata. He promised a “thorough and methodical” search process for a new chancellor.

The mayor and some board members have acknowledged, though, that they will be looking for someone with experience running a large corporation.

“We need a New Yorker. We need someone who understands the political landscape. We need someone who is passionate about education,” said school board member and Deputy Mayor Ninfa Segarra, who was appointed to the board by Mr. Giuliani. “The person could come from outside education and could be a retired CEO.”

Chicago and Seattle are among the handful of urban school systems that have picked noneducators to head their schools as part of a small but growing trend in recent years. Such a move in New York, however, would surely stir controversy.

“Unlike what the mayor has said, New York City needs a top-notch educator with talent and experience managing a bureaucracy,” said Steven Sanders, the Democratic chairman of the state Assembly education committee. “It would be a horrible decision to find someone without an education vision or strategy to improve performance.”

The Giuliani Factor

Through much of Mr. Crew’s tenure, he enjoyed warm relations with the city’s mercurial mayor. But a major rift had formed between the two men—who were often referred to as the Two Rudys—ever since Mr. Crew publicly opposed Mayor Giuliani’s call for publicly funded school vouchers last spring. That parting of the ways was expected to be a factor as the board approached its scheduled vote late last month on whether to extend Mr. Crew’s contract, which was set to expire this June.

“It had a role. I wouldn’t be truthful if I said it didn’t,” Ms. Segarra said of the voucher issue. “The reason he succeeded for four years was that he had a relationship with the mayor.”

But many who have watched the story unfold, including Mr. Crew’s supporters, point out that the former chancellor didn’t help his cause by waffling on his commitment to New York. As early as last summer, he had expressed interest in the University of Washington job.

On Dec. 23, the board voted 4-3 not to extend Mr. Crew’s contract, setting up talks that led to last week’s buyout agreement. Last Wednesday, Jan. 5, was his final day as chancellor, although Mr. Crew, who has been unavailable for comment, did not return to his office for work last week.

Under the terms of the agreement released by the school board, Mr. Crew, who was earning $245,000 a year, will get about $223,000 in severance pay. He will also remain on the payroll as a $1,000-a-month consultant from July 1 to Oct. 16, when he becomes eligible for a city pension.

Revamped Governance

Mr. Crew lasted longer than anyone in the district’s top job since Frank J. Macchiarola held the post from 1978 to 1983. On Mr. Crew’s watch, the chancellor’s office gained broad new authority in running the massive system of 1,145 schools, 75,000 teachers, and an $11 billion budget. Using that power over the city’s 32 community school districts, which he was granted under 1996 state legislation that he helped champion, Mr. Crew forced out five community district superintendents and scores of principals last summer.

“His primary legacy will be a new governance system,” said Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University. “It’s now possible for the chancellor to control who’s on board in local school districts. That, and the end of principal tenure, will stick after he walks out the door.”

Mr. Crew also took a hard line on academic performance by promoting academic standards. He launched the policy that seeks an end to social promotion of academically unready students, which includes the expansion of summer school. Some 35,000 low-achieving 3rd, 6th and 8th graders attended the program last summer, though the results were tarnished by scoring and attendance errors. This summer, the program could take in up to 300,000 students.

Despite those efforts, test scores fluctuated or remained flat during Mr. Crew’s time in office—a point he acknowledged in an interview that appeared in The New York Times on Jan. 6. “I would say it’s inconclusive,” he told the newspaper, but added that student achievement “looks like it’s going in the right direction.”

And while he has won kudos as a visionary, he was faulted by some as failing to follow up on more basic aspects of his job, such as addressing the crisis in local school leadership.

New York principals spent the last four years without a contract, and only this month are finally voting on a pact endorsed by their union leaders. Meanwhile, the school system has an estimated 300 openings for full-time principals and up to 1,200 slots for assistant principals and other school executive posts, according to the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, which represents principals and other administrators.

“Crew left, and you don’t hear any of our members say, ‘Crew, come back,’ ” said Donald Singer, the union’s president. “He didn’t do enough to obfuscate the scapegoating. No one denies he’s an advocate for kids, but he was unable to translate that love for kids into support for administrators who also love kids.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as Settlement Ends Crew’s Tenure As N.Y.C. Chief

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