State Journal: New York's restive regents
In what insiders say may be an unprecedented development, some members of the New York State Board of Regents have been openly critical of the state's commissioner of education.
Whether Thomas Sobol, who took the job in 1987, could be forced out as a result is uncertain, though. Some observers contend that only a few of the 16 regents are itching to remove him.
The turmoil surfaced this month in an article by an Albany- based reporter that included remarks indicating that some regents were not enamored with Mr. Sobol's performance in several key areas.
In his article, Billy House reported that several regents had blamed the commissioner for steering them into "a series of embarrassments" during the past two years.
In particular, the regents seem to be upset over the controversy stirred up by the board's involvement with condom distribution in the New York City schools and Mr. Sobol's moves to rewrite the state's multicultural curriculum.
"I felt at this time of a budget crunch there wasn't any necessity to spend money to revise [the curriculum]," said one regent, who asked not to be named.
An incident involving U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane S. Ravitch also reportedly irked several regents. After Ms. Ravitch questioned whether the regents had ever read their multicultural curriculum, Mr. Sobol wrote Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander requesting that he order the former Columbia University professor to butt out of the state's affairs.
In addition, some regents are wondering about $9.6 million that the state school-boards association complains the state education department shifted from local school aid to pay for administrative salaries.
Christopher Carpenter, a spokesman for the department, said the money was a tiny portion of the $8-billion state-aid budget and took place over a period of several years.
Since the article appeared, the regents have become more circumspect.
"What the regents have done is what most board members do--look at themselves and their staffs," said Regent Emlyn I. Griffith. "1 don't see it as a clamp-down on any one person or group of people," he said.
Another regent said the dispute was a "difference of opinion" over the New Compact for Learning, the state's school-improvement blueprint.
But, added the regent, "[Mr. Sobol] serves at our pleasure. He serves without a contract. He serves at our will."
A new head of the board of the regents takes charge April 1, and almost everyone predicts there will be procedural changes if not personnel changes. --K.D.
Vol. 11, Issue 18, Page 15Published in Print: January 22, 1992, as State Journal: New York's restive regents