Citing Clashes With Governor, Sobol Bows Out as N.Y. Chief

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Thomas Sobol, New York State's commissioner of education, resigned last week, saying that the new administration of Gov. George E. Pataki would squelch his effectiveness in the job.

"I would be in a position of collaboration with an administration whose values I do not share," Mr. Sobol explained, "or I would be constantly resisting it, and neither would be good for me or for the state."

Mr. Pataki, a Republican who upset Gov. Mario M. Cuomo in the November election, has often criticized the education department's management. His budget, released last week, proposes to cut 300 education administrators and recommends the sale of the $675,000 Albany home traditionally occupied by the schools' chief.

Mr. Sobol, who has overseen New York's schools for the past eight years, said he had been discussing his resignation since last September with the board of regents, the state's ruling education body. In recent months, he noted, he became convinced that a new commissioner would have a better chance of continuing the reforms initiated in recent years.

"Maybe for the good of the cause, it's time that someone else stepped in," he said.

Mr. Sobol will remain as commissioner as the regents conduct a nationwide search to fill the post.

A Controversial Tenure

Mr. Sobol said he believed that the reforms outlined in the state's "New Compact for Learning" have taken root. The state's high school dropout rate is at its lowest point ever, and the number of students going from high school to college has increased during his tenure.

Mr. Sobol "has demonstrated unusual vision" and "has given us an inclusive, comprehensive strategy for reform," R. Carlos Carballada, the chancellor of the board of regents, said in a statement.

But Mr. Sobol's tenure was also marked by controversy. In 1991, a task force he assigned to devise a multicultural social-studies curriculum ignited a national debate over its proposals for inclusion of minority viewpoints in the study of history.

Louis Grumet, the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said that while the New Compact reforms show "great vision," their effectiveness has been limited by Mr. Sobol's "total lack of leadership."

"The hallmark of the commissioner's tenure has been to raise expectations and not meet them," said Mr. Grumet, who faulted Mr. Sobol for being neither a savvy political presence nor a persuasive manager.

But Robert Berne, the dean of the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, said that Mr. Sobol's reforms, while misunderstood by policymakers, were popular among teachers and local administrators.

"It's a tough system to move in any direction," he said, "and he did an admirable job."

Meanwhile, educators gave Governor Pataki's proposed budget, which would freeze school aid at last year's level, mixed reviews. Some had expected him to seek a cut, given a serious budget shortfall and Mr. Pataki's promise to cut taxes.

The freeze "punishes districts which are growing or which have financial difficulties...and rewards districts which have declining enrollments," the New York City schools chancellor, Ramon C. Cortines, complained.

Enrollment in the city's schools is growing by 25,000 students a year.

Vol. 14, Issue 20

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