Crew Seeks an End to Tenure for Principals

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In a move that New York City school administrators are denouncing as "a power grab," Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew is joining forces with the mayor in a bid to end tenure for the city's more than 1,000 school principals.

Mr. Crew says he will push hard for state legislation to base principals' employment on renewable contracts.

Such a change, he argues, is central to his strategy for strengthening accountability in the 1 million-student system, the nation's largest.

The move would follow a change in state law, which the chancellor fought hard for, that made superintendents in the city's 32 subdistricts directly accountable to him rather than to local community school boards.

"We're going to make that a very high priority," Mr. Crew said of the bid to eliminate principals' tenure. "It's the key to a clear and strong accountability system. It really just has to be done."

Rudy F. Crew

Last month, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called for an end to such tenure, suggesting that it creates a weak link in the district's chain of command. He released a letter to New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a fellow Republican, requesting his support for the change.

A spokesman for the union that represents 4,000 principals and other school supervisors in the city said last week that tenure does not prevent administrators from removing principals, but merely assures that they are afforded proper due-process protections.

Manfred Korman, the executive director of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators of the City of New York, said Mr. Crew was seeking "the powers of a czar" in the wake of the governance law that consolidated his authority over subdistrict superintendents. He also said the legislature was "not so ready" to grant the chancellor his wish.

"I think it's a power grab," Mr. Korman added.

Next Logical Step?

The governance law, which took full effect last spring, stripped the local school boards of their power to hire and fire superintendents, transferring that authority to the chancellor. Those 32 subdistricts, created in the late 1960s as part of a sweeping decentralization law, are responsible for overseeing elementary and middle schools.

Over the years, the performance of the boards and the principals they hired had become wildly uneven, with some highly focused on improving schools and others mired in corruption and patronage.

Chronic scandals involving some of the boards provided much of the impetus to roll back their powers.

Mr. Crew spoke out against principals' tenure not long after taking office in 1995, but he postponed efforts to tackle the issue in the state capital while pushing for the governance law. ("Crew Packs Arsenal of New Powers in N.Y.C.," Jan. 15, 1997.)

The schools chief called the elimination of principals' tenure the next logical step following that law, which he argues made the job protection for principals unnecessary.

Mr. Crew and his aides argue that the curtailment of the local boards' power will insulate principals from the kind of local politics that may formerly have justified tenure.

The chancellor made his remarks in an interview last week while attending the annual conference of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based association of the country's largest urban districts. ("Mayors, Superintendents Pledge Greater Cooperation," in This Week's News.)

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