Image: Cathie Black, Mike Bloomberg
Seth Wenig  /  AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, speaks while the new Chancellor of Public Schools, Cathie Black, looks on during a news conference at City Hall in New York, on Nov. 9. Conceding to a condition set by the state's education commissioner that could allow Black to receive a waiver for the non-educator to serve as the next schools chancellor, Bloomberg said that Black will appoint a chief academic officer as her "very first step" as chancellor.
updated 11/29/2010 8:02:59 PM ET 2010-11-30T01:02:59

The state education commissioner granted a waiver Monday for Cathie Black to serve as New York City schools chancellor, clearing the way for the publishing executive to lead the nation's largest school system.

The announcement came after Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to appoint a seasoned educator as second-in-command to Black, who needed a waiver from the state because she has no background in education.

Bloomberg announced Nov. 9 that he had chosen Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines and former publisher of USA Today, to succeed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is leaving at the end of the year to take a job with News Corp.

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Bloomberg called the 66-year-old Black a "world-class manager" who would inspire the school system's 1.1 million students and 135,000 employees.

But with no credentials as an educator, Black needed the waiver from Commissioner David Steiner.

An advisory panel appointed by the commissioner to weigh Black's qualifications recommended last week that Steiner deny the waiver. But Steiner said he might be willing to grant it if a deputy chancellor with education credentials were chosen.

After days of negotiations, Bloomberg agreed to create the position of chief academic officer under Black. The job will go to Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former teacher and principal who is currently deputy chancellor for performance and accountability.

Bloomberg said Polakow-Suransky, 38, would oversee instructional programs and the implementation of major educational policies.

In his decision announced late Monday, Steiner said Black "has affirmatively stated that the position will continue throughout her tenure ensuring strong and continuous pedagogic support."

He also praised Black's "exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors."

The arrangement has not satisfied Black's critics.

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn said Monday he was considering legal action to block the waiver.

"This is about the rule of law," Jeffries said.

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He said state law permits waiving the requirement for educational credentials when the applicant has extraordinary qualifications that are equivalent. For example, Klein, a lawyer who also needed a waiver, had been the U.S. Justice Department's top antitrust official and had taught school briefly as a young man.

"In this case, Commissioner Steiner appears inclined to grant the waiver based on the educational credentials of someone other than the applicant, and that violates the law," Jeffries said.

Shino Tanikawa, a mother with two children in Manhattan public schools, said she was strongly opposed to the waiver for Black.

"The law is very clear that a chancellor either has the required educational background or something that is equivalent, and she doesn't have either," Tanikawa said.

Critics also have questioned how much authority Polakow-Suransky will have to make policy.

Asked Monday about the lines of authority between Black and her lieutenant, Bloomberg said, "There will be one person in charge, make no mistake about that."

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