A week after losing two more allies in state education policy, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she’s unsure of her own plans for the future.
“We’ll talk about it in a couple of months,” Tisch told reporters on Monday when asked if she would seek reappointment when her term ends next year.
“Serve out my term?” Tisch said, when asked about her shorter-term plans. “Absolutely.”
Tisch, who has overseen the body that sets New York state education policy since 2009 and served on it since 1996, said such discussions were premature in an interview Tuesday. But her noncommittal response adds to the uncertainty looming over state education policy, following months of leadership changes that has left Tisch — a driving force behind the state’s new teacher and principal evaluations and the introduction of Common Core standards — more isolated.
Lawmakers last week voted to replace two Regents, James Dawson and Robert Bennett, who supported the ambitious education-policy changes Tisch has overseen. Their replacements are among a new wave of more skeptical appointees.
Also missing from Tisch’s corner is John King, who stepped down as education commissioner in December and who for six years guided a series of aggressive policy changes, including a statewide expansion of charter schools.
“It’s a shot across the bow of the accountability regime promoted by Tisch and King,” David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College, said of last week’s Regents election.
The Regents are now searching for King’s replacement. Meanwhile, the final dollars from the $700 million federal Race to the Top grant that spurred the state’s reforms in 2010 are likely to be disbursed this year. Many of those changes are now in their second year of being implemented statewide, and the education policy debates have shifted to the legislature as Gov. Andrew Cuomo pursues an aggressive series of changes to teacher tenure rules, evaluation methods, and the state’s role in overseeing struggling schools.
Tisch also lost an important ally in Sheldon Silver, who controlled the Regents selection process and stepped down as Assembly Speaker earlier this year after being indicted on corruption charges. Tisch and Silver were lifelong friends, and his fall was seen as a loss of some protection for the Regents against criticism from Assembly members.
Tisch said she wasn’t interested in discussing her plans on Tuesday, which included an emotional final meeting for the Regents being replaced. (Harry Phillips, a third Regent, voluntarily resigned.)
“We’re just all recovering from this Regents [selection] round,” Tisch said.
At the meeting, Regents exchanged hugs and shook hands with the members of the departing trio, who each spoke briefly and received standing ovations from the other members and observers. The three had a combined 67 years of experience on the board.
“Unlike Harry, I’m not leaving because I wanted to leave,” said Dawson, who represented nearly 100 school districts north of Albany, in a teary goodbye. “I’m leaving because of New York state politics.”
Bennett, who represented school districts in Buffalo and Western New York, left offering praise for the board’s leadership, but questioned whether other members were too easily influenced by outside groups. His reappointment was opposed by the teachers union in Buffalo.
“I know we’ve got two great leaders in the vice chancellor and the chancellor who have a great history and are here for the right reasons,” Bennett said. “There may be some members on the board that are carrying the water of certain constituencies.”
A number of Assembly lawmakers who would likely have some say in whether Tisch is re-elected offered praise for the chancellor this week. Catherine Nolan, chair of the education committee, said the replacement of Regents members last week was not a referendum on Tisch’s performance as chancellor.
“I hold her in the highest regard,” Nolan said. “It was in no way about the leadership.”