NO CONSENSUS AMONG LOCAL LEGISLATORS IN
TUESDAY'S NYS BOARD OF REGENTS VOTE
The five legislators representing areas of the North Shore School District. From left to right - Assemblymen Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Michael Montesano (R,I,C - Glen Head), and Edward Ra (R,I,C - Franklin Square); and State Senators Carl Marcellino (R,I,C - Oyster Bay) and Jack Martins (R, I, C - Mineola)
March 15, 2014 (Updated March 19) -- In a vote held on Tuesday, March 11, the New York State Legislature re-appointed three members to the Board of Regents, the body that oversees education policy in the state, and elected a newcomer who will represent the lower upstate counties of Ulster and Sullivan. In a protest vote against the entire process, local Senators Carl Marcellino (R,I,C – Oyster Bay) and Jack Martins (R,I,C – Mineola) voted against all nine candidates on the ballot, while Assemblymen Michael Montesano (R, I, C – Glen Head) and Edward Ra (R,I,C – Franklin Square) voted for a slate of candidates who have been outspoken in their opposition to the Common Core learning standards. Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D – Glen Cove) voted for the three incumbent regents seeking re-election, and for Josephine Victoria Finn, an upstate attorney and Monticello Village Justice.
The incumbents, James Cottrell, Wade Norwood, and Christine Cea were easily re-elected and Ms. Finn won handily to replace Regent James Jackson, a long-time educator, who announced at the 11th hour that he was withdrawing his name from consideration and resigning from his position.
With regard to her views on Common Core, testing, or an educational philosophy in general, Ms. Finn has not publicly expressed an opinion. In an interview with the upstate Times Beacon Record, she said “I have thoughts about the common Core, but I’m not going to share them right now. I think that I have to start by listening and learning and that’s really more important right now.”
The two “at-large” incumbents winning re-election were James Cottrell, who is Chairman of Anesthesiology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, and Wade S. Norwood, who is Director of Community Engagement for the Finger Lakes Health System. Christine Cea who was re-elected as Staten Island’s regent, is a researcher at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities.
Assemblyman Lavine, explaining his vote, said that he believes that the three incumbents have gotten the message regarding standardized testing and the almost universally panned roll-out of the Common Core learning standards. "None of the four incumbents was a leader in the effort to engage in needless testing," he said. "One, however, did not seem to fully appreciate the damaging effect of this testing regimen. His resignation, along with the Regents adopting 19 Common Core changes, demonstrates that an important message had been sent and received." He added that "Commissioner [of the Department of Education] John King bears responsibility for Common Core’s deficient rollout. No other state has had as much trouble as New York."
On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay) released a statement in which he explained his vote. “Today, I voted against all the candidates who were nominated to fill the four open spots on the Board of Regents.” His decision, he said, was motivated by two factors - “First, to express my outrage with the Common Core roll out; second, to voice my opposition to the methodology of how Regents are nominated and elected in our State.”
For Regents appointments, a joint session of the Senate and the Assembly is held, with each of the 213 members casting a vote for candidates who have been nominated for the post. Because Democrats hold a significant majority in the Assembly, with 99 out of the 150 seats, that caucus, assuming a party line vote, can effectively determine who serves on the Board. Viewing the outcome as a foregone conclusion, Senate Republicans have traditionally boycotted the election. However, because of the public outcry over student privacy issues, standardized testing, and the roll out of the Common Core learning standards, Senate Republicans chose to participate this year, with virtually all voting “no” on each of the nine nominations, as a protest against the process.
Assembly Republicans adopted a slightly different approach to their Senate counterparts, endorsing a slate of candidates, each of whom was endorsed by the anti-common core group NYS Allies for Public Education. For the at-large seats, their candidates were Carol Mikoda, a retired upstate teacher, and Walter Polka, a former school superintendent from Western New York who is now a Niagara University Professor; for the Ulster/Sullivan County seat, Helen Regina Rose, a former Teacher; and, for the Staten Island post, Mike Reilly, a former police officer. In addition, Maxine Fantroy-Ford, a former Albany High school principal, was also a nominee for the Ulster/Sullivan seat.
In a press release issued almost immediately after the vote, Assemblyman Montesano was critical of the regents who had just been elected. “The Board of Regents dictates the course of our children’s education; the selection of its members must be taken seriously,” he said. “The nominees chosen today merely maintain the status quo in our children’s education at a time when we should be seeking new, innovative approaches and philosophies. It is abundantly clear that our state’s education system is in need of an overhaul; the selections today should have reflected that.”
Assemblyman Montesano also spoke out against the process by which regents are selected. “New Yorkers deserve better than the same hyper-partisan selection process for the Board of Regents,” he said. “The only special interest the board should represent is our children.”
Assemblyman Lavine explained that the process gives state legislators the opportunity to interview nominees to Board of Regents. "For those of us who are gravely concerned over the excessive testing in our public schools, it was a good sign that so many Assembly members and a couple of Senators (including Westchester’s Senator George Latimer, a former Assembly colleague) attended the interviews of the individuals who sought election to the 4 open seats," he said. "I attended these interviews and was impressed that almost every person interviewed was well intentioned."
Senator Marcellino has introduced legislation that would change how regents are selected. “My bill would allow the residents of the 13 New York State Judicial districts to elect their own regent,” he said in his statement following Tuesday’s vote. “This will give New Yorkers a greater say in the direction of the education of their children.”
However, on Friday, the Senate passed another bill, sponsored by Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). In that proposal, of the 17 Regents, eight would be chosen by the Governor, three each by the Senate and Assembly majority leaders, and one each by the Senate and Assembly minority leaders. The final appointment would be made on a rotating basis between the Governor, Assembly Majority Leader and Senate Majority Leader. The passage of the bill is largely a symbolic gesture, with it having no chance of winning approval in the Assembly which, with its current make up, has nearly complete control over regents appointments.
The New York State Board of Regents comprises 17 members – one from each of the State's 13 judicial districts and four members who serve at large. The five year terms of the regents elected on Tuesday will begin on April 1.
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