Drawing Made Easy

As the search for New York Citys next schools chancellor begins in earnest, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Board of Education inspire little confidence in the process. They are squaring off like kids, drawing lines in the sandbox, when they should be actively collaborating to bring in the best possible leader for the nations largest school system.

The task of finding a successor to Ramon Cortines would be challenging even without tensions between the board and City Hall. Despite some impressive improvements in academic performance, the school system is plagued by uncertainty. Teachers and other staff face the possibility of layoffs to help bridge the latest, $250 million gap in the boards budget. School buildings are overcrowded and in a terrible state of disrepair. The citys racial and ethnic divisions, as well as its gritty politics, complicate the search for a new leader.

Mr. Cortines, who called it quits a year before the end of his contract, brought welcome stability to the system and launched some notable academic improvements. But he leaves office after months of drawing squabbling with Mr. Giuliani over cuts in the schools budget, control over school safety and other issues.

The budget battles with Mr. Cortines now prompt Mr. Giuliani to insist that the next chancellor be an astute fiscal manager, perhaps someone from the business world. He also wants a chancellor who is capable of radical change, presumably one who would join the Mayors crusade to gain more control over the school system. A majority of the board, including president Carol Gresser, favors an experienced educator -- someone who will focus on academic improvement and not bog the system down in political struggles.

There ought to be a way for the two camps to reach common ground. The uncomfortable reality is that while the board and the chancellor are responsible for educating a million schoolchildren, the mayor provides the money. Mr. Giuliani has a right to expect the Board of Education to cooperate with City Hall. But the board has the statutory right and obligation to exercise independent judgment.

As the search progresses, both sides must work fervently to avoid a standoff. Mr. https://www.washingtonpost.com/newssearch/?query=drawing Giuliani, in particular, should realize that any candidate would have to think twice about coming to New York City in light of his often harsh treatment of Mr. Cortines. The Mayors constant public bullying of those who disagree with him has begun to trouble even his strong supporters, who see it as a detraction from his accomplishments and a threat, if unchecked, to his political future. For both sides, then, this is an opportune time to show that the board and City Hall, in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, can agree on an educator who can deal with the citys grim fiscal realities.

If there is any issue that should inspire collective maturity on the part of the board, the Mayor and his aides, it should be the education of a million schoolchildren who represent the citys future.