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N.Y. School Board Votes Out Chancellor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bitterly divided New York City Board of Education voted 4 to 3 on Thursday against renewing the contract of Chancellor Rudy Crew, head of the nation’s largest public school system.

Crew’s departure--which is scheduled for June, but could come much earlier--represents a clear victory for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who supported his ouster.

“Change is good. It gives you another opportunity to reinvent things, to reform things,” the mayor said Thursday.

“I dare say it’s going to be a long day in a very cold hell until we find someone as good” as Crew, countered Irving Hamer, Manhattan’s representative on the board and a backer of the outgoing chancellor.

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Once-cordial relations between the mayor and Crew--who in 1995 took over the troubled school system, with its more than 1.1 million students--became frosty earlier this year after the chancellor opposed Giuliani’s call for education vouchers. Crew even threatened to resign his $245,000-a-year post over the issue.

The chancellor, who was spending some vacation time with his own children, was not present when the board cast its vote.

“He preferred to be lynched in absentia,” a spokeswoman said.

In a statement, Crew said it was clear that his earlier coalition of support could not be sustained and that it might be impossible “to restore the solidarity that marked my first three years as chancellor.”

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“It is now time for a new leader to build upon our accomplishments and move this school system into the new millennium,” he said.

As expected, Giuliani’s three supporters on the board voted against the 49-year-old educator. The swing vote belonged to Terri Thomson, the representative from Queens.

After the vote, Thomson said that Crew had left behind a “fabulous legacy.”

“But his actions over the course of the last few months have been very troubling to me,” she said, “His indecisiveness about whether he wanted to stay or go, his unwillingness to have a conversation about the future.”

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She charged that Crew was defending the bureaucracy “instead of aggressively tackling the problems” with vision.

“I think we need a chancellor who will give us 1,000% right now,” she added. “We need a chancellor with fire in his belly and a passion for change.”

After the vote, some educators speculated that Crew--who had expressed ambivalence about remaining in New York--may have been trying to find a way out. They said that, although he made clear that he wanted a multiyear contract with a raise and increased pension benefits, Crew also made it known that he was weighing at least one other job offer.

Crew was one of the longest-serving heads of the city’s school system. He replaced Ramon Cortines, whom Giuliani forced to resign after personality clashes and disagreements over policy.

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Crew--who previously held top public school jobs in Tacoma, Wash., and Sacramento--instituted major changes upon his arrival. He shifted power back from local school boards to the central Board of Education and fired underperforming superintendents and principals.

He ended the practice of social promotion and instituted tough standards for pupils.

At the same time, he faced serious problems.

Talented principals and teachers continued to abandon New York for the suburbs, where they received higher pay and found smaller classes.

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In September, a testing firm admitted that it had made a mistake and that 8,600 students who were sent to summer school for remedial work had scored higher and didn’t need to attend.

Then this month, a special schools investigator revealed that dozens of principals and teachers helped students pass standardized tests in order to improve their own performance records.

And a state report found that dozens of schools falsely raised attendance figures in order to receive additional state funds.


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