‘Partisan Politics’

ALBANY – The not-so-distant future of New York state’s education system will be placed in familiar hands.

After a closely watched Board of Regents election, legislators re-elected three incumbents and appointed an Upstate New York judge to fill a seat vacancy Tuesday – despite the protests of the Assembly minority.

Due to the inconsistent and controversial rollout of the Common Core Learning Standards in schools statewide, lawmakers had pushed for the past several months to fill the Regents vacancies with candidates who have had more experience in the realm of education. Some lawmakers protested the vote and chose not to endorse any candidate because of their criticism of Common Core and its testing standards.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said the outcome of the decision to re-elect incumbent board members suggests that the Board of Regents is being utilized to accommodate politics rather than the education of New York students.

“What they’re doing is using the Board of Regents, which is a very important group, for partisan politics,” Goodell said.

“We’ve seen what happens when you put people who don’t have educational expertise on the Board of Regents,” Goodell continued. “We end up with a botched Common Core implementation. And when you look at who’s been appointed to the Board of Regents, you can understand why.”

The at-large members who were re-elected include: James Cottrell, of Brooklyn; Wade Norwood, of Rochester; and Christine Cea, of Staten Island. Additionally, Josephine Finn, a village justice in Monticello, was chosen to replace Albany representative James Jackson, who decided late Monday not to seek re-election.

Goodell voted against all three incumbent candidates, stating that other candidates were much better qualified. Under questioning by Goodell, Assembly majority leader Joseph Morelle admitted that Norwood had never served in the field of education in any capacity, nor did he ever obtain a college degree in education.

“I think the idea here is that it is not only professional educators who serve on the Board of Regents, but people who have a breadth of experience; people who have a commitment to children, who have a broad experience in public policy. And Mr. Norwood certainly has those (characteristics),” Morelle said in response to Goodell’s questioning.

Goodell said the positions were awarded more through political connections than overall qualifications.

“They’re rewarding these people for political involvement in the past rather than putting aside politics and focusing on who’s best qualified for the position,” Goodell said, noting that New York state ranks 32nd in the nation in terms of academic performance despite ranking highest in per pupil spending. “When you’re making political appointments to the Board of Regents rather than the most qualified people, you’re not going to get the quality you’re hoping for.”

Both Goodell and state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, had placed their support for Dr. Walter Polka, whom Goodell said holds an “absolutely astounding” resume through his background in education.

“Dr. Polka is a professor, and has an extensive educational background as an assistant principal, principal and superintendent,” Goodell said during a meeting of the Assembly minority. “His educational degree is a doctorate in education. And, while I appreciate that the Board of Regents needs a range of diversity, in this situation, we have an extraordinary educator in Dr. Polka – who has devoted his entire career to education.”

Ultimately, the seat for which Polka was nominated went in favor of Norwood.

Overall, 186 legislators participated in the session, much more than in recent years. Regents are elected by a majority joint vote of the Assembly and the Senate, a process controlled by Assembly Democrats because of their large numbers. Several legislators called Tuesday for a revamping of the process, and Senate Republicans said they would introduce legislation to do so.

The Board of Regents is comprised of 17 members elected by the state legislature for five-year terms: one from each of the state’s 13 judicial districts, and four members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.