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Bloomberg's embattled New York schools chief quits


New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Bernd Debusmann Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's embattled education chief has resigned just three months after taking the job, dealing him another political setback as his approval ratings fall in his third term.

Bloomberg had named former Hearst Magazines Chairman Cathie Black as schools chancellor in November 2010, a decision roundly criticized by teachers and parents because she lacked any experience whatsoever in either education or government.

"We both agreed it is in the city's best interest if she steps down as Chancellor," Bloomberg told a news conference. "I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us expected."

After taking the job in January, she clashed repeatedly with teachers and parents who saw her as a person who was a friend of the billionaire mayor with no experience that would suggest she had the credentials to succeed in one the most challenging jobs in American education.

Black never seemed to recover after her comment in January that birth control "would really help us" solve the problem of overcrowded schools drew the ire of many parents of the city's 1.1 million public school students.

An NY1-Marist poll released on Monday put Black's approval rating at 17 percent.

"The story had become her and it should be about the students," Bloomberg said in a news conference, during which he was brusque and testy. "We have to focus this on going forward. What's important here is our children."

AN EMBARRASSMENT?

Due to her lack of credentials, Black required a waiver to take the job from New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner, who imposed a condition that a deputy be hired with the requisite educational background to assist her.

"It's an embarrassment for Bloomberg. They made a poor choice and had to backtrack," said Hunter College public policy Professor Joseph Viteritti. "He had the choice of admitting the mistake and making a change or continue hemorrhaging politically. It's good they moved quickly."

Black's resignation comes just days after a NY1-Marist poll found that Bloomberg's approval rating has dropped to 40 percent, with 21 percent saying they believe his performance in office is poor.

Bloomberg appeared annoyed as he made the announcement. While being asked a question, he at first corrected the reporter and then interrupted with a dismissive "whatever."

He named Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis Walcott as Black's successor.

"Walcott is not a bad choice," Viteritti said. "He knows the agenda. He is not a professional educator, but has the capacity to defuse a volatile political situation."

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., editing by Philip Barbara and Mark Egan)

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