Three incumbent & one new Regent elected

Mar 11, 2014

The state legislature replaced one member of the State Board of Regents, but allowed three others to remain, in elections held for the state’s top educational policy board.  

The vote featured complaints from Republican Senators, who voted against all of the candidates  to demonstrate their displeasure with the state’s implementation of the new Common Core.

Senate Republicans, who attended the joint legislative vote for the first time in several years, voted against nearly all of the Regents candidates.  

Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan says the actions were a protest against the roll out of the new Common Core learning standards, which is widely viewed as flawed.

“This is one of the few lightening rod opportunities that we have,” Flanagan said during debate.

The Senate GOP also complained about the process laid out in the state’s constitution for choosing Regents members, which in recent years has meant that the legislature’s largest faction, the Assembly Democrats,  has had nearly sole control in choosing candidates.

Afterward, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who says all of the Regents candidates should have been “tossed,” laid the blame for the Common Core mistakes squarely on the Democrats.

“Those four incumbents caused chaos within the whole education system,” Skelos said. “And all of the Democrats, whether they are in the Senate or Assembly voted to confirm that type of status quo.”

Several Senate Democrats also voted no on all candidates. But despite that, the Assembly Democrats, garnered the additional yes votes needed to reelect three incumbent Regents -- James Cottrell of Brooklyn, Wade Norwood of Rochester, and Christine Cea of Staten Island.

They also elected a new member of the Board of Regents, Josephine Finn of the Hudson Valley, after James Jackson of Albany decided not to run again. Finn, a Monticello Village Justice and former college professor, also runs an on-line business that offers, among other things, what she says is a spiritual weight loss plan.    

Afterward, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he was satisfied with the outcome of the vote.

“Our members are comfortable with the Regents who represent their districts,” Silver said. “They listen, they understand, and that’s the key thing.”

And Silver says he does not think the process for electing Regents should be changed. He points out that the Assembly depended on about two dozen votes from Senators to elect the Regents. Assembly Democrats ranks have been diminished due to an unusually high number of vacancies.  

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who attended the vote, afterward offered an impassioned defense of the Common Core principles. She says the U.S. faces stiff competition from other nations, including China and India.

“It would contribute greatly to the decline of our country to move away from the standards movement,” Tisch said.

The chancellor admits, though, there were problems with trying to implement the Common Core too quickly.

“We have heard that people have concerns, we have tried to address many of those concerns,” Tisch said. “As a body, we are committed to appropriate implementation of raised standards.”

Tisch says she’s a “great listener,” but she’s also a “great believer.”

While Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats were at odds over the Regents selection, the two houses are likely to agree on a plan to slow down the effects of Common Core. The Assembly has already passed a bill to essentially impose a two-year moratorium on the impact of the new testing associated with Common Core, on both teachers and students, and Flanagan says he expects full agreement on a new law by the end of March.