Gov. George Pataki's creation of a new commission to help him make "historic reforms" in the way children are educated unfortunately includes a number of members with no educational experience and excludes institutions that should be represented. But with nine seats still to fill, the governor still can and should improve this panel.
Pataki, so far, has named 16 members of his 25-member Commission on Education Reform. It's now up to him to fill the remaining posts with an eye toward qualifications and expertise in the area of education and regional representation.
On his first round, for example, he named no members of the Board of Regents, the group charged with overseeing state education. That glaring omission ought to be corrected. There also is only one representative from Western New York: Bishop Henry Mansell, who nominally heads the Catholic school system but is not working as an educator. In order for the commission to reach its goal of advocating for all children throughout the state, it must be inclusive on a regional level.
New York needs change, especially in the way state aid is allocated to school districts. In that too, though, this commission faces a challenge. Pataki has set a March deadline for its recommendations -- which are only that, and not binding on anyone -- and that comes well after the governor will propose next year's state budget.
This process stems from a court victory by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which challenged the existing school funding formula. While that lawsuit involved New York City schools, the governor rightly sees the need for statewide reform.
Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said the group supports the establishment of a commission with a broad, statewide mandate, but remains concerned that the panel is off to a poor start because the appointments so far stir up political rivalries and were made without adequate participation by the education community. Rebell's organization wants Pataki and his appointed panel chairman, Frank Zarb, immediately to convene a summit meeting for policymakers and education stakeholders.
The group agrees the commission needs a reasonable amount of time to cover the extensive range of issues within its mandate, and doesn't consider the March deadline unreasonable. But it also voices valid concern that financial discussions may be put off until after the budget-writing season, which really begins in December with the governor's executive budget.
The expectation is that any reform will be phased in over a number of years. But that effort should at least start in the next fiscal year. The governor can take a step toward that goal by rounding out this panel now with appointments that give it more expertise and balance, and by directing that it make its deliberations open and transparent enough to invite engagement by the public and the education community.