Real estate developer and philanthropist Roger Tilles deserved all the fine words state lawmakers lavished on him Tuesday before the legislature approved his appointment to New York's top educational policy board. Tilles may have earned his millions as a tough-minded businessmen, but he has given many of them away - as well as much time - to educational, charitable and artistic causes. He should make a fine member of the Board of Regents.
By what standards should Long Islanders judge him in his first five-year term in this unpaid, influential post?
Clearly, in the wake of the Roslyn scandal, Tilles must advocate for the highest ethical standards in school operations and help watchdogs, such as state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, to get the money they need to keep everyone honest.
Tilles also must be a voice for the poorest and least powerful, not only in one of the nation's wealthiest regions but throughout the state. If that means alienating wealthier communities, including some on Long Island, then so be it.
Tilles must speak first for Nassau and Suffolk, his official role on the Board of Regents. But he also has a responsibility statewide. If there is an apparent conflict between his regional and statewide roles, as could be the case in settling New York City's successful claim that it was shortchanged on school aid, then he should choose the side of the greater good.
If Long Island's lawmakers continue to insist on maintaining the region's share of the state school-aid pie, he must convince them to devote more of it to ending what this page calls "the Shame of the Suburbs" - boosting the handful of chronically struggling schools in one of the nation's most educationally successful regions.
Doing the job well will take a lot of time (so it may not be a good idea for him to continue serving on a Long Island planning board). Tilles must not simply talk to top guns in Long Island's educational establishments, the heads of teachers unions, school boards and superintendents associations. He must get into the schools and listen to principals, teachers, students and parents about what works and doesn't work in their classrooms - and what they need from the state to succeed.
Tilles' won't be an easy task. But he has shown the skills and character - and, as chairman of the board of trustees at Long Island University, a post he's leaving, the experience in education - to do it well.