Lawmakers call for education chief’s resignation

John King (AP)
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ALBANY—Unions and their legislative allies are increasing the pressure on New York State education commissioner John King, with state lawmakers calling for his resignation and a powerful teachers' union planning public forums to “fill the void” created by the ones the commissioner canceled.

King has faced a firestorm of criticism since announcing he would “suspend” four town-hall meetings planned for public discussion of the new, controversial Common Core curriculum standards. The decision came after irate parents jeered and heckled him at a Poughkeepsie forum last week.

He has argued that the meeting was “co-opted by special interests” in a systematic effort to circumvent constructive dialogue, a claim that New York State United Teachers and parents' groups call false and insulting.

King's office said Thursday he was in the process of planning 10 differently structured events around the state, just as NYSUT is planning its own series of public forums.

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Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, a Westchester Democrat, released a statement Thursday insisting that King step down amid harsh criticism that the commissioner has ignored parents' and teachers' grievances around the Common Core and related testing.

"For quite some time, Education Commissioner John King has closed off all meaningful conversation with parents, educators, administrators, and elected officials who have highlighted serious deficiencies in State Education Department policies," Abinanti said. "He has exhibited a conscious disregard for their concerns.

“He should be listening, educating where criticisms are unfounded, and adopting changes where criticisms are valid,” the lawmaker continued. “His rigidity makes him unsuited for the position of Education Commissioner. Commissioner King should resign immediately."

King's office responded Thursday, stressing that he plans to launch a series of 10 meetings in a different format in order to “have a real dialogue about the issues confronting our students,” spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.

“We're trying to make [meetings] more frequent and smaller in size so we can have a real dialogue,” Tompkins said.

Abinanti's wasn't the only call for King to step down. He joins Sen. Jack Martins, a Long Island Republican who on Tuesday said in a statement that King is not meeting New Yorkers' leadership needs.

“At the moment, New York needs a caring pragmatist willing to address real concerns raised by caring parents and educators who see a system being manipulated from above to the detriment of their children,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have John King.

“He should immediately reschedule these forums, or he should immediately resign,” Martins finished.

New York State Allies for Public Education, a policy group advocating against overreliance on testing and the sharing of student information, also denounced King, calling him “a disgrace to the field of education” and claiming he is “no longer able to conduct himself in a manner that is consistent with the principles and ideals of the American democracy.”

The group is pushing parents to lobby for his ouster.

NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said Thursday the union would organize four to six meetings or more, depending on interest. The auditorium-style forums are slated to be held in the Capital Region, Western New York, Long Island and the Syracuse area.

NYSUT has yet to announce dates, but the group said the meetings will be at night.

“We want to hear solutions,” Korn said. “We are going to be gathering and collecting feedback that we get from these meetings and sending it to the education department.”