Battle Of The Board:
Independence And The Terri Thomson
By STEPHEN McGUIRE
Headlines are crying out for resignations
and assigning enemies this week as the Board of Education struggles through the issue of
whether its members are free to follow their conscience or are responsible for answering
to their benefactors.
And at the center of that struggle is
Queens Terri Thomson.
On April 18, Borough
President Claire Shulman issued a statement calling for the resignation of Thomson, her
appointed Board of Ed. representative, citing a "major difference" in policy.
The call came as City Hall counted up its Board votes to support the mayors choice
for board president Ninfa Segarra when she is up again for a vote this
summer. Thomson had abstained from voting Segarra into the slot on April 4 as a matter of
principle, though Shulman supported Segarra.
In 1998, Borough President Claire Shulman (right) asked Terri
Thomson (left) to represent the children of Queens at the Board of Education. Last week,
Shulman called for Thomsons resignation.
Tribune Photo by Dee Richard
By the weeks end, Mayor Rudy
Giuliani was also calling on Thomson to resign. He told reporters she was an
"extremely disruptive force."
He added, "I think the board would be
much better off if she resigned."
The mayors disapproval began last
year, when Giuliani was reportedly ticked off over Thomsons tie breaking vote that
made Harold Levy schools chancellor. The two have also had major differences of
opinion on the mayors proposed experimental voucher program.
"I care about kids,
community and parents and I am committed to the public school system," said Terri
Thomson in a 1998 interview with the Tribune.
Thomson, a vice president at Citibank, was
appointed by Shulman to the post of Queens representative to the Board of Education.
Brooklyn-born, she took up life in Queens Pomonok Houses at the age of three and now
lives in Elechester where her interest in advocacy began when she spearheaded the fight to
install safer playground equipment in a local park.
On April 4, Thomson abstained from voting for Board of Ed.
president as a matter of principle.
Tribune Photo by Dee Richard
Thomson became active in several
local civic groups and organizations including the Queens Chamber of Commerce and was
later hired by then State Senator Gary Ackerman as his district administrator.
According to Thomson, Ackerman had the
ability to "move mountains," and it was that same attitude that made it possible
for her to move on to Citibank in 1990 as director of community and government relations.
In January of 2000, Thomson stood as the
swing vote that swayed against the Mayors interim chancellor choice and put Citibank
co-worker Harold Levy into the slot.
"I always felt that once Harold and
the Mayor began communicating, they
would have a great synergy. They have more in common philosophically and stylistically
than they would have thought. They are both strong managers and they both have can
do attitudes . . . Harold put a priority on building a relationship with the
Thomson said that Levys selection as
the new schools chancellor is a "fabulous thing."
"From the very beginning we said that
what the board really needs is a strong manager, a non-traditional person. It is very
important that [Levy] thinks like a business person and it shows because of his management
skills, his decision making, his personal passion and his will [to make things better]. He
has shown that we can, and will, move mountains on behalf of our 1.1. million school
Thomson is currently the chair of both the
Parent Outreach and Involvement and the Finance and Capital Budget Committees.
As chair of the Task Force on Year-Round
Education, Thomson has recommended all newly constructed high schools be offered as
schools of choice on a year-round calendar as one strategy to help alleviate school
overcrowding, especially in Queens.
As an advocate for school governance
reform, Thomson took a leadership role in changing the prohibition against Board of Ed.
employees serving as parent representatives on school leadership teams.
Thomson has also been a staunch advocate in
the fight for capital dollars in the Board of Eds capital plan to relieve the
longstanding neglect of Queens schools, a problem that has been cited as a cause of
Since the calls for her resignation,
Thomson has released no comment about what she will do, but sources have told the Tribune
that she plans to stay put, representing the children of Queens and emphasizing the
importance of independence for board members.
OFFICE FOCUSED ON KIDS
Schools Chancellor Harold
Levy has also refrained from official comment on the call for Thomsons resignation.
According to Board of Ed. Spokesperson Margie Feinberg, the chancellors focus right
now is on educating the children.
IN THOMSON'S CORNER
Parents throughout the
borough have come together to support Thomson.
"She knows our district like the back
of her hand," said Donna Calcabiano, a member of School District 27.
"She is a real people person,"
QUEENS OFFICIALS ARE SAYING
Ackerman said he was
"disappointed" with the call for Thomsons resignation. "Shes
done a spectacular job," Ackerman said. What shes doing is in "the best
interest of the children," said Ackerman.
"The mayor is being extremely heavy
handed. If the mayor had five mini-mes who voted the same then we
wouldnt need a Board. Im sure there are some places where that would be the
case," Ackerman told the Tribune.
Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin of Flushing,
shared Ackermans sentiment for the calls for Thomsons resignation.
"As a friend of Terri Thomson for 25
years and as someone who is personally familiar with her dedication to the children of our
city, I am extremely disheartened by the borough presidents request for the
resignation of Terri Thomson," McLaughlin said.
"Its apparent that while the
mayor has a history of purging chancellors, the borough president has a habit of doing the
same with representatives." McLaughlin said.
CANDIDATES ON THE BOARD'S INDEPENDENCE
In November 2001, current
Borough President Claire Shulman will leave office, forced out by term limits, and it will
fall to one of the current Queens borough president candidates to decided who will
represent Queens kids on the Board after Thomsons term ends in 2002.
Among the candidates vying for the Borough
Hall seat, the opinions were mixed about the current state of affairs at the Board of
Councilwoman and Candidate Karen Koslowitz
said, "The board has become too political. We have too concentrate on our children
that was the purpose of the board."
Former Board of Education member and
current Borough President Candidate Carol Gresser said, "The meddling of politicians
must stop. Once appointed, board members should be free to vote their consciences. They
owe it to the children of New York to be more than just echoes of the elected officials
that appoint them."
According to candidate and Councilman Al
Stabile, no one person should have total and utmost control of the Board of Ed. "We
need input from the mayor, the council and the borough president," said Stabile.
Candidate and Councilwoman Helen Marshall
"It is crucial and important that one
person is not in control of the board," said Marshall.
But according to borough president
candidate Councilman Sheldon Leffler, the answer is simple. The Board of Education should
"The mayor should appoint the chancellor and there
should be no appointees by the borough presidents," said Leffler. "We need to
In 1998, Thomson replaced
Carol Gresser who held her post at the Board of Ed. for eight years.
The replacement came in the wake of some
bad blood between Giuliani, Shulman and Gresser involving the ousting of Gresser from her
Board of Ed. position as president in 1996.
Of the Thomson situation, Gresser said
"Its just plain wrong for politicians to bully and bribe what is supposed to be
an independent board to vote for the politicians choices for chancellor and
president of the board of education.
"I admire her integrity," said Gresser. " I
was upset to hear (what happened). When you appoint, you choose someone you trust."
Gresser added saying that trust is the reason you dont remove them.