in New York, Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Two weeks into her appointment, New York City Education Chancellor Cathy Black is under fire for making a sarcastic joke about birth control and over-crowding at elementary schools.
The off-color comment came during a meeting with parents and lawmakers on a taskforce assembled to solve the city's pending enrollment crisis.
After one parent pointed out Lower Manhattan will need an additional 1,000 classroom seats by 2015, the rookie schools chief quipped, "Could we just have some birth control? It would really help us a lot."
The joke drew some laughs but also some uncomfortable cringes from attendees who gathered in the room Thursday.
Julie Menin, who attended the meeting in her role as Community Board 1 Chairwoman, thought the comment was inappropriate.
"It was surely a joke, but that doesn't change the tenor of it," Menin said. "The real issue is what is the Chancellor and the Department of Education going to do about overcrowding."
Department of Education brass quickly issued a statement defending the rookie schools chief.
"Chancellor Black takes the issue of overcrowding very seriously, which is why she was engaged in a discussion with lower Manhattan parents on the subject," said spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz. "She regrets if she left a different impression by making and off-handed joke in the course of that conversation."
In just her first two weeks on the job, Black has been no stranger to criticism. The former magazine mogul took over for outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein in the face of parents and teachers who tried to block the appointment with a lawsuit. They argued Black had no education management experience, but a judge allowed the former publishing executive to take her post.
Menin said she is less concerned about political correctness of the birth control joke, than she is about the tone of Black's policy debate.