The Education Department announced the start of the selection process for the city's Community Education Councils and vows to run the bi-annual elections more smoothly this spring. They could hardly be worse than the last elections in 2011, parent leaders say.
Two years ago, the Community Education Council elections were fraught with SNAFUs and confusion. Some qualified candidates’ names were mysteriously left off ballots and parents were unable to log on to a website to vote in the election’s first round.
“It was chaos and total disaster because the DOE didn’t do proper outreach,” said Shino Tanikawa, the president of District 2’s CEC.
The process was such a mess that even schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott admitted it was mismanaged and ordered a do-over.
This year’s elections will be “a more transparent and informative process,” the DOE says. The 2011 election process's confusing and at times contradictory rules were clarified when the Panel for Education Policy passed new regulations last summer, said DOE spokesperson Stephanie Browne.
And, this time around the DOE also started promoting the elections much earlier. They’ve been holding information sessions since November while in 2011, outreach didn't start until February. There is a new online hub, NYCParentLeaders.org, with FAQs about the process as well as applications for parents who wish to serve on a district or citywide council.
“This year could only be better. It would be impossible to be worse,” said Lisa Donlan, the president of D1 CEC who is currently serving her second term. She believes the combination of earlier outreach and new rules will make the elections more straightforward this time around.
But, she still worries that the DOE has not done enough outreach or "created the structures to reach out to a geographically-diverse parent body,” she said. Furthermore, the CEC’s lack of actual power leaves parents skeptical about volunteering their time to serve. “Without levers of power, it’s very frustrating engagement,” Donlan said.
The councils' only real power lies in zoning decisions; the DOE cannot change district zone lines without the CEC’s approval. There have been some high-profile zoning decisions made by district councils over the past few years, but much of the work done by the councils is largely advisory.
“We actually have been rezoning for new elementary schools this year,” said Tanikawa, who is undecided on whether to run again for a CEC spot. “So we have been exercising the only legal authority we have.”
Other actions, such as resolutions on high stakes testing, were ignored by the DOE. “We can pass resolutions all we want but it’s frustrating because nothing happens, ” said Tanikawa.
The DOE will host one more information forum on Jan. 24 in Brooklyn for parents interested in learning more about the CEC selection process. The timeline is posted online – the application window is February 13 – March 13.
In April, candidates will hold public forums before “designated selectors” –PTA/PA presidents, secretaries and treasurers – cast their official votes for their district or citywide council members.
In the 2011 election all parents could vote in an online straw poll before selectors cast their official votes but the DOE has done away with the advisory vote. "After the 2011 selection process, based on a recommendation from the 2011 Community & Citywide Education Council Task Force, the advisory vote was eliminated,” said Browne. Instead, the DOE will host public meet-and-greets with candidates and parents may encourage their school’s selectors to vote for certain candidates.
There are 32 district councils and four citywide councils for special education, high schools and English Language Learners, each with 11 members, all of whom are volunteers.