Elections and Education
May 10th, 2011

Whatever one think of the city Department of Education’s ability to run schools, it does not seem to know how to manage elections. This year’s election process for the Community and Citywide Education Councils — the ultra-weak replacement for the city’s old Community School Boards — has been fraught with problems and roiled by criticism.

First only 500 people expressed interest in the 325 slots. Since some panels — the Citywide Council on High Schools for one — attracted lots of candidates, other community boards did not have enough candidates to fill the available slots — let alone hold a competitive election.

The department also reportedly provided inaccurate information about who could run and put material about the candidates on a password protected website many could not access. On woman who currently serves on a told WNYC that she was informed she was not eligible — odd since, she said, she already serves as co-chair of a council.

In the wake of widespread criticism, the city decided to delay the elections, originally set for May 7, until next week.

In announcing the postponement in a statement, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, “After reviewing concerns raised by parents and public officials about this years Citywide and Community Education Council elections, I have concluded that the process could and should have been handled better.’

But today, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said this was not sufficient. They want an investigation of the election woes and Stringer, along with some parents, also asked the city to convene a task force to consider whether permanent oversight of the various education councils “should be transferred to an independent entity.”

“At every step in these elections the department has earned an ‘F’ for parental engagement,” de Blasio said in a statement. “One week is not enough time to make sure qualified parents were not tossed off the ballot, and to ensure a fair election that truly represents parents.”

Even without the snafus the process is byzantine at best — and not exactly democratic to boot. In the first round parents can vote but their decision is only advisory. The second round — for officials of school parents associations only — is the one that determines who gets the dubious honor of serving on the largely powerless board. If you’re not a parent you can’t vote in either round — an odd rebuke to many New Yorker who care about schools but are not parents, hedge fund managers or close friends of the mayor.

By on May 10, 2011, 3:44 pm
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