June 9, 2011
Add one more snag to the list of woes plaguing this year’s community education council elections. Dozens of run-off elections happened this week with such scant notice that several parent leaders said that they weren’t aware the election existed until hours after it began.
The 48-hour run-off elections began Wednesday after first-round elections in 27 districts yielded either ties or fewer than the nine required council representatives. But information about the run-off was not announced until hours after online ballot boxes opened yesterday. Even then, several of the parent leaders who vote in these elections said that they weren’t notified of the run-offs .
The election will decide who will serve two-year terms on the community education councils beginning next school year. Representatives are scheduled to be announced tomorrow.
Caroline Hall, PTA co-president at P.S. 151, said she learned about the run-off from another parent yesterday.
“We didn’t get any official notification,” said Hall, whose husband, the PTA treasurer, is also one of the so-called “selector” parent leaders who vote in the elections. “If we weren’t the kind of people who were diligent, we would have given up.”
Another parent, Caroline Breuers, the president of the PTA at P.S. 177 in Queens, said that she discovered there was a run-off in her district by accident by visiting Powertotheparents.org, the website where parents vote. The website posted information about the run-offs at 9:51 a.m. yesterday morning, nearly 10 hours into the election.
After parent leaders learned about the run-off yesterday morning, they exchanged emails but still couldn’t confirm if it had begun.
A DOE spokesperson stood by the process. She said that the Office of Family Information Action, which handles the election, placed more than 3,000 individual phone calls about the run-offs on Tuesday. Breuers and other parents said they didn’t receive calls until after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Hall said that she never received a phone call.
In a message timestamped for 12:11 p.m. Wednesday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott emailed selectors to notify them of the run-off.
“Please be advised that several districts need to have run-off elections because some candidates have tied votes,” the email read. “As a PA/PTA selector in the Community and Citywide Education Council elections, you are responsible for casting your vote in the event of a run-off election.”
Even some parents who were notified said that they could not vote because they had discarded their log-in number, which they used in last week’s election. Selectors were told to call OFIA to get the number, but several said that they found the line busy for most of the day.Breuers said that she left three phone messages, but only received a response after she emailed officials and cc’ed Walcott.
“The only way you get a concrete answer is if you cc the chancellor,” said Breuers. “And that’s pathetic to me because some parents would never email the chancellor.”
The run-off confusion is the latest in a long line of challenges to the election process, which began in May when parent complaints that candidates were left off ballots led school officials to reschedule the election. This year’s election is the first to be held online.
In an advisory vote, a straw ballot election in which all parents in the city are eligible to vote, just 2,768 votes were tallied. That’s just 10 percent of the 2009 totals and equates to less than two parents per school. The advisory vote acts as a guide for the smaller group of selector parents who vote in the actual election.
The remnants of the old community school boards, which held wide power over the schools in their area, Community Education Councils are made up of nine elected parents and four other members nominated by elected officials. Since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the schools, they have served a mainly advisory role on policy. They are still responsible for approving any school rezoning proposals.
Noah Gotbaum, the president of Community District Education Council 3, said the handling of the elections was emblematic of the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to parent groups.
“It is a complete and total travesty, but we’re not surprised because the bottom line is we know that the DOE really has no interest in having functioning CECs,” Gotbaum said.