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Election spat leaves PS 161 without PA

What would Arthur Ashe think?

An election reminiscent of the controversial 2000 presidential contest complete with as much mudslinging as the recent mayoral campaign has left the students of PS 161, a Richmond Hill school named for the dignified tennis star, without a Parent Association.

At an emotional meeting Oct. 24, School Board 28 voted 5-3 to declare May’s PS 161 PA elections null and void. The gathering nearly disintegrated into a fist fight between a family member of a school board representative and a PS 161 parent, witnesses said.

The lack of a Parent Association at the school comes at a time when budget cuts make the PA’s traditional role as a fund-raiser more important than ever, parents said.

Parents at the school claim the board’s decision was based on “personal agendas.” The board voted to void the election after grievances were filed by three parents, including one who is a member of SB 28. Sandra Dorsett, the school board member, later rescinded her grievance, but complaints filed by the losing candidate, former Parent Association Vice President Aisha Griffin-Green and Nichelle Medford, a parent, remained on the record.

The grievances allege there were problems with the election’s nominating and balloting procedures, among other things.

Daisy Diaz, who won the May vote 43-11 and who served as PA president during the 2000-2001 school year, appealed the decision to nullify the election to Schools Chancellor Harold Levy.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the Board of Education, said this week that Levy was reviewing the situation, but he could not say when a final decision would be made.

Shirley Huntley, president of SB 28, declined to discuss the matter, but said the board would abide by whatever decision Levy rendered. Efforts to reach District 28 Superintendent Neil Kreinik’s office were unavailing.

A new election scheduled for Nov. 9 was canceled when Diaz was granted a stay by the chancellor.

School boards have the power to void elections if the rights of parents are violated, but PS 161 parents and observers of the election said there was no impropriety in the May vote.

“Everything was done according to instructions,” said Steve Persaud, who was chairman of the election. “The community school board has violated everybody’s rights.”

In her role as president of the District 28 Presidents’ Council, a coalition of district PA presidents, Teri Packier was sent by the school board to monitor the nominating procedure and election. She said there were no irregularities with the election process.

“Everything went very smoothly. The nominations went smoothly,” she said. “I went over and checked each ballot to the sign-in sheet. Everything matched perfectly.”

Diaz said she was elected fairly and that the board was “playing politics” with the children of PS 161. “Our children’s education should not be weighed down by politics,” she said. “Our children’s education is suffering because people have personal agendas.”

Dorsett did not return telephone calls seeking comment, and repeated attempts to reach Griffin-Green were unsuccessful.

Diaz said the school board violated the chancellor’s regulations, which state that parent associations are autonomous bodies.

“We are a separate entity from the school board,” she said. “They’re not supposed to interfere with PA activity unless there are violations. They did not investigate or provide factual information that this board should cease to function.”

Persaud, who is from Guyana, said parents were not being properly informed of the PA situation by the school board. He said the school has a large Indo-Caribbean population and “most parents are not educated about how the American system works.”

An informal survey by the TimesLedger last Thursday outside PS 161 showed that parents were unaware of the controversy. More than 20 parents approached outside the school building as they picked up their children said they had not heard of the situation.

“The superintendent and school board still have not alerted the parent population as to what happened,” said Diaz.

The former president said she is anxious to get back to work helping the children of PS 161. “With all the budget cuts citywide, this would have been a crucial time for the PA to assist schools with all cutbacks and whatever needs it may have,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that get affected by the PA not being allowed to operate.”

She said the PA hosted a multicultural event last year, encouraging families to bring food and music to show off their cultures. Those types of events, she said, have not been held this year.

“The whole focus on children has been lost,” she said “This tug-of-war that’s happening, the adults are acting like children.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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