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District 26 Chinese oppose appointee to ed council

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At a news conference Friday at a Flushing restaurant, some parents protested former School Board 26 member Yen Shia...

By Sophia Chang

A storm is brewing among School District 26’s Chinese community over the appointment of a former board member to a new education council.

At a news conference Friday at a Flushing restaurant, some parents protested former School Board 26 member Yen Shia Chou’s appointment to the newly created Community Education Council, claiming Chou has a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to serve.

Leading the accusations against Chou was District 26 parent Lu Ming Li, who heads the Asian-American Coalition for Education, a community organization that runs tutorial and cultural programs for the local Asian population.

She has charged that Chou, who was appointed to the council by Borough President Helen Marshall, has acted improperly by flaunting her position in advertisements for her husband’s Flushing tutorial center called Aim Tutoring Academy.

“Our district has many tutoring places for immigrants to improve English,” Li said in an interview conducted in Mandarin Chinese. “(Because Chou also has) a tutoring school, she didn’t want the community non-profit organizations to do the same.”

Chou says Li has trumped up these allegations against her based on an old grudge.

“In 1999, when I started on the school board, she helped me,” Chou said. But a rift formed when Li sought her help in 2002 in finding a home for the AACE programs in a District 26 school facility and blamed her when Li was unable to find one cheaply, Chou said.

“They wanted me to talk to the district office to waive the security fee (for renting a school). The (district) office said ... they must have it,” Chou said. “They’re not happy because they think I try to help the district office and discourage their program.”

Chou acknowledged her role at Aim, where she is the dean. But she said there was no interference with her public duties in District 26.

“I’m involved in education. It is my expertise,” said Chou, who had taught at The Mary Louis Academy and is now a statistics instructor at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

“Before I got on the school board, you had to be elected. Community people knew my husband had this school. In the 1999 election, I got the No. 1 vote. People said, ‘We know her family has this (school), but it has nothing to do (with her position).’”

Chou said that every year each member of the board had to file a conflict of interest report and she had fully disclosed her husband’s school. “It’s just a separate business. We receive no public funding; we don’t use school facilities,” she said. “I’m just an employee of the company.”

In fact, due to the AACE’s continued complaints, Chou said she had been examined by the city’s Department of Investigation. “They come out with the conclusion that there was ... no basis (for the complaints),” Chou said. “If something happened, I wouldn’t be on the board.”

But Li said Chou has run advertisements in the local Chinese-language newspapers that highlight her role in the district.

“She used her title to advertise,” Li said. “She said she was a District 26 leader, and she said she was the only one to get the test materials for her school, so many parents went to her. But that was fake. Why would the district give it to her? But lots of immigrant parents believed her.”

Chou responded by saying that the ads had been misinterpreted, and that Li’s translations mislead people. “She said that my (school name in Chinese) is a golden name ... that’s the only prestigious school in the community,” Chou said. “But this is not my interpreta­tion.”

Marshall’s office, which was allowed to appoint two people to the seven-person Education Council, said that Chou was considered a “very good candidate.”

“The borough president stands by the appointment,” spokesman Dan Andrews said.

However, he added, the borough president’s counsel has reviewed AACE’s allegations in a letter it sent to Marshall in late June.

“We’ll take some of the concerns that have been expressed with advertising issues involving the placing on ads the fact that she was on the school board,” Andrews said. “We’ve referred the letter to the borough president’s lawyer to see if any further action is necessary.”

“We have complained to the Board of Education, but they have not responded. Why would they say that she could use her position to advertise? I don’t think this is right,” Li said. “Many parents have complained before, but she always said it’s not my school, it’s my husband’s. But if her title is on it, then she is running the school.”

Chou said Li is upset about the competition between the two tutorial schools. “It’s just like 7-11, which has many franchises,” Chou said. “You cannot say if there is one business, you cannot have another business.”

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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