School board elections draw fraction of parents

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Last month’s parent council elections had a dismal turnout of less than 25 percent after the city Department of Education attempted to make the elections more accessible by putting them online.

But its efforts backfired as only about 5,000 parents voted compared with the more than 25,000 parents who cast ballots last year.

“A lot of parents don’t have computer access,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who serves on the Council’s Education Committee. “One of the top things to change [is to] move the ... elections to the same date as the primary.”

The biannual Community Education Council elections were held in May. Low parental turnout of only 5,000 in the initial round of elections prompted the DOE ´╗┐to host a second election in late May. But just 2,782 parents participated in the reruns. In these advisory elections, parents voted for one of nine parental slots. The final selection was then made by leaders of Parent Associations and Parent-Teacher Associations in early June. All elections were held online.

CECs were created in 2002 as part of the shift toward greater mayoral control of the city public education system. Replacing traditional school boards, CECs are more advisory than policy-forming.

District 24 CEC President Nick Comaianni said this loss in power is a factor in the low voter turnout.

“The school board has to fight hard and eventually people become burned out,” he said, citing “a loss of confidence in New York City and the Board of Education.”

Education Committee member Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) also attributed the low turnout to the lack of CEC power.

“The way the mayor runs schools, [CECs] have no effect,” he said. “[CECs] can say what they want, but no one seems to care.”

The DOE admits it could have managed the elections better and given parents more lead time. Press releases, local campaigns and advertisements in both local and foreign-language newspapers were made in late April.

Recently elected CEC member Michael Hwang of District 25 ran for the first time and believes that “the Department of Education is doing a decent job overall.” Hwang was unaware of the low voter turnout and did not know anyone who voted.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Wolcott said in a statement that the department was “disappointed” in the low turnout but that he has been “meeting with parent coordinators, CEC members and community organizations to discuss how to encourage more parents to get involved in their children’s education.”

“Parent involvement in our schools is a priority,” Wolcott said.

Election results are available online and the new members will be installed July 1.

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

Updated 10:52 am, October 12, 2011
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