The End of the CEC Illusion
By Norm Fruchter
The deadline for parent candidates for election to the 32 Community Education Councils (CECs) across the NYC school system was last Friday night, April 22nd. According to a story by WNYC’s Beth Fertig, by last Thursday night only 450 candidates had applied to stand for the 325 CEC seats — not exactly a competitive election. In five school districts, not enough candidates had applied to form a quorum. Observers blamed the Office for Family Information and Action (OFIA) for failing to adequately promote and publicize the CEC elections. (OFIA was the same office that had not only failed to announce the start of the candidate sign-up period, but had also initiated an inappropriate and possibly illegal effort to enlist Parent Coordinators to lobby Albany legislators to vote to end the role of seniority in teacher lay-offs – the Last In/First Out or LIFO rule). But the numbers of candidates applying for CEC seats has been falling in each successive election since the CECs were initiated in 2004.
Yet when the first few elections to the Community Education Councils were held, then-Chancellor Joel Klein trumpeted the high CEC voter participation rate and compared it to the very low rate of participation in community school board elections. No one pointed out to Klein that the only people voting in the CEC elections were the PTA officers of each school, or less than 150 voters in most districts. In the community school board elections, more than a million voters were eligible to participate across the 32 community school districts. But after the first few CEC elections, the Chancellor stopped celebrating because the number of candidates prepared to run for (and serve on) local CECs declined dramatically. If this decline continues, the DOE may well have to appoint CEC members from Tweed or suspend the CECs altogether.
I know from my own experience in District 15 and other districts that there are committed, conscientious and hard-working CEC members throughout the city. But I also know that many of those members are thoroughly frustrated by the limits of what the CECs can actually do, disgusted with Tweed’s unresponsiveness to their suggestions and recommendations for how to improve their district’s schools. The Bloomberg administration designed the CECs to create the illusion of participation in a school system that had jettisoned any meaningful parent and community decision-making, input, or voice in public education issues. In such a closed system, the very low number of candidates for the upcoming CEC elections demonstrates the demise of the illusion that the CECs can meaningfully affect DOE policy or practice.