Featherstone: School CEC elections are now. What? You've never heard of them?
Did you know that Community Education Council elections are going on right now? Do you know what a Community Education Council is and how its members are elected?
No? You're not alone. Information about the councils is maddeningly opaque.
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg established mayoral control over the city's schools early in his first term, he dissolved the local school boards, which were elected by the public. In their place, he established the Panel on Educational Policy, a majority of whose members are appointed by the mayor and which tends to rubber-stamp the mayor's policies.
Bloomberg then created the Community Education Councils, or CECs, in a nod to popular democracy and power.
But in practice they are neither democratic nor powerful. As opposed to the abolished local school boards, which had extensive power to set policy for elementary and middle schools, CECs decide little of importance, although they have some control over school zoning changes. And the representatives are chosen not by the public, but rather by school PTA representatives, in a thoroughly confusing process.
This year, some parents are criticizing the elections and even threatening lawsuits, saying the city has done little to publicize them. Forums for candidates to explain their positions have been poorly attended. At one on Staten Island last month, not one parent representative eligible to vote in the CEC election was present. Many of those who are eligible to vote say they have received no information about the election and how to vote in it.
Fittingly, on the Department of Education website, the word "selection" rather than "election" is used to describe the process.
These "selections" are going on until May 14. If you're a PTA representative eligible to vote -- that is, you are a designated PTA president, treasurer or secretary -- you should do so at nycparentleaders.org. If we don't participate, the system will just get even more undemocratic.
But be clear: This is a deeply dysfunctional structure. We should pressure the next mayor to create better, more representative institutions.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.