Blanketing the subways this spring, along with the Seamless and Minibar ads reminding riders we never have to leave our apartments, are civic-minded announcements about Community Education Council elections. Few New Yorkers participate in these elections, but more should.
Cynicism about the 32 councils across NYC is justified. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg abolished the popularly elected district school boards to create a system in which he decided most matters of education policy (mayoral control). Then he set up the councils, which have less power and whose members are not elected by the public, but chosen mostly by school PTA officers (several are appointed by local elected officials). Only public school parents can serve.
The councils are essentially part of a system in which public schools aren’t controlled by the public. They are not school boards in the way that most of us understand the term (neither is the Panel on Educational Policy, whose members are appointed mostly by the mayor, and tends to rubber-stamp his decisions). Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued mayoral control.
But the councils matter because they make school zoning decisions, especially important in a time of renewed focus on school integration. NYC has some of the most segregated schools in the nation, and recent battles over the issue in Dumbo and on the Upper West Side have centered on decisions made by the councils. They often provide a platform for organizing and educating parents on other issues, too, such as standardized testing and lead in school water.
Public school parents can have a say in their council elections, which are underway until May 9.
They can start by reading about the candidates at nycparentleaders.org/candidateprofiles.html and by letting your PTA officials know how you think they should vote. Also, some parent groups make endorsements. For example, District 15’s Parents for Middle School Equity in Brooklyn has endorsed a slate of candidates who are committed to school desegregation.
It’s an undemocratic system. But public school parents can make it less so by raising our voices — and, two years from now, running for council ourselves.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.