Many parents are abandoning the parent councils created by the Bloomberg administration to replace the community school boards the mayor abolished, parent leaders say.
Ata time when Mayor Bloomberg is facing criticism that he is ignoring parent and community concerns, members of the Community Education Councils say fewer parents want to join the scaled-down version of the old education boards. So few parents wanted to run for election this year, in fact, that the Department of Education had to extend the deadline for candidate applications to next Monday from last Friday, parents say.
"People are discouraged and worn down," a member of the District 1 council, Lisa Donlan, said. "I know there's low turnout. Why else would they do it?" she said about the postponement.
Education department officials would not disclose how many people had applied so far for the more than 200 available seats (out of 307 total seats), saying they didn't want to affect election turnout. They said the postponement until March 19 would give parents interested in applying more time to get to know the chancellor's newly appointed chief family engagement officer, Martine Guerrier.
"We are extending the CEC application deadline, as we have in past elections, to give as many parents as possible time to apply," a department spokeswoman, Lindsey Harr, said. "We fully expect all of our CECs to be operating next year."
The president of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Committee, Tim Johnson, who represents the parent association officers that vote on candidates, said he believes the extended deadline was due to a dearth of applications.
"They don't have anybody this year," he said. "There's still some well-intentioned people trying to make them work, but they're just so disgusted."
Many council members say they are often consulted only after major decisions are made and have little influence on policy-making. Others complained that the training they receive is not sufficient for even experienced members to grasp the procedures and analysis — often of complicated policy — required of the councils.
"We're asking ourselves now, Where do we come in? And there's not a real complete picture," a member of District 14's council in Brooklyn, Mario Aguila, said. "I think people don't really see the role of the CEC."
Ms. Donlan said she knew of only two people who had applied to fill the nine available seats on her council in what she described as a "politically active" district. She added that the two who applied did so only after a parent support officer sent an e-mail message cajoling members to recruit candidates because there were none as of last Monday.
Around the city, other council members told similar stories of lagging interest in what are now only skeletons of the former school boards. An e-mail message sent out by an Education Department employee to council members from the Upper West Side said no one had applied to be a candidate in that district as of last week, while in the Bronx, Gwendolyn Primus, a member of District 9, said many current members on her board, which already has four vacancies, do not want to serve another two-year term.
"We're trying to think now whether we want to. Some want to, some don't," she said. "I think if any of us reapply, it will be because no one else did."
The president of the District 6 council in Washington Heights, Josh Karan, said he is so frustrated that he has proposed that parent association officers boycott the elections.
"Most of the people who have been elected have failed to last very long. We've had constant turnover," Mr. Karan said. "People are going to boycott with their feet."
According to a list posted on the Education Department's Web site, 23 councils were operating with a vacancy as of last month and there are 48 vacancies total. After the last election, many council members quit or were removed after refusing to file financial disclosure forms they said were too onerous and invasive. An Education Department effort to change the state law requiring the extensive disclosures failed in the state Legislature.
The president of District 10 in the Bronx, Marvin Shelton, said he believes the recent uproar among parents has the Bloomberg administration paying more attention to their concerns.
"Some people believe there's no parental involvement, so why bother," he said. "We don't have power, but we have influence and input. … When there's chaos, that's when you step in and make a space for yourself."
Correction from March 16, 2007:
There are 307 available community education council seats available in the upcoming election and a total of 407 seats. The numbers were misstated in an article on page 4 of the March 14 Sun.