election day

Delayed notice threatens turnout for run-off CEC elections

Add one more snag to the list of woes plaguing this year’s community education council elections. Dozens of run-off elections happened this week with such scant notice that several parent leaders said that they weren’t aware the election existed until hours after it began.

The 48-hour run-off elections began Wednesday after first-round elections in 27 districts yielded either ties or fewer than the nine required council representatives. But information about the run-off was not announced until hours after online ballot boxes opened yesterday. Even then, several of the parent leaders who vote in these elections said that they weren’t notified of the run-offs .

The election will decide who will serve two-year terms on the community education councils beginning next school year. Representatives are scheduled to be announced tomorrow.

Caroline Hall, PTA co-president at P.S. 151, said she learned about the run-off from another parent yesterday.

“We didn’t get any official notification,” said Hall, whose husband, the PTA treasurer, is also one of the so-called “selector” parent leaders who vote in the elections. “If we weren’t the kind of people who were diligent, we would have given up.”

Another parent, Caroline Breuers, the president of the PTA at P.S. 177 in Queens, said that she discovered there was a run-off in her district by accident by visiting Powertotheparents.org, the website where parents vote. The website posted information about the run-offs at 9:51 a.m. yesterday morning, nearly 10 hours into the election.

After parent leaders learned about the run-off yesterday morning, they exchanged emails but still couldn’t confirm if it had begun.

A DOE spokesperson stood by the process. She said that the Office of Family Information Action, which handles the election, placed more than 3,000 individual phone calls about the run-offs on Tuesday. Breuers and other parents said they didn’t receive calls until after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Hall said that she never received a phone call.

In a message timestamped for 12:11 p.m. Wednesday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott emailed selectors to notify them of the run-off.

“Please be advised that several districts need to have run-off elections because some candidates have tied votes,” the email read. “As a PA/PTA selector in the Community and Citywide Education Council elections, you are responsible for casting your vote in the event of a run-off election.”

Even some parents who were notified said that they could not vote because they had discarded their log-in number, which they used in last week’s election. Selectors were told to call OFIA to get the number, but several said that they found the line busy for most of the day.Breuers said that she left three phone messages, but only received a response after she emailed officials and cc’ed Walcott.

“The only way you get a concrete answer is if you cc the chancellor,” said Breuers. “And that’s pathetic to me because some parents would never email the chancellor.”

The run-off confusion is the latest in a long line of challenges to the election process, which began in May when parent complaints that candidates were left off ballots led school officials to reschedule the election. This year’s election is the first to be held online.

In an advisory vote, a straw ballot election in which all parents in the city are eligible to vote, just 2,768 votes were tallied. That’s just 10 percent of the 2009 totals and equates to less than two parents per school. The advisory vote acts as a guide for the smaller group of selector parents who vote in the actual election.

The remnants of the old community school boards, which held wide power over the schools in their area, Community Education Councils are made up of nine elected parents and four other members nominated by elected officials. Since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the schools, they have served a mainly advisory role on policy. They are still responsible for approving any school rezoning proposals.

Noah Gotbaum, the president of Community District Education Council 3, said the handling of the elections was emblematic of the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to parent groups.

“It is a complete and total travesty, but we’re not surprised because the bottom line is we know that the DOE really has no interest in having functioning CECs,” Gotbaum said.

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”