Charging that elected parent councils are “window dressing” that allow the city to avoid listening to families, a member of one of them quit publicly last night.
Brian Rafferty, a member of the Community Education Council for District 24, announced his resignation at the council’s meeting by reading a letter of protest he had written to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“The Community Education Council serves no purpose other than to be a shield between the Department of Education and the parents of schoolchildren citywide,” Rafferty wrote in the letter, which he also posted on Facebook.
Rafferty echoed complaints that parents around the city have sounded for years about the weak role of the councils, which are seen as one of the few venues for parents to voice opinions about DOE policies, even though their only statutory function is to redraw school zone lines. Over the summer, after a disastrous set of council elections that had to be conducted twice, Walcott replaced the head of the DOE’s family engagement office.
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But Rafferty suggested that little has changed since then. He said council members did not receive maps of new school zones until just before a recent public meeting about them, so members could not respond to parents’ criticism.
“We were as blindsided as the parents, and our job, as whipping boys for the DOE, was to take the brunt of the parents’ lashes without any regard to our own opinions on this,” Rafferty said.
“We are the volunteer appointed go-betweens who waste our time swallowing the vitriol and scorn of angry parents so the DOE doesn’t have to taste it. We bear the punches of the angry parents so that the DOE doesn’t have to feel the frustration,” he said.
This is not the first time Rafferty has made the news. Last year, Rafferty, who is also executive editor of the Queens Tribune, said the New York Post fabricated a column under his name advocating for the public release of teachers’ ratings.
Rafferty’s full letter of resignation is below.
September 27, 2011
To Chancellor Dennis Walcott:
The Community Education Council serves no purpose other than to be a shield between the Department of Education and the parents of schoolchildren citywide.
I would feel better about the work we do if I considered us to be an annoyance – that would mean that we’ve gotten under somebody’s skin and we have to be dealt with.
The reality is quite the opposite. The Dept. of Education does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it and to whomever it feels like. It does not care about the parents – and why should it? It views the parents as unnecessary in the process.
And let me be clear, I’m not talking about those who are here tonight, any other CEC night, at parent-teacher conferences, asking kids about their homework, making sure they put their studies first and involved in their children’s lives. No, I’m talking about the great majority of parents that have neither the time, interest, desire or understanding to do what they need to in order for their children to succeed. That is the great silent majority – the people who don’t care enough to try their best.
The Dept. of Education uses the human shield of the Community Education Council to deflect the anger, resentment, scorn, lack of information, frustration – and good ideas – of the vocal minority. The DOE doesn’t care about the angry rabble, about the people who know they are right and want to work from within the system to make a change.
That’s us. The few of us on the board who were selected to be the shield, and those of you sitting in the audience tonight and on other nights who hurl arrows at the DOE, at the Mayor, at Portfolio, at zoning rules, at the Chancellor.
Do they hear your complaints? For the most part – no. And why? Because WE sit here. Because we are the volunteer appointed go-betweens who waste our time swallowing the vitriol and scorn of angry parents so the DOE doesn’t have to taste it. We bear the punches of the angry parents so that the DOE doesn’t have to feel the frustration. We hear the cries of parents whose children languishing in overcrowded schools do not have the opportunity to use a bathroom – so that the DOE can sleep soundly.
We are the middleman that doesn’t deliver, the punching bag that can’t fight back.
A perfect example of this is the two recent zoning meetings we have had. These are often well-attended, with parents that have very clear positions on what should or should not be included in new zoning. At both of these meetings the parents were there to protest, but we – the board – didn’t have the zoning map until the meetings. We were as blindsided as the parents, and our job, as whipping boys for the DOE, was to take the brunt of the parents’ lashes without any regard to our own opinions on this. We didn’t have the chance to turn the maps back to the DOE and say change it. I did not attend those meetings because I can no longer bear the frustration, the anger, the resentment and scorn. I’d have no problem with it if the DOE said, “Hey, we’ve got your back. Don’t worry, we’ll solve those problems.”
In some cases the problems seem too big for the DOE to handle; in others the DOE has its own agenda. In still more, the DOE couldn’t give a damn.
Some of my colleagues on this board may disagree with me. That is their prerogative. Some of the parents in the audience, the teachers, administrators and others may also not see things the way I do. That’s fine – we don’t all have to always be on the same page.
The simple truth here, as far as I see it, is that my function – and that of any CEC – is that of window dressing. There have been the rare instances when we have affected change, but the losses column towers high over the gains.
Additionally, I was initially inspired to resign this position in protest to the flawed election process that transpired in the spring, where people who earned votes were removed from ballots due to the flawed rules adopted by our legislature.
In neighboring District 28, the 4th and 5th highest vote-getters in a district that only initially selected 7 were not seated on the board pursuant to Chancellors regulations, which state that when not enough people are selected, ALL those who received no votes get voted on again. The people who received votes in the initial round were denied seats on the board while the people with fewer – or no – initial votes ended up placed on the board. The rule allows for eliminating certain candidates, but only if there aren’t nine members selected. District 28 only has eight.
That is a perfect example of the how absurd the law is and how inconsequential we all are. If the DOE doesn’t want you on the board, they won’t have you.
It is because of all of these reasons that as of tonight, I am resigning my position with the Community District Education Council of District 24. I have enjoyed the company, I have relished the tasks and I have learned a great deal – but my fists are too bloodied from pounding them against the great immovable object that is the New York City Department of Education.
Though many have chastised Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Chancellors Joel Klein, Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott and various bureaucrats at the City level, my blame rests solely on the New York State Legislature and their spineless rubber stamping of a process that takes away local authority, discourages parental involvement and offers absolutely no oversight to ensure that the people in charge, in the middle or at the bottom are doing their job.
And despite all of this, the City’s children have made improvements in the last decade – depending who you ask. Clearly, their plan has worked, and they can keep doing what they have with or without you, me, or anybody else. If anything, that shows just how useless all of this is, how we are wasting our time and how – despite all symbolism and flair – my statement tonight will not matter.
File that next to nearly everything else we do on this board. I quit.
Brian M. Rafferty
Community Education Council, District 24