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Officials form parent leader task force after botched elections

Poorly-handled Community Education Council elections has prompted elected officials to form a new task force of parents that promises to “overhaul” their role in the public school system.

Borough President Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio spearheaded efforts to organize parents into the task force over the last several weeks. Today, they announced the group will hold first meeting next week.

“We need real parental involvement, and that begins with making the CECs more democratic and meaningful,” DeBlasio said in a statement.

In advance of the June 22 meeting, a survey was emailed out to hundreds of newly-elected parents this morning to solicit their opinions on how to improve the CECs. Officials said they weren’t sure how many parents would make up the task force, or how long it would last.

Details on what specifically needs to change are also vague. Some parent leaders, such as Noah Gotbaum, an outspoken critic of the CEC structures, have called for an entirely independent office from the DOE.

Others, such as Mary Silver, a CEC member in District 2 since 2005, believe smaller-scale changes could make a big difference.

“Training is key,” said Silver. “My experience has been – because it’s a two year term – it takes parents about a year and a half for them to figure out what exactly their role is. By then, they’re about ready to leave.”

The CECs are made up of volunteer parents and participation often wanes. Many struggle to fill the seats needed to operate as official functioning bodies.

Parental involvement is uniformly hoisted by education advocates as key contributors to a child’s education, including Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. But the department has tightly managed their voices since Mayor Bloomberg has controlled of the school system..

And critics believe that the mishandled elections are a more realistic barometer of the city’s educational priorities.

The perception of a dwindling parental role seemed to be punctuated earlier this month at the city council budget hearing for education. As part of alternative cuts proposed to Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Speaker Christine Quinn suggested the DOE slash nearly $1 million from the budget for Office of Family Information and Action, which oversees the parent leadership.

In making the task force announcement, Stringer and DeBlasio – and the four other borough presidents with a hand in creating it – weren’t specific about what kind of changes they’d like to see.

“I am confident our new Task Force will give light to the voices of those who are most affected by decisions about our schools – and develop a set of strong, smart recommendations for enabling these bodies to play the role they were intended to in our educational process,” Stringer said in a statement.