When Jay Brown of Community Education Council (CEC) 21 took part in the council’s Zoom meeting this past July, he noticed something a little confusing about the names and faces of the attendees. It was one of the first meetings since this year’s CEC elections that were finalized in early June, and the newly elected members were in attendance.
“The names kinda all matched up with the election results, except for two,” says the Borough President Appointee to CEC21, which covers parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Coney Island, and Brighton Beach. “There was one named Emma Cai as a member, and then one of the names of one of the elected members, Michael Rosenblat, wasn’t present, [and] wasn't listed as a member of the CEC.”
As Brown would later find out, Emma Cai was married to Michael Rosenblat and had run for the Council under his name. This was the result of a technical discrepancy that arose from this year’s CEC election in its attempt to be more democratic.
This year’s CEC elections were meant to usher in a new era for the “education policy advisory bodies” located in each of the city’s public school districts. With the parents themselves voting, and not PTA leaders in each school, this election promised a more democratic approach to electing members of the CECs.
However, technical issues have resulted in confusion for two of Brooklyn’s CECs, CEC21, and CEC16, over who really applied to run for a seat at the councils and who was elected. While CEC21 wasn’t sure if Emma Cai had ran or her husband, CEC16 had a similar confusion over which part of a couple, Pace and Tiffany Brown, had actually ran.
The discrepancy is linked to the NYC Schools Account (NYCSA), in which one parent has an account for their children. In order to run in this year’s elections, parents had to apply through the NYCSA accounts. The problem was, those accounts were registered under their spouse’s names and not theirs, so when the list of candidates was given out throughout each district, the parent’s name that was listed may not have been the parent who was actually running.
This also happened for Erika Kendall, the president of CEC17, which covers Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and East Flatbush. When she registered to be re-elected to the Council, she saw her husband’s name come up rather than hers.
“We had with the NYCSA account from the beginning,” Kendall says. “When my husband signed up for his, he put my email address, so his name was associated with my email address. When I went to file the application, it already propagated name, address, personal information in the account in the application, so his name was already there. And I couldn’t change it; there was no way to change it manually myself.”
Kendall says she proceeded to complete the application as it was but made sure to use her name in the candidate statement, which was about two paragraphs explaining to voters why someone should be elected to the Council. She also sent an email to the elections team explaining the issue over the application propagating her husband’s name.
“I sent that email literally the day after I completed the application,” Kendall says. “They were extremely responsive, they let me know that this had happened to other people, and they were still working with the tech team to figure out the best way to address it.”
Fortunately for Kendall, everything was corrected in her application, and her name matched with her statement in the list of candidates.
But that wasn’t the same for Emma Cai of CEC21 and the Browns’ of CEC16.
Cai spoke to Bklyner early last week about her experience running for a seat with CEC21 and the resulting mixup. She explained she chose to run due to the controversy over the Gifted & Talented program being scrapped earlier this year and felt Asians were being attacked for supporting such programs. She decided to speak up by running to be a council member to provide such a voice.
When she applied to run, she did notice the name mismatch regarding the NYCSA account but wasn’t too concerned.
“To be honest, I heard from other CEC members that this didn’t happen a lot with husband-and-wife situations,” Cai says. “Nobody really told me, but I did think there could be an issue, and I didn’t know who to tell.”
Cai added that she did not think the mix-up would render her invalid to serve on CEC21, saying it would “be silly.”
However, some members of CEC21, who had been re-elected, told Bklyner they were not convinced that the discrepancy should be overlooked. CEC21 President Anna Lembersky explains there were opportunities for Cai to reach out to the DOE and alert them over the mismatch.
“She should have realized that the account says it’s Michael,” Lembersky says. “Michael would have received the confirmation email, Michael would have received the welcoming package. It came by mail from the Department of Education, and it would’ve been in Michael’s name; it would not be in Emma's name. So, all those steps, it should’ve come to light for them that something is off. They should’ve reached out to the DOE and FACE (Family and Community Empowerment).”
When Bklyner reached out to the DOE, Sarah Casasnovas, who is the associate press secretary, released this statement: “We’re committed to safeguarding the integrity of the elections, and council seats may only be held by individuals who were on the ballot and duly elected. We deeply value the partnership of our parent leaders, and interested individuals may apply for a vacant seat on their respective council.”
Casanovas also explained that out of the 325 seats up for election this year, only less than 1% of the elected positions had this problem. She added that the DOE is looking into a technical solution to prevent this issue from happening again.
Last Thursday, after an investigation by the DOE, the department made the decision to vacate Cai’s seat. The same was done over the contested seat in CEC16. Both Councils are required to fill their seats within 60 days.
“We all feel for Emma,” Jay Brown says. “She certainly is a parent that wants to serve. But our contention is that this matter wasn’t about her, but about the integrity of the election process.”
“Considering how there’s a process for members of the parent community to apply for vacant seats,” Erika Kendall says. “I hope those parents are encouraged to reapply and contribute to the parent advocate community. It’s a frustrating experience, but they obviously wanted to serve, so I hope they reapply.”
Cai says the DOE tried to reach her via email and phone about this decision, but she does not respond to phone numbers she does not recognize and that the email went to her husband’s email. She also says she is feeling frustrated with the DOE and its bureaucracy, explaining that the Department gives “false advertising” by saying it serves the parents, when that does not appear to be the case.
“Shouldn’t you at least consult before you decide?” Cai says of the DOE’s decision. “My view doesn’t count. I even signed the authorization to get voted in before summer started, and they didn’t take any action until now. It’s just a very unthoughtful way of solving this. I don’t understand who they’re trying to protect over here.”
She is considering whether to seek her seat again, but she is not pleased she has to promote herself again after doing so a few months earlier.
“This is definitely some bad experience for me personally,” says Cai. “I should trust them on making parents a top priority, [but] I don’t believe so. In action-wise, they’re doing the contrary. I just feel there’s a lot of bureaucracy here.”
In regards to CEC16, the seat obtained by Tiffany Brown, one-half of the couple at the center of the mismatch, has also been vacated by the DOE and needs to be filled within 60 days. As for her husband, Pace Brown, he was appointed as a Borough President appointee. But according to NeQuan McLean, CEC16 informed Borough Hall about the discrepancy involving the Browns and are still waiting to hear if Pace Brown will still serve as a Borough President appointee on the Council.