Letting Kids Down: Dysfunctional Brownsville Community Education Council Has Lacked Quorum Since October

District 23’s Community Education Council (CEC) that represents Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and bits of East New York, has not had a quorum to conduct business since early October, when half of its members resigned in protest over how the CEC was run.

CECs, which are part of the Department of Education’s governmental structure, are meant to be the parent advocates for their districts. The Councils are “charged with promoting student achievement, advising and commenting on educational policies, and providing input to the chancellor and the Panel for Educational Policy,” according to DOE. 

With just four of eleven members remaining on the council, and despite the six required for a quorum, CEC23 has continued to hold meetings, including a joint Calendar-Business meeting on January 12th, and even voted on holding a book bag giveaway back in December. 

D23’s Council received a letter from Chancellor Carranza on January 15th, obtained by Bklyner, requiring them to fill those vacancies and not hold any further meetings until the empty seats are filled, except for a special meeting to be held no later than Monday, January 25th. Chancellor’s Regulation insists vacant seats must be filled within 60 days. 

According to Diana Duncan, a former CEC23 member who resigned on October 7th, along with three others, that meeting will take place at noon on Monday. But she says she is not sure how the remaining Council is going to fill those seats.

“The applications weren’t widely distributed,” she says. “Only select parents were aware, parent coordinators weren’t aware, until Thursday evening. To my knowledge, the family leadership coordinator was not made aware of such a meeting until yesterday evening. The time is also inconvenient and could be a problem for community viewership as well.”

Duncan and three other members resigned more than 90 days ago due to the CEC being run, as Duncan puts it, “kind of like a tyranny.” She describes a lot of infighting, bullying, and verbal attacks between CEC President Abbie Anderson and those who eventually stepped down. This has led some parents to be reluctant to want to sit on the Council.

“We never had more than eight members,” says Osariemen Elcock, the IEP parent leader who also resigned with Duncan after three years on the CEC. “Abbie Anderson has such a bad reputation that nobody wants to sit on the CEC with her.”

At the same time, CEC23 has not had an English Language Learner (ELL) representative on its Council for several years. The CEC also does not print flyers, post on social media or email in different languages, such as Spanish, Bengali, and Haitian Creole.  Duncan says one parent did seek the ELL seat, but she was never voted on. That parent, Duncan says, pointed out how the Council is always in dysfunction because a decision could never be made.

As for the meeting on Monday afternoon to fill that seats, Duncan says there wasn’t an active effort to reach out to potential ELL parents. She is also not optimistic about the search to fill the empty seats at CEC23.

“It pains me to think that another year will go by and a band-aid is being placed on a festering wound,” she says.

Part of that wound comes from D23 having the lowest test scores in ELA and math in all of Brooklyn. It also has very low reading levels, and its 4-year graduation rate is at 44% as of 2015, despite being at 64% in 2013. Some parent leaders Bklyner spoke to say half the reason why D23 is struggling is because of the lack of resources given, while the other half is because of the poor leadership in the district.

“It looks bad on the District,” says Elcock. “We already have a problem with not getting programs and funding. But then we gotta fight with our own district within?”

Duncan resigned due to the lack of collaboration between themselves and Anderson. Elcock says the joy she had for education activism and empowering parents has been taken away after her experience on the Council.

One parent leader, who asked her name not be used for this article for fear of retaliation, says with the appointment of Lester Young, who hails from Brownsville, as Chancellor of the Board of Regents, there may be some hope for the District.

“If you clean out and start over, yeah,” she says. “Sometimes, you just need to have a clean slate.”

Bklyner reached out to Abbie Anderson and CEC23’s administrative assistant for a comment but received no response.

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Megan McGibney

A native New Yorker, Megan McGibney writes about education, politics, and business. A 2008 graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, she is also an adjunct lecturer at CUNY and Pace University. You can reach out to her at www.meganmcgibney.com or @MeganMcGibney.

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