Parents United for Public Education
Suggestions to improve Renaissance Process voting procedures
May 5, 2014
Parents United for Public Education has raised serious concerns about the overall Renaissance charter effort. Nevertheless, we supported the District’s decision this year to permit parents to vote on whether their schools should be taken over by charter operators. We laud the parent and school community of Edward T. Steel Elementary School who demonstrated what an informed, vigilant and engaged parent community looks like. We strongly urge the District to continue its partnership with the League of Women Voters, which ran the popular election at Steel. The contrast between the popular election run by the League v. the SAC election run by the District charter office – the latter of which has resulted in grievances and much controversy – is further proof of the League’s value in this election.
As the District looks ahead to a June 5 vote at Luis Munoz-Marin, we believe the following steps can help improve notification, voter accessibility, and publishing of results. This statement relates solely to election procedures and is not an endorsement of the Renaissance effort.
Policies and practices BEFORE the general parent election
The lack of proper notice and clarity of procedure for the election was the primary procedural concern. We make the following suggestions:
- At least two weeks before the actual vote, the District must publicly display large-scale posters inside and outside the school building alerting parents to the election date/times, ID required, sample ballot, and a contact phone number. The District cannot rely on flyers lying around the school building or sent home in backpacks as adequate notification. This information must be made available in multiple languages.
- The District must determine language access needs ahead of the vote and ensure all languages will be accommodated in all public sessions (including SAC meetings) and through the voting process.
- The District must disclose clear procedures for filing absentee ballots and make absentee ballots conspicuously available in the school building.
- The District must use its robocall feature to alert parents of voting day and what ID is necessary. These calls must be conducted in multiple languages.
- The District must be able to confirm a parent’s eligibility to vote before the day of the vote. No parent or guardian should be surprised about their status or eligibility to vote.
- Conversely, the District must be clear about what groups of parents cannot vote. For example, the District should explicitly state that pre-K parents cannot vote. This was a contentious issue at Steel, where the District would consistently use the phrase “only parents currently enrolled at the school” can vote. By May, however, many pre-K parents had already enrolled for kindergarten and remained confused about their right to cast a vote. It’s the District’s responsibility to be as clear as possible, not the burden of immigrant or new parents to figure it out.
- The District must give clear procedures for the grievance process, which includes acknowledgment of receipt of grievances, identifying agency/department who will conducts the investigation, time frame for investigation and findings and the general manner/procedures to be used by the agency/department in investigating a grievance.
- The District MUST specifically state a date and time when the results of the voting will be released and the manner by which these results will be made public. We believe unofficial results should be posted the day of the vote, unless there is significant reason to conclude that the votes are invalid. Results should also be publicly posted in the school building and on the School District website.
- Mandated lobbying and ethics training by the City Ethics Office required of charter operators and the School District and also made open and available to school communities and the public.
Policies and procedures DAY OF election
- Language access must be on site the day of the election.
- The District must provide independent observers from each side for the actual vote count.
- The District should leave a sealed copy of the unofficial vote results in a physical place at the school, not to be opened until the actual vote is publicly released.
Policies and procedures POST election
- Election results must be publicly posted within the school building and on the District website.
- An independent review and comprehensive report of the election process must be made publicly available which includes full details such as meeting dates, official presentations by charter operators/District/school, SAC participation/names, number of eligible voters, number of actual votes, number of absentee ballots cast, number of votes per side, any voting irregularities, grievance(s) filed, grievance outcomes, etc.
- The District should make a good faith effort to determine the percentage of eligible voters without necessary ID. It should analyze the reasonability and/or deterrence of various voter ID requirements. There should also be a public accounting of voters rejected because of a lack of proper ID.
Polices and procedures regarding SACs
Parents United for Public Education takes parent governance seriously. SACs have clear governance responsibilities that both pre-date and go well beyond a single SAC vote. We strongly oppose the forced reconstitution of an existing SAC or the formation of an entirely new SAC solely for the purpose of voting in a single election. If there is an existing SAC, those members should lead the vote and have a central responsibility for informing and engaging parents. If there is no existing SAC, none should be formed solely for one election, and the popular parent vote should take precedent.
Additionally, it is wrong for the charter office to supervise the formation or reconstitution of any SAC as this does not fall under their responsibilities. SACs should not be politically constituted bodies, and should remain under the supervision of the offices which oversee their governance responsibilities.