Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=208976
Story Retrieval Date: 9/2/2014 11:36:19 AM CST

Top Stories
Features
CODE petitions

Princella Lee/ Kenwood Oakland Community Organization

Roderick Wilson (left) and Phil Cantor from the Communities Organized for Democracy in Education deliver more than 10,000 signatures to the School Board.


Some Chicagoans will get to vote on an elected school board

by Colette Luke
Oct 11, 2012


Voters in 35 of Chicago’s 50 wards will vote on changing Chicago’s school board from appointed to elected.

The referendum, which is not binding, is the effort of a grassroots coalition unhappy with what they perceive as a board unresponsive to community concerns. The coalition gathered enough signatures to get the measure on ballots in 327 Chicago precincts after allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel successfully blocked efforts by several aldermen to get the measure on the ballot in their wards. Emanuel appoints the board members.

“I think a lot of parents, teachers and members of the community feel the current school board is not representative of the people who are in the schools,” Chicago Public School teacher Philip Cantor said. “They don’t understand what goes on at CPS schools.”

Cantor, a biology teacher at North-Grand High School, has been teaching in Chicago Public Schools for nine years. He is part of a coalition called Communities Organized for Democracy in Education that pushed for the referendum.

The coalition was started in 2011 by Jitu Brown, an educational organizer at Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. The coalition includes Teachers for Social Justice, Action Now, Raise Your Hand Coalition and Parents 4 teachers, among others.

Former Mayor Richard Daley persuaded the state legislature in 1995 to allow him to appoint school board members. Previously school board members were recommended by a board of trustees independent of the mayor’s office. Emanuel has said he opposes an elected board.

Brown said the coalition was started after years of parents and communities trying unsuccessfully to work with CPS and its “top-down” policies. He said the appointment of school board members has had negative effects on the communities from the constant school closings, lack of resources, a narrowing curriculum approach and school board meeting times that are difficult for teachers to attend because they are in the mornings when teachers are in class.

According to National School Board Association, 94.5 percent of school boards in the country are elected and only 5.5 percent are appointed. Baltimore, Philadelphia and Cleveland are some of the other school districts that appoint their school board members. Chicago has the only non-elected board in Illinois, according to CODE.

“District policies have destabilized the improvement and there is not accountability,” Brown said. “There is no will to run effective neighborhood schools from the school board.”

Brown said there was a push in 2006 for a similar referendum, but failed to get on the ballot because they did not have enough signatures. This year they received 11,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot in 327 precincts.

A Chicago Public Schools representative defended the idea of an appointed board.

"There's already too much politics in our school system and what it doesn't need is more. The decisions of our board members are based on what's in the best interest of students."

However, an independent study by two professors at University of Illinois at Chicago found that under a mayor-appointed board, CPS made little progress in academic achievement and there were widening gaps between white, African-American and Latino students.

The report, “Should Chicago Have an Elected Representative School Board? Look at the Evidence,” recommended that Chicago transition to an elected school board.