This July 4th week, activists push for more democracy in Chicago schools

Petitions meant to start a conversation about instituting an elected school board

July 4, 2012

Some Chicago school activists are using the July 4th holiday this week as inspiration to fight for a democratically elected school board.

Chicago is the only district in Illinois where the mayor by law appoints the school board.

Chicago Public Schools parent Wendy Katten spent part of her holiday getting petitions ready that call for an elected board. She and others will canvass neighborhoods Thursday and all this month to collect signatures. 

"This year, a lot of people have felt there is not a lot of democracy in terms of policy-making in our school district," said Katten. "I think parents and communities have really felt shut out."

Katten says her coalition is targeting 250 precincts. If the activists collect enough signatures, residents in those precincts will vote on an advisory referendum in November.

"When I go door-to-door, people don’t even know that we have an appointed school board often," said Katten, who called the petition drive an initial step to open up conversation about shifting to an elected board.

Some of the groups pushing for an elected board are angry about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a longer school day. Others are upset about school closings. All say they want more say-so in setting the priorities for schools.

No one at Chicago Public Schools was available to comment on the petition drive Wednesday.