Last minute push for an elected school board

November 5, 2012

 

It’s Halloween and kids are trick-or-treating all up and down Bernard Street in Logan Square.

But Christina Roque wants a word with their parents.

“This is reminding you that there’s a referendum on the ballot on Tuesday when you vote. Vote yes for an elected school board, and the information is on there,” Roque says to a dad standing outside her friend’s house. Roque and a group of involved parents are gathered to celebrate the holiday and also take turns talking with parents outside.

They’re handing out candy taped to a postcard-sized piece of paper that explains what the elected school board is all about.

“It says a school board run entirely by one person? That’s scary!” Roque reads. “And then it just goes on to talk about how the mayor appoints the chief executive officer and the board of education. That’s a trick that’s not good for kids or communities. But here’s a treat—you have a chance to do something about it.”

Roque is part of a citywide coalition that wants to change how the Board of Education is selected.

Chicago has never really had an elected school board. Since 1995, the mayor has had total control over appointing school board members, and before that, people were nominated, but still ultimately chosen by the mayor.

Roque and other members of the coalition say Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointed board members, which include some of the city’s elite, are out of touch with the public schools and should not be making decisions about them.

“Rahm’s not worried about the schools, he’s not worried about the quality of schools, I don’t care what he says, his kids are at the Lab school,” said Kim Scipes, a coalition member, referring to the private Chicago Laboratory schools.

The debate over an appointed or elected school board isn’t new—but it’s bubbling up again in Chicago.

It comes in the wake of a contentious teachers strike, and as the mayor continues to push through school changes that have caused distrust in many communities.

But Emanuel and school officials have said an elected board would only inject more politics into an already political system.

School board elections in big city districts, like Los Angeles, have come with expensive, high-profile campaigns and both Scipes and Roque acknowledge those realities. But both say the ballot referendum is worth it to get a reading on community support. 

If voters in 327 of the city’s more than 2,000 precincts say they would like to elect the school board, then Scipes says they would try to expand it to a citywide referendum.