Chicago Mayor-Elect Lightfoot Called Elected School Board Bill ‘A Recipe For Disaster’

CPS logo
Andrew Gill / WBEZ
CPS logo
Andrew Gill / WBEZ

Chicago Mayor-Elect Lightfoot Called Elected School Board Bill ‘A Recipe For Disaster’

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Updated 5:30 p.m.

The Illinois House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to make Chicago’s school board elected rather than appointed by the mayor, approving a bill that Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot told WBEZ would be a “recipe for disaster and chaos.”

The vote was 110-2. It still needs support from the Senate and Gov. JB Pritzker.

The vote comes just two days after Lightfoot won the election to be Chicago’s new mayor. Lightfoot campaigned in support of moving to an elected school board, but told WBEZ last week that the bill, which calls for 20 board members plus a board president, would create a school board that’s far too big.

“Having a school board of 21 people is completely unwieldy,” Lightfoot said in an interview. “That will be a recipe for disaster and chaos. It’s way too large.”

Lightfoot also expressed concern for how expensive campaigns for an elected school board could be. She said one idea she found interesting is to require candidates to have served on their local school council.

Lightfoot did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday about the bill’s passage.

State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. He infamously clashed with Lightfoot during her mayoral campaign when he showed up to crash a Lightfoot news conference in February, referring to her as having a “Trump style” that makes her “wholly unprepared to be mayor of the city of Chicago.”

Martwick supported Lightfoot’s rival, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, as did the Chicago Teachers Union, which has heavily advocated for an elected school board in recent years.

During Thursday’s discussion in the House that lasted less than eight minutes, Martwick said he still had not talked with Mayor-elect Lightfoot about his legislation.

“This bill and the provisions that were put into it were drafted four years ago, long before she mused about running for office and becoming the mayor, so I look forward to having productive discussions with her,” Martwick said.

In her WBEZ interview, Lightfoot sarcastically referred to Martwick as “my BFF.”

If approved, Chicago residents would vote on a school board in 2023 and 2027. Martwick said he included a sunset provision to compel lawmakers to re-approve the elected school board after the 2027 election. He did this, he said, to address concerns about money potentially being injected into individual school board races.

“The Senate President looks forward to reviewing this proposal and working with the newly elected mayor on the issue,” a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said in a statement Thursday.

This is the third time in three years that the House of Representatives has voted to make the Chicago Board of Education elected. Yet the various proposals never reached the governor’s desk for approval. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office opposes the bill.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.