Parents and advocates gathered downtown Monday to call on Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to vote on a bill that would make Chicago’s school board elected rather than appointed, but Cullerton’s office says he’s holding the bill at the request of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
Lightfoot supports an elected school board but expressed deep reservations about the bill pending in the State House, calling the large board called for in the legislation a “recipe for disaster.” She did not respond to WBEZ’s request for comment on Monday.
That bill, which would create a 21-member board, passed the House in early April. Since then, advocates have been demanding a Senate vote before the legislative session ends May 31.
“For years, the people of Chicago have been fighting for an elected school board,” said Karina Martinez, a member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “Yet, here I am standing three years later, still demanding and still waiting for an elected school board in the city.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Senate president noted some concerns with the bill, including the size of the board and who draws up boundaries for each school board seat.
Spokesman John Patterson pointed to an elected school board bill that passed the Senate in 2017 that reduced the board to 15 members and created an independent panel to draw the boundaries for each seat, rather than having Illinois lawmakers do it.
Cullerton, Patterson said, “looks forward to working with his colleagues and the incoming mayor to identify a path forward on this issue.”
Under the current proposal, the city will be divided into 20 electoral districts, and each will be represented by one member. With the board president, the elected board will have 21 members elected starting in 2023.
Advocates argue that a 21-member school board will represent all corners of Chicago.
“Twenty-one seats also means that we don’t lock the West Side in with the Loop and deny primarily black neighborhoods their voice,” said Pat Williams with the group Action Now.
State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, is the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. He clashed with Lightfoot during the campaign but said he wants to work with her to reach a compromise.
But advocates say time is running out.
“Our message to the incoming mayor is we have been working on this for years, you promised to support an elected school board for Chicago, [and] we want you to keep that promise and work with us to get this bill passed now,” said Erica Clark, director of the group Parents 4 Teachers.