In what could major breakthrough for supporters of an elected school board for Chicago, the head of the Illinois State Senate wants to call a bill this spring that would eventually create a fully elected board for Chicago. But he envisions a gradual process, starting with a hybrid board in which the mayor would continue to appoint some members.
Previous elected school board bills have passed the Illinois House but have been blocked in the Senate.
Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, told WBEZ that he asked supporters of a fully elected school board to work on a compromise with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She strongly opposes a large fully elected board and instead supports a bill in which only a few members would be elected and the mayor’s office would retain the balance of power.
This could signal a major turning point in the push for an elected board for Chicago. Elected school board bills have been approved by the House four times, but died in the Senate. It is especially significant because Gov. JB Pritzker is a supporter of a fully elected school board.
Lightfoot’s office has not commented on Harmon’s invitation to work on a compromise.
However, Harmon wouldn’t say what he would do if the two sides were unable to work out a compromise. But the House has already passed a bill that calls for a fully elected 21-member board, and Harmon did say, “If the only option were the proposal or nothing, the Senate might very well pass it.”
“I just want to be sure that we are not fighting over which side is right, but we are remembering that we have a fundamental obligation primarily to the students in the Chicago Public Schools system to get the process right,” Harmon said. “And so I would like to see some structure come out of these negotiations that ensures a reasonable and orderly transition to a fully elected school board.”
In a statement later in the day, he added, “I look forward to putting a plan to get us to a fully elected school board on the governor’s desk this session.”
When Harmon talked to sides supporting either the hybrid bill or the fully elected bill on Friday, he said they were both “very committed to their positions.”