Hold elections for Chicago school board

By Editorial Board

On Election Day, voters in 327 Chicago precincts were asked if they wanted an elected Board of Education for Chicago Public Schools, rather than one appointed by the mayor. The referendum garnered the support of more than 86 percent of the 76,000 people who voted on the issue.

Despite being the largest school district in the state and the third largest district in the nation, CPS is the only public school system in Illinois that doesn’t hold school board elections.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposes the elections because he believes it would politicize Chicago schools.

“We don’t need more politics in our education system,” mayoral spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle told the Chicago Tribune on July 23, after some aldermen attempted to put the issue on the ballot as a referendum.

The aldermen who tried were denied a committee hearing by Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) because they missed the filing deadline by three minutes, according to a July 23 Tribune article. The issue was put on the ballot in select precincts because the petitioners were able to gather the necessary number of signatures.

The Illinois state legislature passed the 1995 Amendatory Act that allowed former Mayor Richard M. Daley to control the school board, according to a 2011 University of Chicago report on school board elections. Although a citywide referendum would give the issue some momentum, the method of choosing the CPS school board can only be changed by the state legislature.

Appointing school board members rather than electing them isn’t any less political—it’s just someone else’s politics. Emanuel is the only person who selects the members of the Board of Education, andhis kids don’t even go to public school. Parents should decide who runs CPS.

Of the seven appointed CPS board members, only one, Mahalia Hines, has experience in K-12 education. One board member, Penny Pritzker, has contributed money to Rahm Emanuel’s PAC, and the wealthy Pritzker family has donated money to Stand for Children, a group that supported education reform legislation that now requires 75 percent member approval for a teachers union strike rather than a simple majority. How Emanuel handled the teachers strike in September was a clear indicator of his bitterness towards the teachers union.

A Nov. 12 editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times argued that voter turnout for school board elections would be just as low as everything else at the bottom of the ballot, such as judges and county offices. However, with the teachers strike still fresh in everyone’s mind and school closures right around the corner, it’s unlikely that school board races would be ignored in the next election.

School board elections would be very political, as most elections are, but it’s hard to think of a good reason to keep parents out of the discussion on CPS. More schools will be closing soon, and there are still issues lingering from the teachers strike, such as the role charter schools should play in CPS.  An elected school board should make these decisions, not one appointed by the mayor.