The folly of an elected school board

Written By BY William Choslovsky Posted: 04/01/2014, 04:42pm

For all those clamoring for an “elected” school board in Chicago, I have a simple question: Can you name someone on the Water Reclamation District Board?

I am waiting.

Let’s be clear and real: the only thing an elected school board would do is further politicize our kids’ education. It likely would be stacked with teachers union hacks, meaning teachers union president Karen Lewis would essentially be negotiating her next contract with herself.

It would not help our kids’ education.

And do not forget, we already have an elected school board. In fact, we have more than 500 in Chicago. Specifically, every school has its own local school council (LSC) composed of parents, teachers and community members.

The LSCs work and have real power, including hiring and firing the school principal. It is a good concept as it places power exactly where it should be: locally with stakeholders at each school. I know this because I reached my highest political aspiration two years ago when I ran for the LSC at my kids’ school and won.

Though voter turnout was low in last month’s primary elections, it will be high on April 7 when parents throughout Chicago vote and elect their LSC representatives when they pick up their kids’ report cards. So for those demanding “democracy,” we already have it.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Some schools have trouble filling their LSCs and others have inactive LSCs. But the structure is there.

As for the main Chicago Public Schools board we hear so much about, it is actually a diverse, highly qualified group. It includes three women, two African Americans, two Hispanics and a former university president, all of whom work for free.

The chairman is David Vitale, a Harvard graduate and former president of the Chicago Board of Trade who has volunteered for CPS on a full-time basis for a decade. Another member, Dr. Mahlia Hines, has worked in education as a teacher and principal for only 35 years.

The current appointment process started in 1995, when Mayor Richard M. Daley boldly took control of the schools. And guess what: our schools have actually improved since then. Can they — and should they — be better? Of course. But the trend line is unmistakable.

If we are to hold our mayor responsible for our schools — as we should — then he should at least be able to pick his own board. It’s called accountability.

And if the board proves to be no good, we can elect a new board by electing a new mayor. That too is accountability.

What seems to rile Karen Lewis is that the CPS board might actually care more about our kids’ education than teacher benefits. It might actually want families to have choices, including — gasp — charter schools. It might actually be responsible for balancing the school’s budget.

In short, it might actually have to do something other than protest.

All said, though many things remain to be fixed with our public schools in Chicago, changing the structure of our school board and local school councils is not one of them.

William Choslovsky is a Chicago lawyer and a member of the Local School Council at his children’s school.

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