While state legislators still can’t agree over a budget, Chicago Public Schools advocates are demanding immediate action over a bill that would implement an elected school board in the struggling district.
Chanting “What’s the holdup?” and picketing with signs about the bill, CPS teachers, parents and community organizers ordered Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to assign House Bill 0557 to a committee before the Illinois General Assembly’s special session concludes June 30. The protest was organized outside of Tavern on Rush, 1031 N. Rush St., a restaurant Cullerton co-owns with Sen. James DeLeo.
“We have endured school privatization and appointed school boards who loot the public trust and use no-bid contracts as an everyday way of life and then tell us that the system is broken,” said Jitu Brown, a community organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “The system was broken by them, and we demand an elected representative school board now.”
The bill would replace the district’s current school board of seven members appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a democratically elected school board of 21 members. The Illinois House voted 110-4 in favor of the bill, but it has sat in the state’s senate with little action since March 3.
Following protests in May demanding action on the bill, it was handed to co-sponsor Sen. Kwame Raoul. But the bill has yet to be assigned to a senate committee.
“I believe that [Cullerton] supports the agenda of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is fiercely opposed to an elected school board,” Brown said. “Instead of doing the will of the people, we fear he will do the will of his friend.”
Brown added that he fears politicians want to eliminate Chicago’s Public School system and establish an entirely privatized school system like in New Orleans, which he said would only benefit the school board’s “politically connected friends to get million-dollar contracts.”
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said the senate’s top priority has been to secure a classroom funding plan so that Chicago Public Schools as well as schools across the state can stay open in the fall without massive layoffs or closures, which is why progress of the bill has been slow.
The school board election envisioned in the bill would not be held until 2018, giving the senate more time to work on the legislation.
Patterson said one of the reasons Raoul took over sponsorship of the bill was so he can hold hearings to collect input regarding an elected school board and ensure fair representations in its elections.
Antwain Miller, outreach organizer for the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and a CPS parent, said the mayor-appointed school board has mismanaged the district’s finances by making decisions without children’s best interests in mind.
Miller, a South Side resident, said the school board has closed down two nearby schools that his children must walk past on their way to school each day.
“My kids walk over a mile in dangerous neighborhoods to schools that they barely get quality education. . . .Everyday they take a risk for their lives just because the schools won’t be fair and open up to help these kids out. Every kid needs a fair chance in life and schools shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a necessity.”
Dalia Radecki, a retired CPS teacher of 35 years, said the current mayor-appointed school board does not prioritize quality education.
“I retired in 2006, and I think I got out at the right time. A lot of my colleagues are leaving Chicago schools because they can’t do it anymore. It’s sad that they don’t have money for summer school and other priorities to better the education of the children,” she said.
Jarivu Lee, education organizer at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said an elected school board would better prioritize the district’s resources because its elected officials would have children attending Chicago’s schools.
“The reality is the seven people who have the authority to raise our taxes and manage this multi-billion-dollar budget are making decisions based on what the mayor says is a priority,” Lee said. “[Elected board members] are looking at their children’s’ eyes when making decisions about cutting programs or adding resources.”