A state bill to change Chicago’s school board from one appointed by the mayor to one elected by the city’s voters passed out of committee Wednesday over opposition testimony by Chicago Public Schools’ top education official and a former board vice president.
The legislation seeking to transform the school board of seven appointees to one composed of 21 elected members passed the House’s School Curriculum & Policies Committee on a 18-1 vote. It may now go before the full House.
Democratic Rep. Rob Martwick, who represents Chicago’s Northwest Side, has argued that Chicago’s voters are unique in the state for paying taxes for public schools without getting a say in who spends the money.
“The question is a fundamental question of democracy,” he said during the hearing. “Should there be taxation without representation?”
His bill would create 20 voting districts that would choose one member each during municipal elections, plus a president elected citywide. The new board would then choose CPS’ chief executive.
CPS officials have spent a year and a half lobbying Springfield legislators to be treated like every other district in the state — except when it comes to how school board members are chosen. They’ve been seeking funding and pension parity.
“An elected school board would have no more authority than our existing board to raise additional revenue for Chicago Public Schools — and revenue is at the root of our problem,” Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson testified.
She told legislators that CPS students are on an upward academic swing, despite the district’s gaping $129 million budget hole, and don’t need any more instability she believes such a large elected body would impose.
Former school board vice president Jesse Ruiz, who recently protested the Board of Ed himself, joined her, calling the bill “a grave mistake.”
He said the bill would create the largest school board of any major urban district and would diffuse the accountability among 21 politicians instead of resting with just one: The mayor of Chicago.
CPS’ representatives also said an elected board would diminish the role of elected Local School Councils that oversee hiring and spending at individual schools.
But Wendy Katten of the Raise Your Hand parent group said that “LSCs are phenomenal, but they don’t have any say in” districtwide financial policy over hiring or budgets. Raise Your Hand has long pushed for an elected school board, saying the existing one is a rubber stamp.
Before he voted to pass the bill, Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, invited his colleagues to attend a single meeting of Chicago’s school board if they needed a push to join him.
“The level of disrespect community receives at the Chicago Board of Education is reason alone to vote for this bill,” he said.
About a year ago, a version of this bill overwhelmingly passed the full House but never was called in the Senate headed by mayoral ally John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Martwick incorporated some input he received from Republicans about bolstering conflict of interest provisions and removing compensation and benefits for the 21 members to keep them in line with every other school board in the state.
After the hearing, he said he’s looking for a partner in the Senate before pushing for a full House vote.