Editorial: An easy solution to CPS’ CEO problem

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The Chicago Board of Education has a serious problem that — fortunately, for once — has a straight-forward solution.

The mayor’s method of choosing the schools’ CEO is deeply flawed. It fails to include public input or even, apparently, much input from his appointed Board of Education, according to a story on Monday by the Sun-Times’ Lauren FitzPatrick. Other cities, even those where the mayor controls the school board, as in Chicago, have more democratic, inclusive processes that Chicago can learn from.

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Take note, Mayor Emanuel. With Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s recent resignation as CEO, it’s the perfect time to introduce a selection process that includes the public and, crucially, helps prevent the school system from making a mistake.

Key sources told the Sun-Times that in 2012 some board members weren’t told until just before Emanuel announced Byrd-Bennett’s appointment that themayor planned to promote her to CEO. And, within one day of being given a look at her $250,000 annual contract, board members were asked to approve it. They did, 6 to 0. A spokesman for CPS said Board President David Vitale consulted with each board member before Byrd-Bennett was appointed. Good to hear. But this clearly was a decision driven by the mayor and Vitale.

A better way would be to share that power.We argued in January that Chicago would benefit by moving away from absolute mayoral control of the school system. Of the 20 or so American cities where the mayor appoints the localschoolboard, Chicago is among the most autocratic.A major step, as we’ve argued before, would be a switch to a partially elected board, which Emanuel is loath to do.

In the meantime, a more modest step would be to cede absolute control over the selection of the CEO. Philadelphia, Miami and Los Angeles all have vetting processes that call for a public review of candidates. Philly, like Chicago, has an appointed school board, but it’s the board’s job — not the mayor’s — to hire the superintendent. One board member in 2012 chaired a 14-person search committee that hosted two public forums to ask questions of candidates. In other mayoral-control cities,a commission recommends candidate names to the mayor.

Byrd-Bennett resigned last month in the wake of federal investigation of a $20.5 million no-bid contract awarded to SUPES Academy, her former employer. But the board and the public undoubtedly would have looked at that contract much more closely to begin with, at the time it was awarded, had Byrd-Bennett’s connections to SUPES been revealed and discussed during a more thorough hiring process.

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