Lawsuits seek elected school board in Chicago

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to take out a short-term loan against expected state grant payments to get CPS through the end of the regular school year. | File photo

Chicago’s practice of appointing a school board violates the rights of all city taxpayers to elect who taxes them, disproportionately affecting minority voters, and has left the district in worse financial shape since 1995, when it was placed under mayoral control.

That’s according to former Gov. Pat Quinn and a handful of active Chicago Public Schools families and Local School Council members sued the city’s school board and the state Board of Education on Wednesday in state and federal court.

The group wants a judge to order elections to replace the mayor’s appointees on Chicago’s Board of Education, Quinn said by telephone Tuesday.

Legislative efforts have fallen flat — symbolic referendums and a bill that passed the state’s House of Representatives before stalling in the Senate after Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposed it — “and so it’s time to go to court,” Quinn said.

In parallel complaints obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the plaintiffs make the same basic arguments, though they lean on different legal theories under state and federal law:

“The experiment in mayoral control in Chicago has been a failure and does not plausibly justify the severe and destructive impact on the plaintiffs’ right to vote and hold accountable the officials running their public schools,” reads a copy of the federal complaint the plaintiffs plan to file. “The looming financial bankruptcy of the Chicago public schools after twenty years of mismanagement by mayorally appointed boards imperils the very right of Chicago children to a public education.”

Chicago Public Schools is the only district of the state’s 859 to have a board chosen by the mayor rather than voters. And the 1995 act that gave the mayor control over the schools took away any oversight previously conducted by elected members of City Council or Local School Councils.

Chicago’s school board levies taxes on the public, exceeding $11 billion over the last five years, but has had no elected oversight, the suit alleges. Or as Quinn put it, “We’re being taxed without elected representation.”

The plaintiffs, including three of the activists who went on a hunger strike to have Dyett High School reopened, are asking a judge to set elections of Chicago school board members for April 2017, to coincide with school board elections across the state.

“Every other school district in the state is elected,” Quinn said by telephone Tuesday. “The people who live in Chicago, and I’m one of them, we don’t get to vote on the school board. So it’s a voting rights case that’s going to be filed in state and federal courts.”

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said nothing about district finances but went after Quinn.

“Looks like gadfly Pat Quinn has latched on to his next failed endeavor. Coming from a governor who could have fixed the most racially discriminatory education funding formula in the nation but didn’t, and who failed miserably to address chronic education underfunding despite pushing through record tax increases,this is another absurd waste of energy and taxpayer dollars,” Claypool said.

CPS students “deserve a state government that funds their education fairly,” he said in a statement.

The suit was organized by the Grassroots Education Movement, which raised some of the money needed to file it online. Several of the donations were made by members and allies of the Chicago Teachers Union. Quinn said he also contributed to the cause.

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