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Public hearings planned in push for CPS elected school board bill

State Sen. Kwame Raoul. File Photo.| Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times

State Sen. Kwame Raoul plans to hold public hearings across Chicago this summer in an effort to bolster support for a bill to replace the Chicago Board of Education — appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — with one that’s elected.

The Illinois House overwhelmingly passed a bill in March that would create an elected school board — replacing the seven the mayor chooses with 21 democratically elected members. But the bill has been stuck in the Illinois Senate since then.

But on Wednesday, Raoul became a co-sponsor of the bill and the Chicago Democrat announced he’d hold hearings to gather input from parents and other community members to ensure fair representations in the transition to elections, which would be held in 2018 if the bill becomes law.

“Chicago’s children deserve nothing less than full equality with the rest of the state – parity in funding and in democratic governance of their school district,” Raoul said in a statement. “It’s time to get this right, and I look forward to working with our parents and advocates to give CPS the government our schools so desperately need.”

The Chicago Board of Education is the only non-elected school board in the state. Lawmakers approved a 1995 law that gave Chicago’s mayor full authority over the Chicago Public Schools and its board.

Raoul, President Barack Obama’s successor in the state Senate — is considered a Democratic heavy hitter in the chamber. And he’s hoping the summer hearings will provide more clarity for the bill.

There are several issues that need to be pinned down before the bill is called before the Senate, according to aides for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, including whether the board is paid and how to ensure that the districts are “fair and properly diverse.”

The bill would split the city into 20 local districts, and a 21st board member would be elected at large as president. Each would serve an initial five-year term if elected on March 20, 2018, then four years each to coincide with municipal elections.

It would also push at least half of the board’s meetings to after hours so working parents and community parents could attend.

The bill is unlikely to be called during the spring session, as lawmakers are working to end the budget impasse.

Emanuel has said an elected school board would inject more politics into the school system and impede some of the progress he has made at CPS during his tenure. He’s also contended that the Local School Councils have elected school leaders to oversee budgets and principals.

But the Chicago Teachers Union, and other education advocates say it’s time for the mayor to step out of the CPS picture.