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Referendum on elected school board nets 83% to 93% yes votes in 37 wards

Besides sending Rahm Emanuel into a runoff, voters in 37 wards sent another message to the mayor on Tuesday, favoring an elected school board that would reduce his power and control over the Chicago Public School system.

The measures, placed on individual ward ballots after the mayor’s allies blocked a citywide referendum on the issue, passed with “yes” totals ranging from 83 to 93 percent in all 37 wards.

In three citywide referendums, Chicagoans also overwhelmingly favored paid leave for city workers; required treatment for city employees convicted of domestic abuse; and campaign finance reforms.

Those nonbinding measures passed with at least 79 percent of the votes cast.

The elected school board referendums were pushed by a coalition of activists that gathered more than 60,000 signatures to get the issue on the ward ballots. The idea of an elected board more accountable to city residents gained momentum after the mayor closed 50 schools.

“We do expect it’s going to receive a wide margin of support,” Nathan Ryan, communications director for Grassroots Illinois Action, said early on election night.

“From talking to people, this is an issue of a check on the mayoral control of the school board and for parents to have a say in the education of their children,” Ryan said. “That makes sense to a lot of people on a gut level.”

Though changing how the CPS board is chosen would require action by the Illinois Legislature, supporters hope a strong showing at the ballot box could make a difference.

Details of the citywide referendums that passed include:

Family leave for city employees in the event of a personal or family illness, an incident of domestic or sexual violence, or a school or building closure because of a public health emergency.

That city employees convicted of a domestic violence offense be referred to a treatment service and be required to attend at least one session as a condition of continued employment.

And that the city or state reduce the influence of special-interest money in elections by financing campaigns using small contributions from individuals and a limited amount of public money.