Sen. Kwame Raoul: Elected school board bill needs tweaking

SHARE Sen. Kwame Raoul: Elected school board bill needs tweaking

The City Club of Chicago hosted a panel discussion on “Elected School Board: Yes or No?” with speakers, Rep. Robert Martwick (sitting at left), State Sen. Kwame Raoul and former Chicago Board of Education member Jesse Ruiz. Dr. Paul Green (standing) moderated the discussion. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The state Senate’s co-sponsor of a bill that would change Chicago’s school board from appointed to elected denied on Monday that the measure was being stalled, and he said he hoped state legislators would consider it when they return to Springfield for the fall veto session.

Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said the proposal that passed the House overwhelmingly in March needs some editing before it will attract enough votes to pass the Senate.

“I got to get feedback from some of my colleagues so I’m [going to] try to do some of that before we get back to Springfield in November so I know what I’m dealing with,” Raoul said after speaking on a lunchtime panel at the City Club of Chicago.

Raoul scheduled hearings earlier in the summer to hear constituents’ concerns.

RELATED: School staffing doesn’t always match CPS enrollment

Meanwhile, protests popped up at the office of Sen. President John Cullerton, accusing him and other state Democrats allied with Mayor Rahm Emanuel of holding up the bill.

“If people have been sleeping, there have been pertinent issues as to how we’re going to fund everything in the state that we’ve been dealing with,” Raoul said. “There’s some imperfections in the bill. . . . Anybody who knows me knows that when I take on something, I wouldn’t accept an assignment to delay or to kill or stall a bill.”

Sparked by CPS’ fiscal woes and the appointed Board of Ed’s habit of rubber-stamping district recommendations — including the closing of 50 schools and the crooked $20 million no-bid deal that took down former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett — the bill would create a 21-member school board three times the size of the current board. Its president would be elected citywide, and the remaining members would be chosen during nonpartisan municipal elections from districts drawn by state lawmakers.

Among Raoul’s concerns are the large size of the board and whether or not its members will be paid. The bill also doesn’t allow for runoff elections in case no single candidate wins a majority of the vote.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said that electoral politics don’t belong in the schools, pointing to other cities that have seen millions from unions and charter school organizations flood into local school board races.

House sponsor Rep. Rob Martwick (D-Norridge) said the decision to elect a large board would curtail the effects of money in the races.

And Chicago is the only state district without elected representation in schools.

“You pay more of your income to education than everything else,” he said. “Whether right or wrong, citizens should have a voice in this process.”

Jesse Ruiz, one of Emanuel’s first appointees to the Board of Ed and its former vice president, said the change of governance wouldn’t solve major CPS problems, such as coming up with hundreds of millions to invest in schools or teacher pensions.

But Ruiz, who also was president of the unelected Illinois State Board of Education, said no one ever calls for an elected board at the state level, perhaps because of the open and collegial way that board conducts its business.

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