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After Forrest Claypool debacle, CPS needs fresh injection of democracy

Frank Clark, president of the Chicago Board of Education, announces the resignation of Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool during a press conference Friday afternoon, Dec. 8, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Forrest Claypool is the mayor’s pal.

The Chicago Board of Education is seven people appointed by the mayor.

If Claypool, caught up in an ethics scandal, had not resigned as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools on Friday, could anybody have trusted the mayor’s school board to decide independently and objectively whether to fire the mayor’s great friend and ally?

Not a chance.

EDITORIAL

We have long argued that a school board entirely appointed by the mayor — this mayor or any mayor — looks a lot like a rubber stamp. After the Claypool fiasco, we’re more sure than ever. The only way the public can feel confident that the board will follow its own best judgment at such politically explosive times, rather than do the bidding of the mayor, is to include elected members.

Somebody on the board should owe the mayor nothing.

Our own preference is for a “hybrid” board, one that would include a majority of members appointed by the mayor — as has been the practice since 1995 — but also members who are elected. The mayor would continue to appoint the CEO, who still could be rejected or fired by the board.

We don’t know what forces behind the scenes influenced Claypool’s decision to resign. He visited with members of the board prior to his resignation and reportedly received little encouragement to stay on. Given Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s strong urging that Claypool be fired, the board would have had a tough time rallying to his defense.

But the mayor’s influence in how this all played out remains unclear, and we’re unconvinced the board acted — or was prepared to act — with full independence. The board’s lack of independence might also explain why the board last year delayed for six months Schuler’s request, while he was conducting his investigation, that attorney-client privilege claims be waived so that he could interview key witnesses and obtain key documents.

Claypool had to go. His continued presence at CPS, at this point, would have added to a well of distrust of CPS by many Chicagoans, especially in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Dozens of schools have been closed or combined, programs have been cut, and children are walking longer distances to class each morning. Too many parents already feel they have little say in the big life-changing decisions being made by CPS.

A hybrid board, one that includes members beholden to nobody but the voters, could go a long way toward improving community trust.

A fresh injection of democracy is long overdue.

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