Pritzker says he’ll sign elected school board bill — and Lightfoot says it’s now time for ‘real negotiations’

The mayor is putting her hopes that negotiations over a followup “trailer” bill can fix some of the “obvious flaws” in the bill.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in 2019; Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, in 2019.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in 2019; Mayor Lori Lightfoot, right, in 2019.

Amr Alfiky/AP file; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday he’ll sign a bill passed by the General Assembly this week that would create a fully elected school board in Chicago, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a staunch opponent of the legislation, says there’s still “obvious deficiencies” that need to be addressed in possible followup legislation.

Pritzker indicated his intention to sign the bill once it gets to him at an unrelated press conference Thursday.

“As a candidate, I said I was in favor of an elected school board,” Pritzker said. “I thought it was important, though, to make sure that there was a compromise reached, that people got together and talked about how to make that a better bill. They worked on it in the legislature, produced one and I’ll sign it.”

Pritzker added he would have liked to seen a smaller school board in the bill, but 21 is not “unreasonable” and the size would ensure people have more influence on who their representative might be, he said.

The legislation creating an elected school board, House Bill 2908, advanced Wednesday in a 70 to 41 vote, though some in that chamber said there was still work to be done to make sure the new board is effective.

Once signed, that bill would create a new board in January 2025, initially split between 11 mayoral appointees — including the board president — and 10 elected members.

After two years, the seats of the board president and the 10 appointees would become elected ones in January 2027 through a November 2026 election. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, filed a motion to reconsider shortly after the legislation passed, a procedural move that will keep the bill in that chamber unless the motion is removed. Ramirez’s chief of staff said in a statement Thursday she placed the hold on the bill “to ensure that it makes it to the Governor’s desk at the appropriate time. 

“She will lift the hold in the next few weeks after conversations with stakeholders on a trailer have begun,” the statement said.

The passage of the bill, and Pritzker’s commitment to signing it, comes after strenuous objections from Lightfoot — and despite her furious attempts to block the House vote pending a massive rewrite.

Now, the fixes will have to be made after the fact, in the form of a so-called “trailer” bill.

Mayor denies defeat

Still, the mayor did her best to play down what was the latest in a string of political embarrassments in Springfield, saying it’s “absolutely not a defeat for me.”

“This is about making sure that our children and our parents have a real seat at the table and that any change in governance is superior to what we have now,” Lightfoot said.

“The bill that was passed is not. It’s deeply-flawed. … That’s why we’re gonna be meeting to negotiate on a trailer bill. But, for me, it’s never been about politics. I can’t speak for others.”

Lightfoot said the motion to reconsider sets the stage for, what she called, “real negotiations for the first time over the last couple of months.” 

She listed what she sees as “some of the obvious deficiencies” in the bill:

“The size of the board — 21 — where the largest elected school board in the country is only nine. The fact that the 21 can set their own compensation without any checks and balances and not only pay themselves whatever they want, but build a huge bureaucracy. Dollars that, in my view, should be pumped back into the system.”

Also, she continued to hammer on the fact that there is no provision for undocumented parents to take part in voting.

“The fact that the members of the Latinx and other communities … are completely disenfranchised,” she said. “The fact that there’s no guardrails around the amount of money that can be spent on a single campaign. We know from the experience of L.A. There, a single race was $1 million. That doesn’t bode well for parents who are demanding a seat at the table to actually have the opportunity.”

Lightfoot also talked, yet again, about the financial entanglements. 

The fact that the city and its taxpayers “contribute $500 million annually to CPS and climbing” to support CPS and the pensions of non-teacher school employees.

“My hope is that we will come together quickly and work on a trailer bill that we can present to members of the General Assembly in the veto session,” Lightfoot said.

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