For the second time in two years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies have used their political muscle to keep off the ballot a referendum asking Chicago voters whether they favor a switch to an elected school board.
Instead, the City Council’s Finance Committee decided Monday to ask March 18 primary voters whether:
♦ They favor a cab fare hike.
♦ The Illinois General Assembly should ban high-capacity magazines.
♦ Gun owners should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in restaurants.
Since only three referenda can be placed on the ballot, that guarantees there’s no room for the elected school board question.
“They’re afraid to face public opinion,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
“Clearly the people of this city want an elected school board,” he said. “This administration does not want an elected school board. They want to keep control and corporate control over our schools.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th) candidly acknowledged the decision to crowd out the elected school board question.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with giving up power. . . . The concern is that it’s a blind referendum that doesn’t tell you anything about what you would be creating,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor noted that aldermen toyed with the idea of putting an elected school board referendum on the ballot during the 1980s, only to drop the idea.
“It was soundly rejected after it became clear to us the problems it would create by way of minority representation, trying to draw boundaries and creating a whole new expensive infrastructure,” said O’Connor, former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee.
“An elected school board would be a complete reversal of where the country is going. The trend in major cities is to put the burden of success on the mayor because there is one office that’s accountable. If you spread it out among members, how do you ever determine who is accountable?”
Chicago has the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board. Instead, the board is composed of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.
Only the Legislature could make the switch to an elected school board. But an overwhelming vote in a citywide referendum would give momentum to the grass-roots movement by parents groups angered by painful budget cuts, nearly 50 school closings and three straight years of up-to-the-limit property tax hikes by Emanuel’s handpicked board.