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Senate leader: Lightfoot wants to do her homework on elected school board bill

Illinois House Rep. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, speaks outside the Thompson Center Monday during a rally urging passage of a measure that would create an elected school board to oversee Chicago Public Schools. | Stefano Esposito/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot has asked Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to hold a measure that would create an elected school board to give her more time to review it, Cullerton’s office said on Monday as parents and incoming Chicago aldermen urged its passage at a Chicago rally.

“Chicagoans have known this was our democratic right for more than 10 years,” said Alderman-elect Daniel La Spata (1st), speaking at the rally outside the Thompson Center. “But we’re still waiting. I’ve gotten married, I’ve bought a house, I’ve become an alderman. How is it we are still waiting?”

The measure passed out of the Illinois House in April, but the bill has stalled on the Senate side. The activists are concerned the bill will die when the legislative session ends May 31.

This is certainly not the first time legislators have tried to pass legislation to get Chicago an elected school board. Cullerton supported a measure in 2017, but the House didn’t act on it. State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, re-filed the legislation this year.

Two years ago, the Senate’s version reduced the size of the board and created a Chicago panel to draw the boundary maps for board seats, rather than lawmakers, amidst concerns over who had that authority. The Senate adopted those changes, but the measure died in the Illinois House when lawmakers did not act on it.

On the campaign trail, Lightfoot voiced her approval for an elected school board — but stressed the devil would be in the details, including the number of board members, how they’d be elected and how elections would be funded.

In an interview with WBEZ, Lightfoot said she was familiar with Martwick’s bill, but did not think a board of 20 members and a president was a good idea.

Martwick told the gathering Monday: “With 20 of them, now you have an opportunity for every group to be represented at the table, and you put more of an emphasis on grassroots organizing and you limit the influence of outside money. This structure will work. … It has been heavily vetted over the course of the last 3 1/2 years by the House of Representatives and it has passed three times with overwhelming majorities.”

The activists urged Lightfoot to push for an elected school board and for Cullerton to get the bill moving in the Senate. But John Patterson, Cullerton’s spokesman, confirmed that Lightfoot asked the Senate president to hold the measure so she could look into the issue.

Under Martwick’s proposal, the board would be comprised of 20 members elected in individual districts from around the city, compared to the seven appointed members currently on the Chicago Board of Education. And a board president would be elected citywide.

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