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Lightfoot makes final argument against elected board to run Chicago Public Schools

Lightfoot has called the proposed 21-member elected school board is “unwieldy.” On Monday, she argued members would free to set their own salaries and hire their own staffs, creating a “whole new set of bureaucracy.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown on Monday introducing former Elgin schools superintendent José Torres as the interim CEO for Chicago Public Schools, is continuing to make her case against a bill being considered in Springfield that eventually put in place a fully-elected 21-member board to run the state’s largest school system.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown on Monday introducing former Elgin schools superintendent José Torres as the interim CEO for Chicago Public Schools, is continuing to make her case against a bill being considered in Springfield that eventually put in place a fully-elected 21-member board to run the state’s largest school system.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Facing almost certain defeat, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday threw the kitchen sink of arguments against a proposed 21-member elected board to run Chicago Public Schools — a plan favored by the Illinois General Assembly.

The mayor’s arguments began with the hundreds of millions of dollars Chicago taxpayers contribute each year to support CPS and the pensions of non-teacher school employees.

Her bill of particulars continued with the cost of school board races and the absence of caps on campaign financing that sent the cost of just one seat on Los Angeles’ elected school board over the $1 million mark.

The mayor also argued a “citizenship test” would disenfranchise undocumented Chicagoans and that the South and West sides that have been hemorrhaging population would get the shaft, with minimal representation.

“We fought too long and too hard over the course of many, many years to make sure that we’re providing real supports for people who have come to the city who want to raise their families, do the right thing, contribute to our tax base. Yet, we’re gonna vote on a bill that disenfranchises them and then say, ‘We’ll take care of it on a trailer bill?’” said Lightfoot, her voice rising as she referenced plans to pass followup legislation to address issues like how undocumented parents could vote, among other issues.

“Too little, too late. If you know that the bill is flawed, wait. Fix it.”

Lightfoot has for months argued the proposed 21-member elected school board that has passed the Illinois Senate and is poised for approval in the Illinois House on Wednesday is “unwieldy.”

On Monday, she proclaimed the 21 members would be free to set their own salaries and hire their own staffs, creating a “whole new set of bureaucracy.”

“That money should be poured back into the school system to help our kids” after a year of isolation as they largely learned remotely with limited social connection, she said.

“Our children are hurting. Learning loss is real. Achievement gaps are real,” Lightfoot added. “We need to focus like a laser beam on providing our children with the safest, most robust education environment that can be. If we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about the wrong things.”

None of the mayor’s arguments were new. And none are expected to change the outcome of Wednesday’s vote.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch has predicted the bill would be approved in its current form, without the massive re-write Lightfoot has demanded.

The mayor’s argument about the South and West sides being shortchanged also has been disputed by experts from other cities who have argued that the larger the board, the better the chances that voters in low-population pockets of the city will be empowered.

Lightfoot is well aware her final argument before the vote is unlikely to spare her from what will almost certainly be an embarrassing and bitter political defeat.

That didn’t stop her from trying.

“This is not about my power or some future mayor’s power,” she said.

“A lot of the conversation that has been had over the course of this last legislative session is about dividing up the spoils of CPS. It’s about power. It’s about paying back somebody’s political patron. But it’s not been centered around our children. That’s telling. But it’s also frightening.”