Oversight of Chicago’s public schools could soon see its most significant shift in decades after a Thursday morning meeting between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a group of legislators who passed a bill creating an elected Chicago school board.
Setting up a major check on mayoral power over city schools, the measure is now likely to head to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk “in the coming days.”
“This is obviously something that we’ve never done before,” said state Rep. Kam Buckner, one of the Chicago Democrats who met with Lightfoot. “This is brand new, and new things are scary.”
State Rep. Delia Ramirez said in a tweet that she and the small group of legislators met with the mayor Thursday morning to discuss a “trailer” bill, or follow-up legislation, related to the elected school board issue. The additional measures may be taken up during the General Assembly’s fall veto session.
“As I have done for the last two years, I will continue to work with all stakeholders to address issues as we transition to a fully elected board,” the Northwest Side Democrat tweeted. “My bill with Senator [Robert] Martwick to create a fully elected school board, will be sent to the Governor’s desk in the coming days.”
A spokesperson for Lightfoot said in a statement, “We were committed to continued negotiations and took some important steps today in a very productive and robust discussion that will continue.”
Neither the spokesperson nor Ramirez responded to requests for further information on the meeting or what the follow-up legislation might entail.
Buckner said the meeting was the start of conversations around follow-up legislation.
While the South Side Democrat didn’t want to get into the specifics of what was said in the room, he described the meeting as being in “good faith” and “cordial” and said he walked away feeling “optimistic” about making sure the board works for the city’s families.
There’s no date currently on the books for the next meeting, but Buckner said he expects there to be a “predictable cadence” to future talks.
“I do think we can work to make sure that once this school board is stood up that we’ve done all we can to make it the most effective that it can be,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine anything said in the Thursday meeting could have changed Lightfoot’s mind.
The mayor has steadfastly opposed the elected school board bill as “unwieldy,” declaring “what happened in Springfield had nothing to do with democracy.”
In the days just before the bill passed, Lightfoot also ridiculed the prospect of follow-up legislation to address issues such as how undocumented parents could vote.
“We’re gonna vote on a bill that disenfranchises them and then say, ‘We’ll take care of it on a trailer bill?’” Lightfoot said at the time. “Too little, too late. If you know that the bill is flawed, wait. Fix it.”
Shortly after her bill passed the House on June 16, Ramirez put a brick on it, filing a motion to reconsider — a strategic move that would keep the legislation in the House unless, or until, that motion is addressed.
That motion remains as of Thursday afternoon, according to the General Assembly’s website.
Pritzker has said he’ll sign the legislation creating a 21-member board.
Once signed, the legislation mandates the first elected members would run in the November 2024 general election for a four-year term. Though the mayor would continue picking the board president, the City Council would need to confirm that pick.
The mayor currently appoints a seven-member board, including the president, without any approval process.
Under the pending law, after two years, the seats of the board president and the 10 appointees would also become elected ones in January 2027 through a November 2026 election. Those members would also serve four-year terms.
The city would initially be divided into 10 districts for the 2024 school board elections, then expand to 20 districts for the 2026 ballot. That map would need to be drawn by February 2022.
All elected board members would run in a particular district except the board president, who would run at large. The vice president would be a member elected by the rest of the board.
The bill also sets a moratorium on school closings, consolidations or phase-outs until the new board members take office in early 2025, and it would move appointment of the Chicago Public Schools inspector general from the mayor’s purview to the elected board.