CPS parents, organizers demand elected school board

Community members are urging Mayor Lori Lightfoot to honor her campaign promise to support an elected board to oversee Chicago Public Schools.

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Members of the Grassroots Education Movement, which is composed of parents of Chicago Public Schools students and community leaders, outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, March 3, 2021.

Members of the Grassroots Education Movement, which is made up of parents of Chicago Public Schools students and community leaders, demanded Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to support the establishment of an Elected Representative School Board outside City Hall, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Dozens of community organizers called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to support an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools at a rally Wednesday outside City Hall where they chanted, “Who has the power? We have the power!”

The mayor recently made her opposition known to a bill that would have created an elected board, meaning parents of CPS students and other Chicago residents remain unable to vote directly on who sits on the board of education, which is currently appointed by the mayor. The so-called Elected Representative School Board legislation, which passed the Illinois House, died at the end of January’s lame-duck session in Springfield after senate leaders did not call it for a vote.

During her mayoral run, Lightfoot campaigned on promises to support legislation creating an elected board. Several speakers at Wednesday’s rally called the mayor’s lack of action on the topic disingenuous.

At a Wednesday news conference, Lightfoot said she believes it’s important to ensure parents are heard. Recent negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union over school reopenings, she said, have underscored the outcries from parents and community members that they do not have enough of a voice in the governance of CPS. Parents do sit on local school councils at individual schools, but those panels do not influence citywide school policy.

She said the city is in the process of listening to stakeholders about what that governance should look like. She has said the current legislation, which would increase the board size to 21 members, would be unwieldy and campaigns would be flooded with special-interest influence. She also believes the schools, which reopened Monday for 37,000 students, would have never reopened with an elected board like ones in other cities.

“We can’t move forward with any kind of new governance structure that doesn’t genuinely provide a pathway for parents to have a seat at the table,” Lightfoot said.

Jitu Brown, national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which pushes for research-based school improvements, said he’s fought for an elected board since 2006. A CPS parent, he said the current system means parents have no way to hold the board accountable when they sign off on school closings and other policies.

Brown said he chose not to send his child to the neighborhood school just two blocks away from his home because it is under resourced. Instead, his 12-year-old son attends a CPS school in Morgan Park — more than a half-hour drive from their home in Austin on the West Side.

“In this system, the neighborhood schools have been so starved and so disinvested in that you have to basically hunt for a school,” he said.

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