Mayoral ally picked for CPS board, pushing out member who opposes city’s plan for new Chinatown school

Former Ald. Michael Scott, the son of a former Chicago Board of Education president, is being appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

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Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) shakes hands with an alderman after City Council members praised him before his resignation during a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, May 25, 2022.

Former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. has been appointed to the Chicago Board of Education.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is appointing former Ald. Michael Scott Jr. to serve on the Board of Education, filling the seat of current board member Dwayne Truss, who was surprised to learn he’s being pushed off the board.

The move comes after Truss indicated last month that he did not support the building of a new $120 million high school in the South Loop, supported by Lightfoot. At the last minute, the project was pulled from the capital budget after it looked like it may not be approved. Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez has said he wants the board to revisit the proposal.

In response to a question about whether Truss’ opinion on the high school contributed to the decision not to renew his term, a spokesperson for Lightfoot said, “Dwayne Truss’ term expired. Truss is looking forward to new opportunities and we wish him well.”

Scott is the son of former Board of Education President Michael Scott Sr. and one of three new appointees to the board Lightfoot announced in a news release Friday.

A staunch ally of Lightfoot’s, Scott Jr. previously led the City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development before abruptly resigning his seat in May to take a job at the film and television production company Cinespace. Lightfoot nominated his sister, Monique Scott, to replace him. He also previously worked for the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Board of Education.

Scott’s father served on the Board of Education from 2001 until his death in 2009. A political operative under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Scott was involved in land deals that fell through when Chicago’s Olympics bid failed. His death was ruled a suicide.

Truss, who Lightfoot appointed and who Scott is replacing, had expected to continue on the board, telling WBEZ that it was a surprise to him that his term was not being extended.

Lightfoot and Martinez want to build the new high school Truss opposes. They say the area needs a school for students in Chinatown, the South Loop and Bronzeville who currently are traveling far outside their communities.

But the proposal is especially controversial in a school district with many underutilized high schools nearby struggling to attract students. Also, the city wants to put the new school on CHA land on which subsidized housing was supposed to be built.

Truss was especially unhappy about the CHA land being used for the school. He said the school district did not do enough community engagement to take the land.

Truss is a West Side activist who spent many years fighting against closing schools and the opening of charter schools.

The exchange of Truss for Scott comes amid big changes for the Board of Education as it gears up to transition to an elected board beginning in 2025. Just last month, Lightfoot filled a seat that had been vacant for nine months with Far South Side activist Joyce Chapman.

Another board member who opposed the new high school, Luisiana Meléndez, also announced last month that she was stepping away from the board.

Along with Meléndez, businessman Lucino Sotelo announced he was leaving the board.

WBEZ has confirmed Lightfoot will appoint private attorney Sulema Medrano Novak and former CPS employee Paige Ponder to fill other vacancies expected after those two members announced they did not want to continue serving on the board.

Ponder worked in Chicago Public Schools from 2008 through 2011 under Daley. She led the office of student support and engagement and an office called Graduation Pathways. She has spent the last decade leading nonprofit organizations, including most recently One Million Degrees, which helps community college students.

Medrano Novak serves as a board member for the city’s Human Resources Board, according to the city’s website. The mayor’s office says she plans to resign from that position. She is a private trial attorney on commercial dispute and insurance claims cases and a first-generation college graduate. She previously worked as an Illinois state prosecutor and is “known for defending corporate clients in complex contract and consumer disputes.”

Sarah Karp covers education and Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government for WBEZ.

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