Chicago school board hopefuls to submit petitions for first time ever

The week-long process begins Monday, when hopefuls can start turning in to Chicago election officials the minimum 1,000 signatures needed from residents who support their candidacy in one of 10 districts. The races will shape up by the June 24 deadline.

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Members of the Grassroots Education Movement, made up of parents of Chicago Public Schools students and community leaders, protest at City Hall for an elected School Board.

Members of the Grassroots Education Movement, which is composed of parents of Chicago Public Schools students and community leaders, walk outside City Hall while demanding Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to support the establishment of an Elected Representative School Board, Wednesday morning, March 3, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

After more than a decade of lobbying, years of negotiation and months of sorting out the logistics, it’s finally time for candidates to file petitions to get on the ballot for Chicago’s first-ever school board elections.

The week-long process begins Monday, when hopefuls can start turning in to Chicago election officials the minimum 1,000 signatures needed from residents who support their candidacy in one of 10 districts. The races will shape up by the June 24 deadline.

Voters will choose 10 elected board members in the Nov. 5 election, then Mayor Brandon Johnson will appoint another 10 plus the board president. The new 21-member board will be inaugurated in January.

For now, campaign finance documents offer the clearest picture of these races. Some prospective candidates have been raising money since last year, dipping their toes in the race to get a head start. They’ve accumulated $205,805 among 35 candidates’ campaign committees.

Six candidates have already formed committees in District 10, which includes Hyde Park and a strip of the South Side along Lake Michigan and the Indiana border. They include a Grammy Award-winning artist, two former Chicago Public Schools administrators and another longtime public employee. That race is already shaping up to be an expensive one: The candidates have raised a total of $91,743, the most in any district.

Then there are districts where there’s apparently little early interest. Four of them have only two candidates with committees. Two districts have seen candidates raise no money, and a third has only $200.

And just because someone has formed a campaign committee doesn’t mean they’ll submit enough signatures to end up on the ballot. A candidate who formed a campaign committee in April already suspended their campaign last week in District 7 — spanning from parts of the South Loop and Chinatown southwest through Little Village, Brighton Park and Archer Heights towards Midway.

So what happens if no candidates make the ballot in a district and nobody is elected there in November?

The “short story is, the Chicago School Board would fill the elected office vacancy with a majority vote,” said Max Bever, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections.

But the chances of the new elected board having to vote to fill a vacancy are slim to none. After all, a write-in candidate could win with one single vote if there are no certified names on the ballot. In that case, anyone could organize an impromptu write-in campaign to get on the board.

It also remains a possibility that several hopefuls will submit signatures without having first formed campaign committees, growing the number of candidates in districts where it appears few are interested so far. That’s because state law only requires someone to register a committee if they’ve raised $5,000 or more for their campaign.

Chicago Board of Elections staff will count the minimum 1,000 notarized signatures — and in this election a maximum of 3,000 — plus check for other documents like a disclosure of economic interests. Candidates can also ask to be placed into a lottery for the first ballot position.

But as with most Chicago elections, petition challenges could delay the setting of the ballot. Those can be filed by July 1, asking the Chicago Board of Elections to review the validity of the signatures a candidate collected. The challenge process, if there are any, could take well into August, even up until the Aug. 29 ballot certification deadline.

Jesus Ayala Jr., who formed a committee in April to run in District 7, said he tried circulating an agreement among candidates to not challenge each others’ signatures. But only two of his counterparts have expressed interest. Ayala said he has surpassed the 1,000 signatures he needs and will be filing this week.

“The intent of this is so we can keep the conversation around education,” Ayala said. “[It] doesn’t make sense for this to be about who has more legal resources, who has more legal savvy. I don’t intend to challenge anyone. … The process is hard enough, and anyone who’s willing to show up for the city should have a fair chance at the ballot.”

Two of the mayor’s seven current appointed school board members — along with City Council Education Committee Chair Ald. Jeannette Taylor (20th) and CPS staff — are hosting an online informational session Monday evening to “educate stakeholders on the logistics of the transition to an elected school board, the legal requirements of board members, the role of the board and the duties and responsibilities of board members.”

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