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Daley accused of trying to sink Harold Washington’s most important school reform

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union on Thursday accused mayoral candidate Bill Daley of trying to “kill off” the last and most important of former Mayor Harold Washington’s school reforms.

“The Daley machine has worked for decades to undermine Harold’s legacy, and now we see the former mayor’s brother trying to kill off the last vestiges of Harold’s commitment to grassroots democracy,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey.

Sharkey lambasted Daley’s proposal to replace local school councils that make spending and hiring decisions for one school with neighborhood-based councils that could make decisions for up to a dozen schools apiece.

“This is a terrible idea at a time when we need more democracy, accountability and transparency in our schools, not less,” Sharkey, whose union has endorsed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, was quoted as saying in a statement.

“This proposal shows complete contempt for parents, educators and neighborhood residents, and is cut from the same cloth as the autocratic control exercised by the last two mayors, to the enormous detriment of our neighborhood public schools and the Black and Latinx neighborhoods they anchor.”

To get “greater participation from the bottom up,” Daley wants to replace local school councils empowered by state law shortly before his brother’s first term as mayor with elected neighborhood school councils.

If the Illinois General Assembly signs off on the change, the power 500-plus elected groups of parents, teachers and neighbors now have to oversee public school budgets and principals would be consolidated into neighborhood-based councils that could make decisions for as many as dozen schools each.

The number of elected positions at more than 500 Chicago Public Schools would be dramatically reduced — from more than 6,000 to more like 600 — though not all schools can muster a full council.

The CTU also took aim at mayoral candidate Gery Chico’s plan to expand, what the union called Chicago’s “separate and unequal public school system” by creating eight new selective enrollment high schools — four by building new schools, four by re-purposing half-empty high schools –– to reverse an exodus that has left Chicago Public Schools with 150,000 more seats than students.

“Chico is proposing to expand the educational apartheid that has robbed Black and Latinx families of well-funded neighborhood public schools, instead of proposing progressive sources of revenue to ensure that EVERY school community has the resources students need,” Sharkey wrote, demanding “well-resourced public schools in under-served neighborhoods.”

“No child should have to travel for an hour or more to get to school. Every parent wants to get off the merry-go-round of trying to maneuver their child into a school that has the academic programs, school nurses, extracurricular offerings and wrap-around supports their children deserve. Chico’s proposal simply reinforces the separate and unequal school district we have today.”

Last month, Preckwinkle rolled out an education agenda that includes a “fully-elected” school board, a freeze on new charter schools and public school closings for the four years until that board is seated and “real progressive revenue” to bolster neighborhood schools.

Preckwinkle broke with the CTU on only one issue: She declared her opposition to a so-called “LaSalle Street tax” now prohibited by state and federal law amid concern that it would drive the financial exchanges out of Chicago.

The following day, the CTU threw its formidable endorsement behind Preckwinkle.

Four years ago, Preckwinkle was the CTU’s first choice to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

When Preckwinkle took a pass, then CTU-President Karen Lewis stepped up to fill the void, only to drop out after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

The CTU’s third-choice, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, managed to force Emanuel into a runoff but fell short.

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, argued that Daley’s plan to eliminate LSC’s would be a “serious step backwards.”

“Chicago schools have real problems that need to be addressed and Daley’s proposal does not begin to address them,” Vallas said in a statement.

“His plan would dramatically reduce parent and community representation and participation in their local schools at a time when their input and support is most needed.”

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza’s campaign took more general aim at Daley’s latest campaign commercial — dubbed “Neighborhoods First” —that focuses on crime, taxes and Emanuel’s downtown-centric development efforts.

“This is nothing more than an attempt by Daley to distance himself from a career full of attacks on working families while he fought for the disastrous policies that have forced Chicago to the brink of a fiscal crisis,” Mendoza’s spokesman Christian Slater said in a statement.

“From advocating for the failed parking meter deal to standing with Bruce Rauner to criticizing Obamacare, Bill Daley is the wrong candidate at the wrong time for Chicago…a status quo politician running on pandering policies and empty promises.”