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Daley would nix CPS local school councils for larger neighborhood councils

Mayoral candidate Bill Daley is interviewed by reporter Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times newsroom Friday, October 26, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Bill Daley. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

If elected mayor, candidate Bill Daley would eliminate the 500-plus elected groups of parents, teachers and neighbors who oversee public school budgets and principals in Chicago and consolidate their power into neighborhood-based councils that could make decisions for up to 12 schools each.

Elected Neighborhood School Councils would replace the Local School Councils, codified in Chicago under state law since 1988, just before Daley’s older brother, Richard, began his first of six terms as mayor.

“How do you get greater participation from the bottom up in our system?” Bill Daley said by telephone Wednesday. “Right now the LSCs, those that have them — and, as you know, there’s many schools that don’t have … an active LSC — so you would, you would begin to look, not just, ‘Here’s my school, all I care about is my school, and therefore I’m fighting (for) my school,’ but looking in a broader context of a neighborhood, community-wide.”

LSC members are elected every two years to approve school budgets, evaluate whether principals should stay or go and draft school improvement plans. Comprised of parents, teachers, school staff and community members, they serve as volunteers. Eliminating them likely would require a change to state law.

His proposal would mean that positions up for a vote at Chicago Public Schools’ 500+ schools at present could shrink from more than 6,000 to more like 600 — though not all schools can muster a full council. And how Neighborhood School Councils would interact or overlap with CPS’ nine existing Community Action Councils, already tasked with developing strategic plans in each part of the city, isn’t yet clear. Another crucial detail to be determined: how those community lines would be drawn.

Daley also would convert individual school attendance boundaries into 50 to 60 community-wide zones that each would contain open-enrollment, magnet and privately-managed charter schools. Families living in each zone would have preferred admission to those schools, he said.

Currently, every household in Chicago is zoned to a specific school where children are guaranteed admission, though many families choose to attend a different school for a variety of reasons, which include stronger academics than their neighborhood school, safety considerations or a specific focus of study.

Daley plans to discuss his latest schools proposal Thursday morning outside Ogden International School, now the three-campus site of a unique merger proposed not by CPS officials, but by folks from the former Jenner Elementary, which was underenrolled, and Ogden, which was overcrowded.

He held up that merger as example of how he’d like school councils to guide the direction of area schools “because going forward, we’ve got to begin to address some of our issues at a more, at a broader sense than just my school alone.”

Earlier this week, Daley, a former banker and U.S. Commerce Secretary, said he’d also consolidate the governing boards of CPS and City Colleges of Chicago. He also has said he opposed an elected school board, preferring to change the currently appointed one into one where the mayor “has skin in the game” by appointing four members while the school councils choose the other three.

Lori Lightfoot, one of the more than a dozen challengers vying to lead the city after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, supports a fully elected school board.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time talking to parents, teachers and stakeholders, and not once has an idea like this come up,” Lightfoot said. “From all of these conversations and from my own experience as a public school kid, I know we need to start by welcoming parents, teachers and stakeholders to the table. I support maintaining local school councils to give parents and stakeholders a voice in their schools.”