This week, Chicago Public School parents, neighbors and school staffers will elect Local School Council members from more than 5,000 candidates.
But more than half of the schools will have at least one empty seat after votes have been cast. Some 290 CPS schools, or 57 percent, don’t have enough candidates to fill the 12 positions on a typical LSC — 6 parents, 2 community members, 2 teachers, 1 staffer who isn’t a teacher — plus the principal.
And 241 of those schools, about 47 percent total, couldn’t attract enough parents to run for the council that since 1989 is tasked with hiring and evaluating principals, and approving a school’s budget and expenditures.
It’s not the first time schools have wanted for candidates.
CPS said it recruited potential members by hanging signs at schools and in City Hall, putting ads on 10 billboards citywide and in community newspapers, and presenting at community events, spokesman Michael Passman said. Officials even extended the nominating period another week to entice more folks to run.
“LSCs empower parents, teachers and community members to guide key school policy decisions and accelerate academic progress,” Passman said, “and we strongly encourage community members to take advantage of these unique and impactful roles.”
That power has been somewhat curtailed in recent years, said the parent group, Raise Your Hand.
“We lost some of our authority when we had budget cuts mid-year,” Jennie Biggs said. “It didn’t matter if you approved it or not, you had it taken from you. And with the new principal evaluations, 50 percent of it comes from CPS now, with data and metrics. So I think some people are a little frustrated at the weakening of the Local School Council.”
Still, the role the groups play matters for students — especially with an appointed school board that answers to the mayor, Biggs continued.
“It’s the only bit of democracy we have in Chicago Public Schools at the moment,” she said. “You really do have a hand in the bigger issues, like the budget and your school improvement plan and the principal, but you also have a hand in the smaller things that build and strengthen your community” like whether to have uniforms.
Elementary schools vote on Wednesday and high schools on Thursday, coinciding with report card pick-up days to make voting as convenient as possible for families.
Parents and members of each school’s community vote for the parent and community reps, and school staff vote for teacher and non-teaching candidates. High schools also choose a student member who serves a one-year term. The rest of the council members are signing up for a two-year stint starting July 1. Initial results will be announced after the voting ends.
On June 27, the school board will approve people to fill remaining vacancies for the elected LSCs — names nominated by existing members. They’ll also vote on everyone who’ll constitute the appointed LSCs at a handful of schools as well as members of Boards of Governors at military schools. Two advocates also sit on those councils, plus a JROTC instructor at the military schools.
On the flip side, a handful of schools also have competitive races that sometimes indicate internal dissent. King College Prep High School, for example, has six people vying for the two open community member seats, the result of a tussle at the school over the principal, as parents recently told the school board.
At the merging Jenner Elementary and Ogden International schools, 17 parents want to fill six openings. At South Loop Elementary, 11 parents are competing for six spots and seven community members for two. South Loop will add children from nearby National Teachers Academy, about to be closed over parents’ objections, to make room for a high school.