The creation of a wholly elected Chicago School Board, with no one person at the helm, would be a huge mistake in a school system that, for all its financial difficulties, has made academic strides in recent years.
When it comes to public schools in Chicago, the buck stops with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He appoints the seven-member board, and so he ultimately is responsible for the school system’s management. He owns the job in a way that no elected board ever would.
An ill-advised proposal in Springfield would do away with the appointed board and split the city into 20 districts, each of which would elect a school board member. Candidates for board president would run citywide.
That sounds more democratic, but we’ve been there before and it did not work. In 1995, Chicago switched to an appointed board precisely because the system begged for stronger direction. Academic performance was poor and relations with the Chicago Teachers Union were no less contentious.
In the last decade, the city’s schools have made honest progress. Math and reading scores have climbed steadily. School expulsions are down. More kids are graduating from high school. More are going on to college. The school system’s finances are a wreck, the result in part of mismanagement that goes back a half century but there is no denying kids today are getting a better education.
When it comes to persuading Springfield to free up more money for Chicago schools, a savvy mayor is sure to be more successful than any appointed board. Moreover, you can bet board elections would suffer from low voter turnout, with the teachers’ union and the business community doing their best to buy the board. Los Angeles, unlike most big cities, has an elected school board, and millions of dollars pour into every election.
Our long-standing preference is for a hybrid board. The mayor would appoint a majority of members, remaining firmly in charge, but two or three members would be elected to encourage more independent thinking.
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