Chicagoans meet in Austin to discuss if CPS should have an elected board

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Chicago has only appointed – never elected – members on to the city’s Board of Education, but residents at some 325 precincts across the city can now express their opinions on the matter during the Nov. 6 election.

Community leaders, former teachers and two state representatives gathered to dissect the pros and cons of an elected school board Tuesday at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.

Similar meetings will be held later this month in West Garfield Park Oct. 8 and North Lawndale Oct. 28.

About 15,000 people in 26 wards signed a petition to put this question on ballots: should CPS have an elected school board?

Signatures were collected by community groups, including Raise Your Hand, Lawndale Neighborhood Alliance and Chicago Community Coalition for an Elected School Board.

State legislators make the ultimate decision on how to choose board members. Dwayne Truss, an organizer for the meeting, said he hopes at least 60 percent of voters mark “yes”— a higher percentage may help convince lawmakers to support an elected school board.

Truss, Austin resident and vice president of Raise Your Hand, playfully called the CPS board “the Board of Miseducation” but was serious when he said current members are out of touch with CPS students’ needs.

“Do you think [CPS board member] Penny Pritzker can relate to a student from a poor neighborhood?” Truss asked during an interview.

Pritzker comes from a wealthy and well-known family. Truss added that most of the other seven board members are not connected with Chicago neighborhoods.

Truss said he began his fight for an elected CPS board when members voted to shut down Austin High School in 2004. Students were shifted to six other high schools in gang-ridden areas, Truss said, and in some cases, students’ safety was compromised.

“If you’re scared to go to school, you may not go to school,” Truss said.

A panel discussion was held at Tuesday’s meeting, featuring Wendy Katten, director of Raise Your Hand; Rosita Chatonda, founder of Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators; and Stacy Davis Gates, legislative coordinator for Chicago Teachers Union.

Katten said there is “no democracy in policy” in CPS, and current board members are ignoring schools that need the most change.

“There is no music education, no P.E., and in some cases, there have been 10-minute lunches,” she said during the panel discussion.

Katten added she cannot handle the overwhelming phone calls from angry parents anymore — she said there are too many.

Chatonda said the board needs to “come from the people.” But Katten said that even a board devised from community members could create problems, such as bias created from a candidate’s endorser.

“What if well-funded corporations put money toward a candidate, like a hedge fund manager from another state?” she asked in an interview. “It is a concern.”

Other community leaders also blamed the school board for deteriorated schools, including former elementary school teacher Marry Morris, who wants an elected school board.

“Board members would be accountable to people,” Morris said in an interview. “It would cut out the nonsense that’s going on right now.”

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford — joined by state Rep. Camille Lilly in the audience — said it’s necessary to do some research on the board structure before making a decision to elect or appoint members. He said his proposed bill, HB 5727, would create a task force to find an optimal process.

“Whether or not we have an elected school board, it’s important to look in to it,” Ford said.

But beyond the pros and cons of an elected school board, Ford said something needs to change.

“That’s why we’re losing our children to the streets — because there’s something wrong with Chicago Public Schools,” Ford said.

The next meeting will be held Oct. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Legler Library, 115 South Pulaski Rd. And an Oct. 29 meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at Carey Tercentenary AMEC, 1448 South Homan Ave.

2 thoughts on “Chicagoans meet in Austin to discuss if CPS should have an elected board

  1. AustinTalks received the following comment from Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus:

    “There’s already too much politics in our school system and what it doesn’t need is more. The decisions of our board members are based on what’s in the best interest of students.”

  2. CPS was invited to participate in the forums and did not respond to letters, emails, phone calls or personal invitations.

    Unfortunately, the current board structure, composition and selection process makes it impossible to eliminate politics from the Board of Education. Because the Mayor has sole appointment power over the Board of Education, its President and top managers, it is not surprising that a number of them have had some relationship to his political campaign. What we have observed is a body that is relatively homogeneous and insular in its composition and ideology, with very little room or tolerance for ideas that come from rank and file parents and students. We also see what appears to be a rubber stamp body with very little evidence of independence in their thinking. This board is comprised of business leaders who have considerable influence, all the way up to the White House and beyond. Yet, they refuse to advocate for TIF reform policies that will free up surplus TIF funds and return them to the cash strapped CPS. They vote to raise taxes to the highest limits, while paying lobbyists to advocate for reductions in their own taxes, or by investing in companies that receive TIF funding. Some members sit on boards of organizations that lobby for greater funding for charters, which comes at the expense of traditional schools. They promulgate policies that favor charters and allow neighborhood schools in African American communities to die on the vine. A responsible board would value the diversity of school offerings and create a system of harmony among the different types of schools, rather than pit them against one another. Clearly, this is not in the best interests of the tax payers or the students.

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