Almost 90 percent of voters say Chicago should have an elected school board

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Almost 87 percent of Chicagoans in 327 precincts across the city voted “yes” Tuesday for an elected — instead of appointed — school board.

The non-binding question will not change city law; only the Illinois General Assembly can decide whether the Chicago’s seven-member Board of Education should be elected rather than appointed.

But the 86.6 percent of affirmative votes will help community activists persuade the Illinois Senate and House that Chicago needs an elected school board, said Valerie Leonard, an organizer for the North Lawndale Alliance.

Leonard said groups like PACE and North Lawndale Alliance want to meet with state Rep. Art Turner (D-9th) to gain his support.

“On his web site, he’s quoted as saying … he wants to make sure he’s representing his constituency,” Leonard said. “We’re meeting with him to demonstrate that people in his district overwhelmingly support an elected school board.”

Community groups under the coalition called Communities Organized for Democracy in Education collected signatures on petitions from residents as early as May to get the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

CPS officials did not respond to requests for comment on this story. But in an AustinTalks story posted last month, press secretary Marielle Sainvilus said electing officials would add politics to the already politics-heavy board.

“The decisions of our board members are based on what’s in the best interest of students,” Sainvilus said in an e-mail.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said the next logical step would be for all Chicagoans to vote on the issue.

“I believe the election results from the 327 precincts begged the question that we should have this on a city-wide referendum,” Munoz said.

Munoz said he has wanted an elected school board for “some time now” because it would represent “transparency, accountability and democracy.”

Voters may have voted “yes” to the question because of anger over the recent teachers’ strike, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) told the Chicago Sun-Times story.

None of Austin’s four Chicago City Council members — Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Ald. Jason Ervin(28th) and Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) — were available for comment.

Leonard said the fight to change the appointment system back to an elected board has been going on for years. The legislature changed the law giving the Chicago mayor the power to appoint all seven board members in the 1990s; it’s the only school board out of more than 800 statewide that’s not elected.

Multiple community organizers met last month to discuss the pros and cons of an elected school board, but the dominating opinion was that appointed board members are out of touch with Chicago communities and don’t understand what CPS students need.

At the meeting, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-8) unveiled a bill that if approved by the legislature, would establish a task force to study whether Chicago should have an elected school board. While Ford is neutral to the idea, he said CPS needs change in general.

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

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