Austin voters already know who will represent them in the Illinois General Assembly, but they’ll get to weigh in Tuesday on how the board that oversees the state’s biggest school district should be selected.
State Reps. Camille Lilly (D-78) and La Shawn K. Ford (D-8) face no opposition on Tuesday’s ballot, and neither does state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D- 4th), so voters hoping to help decide a local issue should look for this question when they vote: Should Chicago have an elected school board?
It appears on ballots in about 325 precincts across Chicago, including all but one precinct in the 24th Ward. Residents in other Austin wards will not see the question appear as much; it will appear in seven precincts in the 28th ward, six precincts in the 27th ward and will not appear at all in the 37th ward, according to a document from the Chicago Board of Elections.
Meetings were held on the West Side over the last month to educate voters about the issue. Since the mid-1990s, Chicago’s mayor has appointed the Chicago Board of Education under state law; it’s the only board – out of more than 800 statewide – chosen this way.
The question is non-binding, meaning it won’t actually change state law. Rather, it will help community organizers and state lawmakers gauge how many Chicagoans believe the CPS board should be elected rather than appointed.
At town hall meetings held Oct. 2, 8 and 29, Rep. Ford discussed legislation he’s pushing that would create a task force to study whether Chicago needs an elected school board like the rest of the state’s local school boards.
“Whether or not we have an elected school board, it’s important to look in to it,” Ford said at the Oct. 2 meeting in Austin. “I don’t see (the bill) as an attack, and hopefully, Chicago Public Schools doesn’t.”
CPS officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
But CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus sent an e-mail in response to a previously published AustinTalks story, writing, “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.”
Dwayne Truss, an Austin resident and key player in the campaign to get the non-binding referendum on Tuesday’s ballot, said he and other organizers hope to see 60 percent of people vote “yes” for an elected school board. This level of support would help the issue gain the attention of the state legislature, which has the power to change the law.
Truss and others have been going door to door attaching fliers and door hangers to homes in communities like Austin that will see the question on their local ballots.
“We haven’t run across anyone that we’ve talked to in the community so far that said they will vote ‘no,’” Truss said.
At the Oct. 2 meeting, Truss said the school board is made up of “billionaires” who are out of touch with Chicago neighborhoods.
“These people are making decisions, but they don’t know how it is in the communities,” he said last month.
Truss said electing officials would allow people to choose community members they think would make a difference in the city’s public schools.
The school board is not serving “the needs of poor people,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, which favors having an elected school board.
He said schools are still not receiving necessary resources, such as social workers, nurses and academic tools, and classrooms are overcrowded — issues that parents and community leaders have long argued as needing attention.
“We want resources in place for our children so they can experience the education that the children of the elite are experiencing,” Johnson said.
“We support democracy. That’s essentially how we govern things within our framework (at CTU), and that’s what makes America great,” Johnson said. “Anyone that speaks against that … they’re in the wrong place.”