As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
'Wall of indifference' deters LSC candidates
In March, I read a Chicago Tribune article about the shortage of local school council candidates. Thinking I might run for community representative, I called two nearby high schools to see in which attendance area I lived. At the first school, I was referred to an office worker who cut me off saying, "The election is April 22."
I explained that I just wanted to determine if I was in the school's attendance area. "Why do you want to know? Who is this?"
After several more exchanges, she finally asked for my address. I gave it. Without hesitation, she told me I was in another attendance area and hung up.
I got a similar run-around from the second school, but finally reached someone reportedly in charge of the election. He confirmed that I was in their attendance area. At the school office, I registered as a candidate. A woman inspected my forms and handed me a receipt.
Eager to prepare, I decided to contact current parent or teacher LSC members, against whom I would not be running, to learn more about the school. When I called the school to get their names, the woman who answered insisted that she could not release that information. She suggested I call the area office. They, of course, told me that I would have to contact the school.
I then called the Office of Community Relations, where a pleasant man offered to fax the list of names. I asked if he might also tell the school to provide such information, but this was clearly more than he was willing to do. I attempted to reach a few council members, who generally wouldn't return my calls and in one case, refused to speak with me, screaming, "How did you get my number?"
But I was undeterred. "This," I thought, "is the reason I'm running."
The next day I got a letter with the date of the school's candidates' forum. It was scheduled on Passover and four days past the deadline CPS set. I called the school to object, and after fruitless conversations with office staff and the man "in charge" of the elections, I left a message for the principal. The next day I left two. The next, three.
After four days, the principal left a voicemail but not regarding my messages. Instead, she said: "Mr. Rothstein, I'm afraid you've been disqualified. You're not in our attendance area." I was in the other school's attendance area after all.
I reached the principal late that afternoon. I told her about my calls to both schools and about having my forms checked in person. "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think there's anything we can do," she said, and added that the man who I was told was in charge of the election was "just an aide" and that "he wouldn't know anything about attendance areas."
I told her that I still wanted to discuss why the forum was scheduled for Passover, which could prevent participation by Jewish candidates, parents and community members. There was a long pause. "Well, that's unfortunate," she said. Our conversation didn't get much further.
I again contacted the man from community relations. Regarding my disqualification, he could help. Apparently, schools often misinform candidates about attendance areas, and we could transfer my candidacy to the other high school. As for the candidates' forum, he confirmed that schools were required to adhere to the CPS schedule, but he didn't think anyone enforced it.
After my ordeal, I hesitated to transfer to a new ballot but decided to give it a shot. My candidacy was transferred on a Monday; the forum was scheduled for the next evening. Out of 12 candidates, two of us showed up. We nearly outnumbered the spectators. Absurdly, we spoke through loudspeakers. Our speeches echoed through hundreds of empty seats.
Afterwards, I stayed for an LSC meeting. I was impressed. These were serious people trying to do a good job despite enormous difficulties. This would be a team to join.
In the end, I didn't win, but I don't regret running. However, few people I know can believe that I persevered. Indeed, I know other candidates facing similar challenges who withdrew rather than beat their heads against a wall of indifference.
I don't believe LSCs are beyond repair. If I did, I wouldn't run. But it's clear that not everyone in the system is committed to the LSC model. And until that model of reform is embraced—or at least enforced—the future of LSCs remains uncertain.