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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Five reasons why Chicago should have an elected School Board

Our hope is that the democratic process will lead us to increased civic engagement and greater opportunities for input on how best to run our schools from parents, students, voters and taxpayers.

The Chicago Board of Education has been appointed by the mayor since its inception in 1872. The Board of Education currently has seven members who serve staggered terms. The mayor appoints the board, its president and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Chicago is the only city in the State of Illinois that has this arrangement.

There has been a lot of “back and forth” as to whether or not CPS should have an elected school board. Some people who are opposed to the notion argue that Chicago has enough layers of bureaucracy and corruption, and we do not need to compound the situation by having yet another elected body.

Others believe that we should have a combination of elected and appointed members. People who oppose this idea believe the board should be either all elected or all appointed, and that having a mixture would cause confusion and division based on whether the member is elected versus appointed.

The issues confronting our public school system are complex, and cannot all be resolved by having an elected school board, in and of itself. Even so, I believe that having an elected school board is the best option for CPS to select board members at this time. Here are my reasons:

  1. The CPS board members are appointed by the Mayor and not elected by the people. They answer to the mayor and ignore the community.
  2. Some members of the board voted to raise the CPS property taxes to the highest amounts allowed by the law. At the same time, they have lobbied to lower property taxes for themselves. Some residents of communities like North Lawndale have seen their property taxes increase at a faster rate than people from other parts of the city, in spite of the fact that property values are decreasing and many home owners are on fixed incomes.
  3. North Lawndale is the target area for school closings, turnarounds and other educational experiments that can distract our students. Yet, there is not one person on the CPS board from the West Side.
  4. Even though the board is made up of business people, Chicago Public Schools just proposed a budget that will spend all the cash reserves for next year. As a result, their credit score was lowered. CPS must now pay higher interest rates. The more money they spend on interest, the less money will be available for the classroom.
  5. Last year, the City had over $1.2 billion in surplus from its tax increment financing fund, money that is intended for economic development and job creation. About half of this money would have gone to CPS if it weren't put in the TIF fund. The current board refuses to push for reforms that would allow excess TIF funds to go back to the schools. Instead, the unused funds collect interest, and CPS raises taxes to cover their expenses. We need school board members who can feel our pain, have a genuine concern for our community and take action. In short, we need a school board elected by the people, for the people.

Ideally, the elected school board should be structured to attract a good mix of people from around the City of Chicago. The board should be geographically and ethnically diverse, include members with various skill sets, including business management, law, public education and policy and advocacy.

We are very happy that state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford is sponsoring HB 5727, to create a task force that will study the optimal governance structure and process to ensure efficiency and representation from a broad cross section of stakeholders in the City of Chicago.

It is our hope that the democratic process will lead us to increased civic engagement and greater opportunities for input on how best to run our schools from parents, students, voters and taxpayers.

Valerie F. Leonard is co-founder of The Lawndale Alliance.


Casey wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Well Written..

....some parts are a little idealistic (such as an elective process will still have people owe their election to the Mayor and his campaign money), but I agree, the status quo has to change.

Rosita Chatonda wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks Valerie For this Great Article!

The community is exhausted with the turn-a rounds that destabilize our school communities, vilify hard working teachers and have created an epidemic of violence in Chicago. The departure of Hubeman. Mazany , and Brizard in two years, indicate that the school board needs a TURN-AROUND. No more experimenting on our children! They have failed the students, parents and teachers of Chicago. It is time for a new education voice in Chicago!!!!

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks for the feedback,

Thanks for the feedback, Casey. I agree that there will never be a perfect process, even with the best of intentions. I think a democratic process is better than the autocratic process currently in place.

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Amen, Rosita!

Amen, Rosita!

northside teacher wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


3 representavies voted by the public
3 by the lsc boards

3 voted by mayor?

northside teacher wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


If the board is just picked by the mayor, then quit calling it the board! Call it the Mayors council

lobewiper wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Elected vs. Appointed School Board

The current, appointed school board is nothing more than a rubber stamp for whatever policies the mayor of Chicago happens to favor. This state of affairs is not only undemocratic, it is anti-democratic. The question is, whether the critical mass of voters needed to demand an elected board can be mobilized. I wish you and your supporters well in your efforts!

Casey wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

I don't know how many

I don't know how many high-minded people of quality that would be suited for positions on the board would be up to or want to have to deal with Fundraising, Knocking on Doors, Gathering Nominating Petitions, Filing Disclosure Reports, Going through Signature Challenges, . at the end of the day we may just end up with the same people elected with the Mayor's muscle behind their campaigns.
But I agree with Valerie that something has to change.

Luis wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Corruption at the CPS

Until the majority of Chicagoan get the full picture of what is going at the CPS, the City of Chicago Board of Education, etc., we will not be able to galvanize for strategic moves like having an elected board. Here's an informative essay I put out a few weeks ago that now stands at 3300 reads. Take a look if you care and dare and pass it along:

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Past Due: Elected Board

Very well said, Valerie. We need an elected school board, not a hybrid which would dilute the effort toward democracy and away from autocracy.

There are many committed parent groups who would organize town halls to get the board candidates' views out in the open. And they would knock on doors and hang posters for those they support.

Of course parent groups could be outspent by ERN, Stand, Advance Illinois, but now they don't even have a fighting chance.

Casey T wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Another hiccup to this would be....

.....would an elected school board be paid or still serve as currently construed - that being, without pay ?

If no pay, that would make it the only elective office on the ballot that is uncompensated (except for Committeeman - which is a political party post anyway).

Getting people to go through the hassel of an election without compensation is quite a task. I beleive the saying goes, "you get what you pay for".

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Well, they are not paid now,

Well, they are not paid now, Casey. So does your saying also apply to the current board? Some might say it does.

Anyway, we have time to figure out the details.

Valerie wrote: "We are very happy that state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford is sponsoring HB 5727, to create a task force that will study the optimal governance structure and process to ensure efficiency and representation from a broad cross section of stakeholders in the City of Chicago."

Reginald Johns wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Elected School Board

Nice article Valerie!!! If we get to the point of having an elected school board, the laws must be structured to as no lobby or outside campaign money enter the process. This keeps big money groups from having too much influence in the process. The candidates should do grassroots campaigning and meet constituents from their local campaign area. Just a thought.

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Everyone is raising great

Everyone is raising great points. If HB5727 is passed, I hope the Task Force would consider all angles. The last thing we need is cronies on steroids.

Perry Buck wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Milwaukee's Elected School Board

One thing we have left in Milwaukee is an elected School Board,although Governor Walker and the GOP Legislature are doing what they can to chip away at public school funding with charter schools and vouchers. Regrettably,Mayor Barrett of Milwaukee sought to follow Rahm Emanuel's lead and try to make Milwaukee's School Board appointive before he ran in this year's recall of Walker. This, in my opinion,was why Barrett had a Democratic opponent in the primary and was also a factor in Barrett's loss to Walker in the June 5 recall. The 47% can become a majority if we all work together and agree that elected government is the best government. Good luck to you from your friends in Wisconsin.

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Thanks for sharing, Perry!

Thanks for sharing, Perry! Lessons learned in Milwaukee could definitely be instructive for Chicago.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Thank you Perry, I may be

Thank you Perry, I may be misremembering, but I think you might have been there when we came as a delegation from Chicago to support your fight against the elected school board. Please keep up the good fight!

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Democracy always works... Since '95 it's Mayoral Dictatorship

When we get to the details (how many Board members; how elected; how compensated) it will be a major breath of fresh air. Democracy is complex and cumbersome, but the alternatives are worse. (Churchill has some things to say about this, but let's just push for democracy).

Meanwhile, I have only one suggestion: Let's call the current phase we're struggling out of Dictatorship, which is what it has been and is still (under Rahm).

While Chicago has always had "Mayoral Control" -- at least as far back as the 1870s, which is far enough for me (thanks Valerie) -- since 1995 we have had "Mayoral Dictatorship" -- a big difference. The Amendatory Act of 1995 which gave Chicago's mayor the power to appoint a school board (it's had a couple of names if you recall: it began as the "Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees..." with Gery Chico as President; then morphed back to the "Chicago Board of Education"; some wall signs at CPS still say "Trustees...") and, as importantly, a "Chief Executive Officer."

Mayoral dictatorship has been over Chicago's schools now for more than 17 years, and is a failure by any measure that can be applied. An entire generation of Chicago children has gone through the schools during "CEO Rule" and all of the "data" the business crowd worships still shows that the problems were not solved by a dictatorship.

Hence, we now need democracy, and lots of it.

The one thing we've proved with more than 140 years of mayoral control (in various forms) is that democracy needs a chance.

When I began teaching in 1969, the Board was appointed by the mayor, but the mayors had kept a "balance" and were careful. Also, the General Superintendent (we didn't get a "Chief Executive Officer" until mayoral dictatorship in 1995) was selected by the Board and had to be a certified Illinois administrator — Not a crony vetted by the billionaires (Broad Foundation, in the two current case, Brizard and Byrd-Bennett) from out of town.

Various wrinkles between 1969 and 1995 (when the Amendatory Act was passed, making Chicago the leading city with Mayoral Dictatorship of the schools) came and went, and we made some improvements. I would argue the major ones came during those brief six or seven years between Local School Councils (first elected 1988; I was on the first one at Amundsen High School as a teacher rep) and Mayoral Dictatorship.

This fight for democracy in public school governance has international implications, and we have to win it in Chicago.

Virtually all of the major cities that adopted the Mayoral Dictatorship Model (and "CEO Rule") did so following Chicago's publicity stunts of the 1990s. Within less than a year after Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Paul Vallas as CEO (the guy had no business experience, but knew a lot about crony capitalism; and his slavish adherence to the Party Line of the Business Roundtable and Civic Committee has provided him and friends with a lucrative career...), Daley read a speech before the National Press Club filled with lies about the problems of the schools before he took over and the "successes" in the little time he'd been in charge. That speech set the tone and the talking points for many of the major media reports on mayoral control since, and also formed the ideological basis for the adoption of Mayoral Dictatorship by other major cities.

Let's continue this discussion, but perhaps discuss what we are emerging from accurately as a Dictatorship and leave the Orwellian nonsense to the script writers of the plutocracy.

Valerie F.Leonard wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

Great post, George! Thanks

Great post, George! Thanks for the background information.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

October 24 Board meeting an insult to all Chicagoans

Since nobody in the corporate media will report it, and Substance will be posting the stories over the next couple of days, it's important for everyone who was not present at the Board of Education's October 24, 2012 meeting to be prepared to watch the meeting on CAN TV and notice how many times and in how many ways the members of the current Board are insulting every tax paying Chicagoan and every Chicago teacher, principals, and administrator who has bothered to play by the rules of the rest of Illinois.

Barely had the meeting begun, than Barbara Byrd Bennett, the latest iteration of "CEO" at CPS, announced that she had just brough in two new administrators, both from out of town, to make Chicago's schools better. From my count, it's been about a year since the Rahm Emanuel Board has hired any top administrator from within the ranks of Chicago educators. Chicago's teachers and principals are being treated as if we were some Podunk Mayberry place that can't produce anyone competent to run the school system of the nation's third largest city.

Insult was immediately added to injury for Chicago when Byrd Bennet rose to present the new "Budget" (which wasn't ready, actually). Aside: shall we call Byrd Bennett "CEO 4.0" to mark the fact that she is the fourth Supreme Leader to run the nation's third largest school system in two years? That's right: Two years ago, the Supreme Leader was Ron Huberman. Humberman was followed by Terry Mazany. Mazany was followed by Jean-Claude Brizard. And now we have Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The only thing they all have in common is that not one of them has ever or had ever taught one day in a real classroom in Chicago. Whether appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley (Huberman and Mazany) or by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Brizard and Byrd-Bennett), these outsiders have one thing in common: they demonstrate the contempt for Chicago that the Mayoral Dictatorship has brought to town.

But back to reality.

No sooner had Byrd Bennett arisen to present the "Amended Budget" than she handed the latest Power Point duties over to Tim Cawley, who two years ago was working for AUSL and five years ago was working for Motorola. Cawley, who is "Chief Administrative Officer", was apparently subbing for some guy named Rodgers, who was recently appointed to the post of "Chief Financial Officer." Rodgers, who reportedly comes to his career in education from Diners Club (you can't make this stuff up) sat smiling with a Wall Street smile the whole time, as if the "CFO" was an understudy to the "CAO."

And the millionaires and billionaire on the Board smilingly went along with the whole charade.

Things got a little dicey from the point of view of reality, of course, because the Amedned proposed new improved budget was a fraud. CPS had already "build in" the raises for the CTU workers, so the part about needing another hundred million that Cawley read with his Power Point with a straight face was a lie. The funniest part of all, however, came when Cawley admitted that CPS had screwed up the budget hearings on this iteration of lies by not notifying the public in the legally required timely manner -- so there will be more budget hearings on November 5 and the new next really this one is final budget will be discussed November 5 and voted on at the November Board meeting.

Standing with Cawley, to make the corporate slliness complete, was veteran CPS administrator (currently holding the title of "Chief Talent Officer") Alician Winckler. Winckler, who three years ago was still in that public school talent training camp — in this case, an executive job at Sears Holdings — now qualifies as an expert on education in Chicago.

Even the Board members, who were supposed to just prattle on with pre-planned questions about the danger of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund to the budget (that's where they get that "billion dollar deficit" nonsense that the Tribune and Sun-Times and Catalyst love to talk about; it's not true and it's a year and a long legislative session away), noticed that some things were fishy or downright fraudulent in what Cawley and Winckler were prattling and Power Pointing about.

For example, CPS supposedly will increase "revenue" (see the fifth page of the unpaginated "Amended Budget" Power Point that CPS "communications" officials tried to hide from the public...) by a deal to "Refinance bonds maturing 2013 and 2014 ($42 million)." Since that's the largest amount CPS has listed to make up the lie about needing another $103 million to pay for the CTU contract, that "revenue" needs to be questioned, since it is not really revenue at all, but simply an accounting trick based on the assumption that CPS can make a future generation pay off the debt it's been increasing now.

Penny Pritzker, of all people, has begun to notice the funny stuff and asked how that was being treated as "revenue." But since not one of the Board presenters has any idea of either finance or state laws about such things, the actual answer from Cawley, Winckler, and the Silent Mr. Rodgers was...


Sort of as in "It's not really revenue, but weren't you supposed to talk about how bad things were because of that billion dollar pension thingy...?"

The show on October 24 proved that the Pritzker family was prescient in investing in those Harvard and Stanford degrees Penny got back in the day. At least one member of the Board can read a spreadsheet and also understand the relationship between CPS finances and GASB...

Not that it matters, when as soon as the public's back is turned the Board members once again vote, unanimously and without debate, to hire a new bunch of outsiders from out of town at six-figure salaries — and pay those people "relocation expenses." Next time CPS tells you they're broke, as how many dollars we've paid to "relocate" all those out of towners Rahm's Board has been importing since the precedents were set with the hiring of Jean-Claude Brizard, at the unprecedented salary of a quarter million dollars a year and another $30,000 to get here. That's a lot more than a U-Haul would cost down the street from Substance on Cicero Ave. on Chicago's North Side.

But, then, the policy of the current seven members of the Chicago Board of Education actually reads like this: Chicago teachers and principals need not apply. Sort of like the old signs warning against hiring members of certain ethnic groups. Only in Chicago.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


While CPS can't get the simplest things right for the education of the city's poor, mostly not white, children, the geniuses at CPS are working on another Hit List (schools to close or otherwise "transform"). And another hiring binge of outsiders.

Right now, the Rahm Board of Education is distinguishing itself not merely for its oligarchic bent, but for its massive incompetence. They have gutted the "administration" so much that there is nobody at CPS to answer the phones when teachers want to substitute, while hundreds of classrooms every day are going without substitute teachers.

Never -- and this is a long NEVER -- has a Board of Education shown itself to be so massively incompetent in so short a time. The million dollar scamster Jean-Claude Brizard is really, as those paying close attention know, the "tip of the iceberg." The other half dozen of Jean-Claude's hirelings who have already departed also got their buyouts. Remember Noemi Donoso? How about last year's Hit List Honey, Jamiko Rose? And then there is Management by Musical Chair at the top of CPS finances? Question for Jeopardy: How many "chief financial officers" has the nation's third largest school system had since MAYOR ONE PERCENT brought in his Miracle Management Team less than 19 months ago?

Oh, but Rahm's buddies at Moody's and Standard and Poors know the real financial problem is the "deficit" soon to be caused by paying pensions that were promised -- and not the most recent David Watkins, or it is Peter Rodgers, or maybe Melanie or "What's her name?" Of course, massive turnover in financial administration has nothing to do with the chaos at CPS.

Of course, with Rahm producing a new dog and pony show every morning for the city's corporate media who's going to notice that hundreds of classrooms next week will be without teachers -- or with pretend subs like the local security guy (or gal).

On Wednesday, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the latest out of towner to pull down six figures from Chicago's suckers, announced that she had brought in another two out of towners because, obviously, no one in Chicago is capable of being a "Chief of Staff" or running whatever it is we needed someone from Cleveland or Cincinnati to operate for Chicago's children.

Whom they all love.

Simultaneously, we learn that the Byrd Bennett regime can't provide the simplest necessities to Chicago's classrooms -- like substitute teachers.


While the "Network Chiefs" (er., "Chiefs of Schools") order teachers and principals to do lots and lots of professional development on the latest iteration of corporate reform nonsense, the kids are supposed to sit back in their classrooms with "substitute" teachers who are actually...

Security Aides

PSRPs (teacher aides)

or various others who aren't certified to teach.

But that's not going to stop CPS from hiring another round of out-of-towners next month, and the month after that, and the month after that....

Crony capitalism, a kleptocracy, and massive incompetence.


George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

CTU LEAD promotes elected school board, charter moratorium

Having posted earlier the Substance story about the huge turnout of teachers, PSRPs, community leaders and political leaders (minus Rahm Emanuel) at the annual Chicago Teachers Union LEAD dinner, I just scoured the bourgois corporate media looking to see if any other reporters had noticed one of the biggest stories of the night. Obviously, not. Instead of covering the fact that Karen Lewis and the union (along with their political and community allies) have declared for the elected school board and for a complete moratorium on closings and charter expansions, the usual coverage this morning features ever-stranger crime stories, propaganda announcements from RAHM PRODUCTIONS, and pablum.

Somehow, the more than 1,000 people at last night's dinner -- including the more than 50 political leaders, ranging from aldermen to state reps and senators -- would not be surprised. No wonder there was so much wonder when the CTU began, at the May 23 Auditorium Theatre rally and march, to unveil the massive red-shirted militancy that created the seven-day strike and the daily marches of thousands through the Loop and the neighborhoods.

Corporate propaganda has replaced news in Chicago, and everyone who is paying attention -- or trying to figure out what's really going on -- is kept away from facts. Like the song goes, "There's something happening here..."

But unlike the song, what it is is completely clear. Despite his national profile (and his leaving town for most of the coming week) Rahm Emanuel has failed in Chicago. Polling shows it. Details to follow and follow and follow.

Northside Teacher wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago


I am a teacher and I am scared! We are at ground zero!! CTU made us sign a contract that could not only make us lose our job at our school, but put us on a do not hire list. And as we all know, teachers who are not rehired due to "incompetency" are contractually blacklisted from ALL cps schools and most likely from any school district in the country. Scary stuff!!! Can't believe I went on strike for this privilege!!!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

1,000 came to the dinner, but no media coverage?

Good morning, George, this is so strange. Is all Chicago media intimidated?

Northside, prior to the strike and latest contract, CPS was already able to fire teachers and put them on a "do not hire" list. This occurred under Ron Huberman. (Google Ben Jorasky's many stories on this.)

And the law that Stand for Children pushed and paid for in May 2011, IL SB7, ended other teacher job protections like seniority and tenure, which the Mayor and billionaires like Penny Pritzker and Bruce Rauner very much wanted.

You might want to direct your disappointment toward getting an elected school board? Pass out fliers at you neighborhood polling place?

Also, check out Stand's web site for a list of the IL state senators and reps they support, and be sure to NOT vote for any of them. Imho.

Rosita Chatonda wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago

Can Chicagoans Work In Chicago ?

It appears that residents of Chicago are not desirable employees for the new city government. It appears that others from other states are the chosen ones. I hope Chicago residents remember this as they go to the polls.

Rosita Chatonda wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago

Chicago Residents need to DEMAND Chicago Jobs!

People of Chicago should be insulted. The new mayor continues to bring people into Chicago who don't know the community, don't like the community and doesn't respect Chicago residents. They only want to make money, make mistakes, tear up the city and move away to another state when they'd made a mess of everything.

Where is the accountability for these actions of gross neglect and ill intent?
Wake up Chicago something is wrong with this picture!

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago

Media non-coverage of CTU LEAD

LEAD was a success with or without corporate media coverage. But it's another example of why the "public" is often surprised when certain events happen (like a massively organized and popular seven-day CTU strike, after all the Rahmsludge shoveled over the previous year. Remember the "pioneer" schools for the Longer School Day? Remember the five months (August to January) it took the corporate reporters to catch up with the Rent A Protest story I first reported from Sox Park in August and City Council in September?

Propaganda is essential to any tyranny, but the most important thing about successful propaganda is that the propagandists, whether medieval priests or contemporary professors and pundits, is that they be credible to the "masses." Hence, Chicago's "news."

Since the beginning of time, every ruling class has dominated the poor and working classes by controlling the "news." Today, the three "Ps" that are in servitude to the plutocrats are:





The so-called "reporters" who so-calledly "report" the news (as here) slant their coverage by selecting which angle to take and which experts to quote. The day that Catalyst or the Tribune quotes Kenneth Saltman, Pauline Lipman, or Rico Gutstein -- as opposed to those ignorant academic slaves of the plutocracy like Tim Knowles and Barbara Radner -- I'll raise one cheer and half a beer to my colleagues in the reportering game. But meanwhile it will be like yesterday. I watched the corporate show at Lowell (selected principals get merit pay even though merit pay is discredited and the criteria are nonsense) and reported it myself, but once again was amazed that none of the reporters asked Rahm

(a) who were these generous plutocrats who contributed the $5 million to merit pay (but not to hiring, say, librarians)?

(b) What precisely were those criteria and who vetted them for anything like scientific?

At least one of the Star Bellied Sneeches thanked his own teachers for earning the award. But the narrative, which TV, radio and print ate up like a big chocolate cake, served by corporate, was another Rahmlie.

Casey wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago

still in the classroom?

I pray to God that this fellow is no longer in the classroom in front of students.

Guess Who? wrote 2 years 10 weeks ago


No, he's a consultant for the CTU . Now you know why teachers got a rotten deal.

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