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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.

Grassroots coalition submits signatures for voter referendum on elected School Board

Organizers hand petitions for a referendum on an elected School Board to a staff member at the Chicago Board of Elections.

A coalition of community groups pushing to get an elected school board believes they have enough signatures to get a referendum gauging public support on the November ballot in 204 precincts, about 9 percent of the precincts in Chicago.

About 70 people, including students, teachers and parents, were on hand Monday morning as organizers walked the petitions with about 9,700 signatures, into the Chicago Board of Elections office. Phil Cantor, a member of Teachers for Social Justice and a CPS parent, said the group expects to have the petitions challenged.

The referendum is symbolic, but organizers hope it will prove there’s broad support for an elected school board. The precincts with the referendum on the ballot stretch from Ravenswood and Rogers Park on the North Side to Altgeld Gardens and Beverly on the South Side.

Organizers went after the precinct referendum after a technicality was used to block 10 aldermen from getting the item placed on the ballot, said Cantor. A citywide referendum also was blocked when pro-Mayor Rahm Emanuel aldermen placed three other questions on the November ballot, which is the maximum allowed.

Emanuel has said he wants to retain the power to appoint the school board because electing it would bring more politics into the system.

However, organizers reject this point. April Stogner from the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization noted that UNO Charter School Executive Director Juan Rangel was Emanuel’s campaign manager. UNO is being allowed to expand, although three of its schools are failing, she noted. 

“How can you get more political than that?” she said.

Organizers say the next step is to work on getting state lawmakers to change the law. Chicago has never had an elected school board, but for a time had a messy nominating procedure in which community groups offered up names from which the mayor had to choose appointees.

That changed in 1995 when the mayor was granted more control of CPS and was expected to take responsibility for it.

Some have suggested that a hybrid school board, with some members elected and some appointed, would be more practical. But members of the coalition, called CODE for Communities Organized for Democracy, think that each person on the school board should be elected, said Tonya Payne, one of the organizers.

“An elected school board is accountable to the people,” she said.

CODE leaders say they think an elected school board would likely reverse the trend of opening charter schools and closing neighborhood schools. They would like to see a more community-based vision for school improvement rather than the current system, which they see as top-down one.

But they admit there’s some danger implicit in the idea of electing a school board.

Well-heeled groups, like Stand for Children and Education Reform Now, who support the expansion of charter schools, could run slates of candidates, as could the mayor.

Pauline Lipman of the University of Illinois at Chicago said CODE would also want to get some campaign finance reform to accompany an elected school board.   


Anonymous wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago


I would most definitely vote for an elected school board as a city tax payer!

Danny V wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

You and about 2,000 more

Unfortunately, voter turnout is so low in school board elections that the school board is not so much responsible to the public as they are to special interest groups.

This is a bad idea for taxpayers and for children (who still can't vote).

xian barrett wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago


Voter turnout low in most of our elections, therefore we shouldn't have democracy at all= scary argument

Chicago dad wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

What scares the mayor and Brizard the most

Is the possibility of Chicago electing a school board while excluding the influence of money and cronism. It's actually easier and cheaper to elect a board by limiting the amount that each candidate can spend, defining a format for statements that may only be written and published in the same manner by the candidates themselves, preventing any endorsements for any candidate by any entity, in short, forcing the election to be held on a level playing field with a high signal to noise ratio. The first amendment is no obstacle to this. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater, why should politicians, lobbyists and corporate shills be allowed to yell lies and disinformation at an election?

Byron wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

still an improvement

Certainly an Elected School Board is not a solution, but it is a first step and a significant improvement to the current Board whose members are corporate officers who do not event have children in CPS, and they ONLY respond to special interest groups. As taxpayers and parents we have an obligation to go out and vote!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Children First principal says: I will vote for an elected school

for Chicago. If there cannot be some form of appointments vetted by parents and community groups--then I will vote for an elected board. It is done in the suburbs--in large suburbs. I am the last to want (more) politics in this, but there is no one who votes no on this board. Therefore, there is no reason for thought or discussion. This is not the right way to make decisions. And yes, there is a former principal on the board--I am embarrassed by her now. She has been drinking the bad kool-aid and does not want to know it.

C.L. Ball wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Electoral Reform

This is an opportunity to reform not only the Chicago Board of Education but also the LSC elections, which are now run by CPS rather than the city Board of Election Commissioners. High percentages of ballots are discarded in LSC elections due to misinterpretation of state election law (the electoral code explicitly does not apply to LSC elections but CPS enforces it as if it does).

The school board elections could be timed w/ the LSC elections to improve turn-out (which is also frustrated by misinterpretation of CPS rules; we were told not to handout any material at a candidate forum at Mayer!).

Jeremy Peters wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

What a novel idea?

Imagine having some say in what happens to YOUR children? Hmmm, this has been a long time coming. Let's watch the mayor to see what "technicalities" he can throw in to block this referendum. This needs to be the beginning of a mass effort to restore systems of checks and balances to our unfair city.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Elected School Board

This is nothing but a front for a union take-over of the schools. When there was an elected school board in the '80s, there was all kinds of favoritism exercised on behalf of constituents that completely undermined any consistency of educational policy, except practices that the union claimed was part of their contract. They ran the show. Featherbedding was the result.

WendyK wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Elected School Board

We never had an elected school board in Chicago. Not sure where you got the history of what happened in the 80s but the CPS board was never elected. There was a nominating commission for a period of time where three choices were offered to the Mayor to choose from but no elections. I worked on this campaign and the union had nothing to do with it. They didn't even promote it to send volunteers out to help us canvass.

Tom K wrote 2 years 22 weeks ago

Elected school board

Well the only way to have any say in our schools is to elect people we can identify with. Set term limits and campaign limits. If we continue to let the mayor appoint these people we will see more TIF money and pension money used for corporate projects, and private charter schools.

The People are Watching wrote 2 years 21 weeks ago

If any group of people are

If any group of people are voting to increase your taxes they better be ELECTED. The first step in reducing some of the MAYOR power and making people accountable to the people and to the KIDS. How can you have a board and everyone votes YES. That is impossible and not fair representation. A prerequisite to be on the board should be city resident and children in the system therefore, the decisions will be made based on actual occurrences and how they may impact the KIDS for REal. Furthermore, there are 900 school districts in ILLINOIS and 899 have elected SCHOOL BOARDS. So the question is why is CPS299 the last and only appointed school BOARD. Something just don't smell right. it is called CORRUPTION.

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