Can­di­dates for mayor are split on re­turn­ing school board con­trol to vot­ers

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - BY ADESHINA EM­MANUEL

More than 20 years ago, then-Mayor Richard M. Da­ley se­cured the power to hand-pick who sits on the Chicago Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Ever since, whether to es­tab­lish an elected school board has been an on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­pute, one that has in­ten­si­fied amid un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions by Da­ley and his suc­ces­sor, Rahm Emanuel, such as char­ter school ex­pan­sion and mass school clos­ings.

With Emanuel’s de­ci­sion to not seek re­elec­tion, the school board is be­com­ing a po­lit­i­cal lit­mus test, and can­di­dates are stak­ing out their po­si­tions early.

Chalk­beat Chicago re­viewed and com­piled can­di­dates’ stances on the elected school board ques­tion.

Thir­teen of the 15 can­di­dates re­sponded to our in­quiries or re­leased state­ments about whether they would sup­port an elected school board, which would re­quire a change to state law. And while the ma­jor­ity said they sup­port an elected board out­right, two of the can­di­dates who’ve raised the most cash in the race so far — Bill Da­ley and Gery Chico — each de­scribed vi­sions of a “hy­brid” school board whose ma­jor­ity would be ap­pointed by the mayor, while com­mu­nity mem­bers would se­lect the re­main­der.

It’s un­clear how much power com­mu­nity mem­bers would ac­tu­ally have un­der a hy­brid model. Some crit­ics fear the mayor’s ap­pointees would func­tion as a bloc or al­low the mayor too much sway over the board, un­der­min­ing demo­cratic choice.

But it’s im­por­tant to note: Re­searchers lack con­sen­sus about whether elected school boards or may­oral con­trol re­sults in bet­ter fis­cal man­age­ment and stu­dent per­for­mance. Many fac­tors af­fect those out­comes, like stu­dent de­mo­graph­ics, fund­ing lev­els and qual­ity of lead­er­ship at schools, dis­tricts and in city and state gov­ern­ment. But, as noted in this 2016 anal­y­sis of school gov­er­nance sys­tems by Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts, “there is broad agree­ment on at least one con­clu­sion:

“Gov­er­nance sys­tems that pro­duce un­cer­tainty, dis­trust and am­bigu­ous ac­count­abil­ity can im­pede dis­tricts’ progress on any front,” re­gard­less of how they are con­sti­tuted.”

Here’s a closer look at where the may­oral can­di­dates stand.

‘Hy­brid’ elected school board sup­port­ers

Five can­di­dates sup­port cre­at­ing a school board with some mem­bers ap­pointed by the mayor and the rest cho­sen by com­mu­nity mem­bers.

This camp in­cludes can­di­dates with ties to former Mayor Da­ley: his former bud­get direc­tor and schools chief Paul Val­las; Da­ley’s first board ap­pointee Chico; and Da­ley’s brother Bill Da­ley, who, like Emanuel, once was chief of staff to former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

In De­cem­ber, Bill Da­ley pro­posed a sev­en­mem­ber school board with four mem­bers, in­clud­ing the board pres­i­dent, ap­pointed by the mayor, while three board mem­bers would be rec­om­mended by Lo­cal School Coun­cils.

“CPS has taken steps in the right di­rec­tion un­der may­oral ac­count­abil­ity, in­clud­ing ris­ing grad­u­a­tion rates,” Da­ley said in the state­ment. “Re­mov­ing may­oral ac­count­abil­ity would re­sult in mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar politi­cized elec­tions and risk de­rail­ing ten­ta­tive progress at a time when we need to take big, bold steps for the fu­ture of our kids.”

When Illi­nois Comptroller Su­sana Men­doza ap­peared at a break­fast for the City Club of Chicago, whose mem­ber­ship in­cludes busi­ness and civic lead­ers, she char­ac­ter­ized a fully elected school board as “just plain bad pol­icy.”

“A purely elected school board, that leaves the mayor out and lets the mayor, frankly, off the hook,” said Men­doza, who served as a cam­paign sur­ro­gate on Emanuel’s 2015 re­elec­tion bid. “And we need more ac­count­abil­ity from the mayor, not less.”

Sim­i­larly, Chico’s plat­form pro­posed “a hy­brid elected-ap­pointed school board,” where the ma­jor­ity of mem­bers would be ap­pointed by the mayor, “so that the mayor is held ac­count­able for the ed­u­ca­tional out­comes of the district through­out the city.”

Former po­lice chief Garry McCarthy, who was both hired and fired by Emanuel, sup­ports “a par­tially elected school board where three mem­bers are elected by neigh­bor­hood vot­ers and three are ap­pointed by the mayor,” ac­cord­ing to his web­site.

Val­las pro­posed “a hy­brid elected and ap­pointed school board” with nine mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment. Four would be elected by the com­mu­nity and five ap­pointed by the mayor, in­clud­ing the chair­per­son. Val­las promised one of his ap­pointees would be rec­om­mended by the dis­abil­ity com­mu­nity.

The pledge comes amid a state takeover of the district’s spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, which was found to be deny­ing and de­lay­ing stu­dent ser­vices. Val­las also pledged to ap­point a board mem­ber rec­om­mended by the Chicago Teach­ers Union, which is en­dors­ing Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle in the mayor’s race.

Fully elected school board sup­port­ers

Those who sup­port a fully elected school board are, Amara Enyia, Bob Fioretti, La Shawn K. Ford, Jerry Joyce, Lori Light­foot, Preck­win­kle, Neal Sales-Grif­fin and Willie Wil­son.

Preck­win­kle, one of the most vis­i­ble may­oral can­di­dates and backed by ma­jor unions, blasted the school board’s 23 years of may­oral con­trol.

In a state­ment out­lin­ing her ed­u­ca­tion plat­form, she al­leged may­oral ap­pointees have failed Chicago in var­i­ous ways, from skipped pen­sion pay­ments to no-bid con­tracts, “and presided over mul­ti­ple scan­dalplagued ad­min­is­tra­tions” at Chicago Pub­lic Schools. Like other sup­port­ers of an elected school board, she ar­gued that an elected body will be more ac­count­able to res­i­dents rather than to spe­cial in­ter­ests or the mayor.

In 2015, Chicagoans voted over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of an elected school board, via a non­bind­ing ref­er­en­dum. Since then, the state leg­is­la­ture has sought sev­eral times to re­turn the board to voter con­trol, but those at­tempts sput­tered amid opposition from school of­fi­cials, Emanuel and out­go­ing Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Fioretti, a former al­der­man, main­tains that elected school boards em­power and re­turn con­trol to peo­ple. Ev­ery other school district in Illi­nois has one, Fioretti said, and deny­ing Chicago theirs “was part of a grand scheme by a Da­ley in the first place,” re­fer­ring to the 1995 state law backed by former Mayor Da­ley that granted him power over the school board.

Enyia, a pol­icy con­sul­tant and or­ga­nizer en­dorsed by Chance the Rap­per, backs an elected school board for many of the same rea­sons other can­di­dates men­tioned — that it’s a fairer, demo­cratic process, that the cur­rent board lacks trans­parency and that an elected board is more likely to fol­low the will of the peo­ple.

She re­called the con­tentious school clos­ings in 2013 and mul­ti­ple district scan­dals: the district’s mis­han­dling of stu­dent sex­ual abuse cases, de­lays and de­nials of ser­vices to stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and school lead­ers im­pli­cated for cor­rup­tion or ethics vi­o­la­tions. How­ever, “some peo­ple have the sense that [an elected school board] will solve all the city’s prob­lems, and it will not,” she said.

“But what it’s re­spond­ing to is the lack of re­spon­sive­ness and ac­count­abil­ity par­ents sense from the board.”

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