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Is an appointed school board all about the CTU?

Thursday, Dec 21, 2017 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The Chicago Reader takes a look at the arguments for and against the city’s appointed school board

Proponents argue that having the mayor appoint the board increases accountability—if you don’t like the board’s actions, elect a new mayor. But this is sort of like blaming Toyota if your Uber is late. There are no checks and balances on the board’s tax decisions. Neither the mayor nor the City Council can veto those votes.

Just to put a fine point on how insane this is: We elect members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board, but not the school board. We vote on something like 30,000 judges every election, but not the people responsible for the stewardship of, among other things, special education dollars for the kids who need it most.

And an elected school board isn’t exactly a fringe idea. According to education advocacy group Illinois Raise Your Hand, 94 percent of school boards around the country are elected, and Chicago’s is the only one in Illinois appointed by law. Several nonbinding referenda over the last few years have shown again and again that Chicagoans want to elect their boards. So what’s the argument for having the board appointed by the mayor?

Supporters of an appointed board say it removes politics from the board’s composition. If you ignore for a second that Chicago has run on patronage since its inception, this still makes very little sense. An elected school board would represent the diverse viewpoints of members’ constituencies the same way any legislative body does. But an appointed board only represents one point of view: the mayor’s. What the politics-free argument truly is after is a board that will oppose the Chicago Teachers Union.


  1. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:10 am:

    I guess it’s all about opposing the CTU. Every other school board in Illinois is elected, why not CPS? And while we’re at it, make the board of the City Colleges also an elected board.

    I get the fear that CTU would take over the board of CPS and go bonkers. But in a democracy, we get the representation we elect.

  2. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:12 am:

    Yes, the administration(s) current and past see it as a backstop preventing the CTU from using its political muscle to stack the board with retired teachers and allies who would “give away the store.” Could that happen? Sure it could.

  3. - Concerned Dem - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:14 am:

    While I generally agree “elected” anythings are better because people can have a direct say, let’s be honest… school board elections in Illinois are not shining examples of participatory democracy. Due to their timing, far too often less than a quarter of eligible voters take the time tp cast their vote and when they do its often for reasons more tribal than thought out rational ones.

  4. - PublicServant - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:22 am:

    I was just telling my friend the Medicine Man today that people are starting to throw that “tribal” word around a lot these days. Or maybe its just me. Democracy isn’t working because we’re tribal, I guess.

  5. - City Zen - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:32 am:

    “According to education advocacy group Illinois Raise Your Hand…”

    According to their IRS filings, 40% of their funding comes from CTU, so “CTU and education advocacy group” is probably a more accurate description.

    But I say let the chips fall where they may. Maybe CTU has the magic formula for increased performance and proper financial stewardship. The school system is essentially bankrupt already. Can they do any worse?

  6. - Robert the 1st - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:34 am:

    =Can they do any worse?=

    Karen Lewis- “Challenge accepted.”

  7. - Sonny - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:39 am:

    There is clout, influence and jobs there but not enough for Rahm to cling to it like he has when and elected school board solves so many problems for him. Let the elected school board raise taxes and fix CPS, let the elected school board close schools, hire administrators. Frank Clark and them are’t doing anything anyway, that board is propped up with broomsticks and masking tape.

  8. - AuH20 - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:47 am:

    I am not a fan of Rahm or the way the 2013 closings were handled. I think there is a lot CPS could do better.

    An elected school board is not the way to go. One of the reasons taxes are so high in Cook County is because we have so many special districts with elected leaders. This leads to overspending by each individual department, with no noticeable improvement in the quality of government services.

    This U of C professor wrote an entire book on the subject:

    So fears that the CTU will take over the entire board might be exaggerated, but it’s hard to deny CTU will have an outsize effect on school board elections when the research says that’s exactly what’ll happen.

  9. - AuH20 - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:49 am:

    I want to add that I believe more funding for schools is almost always the way to go, and probably good for CPS.

    I just fear that an elected board, accountable in April elections where CTU members have a huge incentive to vote and most people do not, will take us past the (already-considerable) spending increases I’d be happy to see.

  10. - Chicagonk - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:53 am:

    Too much democracy can be a bad thing. I guarantee that if Chicago ever goes to an elected school board, the CTU slate will win 9 times out of ten.

  11. - Concerned Dem - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 9:58 am:

    Public Servant - I don’t think democracy is hampered from working because of tribalism (I used that word instead of partisanship because too often people only associate it with loyalty to a political party and when it comes elections in particular school board elections factors like “My kid on the same team as your kid” or “we go to the same church” play just as big if not bigger role in deciding someone’s vote). In fact I think democracy fosters tribalism/partisanship due to its competitive nature. What is hurting democracy today is that we as voters are not counter balancing those tribal/partisan tendencies with attempts at educated or rational thought.

  12. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:10 am:

    This is a dicey proposition. ON the one hand, putting the power into the mayor concentrates control over the school district and some would say it has made the schools a puppet to interests not as invested in students as they are in the unions and jobs. One could look at the overall lack of student progress and questionable budgeting as well as the unwillingness to right size the system to the current number of students. But, on the other hand, an elected school board could end us up with 7 Rahms, each with their own patronage issues as well as open the door to undue CTU influence. My opinion, as a sitting school board member, the only way to make an elected school board effective in Chicago it to break up the district. It’s too big as it stands and not responsive enough to local concerns. I think the chances of that happening are slim to none. there would be all sorts of accusations of gerrymandering in the creation of districts with an emphasis on racial inequality. I can’t believe there is a politician in Illinois that would willingly take that challenge on.

  13. - OneMan - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:18 am:

    Have to say my view on this has changed over the last couple of years. My concern was and is that the CTU would dominate the election and we would end up a board that would be friendly to the CTU. If it were to play out that way it would kill charter growth and possibly kill charters in general. I don’t think that would be a good thing.

    My other concern is unlike a school board race in say Oswego or Naperville with low turnout and the ‘tribalism’ that these will become big money races where the money is coming from people with a vested or explicit interest in the result. Think Board of Review or Water Reclamation District races on steroids.

    That all being said, I don’t see why I should get to make that vote and a resident of Chicago doesn’t get that opportunity. I also think that the CTU would have ownership of some issues if the had ‘their’ people on the board. It is easy to blame the mayor now and an elected board would make that harder.

  14. - City Zen - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:24 am:

    An issue with the proposed elected board is the number of seats: 15 or 20. LAUSD, with an enrollment almost twice that of CPS, gets by with only 7 board members.

    Just like with the number of alderpeople, Chicago seems to always find a way to do less with more.

  15. - Tweed - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:30 am:

    Let’s take the discussion one step further. As the great Paul Green always asked on this topic, who draws the maps? He was always in favor of an elected school board if he personally got to draw the map.

    I’d like to see a more detailed plan. The article cites MWRD voting. Those are at-large seats voted on in a cycle and there are different terms. Would an elected school board have 8 districts that extended out in a spiral from 2 centrally located districts? Would each term be 2 years? 4 years? 6 years? Would election day be on the 2018, 2020, 2022 cycle or would it be on the 2019, 2021, 2023 cycle? Would the terms rotate like the U.S. Senate and MWRD? Without these details, it’s harder to side with “elected or non-elected”.

  16. - Ron - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:31 am:

    “We elect members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board”

    Which is ridiculous.

  17. - Ron - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:32 am:

    “Just like with the number of alderpeople”

    LA, with 1,300,000 more people has a 10 member city council. They seem to be doing just fine.

  18. - Ron - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:39 am:

    NYC has 5,500,000 more people and a 51 member city council.

  19. - Sonny - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:40 am:

    If you have a hot garbage alderman, of which there are probably 35, yes, 50 is too many. If yours is awesome, 50 is fine.

  20. - Sonny - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 10:47 am:

    An elected school board is not the way to go. One of the reasons taxes are so high in Cook County …

    Yes, “Cook County” taxes are high … in Park Ridge, in Niles, but not Chicago. But no the City doesn’t have the ‘levels’ that a Schaumburg does (Village, Township, Highway District, Library, Fire District, Parks and Schools).

    Property taxes in Chicago on most single family homes are laughable. The money going to schools is next to nothing compared to the suburbs that have decent schools. Without additional money, CPS is going to be, widely and with exceptions, a poor product and it’ll do nothing to achieve growth in the City.

  21. - Too Little, Too Late? - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 11:10 am:

    It is not just the Chicago Board of Education that is composed of unelected mayoral appointees (unlike the other districts across the state). It is also the City College trustees, the Chicago Park District Commissioners and th Chicago Public Library trustees.

    In every other part of Illinois, all of these positions are elective.

  22. - anon2 - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 11:21 am:

    There are 868 school districts. Only one district has residents who can’t be trusted to elect their school board. Apparently teacher unions don’t have any clout except in CPS.

  23. - OneMan - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 11:29 am:

    “We elect members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board”

    Which is ridiculous.

    True that…

  24. - Levois - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 11:29 am:

    This is why I support a hybrid. Half appointed and half elected. Having a fully elected school board is no more perfect than a fully elected one. Also it’s almost impossible to separate politics from the public schools.

  25. - PublicServant - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 1:27 pm:

    @Concerned Dem. I understand what you meant and agree, but it looks like “Tribal” is fast becoming the avocado toast of the political world in late 2017.

  26. - wordslinger - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 1:45 pm:

    –Is an appointed school board all about the CTU?–


    It’s also about disenfranchising one class of Illinois citizens and consolidating power in the mayor’s office.

    You know, good government.

    Those who live outside Chicago — want to implement that system in your town?

  27. - City Mom - Thursday, Dec 21, 17 @ 3:01 pm:

    As a city resident with kids in CPS, I’d like to vote for my Board of Education. A lot of these comments seem to think we aren’t smart enough to do that without being told by CTU how to vote. What’s next, we don’t get to vote for Mayor because we can’t be trusted?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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