Parents and advocates gathered downtown Monday to call on Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to vote on a bill that would make Chicago’s school board elected rather than appointed, but Cullerton’s office says he’s holding the bill at the request of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.
Lightfoot supports an elected school board but expressed deep reservations about the bill pending in the State House, calling the large board called for in the legislation a “recipe for disaster.” She did not respond to WBEZ’s request for comment on Monday.
That bill, which would create a 21-member board, passed the House in early April. Since then, advocates have been demanding a Senate vote before the legislative session ends May 31.
“For years, the people of Chicago have been fighting for an elected school board,” said Karina Martinez, a member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “Yet, here I am standing three years later, still demanding and still waiting for an elected school board in the city.”
In an interview with WBEZ, Lightfoot said she was familiar with Martwick’s bill, but did not think a board of 20 members and a president was a good idea.
Martwick told the gathering Monday: “With 20 of them, now you have an opportunity for every group to be represented at the table, and you put more of an emphasis on grassroots organizing and you limit the influence of outside money. This structure will work. … It has been heavily vetted over the course of the last 3 1/2 years by the House of Representatives and it has passed three times with overwhelming majorities.”
The activists urged Lightfoot to push for an elected school board and for Cullerton to get the bill moving in the Senate. But John Patterson, Cullerton’s spokesman, confirmed that Lightfoot asked the Senate president to hold the measure so she could look into the issue.
Under Martwick’s proposal, the board would be comprised of 20 members elected in individual districts from around the city, compared to the seven appointed members currently on the Chicago Board of Education. And a board president would be elected citywide.
The measure passed the Illinois House in April but has yet to make its way through the state Senate amid Lightfoot’s reticence, according to the office of State Senate President John Cullerton.
“The mayor-elect did ask the Senate president to hold onto the bill so she can look into the issue more, so that’s the current status of the bill,” Cullerton’s spokesman, John Patterson, said Monday evening. […]
As for the timing, [Jeanette Taylor, alderman-elect in the 20th Ward] acknowledged that Lightfoot might need some time to weigh all these issues and others. However, dragging her feet could hold consequences for the mayor-elect, Taylor warned.
“She has four years in her term like everybody else,” Taylor said. “Chicago will make her answer.”
One of the reasons Lightfoot traveled to Springfield was to put a brick on Martwick’s bill (among others). She probably could’ve done that with a phone call or a meeting in Chicago, but it was a good idea to make the trip anyway.
…Adding… It’s important to remember that Rep. Martwick’s bill doesn’t take effect until 2023. That’s four years from now. There’s no reason that it absolutely must pass this month, just a few days after Lightfoot is sworn in. People really need to take a breath here.