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Lightfoot low-balls elected school board issue

Monday, Apr 19, 2021

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford really has her work cut out for her if she wants to forge a compromise on an elected Chicago school board.

Lightford agreed to become the sponsor of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s alternative school board proposal last week. Sen. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago) has been pushing a bill for years that would elect 21 school board members, which have long been appointed by the city’s mayor. Leader Lightford has a reputation among the education establishment for being an honest broker and, frankly, she excels at negotiations like this, but this one will be particularly difficult.

Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal was privately criticized by numerous House and Senate members in both parties last week when it finally emerged.

It puts off the first school board election until 2026, and then only elects two out of seven members. Seven years from now, in 2028, the city’s voters would elect a third member, but the mayor would appoint three more, giving appointed members an 8-3 majority. Mayor Lightfoot said often during her campaign that she supported a “fully elected” school board. This proposal is more like tokenism.

The mayor can currently appoint school board members without any sort of confirmation process. They are direct appointments without input or oversight by the City Council, and her bill would keep it that way.

Some opponents who testified in committee last week against Sen. Rob Martwick’s elected school board bill criticized the measure for having no provisions to allow undocumented immigrants to serve on the board, as they currently can on local school councils. But Lightfoot’s proposal only requires that the mayor’s appointments “strive to achieve representation that reflects the diversity of the City of Chicago,” although it does remove both citizenship and voter registration requirements for the elected positions (which will create quite a stir on the political right).

Martwick’s bill would prohibit school board employees and contractors from running for the board. Lightfoot’s bill would do essentially the same, but would also require that all election candidates must have served on a local school council, the governing board of a charter school or contract school or the board of governors of a military academy. That would severely limit the types of people who can run for the tiny handful of seats, and particularly helps lock out candidates affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union, which is the major force behind the Martwick bill.

Leader Lightford criticized Martwick’s proposal in committee for not specifically guaranteeing districts be created on the city’s West Side, but Martwick pointed out that his bill mirrors the city’s representation in the Illinois House. With only two initially elected members and considering the large populations on the city’s North and South Sides, no guarantees can be given that the mayor’s proposal would give the West Side a seat at the table in the first round of elections.

Martwick’s bill would let the General Assembly draw the initial district maps and then turn it over to the elected board for the remap. Lightfoot’s bill would give the mayor pretty much complete and permanent control over the map-making process.

This is the mayor’s first volley, but it’s such a lowball offer that it doesn’t appear to be taken all that seriously by members. Some legislators had been intrigued by the idea of a “hybrid” school board, but this is far more SUV than Prius and they appeared to be laughing it off.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin claimed during debate on the House’s own elected school board bill that Mayor Lightfoot told him the Democratic leaders had walked away from a hybrid plan and wouldn’t call her proposal for a vote. That was denied, and I doubt the mayor did herself any favors by claiming such a thing.

The House passed its version of the bill, which mirrored Martwick’s legislation except for sunsetting the entire process in five years, with 71 votes. Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) was the lone Republican in favor. A couple of Democrats voted “Present” and some were absent. The bill was backed by both teachers’ unions.

The Democratic leaders themselves both said through their spokespersons that the mayor’s proposal was under review.

Sen. Martwick pledged to negotiate in good faith, but pointed to the strength of his position (including that House vote and the Senate committee approval) compared to Lightfoot’s.

Like I said, a compromise won’t be easy.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 6:37 am:

    Two years in office and this is what she came up with. Embarrassing.

  2. - Sue - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 6:50 am:

    If anyone had doubts- the last 12 months have demonstrated that CTU does not work toward the benefit of CPS students. So why would anyone other then die hard CTU supporters want to go to elections for CPS board members which inevitably afford CTU greater influence as only CTU will have both the resources and inclination to source and elect board members which will do its bidding. Lightfoot is right to oppose this as she is looking out for the interests of all City constituencies not just the teachers union

  3. - JS Mill - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 8:13 am:

    Lightfoot just cannot help herself it seems. She is not transparent, and not good for her word on campaign issues. I get a very strong feeling that this is her one and only term.

    =Leader Lightford has a reputation among the education establishment for being an honest broker=

    I guess I am wondering who this “education establishment” is made up of? Outside Of CPS (I have almost no experience working with their admins and none in the past decade) Lightford is not viewed in a positive light.

    My experience with Lightford is that she can be a foul mouthed bully with a deep sense of entitlement. I won’t try to speak for anyone else on that opinion, ask around outside of CPS.

    I do know she is not well respected outside fo CPS because she has pushed through a lot of legislation that added red tape only to address problems that 75% of schools don’t have.

    Her work on PERA was essentially smoke an mirrors. Pass tough sounding evaluation reform and then take out the substance with trailer bills.

  4. - uialum - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 8:18 am:

    I’d love to see a debate in 2023 between Candidate Lightfoot and Mayor Lightfoot

  5. - Chicago Blue - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 9:39 am:


    My wife is a proud CTU member and cares a hell of a lot more about her students than Lori. She cared a hell of a lot more about the 24 students in her class whose parents chose remote learning despite Principal and CPS pressure and was sad to give have to give them less daily instruction time because her school doesn’t have enough bathrooms and she needed to make sure the 6 whose parents chose in school learning were safe. They opened the schools too fast and the overwhelming majority of CPS parents agreed and saw their kids receive less instruction time so that Lori could open the schools without a plan.

  6. - JS Mill - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 9:41 am:

    = Lightfoot is right to oppose this as she is looking out for the interests of all City constituencies not just the teachers union=

    There is no denying, in my opinion, that CTU has been a hindrance in getting kids back in school. They ignore data, science, the CDC and the IDPH (in the opposite way the GQP does) to keep staff and students out of school. Not acceptable. Why their actions have not been challenged as an unfair labor practice only goes to show why Lightfoot is not a good mayor.

    CPS is the only district in the state that does not have an elected Board. If you are afraid of CTU that is on you. People need to get out an educate themselves and then vote accordingly.

  7. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 9:46 am:

    I’m just happy Rahm isn’t running the city during a pandemic.

  8. - @misterjayem - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:04 am:

    You’d think that Lightfoot was completely inexperienced at governing if you didn’t know bet—

    Oh. Right.

    – MrJM

  9. - low level - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:09 am:

    Totally underwhelmed by anything she does. That’s why I only vote for someone who has previous public office experience when voting for a chief executive.

    Pritzker has been the exception imo.

  10. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:27 am:

    @Sue & @JSMill -

    The overwhelming majority of CPS parents disagree with you.

    Parents overwhelmingly support CTU, and they overwhelmingly believe it’s unsafe to send kids back.

    For all of her lip service to parents, Lightfoot has not used her current authority to create a school board that is parent-led.

    She knows as we all do that turnout in school board elections is dominated not by teachers but by parents. What Lightfoot and her Wealthy backers fear are elections dominated by parents who want to spend more for better schools, instead of non-parents who might be convinced to tighten spending.

    It’s noteworthy that while Lightfoot would exclude contractors and require elected board members to be CPS parents, she carved out an exception for CPS’ largest contractors, the Charter schools, allowing a charter board member who is not even a parent to run for office. Given that wealth or access to it is a prerequisite for serving on a charter board, this opens a back door for self-funders in a way that surely is no accident.

  11. - anon2 - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:31 am:

    Instead of being accessories with the Mayor breaking her campaign promise, the General Assembly should keep her promise for her.

  12. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:51 am:

    Thomas Paine. “Overwhelming”
    Guess again.
    Maybe a couple years ago, but after the games they played with the pandemic. I wonder if they even have a majority of parent support.
    That is my impression as a precinct captain walking the streets.

  13. - Common Sense - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 10:57 am:

    So let me get this straight. Chicagoans, unlike every other Illinois residents, should not be allowed a direct say in how schools are run because they will likely vote for the public school vision currently articulated by the CTU? This is what Eric Zorn and others are going with? Cannot get more condescending than that.

  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 11:06 am:

    I think candidate Lightfoot could beat Mayor Lightfoot.

    Mayor Lightfoot is nothing like the candidate who ran.


    That’s why I’m not surprised none of Mayor Lightfoot’s promises are kept.

    Being grossly inept, having staff and crew as measurably inept and incapable (mostly to get the boss to stop, think, or listen)… it’s as bad as it seems.

  15. - Southern Skeptic - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 11:37 am:


    You are sadly correct. I supported LL for mayor and she has been a HUGE disappointment. But as frustrating as she has been personally, I have to say I’m dumbfounded by the incompetence of her entire Springfield effort. I figured after she got trounced in her first session and the subsequent veto session that she’d recognize the need to make serious staff changes. But she just doubled down as if Springfield is the problem. We’re in Einstein’s definition of insanity territory. Mayor, Springfield is Springfield and if you want to actually win votes for a change, you need a wholesale housecleaning and bring in a more seasoned team. Please. Salvage what’s left of your term.

  16. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 11:46 am:

    - Southern Skeptic -

    First, thanks, even as sad as it is. Thank you.


    ===I have to say I’m dumbfounded by the incompetence of her entire Springfield effort. I figured after she got trounced in her first session and the subsequent veto session that she’d recognize the need to make serious staff changes.===

    There has been real incompetence from the Lightfoot Crew, in its entirety… on the 5th Floor… in the legislative chambers working as well.

    I really have no time or the stomach for the “could you work for her? They’re doing all they can and… “

    No. Stop. No.

    If you can’t, at that high level of closeness to someone like the mayor, convince them of the political acumen needed to be successful, then maybe being there isn’t a place for them.

    Sorry. True.

    Lightfoot makes them all look ridiculous, at some point it’s a career move with diminishing returns.

    Yep. Nothing in sight seems to indicate that whatever it is Lightfoot was doing… still doing it is the game plan too, for the foreseeable future.

    I don’t think I could last a whole afternoon there, the incompetence and lacking of acumen would be too much.

  17. - JS Mill - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 12:21 pm:

    @Thomas Paine- With respect, I don’t think your numbers are as current as you might think with regard to parent support for CTU, and even if it is correct what does that mean?

    Doing what is right may not be popular. Educators should not lead by polling. The overwhelming evidence supports kids being in school with mitigations. That is IDPH, CDC and experience talking.

    I am not anti-labor or union. As an educator I was once a union member and appreciate what they do for schools. As an administrator I have a very positive rapport with union leadership even if we don’t agree all the time they usually make my job easier.

    CTU is not that type of partner. They called Emmanuel the “murder mayor” for closing schools, some of which had below 20% attendance. I have no problem with disagreeing but the trump like stuff is reprehensible.

    And, I am not a lightfoot supported at all. I think she is a terrible mayor.

    Parents may vote in large numbers, but seniors dominate elections.

    With respect.

  18. - Arsenal - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:05 pm:

    ==the last 12 months have demonstrated that CTU does not work toward the benefit of CPS students. So why would anyone other then die hard CTU supporters want to go to elections for CPS board members==

    Uh, aren’t you answering your own question? Assuming arguendo that CTU really doesn’t care about students, then it seems like it’s far more important to vote in school board elections to try to stop them.

  19. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:09 pm:

    ==the last 12 months have demonstrated that CTU does not work toward the benefit of CPS students. So why would anyone other then die hard CTU supporters want to go to elections for CPS board members==

    If you are anti-labor AND anti-democracy then this silliness makes sense… but you have to be against both.

    Tough position to have and then say you are for better education for children… as the current board isn’t elected

  20. - James - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 4:02 pm:

    How many of the current appointed Board members are parents of children currently enrolled in CPS?

    Thought so.

    “More parent control” is a red herring.

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