Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday September 24th, 2013, 4:54pm

Chicago Education Activists To Hold First 'People's School Board Meeting' Wednesday

Community members upset with the "damaging" education policies endorsed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appointed school board will hold their first "People's School Board Meeting" Wednesday, the same day as the Chicago Board of Education's monthly meeting.

Organizers say the goal is to intensify the pressure for an elected, representative school board in Chicago. The Chicago Board of Education is the only non-elected school board in Illinois, and state government must ultimately change the rules.

Going forward, the people's board meetings will be held in the evenings after each monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting. It will be a space where people impacted by the board's "failed education policies", like school closures and budget cuts, can be heard. The Chicago Board of Education voted back in May to close a record-breaking 50 neighborhood schools. And the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district is also grappling with a projected $1 billion budget deficit, which has resulted in classroom spending cuts for some schools.

"This board has repeatedly made policy decisions that have failed Chicago children with no accountability to the public," said Jeanette Taylor, the Local School Council (LSC) chair at Irvin C. Mollison Elementary. "We will not go to any more sham school closing hearings. We will not sit at any more bogus advisory councils."

Additionally, organizers will form accountability committees to monitor the quality of education inside public schools. The committees will issue monthly reports to their respective Local School Councils and present their findings to CPS officials by spring 2014.

The groups spearheading the people's board meetings include Action Now, Grassroots Education Movement, Chicago Peace Clergy Coalition and the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), to name a few.

Taylor acknowledged that an elected school board is not the "silver bullet" when it comes to addressing the school district's budgetary issues. But she noted that the people currently making the decisions are making them with their heads, instead of their hearts.

"You keep making bad decisions and bad policies based on money. That’s what this is about," she stressed. "We are in such of a deficit, [but] you're building new schools. So where’s the deficit?"

Taylor was referring to the newly-built Back of the Yards neighborhood high school and the construction plans for a new Southeast Side elementary school meant to help alleviate overcrowding at nearby schools.

Jitu Brown, an organizer with KOCO, stressed that the people's school board is not a front for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

"To say that it’s a front for the teachers union is really ... an insult to the fight that’s been put up by parents and people in the community," Brown noted. "Seven hundred people marched on the mayor’s house in 2012, and that wasn’t teacher led. Those were parents. Those were students."

What people should be concerned about, Brown said, is that Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale is the former chairman of the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a CPS turnaround school contractor. 

"AUSL gets schools left and right and nobody questions that," Brown stressed.

Organizers say they are more optimistic that the state legislature is more likely to take up the issue of mandating a publically-elected Chicago school board than lawmakers in city hall.

"We think that the mayor is going to do everything he can with the people that have his back in city hall on the city council to kill that [effort]," Brown said. "What this is going to take is good, old-fashioned heat from the ground. And state elected officials have to know that if you don’t support an elected, representative school board, your seat is in danger."

Brown said KOCO and other groups are working to build a statewide coalition that will push for a bill, HB 2793, that is pending in the state legislature. The legislation would create a mandate for an elected Chicago school board. So far, Brown said about 25 state lawmakers are in support of the measure. The next step is to get more downstate lawmakers on board, Brown added.

"There were thousands of people in the street around these school closings. There are thousands of people mad about these budget cuts. They just didn’t know whose butt to kick, so they're all over the place," Brown said. "We're saying focus your fight on that state legislature. Put unprecedented pressure on the Black and Latino caucus to stand their butts up, instead of being dependent on [House Speaker] Mike Madigan."

The People's Board Meeting, which is open to the public, will be held Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Mt Carmel Baptist Church, 2976 S. Wabash Ave.

Check back with Progress Illinois for our full report on the meeting.

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