At a talk Monday at the City Club of Chicago, Illinois State Sen. Kwame Raoul discussed what’s next for the Chicago elected school board bill.
The Illinois Senate sponsor of the Chicago elected school board bill says the legislation will likely undergo some changes in the coming weeks.
“We have identified some areas of improvement for the bill,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said in remarks after Monday’s City Club of Chicago talk about creating an elected school board in the city.
A long-proposed Chicago elected school board bill passed the Illinois House in March by a 110-4 vote. State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) sponsored the House bill, HB 557, which is now pending in the Senate.
In May, Raoul replaced Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) as the legislation’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber. The switch came after Cullerton faced protests from education activists for failing to advance the bill in the Senate.
At issue is legislation that would create a 20-member elected school board in Chicago, starting in 2018. Under the bill, the state legislature would divide the city into 20 districts for the purpose of electing school board members. The school board’s chair would run citywide.
Raoul said the number of proposed school board members may be reduced in the Senate version of the bill.
“The proposal with a 20-member board may be too large,” Raoul said, adding that the legislation may also be tweaked to allow for runoff elections.
There’s a possibility the elected school board bill could go up for Senate consideration as early as the November veto session.
“We’re working towards that,” Raoul said. “We got to make some certain tweaks and then I got to get feedback from my colleagues. I’m gonna try to do some of that before we get to Springfield in November so I know what I’m dealing with.”
Raoul’s remarks came after he, Martwick and Jesse Ruiz, formerly the Illinois State Board of Education chairman and a Chicago Board of Education member, spoke on a City Club of Chicago panel about an elected school board in the city.
Chicago has the only non-elected school board in Illinois, and the state legislature — which approved the 1995 law that gave Chicago’s mayor full authority over the school district and board appointments — must ultimately change the rules.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel opposes switching to an elected school board. He has voiced concerns that the election of school board members could bring more politics into the school system.
“Now let’s not have amnesia. There has not been a lack of politics” when it comes to the Chicago Public Schools, Raoul said during Monday’s discussion. “The notion that [an] elected school board will be over politicized flies in the face of what our country is based on and is naive.”
For his part, Ruiz stressed that an elected school board is not a cure-all solution for public education’s ills.
“I don’t want us to lose focus on the governance model being the solution to our problems,” Ruiz said. “It’s not the governance model that’s gonna change the funding system. It’s not the governance model that’s gonna change community involvement in this.”
Oversight is the school board’s key role, Ruiz said. He admitted, however, that the oversight system “doesn’t always work” and could be reformed. Ruiz cited the corruption scandal involving former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her former employer SUPES.
“I voted for that contract. And it’s one of my, probably, few regrets in public life that … we did not see (Byrd-Bennett’s) resume before we hired her,” Ruiz said. “That system works in a way where that person was already selected when we voted on her contract. We didn’t have a job interview with the superintendent. Now that should change.”
Martwick said an elected school board allows the public to hold school officials accountable.
“If reforms are necessary — and I think we can all agree that there’s [needed] reforms. Even Jesse talked about making some reforms — the question is should the reforms be less democratic or more democratic if you’re gonna make a change?” Martwick said.
“Right now, you’ve got financial problems that have been created, by and large, by the decisions of a board that was appointed without any oversight, any confirmation process,” he continued. “What makes you think that electing people from the general public to weigh in on the decisions that our education system makes, and these financial decisions, wouldn’t be better?”