Debate over elected Chicago Public Schools board heats up

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A debate over whether the Chicago Public Schools board should become an elected position is heating up.

In referendums, city voters have said they want an elected school board, but legislation to allow one is stalled in Springfield.

"We're the only school district in the state of Illinois that does not have elected representation," said State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago.

Martwick reminded City Club members that an elected school board would give taxpayers a direct voice in Chicago's $5.7 billion public education system.

"You pay more of your income, either through income taxes or property taxes to education, more than anything else," Martwick said.

Martwick's bill passed the Illinois House by an overwhelming, bi-partisan margin. Under it, a 20-member CPS board and a president would be elected beginning in 2018. Under the current system, the CPS board and district CEO are appointed by the mayor with elected local school councils.

"Those folks are elected at each of their schools throughout the system," said Jesse Ruiz, a former CPS board member.

Ruiz said CPS' problems are about money - and not about how it is governed.

"So I don't want us to lose focus on the governance model being the solution to our problems," he said.

"You can't message your way and spin your way out of democracy. An elected school board is not a guarantee but it is a necessary ingredient," said Jitu Brown, who supports an elected school board.

After passing the House last March, the bill stalled in the state Senate where the president is John Cullerton - a friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who opposes an elected school board. Sponsor Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) denied there are any political shenanigans to stop the measure.

"I wouldn't accept an assignment to delay or kill or stall a bill," Raoul said.

Bill opponents are concerned city campaigns for school board membership would open a political spending war between the teachers union and charter schools.

"Charter schools spend more money, so the idea that the union will take it over is not a fair characterization," Martwick said.

Governor Bruce Rauner said he supports an elected Chicago school board, but he won't have a bill to consider until the Senate passes one.
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