by Thelma Sardin
In 1995, Mayor Richard M. Daley gained control of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from the Illinois General Assembly. The City of Chicago School District #299 which encompasses all of CPS is the third largest school district in the country and manages nearly 700 schools. While most Illinois schools have an elected school board that hires a Superintendent, CPS has a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) which is appointed by the mayor. In essence, the entire CPS system is held accountable to an elected politician, the mayor.
Recently, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) along with several organizations announced its campaign against the mayoral control of CPS. The group wants a representative elected school board that consists of thirteen seats including parents and community members from the South, West, and North sides. Additional seats would be filled by teachers, an administrator, school staff and a business person. The Chicago Tribune reports, the school board now includes seven members drawn from several top financial and consulting firms in the city.
In an open letter to Chicagoans, the coalition described the climate of CPS since Mayor Daley took control fifteen years ago. “And for 15, [the] Chicago Public Schools has implemented a staggering number of reforms, from probation, to student retention, to school closings, charters and turnarounds and the wholesale firing of 1300 educators this past summer. Many of these reforms have damaged our schools and our children—increased violence, increased teacher and student mobility and a general destabilization of neighborhood public schools. But one thing has remained constant for the past 15 years—citizens have had little to no voice in school policy.”
During a press conference, CTU president, Karen Lewis, addressed the media demanding that public education decision making be left to its beneficiaries. “It is imperative that the status quo ends. It is imperative that we analyze and use real research to determine what is best for our students. The fact is there are people in this city who feel entitled to make those decisions,” Lewis said.
The Chicago Tribune also reports, Daley has favored the CEO model of leadership, picking four school chiefs in 15 years who had more of a business background. Interim CEO Terry Mazany is a former school administrator on loan from the Chicago Community Trust. “The top-down decisions made by non-educators have not shown the improvement,” Lewis said at the news conference.
CPS parent and Action Now president, Michelle Young described the state of the public school system since Daley’s takeover. “As a community member active in the schools, I have seen the impact of Mayor Daley’s control of the school board on my children’s education. He has appointed businessmen to the school board that are interested in only money and not our children. They sit in their conference rooms and make decisions about our children’s education, when they’re not even involved in the schools. Our public school system is broken and I’m tired of it. I can’t afford to send my children to a private school. With so many school closings, the sky high dropout rate and [with] the school violence, there are not options for our children. We can’t have our children in the streets. We need a representative elected school board that is made of teachers and community members that know what is best for our kids and our neighborhood schools,” said Young.
Moving forward, the coalition plans to meet with lawmakers to reshape the law that gave Daley control of CPS fifteen years ago. The group also aims to present their plan to the city’s mayoral candidates. “We want to make sure this becomes an issue for the people seeking to be mayor of Chicago,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. Ultimately, the coalition wants to the city’s next boss to understand their concerns and try to help develop a fair consensus. “We want the next mayor of Chicago to work with us on bringing democracy back to public education,” Brown said.