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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 10 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For… (Chicago Strikes Back)

There’s a well-known saying that goes like this: “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” I noticed last night that citizens¬† in Chicago voted to have an elected school board instead of one appointed by the mayor. While this referendum didn’t actually change city law, the 86% of votes in favor of the change will now give ammo to the advocates for an elected board. Given Mayor Daley’s long tenure as mayor, it’s perhaps not surprising that the state legislature voted to allow mayoral appointments back in the 90′s;¬† however, it’s worth noting that Chicago Public Schools is particularly dysfunctional and the only Illinois district out of 800+ that lacks an elected board. Interesting…

At the same time, a potential win for democracy is also ripe for gaming of the system and even more politics. Advocates of local control and parental engagement should be wary of inviting big money from major outside donors and groups such as DFER and Students First. With these groups feeling increasingly empowered given recent electoral success (see NOLA, NYC, Indianapolis, Memphis, etc.), local advocates need to be aware of the can of worms they are opening. Personally, I’d hate to see campaign contributions continue to distort school board elections as they have begun to in other districts. Having campaign finance limits and other restrictions are a great start along the path to prevent the “buying of seats” by corporate reform groups, the Chicago Teacher’s Union, or other organizations seeking to exert a greater influence over the future of Chicago’s children.

Anyhow, that’s just food for thought.

2 Responses

  1. As someone who was part of the ERSB (Elected Representative School Board) campaign-someone who knocked on doors, collected signatures, and passed out literature on the early morn of election day-I just want to say that the citizens of Chicago are very very aware of the real possibility (probability) of big money coming in and influencing elections if and when we get our elected school board. But that argument is saying that democracy is completely dead. I disagree. (It’s only mostly dead.) When people are informed and mobilized, as this past election showed in many (no, not all) of the races around the country, the people CAN prevail. What Chicago has now is ZERO democracy and ZERO community input, so even the CHANCE for voice through elections is better than what we have now. Our current board plays with their cell phones and falls asleep during board meetings while parents, teachers, and students beg, plead, share stories, cite research, and weep to no avail. Knowing they must be reelected someday may just may put pressure on Board Members.

    Also, we are trying to make the board more “representative” by opening slots for parents of CPS students from specific regions of the city making sure the members of the board have an actual personal stake in the fate of our schools. (The current board is made up of business elites and billionaires who do not send their own children/family members to the neighborhood schools being destroyed by the Mayor’s cruel education policies.) For more info see here: https://sites.google.com/site/codechicago/

    By the way, the number was 86.6% voting “yes”. Just saying…

    • “When people are informed and mobilized, as this past election showed in many (no, not all) of the races around the country, the people CAN prevail. ”

      This is an awesome comment- the entire thing, and it gives me hope. I guess I’m a bit cynical, but I’m happy to hear that there are citizens on top of this. Just beware of the potential juggernaut.

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