Bill would let
Chicagoans elect school board
Written By: Mark Fitton, INN News
March 3, 2016
SPRINGFIELD — A bill that would let
Chicagoans elect their school board members, now appointed by the city’s
mayor, sailed through the Illinois House on Thursday.
The proposal by Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Norridge, would establish 20 school
board seats. Those 20 members would be elected from newly drawn districts. The
board’s president would be chosen in a citywide election.
Terms would be four years, and they would not be staggered.
Board members would not be compensated, and there are measures within the bill
to prevent people with conflicts of interest, including Chicago Teachers Union
leadership, from filling board seats.
The General Assembly in 1995 passed legislation that gave the mayor of Chicago
nearly total control of the city’s public school system, Martwick said. That
control included the power to choose school board members, appoint the board
president and hire CPS’ chief executive officer.
Martwick said his proposal, House Bill 557, would again give Chicagoans a voice
in their schools.
“This bill is about providing the same democracy and accountability to the
schools of the city of Chicago and to the taxpayers of the city of Chicago that
is afforded to every other school district in the state of Illinois,” Martwick
The bill won praise from both sides of the aisle and passed 110-4; four other
members were either absent or not voting.
Votes in favor included that of Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Voting against the bill were House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western
Springs and Republican Reps. David Leitch of Peoria and Joe Sosnowski of
Rockford. Also voting against the measure was House Majority Leader Barbara
Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat.
Durkin is the sponsor of House Bill 4498, one element of a plan backed by
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner that would allow the state to take control of CPS.
The GOP plan would lead to an interim state-appointed board that eventually
would yield to an elected body.
Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said Chicago Public Schools have gone
from reasonably financially sound to extraordinarily in debt while under mayoral
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In 2000, CPS had debt of about $3 billion, Harris said, adding
that the number now stands at about $6.9 billion, not including this
Similarly, he said, the CPS pension system had gone from more than
99 percent funded in 2000 to about 51 percent funded today.
“I’d suggest we elect second-graders from the CPS system because
they could not do any worse,” Harris said. “Seriously, they couldn’t
do any worse.”
Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said the appointed board “has been
a complete failure for our children, for the taxpayers and for the
families of the city of Chicago.”
Said Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago: “I want the best for our schools,
(and) I believe this bill would help us move forward and be an
important part of getting us out of this crisis.”
While an elected board wouldn’t be a panacea, Williams said, it’s a
place to start.
Martwick’s bill now moves to the Senate, where a spokesman for
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat and generally
viewed as an ally of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said it remains
Rauner’s press secretary said the governor backs the GOP’s HB 4498,
but the administration also will be reviewing Martwick’s bill,
including “to ensure it does everything possible to prevent
conflicts of interest between board members and CTU.”
The Chicago Teachers Union has backed the idea of an elected school
Supporters of an elected Chicago school board got such a ballot
question on a non-binding referendum in 37 of the city’s 50 wards in
2015. It scored overwhelming support in those wards.
Illinois News Network’s repeated attempts to reach a CPS
spokesperson for comment on Thursday were not successful.
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