Chicago voters once again deprived of vote for elected school board...but is it over?


Alderman John Arena

Following prescribed procedures, the Progressive Reform Caucus (PRC) attempted once again to get a vote for an elected school board as a referendum on the Feb. 24, 2015, ballots. But "political shenanigans," as 45th Ward Alderman John Arena put it, kept it off the ballot. But is it over?


Alderman Scott Waguespack

Both 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack and 2nd Ward Alderman and Mayoral Candidate Bob Fioretti have been among the aldermen attempting to get this on a ballot since 2012. Arena is the bill's sponsor.

As reported by Fran Spielman in the Sun-Times, 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno said that the Progressive Caucus champions of an elected school board have only themselves to blame for the ballot question still being stuck in committee. 


Alderman Joe Moreno

“The aldermanic proponents of it are lazy. They don’t organize. They don’t get other aldermen on board. They want to have press conferences and have seven or eight people there. That’s why it doesn’t” get on the ballot, Moreno said. 

“If they worked it with their colleagues like I worked plastic bags for two years, they might be able to get support. Because they’re lazy, it doesn’t get there.” 

Moreno announced on the Ukrainian Village Facebook page Wednesday night that "I support an Elected School Board and will be putting the question on the ballot in the 1st ward in the Feb. Election. If anyone wants to help us organize this issue, we meet every Saturday... to get the vote out for AN ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD! Please join us and lend a hand!"

Two years ago the issue was on the ballot in 327 precincts across the city and 87% of the voters said "yes" to an elected school board, as reported by Raise Your Hand for Illinois. 

Issue and action
Chicago is the only school district in Illinois with out an elected school board. Efforts to have voters choose whether they want board members appointed or elected have been blocked since 2012. 

The PRC decided to do a full court press at a Council Rules Committee meeting Tuesday to get a referendum for an elected CBE on the February ballot. They sent out notification to all the aldermen. The plan was to get a vote on the issue at the Wednesday City Council Meeting. 

The only Rules Committee posted agenda for Tuesday was an Alderman Joe Moore, 49th Ward sponsored referendum. 

At the meeting, however, a substitute resolution, not previously posted, added two more referendums. Only three referendums may be on a ballot so if those three were accepted, the school board question could not be on the ballot. 

Moore's item was whether workers in Chicago should be granted paid sick leave. A second, backed by the grassroots group Common Cause, was whether political campaigns should be publicly financed. The third sponsored by 29th ward Alderman Deborah Graham was whether city employees convicted of domestic violence should be required to seek treatment. 

A discussion ended with the three agenda items being approved, preventing the elected school board issue from being added. 

Two of the items, according to Waguespack, are already dealt with under Federal law. 

Arena said, "In my opinion, yes, they're trying to block our efforts. Clearly they're afraid of the question. I believe that these questions, and the timing of them [make it] clear that they're designed to crowd out more relevant questions." 


Alderman Bob Fioretti

Wednesday follow up
The "spirit of the Open Meetings Act was clearly violated" at yesterday's Rules Committee meeting, said Fioretti on Wednesday. 

Referring to the fact that two referendum items were not on the posted agenda for the Tuesday Rules Committee meeting, he said, "When you go into a committee meeting, the issue is that the public has the right to know.

"All of a sudden a substitute ordinance is imposed with two other additional referenda, which obviously was a nice procedural, political move by the administration, and what happens then is we weren't able to get the elected school board on the ballot. 

"I guarantee that nobody that walked in [to the meeting] except for a few knew that substitute ordinance had additional referenda," he said. 

He then said that it is now up to the Attorney General or others to "decide whether the legalities of the Open Meetings Act were violated." 

Emanuel's response to questions about why he objects to having an elected school board question on the ballot, as reported by Progressive Illinois, was that there is an elected school board in the form of Local School Councils. 

"As it relates to the school board and a process, there are Local School Councils," the mayor continued. "As it relates to accountability for results, I don't believe what we need right now is more politics in schools. We need accountability and progress, and that's what I'm focused on." 

In Chicago, the Mayor selects the members of the 7-person Board of Education (CBE). It "is responsible for the governance, organizational and financial oversight of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the United States of America. It establishes policies, standards, goals and initiatives to ensure accountability and provide a high quality, world-class education…," as stated by CBE. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is pro privatization of Chicago's assets is a proponent of Charter Schools, opening them where public schools are closed; closing 50 some schools; large class sizes; and more. 

Voters gave him low marks in school policies in a Chicago Tribune poll this summer.

While it appears that a vote for an elected school board will not be possible since there is a deadline for producing the printed referenda, some believe that it would be possible if the Tuesday actions were illegal.



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