[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith less than a month before Chicago schools open their doors, lawmakers from Springfield and Chicago are scrambling to secure funding and introduce new reforms.
On Monday, Rep. Martwick of Chicago, flanked by representatives, activists and alderman from across the city, introduced HB 4268, legislation that calls for the creation of an elected school board in Chicago.
“The city of Chicago has repeatedly blamed the legislature for failing to take action to improve Chicago Public Schools,” Martwick said in a statement. “Instead, citizens of Chicago will have the ability to elect board members to implement the education and financial policies needed to finally turn around CPS.”
Back in February over 80 percent of voters supported an elected school board during an advisory referendum that was on the ballots in most Chicago wards.
The new bill would establish a school board from four regions of Chicago with 13 members, mirroring all other Illinois school boards. . The Southeast Side, Southwest Side, and the West/Central region would each have three seats and the North Region would have four seats. Currently, Chicago’s school board is the only one in the state with a board appointed by the mayor. Additionally, the bill would ensure future Inspector Generals for the district would be appointed by the school board instead of the mayor.
“What we have now is seven people in the back of a room with a closed door doing something that nobody is aware of with over $5 billion of the public’s money,” commented Wendy Katten, executive director of Raise Your Hand, an education advocacy group. “This is taxpayer money, so we need public involvement, engagement, transparency and accountability for an improved system.”
Meanwhile CPS also released its proposed budget this week. The plan that relies heavily on Springfield to close a $500 million budget shortfall to avoid a mix of additional cuts, loans, and tax hikes for the $6.4 billion budget.
The budget currently has $42.3 million in special education cuts, $1 million in cuts from executive salaries, $15.8 million in charter school cuts, with 1,500 layoffs.
District officials also restored the bell times of 34 schools, netting a savings of $5 million from the initial $9 million, leaving another 48 schools with new adjusted start and end times.
There is also an additional $87.2 million in TIF monies being tapped by Mayor Emanuel, and $250 million of “scoop and toss” payments, which essentially holds off payments to the district’s debt until a later date.
In a press conference, Gov. Rauner put much of the blame of CPS’s problems on the Chicago Teacher’s Union, stating, “The power of the teachers union has been overwhelming. Chicago has given and given and given. It’s created a financial crisis that the Chicago schools face now,” and voiced his opposition to elected school board reforms.
“We’ve seen how an appointed school board has mismanaged our schools, closed our schools, got us even deeper in a financial mess, rewarded allies with sweetheart contracts,” commented 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Rosa who attended Rep. Martwick’s announcement. “Those days have to end, and I think that by winning an elected school board, we’re going to help bring those days of mismanagement and corruption at CPS to a close.”
Pilsen Alliance board member Byron Sigcho added that while an elected school board won’t solve every problem CPS is facing, “it’s a fundamental step to make a difference.”
On Tuesday HB 4268, which has more than 30 co-sponsors, had been referred to the Rules Committee.
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