Elected school board issue heads to Springfield

The highlighted precincts included the elected school board referendum on their Nov. 6 ballots.

The movement to bring an elected school board to Chicago is headed to Springfield.

On Election Day, 87 percent of voters in 327 Chicago precincts – 45 of which were on the Northwest Side – voiced their support for a Chicago Board of Education elected by popular vote. The mayor currently appoints the board.

The vote followed months of grassroots organizing by groups like the Logan Square Neighborhood Association that believe that the Chicago Board of Education doesn’t address the concerns of constituents and makes policy decisions in a vacuum.

The referendum, however, has no power to effect change – it is only “advisory.” The City of Chicago cannot change the law of the land regarding its school board – only the state legislature can do that.

Proponents of the movement already have a champion in Springfield.

Rep. LaShawn Ford, who represents Chicago’s Austin community and near western suburbs, held three town hall meetings on the subject in October and introduced HB 5727 to the Illinois General Assembly in February. The bill creates a task force to provide an action plan for implementing an elected school board.

Ford said that he wouldn’t sponsor a bill that directly creates an elected school board.

“There should be some kind of organized effort, some kind of task force, behind its creation,” he said.

The bill is currently stuck in one of the earliest phases of the legislative process – the House Rules Committee. Ford believes, however, that the bill could make it all the way to a House floor vote – roughly half way through the legislative process – by the end of the upcoming fall veto session.

However, Ford and other advocates believe that the bill will require amendments before it becomes law.

Will Guzzardi, a Logan Square activist who spearheaded the referendum efforts on Chicago’s Northwest Side, said that campaign finance for the potential elected board members is a high priority to be addressed in an amendment.

Addressing campaign finance, he said, would help to combat opponent’s claims that an elected board would be too political and inspire a special interest spending spree.

Guzzardi also acknowledged that House Speaker Michael Madigan isn’t a proponent of the effort, which could make things difficult downstate.

Others believe that the referendum represents a mandate that Springfield can’t ignore.

“We’ve got too much momentum to be stopped now,” Dwayne Truss, representative of the Progressive Action Coalition for Education, said.

The fall veto session is scheduled for Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 4-6 in Springfield. If the bill doesn’t advance, Ford says he plans to introduce a bill identical to HB 5727 in January, for the 98th Illinois General Assembly.

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