The Least Democratic School Board
By Emily Gray Brosious, April 23, 2013
Chicago Public Schools, District #299, managing over 600 schools, with more than 400,000 students, is not just the largest school district in the State of Illinois, it ranks third largest district in the country. But size alone isn’t what distinguishes CPS from other school districts. The CPS school board is also one of the only major systems whose board members are appointed by the Mayor, rather than elected by the public. Amounting to a school board almost entirely beholden to the Mayor of Chicago, city residents can thank former Mayor Richard M. Daley for this policy, which he enacted in 1995.
Prior to 1995 CPS was governed like most Illinois public school districts, by publicly elected school boards. The school board picks a superintendent, who then hires administrators and principles, subject to board approval. The thing about publicly elected officials is that they generally have to be accountable to their constituency or risk getting the boot, come election time. That’s why we have democratic elections – to ensure that policy reflects the will of the people.
Public outcries to Chicago Public Schools decision to close 54 schools highlights a disconnect between CPS actions and the general will of Chicagoans. Though the city is holding public meetings, required by law, so residents can give feedback and input on their closure decisions, these meetings are not designed to give the public a deciding vote. The decision to close these schools has been made, and come the end of this school year, CPS plans to close them regardless of what is said during these public meetings.
How can that be? How can a school board charged with serving the people of Chicago completely turn their backs on public will and do whatever they want? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Chicago’s school board does not answer to the people of Chicago, they answer to the Mayor of Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has big plans for this city- big privatized plans- and it would be naïve to think that these school closures aren’t part of his economic plan to “align public and private interests”. The rise of charter schools and closure of public schools shouldn’t come as a surprise to a school district whose public school board isn’t public at all.