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Town Hall Meeting Shows Support For Elected School Board

Students, parents and teachers met Thursday at the Logan Square Auditorium to encourage voters to cast their ballots for an elected Chicago school board in the Nov. 6 election.

Delia Bonilla shows the banner signed by Ames Middle School's Local School Council
Delia Bonilla shows the banner signed by Ames Middle School’s Local School Council (ChicagoTalks/Jaclyn Howard)

The school district in Chicago is the only one in Illinois that has a mayor-appointed school board. Phil Cantore, science teacher at North-Grand High School, said when he was campaigning door to door, many people were surprised at this issue. 

“Many people don’t know of the appointed school board because every other school board in Illinois is elected,” Cantore said. “And the school board is one of those bedrocks of democracy.”

The school board has been appointed since 1995, when former Mayor Richard Daley convinced the state legislature that he should have the power to appoint board members.

Will Guzzardi, a Logan Square community organizer, said getting the vote is the first step in changing the state law, as this is a draft legislation that is being put together.

“Our current mission is to encourage electives,” Guzzardi said.

Featured speakers said an appointed school board does not respond to the community’s needs. They also said an appointed board is less likely to object to school closings.

“One of the problems that we see is that without an elected school board, people are not taking ownership of their problems,” said Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president.  “They are listening to advisers who have never set foot in a Chicago public school.”

The advisory referendum will be on the ballot in 300 precincts throughout the city on Election Day. Pauline Lipman, professor of educational policy studies at University of Illinois-Chicago, said the goal was to make sure the issue was placed on ballots.

“As long as people know and vote, it will be approved,” Lipman said. “We have found very few people to be disappointed in the idea.”

Some who attended the meeting said they were skeptical about the process of changing the law. Ben Joravsky, a senior writer for the Chicago Reader, was among them.

“I’m a very skeptical cheerleader regarding this movement,” Joravsky said. “When it comes to democracy in Chicago, it hasn’t really worked in my life.”

Joravsky said that though this issue would face challenges ahead, he does support the movement. He encouraged people who really believe in it to continue pursuing the cause.

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said, “There are some challenges ahead on an elected school board. They will have to change state law.”

Delia Bonilla, community member and Local School Council member at Ames Middle School, revealed a banner during the meeting with signatures saying, “Ames Middle School belongs to the community!” The North Side school is being evaluated and could be made a military academy.

“They can’t decide the future of our kids without us having a voice,” Bonilla said.

Lewis called on activists to put pressure on the school board to make change.

“This is a never ending quest for justice,” she said.