Vallas: Want democracy in Chicago Public Schools? Elect all 21 board members

Vallas: Want democracy in Chicago Public Schools? Elect all 21 board members

The Chicago Teachers Union for decades pushed to elect the school board, but with their former employee in the mayor’s office they rather he choose most of the board for a little while longer.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been demanding an elected school board for over two decades, arguing voters must have a direct say on the future of Chicago’s education system. They’ve gone so far as to call out appointed school boards by previous mayors as illegitimate representatives of the people.

Now, suddenly the CTU has backtracked. Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, who the union put into City Hall, last week endorsed a hybrid board that would elect only 10 of its 21 members in 2024. Illinois Senate President Don Harmon quickly responded by filing Senate Bill 3757 to do just that.

With full power to hand-pick their board, the CTU and Johnson prefer a slowed-down version of bringing fairness, equity and power to the people.

Now the truth is out. CTU’s push for an elected school board was never about community empowerment. It was about controlling schools by drawing the school board map and bankrolling candidates.

For the CTU, it’s all about power: their power. It’s about advancing their agenda of more money, less work, more dues-paying “support” staff and absolutely no accountability.

This was demonstrated in the current 2019-2024 teachers union contract, which was the most expensive contract in district history. Worth over $1.5 billion, it mandated the creation of hundreds of new CTU positions and made Chicago teachers the highest paid first-year big city teachers in the nation. After 14 days of striking.

But what did it do for parents and the community?

Not a single minute was added to the school day or school year. No greater teacher or school accountability. Nothing empowering elected local school councils to have more say about local school models or the use of their school buildings. It even had a side agreement to the contract limiting public school choices and capping the number of public charter schools and their actual enrollment.

This mayor-appointed school board is already advancing CTU’s agenda of eliminating school choice. They’ve passed resolutions to “transition away” from selective enrollment magnet schools and made efforts to degrade and undermine public charter schools. Never mind that over 70% of the over 12,000 magnet school students and 96% of the 54,000 charter school children are Black and Latino who benefit from those programs.

The CTU has become more militant since the Caucus of Rank and File Educators took leadership in 2010. Their actions were part of its claimed “new gospel” of strike power that spread across the country after CTU’s 2012 strike. Since then, the CTU has gone out on strike twice, threatened numerous work stoppages and encouraged other unions across the country to do the same.

The consequences of this militancy can be found in the massive exodus of students, the abysmal test scores and historic increases in violent crime against and committed by school-age youth 17 years and younger. CTU-forced school closures did not just impact teachers, children and parents. Their policies will have decades-long impacts on every aspect of the city.

That’s power.

The city needs a school board that is not the wholly-owned subsidiary of the CTU, as the current one is. This is not a board that will be supportive of a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child or that is willing to empower the community to have any real say about the future of its local schools.

A fully-elected school board may be the only path to achieving progress for parents, students and families. The CTU is determined to secure a school board that will oppose any actions that diminish their power, hold their members accountable or threaten their education monopoly

If Johnson and the CTU were truly concerned about putting kids and families first, they’d opt for a fully elected school board come November. Democracy delayed is democracy denied.

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