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Chicago Group Challenges Mayoral Control of Schools

If he wins the Chicago mayoral race, will Rahm Emanuel agree to give up control of the city's schools?

Chicago's mayor Richard J. Daley leaves office next year, and if a new coalition has its way, mayoral control of the city's schools will end with his exit.

A group of teachers, parents, students and community leaders from seven city organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the powerful South Side Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, say it's time to bring a voter elected school board back to Chicago Public Schools. Now the pressure's on Daley's potential replacements-like the mayoral race front runner, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to give up control of the city's schools.

In a statement on the CTU website, the coalition makes it clear that they'll spend their political capital on the candidate that agrees to cede mayoral control. "Before we vote, we must know the answer to this question: Will the next mayor continue to shut out its citizens when making school policy or will the next mayor adopt an open, transparent and democratic form of governance?"

A 1995 state law gave Daley the power to appoint the 13 person school board as well as a schools CEO. Seven of the 13 current board members come from the banking, law, financial and medical fields. Under the new proposal, education professionals would hold 6 board seats. Two spots would be held for teachers, and 1 each for an administrator, education researcher, paraprofessional and business person. The remaining 7 seats would be divided among community and parent representatives from racially and economically diverse sections of the city.

Emanuel's spokesman, Ben Labolt, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Emanuel, "rejects the idea of an elected school board" but agrees that “teachers must be represented". Two other candidates, including senator Carol Moseley Braun and former Chicago Board of Education president Gery Chico, also oppose the idea, claiming it would further politicize the city's education system.

Whether or not Chicago's next mayor agrees to the coalition's proposal may ultimately be irrelevant. Coalition representatives say they plan to lobby Illinois legislators to change the law that made mayoral control possible in the first place.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Afagen

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