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Rogers Park Man Backs Elected School Board With MoveOn.org Petition Online

By Ted Cox | January 9, 2013 6:57pm
 Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale faces new calls for an elected school board.
Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale faces new calls for an elected school board.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — The national grassroots progressive group MoveOn.org has joined the debate over an elected Chicago Board of Education with an online petition.

MoveOn member Ahmed Khan, a 28-year-old West Rogers Park resident and onetime aldermanic candidate, said he launched the petition Dec. 26, and it already has more than 2,500 signers.

"I didn't think it would gain so much traction so fast," Khan said Wednesday. But, as a member of the Local School Council at Stone Scholastic Academy in Rogers Park, he said knew there was wide support for the measure.

The petition page cites how a referendum in 327 city precincts in the November election found 87 percent of voters in favor of an Elected Representative School Board for the Chicago Public Schools, as advocated by the Communities Organized for Democracy in Education.

 Ahmed Khan
Ahmed Khan
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Ahmed Khan

"This is a pretty large amount of the population," Khan said, "and there's been no discussion about this at all" since the election. "I thought a little citizen's advocacy to help reinvigorate the issue would go a long way."

Khan said he "strongly advocates" an elected board, in opposition to the current board headed by President David Vitale and appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He said it was subject to a "corporate management style," adding, "That's what's negatively affecting the CPS school system. Students aren't just data, and teachers aren't just parts of an organization to be managed."

"The large urban districts across the country are moving to an appointed board system to keep politics out of the schools and classrooms," countered CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. "The current structure was created by the state as part of a larger reform effort, and all decisions made by our board members are done with the best interest of our children in mind."

The Chicago Teachers Union, however, has charged that the board is packed with those favoring a transition to non-union charter schools.

"CTU supports the campaign for an elected school board," said spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "We've been organizing around this for over a year, and so we encourage people to sign the petition."

CTU President Karen Lewis was pilloried by conservative commentators this week for comparing the current labor environment to the robber-baron era of 100 years ago and more.

"The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill," she said last month in the keynote speech to a meeting of the Illinois Labor History Society. "They were. They were just ready. Just like, 'Off with their heads.'"

Conservative groups posted an edited 100-second clip on YouTube this week, but the full 13-minute version posted earlier placed the remarks in context.

"Karen was invited to speak on labor history to labor historians and she referenced a dark period in labor history," Gadlin said. "Opponents, quick to find a gotcha moment, have fabricated a controversy where there is none. Karen does not support the killing of the wealthy or anyone else. She wants education justice. To imply otherwise is irresponsible and, quite frankly, silly.
"If there is a silver lining to this foolishness, the promotion of this heavily edited video clip to a national audience via Rush Limbaugh and other conservative powerhouses once again propels Karen into the national spotlight where she can talk about misguided school-reform policies in return," Gadlin added." To that we say — thanks!"

CTU may also be thanking Khan and his MoveOn.org petition. He set a goal of 3,000 signatures and said he was initially hoping to amass 5,000, but now figures to reach that next week. He planned to let the list grow to the end of the month before forwarding it to Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and members of the General Assembly, as well as the Chicago City Council. He added that the advantage of an online petition is it can always be forwarded with additional signatures later.